Orthodox remarriages


This is likely in the nature of a stupic question, but here goes. I know that we Catholics recognize Orthodox sacraments as valid, and we generally recognize the marriages and baptisms of many other Christian faiths as valid. But the Orthodox recognize divorces as an accommodation and allow for remarriages under some circumstances (I’m not really familiar with the ins and outs of it.) These are not annulments, but divorces.

How does the Catholic Church regard the second Orthodox marriage? I’m guessing we don’t, but I’m not sure.


The Catholic Church recognizes Orthodox canon law, as it pertains to the Orthodox, and also recognizes their marriages as valid sacraments (Mysteries), when they are valid according to Orthodox canon law.

The exception to this is that the Catholic Church does not recognize those parts of Orthodox Canon law that deal with divorce or other dissolutions of the marriage bond, when the matter involves a Catholic or a potential Catholic. (In other words, Catholic bishops don’t go around issuing declarations of nullity for Orthodox 2nd marriages unless there’s a specific reason to investigate them).


I offer this as speculation, that the act of divorce is considered prima facia evidence of invalidity, and thus the Orthodox bypass the need for an annulment investigation. Their canon law simply does not require such an investigation before a second marriage attempt, or considers the priest presiding over the marriage’s opinion and grant of permission to be sufficient.

There could still be a chance, however, of entering into an invalid second marriage if the first were in fact valid and indissoluble and not carefully discerned. I offer this as an unofficial Western interpretation of a phenomenon understood differently in Eastern Christianity, so tread cautiously.


Such a second (or third) marriage attempt after a divorce would be considered invalid unless and until a Catholic marriage tribunal had determined prior marriage attempts to be invalid.


I wonder, though…

Orthodox Churches do have an annulment process, although it is rarely used. If an Orthodox tribunal had declared a previous marriage to be invalid, would it also be considered so by the Catholic Church, as the Church accepts the ecclesiastical authority of the Orthodox, with regard to their own members.

An example would be an divorced Orthodox man, who had been granted an annulment by the Orthodox Church, desiring to marry a Catholic. According to the pastoral agreements in place in the US regarding Catholic-Orthodox marriages, this wedding would usually take place in the Orthodox Church. Would the woman be free to marry this man, in the the Orthodox Church (or Catholic, for that matter)?



The Catholic Church does not recognize Orthodox canon law with regard to dissolutions of the marriage bond or any declarations of nullity.

One party would have to petition for a declaration of nullity from some Catholic diocese (there might be one or more choices available).

An example would be an divorced Orthodox man, who had been granted an annulment by the Orthodox Church, desiring to marry a Catholic. According to the pastoral agreements in place in the US regarding Catholic-Orthodox marriages, this wedding would usually take place in the Orthodox Church. Would the woman be free to marry this man, in the the Orthodox Church (or Catholic, for that matter)?

The man would have to petition for a declaration of nullity (or, theoretically his wife [ie first] could petition for one) from a Catholic tribunal, BEFORE any arrangements could be made for him to marry a Catholic.
Once that happens, only then could the location of the ceremony be chosen. That would be a separate issue altogether.


Thank you, Fr. David. :slight_smile:


Interesting replies, thanks!


The Orthodox have ecclesiastical divorces, which are not at all annulments.

For an Orthodox marriage to actually be invalid (i.e. what we would term a decree of nullity) it woud have to be that the priest did not perform the marriage properly. It is the priest that confers the sacrament. Very rare indeed that this would be invalid.

An Orthodox who married outside the Orthodox Church is excommunicated and that marriage would not be considered valid, but using terms like “valid” isn’t really the way the Orthodox would view it.

I don’t believe this would be the case at all.

The Orthodox have many reasons for an ecclesial divorce that the Catholic Church would not accept as nullity grounds. It may or may not accept a determination of invalidity based on the priest who administered the sacrament.

Whatever finding an Orthodox priest or what they have equivalent to a tribunal would be looked at but the finding would have to be from the Catholic tribunal. If they concurred, it is the Catholic tribunal decision that actually makes the Orthodox free to marry a Catholic.

The Catholic Church would definitely affirm what we call “lack of form” but it would have to go through the Catholic marriage tribunal, not an Orthodox process.

Only after a Catholic marriage tribunal found the Greek Orthodox man free to marry.

I have never heard of an Orthodox marriage being found “invalid” by the Orthodox, because again remember the priest confers the sacrament same as baptism, chrismation, eucharist, etc. It would be rare, rare, rare, that the priest did so invalidly.


The Orthodox do actually have annulments, separate from ecclesiastical divorce. It is rarely used, but the process for an annulment does exist. It is not limited to cases in which the priest invalidly performed the wedding. Possible reasons for annulment include consaguinaity and bigamy. Even a priest cannot marry those who are not free to marry.


Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller
Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
In the Orthodox Churches today, there are a great many grounds for divorce, which are mostly justified in terms of oikonomia, or pastoral leniency in difficult individual cases, and they open the path to a second or third marriage marked by a penitential character. This practice cannot be reconciled with God’s will, as expressed unambiguously in Jesus’ sayings about the indissolubility of marriage. But it represents an ecumenical problem that is not to be underestimated.



Yes, I can see consaguinaity possibly coming up, if it were not properly disclosed or known at the premarital preparation.

Invalidity in the Orthodox world would be very limited.

Which is why ecclesiastical divorce and remarriage is an oxymoron.


That’s your opinion.

Ecclesiastical divorces are not automatically issued just because a civil divorce was granted. When the process is not abused (and it can be, just as the Catholic annulment process can be), an ecclesiastical divorce is issued when it has been determined that there is no hope of reconciliation. Furthermore, the Orthodox do not automatically grant permission for a subsequent marriage.


Yes, very limited, but certainly more than the priest performing the ceremony incorrectly.

The following link, dated from 1917, provides a list of grounds for annulment in the Russian Orthodox Church. The grounds include : force, fraud, or coercion; either party divorced without permission to marry again; consaguinaity, affinity or spiritual relationship between the parties (one cannot marry a Godparent/Godchild); either party already having been married three times; either party under marriagable age or over 80; either party under vows or having been ordained to the diaconate or priesthood; one of the parties not a baptized Christian. Each of these, excepting possibly being over 80 years of age, is also an impediment in the Catholic Church, although we allow dispensations in some cases. (I don’t believe the Latin Rite still considers a spiritual relationship to be an impediment, but Eastern Catholics do.)


I would imagine that the existence of ecclesiastical divorce has limited the Orthodox Churches from developing some of the additional grounds for annulment that the Catholic Church has developed in more modern times.


I didn’t state that they were automatic. I said that since a priest cannot marry someone who is already married, an “ecclesial divorce with remarriage” is an oxymoron.


When did divorces in the Orthodox come about? That is, can a date be put on this practice?

I hadn’t thought of it before, but it occurs to me that if these are common (and I don’t know that they are, or are not) it would be another problem in trying to end the separation between the Catholics and the Orthodox.


Divorce has always existed, and I am sure that laws regarding the investigation of nullity have existed nearly as long.

The apt question would be to figure out when remarriage without a formal decry of nullity of the previous marriage was first allowed. My guess would be that there have been sporadic instances throughout Christian history, and various dogmatic responses for and against, of varying authority, issued as well.


It is impossible for a Eastern Orthodox or an Eastern Catholic to get annulment.


Not true with respect to Eastern Catholics.

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