Marriage is the union of a man and a woman established by God in Paradise (Gen. 2:18-24; Matt. 19:6). Church marriage is performed and sanctified by the sacrament of Marriage. According to the apostle Paul, marriage is like the union of Christ and the Church: “The husband is the head of the wife, just as Christ is the head of the Church. <…> Therefore a man will leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This mystery is great; I speak in relation to Christ and to the Church. So let each of you love his wife as himself; but let the wife be afraid of her husband” (Eph. 5:22-33).
The goal of Christian marriage is the joint achievement of an indestructible unity with Christ in His Never-Evening Kingdom. The Christian life of spouses involves cultivating in love the gift of grace received in the sacrament of Marriage, which is manifested, among other things, in childbearing and the joint labor of raising children.
I. Preparation for the wedding and its completion
Marriage implies an open will of a man and a woman, as a result of which rights and obligations arise in relation to each other, as well as to children. “Marriage is the union of a man and a woman, the community of all life, participation in divine and human law,” says the principle of Roman law, which is also included in Slavic church legal sources (Kormchaya, ch. 49). In this regard, church marriage in those countries where it does not have civil legal consequences takes place after the state registration of marriage. This practice has a basis in the life of the ancient Church. In the era of persecution, Christians did not allow compromises with the state pagan religion and preferred martyrdom to participation in pagan rituals. However, even in this historical period, they married in the same way as the rest of the subjects of the Roman state. “They (i.e., Christians) marry like everyone else,” says a 2nd-century Christian writer (Epistle to Diognetus, V). At the same time, Christian marriages, like all other important matters, were performed with the blessing of the bishop: “It is necessary, as you do, to do nothing without the bishop” (St. Ignatius the God-bearer. Epistle to the Trallians, II).
In modern practice, a wedding before the state registration of marriage is possible as an exception with the blessing of the diocesan bishop – for example, in cases of upcoming participation in hostilities, a serious illness or a long separation of future spouses. In situations that require an urgent decision on the wedding prior to state registration, the priest can independently make such a decision, with a subsequent report to the diocesan bishop.
Cohabitation, not consecrated by the Church and at the same time also not registered in the manner prescribed by state law, is not recognized by the Church as a marriage.
It is not recognized as possible to marry marriages registered in accordance with state legislation, but not corresponding to canonical norms (for example, if the number of marriages allowed by church rules is exceeded by one of those wishing to get married or if they are in unacceptable degrees of kinship).
The Church blesses the marriages of those persons who consciously approach this sacrament. In modern church documents, it is prescribed: “Due to the lack of churchness of the majority of those entering into a church marriage, it seems necessary to establish mandatory preparatory conversations before the sacrament of Marriage, during which the clergyman or lay catechist must explain to those entering into marriage the importance and responsibility of the step they are taking, to reveal the Christian understanding of love between man and woman, to explain the meaning and meaning of family life in the light of Holy Scripture and the Orthodox teaching about salvation.
One should strive to ensure that the wedding of Orthodox Christians takes place in the parish to which they belong.
The Sacrament of Marriage, as well as the Sacrament of Baptism, cannot be performed on a person who denies the fundamental truths of the Orthodox faith and Christian morality. Those who wish to receive them for superstitious reasons cannot be admitted to participate in these ordinances. In this case, it is recommended to postpone the wedding until the person realizes the true meaning of the sacrament of Marriage.
The Church also does not allow the following persons to be married:
a) who are in another civil or church marriage that has not ended;
b) on the basis of the 54th canon of the Trullo Council and the church legislation of the Russian Orthodox Church (decree of the Most Holy Governing Synod of January 19, 1810) – those who are related to each other in a direct line in all degrees, and in the side line up to the seventh degree inclusive; marriages in the fifth, sixth and seventh degree of lateral consanguinity may be performed with the blessing of the diocesan bishop;
c) on the basis of the same rule and the synodal decree – being among themselves in property from two genera to the fourth degree inclusive, or property from three genera in the first degree;
d) those who are spiritually related: the recipient and the recipient received in Holy Baptism, the recipient and the recipient; the recipient and mother, as well as the recipient and father of the perceived or perceived;
e) previously married three times; marriages are taken into account, both married and not married, but received state registration, in which the person wishing to enter into a new marriage was after his acceptance of Holy Baptism;
f) those who are in the clergy (starting with those initiated into the subdeacon rank) and monasticism;
g) not belonging to Christianity;
h) who have not reached the minimum age limit in accordance with the current civil legislation;
i) who have reached the maximum age limit according to the rules of St. Basil the Great – 60 years for women (rule 24) and 70 years for men (rule 88); this restriction excludes married couples who have lived together and for one reason or another – for example, in connection with the acquisition of faith – who decided to proceed to the sacrament of the Wedding only in advanced years;
j) recognized as legally incompetent in accordance with the procedure established by law in connection with a mental disorder.
It is unacceptable to perform a wedding without the free consent of both parties.
In cases where the priest finds it difficult to determine the presence or absence of obstacles to the celebration of the Sacrament of Marriage, the priest must either independently turn to the diocesan bishop, or invite those wishing to get married to turn to the diocesan authorities for resolution of the perplexity that has arisen and permission to perform the wedding.
The consecration of marriage, committed – by mistake or maliciously – in the presence of obstacles established by church legislation, is recognized as invalid. The exception is weddings performed in the presence of such obstacles that can be ignored with the blessing of the bishop (see item b of the list above), or if one of the wedding persons does not meet the age limit, if by the time the violation was discovered the legal age had already been reached or if in such a marriage already had a baby. At the same time, if the marriage is recognized as invalid due to violation of the age requirement, the wedding may be performed when the parties reach the legal age.
A marriage may be declared invalid upon the application of one of the spouses in the event of the incapacity of the other spouse for marital cohabitation due to natural reasons, if such inability began before the marriage and is not due to advanced age. In accordance with the definition of the All-Russian Church Council of 1917-1918. an appeal on this occasion to the diocesan authorities can be accepted for consideration no earlier than two years from the date of the marriage, and “the indicated period is not obligatory in cases where the inability of the spouse is undoubted and is due to the absence or abnormal anatomical structure of organs” .
With regard to Orthodox Christians, whose marriage, entered into by them in a lawful manner, is not consecrated by the sacrament of Marriage, parish priests should be guided by the decision of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church of December 28, 1998, on the inadmissibility of the practice of depriving Communion of persons living in an unmarried marriage, and identifying such a marriage with fornication. You should have special pastoral care for such people, explaining to them the need for grace-filled help requested in the sacrament of Marriage, and also that for Orthodox Christians the practice of living in a civil marriage without a wedding is unacceptable.
With the blessing of spouses who have lived together for many years and have not been married in the Church, one should use the “Chinese of the wedding of spouses who have been for many years”.
II. Marriage with non-Orthodox and non-Orthodox
The difference in the religion of the bride and groom makes it canonically impossible to consecrate marriages between Orthodox and non-Christians (IV BC 14; Laod. 10, 31; Carth. 30; VI BC 72). The Council of Trulli (canon 72), under the threat of excommunication, forbids Orthodox Christians from marrying not only pagans, but also heretics.
This is connected with the care of the Church for the Christian growth of those who marry: “The common faith of spouses who are members of the body of Christ is the most important condition for a truly Christian and church marriage. Only a family that is united in faith can become a “domestic church” (Rom. 16:5; Philm. 1:2), in which the husband and wife, together with their children, grow in spiritual perfection and the knowledge of God. Lack of unanimity poses a serious threat to the integrity of the marital union. That is why the Church considers it her duty to call on believers to marry “only in the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:39), that is, with those who share their Christian convictions.
At the same time, the Church can show pastoral indulgence towards persons married to non-Christians, making sure that they maintain contact with the Orthodox community and are able to raise their children in Orthodoxy. The priest, considering each individual case, should remember the words of the Apostle Paul: “If any brother has an unbelieving wife, and she agrees to live with him, then he should not leave her; and a wife who has an unbelieving husband, and he agrees to live with her, must not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the believing wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the believing husband” (1 Corinthians 7:12-14).
The question of the possibility of blessing the marriages of Orthodox Christians with non-Orthodox Christians must be decided in accordance with the current definitions of the highest church authority. Thus, in the Fundamentals of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church, it is stated: “Based on considerations of pastoral economy, the Russian Orthodox Church, both in the past and today, finds it possible for Orthodox Christians to marry Catholics, members of the Ancient Eastern Churches and Protestants who profess faith in the Triune God, subject to the blessing of marriage in the Orthodox Church and the upbringing of children in the Orthodox faith. The same practice has been followed in most of the Orthodox Churches over the past centuries.
III. Termination of marriage
The marital union must be indestructible according to the word of the Savior: “What God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matt. 19:6).
At the same time, based on the gospel teaching, the Church recognizes the possibility of ending a marriage during the lifetime of both spouses in the event of adultery by one of them (Matthew 5:32; 19:9). Divorce is also possible in cases that affect the marriage union as destructively as adultery. In addition, the Church considered acceptable a number of reasons for divorce, which can be likened to the natural death of one of the spouses, ending the marriage.
At present, the Russian Orthodox Church, on the basis of the sacred canons, the definition of the Holy Council of the Orthodox Russian Church of 1917-1918 “On the reasons for the termination of the marriage union, sanctified by the Church” and the Fundamentals of the social concept of the Russian Orthodox Church, considers the following reasons acceptable for considering the issue of recognizing a marriage as broken :
a) the falling away of one of the spouses from Orthodoxy;
b) adultery of one of the spouses (Matt. 19:9) and unnatural vices;
c) the entry of one of the spouses into a new marriage in accordance with civil law;
d) monastic vows of one of the spouses, performed on the condition of mutual consent and the fulfillment of all moral obligations in relation to family members; tonsure performed without observing these conditions cannot be considered valid, and its consequences must be regulated by the Regulations on Monasteries and Monasticism;
e) the inability of one of the spouses to marital cohabitation, which was the result of intentional self-mutilation;
f) illness of one of the spouses with leprosy, syphilis, AIDS, as well as medically certified chronic alcoholism or drug addiction of the spouse;
g) the unknown absence of one of the spouses, if it lasts for at least three years in the presence of an official certificate of the authorized state body; the specified period is reduced to two years after the end of hostilities for the spouses of persons missing in connection with such, and to two years for the spouses of persons missing in connection with other disasters and emergencies;
h) malicious abandonment of one spouse by another;
i) the wife performing an abortion with the husband’s disagreement or the husband forcing his wife to have an abortion;
j) an encroachment by one of the spouses on the life or health of the other or children, established by a court order;
k) an incurable severe mental illness of one of the spouses that occurred during the marriage, confirmed by a medical certificate.
If one of the spouses has one of the listed grounds, the second may apply to the diocesan authorities with a request to consider the issue of terminating the marriage. At the same time, the presence of a decision of secular authorities on the dissolution of a marriage does not negate the need for an independent judgment and its own decision for the church authorities according to the reason of Holy Scripture, according to church canons and according to the duty of pastoral care.
Before contacting the diocesan bishop, those intending to divorce should meet with their parish priest, who is called upon to study the situation and, if possible, exhort the spouses to reconcile. In the event that such an exhortation fails or it is impossible to carry it out, the priest issues an appropriate conclusion to them for submission to the diocesan administration, or sends such an opinion to the diocesan administration independently.
After examining the issue, the diocesan bishop issues a certificate recognizing this church marriage as broken and about the possibility for the innocent party to marry a second or third marriage. The guilty party may be provided with such an opportunity after repentance and the execution of penance, about which the guilty spouse may also be issued a certificate if he applies.
The actual consideration of cases and the issuance of the said certificates may be carried out, with the blessing of the diocesan bishop, by a commission consisting of presbyters and, if possible, headed by a vicar bishop, if there is one in the diocese. Cases are considered by the commission collegially, and if necessary – with hearing of the parties. The decision on the dissolution of marriage is made in the diocese at the place of actual residence of the spouses. If the spouses live in different dioceses, the marriage can be dissolved in one or another diocese.
About consanguinity and property
The collateral blood relationship, in degrees in which marriage is prohibited without the possibility of exception, consists of:
• in the second degree – brothers and sisters, including consanguineous and consanguineous (hereinafter);
• in the third degree – uncles and aunts with nephews and nieces;
• in the fourth degree —
cousins among themselves;
great aunts and grandparents with great nieces and nieces (that is, with the grandchildren or granddaughters of their brothers or sisters).
The degrees of blood relationship along the lateral line, in the presence of which a marriage can be performed with the blessing of a bishop, consist (in this and in the following lists all possible family ties of each degree are given, despite the fact that marriages in some cases are impossible even theoretically, given the difference in generations):
• in the fifth degree —
this person with the children of his cousins or sisters;
this person with great-grandchildren and great-grandchildren of his brothers or sisters;
• in the sixth degree —
second cousins among themselves;
this person with grandchildren and granddaughters of his cousins or sisters;
this person with the great-great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren of his brothers or sisters;
• in the seventh degree —
this person with the children of his second cousins or sisters;
this person with great-grandchildren and great-granddaughters of his cousins or sisters;
– this person with the great-great-great-grandchildren and great-great-great-grandchildren of his brothers or sisters.
In property from two genera (two-kind property) in the case of monogamy of both spouses, there are:
• in the first degree – the spouse and parents of the other spouse;
• in the second degree —
spouse and grandparents, brothers and sisters of the other spouse;
husband’s parents and wife’s parents among themselves;
• in the third degree —
spouse and great-grandfathers, great-grandmothers, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces of the other spouse;
parents of one spouse and grandparents, brothers and sisters of the other spouse;
• in the fourth degree —
spouse and great-great-grandparents, great-great-grandmothers, cousins, cousins, grand-nephews and nieces of the other spouse;
parents of one spouse and great-grandfathers, great-grandmothers, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces of the other spouse.
In property from two genera (two-kind property) in case of bigamy of one or both spouses, there are:
• in the first degree – stepfather and stepmother with stepsons and stepdaughters;
• in the second degree —
this person with stepsons and stepdaughters of a son or daughter;
– stepbrothers and sisters;
• in the third degree —
this person with stepsons and stepdaughters of grandsons or granddaughters;
this person with the children of his half-brothers and sisters;
• in the fourth degree —
this person with stepchildren and stepdaughters of great-grandchildren or great-granddaughters;
– this person with the grandchildren of his half-brothers and sisters;
children of stepbrothers and sisters among themselves.
In a property from three genera (three-kind property) in the first degree are:
• stepfather and wife of his stepson; stepmother and husband of her stepdaughter;
• the husband and mother-in-law of his wife from her other marriage; wife and father-in-law of her husband from his other marriage.