The Dogmatical Basis for Prohibiting the Remarriage of Sacred Ministers

The struggle of the "spirit of error" (I John IV:6) against the revealed teaching given in the Sacred Scriptures (I Timothy III:2,12; Titus I:6) and in the Sacred Tradition (Apostolic Constitutions 17; Basil the Great 12; Trullo 3) about the incompatibility of remarriage with the sacred ministry, a teaching which concerns the desires of our fallen human nature and thus serving as a subject of attacks since the beginning of the III century, has once again manifested itself in our time. According to press reports certain Orthodox Churches are on the verge of repudiating this teaching. These reports are confirmed by the recently announced resolution of the "Panorthodox Congress" held in Constantinople. This resolution reads:

"The Panorthodox Congress convened under the chairmanship of His Holiness Patriarch Lord Meletius IV, having devoted the sessions of 25 and 30 June 1923 to the study of the question of a second marriage for priests and deacons who became widowed following the death of their wives, which question having been raised by certain local Churches, and having taken into account the ancient practice of our Church, such practice having a Canonical basis, find that it is not immutable by virtue of its sacredness or not unchangeable by virtue of its authority and as such, is subject to change, which change is dictated by the imminent needs and circumstances of individual local autocephalous Churches, such changes having as their aim the good of the members of the Orthodox Church, resolved:

  1. To consider a second marriage allowable for priests and deacons who, as a result of their wives' death became widowers, since this does not contradict the spirit of the Evangelical teaching and even removes any possibility of censure from the situation of the sacred minister.

  2. The Synods of the local Churches have the right, following the receipt of the opinion of the appropriate bishop and upon the petition of widowed priests and deacons, to permit the conclusion of a second marriage.

  3. This measure is considered to be canonically in effect until the convening of an All Orthodox Council, which alone has the power to provide this decision with conciliar authority.

At the Patriarchate, 5 June 1923

Patriarch Meletius of Constantinople, Metropolitan Callinicus, Archbishop Alexander of North America, Metropolitan Gabriel, Metrolopitan Basil, Metropolitan Jacob, Archimandrite Julius Skriban, V Antoniadis Secretary Archimandrite German chief Synod secretary."

Without a doubt a future historian of the Orthodox Church will note this resolution as a sad example of the decline of theological thinking and Church discipline.

In the first place the organization of the "Congress" places its authority under a large question mark. In the Orthodox Church there are not and can not be other organs of power which extend to all or some of the local Churches except local or ecumenical Councils and the resolutions of whatever other organizations can only be looked upon as private opinions of its participants which are not binding on anyone. Specifically this is the only significance which can be attributed to the resolutions of the Constantinopolitan ŽCongress", which was organized in imitation of political congresses and conferences, consisting of a mere handful of hierarchs and improperly calling itself "Panorthodox", and which lacked plenipotentiary representatives from many Orthodox Churches.

Furthermore the Congress, giving the Synods of local Churches permission to violate the decisions of Ecumenical Councils not only places itself higher than those Synods, but also on the level of the Ecumenical Councils themselves even though, contradicting itself, it recognizes that only an All Orthodox Council can grant conciliar authority to the resolutions of the Congress, i.e. in other words it itself recognizes that the resolutions of the Congress have no authority inasmuch as the Orthodox Church knows of no other , except Conciliar authority in such matters.

We will not subject the resolution to a detailed analysis, although its deficiencies -- extremely weak argument, an ignoring of commonly known conclusions which are contrary to the views of the Congress, and internal contradictions -- are quite obvious. For example the assertion that the established practice is not immutable is without foundation. It is also not clear why this practice which was in existence as long as the Church all of a sudden is in need of such rapid change that the Congress cannot find it possible to place the resolution of this problem before the future Council which it considers as the only competent organ in this case. It is also not clear why the Congress refers only to canons and says nothing about the fact that this practice is established in the first place on the basis of the Holy Scripture itself. Without going into detail about all these topics we will stop only on one decision of the Congress which is that the remarriage of sacred ministers is not contrary ti the spirit of the Evangelical teaching, i.e. in other words it is not contrary to the dogmatic teaching of the Church which, according to Orthodox understanding, is the only authoritative interpreter of the Evangelical teaching.

This is a completely erroneous thought, and actually the prohibition of remarriage for sacred ministers is an inevitable strictly logical conclusion from the Orthodox teaching about two sacraments -- Ordination and Marriage , thus to rescind this prohibition -- means in effect to depart from these two sacraments and in the end, to depart from the essence of the internal unity of Orthodox teaching and from Orthodoxy itself.

According to Orthodox teaching, in addition to the priesthood of all believers in the Church, there must also be a special sacramental public hierarchical priesthood consisting of certain authorized individuals taken from the ranks of the former. This selection is objectively realized through ordination but this objective selection through ordination is conditioned upon personal selection, based on certain qualities which the candidate for priesthood must posess. This is precisely the teaching of the Holy Scripture. The founder of the Church, Jesus Christ, does not call everyone to the apostolate but only persons who possess certain high moral requirements even though not without the possibility of falling. The Apostle Paul in directing the ordination of presbyters, at the same time lists those qualities which they must possess among which is monogamy or more specifically non-digamy.

Among the list of moral qualities of the candidate for ordination monogamy has an especially important meaning. All the other qualities (e.g. temperance, sensibility, hospitability) have more or less conditional and relative character and their meaning can change according to the circumstances of time and place.

No one will disagree that a drunk is unworthy to be a sacred minister, but the understanding of what is a drinker is considerably conditional and the Apostle Paul himself urges Timothy to take a little wine (I Tim. V:23).

The same can be said about being greedy or an apt teacher, etc. Furthermore all such moral defects are not necessarily evident and can be more or less kept hidden and not become a subject for the temptation of the flock.

Monogamy is an entirely different matter. Here the moral requirement is manifested in the external legal ecclesiastical and civil institution of marriage, having a definite, visible and obvious character. Nothing here is more or less, maybe yes or maybe no, a person can either be a digamist or not. And his status must be known to his whole flock since marriage is an institution of an obvious character and the Orthodox Church does not recognize secret marriages.Thus of the requirements of special qualities from the sacred ministers, which are based on the dogmatic teaching about the priesthood as a special office, only the prohibition of digamy receives its fully concrete and fully definite expression and as a result, it becomes a symbol of the teaching about the sacrament of ordination or, as the Blessed Augustine writes, it is "a certain norm of the sacrament", "a necessary sign for ecclesiastical ordination" ("normam quandam sacramenti", "ad ordinationem ecclesiasticam signaculum necessarium") Thus in the history of theological thought the question of allowing remarriage for sacred ministers was always linked with the question of the existence of sacramental priesthood, with those who erroneously denied the sacramental priesthood advocated for the abolition of the restrictions against clerical remarriage. "What would be the distinction between the people and the priest if they were to abide by the same laws?" asks St. Ambrose of Milan, in demonstrating the unconditional prohibition of the remarriage of sacred ministers. "The life of the priest must be preferential just as grace is preferential."

St. Epiphanius of Cyprus writes that remarriage is prohibited for sacred ministers "because of the preferential importance of the sacred ministry," "because of the high honor of the priesthood; because of its sacredness." The priestly calling is of such height that they are not allowed that which is not considered a fault by other Church members," writes St. Leo the great, and he concludes from this that "a priest cannot be the husband of a second wife" and St. Gregory Duologos calls the ordination of a digamist "a desecration of the sacrament," and in later times authoritative Orthodox theologians in defending the Orthodox teaching on the priesthood simultaneously defended the prohibition of remarriage as one of its basic conditions. This can be seen for example in Patriarch Jeremiah of Constantinople, the Patriarch of Alexandria Metrophanus Kritopoulos, Metropolitan Peter Moghila of Kiev, and others.

This unbroken link between the prohibition of remarriage with the teaching of the hierarchical priesthood as distinct from the priesthood of all believers is noticed among the wrong-thinkers and their teaching is proof of the inseparable connection e contrario. Tertullian, during his Montanist period mixes the sacramental priesthood with the priesthood of all believers and extends the former on all the faithful and at the same time extends the prohibition of remarriage on all the faithful. On the other hand the Nestorians, those Eastern Rite Protestants, advance the teaching of the universal priesthood and at the same time rescind the prohibition for the remarriage of sacred ministers. Likewise the Protestants, who completely lost the teaching of the sacramental priesthood, abolish the prohibition for remarriage for their clergy and the polemics against the prohibition of digamy is conducted by them together with the polemics against the teaching of the Roman and the Orthodox Church on the sacramental priesthood as distinct from the universal priesthood. And yes, the recent so-called "Pan-Orthodox" Congress, moving along not without secret pressures from the protestantizing Anglican Church, which has a hierarchy but which rejects the teaching on the priesthood as a sacrament while at the same time permits a repetition of marriage for its clergy.

To rescind the prohibition against the remarriage of clergy would be to reject the Orthodox teaching not only about the sacrament of Orders but of the sacrament of marriage as well. This teaching is strictly Evangelical and at the same time strictly orthodox since only the Orthodox Church preserved undamaged the strict evangelical teaching that only absolute monogamy is the norm for a Christian marriage.

The sacrament of marriage which was established in paradise suffered two world-wide catastrophes, the Fall and the Flood, thus the task of the Christian Church is not to establish a new sacrament but to purify it from the accruements of Jewish (Mt. XIX:8) and pagan (Rom. I:26-27; Eph. IV:19) distortions of the "hardness of heart" and to restore it to its state in paradise. Thus, as the Founder of the Church himself (Mt. XIX:4; Mark X:7) and his Apostle (I Cor. VI:16; Eph. V:31), whenever the question of marriage arises simply refer to the teaching on marriage in the first two chapters of Genesis, the Old Testament gospel. And the distinguishing feature of the marriage in paradise is its complete, absolute monogamy since ". . .the one who created them in the beginniing made them male and female" (Gen. I:27; Mt. XIX:4).

It is true that Jesus Christ makes this general observation only as a proof against only one type of distortion against monogamy, the remarriage following divorce, but only because this refers to the test advanced by the Pharisees. That the marriage in paradise would exclude the possibility of a remarriage following the death of a spouse is self-evident: there could be no such marriage in paradise since there would be no death. Thus the Blessed Jerome correctly interprets the words of Christ writing: "He (i.e. Jesus Christ) says "man and woman" to show that it is necessary to avoid a second matrimonial union". A more authoritative commentary on the words of the Savior are the epistles of St. Paul. He writes unfavorably about a remarriage and considers it permissible for all according to the Old Testament law (Rom. VII:3; and I Cor. VII:39) but in the Christian Church he considers it allowable only for the morally sick, for the incontinent and for the prevention of something worse: passion (I Cor. VII:8-9), but in any case it is incompatible with the highest moral perfection (I Cor. VII:40).

Commenting on the words of the apostle St. Theodore Studite writes, repeating St. Gregory the Theologian, "In the Christian Church a second marriage is not a law but condescention. Condescention presupposes a certain degradation and a reproachable act. This is precisely what the divine Apostle said: ". . .if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry (I Cor.VII:9)"since lack of control is closely linked with degradation and sinfulness.

If the Apostle advises young widows to marry in the first epistle to Timothy (V:14) it is to prevent something worse, "for some have already turned away to follow Satan (v. 15)", but he still speaks of those widows that ". . .they incur condemnation for having violated their first pledge (v. 12)."

The Orthodox Church preserved the teaching of the unequal dignity of the first and subsequent marriages in its fulness. "There is one marriage in nature, just as there is one birth and one death," as St Gregory of Nyssa clearly expresses to his sister St. Macrina, who declined to remarry following the death of her fianc».

The Orthodox Church as well as the sacred scripture always looked upon subsequent marriages as an institution foreign to the Christian ideal, as an inescapable concession to the pre-Christian "hardness of heart." The concept of the non-sacerdotal character of subsequent marriages was quite evident at the time not long after the earthly life of the Divine Founder and his apostles, when the Church was under no obligation to be concerned with State laws on subsequent marriages. This teaching is defended by all writers of the early centuries, and not only those inclined towards excessive rigorism, thus Tertullian is in full accord with Clement of Alexandria and Methodius of Olympia, disagreeing only in final conclusions. The ancient Christian writers explain that subsequent marriages do not reflect the Christian ideal of marriage not only because they violate the divinely established monogamy in paradise but because, according to Christian teaching, death is not the final end of things and thus does not destroy marriage , according to which remarriages are violations of the first marriage as if by clandestine adultery. "A second marriage is respectable adultery. He who separates from his first wife, even though the dies, is a secret adulterer, since he goes contrary to God's plan, since in the beginning God created one husband and one wife, and he thus destroys the unity of one flesh through the coupling with the other" writes Athenagoras.

The Apostolic Constitutions state: "You ought to know this, that once marrying according to the law, is righteous, as being according to the will of God; but second marriages, after the promise, are wicked; not on account of the marriage itself, but because of the falsehood. Third marriages are indications of incontinency. But such marriages as are beyond the third, are manifest fornication and unquestionable uncleanliness. For God, in the creation, gave one woman to one man; for they two shall be one flesh (Gen. I:24)"

Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria are very clear on the subject that death is not an end of everything and thus is not an end of marriiage. Tertullian writes: "Are we going to be nothing after death. Perhaps according to Epicurus but not according to Christ", concluding that a second marriage is an insult to the memory of the departed, and calls it "a form of adultery."

Clement of Alexandria explains that a Christian dies to the Old Testament law in baptism, but not to the law of paradise given by God himself, and that the law of paradise on monogamy is mandatory and for him a marriage according to the law (in paradise and Christian) refers only to a first marriage. The same thought, i.e. that subsequent marriages are foreign to the Christian church, even if permitted, can be found in other ancient writers. "Our Teacher (i.e. Jesus Christ) considers those who, following the law of man, enter into a second marriage, as sinners" writes Justin Martyr. "The digamist will be expelled from the assembly of the first-born and the righteous, having no stain or sin. Such nuptials will exclude us from the Kingdom of God", writes Origen.

When the Church became established in the State and was required to be concerned with the State's recognition of subsequent marriages and was even compelled to do so, it not only remained faithful to its reprehensible view towards such marriages but for the longest time did not change her practice in relation to them. The codex of canons which was compiled during the epoch of the Ecumenical and local councils and which became obligatory for the Orthodox Church, does not know of repeated marriages as an ecclesiastical institution, and not only prohibits their crowning but even the presence of the priest at the wedding feast. In fact at that time remarriages took place only according to the civil order "with human rites," according to Theodore Studite, which meant an announcement by the husband before ten witnesses that he "takes this woman to be his wife", as explained by Nicephorus Confessor.

The Church's part in remarriages for the longest time consisted of intervention, as in all cases of violations of canons, by the assignment of lengthy penances (Ancyra 19, Laod. 1, Neoces. 3, Basil Gr. 4).

In this way the Church looked on remarriages as examples of the sacrament of penance and of obvious repentance. Thus no ancient writer refers to a remarriage as a sacrament of matrimony and in ancient lists marriage does not appear at all (having been established in paradise and not by the Christian Church), or the sacrament is called "the first virginal marriage in the Lord."

If the Church later permitted the marriages of digamists, this was not as a result of a change in its teaching about such marriages but as a result of civil orderly procedure. At first the marriage of digamists was a manifestation of illegal pressures upon the Church on the part of the State. Theodore Studite thinks that the practice of marrying digamists began during the reign of the dishonorable Constantine Copronymus and iconoclast (741-775) as a result of his trigamy since "it was not so before that." For a long time marriage of digamists was a rare exception and there were patriarchs who with their own hands prevented twice-married emperors from entering the Church, there were pastors, according to Theodore Studite, who would rather sacrifice their whole life, confront danger, exile or death rather than agree to dishonor and violate Christ's gospel and marry a digamist, and Emperor Leo III's fourth marriage brought about a lengthy discord between the Church and the State, ending in the year 921 with the proclamation of the "Tome of Union" which would be read from the Church's cathedras every July and which sharply spelled out the Church's position on subsequent marriages. However there were patriarchs who feasted at an emperor's second marriage which Balsamon notes with great sadness.

It was only when a church wedding was mandated by imperial law to make a marriage valid and as a result of which a refusal of a wedding ceremony was tantamount to the declaration of the union as simple adultery, did the Church permit the marriage of digamists and at first this was allowed only in Constantinople and this special rite was not found in other churches even in the XIII c. and it is not known in Rome to this day.

The Eastern Church in allowing the marriages of digamists as a result of imperial necessity, did not treat them as equal to a first marriage and to this day in various ways, it expresses its loyalty to the New Testament teaching of the reprehensibility of such marriages. In the first place, contrary to imperial legislation which did not (until 800 c.e.) limit the number of marriages, the Church would not go beyond three. Secondly, the order of service for a subsequent marriage was a special one, differing from the crowning of a first marriage and harking back to the ancient order when subsequent marriages were considered by the Church as penitential. Furthermore the Church would not allow such marriages to be crowned, i.e. the placement of crowns on the heads of the bridal couple. Then as Theodore Studite writes referring to the answers of Metropolitan Nicetas and to Symeon of Salonica, the Church did not permit another important element at such weddings in place prior to the 17th c., the joint reception of communion by the bridal couple, to which the digamists were not entitled since they were under penance for at least a year. Finally the order for second marriages contains prayers of a purely penitential character.

In this way there is not the slightest doubt that the Orthodox Church does not recognize an equal worthiness of subsequent marriages in relation to a first marriage. There is no evidence of any influence of a false asceticism in this teaching, as not only the protestant theologians object, but those protestantizing theologians within the Orthodox Church itself as well. Ambrose of Milan expresses the true basis for the Church's position on subsequent marriages when he writes "The more I object to second marriages the more I exhalt the first."

Thus the Church stands opposed to subsequent marriages not because of some aversion towards marriage but precisely because it holds it in such high esteem.This position of the Church is founded on profound psychological bases. Nuptial love has an absolutely exceptional character. The one who loves sincerely is always convinced that his love is eternal.The very thought of the possibility of replacing one object of love by another, even in the event of death, is already a betrayal of love, a clandestine adultery, which imperceptibly but destructively impinges on the sanctity and the purity of family life. The Church's teaching on the reprehensibility of repeated marriages has a deep, benevolent influence on the evil human nature. This is the salt which will preserve from decay man's sexual life which is so inclined, it proclaims an ideal character to the marriage and through this it acts to heal the whole social structure.

However, the teaching of the reprehensibility of subsequent marriages stands and falls with the prohibition of remarriage for sacred ministers.

Verba docent, exempla trahunt, and this prohibition stands as a permanent, living and therefore valid sermon on the ideal marriage. This is how it is explained by ancient Church writing: "Grant that his (bishop and presbyter) morals will be higher than that of ordinary people, that they may imitate their superiority." we read in the oldest (circa 200 c.e.) known ordination rite. "Presbyters and deacons must give themselves as an example and affirm others by their conduct and morality. How else can they lead others towards chastity and restraint?" writes Cyprian of Carthage. St Ambrose of Milan, on the same theme, asks about a remarried cleric: "On what basis can he console a widow, to be honorable and preserve her widowhood, to remain loyal to her husband, if he himself had not done so with respect to his first wife?"

Almost contemporaneousky with these Western pastoral teachers a parrallel question is raised by the Eastern pastoral teacher John Chrysosdom, "How can he be a good leader who did not preserve any concern for the departed one," and after six centuries the same point is made by the blessed Theophilact of Bulgaria "How can he who did not preserve any loyalty to the departed one be diligent towards the Church?"

Thus according to the Fathers the digamist does not have that spiritual wholeness, that loyalty to himself and to others which is essential for one who serves the Church. Marriage in itself is not an impediment to sacred ministry since there is in essence, no contradiction between one and the other, according to Chrysosdom the narrow sphere of the family is expanded in the sacred ministry and he who is loyal in little things , loyal within the family which itself is a "little Church" according to Chrysosdom, will be placed over greater things. Thus the repeal of the prohibition of remarriage for sacred ministers is a refutation not only from the necessity of hierarchical priesthood in the Church, but from the teaching of absolute monogamy as a norm for a Christian marriage. In permitting a remarriage for sacred ministers the Church must logically do away with the special rite for remarriage, to recognize the equal significance of all marriages and permit the repetition of marriages ad infinitum, permitting this not only to laity but to sacred ministers and to consider its motto not the exhalted dictum of Gregory of Nyssa: "marriage by its nature is one, as is one birth and one death," but the free expression of one of Protestant teachers, Kalovius (+1686) who married at age 72 to his sixth wife, "as long as the Lord God doesn't tire of depriving me of wives, I will not tire of marrying."

S. Troitsky

[Translated from "Tserkovnyya Vedomosti" [Church Herald] 1923 Nos 13, 14, 15, 16, a publication of the Russian Synod Abroad by Alvian Smirensky]


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