Author: archpriest John Meiendorf
The official condition for church marriage is the union of faith – ie. the affiliation of the spouses to the Orthodox Church. The definitions of the Laodicean (Rule 10 and 31), Carthage (Rule 21), Fourth and Sixth Ecumenical Councils (Rule 14 of Chalcedon, Rule 72 of Fifth-Sixth) forbid marriage between Orthodox and non-Orthodox. and recommend the dissolution of such marriages if they are registered with the civil authorities.
But of course, this is not a formal issue. The common faith makes marriage truly Christian. Of course, even if you do not belong to a Church, it is possible to enjoy friendship, share mutual interests, feel true unity and “abide in love” for one another. But the whole problem is whether it is possible for all these human relationships to change and become a reality of the Kingdom of God if they are not enriched by the experience of belonging to the Kingdom, if they are not strengthened by common faith. Is it possible to become “one body” in Christ without communion with His Eucharistic Body and Blood? Is it possible for a married couple to enter into the sacrament of marriage – a sacrament relating to “Christ and the Church” – if the spouses do not participate together in the sacrament of the Divine Liturgy?
These are no longer formal questions, but fundamental problems that need to be answered by anyone facing the problem of intermarriage. Certainly the easiest solutions are confessional relativism (“there are not many differences between our churches”) or simply the removal of the Eucharist as the center of the Christian life. Unfortunately, the modern practice of marriage, which does not distinguish between single and mixed marriages, is treading on the above path. We have already said that this practice stems from the gradual desecration of marriage, and the separation of the wedding from the Eucharist is the ultimate expression of this process. In the Ancient Church, the canons forbidding mixed marriages were understood by all – everyone knew that Orthodox and non-Orthodox could not participate together in the Eucharist through which marriage was blessed. This already controversial issue has been further complicated by the recent Protestant practice of “intercommunion” (common communion between representatives of different denominations) among divided Christians, a practice partially embraced by modern Catholics. Personal and general responsibility for the visible Church of Christ in her Eucharist can here in practice be replaced by vague and passive religiosity, in which the sacraments play a mostly secondary role .
By renouncing “intercommunion”, the Orthodox Church does not deny Christian unity. On the contrary, it defends true and complete unity and denies all its surrogates. Therefore, with regard to marriage, the Church desires the spouses to enjoy complete unity in Christ, and therefore considers only those marriages in which two beings are united in a perfect unity of faith, sealed by the seal of the Eucharist, to be truly sanctified.
Recently, “mixed” marriages are a common occurrence. In our pluralistic society, where the Orthodox are a small minority, mixed marriages make up a large (and ever-growing) percentage of all marriages that are blessed in our churches and also, unfortunately, outside of Orthodoxy. We all know that some such marriages lead to happy families and it would be unwise and superficial to ban them. In practice, some mixed marriages turn out to be healthier and happier than Orthodox marriages, in which the two have never heard of the true meaning of Christian marriage and have not taken on any Christian responsibility before God.
This indisputable truth does not belittle the fact that the Gospel calls us not to a partial revelation of the truth or even to “happiness” in the conventional human sense. The Lord says, Be perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect (Matt. 5:48). Christianity is inconceivable without the struggle for perfection. Religious indifference, or the acceptance of the Christian faith as a secondary aspect of life, in itself precludes the pursuit of perfection of which Christ speaks. The church can never come to terms with indifference and relativism.
Therefore, an Orthodox priest cannot bless a marriage between Orthodox and non-Orthodox. It is also obvious that pronouncing the name of Jesus Christ to a person who does not acknowledge Him as His Lord is meaningless. Such a prayer would be disrespectful not only to God but also to man and his beliefs (or lack of beliefs). When a participant in a future marriage is a baptized Christian, the blessing of the Orthodox Church is justified by the apostle Paul’s conviction that the unbelieving man is sanctified by his believing wife and that the unbelieving wife is sanctified by her husband-believers (1 Cor. 7:14). But these words probably refer to a marriage in which one of the participants subsequently turns to the true faith, and not to one in which a member of the Church is combined with a person who does not recognize the Church. In any case, the Church hopes that religious unity in the family will be restored and that the day will come when both spouses will be united in Orthodoxy.
The rule adopted by some Orthodox dioceses – to require participants in mixed marriages to make a written promise to baptize and educate children in Orthodoxy – is (at least for the signatories) very dubious both from a principled standpoint and from the point of view of efficiency. There can be no compromise here: either the Orthodox husband must be strong enough in his convictions to pass on his own religious understandings to the children and confidently bring his whole family to the Church, or he must renounce any action. . For those who marry outside the Orthodox Church, the pastoral attitude must be fully defined. Such a marriage is seen as a betrayal of the mysterious grace received by the Church in baptism, which is in fact incompatible with belonging to the Church.
Many misunderstandings related to mixed marriages would be resolved for both Orthodox and non-Orthodox people if the ancient practice of uniting marriage and the Eucharist were revived. Then, in the wedding of mixed couples, a completely different ceremony, independent of the Eucharist, should be used (as in the second or third marriage between Orthodox). The impossibility of blessing mixed marriages during the Liturgy would in itself be eloquent enough and would show: first, the true nature of the marriage sanctified by the Church; secondly, the pastoral tolerance shown by the Church in the blessing of mixed marriage, and finally, thirdly, the Church’s desire for mixed marriage to take the path to perfection in the union of faith and joint participation in the Eucharist.
 For the Orthodox view (quite negative) of “intercommunion” between divided Christians, cf. in St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quartery, vol. 12, 1968, Nos. 3-4.