Friday, July 31, 2015


Saw this on another blog, but it sums up pretty much all the cliched, nonsense in modern "contemporary" or "praise" or "relevant" church services.

HT:  Pastoral Meanderings

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Conversion and Divorce

A couple of days I got locked into an internet forum discussion (something which happens way too often and I need to stop) regarding the conversion of a spouse to Orthodoxy while the other remains in his/her confession of faith.  This does happen and I have observed it in my own parish to good and ill results.  While reading the comments, I saw a lot of responses that came off as wholly uncharitable to the person who did not convert which I thought was totally unacceptable.  The Church is to strengthen the weak and cure the ill, but the way it was being presented, it seemed that many wanted the Church to continue to make weak and make ill those who were not ready to come into the Orthodox faith. 

Before I was married I was told by a friend who has a good friend who is a divorce attorney that, in the USA, the single biggest reason for divorce is--after infidelity, abuse and financial pressures--differences in religion.  My wife is not Orthodox, something I do not and will not ever hold against her.  She is my wife and I love her and that love is not contingent upon her being a member of the Church because even the Church does not make that a contingency.  If my wife were atheist, agnostic or non-Christian in general, then there would be issues, but that's not the case. 

I have seen several instances where a non-Orthodox couple had one spouse who wanted to convert and the other didn't, for whatever reason.  Becoming Orthodox is not something that happens by signing a sheet of paper or coming to a couple hour long classes, but, in general is a whole year of catechesis, with expectations that you would come to the extra services during Great Lent (my particular parish only receives converts in on Holy Saturday; other parishes may do it whenever the need arises), and make confession to the priest along with a host of other requirements.  Becoming Orthodox is embracing a Christian dogma and practice that many, especially for those coming from a Western confession of Christianity, will and do see as quite foreign and incomprehensible.  And because of that it can leave family members estranged.  A good friend of mine told me that his in-laws will have nothing to do with their daughter anymore because she converted from Southern Baptist to Orthodoxy.  There are many examples of this.  It can be particular troubling for a spouse who is unwilling and hostile to the move.  The extreme outcome can be divorce which is hardly ideal.  If that is the way things go, then both spouses are going to have deal with a lot of pain, trauma, guilt, anger, etc.  And what of the kids?  They're going to be torn, too.  Should the plan for conversion keep going as planned?  I replied no.  And for that, I took all sorts of flack.

I counseled that in these situations, the priest--who, I assume, is well informed about the situation--would suggest patience and a longer time of discernment for the potential convert.  Perhaps, in time, the unwilling spouse will be willing to give her assent without the divorce and may even come over him/herself.  For suggesting that, I was vilified.  The responses and the tones were downright harsh.  Scripture was thrown at me like "He who loves father and mother more than me is not worthy of me" and the counsels from St. Paul in Ephesians about how women should submit to their husbands.  So, if a spouse converted, and the other spouse threatened divorce, the conversion should still happen?  It was pretty much a unanimous "yes."  So, the person who converts is going to be received into the Church (good for them), but will also have to suffer the pains of divorce along with the spouse and if there are children, what are they to think?  I replied that if the Church exists for all and desires to bring all to the knowledge of the Truth, is the Church doing that for the estranged spouse and the kids by essentially countenancing the divorce?  No, it's not.  The Church is, again, about strengthening the weak and curing the ill and to bring them into the Una Sancta.  Does anyone really believe that the estranged spouse and children are going to be willing to come into the Church after that?  I don't think so.  That's one great way to evangelize.

I have actually witnessed several couples divorce because one spouse wanted to convert and the other wasn't ready, but it went ahead anyway.  I have to ask why priests would allow this to go forward if there was such a risk?  Why not allow for extra time?  I think I have a possible answer.  Just as doctors are pressured by their patience to prescribe for them some drug or do some procedure to cure them from an illness, so priests are pressured often by converts who are so zealous to be received into the Church that they seem to fast track the process.  Of course, people are people, too.  And no matter how much you may try to accommodate them and help them, they just don't want it.

How serious of an issue is this?  I don't know if it's a rampant issue, but I have seen it play out a few times.  Divorce happened in two instances and almost happened in another.  The result of the latter situation was that the spouse who converted went back to Roman Catholicism.  I haven't heard from him in years.  There's not a one-size-fits-all solution nor should there be.  Unbending rigidity is only going to exacerbate the issue, not solve it.  It has to be dealt with pastorally and it has to be honest.  Should a priest go ahead and counsel the potential convert to go ahead knowing full well that it could estrange the other spouse, kids even leading to divorce? I would think that if time would work things out, then give it time. The Church isn't going anywhere.  I am frequently reminded by my priest that the spiritual life is a marathon, not a sprint.  And many people are received into the Church on their deathbed.

The responses I received on this forum reeked in many ways of pride and arrogance.  If divorce happened, they said, and the conversion happened, then that was good.  None of them were of course defending divorce as anything less than a sin (however, divorce is allowed in the Orthodox Church, but a time of penance must follow), but the willingness to overlook it in favor of one more soul in the Church at the expense of harming another just struck me as uncharitable.  Situations like this require a case by case examination, but, being a married man and a father, I could not and would not anything that would risk my marriage and my kid's well-being for some immediate good.  Maybe just saying that makes me unworthy of Christ and His Church but if marriage, even in a marriage outside of the Church, is a martyrdom of the self for the glory of Christ and the Church for the salvation of both spouses, there has to be some gray.