PASTORAL GUIDELINES

Instructions for Weddings, Divorces, Baptisms, Funerals and Memorials

WEDDINGS
For the union of a man and woman to be recognized as sacramentally valid by the Orthodox Church, the following conditions must be met:

  1. The Sacrament of Matrimony must be celebrated by an Orthodox Priest of a canonical Orthodox jurisdiction, according to the liturgical tradition of the Orthodox Church, and with the authorizatoin of the diocesan Bishop.
  2. Before requesting permission from the Bishop to perform the marriage, the Priest must verify that: a) neither of the parties in question are already married to other persons, either in this country or elsewhere; b) the parties in question are not related to each other to a degree that would constitute an impediment; c) if either or both parties are widowed, they have presented the death certificate(s) of the deceased spouse(s); d) if either or both of the parties have been previously married in the Orthodox Church, they have obtained ecclesiastical as well as civil divorce(s); e) the party or parties who are members of a parish other than the one in which the marriage is to be performed have provided a certificate declaring them to be members in good standing with that parish for the current year; and f) a civil marriage license has been obtained from civil authorities.
  3. No person may marry more than three times in the Church, with permission for a third marriage granted only with extreme oikonomia.
  4. In cases involving the marriage of Orthodox and non-Orthodox Christians, the latter must have been baptized, in water, in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Church cannot bless the marriage of an Orthodox Christian to a non-Christian.
  5. The Sponsor (Koumbaros or Koumbara) must provide a current certificate of membership proving him or her to be an Orthodox Christian in good standing with the Church. A person who belongs to a parish under the jurisdiction of a bishop who is not in communion with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, or who, if married, has not had his or her marriage blessed by the Orthodox Church, or, if divorced, has not received an ecclesiastical divorce, can not be a sponsor. Non-Orthodox persons may be members of the wedding party, but may not exchange the rings or crowns.

Days When Marriage is Not Permitted
Marriages are not performed on fast days or during fasting seasons; these include the Great Lent and Holy
Week, August 1-15, August 29 (Beheading of St. John the Baptist), September 14 (Exaltation of the Holy Cross), and December 13-25. Nor are marriages celebrated on the day before and the day of a Great Feast of the Lord, including Theophany (January 5 and 6), Pascha, Pentecost, and Christmas (December 24 and 26). Marriages may be performed on these days only by permission of the diocesan Bishop.

Interfaith Marriages
It is a fact that, the more a couple has in common, the more likely they are to live together in peace and concord. Shared faith and traditions spare couples and their children, as well as their extended families, many serious problems, and help to strengthen the bonds between them. Even so, the Orthodox Church will bless marriages between Orthodox and non-Orthodox partners, provided that:

  1. The non-Orthodox partner is a Christian who has been baptized, in water, in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; and
  2. The couple commits to baptizing their children in the Orthodox Church and nurturing them in accordance with the Orthodox Faith. A baptized Orthodox Christian whose wedding has not been blessed by the Orthodox Church is no longer in good standing with the Church, and may not receive the Sacraments of the Church, including Holy Communion, or become a Sponsor of an Orthodox Marriage, Baptism or Chrismation.

A non-Orthodox Christian who marries an Orthodox Christina does not thereby become a member of the Orthodox Church, and ma not receive the Sacraments, including Holy Communion, or be buried by the Church, serve on the Parish Council, or vote in parish assemblies or elections. To participate in the Church’s life, one must be received into the Church by the Sacrament of Baptism or, in the case of persons baptized with water in the Holy Trinity, following a period of instruction, by Chrismation.

Prohibited Marriages
The following types of relationships constitute impediments to marriage:

  1. Parents with their own children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren, or godchildren of the same godparents.
  2. Brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law.
  3. Uncles and aunts with nieces and nephews.
  4. First cousins with each other.
  5. Foster parents with foster children to foster children with the children of foster parents.
  6. Godparents with godchildren or godparents with the parents of their godchildren.

DIVORCE

The parish priest must exert every effort to reconcile the couple and avert a divorce. However, should he fail to bring about a reconciliation, after a civil divorce has been obtained, he will transmit the petition of the party seeking the ecclesiastical divorce, together with the decree of the civil divorce, to the Spiritual Court of the Diocese. The petition must include the names and surnames of the husband and wife, the wife’s surname prior to marriage, their addresses, the name of the priest who performed the wedding, and the date and place of the wedding. The petitioner must be a member in good standing with the parish through which he or she is petitioning for divorce. Orthodox Christians of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese who have obtained a civil divorce but not an ecclesiastical divorce may not participate in any sacraments of the Church or serve on the Parish Council, Diocesan Council, or Archdiocesan Council until they have been granted a divorce by the Church.

BAPTISMS

A person who wishes to sponsor a candidate for Baptism or Chrismation must be an Orthodox Christian in good standing and a supporting member of and Orthodox parish. A person may not serve as a godparent if his or her marriage has not been blessed by the Church or, if civilly divorced, he or she has not been granted an ecclesiastical divorce, or for any other reason he or she is not in communion with the Orthodox Church.

Baptisms may not be performed from Christmas Day through the Feast f Theophany (December 25-January 6), during Holy Week, or any of the Great Feast days of the Lord.

FUNERALS

Funeral services are permitted on any day of the year, except for Sundays and Holy Friday, unless permission is granted from the diocesan Bishop.

MEMORIALS

Memorial services may not be chanted from the Saturday of Lazarus through the Sunday of Thomas, on any Feast day of the Lord, or any Feast day of the Theotokos.

FASTING

Just as there are times for feasting, there are times set aside for fasting. During these periods certain foods are prohibited. These are, in order of frequency of prohibition, meant (including poultry), dairy products, fish, olive oil and wine. Fruits, vegetables, grains and shellfish are permitted throughout the year. Of course, the Orthodox Church never reduces the practice of fasting to a legalistic observance of dietary rules. Fasting, that is not accompanied by intensified prayer and acts of charity, inevitably becomes a source of pride. The Church also recognized that not everyone can fast to the same degree, and assumes that individual Christians will observe the fast prescribed for them by their spiritual fathers.

The following are fasting days and seasons:

  1. All Wednesdays and Fridays, except for those noted below;
  2. The day before the Feast of Theophany (January 5);
  3. Cheesefare Week (the last week before the Great Lent, during which meat and fish are prohibited, but dairy products are permitted even on Wednesday and Friday);
  4. Great Lent (from Clean Monday through the Friday before Lazarus Saturday, olive oil and wine are permitted on weekends);
  5. Great and Holy Week (note that Great and Holy Saturday is a day of strict fasting, during which the faithful abstain from olive oil and wine);
  6. Holy Apostles’ Fast (from Monday after All Saints’ Day through June 28, inclusive);
  7. Fast for the Dormition of the Mother of God (August 1-14, excluding August 6, on which fish, wine and olive oil are permitted);
  8. Beheading of St. John the Baptist (August 29);
  9. Exaltation of the Holy Cross (September 14); and
  10. Nativity Lent (November 15-December 24, although fish, wine and olive oil are permitted, except on Wednesdays and Fridays, until December 17)

The following are fasting days on which fish, wine and olive oil are permitted:

  1. The Feast of the Annunciation (March 25, unless it falls outside of the Great Lent, in which case all foods are permitted);
  2. Palm Sunday;
  3. The Feast of the Transfiguration (August 6); and
  4. The Feast of the Entry into the Temple of the Mother of God (November 21)

On the following days, all foods are permitted:

  1. The first week of the Triodion, from the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee through the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, including Wednesday and Friday;
  2. Diakainisimos (or Bright) Week, following the Sunday of Pascha;
  3. The week following Pentecost; and
  4. From the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord (December 25) through January 4

CHURCH POSITIONS on SUICIDE, AUTOPSY, ORGAN DONATION and CREMATION

Suicide
Suicide, the taking of ones own life, is self-murder and as such, a sin. More importantly, it may be evidence of a lack of faith in our loving, forgiving, sustaining God. If a person has committed suicide as a result of a belief that such an action is rationally or ethically defensible, the Orthodox Church denies that person a Church funeral, because such beliefs and actions separate a person from the community of faith. The Church shows compassion, however, on those who have taken their own life as a result of mental illness or severe emotional stress, when condition of impaired rationally can be verified by a physician.

Autopsy
When a person dies for reasons that are uncertain, a qualified medical examiner may, with the permission of the next of kin, perform an autopsy to determine the cause of death; in some states, this is required by law. In all cases, however, the Orthodox Church expects that the body of the deceased be treated with respect and dignity.

Donation of Organs
Although nothing in the Orthodox tradition requires the faithful to donate their organs to others, nevertheless, this practice may be considered an act of love, and as such is encouraged. The decision to donate a duplicate organ, such as a kidney, while the donor is living, requires much consideration and should be made in consultation with medical professionals and one’s spiritual father. The donation of an organ from a deceased person is also an act of love that helps to make possible for the recipient a longer, fuller life. In all cases, respect for the body of the donor should be maintained.

Cremation
Because the Orthodox Faith affirms the fundamental goodness of creation, it understands the body to be an integral part of the human person and the temple of the Holy Spirit, and expects the resurrection of the dead. The Church considers cremation to be the deliberate desecration and destruction of what God has made and ordained for us. The Church instead insists that the body be buried so that the natural physical process of decomposition may take place.

The Church does not grant funerals, either in the sanctuary, or at the funeral home, or at any other place, to persons who have chosen to be cremated. Additionally, memorial services with kolyva (boiled wheat) are not allowed in such instances, in as much as the similarity between the “kernel of wheat” and the “body” has been intentionally destroyed.

For more information, please contact the Cathedral office.


The Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation is a parish of the Metropolis of New Jersey of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, located in Baltimore, Maryland.

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