Source: HELLENIC Communication Service
The latest statistic on inter-faith marriages among Orthodox singles stands at almost 90%. That means that the vast majority of marriages of Orthodox Christians are to non-Orthodox Christians or even non-believers. So why is this important?
Well, maybe it isn’t. But I think it is a symptom of a potential weakness. Let me tell you why.
St. Paul said “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14)
Now, to be sure, this passage is a general teaching about having close relationships with non-believers because these relationships can have a detrimental effect on your own spiritual growth and maturity, but the same principle applies to the closest of human relationships – husband and wife.
Some find the above statistic troublesome because they are concerned about preserving a particular cultural identity. Others are concerned that there are certain family traditions put at risk when Orthodox marry outside their own faith tradition. While these concerns may be valid, they really aren’t the most worrisome. No, in fact, my greatest concern about these marriages is that the very cause of their existence may tell us more about the faith commitment of the people involved that we’d like to admit. Young people fall in love. That is just a fact of life, but that fact should not mean we ignore the wisdom of the faith in making this life-changing decision about marriage. There’s just too much at stake.
For instance, why would a committed Christian believer want to enter into a spiritual covenant like marriage with someone who is not even a Christian? If our faith is really the center of our lives wouldn’t we desire to have a life-long companion who shares that central, spiritual character of our own hearts? A wise rabbi was commenting on the growth of inter-faith marriages between Jews and Christians when he said “It really isn’t Jews marrying Christians as much as it is non-Jewish Jews marrying non-Christian Christians.” In other words if a person’s faith is really the biggest part of their identity, they will express that truth in the choices they make in life-long companions. If the faith is simply nothing more than a cultural decoration to their lives, then their chose of spouse will reveal that too.
Here are some pastoral guidelines for choosing a spouse.
First, a spouse must be a Christian believer. This is the minimum requirement. While it may be fashionable to say that “all religions lead to the same place” it isn’t Orthodox. A committed Orthodox Christian who has made their faith the center of their lives and their identity cannot possibly believe that a life-long, healthy marriage can be made from the union of a committed Orthodox Christian and someone who rejects Jesus Christ as the God-Man Savior of all of humanity. It’s like trying to mix oil and water.
Second, a non-Orthodox spouse should be willing to consider conversion to Orthodoxy. We Orthodox declare that our Orthodox Christian faith is the fullness of Apostolic Christianity. We declare in the Creed each week that we believe in “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.” If this is true, why wouldn’t we desire that every believer in Jesus Christ as savior would embrace the fullness of the Orthodox Christian faith? If that is true of our desire for our Christian friends, how much more should that be our desire for our husband or wife? In pre-marital counseling classes I always make it clear to the non-Orthodox Christian believers that that are invited to embrace, and be embraced by, the Orthodox Christian Church.
Finally, a spouse should agree to raise any children in the Orthodox Christian faith. Now don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not talking about making sure the children know how to make traditional, cultural food, as important as that may be. No, I’m referring to making sure that these precious children are schooled in and given examples in the fullness of their Christian heritage in authentic Orthodox Christian discipleship – daily prayers, home icon corners, regular church attendance, and serious participation in the Divine Mysteries of the Church.
Please know that none of the above is meant to discount the real emotions and committed relationships that occur in inter-faith marriages. But the exceptions prove the rule in this case. Our desire for our entering into the divine mystery of matrimony, especially from our Orthodox Christian teachings, demand we put our Orthodox Christian faith at the very center of our decision making process when we choose a marriage partner for life! There is more at stake here than just the temporary romantic feelings of a moment. Our marriage is a reflection of our Orthodox Christian commitment and nothing less than serious and faith-educated choices will do.