Friday, July 12, 2013

Stump the Priest: Divorce

Question: "I have heard Roman Catholics argue that Christ taught that remarriage after divorce was adultery, regardless of who is the innocent party, and they quote Church Fathers that seem to agree. They criticize the Orthodox Church’s position on this. How should we respond?"

There are some background points that have to be understood to understand this question:

1. Christ, St. Paul, and the Church clearly teach that the ideal for each person is that they either remain single, or marry only one person for life. Any second or third marriage is considered less than that ideal, even if you are a widow or widower. In fact, you find in the lives of the saints many examples of people who were betrothed to another, and their betrothed died before they were finally married, and yet they chose to remain faithful to their betrothed even after their death, refused to marry any other, and in many cases became monastics instead. So you will find many fathers that encourage people to not enter into a second marriage for any reason. This is why a deacon, priest, or bishop cannot have been married more than once, nor are priest and deacons allowed to marry again, even if their wife passes away.

2. In the Gospels, Christ does say that if someone is divorced for any reason other than infidelity, and they remarry, they commit adultery and cause their former spouse to commit adultery (Matthew 5:31-32). St. Paul adds another reason for divorce – abandonment (1 Corinthians 7:10-15). All of the reasons for the Church granting a divorce with a blessing to remarry are extrapolations from these two exceptions. For example, if a woman has a husband who is a drunk, beats her, and does not support the family, this is considered a form of abandonment. Nevertheless, divorce is always a last option, a bad option (though in some cases the least bad option) and one best avoided if at all possible.

3. Canon 9 of St. Basil the Great states that the innocent party may remarry without any sin on their part or the part of the person that they marry.

In our time, divorce is treated as a very light matter, and this is contrary to the tradition of the Church. We should enter into marriage without allowing even the thought of divorce to enter into their mind. However, it is not an unpardonable sin, and with the blessing of the Church, a person may remarry.

The irony with Roman Catholics who make these arguments is that they simply call divorce “annulment,” and so in their minds maintain a consistency that they charge us with lacking. I would say that we are honest with it, while they are not. When a couple have been married and have had children together, to call their divorce an annulment, when there was no canonical reason why they should never have been married (such as close kinship) is simply ridiculous. The Orthodox Church is honest, and also pastoral. But we should never forget that God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16), and so should we.

You can also listen to a sermon that discusses what the Bible says about divorce by clicking here.