Dear readers,

A discussion happened in the comments of our earlier post last week about the Greek Government’s recognition of the so-called “Holy Orthodox Metropolis of Australia and Oceania (HOMOAO)”. We have also discussed similar issues with respect to GOCSA. But to what extent does this really matter? If an organisation manages to obtain recognition by the Greek or Australian governments, does that make them canonical? We thought to address this point in more detail in a fresh post.

Civil vs Mystical Marriage

Wedding crowns – used in the Mystery of Marriage but not required for a civil marriage

In this day and age when the institution of marriage is under attack, it is important for us to make a distinction between two different types of marriage: civil vs ecclesiastical.

  • A civil marriage is one that is registered with the civil authorities (eg, by the Greek or Australian governments) for the purposes of the law of the land.
  • An mystical marriage (also called ecclesiastical) is a marriage that is conducted as a Mystery (aka, Sacrament) within a recognised Orthodox Church & recognised as such for the purposes of the laws (ie, the canons) of the Orthodox Church.

A civil marriage may be conducted & registered by any authorised marriage celebrant. A mystical marriage, on the other hand, is always conducted by a canonical Orthodox priest in accordance with the canons of the Orthodox church.

From the Church’s point of view, it is obviously the mystical marriage that “counts”.

What is a recognised religion/denomination?

In both Greece and Australia, there are “recognised religions” whose ministers are also authorised marriage celebrants. This simply means that their religious marriages are automatically accepted as civil marriages and that their ministers are authorised to fill out the necessary paperwork to register the civil marriage with the government (we spoke more of this in the earlier post about GOCSA) .

In both Greece and Australia, there are many such recognised religions – non-Orthodox & non-Christian. These included schismatic groups who have also been recognised.

Special recognition of the Orthodox Church of Greece by the Greek Government

Australia has no “state religion” and all religions are treated equally by the law. However, in Greece the Orthodox Church has special recognition in the Constitution as the official state religion, which sets it apart from all other religions in Greece. This special recognition makes the clergy of the Church of Greece public servants (on the public payroll), and also means that Greek government recognises (and, where necessary, enforces) the Canon Law & canonical decisions of the Orthodox Church.

It is also important to understand this distinction between the special recognition of the Church of Greece by the Greek government, and the more general recognition that the Greek government gives to many religions. This is because many schismatic Old Calendarist groups have obtained general recognition by the Greek government (alongside other non-Orthodox & non-Christian religious groups) and use this recognition to make it seem that they are equally legitimate Orthodox churches alongside the Church of Greece. However, such recognition merely puts them on an equal footing with other minority religions in Greece (such as Muslims, Roman Catholics, Buddhists, etc). It does not make them a legitimate Orthodox church nor give them special recognition. Only the Church of Greece (with Archbishop Ieronymos II as its primate) has such special recognition.

 

Sample civil marriage certificate for the Government of Australia (source: Federal Attorney-General’s web site). The certificate for the religious marriage (if any) will depend on which denomination one is married in and will be issued separately to this one.

What are the benefits of having a Church be a “recognised denomination”?

The only real benefits are ones of convenience:

  • It is more convenient for the Government, because they don’t have to find & employ as many of their own marriage celebrants to perform duplicate wedding ceremonies – the denominations do it for them.
  • It is more convenient for the faithful who are getting married, because they don’t have to attend & pay for duplicate wedding ceremonies or two celebrants (one for the Government, one for the Church). Instead, the priest/minister acts as celebrant for both his denomination & for the Government, issuing two separate wedding certificates (one for each).

While these are obviously very practical conveniences for the couple getting married (and are encouraged by the Orthodox Church), they hardly constitute the essence of a mystical marriage according to Orthodox theology and they certainly aren’t what makes the Church canonical!

In fact, in many parts of the world and at various times in history, the Orthodox faithful are forced to live without these conveniences because the canonical Church and/or its marriages aren’t recognised by the government. For example, the Orthodox Church was not recognised by the Roman Empire (and in fact was outlawed!) in the early centuries, and so Christians who were married mystically in the Church would have to register their civil marriage separately. And in fact, not every mystical marriage would  be recognised by the civil authorities – eg, marriages between slaves, which the Church permitted (because there is “neither slave nor free” – Galatians 3:28) but the Roman Empire did not.

So why is it important for a Church to be a “recognised denomination” by the Government?

Ultimately, as Orthodox Christians, it isn’t important if our Church is recognised by the Government (or at least, it is of secondary importance) – as noted above, this is merely a convenience and it doesn’t define the essence or nature of the Orthodox Church or the Orthodox Mystery of Marriage. As if the Orthodox Church (which we believe was founded by God Himself in the flesh) requires the approval of secular authorities for its legitimacy! As we noted, Orthodox Christians have been marrying & given marriage in many parts of the world and at many times in history the Church was not/is not recognised – or worse still, is/was outlawed.

Rather, for the Orthodox faithful, of primary importance is whether our marriages are recognised by the Orthodox Church

This is why all of GOCSA’s and HOMOAO’s claims about recognition by the Greek and/or Australian governments are really red herrings – a smokescreen distracting from the real issue that should concern every faithful Orthodox Christian: are these institutions’ marriages (and other mysteries/sacraments) recognised by the Orthodox Church?

So are GOCSA/HOMOAO & their mysteries recognised by the Orthodox Church? Are they canonical?

It will come as no surprise to our regular readers that the answer to this question is a resounding NO!

  • They are not recognised by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia.
  • They are not recognised by any of the other Orthodox jurisdictions in Australia (Serbian Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Antiochian Orthodox, Romanian Orthodox, etc).
  • They are not recognised by the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
  • They are not recognised by the Church of Greece.
  • They are not recognised by the Patriarchate of Alexandria.
  • They are not recognised by the Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
  • They are not recognised by the Patriarchate of Antioch, the Patriarchate Russia, the Patriarchate of Romania, the Patriarchate of Serbia, or any of the Orthodox Churches throughout the world.

Regardless of whether or not they manage to secure Greek some form of government recognition (as it appears HOMOAO has at least), it will not change the answer to any of these questions. The only way for them to secure recognition of their marriages & other mysteries/sacraments by the Orthodox Church is for them to become part of the Orthodox Church. And the only way for them to do this is to unite with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia.

GOCNSW eventually saw the light & rejoined in 2010, and have not looked back since (they’ve even managed to keep their churches!). Let’s pray that GOCSA and HOMOAO see the light soon too so that this confusion can be eliminated once and for all.

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