Divorce in the Orthodox Church


I have two questions.

  1. In terms of divorce, how can a sacrament be undone?

  2. If Orthodox claim their faith and practice has always been the same, when was divorce and remarriage permitted in the first thousand years of Church history?



I’m particularly interested in justifying how can a sacrament be undone…


It is simply undone by the reality of the couple’s state. If they hate each other in this life, they cannot be together in the afterlife.
In the New Testament, Christ says divorce is fine after an act of adultery, and when Christ speaks to adulterous woman, He tells her “You had three husbands by now.”


In Orthodoxy the Sacrament is never undone. There is no annulment as far as I know they just recognize the other marriage as invalid as it never happened :expressionless: as well as the secular papers of divorce. It’s simply that the Church recognizes up to 4 divorces (don’t ask me why 4) and agrees if the local priest agrees (he is not forced to agree) to give you another religious ceremony.
Many of the modern Saints and charismatic priests disapprove of divorce. The monks of Mt. Athos disapprove and say that God cannot force us to do anything but He is also not changing His rules for our sake. Marriage is another way to find Redemption and the two will be judged together for each other’s actions. If you want to be judged for other 2,3 people’s actions as well marry as many times as you like. Some claim that even if there was a ritual of annulment it would not matter, nobody can untie what God Himself tied, it is not the same as untying people’s sins and the priests and the Church have no Apostolic power to untie marriages because the Apostles themselves had no power to do this either to share.
Other priests perform several marriages and even allow the bride and groom to wear crowns during the ceremony and have no problem with this (traditionally the crowns mean the two are virgins :neutral_face: and if they are not the priest must not put it on their head to shame them to repent for what they have done).
Officially the Orthodox teachings disapprove of divorce and never encourages it. It is only accepted as a matter of iconomy so the people’s hearts are not hardened and drove away from God if they were denied this.


“In the New Testament, Christ says divorce is fine after an act of adultery, and when Christ speaks to adulterous woman, He tells her “You had three husbands by now.””

You are saying that Christ approves of divorce and remarriage, as long as adultery is involved?


Actually he tells her she has no husband even if she had five men:
John 4:
"‘Go and call your husband,’ said Jesus to her, ‘and come back here.’

17 The woman answered, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, 'You are right to say, “I have no husband”;

18 for although you have had five, the one you now have is not your husband. You spoke the truth there.’

19 ‘I see you are a prophet, sir,’ said the woman."


This has zero Scriptural credibility! Jesus does not say divorce is ok after adultery! The woman Jesus was speaking to was not married in the Lord! They were akin to civil marriages. She was a Samaritan, not Jewish. And she had five husbands.


There are annulments for canonical reasons in Orthodoxy. They, of course does not “undo” a Sacrament, but just as within the Catholic church, recognize that the Sacramental union did not occur. Outside of canonical annulment there is no declaration of invalidity, but “remarriage” (up to two times) after divorce is allowed.

Until the end of the first millennium, these union were not done in church or blessed by clergy, but were simply a recognized living arrangement, that was not, after appropriate penance and a period of excommunication, seen as an impediment to participating in the Church. Over time, the perspective has changed - a church service similar to Crowning in Marriage is used with minor, penitential adaptations. And many, but not all, regard these remarriages as a Sacrament.


Well, that’s not altogether true. I don’t know that He’d characterize divorce as being “fine” in the case of adultery, but He certainly condoned it in that one case:

“I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” Matt 19:8


Regardless of what some Orthodox may tell you, there has been development of doctrine on this issue. Yes…despite the protest of some of their members, they like Catholicism have experienced development of doctrine over the centuries. It wasn’t until the early Middle Ages (I want to say 9th century?) that a second wedding was celebrated in the Church… prior to that second marriages were sometimes tolerated but they were strictly civil unions.


He was not talking about a valid marriage in the Lord, but an unlawful Christian marriage. One that is prohibited.

Here is the footnote from the NAB:

5:31–32 See Dt 24:1–5. The Old Testament commandment that a bill of divorce be given to the woman assumes the legitimacy of divorce itself. It is this that Jesus denies. (Unless the marriage is unlawful): this “exceptive clause,” as it is often called, occurs also in Mt 19:9, where the Greek is slightly different. There are other sayings of Jesus about divorce that prohibit it absolutely (see Mk 10:11–12; Lk 16:18; cf. 1 Cor 7:10, 11b), and most scholars agree that they represent the stand of Jesus. Matthew’s “exceptive clauses” are understood by some as a modification of the absolute prohibition. It seems, however, that the unlawfulness that Matthew gives as a reason why a marriage must be broken refers to a situation peculiar to his community: the violation of Mosaic law forbidding marriage between persons of certain blood and/or legal relationship (Lv 18:6–18). Marriages of that sort were regarded as incest (porneia), but some rabbis allowed Gentile converts to Judaism who had contracted such marriages to remain in them. Matthew’s “exceptive clause” is against such permissiveness for Gentile converts to Christianity; cf. the similar prohibition of porneia in Acts 15:20, 29. In this interpretation, the clause constitutes no exception to the absolute prohibition of divorce when the marriage is lawful.

If Jesus was talking about a ligitimate reason for Christian divorce through sexual immorality, He would have used the word “adultery”. But He didnt.


Orthodoxy acknowledges that the marital bond is destroyed under a variety of circumstances, in which case, it then becomes possible for there to be a second marriage after divorce when the former spouse is still alive. Do note, however, that even if a canonical divorce is granted, there is no guarantee that a canonical second or third marriage will be granted. I’ve encountered people who have been denied a second canonical marriage, even though they were the innocent party in the divorce. This has continued to be acknowledged in the Christian East and was once acknowledged in the Latin West.


Jesus says the separation is fine in the case of adultery, I believe it is faulty translation if your Bible says divorce.
Catholics who cannot get an annulment (ie, they had a valid marriage), are not divorced but separated. They are to live in chastity and cannot marry another person, because they are already married.

Jesus tells us those in Heaven are like angels, not married. Hence “'til death do we part”.


I can hardly imagine that the Greeks have misunderstood the Bible’s translate.


To be fair, there’s quite a few differences in Greek of today and of the past. In the past, agape wasn’t a word used like the English love in the way where we would say “I love you” to a lover, but this happens in today’s Greek.

Further, Jesus says porneia, which is more like invalid, which though usually translated as adultery, is actually more like invalid.

In other words, they may separate and marry another if it is an invalid marriage, which is the point of annulment.


A second ecclesiastical wedding was a later development in the East. Second weddings when tolerated in earlier centuries were strictly a civil matter. Arguably the Latin Church is returning to the more ancient practice of tolerating but not blessing a second civil marriage… see the current debate raging among our bishops in the wake of Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia.


They do not believe a sacrament can be undone. They believe the prohibition on a second marriage need not be strictly enforced. They believe the ability to exercise this discretion to be the constant practice of the church.


You claim that, but the evidence of councils, popes, and penitentials claims otherwise. Second marriages after divorce were undoubtedly recognized in both the Latin West and the Christian East quite early on.


You have evidence of second ecclesiastical marriages? As in rite of crowning for second marriages? That came much much later. 9th century at the earliest as I recall. It’s a fact of history… second marriages were tolerated due to human weakness but NOT celebrated liturgically. It’s an obvious example of significant development of doctrine (or at least practice) in Orthodoxy.


Dude, most marriages of the first millennium, first or not, were not celebrated liturgically. In general, people would get hitched, then show up in front of the church doors and get a blessing. The sanctioning of second marriages under ecclesiastical law is in the two articles I already posted.

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