Laws & Regulations: Marriage
Laws, Regulations and documentation required for an Orthodox wedding
The sacramental union of a man and a woman is performed in an Orthodox Church according to the liturgical tradition, and blessed by a Priest who is recognized as canonical (authentic) by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia.
To learn more about Marriage as a Sacrament, please read our article on Marriage in the Sacraments section of our site.
The Laws and Regulations pertaining to Weddings are set by the Holy Canons of the Orthodox Church and are implemented accordingly by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia.
These regulations apply to every Greek Orthodox Priest across Australia. He is obliged to observe them conscientiously.
Prerequisites for Marriage in the Orthodox Church
1. There must be no impediment (regarding relationships) according to the Canons of the Church and according to Civil Law. In other words, the parties wishing to marry must not be related to each other.
First Group Parents with their own children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren.
Second Group Brothers-in-law with sisters-in-law.
Third Group Uncles and aunts with nieces and nephews.
Fourth Group First cousins with each other.
Fifth Group Foster parents with foster children or foster children with the children of foster parents.
Sixth Group Godparents with godchildren or godparents with the parents of godchildren.
Seventh Group Godchildren of the same godparent.
2. The Wedding date should be reserved with the Church well in advance to ensure the couple’s preferred time (where possible).
3. Every Greek Orthodox Priest in Australia is also a registered Civil Celebrant. Consequently, he is authorized to conduct the Marriage in accordance with both State and Ecclesiastical law. However, he is permitted to perform the Civil Marriage only in conjunction with the Religious Service on the same day.
4. The ‘Notice of Intended Marriage’ for the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, and the Application to the Archdiocese for the Church, must be completed in the presence of the Priest at least one calendar month before the set date of marriage - preferably, three months prior. The couple should, therefore, arrange to meet with him during afternoon Office Hours or, in special cases, by appointment.
5. The Parish Priest will give directions as to the necessary Documents, Fees for the Archdiocese, as well as Fees for the local Church. These will vary, according to the individual status and circumstances of the couple.
1. In all circumstances, both parties (whether Orthodox or not) must present to the Priest their full Birth Certificate (if born in Australia) or their Passport (if born overseas) as well as their Baptismal Certificate.
2. Orthodox parties who have never been married before must obtain a Certificate of Celibacy or ‘Agamias’ (that they are not married) from their local Parish Priest. This must be signed by two witnesses (parents, brothers, sisters, cousins or friends) upon presenting the Baptismal Certificate of the party concerned.
3. The ‘Local Parish’ is where one has been residing for the previous two years or more.
4. Parties already married either in Australia or overseas are prohibited by State and Church law to re-marry without a Divorce.
5. If either or both parties are widowed, the Death Certificate of the deceased spouse must be provided.
6. When one or both parties are divorcing, they must firstly obtain a civil Divorce Certificate from a Court of Law (Decree Nissi - ‘Degree Absolute’). Following this, they must also apply for an Ecclesiastical Divorce in order for the previous marriage to be dissolved according to Church Law. See ‘Divorces’ below.
7. For persons entering a second or third marriage the Divorce from the previous marriage must have been issued by the State and by the Church at least one calendar month prior to the next marriage.
1. The Best Man (koumbaros) or the Matron of Honour (koumbara) are usually of the Orthodox Faith, since they will also be invited by the couple to become Godparent to at least one of their children.
Non-Orthodox Christians of an acceptable denomination may stand as Best Man or Matron of Honour at the Wedding. However, they may not go on to become Godparents at the Christenings of the couple’s future children because the roles are entirely different.
Whereas the Best Man or Matron of Honour at a Wedding is merely a witness, however, at the Baptism of a child the Godparent assumes the responsibility of teaching the child by example those things that he or she believes in. If the candidate for the role of Godparent is not Orthodox, then that is simply not possible.
1. The Orthodox Church recognizes that, in multicultural nations such as Australia, members of the Orthodox Faith might invariably elect to enter into a permanent relationship with persons who are not Orthodox.
In certain cases, despite its strict Canons and Regulations, the Church will accommodate the relationship and bless the union through the Sacrament of Marriage.
2. A marriage cannot take place in the Orthodox Church between an Orthodox Christian and a non-Christian.
3. The non-Orthodox partner must be a person who belongs to a Christian denomination ‘acceptable’ to the Orthodox Church.
4. Acceptable denominational traditions include: Roman Catholic, Anglican Church (Church of England), Uniting Church, Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregationalist.
5. Having been baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity, both parties are requested to responsibly declare that any children born of the marriage will be baptized according to the rites of the Eastern Orthodox Church and that they shall be raised in the Orthodox Faith.
Far from wishing to interfere in the couple’s discretions and freedoms, the reason for this requirement is that the Church has, painfully, seen too many marriages confront often insurmountable problems because the subject of the children and their religious up-bringing was not addressed before the wedding.
6. Marriages with persons who belong to the following groups are prohibited by the Orthodox Faith: Pentecostal Church, Greek Evangelicals, Salvation Army, Christian Revival Crusades, Reborn Christians, Assembly of God, Christadelphians, Seventh Day Adventist, Church of Christ, Church of Latter Day Saints, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other similar religious groups.
7. Persons who are not Christian or who have never been baptized, even though their parents belonged to a Christian tradition, can only marry in the Orthodox Church upon being baptized in a denomination acceptable to the Orthodox Church. Should they wish to become Orthodox of their own free choice, directions on the procedure are provided under * Orthodox Christian Catechism classes.
8. A non-Orthodox Christian who marries an Orthodox Christian, whilst welcome to attend Church Services with his or her spouse (and children), does not automatically become a member of the Orthodox Church, and is therefore not permitted to receive Holy Communion or the other Sacraments in the Orthodox Church.
9. In addition, the Orthodox Church does not permit non-Orthodox clergy to concelebrate in any of its Services. Nor does the Orthodox Church permit its own Priests to participate in the Services of other denominations, even if those denominations might allow Orthodox priests to participate.
Marriages between Orthodox and Orthodox
Where both parties are of the Greek Orthodox Faith, they must have been baptized in a canonical (authentic) Orthodox Church. Indeed, 98% of the Greek Orthodox faithful in Australia are baptized in the canonical Orthodox Church through the authority of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia.
For the 2% whose parents may or may not have been aware that the church where they had arranged for the Baptism of their child was not canonical, the following clarifications might be informative.
In such cases, the question is often asked: “Isn’t every Greek Orthodox Church in Australia ‘Orthodox’?” Unfortunately, there are some so-called ‘Greek Orthodox Churches’ operating in this free and democratic nation which are not recognized by any canonical Orthodox authority in the world, and are classified as ‘schismatic’. Consequently, neither their ‘priests’ are recognized, nor are their ‘Sacraments’, even though each of these groups attempts to justify their existence by their own line of defense.
Such ‘schismatic’ ‘Churches’ include: the so-called Autocephalic Greek Orthodox Church of America and Australia Inc., the Independent Greek Orthodox Church of Australia and New Zealand, the Genuine Orthodox Church and others.
These groups, whilst recognized by the State as ‘religious entities’ and are permitted to operate by law, nonetheless do not have the spiritual recognition of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia which functions under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople – the Spiritual Centre of the Eastern Orthodox Church throughout the world.
As a result, persons ‘baptized’ by such non-canonical clergy in any of the above ‘schismatic’ churches and desiring to marry must firstly speak to a canonical Priest who will advise what must be done in accordance with the regulations of the Archdiocese to formalize their standing in the Church.
There are also Churches which identify themselves as ‘Orthodox’ but which, for many centuries, have not belonged to the original tree of Orthodoxy. Nonetheless, marriages with persons from those traditions are permitted.
They include the Oriental Orthodox Churches such as: The Coptic Orthodox Church, the Syrian Orthodox Church, the Armenian Orthodox Church, the Indian Orthodox Church, and others.
For further clarification please consult the local Parish Priest.
Dates on which Marriages are not permitted:
• From 13th December until Christmas day.
• On the 5th January, the eve of Epiphany.
• From Great Lent until Easter Sunday (these dates vary from year to year).
• From 1st to 15th August, the Dormition of the Theotokos.
• On the 29th August, the Beheading of St John the Baptist.
• On the 14th September, the Elevation of the Holy Cross.
On the day of the Wedding
• The groom and the groomsmen should arrive at the church at least 15 minutes prior to the commencement of the Service.
• The bride and the bridal party should arrive at the church at least 5 minutes prior to the scheduled time of the Wedding.
For this to occur, the bride must ensure that the family is mobilized from early in the morning, allowing ample time for the hairdresser, the beautician, and the dressmaker to complete their work at the house.
The bride and her family must bear in mind that, before leaving the house to depart for the church, the photographers and videographers as well as the drivers of the hire cars require considerable time to carry out their professional services, as requested. At least half an hour.
• The bride and the groom and their families should bear in mind special events that might cause traffic delays on the way to the church, such as major sporting fixtures, public parades or processions in the city and the suburbs, and the usual weekend traffic ‘bottlenecks’.
• The custom of the bride arriving late at the church ‘to keep the groom waiting’ is not based on any religious tradition.
• Arriving late at the church is plainly inconsiderate of other weddings and christenings that have been arranged by other families on the same day - especially if hundreds of guests have been invited.
• Double-check who is responsible for the rings and the crowns. Without these, the wedding cannot commence.
• The Priest will not ‘rush’ the Service, even if the wedding has been delayed. However, if the Bride or the Groom is more than 15 minutes late then it is reasonable that only the parents and the very immediate family will congratulate the couple at the church. The remaining guests will have to do so at the reception.
• The Priest will want you to be happy on your very special day and he will go out of his way to make sure that everyone enjoys the Ceremony.
Converting to Orthodoxy
Welcome – but not under pressure!
Persons wishing to become Orthodox of their own free volition, without any direct or indirect pressure from anyone, should firstly meet with a Priest of the Church.
Conversion to the Orthodox Church from another Christian denomination, or from a non-Christian Faith or from a background of no religious practice is a very serious matter both for the Orthodox Church and for the person seeking to convert to Orthodoxy. It is, essentially, a lifetime mutual commitment.
Consequently, the matter should never be taken lightly. Changing one’s faith is the most crucial choice in life. Converting to the Orthodox Faith is not a routine and mechanical procedure conducted like a ‘production line’.
Therefore, the Priest will want to discuss the matter carefully to explore the reasons for Conversion with the non-Orthodox candidate and his/her Orthodox partner. He will also want to communicate the Church’s love for the candidate and the couple.
Having firstly spoken to the local Parish Priest, those seeking to become Orthodox may write to their local Bishop stating clearly the reasons why they wish to convert to Orthodoxy.
When writing to the Bishop he should be addressed by the candidate as ‘Your Grace’ before commencing the letter of application.
The Bishop will then respond in writing advising the candidate as to which Priest will be responsible for his or her preparation towards becoming Orthodox.
Conversion to the Orthodox Church entails a compulsory period of six months instruction in the Faith, including attendance at a 10-week series of talks on the Orthodox Church by both partners.
Non-Orthodox Christians wishing to enter the Orthodox Church are received by the Sacrament of Holy Chrismation (Confirmation by Anointing) if they have previously been baptized in the Name of the Holy Trinity and in an acceptable denomination.
If they have not been baptized in a Christian denomination whose Baptism is accepted by the Orthodox Church, or if they are coming from a non-Christian background, then they must be baptised through complete immersion in water.