Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church
Grand Junction, Colorado

Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (AD 73)
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (AD 1922)
Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Denver (AD 1979)

METROPOLIS OF DENVER
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Ecclesiastical Divorce

Introduction

The Orthodox Church deplores the rise of divorce in society and generally regards divorce as a tragic failure. Yet, the Church also realistically recognizes that some marriages may become broken, completely unworkable, essentially nonexistent, and cause more damage than good. Under such conditions, and only when the marriage is determined to be completely irreconcilable, the Church may allow for an Ecclesiastical Divorce, and grant a blessing for one or both spouses to remarry.

Marriage is a Mystery (Sacrament) of the Orthodox Church. Orthodox Christians who marry must do so in the Church if they wish to remain in canonical good standing. The first marriage of a man and a woman is honored by the Church with a service that eloquently speaks of the married state. In this service the bishop or priest calls upon God to unite the couple through the prayer of the officiant.

The Orthodox Mystery (Sacrament) of Marriage is understood as having an eternal dimension, and is not regarded as simply ”until death do us part,” a concept which has no part in Orthodox theology or in the Service of Matrimony.

Notwithstanding this theological understanding, the Church may, by extreme oikonomía, permit a second or even a third marriage for an Orthodox Christian under certain circumstances. A fourth ecclesiastical marriage, however, is never permitted. If both partners are entering a second or a third marriage, another form of the Service of Matrimony, specifically the Service of Digamy or Trigamy, is celebrated which is more subdued than the first and penitential in character.

Hierarchical permission to enter into a second or third marriage is routinely granted when a former spouse has fallen asleep (death). Hierarchical permission to enter into a second or third marriage may also be granted if an Ecclesiastical Tribunal adjudicates that the circumstances of a divorce warrant an Ecclesiastical Divorce from a previous Marriage.

Should the Church grant an “Ecclesiastical Divorce,” it does so on the basis of the exception granted by Christ to His general prohibition of the practice:

  1. (Jesus said), “Have you not read that He Who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate. Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:4-9)

Although a civil decree of divorce legally dissolves a marriage in the eyes of civil authorities and secular society, it does not dissolve an Ecclesiastical Marriage in the eyes of the Church. Note that the Church is under no obligation to grant a divorce simply because a civil court granted a civil divorce.

Each parish priest is required to do all he can to help couples resolve their differences. If they cannot, and subsequently separate and obtain a civil divorce, neither Orthodox spouse is considered any longer to be in good canonical standing. As such, the individual(s) cannot:

  1. 1. Receive Holy Communion.
  2. 2. Be a sponsor (godparent) at a Baptism, Chrismation, or Marriage.
  3. 3. Be granted an Orthodox funeral.
  4. 4. Be a member of a parish cpouncil.
This situation must be resolved by either, or both, spouses coming to the parish priest, make a thorough Confession (the Mystery, or Sacrament, of Repentance) of their actions which knowingly or unknowingly, willingly or unwillingly, contributed to the breakdown of the marriage, and request an Ecclesiastical Divorce.

Inasmuch as the Ecclesiastical Divorce process is an extension of the Mystery of Repentance (Confession) the parish priest must conduct a thorough evaluation of the situation, and submit a report and recommendation to the Metropolis Spiritual Tribunal for adjudication. The civilly divorced couple may be required to appear before the Spiritual Tribunal if an additional investigation is required. The procedures for doing so are described in the following sections.

If the Metropolis Spiritual Tribunal determines and recommends that an Ecclesiastical Divorce is warranted, the Metropolitan will issue a Decree to that effect. The procedures for requesting an Ecclesiastical Divorce are described in the following sections.

Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
Pastoral Guidelines for Ecclesiastical Divorces

The parish priest must exert every effort to reconcile the couple and avert a divorce.

However, should he fail to bring about a reconciliation, after a civil divorce has been obtained, he will transmit the petition of the party seeking the ecclesiastical divorce, together with the decree of the civil divorce, to the Spiritual Court of the Archdiocesan District or Metropolis.

The petition must include the names and surnames of the husband and wife, the wife’s surname prior to marriage, their addresses, the name of the priest who performed the wedding, and the date and place of the wedding.

The petitioner must be a member of the parish through which he or she is petitioning for divorce.

Orthodox Christians of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese who have obtained a civil divorce but not an ecclesiastical divorce may not participate in any sacraments of the Church or serve on the Parish Council, Archdiocesan District Council, Metropolis Council or Archdiocesan Council until they have been granted a divorce by the Church.

Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Denver
Administrative Guidelines for Petitioning an Ecclesiastical Divorce

TOPIC INDEX

Introduction, Click here.

General Administrative Regulations:, Click here.

I. Authority, Click here.

II. General, Click here.

III. Jurisdiction over Marriages Celebrated in Greece or Cyprus, Click here.

IV. Relationship between an Ecclesiastical Divorce Petition and a Final Civil Divorce Decree, Click here.

V. Responsibility for Submitting the Ecclesiastical Divorce Petition, Click here.

VI. The Spiritual Tribunal as an Extension of the Mystery of Repentance, Click here.

VII. Procedure for Petitioning an Ecclesiastical Divorce Decree, Click here.

VIII. Requirement to Contact the Respondent, Click here.

IX. The Spiritual Tribunal, Click here.

X. Delivery of the Decree of Ecclesiastical Divorce to the Petitioner, Click here.

XI. Procedure for Requesting Respondent's Copy of the Ecclesiastical Divorce, Click here.

XII. Delivery of the Decree of Ecclesiastical Divorce to the Respondent, Click here.

XIII. Ecclesiastical Divorce Petition Fees, Click here.

XIV. Plans for a Church Marriage Subsequent to an Ecclesiastical Divorce, Click here.

XV. Transcript of Certificate of Marriage, Click here.

INTRODUCTION

In principle there is no true “divorce” from the Orthodox Mystery of Holy Marriage, but applying the concept of Oikonomia the Church may grant an Ecclesiastical Divorce Decree under certain circumstances.

An Ecclesiastical Divorce Decree is normally sought when a second or third marriage is contemplated, but it must also be requested by those wishing to reconcile with the Church and regain their canonical good standing following the breakdown of their marriage and subsequent civil divorce.

The Ecclesiastical Divorce Decree is required for any previously married individual seeking to contract a second or third ecclesiastical marriage at a parish within the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. Not all Orthodox jurisdictions in this country provide an Ecclesiastical Divorce Decree, however, but may simply permit second and third marriages if recommended by the spiritual father(s) of the individuals concerned. The Ecclesiastical Divorce process ensures that no impediment to remarriage exists, and provides documented evidence that an individual is free to engage in a subsequent marriage if he or she so desires.

The Ecclesiastical Divorce Decree is normally required for a civilly-divorced person to be reinstated to the sacramental life of the Church.

An Ecclesiastical Divorce Decree is granted by the Metropolis Hierarch upon the recommendation of a Spiritual Tribunal. The procedures specified in these guidelines shall therefore be rigorously and exactly followed to ensure correct and timely processing of the Decree.

Moreover, the Ecclesiastical Divorce process is considered to be an extension of the Mystery of repentance, and thus all procedures and discussions with the individual involved should be conducted with dignity and pastoral sensitivity.

Return to Topics Index, click here.

GENERAL ADMINISTRATIVE REGULATIONS

I. Authority

  1. 1. All authority to grant an Ecclesiastical Divorce issues from the Metropolis Hierarch. The Hierarch will normally grant an Ecclesiastical Divorce in response to a recommendation from a Spiritual Tribunal appointed by him.

Return to Topics Index, click here.

II. General

  1. 1. An Ecclesiastical Divorce Petition is submitted to the Hierarch of the Metropolis in which a Petitioner resides, regardless of the Metropolis or jurisdiction in which the party or parties were previously married.

Return to Topics Index, click here.

III. Jurisdiction over Marriages Celebrated in Greece or Cyprus or Any Other Country

  1. 1. The Metropolis has no jurisdiction to dissolve marriages that were celebrated in Greece or Cyprus, or any other country, unless at least one of the spouses is a permanent resident of the United States.

Return to Topics Index, click here.

IV. Relationship between an Ecclesiastical Divorce Petition and a Final Civil Divorce Decree

  1. 1. An Ecclesiastical Divorce Petition shall not be submitted until a final civil divorce decree has been issued.

Return to Topics Index, click here.

V. Responsibility for Submitting the Ecclesiastical Divorce Petition

  1. 1. An Ecclesiastical Divorce Petition shall be submitted only by priests in parish ministry, specifically by the Proistamenos (pastor) of the parish in the city in which the petitioner resides.
  2. 2. The Proistamenos is personally responsible for gathering all required documentation and for submitting a complete Ecclesiastical Divorce Petition package to the Metropolis for consideration by the Spiritual Tribunal.
  3. 3. The Priest shall view divorce as a pastoral opportunity to help the spiritual life of the Petitioner, as well as the Respondent, and shall therefore thoroughly examine every Petitioner and hear his/her confession in the Mystery of Repentance. The Priest must be satisfied that the Petitioner has examined his/her conscience and the reasons for the deterioration and dissolution of the marriage, and that he/she sincerely desires to be restored to the sacramental life of the Church.
  4. 4. The Priest shall not submit an Ecclesiastical Divorce Petition unless he has counseled with the Petitioner and tried to contact the respondent spouse to determine if there is any possibility of reconciliation, in keeping with the counsel of Saint Paul in chapter seven of his first Epistle to the Corinthians. The Priest shall also explain that both the Petitioner and the Respondent will be invited to attend a hearing before the Spiritual Tribunal, although their attendance is not mandatory.
  5. 5. The reasons for submitting and granting and Ecclesiastical Divorce Decree are specified in Archdiocesan Protocol 56 dated 12 February 1996 (click here).
  6. 6. If there is a question about the status of an Ecclesiastical Divorce Petition, the Priest submitting the Petition shall contact the Metropolis on behalf of the Petitioner; the Petitioner shall not personally call the Metropolis Office.

Return to Topics Index, click here.

VI. The Spiritual Tribunal as an Extension of the Mystery of Repentance

  1. 1. The Spiritual Tribunal is considered to be an extension of the Mystery of Confession. Its purpose is neither to justify nor to condemn anyone, but rather to facilitate the healing process and to effect reconciliation with the Body of Christ. The Priest shall counsel the Petitioner, and the Respondent where appropriate, that this process is a healing ministry rather than a legalistic formality.

Return to Topics Index, click here.

VII. Procedure for Petitioning an Ecclesiastical Divorce Decree

  1. 1. The petitioning spouse (the “petitioner”) shall contact his/her parish Priest.
  2. 2. The Priest shall make every reasonable attempt to reconcile the spouses if at all possible.
  3. 3. Failing to effect a reconciliation, and after ascertaining that the petitioner has valid reason for filing a petition for an Ecclesiastical Divorce Decree, the parish Priest shall submit the following documents to the Metropolis Hierarch for the Spiritual Tribunal:
    1. a. “Statement by the Priest for an Ecclesiastical Divorce.”
      1. (1) This is not a form letter, or a “fill in the blank” form; it is a letter from the Proistamenos to the Metropolis Hierarch.
      2. (2) This letter shall be prepared on parish stationery (letterhead).
      3. (3) This letter must include the reason for which the Priest is recommending the Ecclesiastical Divorce; the only acceptable reasons are contained in Archdiocesan Protocol 56 dated 12 February 1996 (click here).
      4. Note: The only reasons that can be used are those ten that are specified in Protocol 56 (click here); no other reasons shall be used. Failure to comply with this requirement will result in the return of the entire package to the priest with no action taken by the Metropolis.
      5. (4) The Priest shall affix the parish seal to this letter.
    2. b. “Petitioner’s Formal Ecclesiastical Divorce Petition.”
      1. (1) This is not a form letter, or a “fill in the blank” form; it is an original letter from the petitioner to the Spiritual Tribunal.
      2. (2) This letter shall not be prepared on parish letterhead.
      3. (3) The Petitioner shall explain why the marriage deteriorated in his/her own words.
      4. (4) The Petitioner shall include all requested information (especially important are the birthplace, phone number and postal Zip Code for both the Petitioner and Respondent).
    3. c. The original Ecclesiastical Marriage Certificate
      1. (1) Since the couple has obtained a civil divorce, their ecclesiastical marriage certificate is no longer necessary; if they wish, they may obtain a photocopy.
        1. (a) Every effort must be made by the petitioner to locate and submit their Ecclesiastical Marriage Certificate.
      2. (2) If these efforts are unsuccessful, and the original ecclesiastical marriage certificate has been lost, an official transcript shall be issued from the parish in which the marriage was celebrated.
        1. (a) If an ecclesiastical transcript of marriage is submitted, the Priest shall attach a letter explaining what efforts were made to obtain the original Ecclesiastical Marriage Certificate, and why these failed.
    4. d. The Decree of Dissolution of Marriage issued by the civil court.
      1. (1) An original certified copy of the Decree is preferred.
      2. (2) Since this document will be retained by the Metropolis Office, a photocopy is acceptable; the Priest, however, shall:
        1. (a) Examine the original.
        2. (b) Ensure that the original is a the Final Divorce Decree and not some other document
        3. (c) Ensure the original is official (look for the judge’s signature and/or a stamp with the Civil Court “date entered”).
        4. (d) Submit a letter on parish stationery stating that the photocopy is a true copy of the original Decree of Dissolution of Marriage issued by the Civil Court, and shall affix the parish seal to this letter.
    5. e. A $150 money order or cashier’s check.
      1. (1) A personal check will not be accepted.
  4. 4. The Priest shall inform the petitioner that the process can be expected to take no less than sixty (60) days, and that no plans for a subsequent wedding may be made until after the Decree is issued.

Return to Topics Index, click here.

VIII. Requirement to Contact the Respondent

  1. 1. Once these five basic items are received at the Metropolis Office, the Metropolis Hierarch will contact the respondent spouse by certified mail informing them that their former spouse has requested an Ecclesiastical Divorce Decree and affording them an opportunity to attend the Spiritual Tribunal if they so desire.
  2. 2. An accurate mailing address for the respondent spouse is absolutely necessary; the Spiritual Tribunal cannot take place until an effort has been made to contact the respondent spouse.
  3. 3. In the event that the current mailing address of the respondent spouse is not obtainable, the petitioner is responsible for publishing the following notice in the personal advertisement section of a major newspaper in the city where the spouse was last known to be located:
    1. “(Name of spouse) or anyone knowing his/her whereabouts, please contact (name of petitioning Priest, address, and phone number) about a personal matter.”
    2. a. This advertisement should run for three days, and the entire newspaper page containing the advertisement for each of the three days shall be submitted to the Metropolis Hierarch together with the priest’s report of its results whether positive or negative.

Return to Topics Index, click here.

IX. The Spiritual Tribunal

  1. 1. The Spiritual Tribunal shall convene on the date scheduled by the Metropolis Hierarch to consider any petitions for Decrees of Ecclesiastical Divorce.
  2. 2. Pursuant to the conclusions of the Spiritual Tribunal, a Decree of Ecclesiastical Divorce may be granted to the Petitioner.
  3. 3. If granted, the Decree of Ecclesiastical Divorce will be sent to the Priest submitting the petition.
  4. 4. After the Decree of Ecclesiastical Divorce has been issued, the respondent spouse will be notified of the fact in writing by the Metropolis Hierarch, and informed that he/she may obtain their copy by submitting a request through his/her parish Priest

Return to Topics Index, click here.

X. Delivery of the Decree of Ecclesiastical Divorce to the Petitioner

  1. 1. The Decree of Ecclesiastical Divorce will be issued to the petitioning Priest who shall thereafter contact the petitioner to come and personally receive the original Decree from the Priest. This requirement to personally meet with the Priest affords an opportunity for the Priest to comfort and instruct the individual as well as to hear the individual’s confession if necessary. For these reasons, the Priest shall not send the Decree of Ecclesiastical Divorce to any petitioner by mail.
  2. 2. The Priest shall advise the petitioner that the Decree of Ecclesiastical Divorce should be kept in a safe place since it CANNOT BE REPLACED. This original Decree will be required should the petitioner wish to remarry.

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XI. Procedure for Requesting Respondent’s Copy of the Ecclesiastical Divorce

  1. 1. After being notified that the Decree of Ecclesiastical Divorce has been issued, the respondent spouse (the “respondent”) shall contact his/her parish Priest.
  2. 2. The parish Priest shall submit the following documents to the Metropolis Hierarch to obtain the respondent’s copy of the Decree of Ecclesiastical Divorce:
    1. a. “Statement by the Priest for Respondent’s Copy of an Ecclesiastical Divorce,” which is to be typed as an original letter on parish letterhead.
    2. b. “Respondent’s Request for Copy of an Ecclesiastical Divorce,” which is to be typed as an original letter but is not to be typed on parish letterhead.
    3. c. A $200 money order or cashier’s check.
      1. (1) A personal check is not acceptable.

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XII. Delivery of the Decree of Ecclesiastical Divorce to the Respondent

  1. 1. The Decree of Ecclesiastical Divorce will be issued to the petitioning Priest who shall thereafter call the respondent to come and personally receive the copy of the Decree from the Priest. This requirement affords an opportunity for the Priest to comfort and instruct the individual as well as to hear the individual’s confession if necessary. For these reasons, the Priest shall not send the Decree of Ecclesiastical Divorce to any respondent by mail.
  2. 2. The Priest shall advise the respondent that the Decree of Ecclesiastical Divorce should be kept in a safe place since it CANNOT BE REPLACED. This original Decree will be required should the respondent wish to remarry.

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XIII. Ecclesiastical Divorce Petition Fees

  1. 1. The parish Priest shall explain to the petitioner that there is a fee of $150.00 to cover the administrative costs of processing the necessary documents. This must be submitted in the form of a cashier’s check or money order.
  2. 2. The parish Priest shall explain to the respondent that there is a fee of $200.00 to cover the administrative costs of processing the necessary documents. This must be submitted in the form of a cashier’s check or money order.
    1. a. These fees may be waived in the case of financial necessity; if so, the priest shall submit a letter to the Metropolis explaining the reasons and requesting a waiver.

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XIV. Plans for a Church Marriage Subsequent to an Ecclesiastical Divorce

  1. 1. If a subsequent Church marriage is contemplated, no plans shall be made or confirmed until the Decree of Ecclesiastical Divorce is in hand. In cases where a wedding has already been wrongly scheduled great anxiety and unnecessary pressure may be created for the couple who hope to wed, as well as for the Priest and the members of the Spiritual Tribunal. Ideally any marriage, but especially a second or third marriage, should not be a rushed or urgent undertaking but rather it should be carefully considered and should be discussed with the spiritual father(s) of both parties.
  2. 2. Because of the many variable factors involved in the Ecclesiastical Divorce process, it is not possible to guarantee a date for issuance of the Decree. In any event it should be assumed that the process will not take less than sixty (60) days.

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XV. Transcript of Certificate of Marriage

  1. 1. If a Transcript of Certificate of Marriage is required, the Priest shall provide the data recorded in the Parish Register of Marriages.

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Email: fr.luke@denver.goarch.org
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