by Bishop Tikhon (Fitzgerald) of San Francisco and the West
Diocese of the West
The Orthodox Church in America
September 7, 1991
St. John, Novgorod Wonderworker
Dear Father N. N.,
The Lord's blessings be upon you!
(…) I will sum up the normal steps we take in petitioning and granting blessings for second marriages. Please refer to it in the future. (…) I'm sure you'll agree that our procedures are more in line with Orthodox theology as you understand it than some other procedures followed in the past and elsewhere. You may wish to keep this handy for any future cases which may come into your pastoral care.
The procedures are based on these premises:
- In an Orthodox marriage, God Himself is the Agent of the marriage: "What GOD hath joined together, let no man put asunder."
- The Orthodox person who effects a divorce sins thereby, except in the cases outlined in the Scriptures and Canons, for example, in a case of adultery, or the taking of monastic vows by husband and wife when the husband is elected to the episcopate.
- In an Orthodox marriage, it is only the husband or wife who are agents of a divorce, and the Church does not divorce anyone. (The "Church divorces" of the past, those accomplished in societies where the (state)Church performed such functions of the state as marriage registry because the civil law provided for that, make no sense at all where the Church is free of such civil obligations, and the priest does not therefore have to act as a county clerk or other bureaucratic functionary of the state.)
- THE FIRST, MAIN, AND THE PRIMARY PURPOSE OF MARRIAGE IS THE SALVATION OF THE PERSONS BEING MARRIED. And the basis of a second marriage, whether of a divorced person or a widowed one, is the same, but it is based on the Apostolic injunction, "Better to marry than to burn."
Based on the above premises:
The person coming to the parish priest petitioning for the blessing of a second marriage must attest to the following:
- He or she has exhausted, by his or her own persistent and untiring efforts, all means of reconciliation with the spouse God gave him or her, and that spouse has, in spite of his or her protestations and representations and efforts at reconciliation, sued for divorce and obtained it.
- He or she has repented of the sin of divorce, and this was an involuntary sin, except in cases having a scriptural or canonical basis, where it may be, but not necessarily, a voluntary sin, based on a refusal to forgive.
- He or she has lived some time in this divorced state and now fears for his or her own salvation if he or she does not marry the person whom he or she now intends to marry.
- The Priest gives counsel to the person coming for a divorce, and insures that the above is, in fact, the case, as far as he can determine. He then advises the petitioner to put a petition in writing, petitioning for a second marriage and attesting to the above. He obtains a copy of the divorce decree.
- If the Priest is in agreement with the petitioner, he then sends me his own petition, petitioning to be blessed to marry the petitioner to his or her intended. He includes in the petition his own estimation of the facts of the case, a clear statement that the petitioner has, indeed, repented, and has undergone the Sacraments of Penance and Holy Communion. He includes in his petition a copy of the petitioner's petition and divorce decree, but NO DIOCESAN FEES.
I hope this is all relatively clear, Father N. Perhaps it's providential that this case has arisen right now: it will clarify future courses of action for you in similar cases which are bound to arise in an age when Americans, even Orthodox Americans, believe everyone is entitled to an ideal marriage, or at least one which lives up to "expectations."
Sending a blessing and assuring you prayer.
With love in Christ