Getting Married in the Greek Orthodox Church
The First Steps: Basic Guidelines for Marriage in the Greek Orthodox Church, Part I
When getting married in the Greek Orthodox Church, especially interfaith marriages, there are a lot of questions about what may be allowed in the Church, and what may be prohibited. Luckily, as with many practices of the Church, the Church has explicitly stated guidelines for marriage in the Greek Orthodox Church.
These guidelines outline the official position of the Orthodox Church and simply dictate what is allowed and what is not allowed to take place. They concern the basic rules that must be met, acting as the official canons of the Orthodox Church. They represent the fundamental core of the sacrament of marriage where there is little to no room for negotiation or exception.
According to the Greek Orthodox Church, first and foremost, the marriage must be conducted in an Orthodox Church. This unfortunately pretty much rules out the romantic beach weddings in the Caribbean that are all over TV. This is not because the Church does not like the beach; rather since Marriage is one of the seven sacraments, it is seen as a sacred ceremony, one that should be conducted in a sacred space—an Orthodox Church.
This in turn means that an Orthodox priest must celebrate the sacrament with a traditional Orthodox ceremony in an Orthodox Church. The respective Diocese must also grant authorization of the service.
The engaged couple must meet with the parish priest of the church in which they are to be married. The priest must belong to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese; however marriages that are performed in another Orthodox jurisdiction (Serbian, Russian, Bulgarian etc.) in communion with the Greek Orthodox Church are recognized as valid. Before asking for authorization from the Bishop, it is the priest’s job to verify that several fundamental conditions are either avoided or met adequately.
These early conditions are:
- Neither the groom or bride to be are already married to another person
- The parties are not related to one another to a degree that would be prohibited
- If either or both parties are widowed, they must have the death certificate of the deceased spouse
- If either or both parties have been previously married in the Orthodox Church, they have acquired an ecclesiastical divorce in addition to a civil divorce
- The party or parties who are members of a parish that is different than the one in which the marriage is to occur have provided certificates declaring them to be ‘members in good standing’ with that parish for the current year
- A civil marriage license has been obtained from the civil authorities
When discussing things such as these, it is important to understand what some of the church-related ‘language’ or terminology may be referring to. In America when an Orthodox member is described as being a member in ‘good standing’ that generally means they pledge some form of stewardship to the church they belong to. It also can mean that they are members in good standing of the Greek Orthodox Church in general, as in they do not have any outstanding issues that put them at odds with any of the canons of the church. A person may not be considered in good standing if he or she is divorced in the civil sense, but has not yet been officially divorced in the ecclesiastical sense, i.e. as recognized as a valid divorce by the church.
The Orthodox Church’s guidelines also state that a person may not marry more than three times, so when issues arise regarding the legitimacy of ecclesiastical divorces, the issues should be resolved before beginning the process of getting remarried. This is true even if a civil divorce has been acquired for quite some time. This applies to both the Orthodox bride and groom to be, as well as any prospective Koumbaros/Koumbara, as they too must be considered a member in good standing.
The priest has a very big role to play when it comes to marriages in the Greek Orthodox Church. It is up to them to make sure that a prospective couple meets all of the previously mentioned guidelines that are laid out by the Church. These guidelines are only half of the story. In addition to the information that the priest must validate when regarding divorces and being members in good standing, the Church also outlines several other positions on other circumstances a couple may present. These cover a wider social spectrum of situations such as the Church allows people to marry no more than three times.
With interfaith marriages, the non-Orthodox partner must have been baptized in water in the name of the Holy Trinity. This means that marriages can in fact occur between a Greek Orthodox groom and a say a Roman Catholic bride, as long as the marriage takes place in an Orthodox Church. However, while inter-faith marriages such as these are allowed, an Orthodox Christian is not allowed to marry a non-Christian.
While marriages to other ‘Trinitarian’ Christians are allowed, the Koumbaros or Koumbara [The ‘Sponsor’] must be an Orthodox Christian that is in good standing with the Church. A person who either does not belong to a parish or belongs to a parish not in communion with the Greek Orthodox Church is not allowed to be a Sponsor. This is because the Koumbaros[a] plays a very active role in the Greek Orthodox wedding ceremony. But do not panic, non-Orthodox friends are allowed to be members of the general wedding party, but are not allowed to be Koumbaros or Koumbara.
Finally, the Church lists days when the sacrament is prohibited:
- January 5-6th [Epiphany]
- Great Lent [Dates shifting]
- Holy Week/Pasxa [Dates Shifting]
- August 1st– 15th [Dormition of the Theotokos]
- August 29th [Beheading of St. John the Baptist]
- Sept3ember 14th [Exaltation of the Holy Cross]
- December 13th-25th [Christmas]
- The day before or on major feast days including Pentecost, Christmas, Pasxa etc.
It must also be noted that a non-Orthodox Christian who marries an Orthodox Christian does not automatically become an Orthodox Christian. This person is therefore not allowed to receive Holy Communion or other sacraments of the Church. This person may however join Greek Orthodoxy through the process of conversion.
While non-Orthodox Christians can marry in the Orthodox Church, an Orthodox Christian is not allowed to marry in a non-Orthodox Church or ceremony. If an Orthodox Christian does get married outside of the Orthodox Church, then they are in effect excommunicating themselves from the Orthodox Church. This means that they are barred from partaking in any sacraments of the Church, whether it be communion, or even an Orthodox funeral.
While it may seem extremely difficult or complex to get married in the Greek Orthodox Church, rest assured it is not. Before the planning begins the best thing to do is to meet with your parish priest, and they will assist and inform you on the journey to marriage in the Church. Because the church is such a central figure in Greek culture, especially here in America, it is always good to know what to expect before your wedding occurs.
Categorized in: Greek Wedding Traditions
This post was written by Greek Boston