Orthodox / Roman Catholic bilateral Consultation of North America - May 29, 1982 

The Orthodox/Roman Catholic Bilateral Consultation of North America, at its 24th Meeting (Milwaukee, May 27-29, 1982), continued its analysis of a joint statement by Cardinal Humberto Medieros of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston and Bishop Anthimos of the Greek orthodox Diocese of Boston, published on April 8, 1981. The Consultation appreciates the pastoral and ecumenical intent of the Agreement which addresses the pastoral care for the Orthodox party in a mixed marriage with a Roman Catholic that was celebrated in a Catholic rite. The Agreement, it is noted, seeks to help the Orthodox who wants to be restored to sacramental life in the Orthodox Church.

Because the Joint Committee of Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Bishops of the U.S.A. discussed this Agreement at its meeting, held from September 30 to October 1, 1981, and will again consider the text on October 6-7, 1982, in order to discern whether this Agreement would be an appropriate model to adopt more widely, our Consultation decided to formulate for the Joint Committee several comments and reactions to it.

A. Concerns related to the Orthodox Church

The Orthodox participants pointed out that the practices suggested in the Anthimos/Medeiros Agreement is not the only one to be found among the Orthodox jurisdictions in North America. The Greek Archdiocese des not recognize that the marriage which had previously taken place outside the communion of the Orthodox Church is a sacramental marriage inasmuch as it accepts as sacramental only those marriages sanctified in the liturgical life of the Church by being blessed by an Orthodox priest. Therefore, the rite suggested by this Agreement is the full marriage rite as found in the Orthodox typikon. The Orthodox Church in America (the OCA), on the other hand, recognizes that a marriage has taken place, but holds that the Orthodox spouse whose marriage was celebrated outside the communion of the Orthodox Church has disregarded the discipline of his/her Church. Therefore, a restoration to communion must be preceded by the Sacrament of Penance, normally followed by A Service of Blessing in Confirmation of a Marriage entered into Outside the Orthodox Church.

The Orthodox participants recognize three special needs:

  1. the need to develop a common practice among themselves concerning the blessing of mixed marriages celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church;
  2. the need to articulate a common Orthodox position concerning the sacramentality of marriages performed in the Roman Catholic Church; and
  3. the need for a common Orthodox position to be formulated concerning the ecclesial reality of the Roman Catholic Church.
B. Concerns related to the Roman Catholic Church

The Roman Catholic participants called attention to the following points:

  1. The document provides that the condition of the Orthodox spouse can be rectified if the existing marriage be blessed by the Orthodox Church, thus restoring the Orthodox partner to full communion with his/her Church. Practically speaking, there is an ambiguity here. The text itself speaks of the “existing marriage;” Bishop Anthimos’s accompanying statement speaks of “such long-standing marriages.” Yet the blessing of the marriage in the Orthodox Church called for by the common Agreement is, in practice, the rite of the sacramental celebration of marriage used by the Orthodox Church. This would seem to indicate that no sacramental marriage existed previous to the blessing by the Orthodox Church.

  2. This accompanying statement of Cardinal Medeiros seems to indicate that for marriages between the Roman Catholics and Orthodox the norm for the future would be dispensation from “place” and “form” so that these marriages would normally take place in the Orthodox Church. If this practice is understood to settle the problem permanently, it reduces the urgency to work for a solution based on the reciprocal recognition of the ecclesial reality of both churches and, thus, the recognition of the sacramental nature of marriage in both churches.

    In addition, this practice might be interpreted as suggesting an inadequacy of the Roman Catholic celebration and a general preference for the Orthodox celebration. Such practice could hinder that kind of co-operation and reciprocity in the pastoral care of these marriages which have been set forth in a number of statements by this Consultation (cf. texts of May 20, 1970, December 8, 1978 and October 11, 1980).

    The Roman Catholic participants hope that in this Consultation and elsewhere there can be continued progress in the examination of the historical, theological, and disciplinary positions concerning marriage mentioned by their Orthodox confreres in order to arrive in practice a mutual recognition of matrimonial sacramentality.
The Consultation recognizes the importance of all the above observations and offers them to the Joint Committee of Bishops for their consideration.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin
May 29, 1982


Below is the text of the 1981 Agreement on Mixed Marriages between Cardinal Medeiros and Bishop Anthimos as reported in Origins Vol. 10 N. 46 (April 30, 1981)

Agreement on Orthodox-Roman Catholic Marriages
April 8th, 1981

An agreement signed April 8 by Cardinal Humberto Medeiros of Boston and Greek Orthodox Bishop Anthimos of Boston encourages couples in a Greek Orthodox-Roman Catholic mixed marriage to seek the blessing of their marriages by the Greek Orthodox Church. The agreement applies to couples married "for a substantial period of time" and who were married in the Roman Catholic Church. More recent marriages are likely to have taken place in an ecumenical atmosphere that assured their blessing by the Greek Orthodox Church. According to the agreement it is understood that among couples married at an earlier date, the Greek Orthodox partner may experience a problem regarding 'full communion in the sacramental life" of his or her church. The agreement assures the Roman Catholic partner that having the marriage blessed by the Orthodox Church "will not jeopardize his or her ecclesial standing in the Roman Catholic Church." In a letter to Boston's priests, the cardinal explained that the agreement concerns pastoral care for the Orthodox party in a mixed marriage. A letter Bishop Anthimos wrote to Greek Orthodox clergy of Boston explained that the agreement would allow the Orthodox partner in these marriages to be restored to full sacramental communion with the Orthodox Church. The text of the agreement and the letters from the two church leaders to their clergy, follow.

  1. Joint Statement
    In the light of the increasing cordial relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church and the present Roman Catholic marriage legislation, we wish to address a special pastoral problem concerning members of our churches.


    • We join in mutual accord and in the spirit of Christ to address the problem faced by some of our people in the respective provinces of our pastoral care; that is, spouses, one of whom is Roman Catholic and one of whom is Greek Orthodox, who nave been married according to the rites of the Roman Catholic Church for a substantial period of time.
    • It is mutually understood that this has created for the Eastern Orthodox spouse a condition according to the canon law and administrative regulations of the Orthodox Church in which full communion in the sacramental life of the church becomes a problem.
    • We acknowledge that according to present practice this condition can be rectified if the existing marriage be blessed by the Orthodox Church, thus restoring the Orthodox partner to full communion with his or her church. We wish to assure the Roman Catholic partner and all concerned that such a blessing will not jeopardize his or her ecclesial standing in the Roman Catholic Church.
    • Moved by pastoral concern for the people of God in our respective provinces of pastoral care, we do hereby agree that such ceremonies be permitted and that our clergy be so instructed at appropriate meetings and in formal communications describing appropriate procedures. These procedures are to be delineated in form by our chanceries for implementation by Eastern Orthodox Easter on April 26, 1981.
    • We praise and thank God for this measure of cooperation and growth in mutual love and service in the spirit of our common Lord, Jesus Christ.

    On this eighth day of April of the year of our Lord 1981.

  2. Bishop Anthimos
    Today I am pleased to inform you of a significant agreement which I have come to with His Eminence, Cardinal Humberto Medeiros, archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. This agreement has an important impact on your own priestly ministry in reference to long-standing Orthodox-Roman Catholic marriages.

    Yesterday, April 8, Cardinal Medeiros and I met and signed an agreement which will allow the blessing of marriages in the Orthodox Church which were preformed in the past by the Roman Catholic Church between a Roman Catholic Christian and an Orthodox Christian. The agreement assures the Roman Catholic spouses of such long-standing marriages that their appearance and participation in a Greek Orthodox service will not jeopardize their status in the Roman Catholic Church.

    The effect for the Orthodox partner, of course, is that he or she may then be restored to sacramental communion with the Orthodox Church and may henceforth participate in the eucharist, sharing in the body and blood of our Lord unto salvation, and enjoy the rights of full membership in our parishes.

    Under separate cover, you will receive guidelines from the chancellor as to how you are to implement this agreement.

    We thank God that with the continuing improvement in relations between our two churches, the spirit of Christian love and understanding has made this agreement possible. His Eminence, Cardinal Humberto Medeiros, with the Christian love and charity which characterizes him in all his endeavors, has taken this step so that the eucharist will not be denied to any. We express our gratitude and appreciation with mutual love and ecumenical understanding. I urge all of you upon receipt of the directives to search out all couples in your parish to whom this agreement applies, inform them regarding these marriages in the Orthodox Church for their spiritual welfare and the well-being of the church.

  3. Cardinal Medeiros
    On April 8, 1981, I was pleased to sign a joint pastoral letter with His Grace, Bishop Anthimos of the Greek Orthodox Diocese of Boston. The substance of this Letter concerns the pastoral care for the Orthodox party in a mixed marriage with a Roman Catholic that was celebrated in a Catholic rite. According to Orthodox canons and discipline, the Orthodox spouse in this marriage was invalidly married because it lacked the blessing of the Orthodox priest. The Orthodox husband or wife consequently was unable to participate in the eucharistic life of the Orthodox Church.

    This ecumenical cooperation corrects a long-standing situation. Since our present Roman Catholic law, with proper dispensation from "place" and "form," permits such a mixed marriage to take place in an Orthodox ceremony before an Orthodox priest, this new agreement will be of assistance to those who were married before these dispensations were so readily available.

    Every assurance must be made to the Roman Catholic spouse that this blessing of the previously existing marriage will in no way jeopardize his or her relationship with the Roman Catholic Church. I plead with you to cooperate in every possible proper way with the Orthodox priest who may come to you in regard to this matter.

    The eucharist is the very life of our churches and if we can bring the Orthodox party to the fullness of eucharistic life in his or her church, we can be assured of nothing less than the blessing of God.

    If any further clarification is needed, please do not hesitate to contact Father Peter Conley, executive secretary of the archdiocesan ecumenical commission.