The Meaning of Marriage
God is the author and celebrant of pure marriage. He ordained and instituted it in paradise (Gen 1.27-28). In marriage every person acquires a new identity; the two become one flesh (Gen 2.24). Yannaras states that marriage is “the personal relationship of coinherence. Through a reciprocal relinquishment of the individual will and acceptance of the other’s will, the unity of husband and wife comes not to be built on the natural premise of sexual impulse, but on the premise of ecclesial communion, which is self-transcendence and self-offering.”
Persons who marry in the Lord come to appreciate, in the deepest possible levels of existence, God’s commandment to “love thy neighbor as thy self.” Their eros is transfigured constantly into unfailing love, into agape. The marriage sustained by the Holy Spirit, Who grants to the spouses the necessary gifts to secure a godly life in peace, truth, harmony and love. In Christian marriage two persons share each other in a unique relationship with the risen and reigning Christ. The Incarnate Love, Christ, integrates and enriches their personal and sexual love, enabling them to transcend the closed finitude of their fallenness, and thus allow them to reach ever-new and ever-deeper levels of communion, friendship, maturity, openness, and holiness.
Conditions for Christian marriage: Partners come of their own free will.
Characteristics: Indissolubility, Monogamy, Equality. It is established and constituted with appropriate prayers and signs of the Church. Because it is patterned after the divine life of the Holy Trinity, marriage recognizes and upholds the absolute equality of the spouses. However, male and female are still different and distinctive in their nature (their mode of being and action). A Husband and wife are to complement each other, and in this complementarity are able to recognize and experience their distinctiveness as well as their inherent equality. Man is the leader, the woman is the helper. See related scripture Song of Songs, Malachi 2.10-16, Hosea 1-2, Jer. 3.6-13, Ezekial 16 & 23, Isaiah 54.1-8, Proverbs 31, Wisdom, Ezra 1, Tobit.
Purpose for Marriage: The essential and primary purpose of marriage is to unite two free persons into a communion of love for their mutual companionship, support, enjoyment, and personal fulfillment and completion (theosis). The task of living and growing together in holiness is aided by sexual fulfillment, since sexuality implicates the person whose substance (being, nature) is imprinted on the body. Thus, sex becomes a language of the relation between persons. Most importantly, sex allows the spouses to become co-creators with God. The conception, birth, and nurture of children constitute another basic aim and characteristic of marriage. However, the Church does not have a deterministic view of the marital sexual act. Therefore, a couple may remain childless and/or a couple may use contraceptive birth control (abortion excluded) to plan their family. Of course this assumes serious, prayerful, honest, and sincere reflection to ascertain God’s will.
The Rite: Two separate services, betrothal and crowning. Betrothal is relatively short containing a set of petitions and three prayers. Characterized by the putting on of the rings, it signifies the couple’s voluntary pledge to enter marriage and to live together in faith, harmony, truth, and love. Crowning is longer and more complex with petitions, several prayers, two scripture readings, joining of hands, partaking of blessed wine from the common cup, and a solemn joyous procession. It is culminated with the actual crowning. Readings- Eph. 5.20-33, John 2.1-11.
Celibacy: This is another way of living the Gospel. Monastics reject pleasures and relationships of the world to discover the face of God through ascesis. The monk/nun does not suppress eros, but transfigures it by God’s grace.
For the union of a man and woman to be recognized as sacramentally valid by the Orthodox Church, these conditions must be met:
• The Sacrament of Matrimony must be celebrated by an Orthodox Priest of a canonical Orthodox jurisdiction, according to the liturgical tradition of the Orthodox Church, in a canonical Orthodox Church, and with the authorization of the diocesan Bishop.
Before requesting permission from his Bishop to perform the marriage, the Priest must verify that:
- Neither of the parties in question are already married to other persons, either in this country or elsewhere;
- The parties in question are not related to each other to a degree that would constitute an impediment;
- If either or both parties are widowed, they have presented the death certificate (s) of the deceased spouse(s);
- If either or both of the parties have been previously married in the Orthodox Church, they have obtained ecclesiastical as well as civil divorce(s);
- The party or parties who are members of a parish other than the one in which the marriage is to be performed have provided a certificate declaring them to be members in good standing with that parish for the current year; and
- A civil marriage license has been obtained from civil authorities. No person may marry more than three times in the Church, with permission for a third marriage granted only with extreme oikonomia. In cases involving the marriage of Orthodox and non-Orthodox Christians, the latter must have been baptized, in water, in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Church cannot bless the marriage of an Orthodox Christian to a non-Christian.
- The Sponsor (koumbaros or koumbara) must provide a current certificate of membership proving him or her to be an Orthodox Christian in good standing with the Church. A person who does not belong to a parish, or who belongs to a parish under the jurisdiction of a bishop who is not in communion with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, or who, if married, has not had his or her marriage blessed by the Orthodox Church, or, if divorced, has not received an ecclesiastical divorce, cannot be a sponsor. Non-Orthodox persons may be members of the wedding party, but may not exchange the rings or crowns.
Days When Marriage Is Not Permitted
Marriages are not performed on fast days or during fasting seasons; these include the Great Lent and Holy Week, August 1-15, August 29 (Beheading of St. John the Baptist), September 14 (Exaltation of the Holy Cross), and December 13-25. Nor are marriages celebrated on the day before and the day of a Great Feast of the Lord, including Theophany (January 5 and 6), Pascha, Pentecost, and Christmas (December 24 and 25). Marriages may be performed on these days only by permission of the diocesan Bishop.
It is a fact that, the more a couple has in common, the more likely they are to live together in peace and concord. Shared faith and traditions spare couples and their children, as well as their extended families, many serious problems, and help to strengthen the bonds between them. Even so, the Orthodox Church will bless marriages between Orthodox and non-Orthodox partners, provided that:
- The non-Orthodox partner is a Christian who has been baptized, in water, in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; and
- The couple should be willing to baptize their children in the Orthodox Church and raise and nurture them in accordance with the Orthodox Faith.
A baptized Orthodox Christian whose wedding has not been blessed by the Orthodox Church is no longer in good standing with the Church, and may not receive the Sacraments of the Church, including Holy Communion, or become a Sponsor of an Orthodox Marriage, Baptism, or Chrismation.
A non-Orthodox Christian who marries an Orthodox Christian does not thereby become a member of the Orthodox Church, and may not receive the Sacraments, including Holy Communion, or be buried by the Church, serve on the Parish Council, or vote in parish assemblies or elections. To participate in the Church’s life, one must be received into the Church by the Sacrament of Baptism or, in the case of persons baptized with water in the Holy Trinity, following a period of instruction, by Chrismation.
Canonical and theological reasons preclude the Orthodox Church from performing the Sacrament of Marriage for couples where one partner is Orthodox and the other partner is a non-Christian. As such, Orthodox Christians choosing to enter such marriages fall out of good standing with their Church and are unable to actively participate in the life of the Church. While this stance may seem confusing and rigid, it is guided by the Orthodox Church’s love and concern for its member’s religious and spiritual well-being.
The following types of relationships constitute impediments to marriage:
- Parents with their own children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren, or godchildren of the same godparents.
- Brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law.
- Uncles and aunts with nieces and nephews.
- First cousins with each other.
- Foster parents with foster children or foster children with the children of foster parents.
- Godparents with godchildren or godparents with the parents of their godchildren.
Wedding Application Form