Question: What does your religion have to say about marriage to someone outside your faith?
John Jillions, Citizen Special
Published: Saturday, June 07, 2008
A: Every marriage -- regardless of the role of faith -- has the potential to be deeply loving and spill ripples of blessing beyond the couple to their children and family and all those with whom they come in contact. As someone once told me, "I live off the love in my parents' marriage." Such love ultimately comes from God, whether acknowledged or not. With or without a church wedding, a loving marriage is a gift of God.
But a wedding in the Orthodox Church implies that the couple desires to bring this natural blessing into another dimension, into the realm of a shared spiritual, and specifically Orthodox Christian, life. This is why the earliest form of the Christian marriage service was the public, shared receiving of communion at the Sunday Eucharist. Two Christians who shared a common understanding of Christian life thus openly proclaimed that they desired to pursue this life together with each other as husband and wife, and eventually (God willing) with their children. They were saying to everyone that their marriage would put Christ at the centre of their life. The marriage service has evolved, but this outlook remains at its heart. This is reflected in multiple prayers for the couple's "oneness of mind and steadfast faith" and in the repeated image of Christ being present with them as he was at the marriage in Cana (John 2:1-11).
The ideal is therefore that couples would have a common commitment to the Orthodox Christian way of life as a foundation for their marriage. Most Orthodox Churches will permit marriages with other Christians, but even this is regarded as a concession. Recognizing that marriages mature and grow, husband and wife should at least be open to developing this dimension of their life together. Church weddings with non-Christians are not normally permitted, because they cannot, in good conscience, agree to prayers that speak of building their marriage and family life around faithfulness to Christ.
Father John Jillions is Dean of Annunciation Orthodox Cathedral and a professor in the Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies at Saint Paul University.
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