CWN - The recent Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church did not achieve its original goal of unifying the discipline of the Sacrament of Marriage among the 14 Orthodox churches, according to a L’Osservatore Romano report.

On June 23 and 24, participants discussed the council’s fifth document, “The Sacrament of Marriage and its Impediments”-- a topic first placed on the conciliar agenda in 1961.

After discussing the Sacrament of Marriage, the final document stated that “a civil marriage between a man and a woman registered in accordance with the law lacks sacramental character since it is a simple legalized cohabitation recognized by the State, different from a marriage blessed by God and the Church. The members of the Church who contract a civil marriage ought to be regarded with pastoral responsibility, which is necessary to help them understand the value of the sacrament of marriage and the blessings connected with it.”

“The Church does not allow for her members to contract same-sex unions or any other form of cohabitation apart from marriage,” the council fathers continued, as they lamented “the frightening increase in the number of divorces, abortions, and other problems of family life.”

Turning to impediments to marriage, the document confirmed the Orthodox practice of tolerating a second or third marriage following annulment or dissolution-- leading Chania Hyacinthe Destivelle, the author of the L’Osservatore Romano article, to state that it would have been “interesting” if  the council fathers had explained how a union earlier defined as “indissoluble” could be dissolved.

The document also stated that “marriage between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Christians is forbidden.” Nonetheless, “with the salvation of man as the goal, the possibility of the exercise of ecclesiastical oikonomia [economy] in relation to impediments to marriage must be considered by the Holy Synod of each autocephalous Orthodox Church according to the principles of the holy canons and in a spirit of pastoral discernment.”

This final text represents a change from the draft text, which did not leave matters to the discretion of each Orthodox church. The draft also stated that marriages between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Christians “can be blessed out of indulgence and love of man if the children from this marriage are to be baptized and raised in the Orthodox Church”-- a phrase omitted in the final document.