Preamble: In 1976, the Holy Synod published a booklet entitled Marriage. This booklet was one of a series of booklets prepared under the general heading Documents of the Orthodox Church in America. Other booklets in this series are: Confession and Communion, and Spiritual Life. The intent of this series was to provide authoritative norms for the whole Church in America. In addition, the Tenth All-American Council of the Orthodox Church in America, held in Miami, Florida in 1992, received from the Holy Synod newly formulated Synodal Affirmations on Marriage, Family, Sexuality, and the Sanctity of Life.
Thus, Diocesan Guidelines presuppose the Holy Synod's booklet and the affirmations, and pastors (and parishes) are urged to make that booklet and the affirmations available to all the faithful, and to present it to couples who are preparing for marriage.
The function of the Diocesan Guidelines presented below is to:
- implement the Holy Synod's documents;
- articulate in more detail some of the specific points in the documents;
- add those guidelines that refer to particular issues and problems in the Diocese, but which were not addressed by the Holy Synod.
The following Guidelines are extrapolated from the Holy Synod's documents, and contain points articulated by the New England Diocesan Clergy Conference. For the sake of clarity and brevity, they are presented in terse form. Obviously, however, each implicitly embodies a reason and explanation. These reasons and explanations are provided in a more full way in the documents offered by the Holy Synod, in the variety of literature that is referred to in that document, and of course, from the pastor himself.
I. Premarital Guidance
Before setting a date, renting a hall, etc., a couple planning marriage must first seek the blessing, guidance and advice of their pastor.
II. Ecclesial Content of Marriage
A. Couples should plan their weddings for seasons, times and days which are permitted by the Church for marriage. The most appropriate time for weddings is Sunday, after the Divine Liturgy.
1. Marriages are not to be celebrated on:
- the evenings before Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year;
- on Saturday evenings throughout the year;
- the eves of the twelve Great Feasts, or patronal feasts of the parish;
- during the course of all the fasts (Great Lent, Apostles' Fast, Dormition Fast, Advent Lent);
- during the course of Cheesefare Week (from Sunday of Meatfare to the Sunday of Cheesefare);
- from the feast of the Nativity of the Lord (December 25) through the feast of the Synaxis of St. John the Baptist (January 7);
- on the day and the eve of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist (August 29) and the Elevation of the Cross (September 14).
2. Because marriages are normally not to be celebrated on Saturdays, requests for Saturday weddings require a petition in writing to the Bishop, by the rector, for the Bishop's consent.
- those Saturday weddings that are permitted will be celebrated no later than 11:00 a.m., with the reception to conclude well before the evening vigil services.
B. Marriages are to be celebrated in an Orthodox Church building, and not in halls, gardens, or other places.
III. Mixed Marriages
A. Mixed marriage (i.e., a marriage between an Orthodox person and a non-Orthodox Christian who is nevertheless baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and who confesses the Lordship of Christ, though not the norm in the Church is tolerated under the following guidelines:
1. A petition for all mixed marriages must be submitted to the Bishop for his blessing.
2. The Orthodox partner may not agree to have any future children of the union baptized in a non-Orthodox confession, including Roman Catholicism, as a pre-condition for marriage in the Orthodox Church.
B. Active participation of non-Orthodox clergy in the services and sacraments of the Orthodox Church is forbidden; and conversely, active participation of Orthodox clergy in non-Orthodox services and rites is forbidden.
C. Toleration of mixed marriages does not extend to marriage between an Orthodox and a non-Christian person, such as: Unitarian, Mormon, Jew, Jehovah's Witness, Christian Scientist, Moslem, and so forth.
IV. Second Marriages and Marriages of Divorced Persons
A. The Orthodox norm is one marriage for each person (couple). Toleration of the second, and possible third marriage, or a marriage involving a divorced person is extended under the following guidelines:
1. The Church does not grant "church divorces." However, it recognizes that because of human weaknesses and sin, marriages sometimes disintegrate and are ended by civil decree (divorce), and thus in its mercy and wisdom may grant a permission to remarry, a permission given by the Bishop.
2. Second (or third) marriages, or a marriage involving a divorced person (even if that person is not Orthodox) requires a petition to the Bishop for his approval.
B. The Order of the Service
1. Guidelines as set forth in Section II apply in this case, in addition:
2. If one party of the marriage is being married for the first time (even if that person is not Orthodox), the order for the first marriage is to be used;
3. If both the partners are divorced and/or widowed, the order for the second marriage is to be used.
V. Marriage Outside the Orthodox Church
Orthodox Christians who marry outside the Orthodox Church, thereby excluding their marital life from the Life of the Church, exclude themselves as well from the participation in the Holy Eucharist, and therefore exclude themselves from full membership in the Church.
1. Such persons, upon their request, may be restored to Eucharistic fellowship after a period of penance, upon recommendation by the pastor, and upon the approval of the Bishop.
2. Normally, such an act of restoration includes, as well, the restoration of the heterodox marriage through a service approved by the Bishop.
These guidelines offered do not preclude any additions as may be warranted from time to time.