CONVOCATION OF THE WEST in the MISSIONARY DIOCESE OF ALL SAINTS
[original document from the FESTIVAL OF THE VISITATION, 2015]
- Marriage is universal, in one form or another, among virtually all people, and nations see a value in establishing a legal context for marriage.
- Christians have always “rendered unto Caesar” from Roman days until now and accepted the State’s legal contractual requirements for its citizens, Christian and otherwise.
- Apart from that, however, Christians see in the union of a man and a woman in the context of the Christian Faith and community, the reflection of God’s creation of us in his image (Genesis 1:26- 28, 2:18-24) and his provision for both procreation and complementary companionship. He bestows his sacramental grace on these unions.
- Through almost all of the first millennium, the Church kept away from co-mingling the civil aspects of marriage with the sacramental. Her priests did not serve as agents of the State, but rather to convey sacramental grace to the couple through the Eucharist together with the couple’s own mutual sacramental commitment within the Body of Christ. The transition to the priest serving the State as well as the Church was somewhat gradual and never universal, but a watershed event would be the decree of Emperor Leo VI in 912. Yet even today, the sacramental celebration is still separate from the legal contract, both in countries with a Christian connection (such as much of southern Europe and Latin America) and those without a legal basis for the Church to act as an agent of the State .
- Some contend that the purposes of the Church and the State are in such harmony that the priest or deacon can serve both masters without contradiction. But it has been clear for a long time that if such a harmony ever existed, it has not done so in modern times in our nation.
- For Christians historically, the normal setting for the sacramental grace of marriage to be conveyed is within the Eucharist. Historically, and still today in many places, the couple, having been legally married elsewhere, came to the Sunday Eucharist to celebrate together with the Body. This remains the ideal. Where it is not possible, the Eucharist still forms the setting for a sacramental marriage. The wedding is to be celebrated within the Mass even if not on a Sunday morning. Nevertheless, it is to be strongly encouraged that couples return to the practice of using the context of the Sunday communal Eucharist for their sacramental celebration.
- As John Meyendorff states (in “Marriage: An Orthodox perspective”), “Marriage is a sacrament because in and through it the Kingdom of God becomes a living experience…..The Church since its very early days considered the legal or social institution of marriage as being transformed into a reality of the Kingdom only if it was concluded between two members of the Body of Christ. It is in the flesh of Christ that two Christians can become flesh of each other in a truly Christian way.”
- Some contend that performing weddings for those not connected to the parish is a form of evangelism. If so, it is one of the least effective, since it very rarely results in bringing an unbeliever to faith. A better evangelism would be to eliminate the confused blending of legal, social and pseudo-religious elements of most modern weddings and make a clear distinction in the case of Christians that the sacramental grace and love of God is the basis for the celebration. It will no doubt result in considerably fewer weddings in church, but considerably more witness when one does occur, as a Christian couple rejoices among the community of believers, and their guests see the transformation to a reality of the Kingdom mentioned above by Father John.
- Therefore, we reaffirm the existing position of the Convocation that the sacramental celebration of marriage is separate and distinct from its legal aspects, and that no priest or deacon of the Convocation shall act as an agent of the State in officiating at a wedding.
- To be clear, this means:
- The couple needs to enter into the legal contract of marriage in an event separate from the Christian marriage rite, as the officiant at the latter will not act to sign the appropriate legal papers or otherwise act in regards to the civil contract between the parties
- The couple should present evidence of their legal marriage to the officiant prior to the Christian marriage rite. Any exception to this will be cause to present the situation to the Vicar-General in a timely manner in advance of the date of the Christian ceremony.
- Since the officiant serves no legal role, only those couples for whom sacramental grace in the Body of Christ is relevant will be involved.
- The banns in the 1928 BCP may be useful as a way of announcing the celebration among the community of the Faithful.
- If anyone has difficulty understanding this policy, conversation with the Vicar-General is encouraged. The wedding business has been in a muddle for a long time and some may be confused by the insistence on a clear commitment by faithful Christians to a sacramental marriage as separate from the legal and contractual one entered into by all without regard to faith.