Kuriakos Tharakan Thottupuram, Ph.D., D.D.
We write this editorial with great pain because of a recent decision our Episcopal Synod has reportedly taken regarding widower-priests, giving them the permission to remarry. This is totally unorthodox, and we think this will destroy the sanctity and integrity and historical character of our priesthood. Our priesthood is so unique that it maintains the character of the ancient Christian priesthood honoring a married clergy and its singular characteristic of unconditional monogamy supported by the ancient canons of the early Church. The ancient canons are not there as mere canonical injunctions or prohibitions; they are there for valid theological reasons.
If they have studied the eastern theology of the sacrament of marriage, the Synod members would never have reached this so-called decision. According Orthodox sacramental theology of matrimony, there is only ONE marriage for an orthodox. Adam and Eve, not Adam, Eve and Miriam, is the Orthodox IDEAL of marriage. For the Roman Catholics and the western churches (a stipulation from the Roman Civil Law), marriage is a relationship between two physical bodies; hence remarriage is acceptable after one person dies. This is not so for the Orthodox; marriage is an eternal relationship and bond between two human persons, as it was in the beginning of creation. Strictly speaking there is no second marriage; in eternity the ideal marriage is between ONE MAN AND ONE WOMAN for eternity. Orthodox fathers also teach that each of them glorifies God with his/ her gender and with their union. When we commemorate our departed father and mother, we do not just memorialize and pray for a genderless parent. They still glorify God as father and mother who begat children and citizens of God’s Kingdom, the parenthood they had received from their matrimony, a heavenly mystery, of which they are still partakers, although not sexually, even after their departure from this world. That’s how it becomes “a mystery” according to St. Paul. This simply means that there is only ONE sacrament (mystery) of marriage for an Orthodox Christian. However due to human weakness and concupiscence, the holy church had given permission for a second marriage without festivities or crowning, as a service of repentance. The entire service is the rite of asking forgiveness and mercy. The first Eniono of the second marriage starts with H’tith lok hoyen l’hatoye kabel bo-uth…, meaning, “I have sinned against You, Master, Lord of all, have mercy on me…” All prayers also generally convey messages of contrition. Actually the whole service is a service of shedding tears for breaking God’s plan or law. Why does anyone show repentance if that act is not against God’s eternal plan or a violation of God’s will?
Concerning the marriage of priests there are two specific canons: one prohibits anyone to marry after the diaconate/ priesthood, and the other prohibits bishops to ordain some one to priesthood who has been twice married after baptism and stipulates to defrock a priest who has married again. The basis for the second prohibition is Apostolic Canon XVII. “WHOEVER HAS ENTERED INTO TWO MARRIAGES AFTER BAPTISM, OR HAS POSSESSED HIMSELF OF A CONCUBINE, CANNOT BE A BISHOP, OR A PRESBYTER, OR A DEACON, OR ANYTHING ELSE IN THE SACERDOTAL LIST”. It is tradition that these canons were codified by St. Clement (Clemis) of Rome, who had personally known Peter and Paul, who instructed him to put the apostolic teachings together. These teachings were the teachings of the apostles in the various councils they held from time to time on various occasions. Later these canons, which had been put together by St. Clement, and had been also called Apostolic Canons, were confirmed and accepted by the Ecumenical Council of Nicea and the subsequent Ecumenical and provincial councils.
Our married priests are icons of the IDEAL CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE. If they go to this service of the second marriage, they also are crying for mercy and forgiveness for violating God’s ideal plan for marriage. How could they later offer the sacrifice of Holy Divine Liturgy (Qurbono), knowing that they are still in the end-result of a forbidden act? There is no room or justification for such a practice in Orthodoxy. It is a blatant violation of Orthodox practices and is totally against the FAITH related to Holy Matrimony. Our married priest is the icon of an ideal marriage, that is why the Canon forbids a second marriage for him, if he still wants to remain in priesthood.
A priest, who has become a widower prematurely, should yield to the will of God and struggle spiritually and accept that cross with genuine faith. If he cannot, let him marry again, knowing that he will cease to function as a priest thereafter. But the Church should make arrangements for him to serve the Church in many other related areas, (such as preachers, administrators, office managers, teachers and other functionaries within the overall ministry of the church, and not as a sacramental functionary) and he should also be remunerated for the education of his children and support of his family.
We do not want to be ridiculed by other orthodox churches, and we do not want be an eastern rite of the Anglican Church, like the Marthomites. Please save our church from falling to this heresy-bound practice. Most Reverend Members of the Synod, if you made such a decision, please recant it, we beseech you for the sake of Holy Orthodoxy. We do not want Orthodoxy is hijacked by some liberal bishops who had their theological training in western institutions where ancient canons and practices of Orthodoxy are ridiculed rather than hailed. May Holy Orthodoxy prevail!
ORTHODOXY: THE TRUTH-BEARER!
(Our readers may expect a detailed study of this topic in a later issue)