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BOC and Marriage - Eira - 25-04-2010

Hello, quick question about BOC and marriage.

I'm female, in my early 20s, not yet married. I have no prior Christian background, but I do believe in God and Jesus, and from what I've read of Orthodoxy (theology wise), it makes much more sense to me than, say, Anglicanism and Catholicism does.

Here's the thing: I'm engaged - to a Roman Catholic, to be specific. Been together a few years. Very sure he's "the one", so to speak.

From what everyone has told me so far, if I converted to BOC, we wouldn't be able to get married (something about it not being recongised because he's Catholic).

Well, we plan to be married next year. So, what about if I convert after we're married - how would our marriage be in the eyes of the church then?

Thanks, all advice appreciated!

- John Charmley - 25-04-2010

Dear Eira,

First, welcome to the Forum Smile

Second, many congratulations on finding 'the one' - and all good wishes for many happy years together.

I am sure one of our priests will answer your question. In practice Orthodoxy is a great deal less legalistic than the RCC; indeed, given RCC canon law and practice, any children of your marriage would have to be brought up RCC.

The RCC recognises us as a 'valid Church', but what that means in practice would depend upon the attotude of your parish priest. Although I often read here that the RCC allows the Orthodox to communicate (although Orthodoxy forbids us to), that has not been my experience. You'd need to talk to your young man and his priest about these things in advance.

The Orthodox practice of 'economy' (effectively tempering the wind to the shorn lamb) will, I suspect, mean that there should be few problems on our side of things.

And, of course, what really matters is that your love should be an icon of the love He has for us, and that in your marriage you cherish and nourish each other and, if God is good, any children you might have. Smile

In Christ,


- Fr Gregory - 27-04-2010


Unfortunately the Orthodox rules are not sufficiently simple to allow me to give you the straightforward answer you may be seeking. And, sadly, law sometimes seems not to understand love!

However, as a general principle the Orthodox Church recognizes only marriages celebrated in the Orthodox Church between baptised members of the Orthodox Church.

This is quite different from the position of the Roman Catholic Church. That Church would accept an Orthodox marriage and has no difficulties celebrating a marriage between Roman Catholic and Orthodox persons.

The Orthodox Church does not deny that people married outside the Church are married, only that they are not married according to the rules of the Orthodox Church.

The Orthodox rules – known as Canon Law – need to be interpreted and applied in individual cases, and so I can’t give precise advice in your case because I do not have sufficient information.

There could be potential difficulties if you became Orthodox and then married “outside the Church” (which is how a Roman Catholic marriage would be seen). So you should discuss the matter with an Orthodox Priest who can offer you advice according to your particular circumstances.

If you married “outside the Church” and then sought to become Orthodox, your marital situation could also cause potential difficulties (unless, of course, your husband also sought to become Orthodox).

Fr Gregory

- John Charmley - 27-04-2010

That's an interesting and informative answer, Fr. Gregory. I suspect, from the experience of one of my Catholic friends, things there are equally complex from the point of view of Canon Law.

He found himself in an interesting situation when, having anguished about it for years, he actually tried to join the RCC. Everything went well with his RCIA and the date was set when, in a casual conversation, his priest discovered that his current marriage was not his first one. The RCC, it seems, had no problme with his being married to a non-Catholic, but since his first marriage, some thirty years before, hasd been in the C of E, the RCC recognised it as a sacramental marriage and did not recognise the divorce or the marriage.

I remember talking it over with him. He found it hard to understand how a Church which did not recognise the validity of Anglican orders could regard one of its marriages as sacramental; the answer was 'welcome to the wonderful world of canon law'. For a while this meant he could not be received into the Church at all. This propmpted an interesting correspondence in which, inter alia, he asked whether, effectively, a past sin was barring him from that salvation which, he sincerely believed, was only available in the One True Church. Of course, after about two years, the Canon lawyers sorted it out, annulled his first marriage and everything went as he had wanted.

My own reflection on that was not dissimilar, Fr. Gregory, to my reaction to your helpful advice, which is that Canon Law and the complications of modern life in pluralistic societies sit unhappily together which, in turn, causes a great deal of personal unhappiness.

As I understand it the current Pope, Shenouda III, unilaterally tightened up what had been a humane/liberal,/far too lax (delete according to taste) practice in the Coptic Church, and caused a great deal of disturbance as a result.

I remember talking about this not long ago at a local 'Churches together' meeting, and the Roman Canon lawyer there got very close to saying that his own Church operated a 'don't ask, don't tell' policy on the ground that once someone was receivedm he or she was received.

It sounded both sensibly humane and slightly not quite right when he said it, but as he explained to me over coffee afterwards, did I have any idea how difficult it was to change canon law, or how many couples in this one diocese would be in trouble with it if personal questions were asked?

I took his point, but still felt, as I do on this one, that this is not quite how the Lord Jesus would have dealt with it. His earthly delegates have the powers to bind and loose, but seem to prefer the thickets of the law.

In Christ,


- Antony-Paul - 27-04-2010

Dear Eira,

I know that that John Charnley suggested one of our priests might help you, and Father Gregory has offerred some thoughts to you here.

However, Father Gregory is in Australia, so you may wish to contact a priest who is a bit closer for a face to face session at some point. You can locate our clergy on the BOC website, and depending where you live there may be one close to you. Alternatively, you may care to contact Father Simon Smyth who has much material to send to enquirers, and he is most willing to respond if you let him have your address. He is at: <!-- e --><a href=""></a><!-- e -->

- Fr Gregory - 27-04-2010

As I have said in a previous posting, Orthodox Canon Law is complex, and takes a different approach to that of Roman Catholic Canon Law. Orthodox Canon Law should be applied with the heart of a pastor rather than with the mind of a lawyer.

So, the first question should not be: What is the Law? but: What is God’s Will? We assume God’s Will is that all His sons and daughters enter into His Church. Therefore, how can the Law be applied to make this possible in this case?

There are two approaches to the application of Canon Law: these can be put simply as the “strict” approach and the “pastoral” approach. If anyone want the more academic descriptions of these approaches I am happy to provide it.

In the case John cites, the first question must be: was the person’s first marriage actually a marriage in Orthodox terms? This is quite a complex technical question: were both parties baptised in the Orthodox Faith? were they married in the Orthodox Church? It may be that the marriage was a nullity (that is, it didn’t exist in terms of Orthodox Canon Law), and therefore can be ignored in considering the question of the person’s entry into the Orthodox Church, as can the civil divorce.

The person then “remarried” (which would not be a “remarriage” in Orthodox if the first marriage was not accepted). Again, was this marriage actually a marriage in Orthodox terms?

In Orthodoxy (unlike Roman Catholicism) there is no such thing as an “irregular marriage” (what Rome might call a valid but illicit marriage). A person is either married according to the Orthodox Church or not married.

If the person is not married in Orthodox terms, his or her situation in Orthodox Canon Law is that he or she is a single person who is living in a marriage-like relationship.

Applying the Law strictly, this is unacceptable and would be grounds for refusing to allow the person to be received into the Orthodox Church so long as it continued. The ideal, of course, would be that both partners are received into and then married in the Orthodox Church. Let us assume that the person’s partner is not agreeable to this, can the person be received into the Church and receive Holy Communion?

Again, the strict interpretation of the Law would be: no. He or she should leave the partner, and then be received into the Church. The pastoral application (which would depend on a sound understanding of the person’s situation) might be: yes, because through no fault or his or her own he or she is in a situation which arose prior to any knowledge of the Orthodox Faith and in which he or she has ongoing moral responsibilities (especially if there are children). So the pastoral approach might temper Law with Grace in a specific case and for a particular individual, without establishing any precedent about such cases in general.

This type of situation, incidentally, was clearly known in the early Church, and is referred to by St Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:7-14 in which he directs the “believer” who has an “unbeliever” as a husband or wife not to divorce the partner but, if the partner is willing to live together, to maintain the relationship: “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctioned by the husband.” Thus, the conversion of one partner provides a ground for separation, but does not require it. Most have interpreted “willing to live together” to mean living together in harmony where the “unbeliever” does not seek to interfere with or undermine the Faith of the “believer”.

Fr Gregory

- John Charmley - 28-04-2010

That is so helpful, Fr. Gregory. There seem to be two principles embedded in what you say which probably ought to be emblazoned in large letters above every Canon Lawyer's desk.

'How did the Apostles deal with this?' And:

'God wants all His children in His Church - how can this be done?'

The application of such principles would help enormously. Like the later Roman Empire we live in a pluralistic world where people will be of all faiths and none and where divorce is far from unknown. We can try to pretend these things aren't as they are, which would be the evangelising equivalent of sticking our head in a hole in the sand, or we could try to follow the most successful evangelists of all - the early Apostles.

In Christ,


BOC and marriage - kirk yacoub - 07-05-2010

My wife is Roman Catholic, I am Syriac Orthodox and, because of agreements between the two Churches, there are no problems. Because there are no agreements between the Copts and Rome it is probable that special dispensation can be asked for anmd, most likely given.

Kirk Yacoub

- John Charmley - 07-05-2010

Dear Kirk,

That's very interesting. It would be helpful to the poor sheep if the shepherds could get around to updating their rule books.

In Christ,


boc and marriage - kirk yacoub - 08-05-2010

The basic problem, as I understand it, is the disagreement between the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church regarding the latter's acceptance of the Church of the East's Christology, thereby blocking further developments of cooperation between the two Churches.
Personally, I don't see what the problem is because, as St Paul writes in Corinthians7:13-15, marriage is possible between a believer and a non-believer, therefore, why not between believers whose Churches have different beliefs regarding certain issues?

Kirk Yacoub

- John Charmley - 08-05-2010

Dear Kirk,

Yes, I couldn't agree more. Canon Law is, after all, a means to an end, not an end in itself.

There are quite enough obstacles in the way of the believer without the Church adding to them.

In Christ,


- trespaser5 - 30-05-2010

My wife and I were married anglican a year ago, my wife isn't quite as enthusiastic about orthodoxy as I am so I was hoping to draw her in with the prospect of a orthodox wedding as you think that might be sinful ????? :lol:

- John Charmley - 30-05-2010

trespaser5 Wrote:My wife and I were married anglican a year ago, my wife isn't quite as enthusiastic about orthodoxy as I am so I was hoping to draw her in with the prospect of a orthodox wedding as you think that might be sinful ????? :lol:

Not at all - optimistic, perhaps Smile



- trespaser5 - 31-05-2010

Quote:Not at all - optimistic, perhaps

ahhh perhaps but with Jesus there is always hope!

- John Charmley - 31-05-2010

trespaser5 Wrote:
Quote:Not at all - optimistic, perhaps

ahhh perhaps but with Jesus there is always hope!

ain't that the case! Smile