Of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
Forty Day Blessing | Baptism | Wedding | Divorce | Funerals | Memorial Services | Fasting Holy Communion | Sanctity of Human Life | Donation of Organs | Sexuality | Abortion | Suicide
The “Pastoral Guidelines” as they appear here are meant to instruct the faithful about the principle rules regarding a variety of issues in the Orthodox Church The position of our Holy Archdiocese regarding the Sanctity of Human Life is meant as a means of education.The guidelines regarding Baptisms; Weddings and Divorce; Funerals and Memorials and also Fasting are outlined to help better serve you.
Forty Day Blessing In imitation of Christ’s forty day blessing (Luke 2:22-38), the parents of the newborn bring the babe to the church in order for it to be dedicated to the Lord. This beautiful tradition is practiced throughout the Orthodox world. The parents become a symbol of the Virgin Mary and Joseph, while the priest symbolizes St. Symeon who held Christ in his arms at the time of the presentation.
The parents should call the church office in order to schedule the churching of their child. The churching may be done exactly on the fortieth day of the child’s birth or on the Sunday nearest to the fortieth day. Both the father and the mother along with the newborn must be present for the forty day blessing.
Baptism/Chrismation A child is generally baptized between the ages of three and ten months. Age, however, is not a barrier to baptism. Please call the church office to request a date for baptism.
A person who wishes to sponsor a candidate for Baptism or Chrismation must be an Orthodox Christian in good standing and a supporting member of an Orthodox parish. A person may not serve as a godparent if his or her marriage has not been blessed by the Church or, if civilly divorced, he or she has not been granted an ecclesiastical divorce or for any other reason he or she is not in communion with the Orthodox Church. Baptisms may not be performed from Christmas Day through the Feast of Theophany (December 25-January 6), during Holy Week, or on any of the Great Feastdays of the Lord.
Requirements for Baptism at St. George Greek Orthodox Church: Please speak to the parish priest to set the date of the baptism. The secretary may “pencil in” desired dates but the date can not be finalized without speaking to the parish priest. Parents of the child must confirm the date with the parish priest. This may not be done by the Godparent or relatives. When speaking to the priest, please inform him of the child’s baptismal name. These names are the names of saints in the Orthodox Church.
The Godparent traditionally purchases a new white dress or suit to be worn by the child. In addition to this, the Godparent brings to the church:
One white sheet (to wrap the baby in)
One large white towel (to place on top of the sheet)
One small white hand towel
One bar white soap (i.e. Dove or Ivory)
One bottle of olive oil
White undergarment or equivalent
Three white or beeswax candles
Regarding the candles: please bring candles that are appropriate and reflect the dignity of a church service. Large three foot “lampades” decorated with excessive tulle, teddy bears or other infantile paraphernalia are not appropriate. They are expensive, detract from the service and are needless. Plain, nicely decorated tapers are best suited.
Weddings For the union of a man and woman to be recognized as sacramentally valid by the Orthodox Church, the following conditions must be met:
1. The Sacrament of Matrimony must be celebrated by an Orthodox Priest of a canonical Orthodox jurisdiction, according to the liturgical tradition of the Orthodox Church, in a canonical Orthodox Church, and with the authorization of the Metropolitan of the diocese.
2. Before requesting permission from his Metropolitan to perform a marriage, the Priest must verify that:
a. neither of the parties in question are already married to other persons, either in this country or elsewhere; b. the parties in question are not related to each other to a degree that would constitute an impediment; c. if either or both parties are widowed, they have presented the death certificate(s) of the deceased spouse(s); d. if either or both of the parties have been previously married in the Orthodox Church, they have obtained ecclesiastical as well as civil divorce(s); e. the party or parties who are members of a parish other than the one in which the marriage is to be performed have provided a certificate declaring them to be members in good standing with that parish for the current year; and f. a civil marriage license has been obtained from civil authorities.
3. No person may marry more than three times in the Church, with permission for a third marriage granted only with extreme oikonomia.
4. In cases involving the marriage of Orthodox and non-Orthodox Christians, the latter must have been baptized, in water, in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Church cannot bless the marriage of an Orthodox Christian to a non-Christian.
5. The Sponsor (koumbaros or koumbara) must provide a current certificate of membership proving him or her to be an Orthodox Christian in good standing with the Church. A person who does not belong to a parish, or who belongs to a parish under the jurisdiction of a bishop who is not in communion with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, or who, if married, has not had his or her marriage blessed by the Orthodox Church, or, if divorced, has not received an ecclesiastical divorce, cannot be a sponsor. Non-Orthodox persons may be members of the wedding party, but may not exchange the rings or crowns.
Requirements for Marriage at St. George Greek Orthodox Church 1. Each person who wishes to solemnize their wedding at St. George must complete the Marriage Preparation Seminar. In an attempt to help build a stronger marital bond between both husband and wife, this seminar presents the Orthodox view of marriage. The world via media outlets, i.e. television, magazines, movies, internet etc., displays a secular view of marriage that is based oftentimes upon romance and/or fantasy. The Orthodox Church bases marriage on true love (agape), commitment, sacrifice and the holy traditions of our faith.
This seminar will: a. Explore the sacramental nature of marriage as viewed by the Orthodox Church b. Give awareness to many of the practical issues and problems that may surface in the initial years of a marriage concerning romance and intimacy; in-laws; finances; family life; communication; conflict such as frustration, disagreements, arguments, disappointments, etc.) c. Speak on the religious expression of marriage d. Present the guidelines for marriage at St. George Greek Orthodox Church e. Distribute the Ecclesiastical Affidavit and petition the Metropolitan of New Jersey for marriage.
2. The bridal party is encouraged to plan a wedding rehearsal prior to the marriage ceremony.
3. For those who have been previously married, no wedding date can be set until: 1) an ecclesiastical divorce has been obtained or 2) the original death certificate of the deceased spouse is viewed by the parish priest and a photocopy of death certificate presented to the parish priest.
Days When Marriage Is Not Permitted Marriages are not performed on fast days [Wednesday and Friday] or during fasting seasons; these include the Great Lent and Holy Week, August 1-15, August 29 (Beheading of St. John the Baptist), September 14 (Exaltation of the Holy Cross), and December 13-25. Nor are marriages celebrated on the day before and the day of a Great Feast of the Lord, including Theophany (January 5 and 6), Pascha, Pentecost, and Christmas (December 24 and 25).
Inter-Christian Marriages It is a fact that, the more a couple has in common, the more likely they are to live together in peace and concord. Shared faith and traditions spare couples and their children, as well as their extended families, many serious problems, and help to strengthen the bonds between them. Even so, the Orthodox Church will bless marriages between Orthodox and non-Orthodox partners, provided that:
1. The non-Orthodox partner is a Christian who has been baptized, in water, in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; and
2. The couple should be willing to baptize their children in the Orthodox Church and raise and nurture them in accordance with the Orthodox Faith.
A baptized Orthodox Christian whose wedding has not been blessed by the Orthodox Church is no longer in good standing with the Church, and may not receive the Sacraments of the Church, including Holy Communion, or become a Sponsor of an Orthodox Marriage, Baptism or Chrismation. A non-Orthodox Christian who marries an Orthodox Christian does not thereby become a member of the Orthodox Church, and may not receive the Sacraments, including Holy Communion, or be buried by the Church, serve on the Parish Council, or vote in parish assemblies or elections. To participate in the Church’s life, one must be received into the Church by the Sacrament of Baptism or, in the case of persons baptized with water in the Holy Trinity, following a period of instruction, by Chrismation.
Inter-religious Marriages Canonical and theological reasons preclude the Orthodox Church from performing the Sacrament of Marriage for couples where one partner is Orthodox and the other partner is a non-Christian. As such, Orthodox Christians choosing to enter such marriages fall out of good standing with their Church and are unable to actively participate in the life of the Church and receive the Holy Sacraments, including Holy Communion. While this stance may seem confusing and rigid, it is guided by the Orthodox Church’s love and concern for its member’s religious and spiritual well-being.
Divorce The parish priest will 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 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 in good standing with 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 of the Holy Sacraments of the Church, receive Holy Communion or serve on the Parish Council, Diocesan Council or Archdiocesan Council until they have been granted a divorce by the Church.
For those intending on marrying again in the Orthodox Church, please note that no date of marriage can be set until an ecclesiastical divorce has been obtained.
Funerals Funeral services are permitted on any day of the year, except for Sundays and Holy Friday.
Regardless of the time of day, a family member should notify the parish priest as soon as one falls asleep in the Lord. All funeral arrangements should be made with the parish priest prior to their confirmation and publication in the newspaper. Please note that the Orthodox Church stipulates that:
1. The deceased must be a baptized Orthodox Christian for the funeral rite to be offered.
2. Except in extreme circumstances to be determined by the parish priest, the casket must be open during the funeral service. (The funeral service is a narrative of the deceased speaking to those in attendance. Closing the casket contradicts this theme and therefore is not acceptable.)
3. The Church does not grant funerals to those persons who choose to be cremated. (Orthodox theology is based upon the Resurrection of the soul and body. Our confession of faith in the Creed says: “and I await the Resurrection of the dead and of the life of the age to come. Amen.” Cremation is a violent act against the body which has been given to us by God. It therefore seeks to oppose God by altering the natural processes established by nature.)
4. A Trisagion Service (a brief prayer service) is read at the funeral home the night before the funeral. The Funeral Service itself may only be read in the church. The Funeral Service is not permitted to be read at the funeral home.
5. Only the priest is permitted to offer prayers for the deceased in the church. In addition, only the priest is permitted to offer a eulogy in the Church during the funeral service. Family members who wish to give a eulogy may do so at the Trisagion Service the night preceding the funeral or at the makaria.
6. Makaria (Internment Meal) – Traditionally, the main entree of the makaria includes fish. The Holy Gospels reveal to us that after Christ’s own Resurrection He shared a meal consisting of fish with His disciples (Luke 24:41-43; John:21:1-14.) This meal is a symbol of the Resurrection in that it displays the belief in the power of God who triumphed over death. If you wish to offer a variety of entrees, please include fish as one of them. Paximathia, brandy or Metaxa also have become a custom upon arrival at the makaria.
7. In lieu of flowers, many families prefer to have contributions made to St. George Greek Orthodox Church in memory of the deceased. If this is your desire, it should be included in the obituary and the funeral director instructed to secure memorial donation cards from the Church narthex.
Memorials Memorial services may not be chanted from the Saturday of Lazarus through the Sunday of Thomas, on any Feastday of the Lord or any Feastday of the Theotokos, nor will they be chanted on a Sunday following a Saturday of the Souls. Please call the church office or speak to the parish priest to schedule a memorial. Days may not be scheduled for exclusivity. All Memorial Services must be accompanied with Kollyva (boiled wheat.) This is another powerful symbol of the Resurrection. (“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” John 12:24 also see 1 Corinthians 15:35-38.) Memorials are usually chanted on the 40th day of the death and also on the anniversary of the death thereafter. A Trisagion is chanted in place of the Memorial Service if no kollyva is present.
Memorial Services are also offered during each Saturday of the Soul (Psycosavvato.)
A Memorial Service can not be offered in church for an individual who was cremated or who did not have the Funeral Service read for him in the church.
Fasting Just as there are times for feasting, there are also times set aside for fasting. During these periods, certain foods are prohibited. These are, in order of frequency of prohibition, meat (including poultry), dairy products, fish, olive oil and wine. Fruits, vegetables, grains and shellfish are permitted throughout the year. Of course, the Orthodox Church never reduces the practice of fasting to a legalistic observance of dietary rules. Fasting, that is not accompanied by intensified prayer and acts of charity, inevitably becomes a source of pride. The Church also recognizes that not everyone can fast to the same degree, and assumes that individual Christians will observe the fast prescribed for them by their spiritual fathers. The following are fasting days and seasons:
a) All Wednesdays and Fridays, except for those noted below; b) The day before the Feast of Theophany (January 5); c) Cheesefare Week (the last week before the Great Lent, during which meat and fish are prohibited, but dairy products are permitted even on Wednesday and Friday); d) Great Lent (from Clean Monday through the Friday before Lazarus Saturday, olive oil and wine are permitted on weekends); e) Great and Holy Week (note that Great and Holy Saturday is a day of strict fasting, during which the faithful abstain from olive oil and wine), f) Holy Apostles’ Fast (from the Monday after All Saints’ Day through June 28, inclusive); g) Fast for the Dormition of the Mother of God (August 1-14, excluding August 6, on which fish, wine and olive oil are permitted); h) Beheading of St. John the Baptist (August 29), i) Exaltation of the Holy Cross (September 14); and j) Nativity Lent (November 15-December 24, although fish, wine and olive oil are permitted, except on Wednesdays and Fridays, until December 17). Dispensation is given for Thanksgiving Day.
Concerning Holy Communion and Fasting Everyone receiving Holy Communion at the Divine Liturgy must observe the ancient custom as prescribed by the Holy Canons of fasting from every food item. No person should approach and receive Holy Communion if they have not fasted the morning of a Divine Liturgy. Traditionally, no food or drink is taken (complete fast) from sunset on Saturday until after receiving Holy Communion. The elderly who require medication may take small amounts of food to help the medication work effectively. Young children are encouraged to learn the discipline of fasting at an early age. Children older than ten years of age should practice the complete fast. Tots may require breakfast but should not approach the chalice with food particles remaining on their face. Babies need nourishment and should eat at their prescribed time.
Holy Communion The Eucharist is at the very center of Orthodox piety, worship and theology. One is encouraged to receive Holy Communion as frequently as possible. However, as frequent communion is encouraged, casual communion is not. One must always prepare themselves through prayer, fasting (see above) and confession before receiving Holy Communion. A cavalier attitude toward Holy Communion demeans, not the Eucharist, but the individual who receives it un-prepared. Holy Communion is a fire that devours and burns away our sins. But it can also become a fire that devours and consumes us if we partake of it unworthily. Remember, Holy Communion is a gift and should be received with joy in the fashion prescribed by the Church.
Please Be Respectful As you approach the Chalice to receive the Eucharist, please do so with utmost respect and reverence, for you are receiving the Lord, Jesus Christ into your being. No sudden movements should be done in front of the Chalice. In order to prevent accidental contact with the Chalice, please do not make the sign of the cross near the Chalice. Ladies should blot off their lipstick prior to receiving Holy Communion and brush any lose hair away from the face and/or chalice.
The Sanctity of Human Life A major and overarching concern of the Church arises with its commitment to the God-given sanctity of human life. Some of the developments of the biological manipulation of human life, though promising amazing therapeutic achievements, may also be understood as undermining respect for the integrity of human existence. Others may be seen as providing a new means of healing human illness. Discerning the difference is the challenge the Church faces in developing its teaching on these newly appearing issues.
Human Life The Church’s teaching about human life is based on Holy Tradition, including the Scriptures as a primary resource and the ongoing teaching and interpretation of the Orthodox Faith. Life is a gift of God in the formation of the created world. All life is precious, but human life is uniquely created by God in the “image and likeness of God.” Human life as such is deserving of deep respect and individual human beings are to be treated in accordance to their inherent human dignity.
Thus, racism, unjust prejudicial treatment of men and women, genocide, forms of sexual exploitation, domestic violence, child abuse, rape, theft or destruction of legitimately owned property, deceptions and deceit, environmental plunder and other such manipulative behaviors violate the human dignity of others. Human life as a gift of God should be respected. Some specific issues are the following.
Donation of Organs Although nothing in the Orthodox tradition requires the faithful to donate their organs to others, never-the-less, this practice may be considered an act of love, and as such is encouraged. The decision to donate a duplicate organ, such as a kidney, while the donor is living, requires much consideration and should be made in consultation with medical professionals, the spouse and one’s spiritual father. The donation of an organ from a deceased person is also an act of love that helps to make possible for the recipient a longer, fuller life. Such donations are acceptable if the deceased donor had willed such action, or if surviving relatives permit it providing that it was in harmony with the desires of the deceased. Such actions can be approved as an expression of love and if they express the self-determination of the donor. In all cases, respect for the body of the donor should be maintained. The death of the donor shall not be hastened in order to harvest organs for transplantation to another person.
Sexuality The Orthodox Church recognizes marriage as the only moral and spiritually appropriate context for sexual relations. Thus, all other forms of sexual activity such as fornication, adultery, homosexuality, lesbianism, pornography, all forms of prostitution, and similar forms of behavior are sins that are inappropriate for the Orthodox Christian. Marriage is only conducted and recognized in the Orthodox Church as taking place between a man and a woman. Same-sex marriages are a contradiction in terms. The Orthodox Church does not allow for same-sex marriages.
Abortion The Church from the very beginning of existence has sought to protect “the life in the womb” and has considered abortion as a form of murder in its theology and canons. Orthodox Christians are admonished not to encourage women to have abortions, nor to assist in the committing of abortion. Those who perform abortions and those who have sought it are doing an immoral deed, and are called to repentance. The Orthodox Church celebrates as feast days certain days where conception occurred. The Conception of the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos by St. Anna – December 9. The Conception of St. John the Baptist by St. Elizabeth – September 23. The Conception of Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit and the Theotokos – March 25.
Suicide Suicide, the taking of one’s own life, is self-murder and as such, a sin. More importantly, it may be evidence of a lack of faith in our loving, forgiving, sustaining God. If a person has committed suicide as a result of a belief that: such an action is rationally or ethically defensible, the Orthodox Church denies that person a Church funeral, because such beliefs and actions separate a person from the community of faith. The Church shows compassion, however, on those who have taken their own life as a result of mental illness or severe emotional stress, when a condition of impaired rationality can be verified by a physician. In this case, a Church Funeral is granted.