Marriage to a Non-Christian


What is the Orthodox policy on marriage to a Jewish individual?

If there is a problem, can there be an exception in certain cases?

If so, with whom would I need to discuss this?


In the Orthodox Church it is not permitted for an Orthodox Christian to be married to an individual who has not been baptized, regardless of whether they are of the Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or other faith.

While there is generally no exception to this rule, especially in the USA, you may wish to discuss your particular circumstance with your parish priest, who can offer specific guidance tailored to your individual situation.


Thank you very much for your timely reply.

I understand the rules, but in coming upon the year 2000 isn’t it a bit discriminatory for the Orthodox Church to be so selective to the point of being borderline prejudicial against those of other faith’s. Especially against the Jewish people from whom all Christianity is derived.


The practice of the Church is not a matter of discrimination any more than the practice of the Jewish faith, which only permits practicing Jews to celebrate their bar mitzvah, or the practice of the Buddhist faith, which allows only practicing Buddhists to enter Buddhist monastic orders, are cases of discrimination.

Bottom line: if you’re not an observant Jew, why would you want to be bar mitzvahed; if you do not practice Buddhism, why would you want to be a Buddhist monk? It is a matter of sacramentology, as well as common sense.

Simply put, one who has not entered the life of the Church through Baptism, Chrismation, and the Eucharist—and who as such does not acknowledge Jesus Christ as his or her Lord, God and Savior—would reduce the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony to pure external form or ritual since he or she, by not acknowledging Jesus Christ, cannot properly seal his or her marriage in Him.

In other words, marriage in Jesus Christ presumes that one accepts Him and believes in Him. Why would an individual who does not accept Christ want to seal his or her marriage in Christ? A non-baptized individual who truly desires to partake of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony in the Orthodox Church should do so out of a desire to seal all he or she does in Jesus Christ. It is inconceivable that one would pledge their love to another person in the name and presence of a God he or she does not believe in.


If the Orthodox Church forces its members to marry outside the church, will it recognize the marriage? This question is most intriguing because the Orthodox Church recognizes civil divorces.


The Orthodox Church never forces its members to marry outside the Church. It is the decision of the person who is planning to enter a marriage which cannot be sacramentalized in Church to marry outside the Church. How can the Church recognize a non-sacramental marriage as a sacrament when the individual performing the non-sacramental marriage does not recognize what he is doing to be a sacrament?

With regard to divorce, the Church recognizes civil divorce precisely because the Church does not grant divorces! In general, divorce is a civil matter with no corresponding state or ceremony in the life of the Church. One cannot compare the recognition of a civil divorce and the recognition of a civil marriage; it is a matter of apples and oranges. The Church does not deny that those involved in a civil marriage are married civilly; it would make no sense for the Church to accept a civil marriage as a sacrament since the person who performs civil marriages would deny that they are sacraments in the first place.


Lastly, if the rules are the rules what good is speaking with a Parish Priest going to do?


You never know until you try! In my years as a priest I have had several situations similar to the one you describe. The couples came and spoke with me. In most cases the non-baptized individual decided to explore Orthodoxy—casually at first, more intensely as time went on, embracing it zealously in the end—and they were eventually baptized and subsequently married in the very Church they had initially shunned. All are very active members of the Church to this day! Had they not spoken with the priest, had they allowed their anger or assumptions or prejudices to keep them from speaking with the priest, the outcome of these situations would have been very, very different.

Speaking with one’s pastor, especially in the presence of the non-baptized fiance, might open other options, as I myself have seen and experienced. But in so doing it is best for all involved—the priest, the parishioner, and the non-baptized fiance—to work together without anger, without prejudice, without assuming that things will never work out.

Frankly, I would dare say that most people feel the Church is hurting them, even though they all too often fail to seek guidance from the Church—in which case the Church can hardly be blamed for causing harm when it was never given the opportunity to try to find options and solutions.


Here is yet another instance of another religion maintaining its stronghold over its constituents. I realize that these rules are made to prevent the eventual decline of the faith, but if the rules continue to make being an Orthodox more and more restrictive in our ever-changing modern times, then the policy will accomplish exactly what it was envisioned to prevent.


The fact that an Orthodox Christian may not be married in an Orthodox ceremony to a non-baptized person has nothing whatsoever to do with maintaining a stronghold over the faithful or preventing the eventual decline of the faith. It has everything to do with faithfulness to that in which we were baptized: Jesus Christ. And if one is truly committed to Jesus Christ and believes that He came into the world to save all mankind, then one would do his or her utmost to ensure that those they love would make a commitment to Jesus Christ as well. The Church is not placing restrictions on its people; rather, people’s actions can result in a self-imposed restriction, not an “institutional” one. The Church in general has followed this practice for some 2000 years and it continues to exist and in many places to flourish.

Again, in my own experience, I would say that most of the marriages I have had the honor of celebrating have been between Orthodox Christians and non-Orthodox Christians—and yet in almost every instance the non-Orthodox party has converted to Orthodoxy and remains active in the life of the Church. Surely this would not be the case if the couples had not spoken with me and allowed me to work together with them.


With all of this in mind, is there a possible exception to this rule. I am certain that there are many cases of where accommodations were made to individuals with special needs such as mine.


I cannot give you a definitive answer because I do not know all of the circumstances. The first question I would ask is whether or not the non-baptized fiance actively practices his or her own religion. If not, are they open to learning more about the Gospel and the message of Jesus Christ?

But no exceptions are made simply to accommodate a notion of “modernity” which has nothing whatsoever to do with this. It is a matter of honesty, and the Church would find it highly dishonest for someone to demand to have their marriage sealed in the name of Jesus Christ when he or she does not believe in Jesus Christ.

Again, I urge you to seek the guidance of your priest or another Orthodox priest in your area with whom you have a relationship. As you say, it may not help—but then again, it may not hurt!