Orthodox and remarriage

I’m curious if anyone can explain to me how the Eastern Orthodox reconcile the teaching in scripture where the Lord says that he who marries a divorced person commits adultery with allowing someone to remarry after divorce. I’ve spoken to an Orthodox priest and it seems they think the divorce somehow ended the marriage. Yet if that were true the Jesus would not have said that he who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

I’m not trying to be critical. Genuinely trying to get an understanding of how the Orthodox reconcile these 2 things. Since Eastern Catholics are more famliar with the Orthodox than most Catholics are, I’m hoping one of you can explain it to me.

I’ve been curious on this topic too, I’ll let others answer!

Read a book. A great one is Fr. John Meyendorff’s “Marriage, an Orthodox perspective”.


My explanation will do the Orthodox theology on Marriage no justice. But treat is as a summary. Basically, the Orthodox treat all divorce as a sin. The ideal is once you divorce, you repent, and you do not remarry. If the person who divorces cannot “keep it in his/her pants”, so to speak, they will out of economy be allowed to remarry. Better to have someone in a second marriage and commit to that second marriage and be in the Church and continue to live a Christian life, than deny them remarriage and have them fall out of the faith and be on the wrong path. Also, death of a spouse does not end the marriage of the one on earth. If they marry again, that is still a remarriage.

I do agree with this approach. How many Catholics divorce and end up leaving the Church? Better to find a way to get them to stay within the guidance of the Church and work on their weaknesses and get them back on the path. I also agree that this is a case-to-case basis, not a general rule, which is what the Orthodox Church do.

I would like to understand this topic too.

Here’s another difference, and correct me if I am wrong here.

In Roman Catholicism, one can remarry multiple times if the spouse dies, and still receive Ordination. So if a man has been so unfortunate, say he married at 21. Spouse died when he was 25. Got married again at 30. Spouse died again when he was 35. And then remarried at 40, then not soon after he gets ordained a deacon.

In the Orthodox Church, that is not acceptable. A death of a spouse will count as a remarriage. The man then will not be accepted into ordination if he gets married a second time. even if the first wife has passed.

Also in the Catholic Church, a deacon may be granted dispensation to remarry if his spouse died and he petitions the Vatican. Usually in cases where there are small children who would benefit from the care of a mother. In the Orthodox Church, a priest or deacon who remarries after the wife dies for whatever reason is defrocked. So if they think their children will benefit from the care of a mother, then they would have to give up their ministry.

Constantine, that’s the explanation I have heard from the Orthodox. It explains the motivation of why remarriage is allowed. But it does not really address the question I asked. Let me repeat what I’m trying to understand.

The O. church will marry a divorced person.
Jesus said that when divorced people remarry they commit adultery.
Adultery = sex when at least one is married to another so it seems the Lord is saying divorce did not end the marriage.

If the O. think divorce did end the marriage then help me understand why the Lord said divorced people who remarry commit adultery.

If the O. think divorce did not end the marriage then help me understand how it’s not polygamy.

I’m genuinely trying to understand. I’m Catholic and find many things about the O. church favorable but cannot get past this point.

PS: I’ll buy the book today and read it. Thank you.

Yes, this is another difference. You are correct – not sure about a Deacon being allowed to remarry by dispensation after death of a spouse but you are otherwise correct. I believe the O. church limits the number of marriages because it sees one as the ideal and wants to stay as close as possible to that. There is a very old man in my parents’ neighborhood who is now married a 4th time. All 3 of the previous wives died due to natural causes. It’s my understanding the O. church will only allow one to marry 3x so would not have allowed his 4th marriage. If he were Catholic it would be no problem.

But I’m not concerned with that. I do not begrudge the O. church to limit the # of times one can marry for that reason. Nowhere did Jesus say that when one’s spouse dies one cannot remarry so I’m not concerned with that point of difference.

I never understood the “death doesn’t end marriage” aspect - as Jesus clearly says that at the resurrection we will be like the “angels in heaven” who are “not given into marriage”. When the Saducees ask him whose wife the woman who was married to seven men (all of whom died) will be - the clear answer He gives is “none of them”.

That is not always the case. Orthodox bishops sometimes permit a priest or with young children to remarry and remain in ministry.

I’m not sure about this, but I suspect the answer to that is that when Jesus was talking with the Sadducees about that issue, it was prior to the Resurrection and giving of the Holy Spirit, and prior to the institution of marriage as a Christian sacrament.

At the resurrection. The one on earth has neither died or have been resurrected. Marriage is a grace as all Sacraments are. The grace remains with the one left on earth.

Is that oikonomia? Because the canons are clear that priests that remarry are to be deposed.

It is sinful, and the marriage ceremony acknowledges the sin involved in the remarriage, but it is granted, by economy, to help prevent the person from greater sin.
There is no practical difference between this and the modern widespread use of annulments to end marriage.

I’ve never heard of that happening. The only reason I could see it ever happening is if the diocese was desperate for priests and just couldn’t afford to lose one who was hellbent on remarriage.

It is quite rare, but I am familiar with this happening on occasion.

The canonical tradition is clear, going back to the fourth century that any remarriage after the death of a spouse is a sin. Those who committed this sin were considered guilty of bigamy, the recommended penance for which is a two year period of excommunication (this may be lightened out of economy), or with the loss of Holy Orders in the case of clergy (but without the associated two year excommunication, because the ancient canonical principle that one shall not punish twice for the same offense applies in this case; the loss of Holy Orders is punishment enough). Those who committed trigamy by contracting a third marriage were penanced heavily, being excommunicated for five years, and subsequently only being allowed to commune three times a year once being received back into communion. Those who contracted a fourth marriage were not and still are not ever received back into communion, unless they should leave the fourth marriage (there was a rare case when an emperor contracted a fourth marriage, and was received back into communion only under the condition that he outlaw all future fourth marriages; see the moechian controversy) The penance in this case, for the laity, has been reduced by economy. In the case of clergy, the canons concerning remarriage are more strictly enforced, because clergy are held to a higher standard.

The examples I have heard of are ones in which there is a widowed priest with young children. I wouldn’t characterize it so much as a priest being “hellbent on remarriage” as an accommodation granted by the bishop for the benefit of the young children, as much, if not more so, than for the benefit of the widowed priest.

How does this notion of no remarriage allowed after the death of the spouse square qith 1 Corinthians 7:39?

I also agree with this approach. As St. Paul himself wrote: If you marry, however, you do not sin, nor does an unmarried woman sin if she marries (1 Cor. 7:28) and also, If anyone thinks he is behaving improperly toward his virgin, and if a critical moment has come and so it has to be, let him do as he wishes. He is committing no sin; let them get married (1 Cor. 7:36). That is the point of the Orthodox Church on why it allows remarriage to divorced people. So it is better to let divorced people to remarry rather than cohabiting together, which is even a greater sin and is actual adultery. What the Orthodox Church then is saying is this: divorce is still wrong and is not condoned, but if one were to divorce and seek for a partner, then better to get married than live in great sin by cohabiting. That is why the ceremony for a second marriage has less and for a third marriage, certainly no crowning. It is the Orthodox Church’s way of looking down on divorce and remarriage, done tactfully.

How does this notion of no remarriage allowed after the death of the spouse square with 1 Corinthians 7:39

Continue on to verse 40: She is more blessed, though, in my opinion, if she remains as she is (1 Cor. 7:40)

Originally Posted by twf
I never understood the “death doesn’t end marriage” aspect - as Jesus clearly says that at the resurrection we will be like the “angels in heaven” who are “not given into marriage”. When the Saducees ask him whose wife the woman who was married to seven men (all of whom died) will be - the clear answer He gives is “none of them”.

So when a marriage ends by death of one spouse then the one still alive is still married.
Therefore it would seem that if the marriage ends by divorce then both are still married.
If that is true then remarriage = adultery.

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