11 January 2010

Canonical query

If an Orthodox cleric in major orders contracts matrimony, do he and his wife slide comfortably into ther status of Lay Orthodox In Good Standing; or are they beyond the pale?

11 comments:

andrew said...

A single non-monastic Orthodox priest is a recent anomaly, dating from the mid-nineteenth century. Married clergy are the norm in and for parish ministry. As is well known, Orthodox clergy are meant to marry before ordination. They are prohibited to do so after ordination. When it happens it is always something of a scandal and under normal circumstances would result in suspension and deposition. In some cases a priest has asked to be laicized - although what that term means is somewhat ambiguous - without prejudice, prior to a marriage. Some authorities consider this intention / request in itself grounds for deposition. A widowed (or divorced) priest would have been expected to leave parish ministry for the monastery, teaching in schools, serving the ecclesiastical bureaucracy. The presence of a laicized priest and his new wife is often uncomfortable for his former parishioners, and a prudent and thoughtful one will find a parish life elsewhere.

Fr John Hunwicke SSC, said...

Suppose, for example, someone had been a married cleric and then, a number of years after being widowed, wished to marry? And would it make any difference whether he was deacon, presbyter, or bishop?

Christian said...

On Orthodox blogs (admitedly, American ones) I have heard of priests just getting permission to re-marry. It does not seem quite as infelxable as we Latins are used too.

Sir Watkin said...

One also hears tales of the opposite phenomenon: of a priest divorcing his wife in order to be raised to the episcopate. Are these canards, however?

andrew said...

Suppose, for example, someone had been a married cleric and then, a number of years after being widowed, wished to marry? And would it make any difference whether he was deacon, presbyter, or bishop

There are some basic principles involved. One is that a marriage after ordination is seen as breaking of the good order and discipline of the Church and is thus uncanonical. Another is that there is in Orthodoxy a sense that any second marriage is at best a concession to human weakness (even if in practice second marriages are not so uncommon). Another is that as far as clergy are concerned, it doesn't really matter if the reason a clergyman has become single is because he has been widowed or because his wife has left him. Widowed or divorced, a second marriage is proscribed. This can seem harsh, and there have been some unusual pastoral accommodations on occasion.

An Orthodox bishop is either a monastic or a widowed priest. In both cases, for a bishop to marry would not only be scandalous, and result in deposition, but he would have to marry outside the Church, for who would dare to celebrate such a wedding, and who (that is, what other bishop) would give a blessing for such a marriage to take place?

I do not think that the number of years would be a factor.

In order of scandal: bishop, presbyter, deacon.

Do such things happen? Yes - they do - and often with controversy and pain.

Probably the best way to handle such a thing would be: a widowed priest asks to be laicized / removed from the roll of the clergy [these are canonically iffy terms, but used in many places to designate a change in status that sounds less harsh than deposed / defrocked] and then, after a decent interval, quietly marries, somewhere other than the place of his former ministry. For such a marriage to take place it would have had to be blessed (that is, permitted) beforehand by the bishop of whoever was to perform the marriage - remember that in the Orthodox church the priest, and not the couple, are the ministers of the marriage - so it would be wise to marry in a diocese with a sympathetic or at least tolerant bishop.

For a serving priest or deacon to enter a second marriage would be wholly uncanonical. The priest who served the marriage would himself probably be deposed.

For a retired priest or deacon to enter a second marriage would also be uncanonical but perhaps a tad less scandalous.

For a laicized priest or deacon to enter a second marriage would be scandalous, but not necessarily uncanonical if one acts the notion of laicization.

Does this help at all?

andrew said...

of a priest divorcing his wife in order to be raised to the episcopate

In principle, if a priest and his wife agreed to separate, he might be considered for consecration to the episcopate. Stress on agreement of the spouse. What is envisioned is that the pious wife enters a convent, and the husband himself enters the monastic life prior to consecration. The term would be separate, rather than divorce, depending on the legal situation (related to property, inheritance, continuation of pension benefits and so on), and would be a generous interpretation of the Apostle's injunction not to refuse each other in marital relations save for a period of prayer.

In the last century there were instances of such things in Japan, and more recently in Georgia.

Rubricarius said...

Andrew wrote:
"An Orthodox bishop is either a monastic or a widowed priest. In both cases, for a bishop to marry would not only be scandalous, and result in deposition, but he would have to marry outside the Church, for who would dare to celebrate such a wedding, and who (that is, what other bishop) would give a blessing for such a marriage to take place?"

That is my understanding too. If the cleric in question is the one I am thinking of my understanding is that he now considers himself a layman and I don't believe even considers himself Orthodox - but I might be wrong.

Sir Watkin said...

Thank you, Andrew, for your helpful answer.

The only specific example of which I had heard (as opposed to vague talk) was in Georgia

andrew said...

Sir Watkin - You may be interested in this (from OrthodoxWiki):

... Archpriest John Ono was elected as the Japanese candidate to episcopacy. Fr. John was then the oldest priest in the Church of Japan.

As he was married, he and his wife traveled to different monasteries in Harbin, Manchuria, which at the time was ruled by Japan. In Harbin, Fr. John was tonsured a monk under the name of Nicholas and his wife Vera was tonsured a nun with the name Helen.
St. Nicholas Cathedral, Harbin, Manchuria, China

On April 6, 1941, Fr. John was consecrated the Bishop of Tokyo and All Japan in St. Nicholas Cathedral in Harbin by the hierarchs of the ROCOR: Metr. Meletius (Zaborovsky) of Harbin and All Manchuria, Abp. Nestor (Anisimov) of Kamchatka and Petropavlovsk, Bp. Juvenal of Qiqihar, Bp. Demetrius of Hailar and Bp. John (Maksimovich) of Shanghai. (Some sources name Abp. Victor (Svyatin) of Beijing instead of Bp. John.) Thus, Bp. Nicholas became the first Japanese national to be consecrated an Orthodox bishop.

The Flying Dutchman said...

There is a case of a widowed priest of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America who married a divorcée. In this case I understand the priest was allowed to continue in the ministry by Metropolitan Philip (Saliba), but not without some controversy.

Julio said...

"One also hears tales of the opposite phenomenon: of a priest divorcing his wife in order to be raised to the episcopate. Are these canards, however?"

There were some rumors that the late Patriarch Alexiy II of Moscow was one such.