Sunday, October 20, 2019

On that request for second marriages

As I posted on earlier, there is a request from the Greek Archdiocese to permit three priests to remarry. As I said then, I will repeat now: Once a man is ordained he is a father to the Church. As such all laity are his children. One does not date nor marry one's children. The priest is to be an example and so is set to a higher standard. While we can have some sympathy for a man with children who loses his wife, we must also acknowledge that the death of one's spouse certainly happened with much more frequency in centuries past than today. If he wishes to return to the laity so that he might find a spouse, that is well and good. If he wishes to continue his ministry, that is well and good for the church too. This third "option" caused no little scandal when it happened in Antiochian Archdiocese some years ago, and it would cause no little scandal for world Orthodoxy were it to happen in the Greek Archdiocese today.

What is it about this age that is so special that our answer to the same predicament men found themselves in for millennia should receive a different answer today?

( - The Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America met in New York on October 15-16 under the presidency of Archbishop Elpidophoros of America, dealing with a number of issues, including the organization of Synodal Committees, clerical discipline, the possibility of electing a new vicar bishop, the ongoing construction of the St. Nicholas shrine at Ground Zero, and much more.

In particular, according to the official communiqué published by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, the Synod “Examined the petitions of three clergymen who have requested to enter into holy matrimony in the second instance and decided to formally extend a request to the Ecumenical Patriarchate.”

The Patriarchate of Constantinople, to which the Greek Archdiocese belongs, made serious waves last year when it decided to allow second marriages for priests in the event they are widowed or abandoned by their wives, given that the decision contradicts the long-standing canonical tradition of the Church.

The decision even contradicts the resolution on marriage approved by the Council of Crete in 2016 that was presided over by Patriarch Bartholomew himself.

Each case is to be judged individually by the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and the service of the second marriage is to be a low-key event for a close family circle.

There are several ecumenically-received canons of the holy Orthodox Church deal with clerical marriage:

Canon 17 of the Holy Apostles: He who has been twice married after baptism, or who has had a concubine, cannot become a bishop, presbyter, or deacon, or any other of the sacerdotal list.

Canon 26: Of those who have been admitted to the clergy unmarried, we ordain, that the readers and singers only may, if they will, marry.

Canon 3 of the 6th Ecumenical Council: We decree, that those who are involved in a second marriage … and have not resolved to repent of it, be subjected to canonical deposition: but that they who are involved in this disorder of a second marriage, but before our decree have acknowledged what is fitting, and have cut off their sin, and have put far from them this strange and illegitimate connection, or they whose wives by second marriage are already dead, or who have turned to repentance of their own accord, having learnt continence, and having quickly forgotten their former iniquities, whether they be presbyters or deacons, these we have determined should cease from all priestly ministrations or exercise, being under punishment for a certain time, but should retain the honor of their seat and station, being satisfied with their seat before the laity and begging with tears from the Lord that the transgression of their ignorance be pardoned them: for unfitting it were that he should bless another who has to tend his own wounds.

Ancient Epitome of Canon 3: Priests who shall have contracted second marriages and will not give them up are to be deposed. But those who leave off the wickedness, let them cease for a fixed period. For he that is himself wounded does not bless. But who are implicated in nefarious marriage and who after ordination have contracted marriage, after a definite time they shall be restored to their grade, provided they remain without offence, having plainly broken off the marriage. But if after it shall have been prohibited by this decree they attempt to do so they shall remain deposed.

Canon 12 of St. Basil the Great: The Canon has unconditionally excluded from the service all digamists (i.e., men that have married twice).

Canon 1 of the Council of Neocaesarea: If a presbyter marry, let him be removed from his order; but if he commit fornication or adultery, let him be altogether cast out [i.e. of communion] and put to penance.

The above canonical tradition is taken into account in the document, “The Sacrament of Marriage and Its Impediments,” which was promulgated at the Council of Crete in 2016, which Patriarch Bartholomew himself presided over and in which he takes great pride.

In the section, “On Impediments to Marriage and the application of economy,” the document reads: “4. Priesthood in itself does not constitute an impediment to marriage, but in accordance with the prevailing canonical tradition (Canon 3 of the Quinisext Ecumenical Council), after ordination entrance into marriage is forbidden.”

However, Fr. Theodore Zisis, professor emeritus of theology of the University of Thessaloniki, notes that the issue of second marriages actually began with the highly controversial so-called “pan-Orthodox Congress of Constantinople in 1923” (the council that adopted the New Calendar—a decision that continues to cause divisions in the Church to this day), which allowed for second marriages for widowed priests and deacons.

This was followed, he writes, by various other councils, where the views of hierarchs and teachers were expressed on the matter, with the result of this work being the Council of Crete, which, while it does not allow for clerical remarriage, Fr. Theodore notes that that wording of the document was changed at some point, resulting in a softer stance.

At pre-conciliar sessions, the document read: “In accordance with the prevailing canonical tradition (Canon 3 of the Quinisext Ecumenical Council), the priesthood is an impediment to marriage,” whereas in its final form, the document declares that the “Priesthood in itself does not constitute an impediment to marriage…”

“Let us hope that this wording will not be used by anyone to circumvent the clear instructions of the sacred canons,” comments the well-known Greek theologian Archimandrite Sarantis Sarantou.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I pray that there will be no scandals. We'll have to see whether or not this time "will be different." I fear not.

  3. "What is it about this age that is so special that our answer to the same predicament men found themselves in for millennia should receive a different answer today?"

    Because so much of the Church is so secularized that when it comes to the anthropology (i.e. marriage, sex, women's ordination, sex, homosexualism, sex, abortion, life, sex...), they don't know which way is up. 1923 sounds right - right when the EP and theology of the Greek Church rather uncritically entered and accepted the modern world...

    1. Jake,

      I can't think of a more accurate or succinct way to describe the origins of the pathology that we are observing the Church suffer from as the inevitable symptoms develop.

      Well said, sir!

  4. Please provide us some more info before all the speculations.

    1. Steve,

      There is no speculation going on here.

      The mere fact that serious consideration is being given to 3 simultaneous cases on an issue that the canons have been crystal clear about for centuries is sufficient info to beg the initial question: "What is it about this age that is so special that our answer to the same predicament men found themselves in for millennia should receive a different answer today?"

      Jake opined the answer rather eloquently.

  5. I think the "Modernism" answer is too easy, and the "Golden Mean" can be lost if we are not careful. I will take Suicide for example. Traditionally, a person who committed suicide would be denied a funeral and Christian burial. BUT, as our understanding of mental illness has increased, we can see that not everyone who commits suicide is in full possession of their faculties. Should they still be denied a Christian burial?

    These pastoral considerations are not small. I am not comfortable with this allowance of priests to remarry, but I think it would be a hasty generalization to go on about "modernism" wholesale.

    1. David,

      Your point about suicide & mental illness that is medical pathology is well made.

      However, I don't think the same argument can be extended to the issue of priests remarrying.

      In fact, the initial post pointed out how in former times priests lost their wives with increasing frequency & often had many young children to care for as widowers as a result so if anything there is less of a "need" for allowing priests to remarry now than there was then.

      Respectfully, your analogy is largely irrelevant here.

    2. Timmy,

      My analogy was to make the point that not all "compromises" on the Canons are a result of "modernism." It was a gentle rebuttal to Jake's post.

    3. David,

      I completely agree that not all canonical "compromises" are the result of modernism. I think we all agree that there are & always have been cases of legitimate & wise exceptions made on the basis of pastoral economia.

      However, neither Jake, myself or Byzantine, TX made the claim that all cases of compromise are the result of modernism, which is why I felt compelled to point out the irrelevance of your analogy.

    4. I agree with you David in that like anything else "modernism" can become a hammer for which everything is a nail. On this subject, "modernism" should probably be narrowed to the "Sexual revolution". Medical advances, a better understanding as to what is and is not a "moral" failing around our phsychosomatic brains, and even seemingly related and in agreement with the sexual revolution understandings about sexuality and desire (i.e. "innateness") and the like all are not anti-traditional.

      Yet most of the Sexual Revolution is an anthropological revolution (moral/social/religious/metaphysical) and unrelated to genuine science and knowledge. Has it given us knowledge and insight into marriage for example? Does it say anything at all that would inform Christianity as to the nature and praxis of *sacramental* marriage? I would say no, and the various disastrous attempts to do so (e.g. Sr. Vassa or Met. Kallistos) simply put a spotlight on how much it and "modernism" are of a piece...hope that makes sense.

    5. Jake,

      It does make sense. My post was just a brotherly caution. It is all too easy to blame "modernity" in these types of discussions. The distortion of human sexuality is a bitter fruit, but the wisdom of the Saints remains.

  6. A few thoughts. Clerical continence and clerical celibacy are disciplines. Canons are laws and canons can change. Allowing, in certain instances, a cleric to remarry is not a carte blanche blessing by the EP. Will this be abused like other forms of economy, yes. The reality that abuses occur in the Church does not delegitimize something. Those clerics that meet the new requirements to enter into a second marriage after baptism and ordination cannot enter into a third marriage which still holds them to a higher standard than the laity. In many parts of the old world, hieromonks serving as parish priests in the village and widowed clergy often had their female 'housekeeper' throughout history as well as today. European and Mediterranean people often had, and continue to have in general, a more pragmatic view of human sexuality than some 'puritanical' Americans. While the Church in no way blessed this in the past or blesses it now, the people in the village certainly knew then, and know now, and had and have a very laissez-faire view of this very real phenomenon. At then end of the day, it's a matter between the priest and his bishop. And just as some bosses cannot date their employees, a cleric should not date a parishioner. This isn't that difficult.

    1. It seems like if you break down the door for a 2nd marriage, what is to stop the argument for a 3rd marriage? Especially in the case of a tragic loss and the presence of children? If anything, once you allow for a 2nd marriage, any argument against a 3rd marriage seems superficial if not hypocritical. If you can break the rule once, why is the 2nd time any worse? There will always be compelling arguments based on circumstance, but at what point do we draw a hard line in the sand? The Church seems to have drawn it at 1 marriage, if we redraw it at 2, I see no logical reason to think 3 wont be far behind.

    2. The new ruling does not allow for a third marriage and the previous ruling stood for 1,000's of years. Canons are laws and laws can change. There is no reason to say it will not stand at two marriages for another 1,000 years or until Christ comes again. At any rate, the decision has been made and it is doubtful it will be reversed. This is not an issue the Russians or any other national Churches will break communion over because it is only an issue of discipline.