Let's talk about Annulment

Thank you, I am not that good with words in this sense, but you also have my brotherly love :slight_smile: My day just begun and I’m already very flattered, thank you.

Well, if one is unrepentant, one can be separated from Christ eternally. However, one is never un-baptized. At least not until death. We do not know whether one is or is not unrepentant until death (and well… we don’t even know it after that :smiley: but you get my point, one can repent while dying).

But in that scenario, one does not only repent but also try to fix what they have failed at. I am unsure what Orthodox interpretation of Matthew 19 is, and if anyone knows I would gladly hear it so I can continue this discussion with more knowledge from the other side. That said, to us it seems clear that “anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery”. If one wishes to make amends for marriage they have broken, best place to start is fixing that marriage.

That’s the question. We know God is infinitely merciful and infinitely just. We actually consider that God is merciful and on that account spouses can be separated… divorced. However, we don’t go as far as to allow second marriage. To “break Sacrament” would require at least that much penance as to not receive it again with different person.

I understand that Orthodox do not go divorcing left and right :smiley: it’s more of a theological point than practical one. We also have annulments and whether they are or aren’t abused, they are quite frequent in this day and age. It might be that people are seriously misled by ideas that marriage doesn’t last for eternity and that many receive marriage in the Church for cultural reasons while not believing in the Sacrament… but fact remains that it is becoming quite frequent.

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Hmm…must needs more research in this area. :thinking:

While I would agree on principle, I would also say, that there is a long tradition within the Eastern Christian Churches, not just the Orthodox ones, but also the Catholic of interpreting this with economia.

By the by, did you happen to catch @DocHawk’s last contribution from Byzthcath.org? Very informative. I admit I only read through the first linked thread, but it was enough to convince me that this is a deep and abiding issue between Western and Eastern interpretation, rather than merely an Orthodox and Catholic disagreement.

Also, yes. We must all begin with our own sins, whether it comes to the Great Schism, the issue of divorce/nullity and remarriage, or any other issue where we are tempted to focus outwardly rather than inwardly on our own sinful hearts. Keeping marriages together is not easy, but it is a self-sacrificial act, day by day, hour by hour for the sake of the soul (and body) of the other. (Although on a relevant side note, I hesitate to speak of marriage, for I have never entered into that Sacrament myself).

To be quite honest I can see the Latin vision of marriage and it makes perfect sense to me (minus the legal mind bending concepts), but the Eastern sense also makes sense to me from the people I have known in very difficult and sometimes impossibly difficult or abusive marriages. In a sense if one spouse is abusive to the other that mars that image of Christ and His Church, although, some could argue that while the earthly Church abuses Her relationship with Christ via sin, unfaithfulness, schism, heresy, apostasy, etc, Christ never abuses His relationship with us, thereby there is always one faithful spouse theoretically.

Honestly I will have to leave this matter to true theologians who have a vision of God, rather than my poor raggedy self, who can barely get out of bed for Matins in the morning, let alone remember to do my morning prayers on a regular basis. :wink:

Point I often see made is that East has practiced this before Great Schism. Fair enough, but West did not know about this… so one can’t say “they were fine with that then hence it is alright to practice this”. Actually when Venetians came to Council of Trent, they told assembly about Greek practice. Somehow shocked, Latin theologians have apparently evaluated their position and wording. But as of now I haven’t found any impact of such evaluation.

Well, in Latin theology one could say that God, in His great providence has not joined such marriage as Sacrament. I get your point and it makes sense but at the same time we know that our Lord did not intend this to be easy for us… at least not too easy. We deal with many great difficulties in life. One does not leave faith for having bad Priest, Bishop, Patriarch of Pope… one does not stop being charitable when outward

I like that interpretation. However that one faithful spouse, Christ, wouldn’t find different spouse. Have you read about Prophet Hosea? His wife was unfaithful and left him, so he mourned and prayed… She was abused by man she ran to, and was later being sold as a slave. When Hosea heard that, he ran to the place and bought her back for everything he had (or close to that). It is a great parallel of how our Lord and Savior bought us back… but also about how He won’t leave His Bride for any sin. He doesn’t get a new one while there is chance to salvage this marriage. And I think it also shows that neither should we, although I have to search for Orthodox interpretation of Matthew 19.

I will do so if I find it, I am not on byzcath often to be honest.

I am quite interested to know Orthodox position so I will search around. Thank you for discussing it with me. And don’t worry- barely getting out of bed for Matins is better than not getting up for them at all… Lord puts great value on things we do for Him even through discomfort… or so I hope, because I am bad at great many things, getting up in the actual morning being very high on the list. God bless you.

You many find this interesting from The Orthodox Church and Second Marriages by Nicola Bux:

The non-sacramental nature of second marriages finds confirmation in the disappearance of Eucharistic communion from Byzantine marriage ceremonies, being replaced by a cup understood as a symbol of life together. This appears to be an attempt to “de-sacramentalize” the marriage, perhaps on account of the growing embarrassment that second and third marriages induced because of the exemption from the principle of the indissolubility of the bond, which is directly proportional to the sacrament of unity: the Eucharist.

In this regard, the Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann wrote that it is precisely the cup, elevated to a symbol of shared life, that “demonstrates the desacramentalization of the marriage, which is reduced to a natural form of happiness. In the past, this was reached with communion, the sharing of the Eucharist, the ultimate seal of the fulfillment of marriage in Christ. Christ must be the true essence of life together.” How could this “essence” remain standing?


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Thank you, it was helpful, but it doesn’t answer how Orthodox interpret Matthew 19. @dochawk , you mentioned it is different than Latin interpretation. Could you please explain it or provide some source? I am interested in how Orthodox view this passage in regards to practice of divorce.

I also searched around and found that Church Fathers were against re-marriage in all cases. Practice of divorcing doesn’t originate from oikonomia but from Roman Law- Byzantine Emperors had influence on that part of canons of Byzantine Church. So technically it was secular influence that introduced this practice. This blog explains some of that… but it isn’t being soft with words when it comes to Orthodox practice, so that’s a warning for those who want to read it. Still, it does make interesting points.

Melita Theologica Journal of the Faculty of Theology University of Malta
The Orthodox Tradition on Divorced and Remarried Faithful: What can the Catholic Church Learn? by Kevin Schembr, page 130

The Concession of Divorce

Having said this, the Orthodox tradition is also aware that while the sacrament
of marriage remains in eternity, the marital relationship in this world comes to an
end. The East has always understood the axiom of Christ “what God has joined
together, let no one separate” (cf. Mk 10:9; Mt 19:6) as a moral ideal rather than
as an onthological truth about marriage. For Orthodox scholars, when Christ
said that nobody should break a marital relationship, He did not say that this
cannot be broken.35 In fact, this takes place all the time: either through the
natural death of one of the spouses or by means of an action or circumstances
that render a marital cohabitation impossible.

35 See Peter L’Huillier, “Le divorce selon la théologie et le droit canonique de l’Eglise
orthodoxe,” Le Messager 65 (1969): 28; Athenagoras (Peckstadt) of Sinope, Marriage, Divorce
and Remarriage in the Orthodox Church, 6.

Ah, thank you. So it is a command, not statement of necessity. At the end of the day, that seems to be what I have addressed in my above posts. Thank you for clarification.

There is no statement that sin caused divorce, rather it is a fact the civil divorce occurred. There may be fault recognized in separation per canon law. Per Catholic canons, only two types of marital bond can be dissolved which are an unconsummated sacramental marital bond or a natural marital bond .

One thing I have been curious about:
I do know that for when a couple converts to the Catholic Church, all previous marriages where the former spouses are still living must be investigated to see if they were sacramental or not. That is because the Catholic church considers the couple to be the ministers of the sacrament , I believe. So if the former marriage(s) are declared null(non sacraments) then the couple’s current marriage is then convalidated and the couple can be in full communion with the Catholic Church.
What about married couples that convert to the Orthodox Church? I know previous marriages are not investigated but are they automatically considered non sacramental and the new marriage considered a sacrament when they are baptized or chrismated into the Church? I know in the East the Bishop is considered the minister of the sacrament. Asking for a friend.

Just a slight correction. Catholic tribunals concern themselves with the question of whether a particular marriage is valid, not whether it is sacramental.


Given that it was used for the emperor himself more than once, I’m skeptical about Roman ignorance.

A widow or widower cannot remarry without this exercise of economia . . .

my short summary is that it’s kind of like the difference between a present tense and a perfect tense in grammar.

And ignoring the differences between greek grammar and english grammar (and willfully disregarding latin grammar), we have a command “don’t do this, it causes these bad things.”

The western approach is “you weren’t supposed to, so your attempt failed” (an admittedly eastern phrasing of the western positionh, but I think it’s fair and accurate.

The eastern approach is more like, “you did it. Now what do we do.”

Both accept the permanence of marriage. The west sees it as unbreakable, while the east tries to deal with what happens when it does break.

Beyond that, the referenced byzcath threads are much higher level, and with folks far more qualified than I, so I’ll defer to them.

One more note: the Matthew passage seems to acknowledge that when devorce occurs, the bad things happen because of subsequent marriage.


We’re commanded not to do plenty of things, yetthey happenandwedealwiththem.

Correct me if I am mistaken. Annulments are decided by a tribunal. Would there be a difference in an annulment declared by the Pope or by the tribunal?
Below are not teachings but my thoughts.
I think the Pope should have the final say on an annulment. However, he may be a busy man. The pope in the past had a prominent role in annulments when it came to royalty. If I am dissenting from Catholic teaching, please let me know.

I’m sorry but I’m probably not the best person to comment on your specific questions, as I am personally familiar with very few annulments (unfortunately within my [extended, yet close] family)…

…perhaps others in this thread could better answer.

So Orthodoxy holds that marriage can break but remains permanent?

Unfortunately I haven’t been able to make byzcath account yet. The confirmation email didn’t arrive for me several times… perhaps I’ll try contacting support or something.

Yeah it seems accurate

The thing I understand least is why can someone draw from fruits of sin by remarrying. Technically it’s like stealing money and buying new car while being penitential. I know analogy is not perfect but as much as car isn’t necessary for life in God, neither is marriage.

Thank you for clarification.

Well the royalty part is somewhat true but since as of now annulments are more common, Pope can’t personally review every single one of them. Currently, the system revolves around autonomy of each Bishop.

I found that during 5th century, when Emperor divorced and remarried, Socrates of Constantinople called it bigamy and opposed it, as it was “against law of the Church”. Perhaps Rome and West have viewed it similarly, but didn’t realize Patriarchs were okay with this. In the very least, during Reformation, Latin Fathers weren’t aware of this Eastern practice.

Given that this is also something St. Paul has explicitly allowed, it does seem strange law to my Latin ears :smiley: Do you know how/when this practice developed in the East?

I thought that Catholics allowed Orthodox to receive Catholic Holy Communion? AFAIK, the Catholic missal does not mention anything about Orthodox who had received a church approved divorce and whether they cannot receive Holy Communion.
I thought that the Eastern Church had allowed divorce before 1100? But there was no objection stated in the papal bull of excommunication of 1054?

i’ll defer to my Orthodox brethren on an actual answer, but I think it’s flipped: permanetn, but can break.

I’d twist that analogy: wrecking the car by sinfully reckless driving, and then working for the funds to buy another (but still flawed).

many things that are not strictly necessary may be helpful . . .

there was certainly ebb and flow. But many patriarchs have said various things that orthodoxy rejects . .

from the Eastern view, your treating divorce from a living spouse differently sounds strange to the ears :dizzy_face:

i’ll have to punt to the folks at byzcath over timing, though . . .

They still need to be in state of grace.

I see. So it’s permanent until it breaks I guess. That explains the part about widows and widowers since death is not recognized as breaking the marriage.

But fact is that it is theoretically possible to fix the old car.

Agreed. Marriage itself falls under that category anyway.

I understand that, but it is quite easily shown from history that East, at first, treated Marriage in ways Latins did. Imperial influence changed that… not really doctrinal developments. I am by no means advocate of “more ancient = better” … what I am saying is that in the end, it was something heavily opposed by Eastern Churches as well as Church Fathers at the time. In the principle this is why Catholic Church does not recognize Orthodox divorces or any divorces for that matter.

yes. It’s a “it’s not supposed to break, but sometimes we have to deal with the fact that it happened anyway.”

I don’t thank it’s that easy at all . . . yes, you can cherry pick specific church fathers, but you can also get to, alternatively, absolute despotism for the bishop of rome, and no role at all outside of his own diocese that way . . .

Or we could apply that standard to western annulment, or to to ordaining single men outside the monastery, or the use of unleavened bread, or kneeling on Sunday, or . . .

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