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Marriage According to Canon Law

In May, 2015, the London Cathedral parish once again was blessed to receive a visit from Father Deacon Andrei Psarev, who is Instructor in Russian History, Russian Church History, Byzantine History and Canon Law at Holy Trinity Orthodox Seminary, Jordanville, New York, USA.

On the Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the First Œcumenical Council, 11/24 May, 2015, the Deputy Rector of the Cathedral, Archpriest Vladimir Vilgerts, invited Fr. Deacon Andrei to deliver a talk in the Church Hall to the parish on the subject of Marriage and Canon Law. After the trapeza served by the Sisterhood of Saint Xenia, Fr. Deacon Andrei delivered to his talk to a large number of the faithful.

Fr. Deacon Andrei started from Old Testament times, where marriage was primarily viewed as an institution that facilitates the procreation of children. That was based on the commandment (Genesis 1:22): “be fruitful and multiply.” As a result, marriages were annulled if the woman was barren or could not give birth to more children because of old age. That was a valid reason for divorce.

Since the time of Christ, marriage has been understood according to His teachings as found in the New Testament and in the Apostles Canons, which are still in force in the life of the Church today. The new commandment concerning marriage is for the duration of the life of the partners. Fr. Deacon Andrei described the theology behind this match, which is based on the fact that the married couple represent One Body, or “one circle;” the man and the woman represent one body, although with different functions.

The implication of this approach in the reality of everyday life for Christians is vast. Marriage is for life. Whatever happens, there is no tradition of allowing for divorce or the process of ‘unmarrying’ the couple, understanding marriage in the context “of sharing the life of the Cross together.” Unfaithfulness is understood to be a grave sin. Sharing a body between man and woman is irreversible and cannot easily be ‘undone’, if at all.

These canonical rules have force in modern times. However, there have been further developments in the everyday reality of managing marriage in the life of the Church. For example, a person, who dissolves a marriage in the civil courts because their spouse has been unfaithful, in some cases may be married in the Church a second time. However, each case is considered individually.

Devoted Christian couples, who have lived together for many years and who have been faithful to each other and have children, but have never had the opportunity or possibility to have their marriage in a church, may be granted the opportunity to be married in a church, even many years later. The marriage service for these couples has been adjusted accordingly, especially the exhortations, (which assume that the newly wed are younger people who have no children).

In some dioceses in the West, some rules concerning marriage to a non-Orthodox partner have been relaxed.

Although practical rules have evolved, most of the rules have stayed the same since Apostolic times, as, for instance the ban on ordaining a divorced man.

Fr. Deacon Andrei answered many questions from the parishioners. Most of these questions related to the problem of Orthodox Christians living in contemporary, non-Orthodox society, and the difficulty of finding a Christian partner.

Fr. Vladimir made a lively contribution to the discussion from his vast pastoral experience. He pointed to the necessity of discussing with Orthodox Christians all aspects of family life. Such open conversation with a priest might prevent various problems in adult life. Fr. Vladimir noted that all the themes covered in the talk are pertinent to the lives of most parishioners and, therefore, are of great importance to our local Church life.