The relationship between the Orthodox church and divorce is complex. Statistics cannot answer all questions about the relationship between the Church and divorce. Statistical data on divorces are not collected nationally or among Orthodox believers. This makes data interpretation difficult. Although changes in the data over time can help to understand trends, it is not enough to draw conclusions about divorce in the Orthodox Church. The Archdiocese has taken steps to address some of these issues.
The Synod on the orthodox church and ecclesastical divorce calls on pastors to help the divorced. Divorced persons should not view themselves as separated from the Church; they must be encouraged to continue participating in the life of the Church. They must be encouraged to hear the word of God, attend the Sacrifice of the Mass, persevere in prayer, contribute to the community’s efforts for justice, raise their children in the faith and cultivate a spirit of penance.
An ecclesiastical divorce is similar to an annulment in Catholic theology. An ecclesiastical divorce is granted by the Orthodox church only when the parties have voluntarily agreed to separate, after thorough investigation. It is a rare procedure that only requires the approval of a hierarch. In the first millennium, the Eastern ecclesiastical divorce system was not viewed as a major obstacle to unity, but over time, the Catholic Church has begun to develop a more tolerant approach to this controversial issue. Currently, the two are nearly identical, and Orthodox Christians may have to adopt an annulment system if Catholics and Orthodox Christians ever decide to reunite.
An ecclesiastical divorce is granted only to people who consider themselves members of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. In such a case, a parish priest will try to settle the differences between the divorcing spouses in a way that will protect the spiritual well-being of the two parties. If the marriage has ended in a civil divorce, the parish priest will determine whether the divorcing couple can remarry. If the presiding bishop grants the divorce, the marriage is considered legal and the couple can remarry.
Non-sacramental second marriages
While Catholics may be wary of the notion of a non-sacramental second marriage, Orthodox Christians tolerate them. While the church does not allow divorce, it tolerates second marriages. In fact, it allows them in some cases, such as when a spouse dies and is widowed. Non-sacramental second marriages in the Orthodox church are not considered sacramentals.
The orthodox church has remained faithful to Paul’s principle: the uniqueness and indissolubility of marriage. The sacrament of marriage is the most sacred institution and orthodox doctrine affirms that no other relationship is more perfect than a marriage. The problem of divorce is complex and touches upon an uncomfortable reality of human life: the permanence of married life.
In the past, people had a better idea of marriage than they do today. Divorce and annulments were considered scandalous only a few decades ago, but they have become much more common in recent years. Interestingly, in 1898, no Christian believed in contraception, which contradicts the Catholic wedding vows. And non-sacramental second marriages are not prostitution or fornication, as they are commonly thought to be.
Catholics who are divorced and remarried should not be denied communion, as it might lead to embarrassment. Orthodox churches celebrate second and third marriages and allow them to participate in communion. They also allow married priests to serve in their churches. Although second marriages may cause embarrassment, they are still legal and a legitimate choice.
remarriage after divorce
Though Orthodox Christianity views marriage as an indissoluble union, it recognizes the circumstances where marriage is broken and remarries in some cases. These marriages are often more subdued and penitential than the first two. While divorce is a serious sin in the Orthodox Church, it is seen as compassionate toward sinful man. The Orthodox Church’s stance on remarriage is based on these circumstances.
In many Orthodox churches, the right to remarry is recognized. In addition, couples who have obtained a civil divorce may apply for an ecclesiastical divorce. Once their ecclesiastical divorce is final, the parish priest must determine whether they are capable of remarriage. For this reason, the Orthodox Church has a different stance on divorce than the Catholic Church.
While it is not impossible to find a way to allow remarriage after divorce in the Orthodox Church, it is not encouraged. A divorcee who remarries must cease committing adultery and generally separate from their new spouse. However, this may be difficult to do. The lawful spouse may also react with surprise when the remarried divorcee informs him/her of the situation.