Intermarriage Dilemma: The Orthodox Church Perspective

ARTICLESOur CHURCH
9.3K
7

Marriage is an important occasion in the life of every individual. It is a blessing of the Lord.  We Christians believe that marriage is a life-long promise. “Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” (St Matthew 19:6). Choosing a life partner hence is one of the most important decisions, if not the decision of one’s life. Years back this decision was squarely upon the parents and elders in the family. The only duty of the bride or groom would be to oblige. But as years passed by now it is up to the bride and groom to decide whom they marry. They find their own life partner from their educational institutions, workplace, or neighborhood.  What are the things (criteria would be a big word under the circumstance) that a guy or a girl look for when they are into such a relationship. Most of the cases they don’t think ahead (as the saying goes Love is blind). In most of the cases at beginning of a relationship it is very unlikely that the boy or girl thinks about the culture, background or religion (or denomination). With that being the case we are often witnesses to situations where the groom would be from one denomination/religion and the bride would be from another. From now on further writing would be from the perspective of the Orthodox Church, when faced with such a scenario.

Inter-Denominational Marriages

Even though the Church expects its members to marry from within, it never prohibits its members marrying from/to outside. There are Christian denominations which strictly prohibit its members from marrying from/to another denomination and if someone does so, their family will be shunned from the church, sometimes for lifetime or for a fixed period of time. The Orthodox Church does not do it. Yes, we do believe that the Orthodox Church is the One True Church which was established by the Lord, and all other denominations have, sometime during the elaborate history of Christianity, swayed away from the True Church. But that doesn’t mean that we condemn them and not respect them. Also we have to respect the decision of two mature individuals who have decided to be partners for life. Having said that there are certain things the Church expects from individual who marry from another denomination. We can sum it up to three things:-

1)The non-Orthodox partner should profess her allegiance to the Orthodox faith. If the non Orthodox partner is a Catholic then the Priests may ask him/her to attend Holy Qurbana and take communion in an Orthodox Church, before the marriage ceremony. If the non Orthodox partner is a Protestant, then she or he will require the Holy Chrismation before the above. The important thing to note here is, the non Orthodox partner doesn’t require Holy Baptism, as we say in our creed “in one baptism in repentance”. Holy Baptism would be administered only once in a lifetime.

2)The wedding needs to take place in the Orthodox way, administered by an Orthodox cleric. There are occasions when non Orthodox clerics would be a part of the marriage ceremony. He will be given a respectable position in the ceremony. Most likely he will be standing along with our clerics only. But he will not be allowed to lead or co-lead the sacrament. At the most the non Orthodox cleric may bless the couples at the end or give exhortation during the ceremony, that too with the permission of the Orthodox cleric.

3) The couples need to raise their children in the Orthodox Church. The decision of marriage would also have a bearing on their future generations. The Church expects the couples to raise their kids in the Orthodox Church i.e. is they are to be baptized in Orthodox Church, bring them for the Holy Qurbana, send them to an Orthodox Sunday School and take all sacraments from Orthodox Church only. The parents cannot just think that since one of them belonged to another denomination they can bring up their children in that Church.

Now, the above happens in a perfect “Orthodox” world. In India, the general custom is for the bride to follow the groom. Now, I am not a male chauvinist by any means but that is the reality in India. She might have to quit her job, if he doesn’t like, she might have to get herself transferred to where he is and all such things big and small. The same happens relating to which denomination to follow. If an Orthodox girl is married to a non Orthodox boy, then most likely the marriage would be held in the boy’s denomination’s way, administered by their cleric and the girl would be expected to follow the denomination to which the boy belongs, unless they have an agreement prior to that to go vice versa. In such a case, the girl after the marriage ceases to be a member of the Orthodox Church. This is not any kind of suspension or anything. If it was then the same would have applied to the girl’s family who arranged the marriage in the first place. Only the girl no longer is the member of the Orthodox Church. The family still remains part of the Orthodox Church. In such a case, after the marriage, the girl is not expected to partake in Holy Communion in an Orthodox Qurbana or take confession from an Orthodox Priest. In the Orthodox Church to receive Holy Communion, or any other Sacrament, is taken to be a declaration of total commitment to the Orthodox Faith. While we don’t prohibit an outsider to visit/attend an Orthodox Service, it is understood that only those communicant members of the Orthodox Church will approach the Holy Mysteries. In Protestant churches they see communion as only a symbol of grace. They reject the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist.

The question asked by many is why should not the girl be allowed continue in her denomination after her marriage. Why can’t a girl married to a non Orthodox Christian still continue as a part of the Orthodox Church? Why can’t a Catholic/Protestant girl who is married to an Orthodox boy, still be in that faith after marriage? Doesn’t everyone worship Jesus? Isn’t He the focal point of everyone denomination and aren’t all these Churches man made? Answering all these may take many more articles, but I will say this much. The Church was established by Lord Jesus Christ himself on the day of Pentecost. On the Pentecost, disciples gathered together were baptized by the Holy Spirit and hence forming the Church. Now from 4 AD to 2012 AD, this Church unfortunately didn’t remain as a single unit. Many people swayed away at different times forming what we call denominations. The Roman Catholic Church swayed away when they said that Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (Filioque). But see what the Lord said “the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name” St John 14:26. The Truth is the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone. They also said the since St Peter was the first bishop of Rome, and he was the head of the Apostles, the Pope has supremacy over all Christians, when Jesus clearly said “you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28) and “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35). The Protestant (which include Marthomites) swayed away when they taught that there is no need to seek the intercession of St Mary and the Saints and no need to pray for the departed, when Jesus says “he that receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward.” Matthew 10:41, and when Jesus himself talked to Mosses and Elijah, people who were dead thousands of years before him, during His transfiguration. But there is still a Church that hasn’t swayed from the Truth. That Church is the Orthodox Church. For the time being staying true to the title of this article I won’t elaborate more on why is the Orthodox Church, the One True Church (I will try to do that sometime later with other articles). However similar they looks they are not the same. There is only one Truth. There can’t be many Truths. Hence the Church can’t merely allow anyone to follow a different faith, once an individual is married to The Orthodox Church.

Inter Religious Marriages

Similar to inter denominational marriages, inter religious marriages are also increasing. The Church doesn’t necessarily encourage inter religious marriages due to various reasons. Firstly, it has been often found that differences keep cropping up between such couples or their families after such marriages. Secondly, if not properly handled such marriages may even lead to communal issues between religions in the region. But if somehow the partners overcome these roadblocks and get ready to marry, the Orthodox Church and an Orthodox Cleric will administer the marriage after the non Christian partner becomes the member of the Church, through the sacrament of Holy Baptism.

People may argue that marriages are private affairs and the Church doesn’t have anything to do about this. But the Church is responsible for the spiritual development of her children. Every mother wishes that her children be with her and doesn’t leave her. The Church is our mother, and we are her children, through the Holy Baptism. Hence the Church has every right to be concerned about. I leave the judgment to the readers.

In Christ

Kiran

Author’s Note: This was one of the most challenging article that I had to write, in the sense that many people reading this might have a difference of opinion. I have tried to stay true to what the Orthodox Church teaches in this matter. If you feel you cannot take any of ideas that I have written please feel free to put your comments.

Facebook Comments

Website Comments

  1. Nisha P Raju

    Kiran thank you so much for taking my topic and u done a gud job… But u were not specific about the roman catholics and orthodox, so m stil in a bit confusion.What all an orthodox girl has to suffer while marrying a roman catholic boy apart from the holy communion and ceasing from orthodox community.

    • Kiran Raj

      Suffer ??…OMG.Sorry If I am rude….First of all no one should marry a guy/girl with if they think they are going to suffer after that….From a sacramental point of view if a orthodox girl he going to be married to RC guy then the marriage cannot be celebrated in Orthodox Church, in orthodox way by an Orthodox Priest (unless the RC boy has agreed to join Orthodox Church and professes allegiance to Orthdodox faith b4 marriage). Then of course the girl cannot approach holy mysteries and will not remain a member of Orthodox Church, as u just said. Not being able to partake in Holy Mysteries is a suffering I believe. Other than this i guess everthing should be fine (from a sacramental point of view)

    • Kiran Raj

      Nisha, one more thing crossed by mind – with an Orthodox girl married to a RC guy. I don’t think it will have much relevance in Outside Kerala. In some Catholic strongholds in Kerala like Pala and Kanjirapally, people are very conservative. They might behave in such a way that they are the only Christians in the world. Sometime a girl from an Orthodox Family may like to keep some traditions from Orthodox Church even after marriage to a Catholic guy. For eg, she may carry a photo of Parumala Thirumeni with her and seek his intercession. She may also want to attend Parumala Perunnal or visit parumala. But some really conservative catholic families may not let that happen, because they don’t accept Parumala Thirumeni as a saint.

    • Kiran Raj

      In the other case, that is an Orthodox boy marrying catholic girl. I have heard instances when catholic priests in their strongholds in kerala put several road blocks if one of their girls are getting married to a different denomination. Some of them even might threaten that if their girl is married to anyone other than a catholic, then they will be suspended from the Church for a certain period of time (6 months or so). And if there is a death in that family during that time then the body will not be allowed to be buried in the church cemetery or rites be administered by a Catholic Priest. But this cannot be generalized and is only done by some catholic priests in their strong holds.

  2. Rajamony Kunjukunju

    THANKS KIRAN FOR THE CHALLENGING ARTICLE ON INTERMARRIAGE DILEMMA–THE ORTHODOX PERSPECTIVE—YES…BUT SHOULDN'T WE RESPECT THE DECISION OF THE TWO MATURED INDIVIDUALS TO SELECT THEIR LIFE PARTNERS?

    • Kiran Raj

      If they are truly matured individuals then I think we should respect their jubgement. But as I commented below for Nisha, would the guys family (catholic) accept if our girl keeps the photo of Parumala Thirumeni in her room. Or will the boys family (protestant) allow the girl to visit and be a part of offering incense in the tomb of their parents after their death.

      And if it an arranged marriage i guess parents should prefer an Orthodox guy/girl in Kerala atleast. It may not be practical outside Kerala

  3. Subash Mathew

    Thank you Kiran. I read the article from Glory of Kalliimel group and appreciate the same very much. and I put my comment there with a small detailing about the western and eastern concept of marriage.

  4. Subash Mathew

    What Nisha raised is a serious matter. because from childhood Catholic church is teaching their members that they are the only real Christians. they have so many contradictory beliefs like Sinless birth of St. Mary etc. to adjust with these foolishness are not easy. So it is better to keep away from such relations and if some one once fell into such relations better to merge mentally with them (for their peaceful future life).

    • Kiran Raj

      Thank You for the read sir. Yes i do understand that Catholic Church teaches their kids right from young age that they are the only true Christians and all others are schismatic. But on many occassions especially parents of a girl might have to do compromise in this regard, to find a suitable alliance for her. Especially in outside kerala, parents who are settled there might want their daughter to be near to them after marriage. At times they may not be able to find a suitable alliance from Orthodox Church. Then they might think with any Chrisitian bracket.

    • Kiran Raj

      Of course, there are many contradictory beliefs. But parents even if they are very active in church activities they might ignore all the teaching when finding a suitable alliance for their girl becomes priority. And also marrying a girl off to a Mar Thoma/Protestant family is also weird. Suppose a parent who has married their girl to a protestant family, then according to faith, can she cant come to pray besides her parents tomb after their death. Many people ignore all these things

    • Kiran Raj

      Sir, one more thing. I could have made a clear statement if i had known the marriage age male:female ratio in the Orthodox. I guess in an arranged marriage Orthodox boys should be willing for alliance within Orthodox church before looking for girls outside

    • Subash Mathew

      There is no any special criteria for orthodox church in this matter. Govt. approved age is the standard and for a boy seeking for a suitable girl must pray to God sincerely because it is really the plan of God to give a partner if you believe it or not it is a fact.

  5. Nisha P Raju

    okzz…nw m clear..but I wana knw dt if the orthodox girl want to attend the holy communion after marriage wd catholic guy whenever she visits her parent's home, then is it allowed by the orthodox clergy?

    • Mgocsm Diaspora

      Just attending is fine…No issues…but cant approach the Holy Mysteries (Kurbana anubavikkam pattilla). Some priests do allow it (either because they dont know the girl is married to another denomination, or he doesnt wants to creat a situation in the middle of the service, or he doesnt mind). But according to Church Canon as I said before just attending is fine, but cant take communion.

      Thanks
      Kiran

    • Nisha P Raju

      Mgocsm Diaspora okzzz….in shorrt drs not much strings attached with it…going to attend passion weeks r allowed???kaimuthal allowed annoo

    • Kiran Raj

      No Problem Nisha, Attending passion week, perunnal, marriages, baptism everything allowed. Kaimuthal is also allowed. Even non believere come for all these. One more thing. Suppose an Orthodox Girl after her marriage to an RC guy, wishes to come back to the Orthodox Church she can. She just need to take confession from Orthodox Priest and profess/declare her faith. But that means wife in one church and husband in another. Will be difficult for children and may lead to rocky marital relationship

    • Rony Koshy

      Mgocsm Diaspora : I dont think that is true Kiran, a person baptised in Orthodox church, never ceases to be an Orthodox Christian. However, if someone baptised in Orthodox faith professes another faith (like pentecostal) and later comes back without proper repentance and confession of sins, should not partake in the Holy mysteries..

      But girls just married of to different churches, but still practicing Orthodoxy should not be stopped from communicating..

      (Just my opinion)

    • Kiran Raj

      Rony Koshy Basically in many of the comments, i tried to analyse what happens in different scenarios in inter deno. marriages. Many of them have a less likely chance of happening (for eg: an orthodox girl coming back to practice orthodox faith, with her husband still in another faith). Normally the practice(and canon) is when a girl gets married off to another denomination, she isnt allowed to take communion from our church. And if an Orthodox girl wants to come back to Orthodox faith while still being married to another denomination (a less likely scenario), i guess she would be really repentend (for whatever reason), otherwise she wouldnt take the risk of rocking their marital relationship.

    • Nisha P Raju

      v do repent when we do any sin..marrying to other denomination's boy and coming back to orthodox is not a sin in my opinion..marrying a guy/girl from other denomination is not a sin.

    • Kiran Raj

      Nisha, I didnt mean "repent" in that sense. You can read it as takin confession or professing of faith. In the scenario mentioned above, if at all a girl comes back with her husband in another deno. (without having any problem between them) then for sure she would have found something unique in Orthodox Church, that she didnt find in her husband's deno.

  6. Martin Mathew Philipose

    hey Kiran RAj u wrote a wonderfull article…bt I feel sad 4 the mentality of the people….u r orthodox..u r catholic…u r protestant….y this discrimination..every christian group has their own traditions, culture, rules and regulations…after all v all group got 1 god 1 Christ and 1 solid base i.e BIBLE…after intermarriage y do people are ignored? y 2 ignore the faith in parumalla thirumeni, edathua punnayalan(st.George)…bcoz she changed her caste..thts y..its disgusting…ya v orthodox cant have communion in catholic mass bt whts wrong in attendng the mass…..same here in orthodox or any other group….it has 2 b changed…after all v r Christians i.e Christ in us….bt here it is sumthng different………

    • Kiran Raj

      Hi Martin. thanks for the read and comment. I feel the need to address some points in your comment

      “I feel sad 4 the mentality….. y this discrimination” – Now the Church that Christ established in the New Testament doesn’t have denominations. Denominations came in later when certain individuals and groups swayed away from the teachings of the Apostles. We aren’t anyone to Judge other groups. But the only thing we teach our fellow Orthodox Christians is that we are the true Church which Jesus established in the New Testament, who didn’t move away from apostolic teachings. While teaching this we may have to point out why others moved out and what is the difference between us and them. That is in no way discrimination, but just projecting our uniqueness.

      “every christian group has their own traditions, culture, rules and regulations” – There are two kinds of traditions. They are tradition of God (Holy Tradition) and tradition of men (Cultural and regional aspects). We can have differences in the second tradition (of men), but traditions of God are passed on by Christ Himself through his apostles. We can’t differ from it and if some groups have moved away from it and says that they are still following, we might still need to step in and teach our uniqueness.

      “after all v all group got 1 god 1 Christ and 1 solid base i.e BIBLE” – The base/foundation of the Church is not bible but Lord Jesus Christ. And we follow our Holy Traditions which may be written (Holy Bible) or said (Apostolic Teachings).

      {Contd.}

    • Kiran Raj

      “after intermarriage y do people are ignored?” – After intermarriage no one is ignored. It is just that they will now be members of a different denomination and they can’t approach Holy Mysteries in an Orthodox Church. They can come for attending services though.

      “y 2 ignore the faith in parumalla thirumeni……. ..its disgusting” – I never said a girl will have to stop seeking intercession of Parumala Thirumeni after her marriage to another denomination. What i said was in some cases were the boy’s family may be averse to such a practice because Parumala Thirumeni is an Orthodox saint, whose sainthood is not accepted by other denominations. I didnt mention anything about St George.

      “ya v orthodox can’t have communion in catholic mass bt whts wrong in attendng the mass….” – From what you said i hope you understand why we can’t have communion from another denomination or they from us, hence not elaborating on that. There is no problem in we attending a Catholic mass or a catholic attending an Orthodox eucharist on certain occasions (for eg marriage or any other function of relative or friend etc). But we can’t make it a habit. Because, it is not about going, standing, singing songs and coming. The very essence of Holy Eucharist is approaching the Holy Mysteries (taking communion). It is necessary for being in Christ, and He being in us. Can we take communion if we regularly go to the church of another denomination, in that case can we be in Christ.

      Thanks
      Kiran

  7. Rincy Raju

    Though the topic and the comments cover most of the aspects regarding interdenominational marriages, but I just want to add on few points over here.

    1) In Orthodox Church’s perspective sacraments are termed as ” Holy Mysteries” wherein the unseen Grace is manifested through “seen” rites.

    2) In that sense The Orthodox Church is very particular on who would be sharing those “Holy Mysteries”. Basically The Orthodox Church is not against any denomination. She recognizes that any one who is baptised in the name of Trinity is a Christian and based on that Holy Matrimony is allowed by the church with someone who is non-Orthodox. But remember one thing “Holy Matrimony” is the ONLY Holy Mystery that is shared with non-Orthodox Christians.

    3) However for Holy Communion, one needs to profess the same faith as that of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Thats why we say the Nicene Creed before the Liturgy of the catechumens begins. Neither the RC denomination nor the Protestant denomination hold the same faith as the Nicene Creed.Hence the partaking of the Holy of Holiest Mysteries is restricted to the ones who are baptised and profess the Orthodox Faith.

  8. Rincy Raju

    I am no one to do a marriage counselling but its always better to have similar spiritual goals (which is a factor never taken into account)before choosing your spouse whether marrying within denomination or marrying outside of it. For an Orthodox it would be difficult to accept someone who is from a denomination that considers St Mary as a co mediatrix or from a denomination that refuses any intercessions to saints. Hence a discussion of the spiritual goals right in the beginning can save lot of difficulties later on

  9. Naveen Peter

    Nicely written. But, still needs to cover many more aspects of marriage. What if the girl doesn’t want to take up the orthodox faith. Does that mean the couple can’t marry?