With the high divorce rate and the rising popularity of living together for a number of years before or instead of getting married, the social attitude toward marriage and divorce has changed drastically as the understanding of psychology and, for better or worse, the lax attitude many of our biggest TV, media, and celebrity influences attribute to it. On a personal level, however, the intensity and scope of emotions will always vary from person to person and depends largely on the situation. But in the Christian Orthodox religions, the "old world religions", the rules are still the same.
I can be as born again as the former tax collectors and prostitutes of the New Testament, as devout as Mother Theresa, as divinely gifted as a saint, but because I was divorced at the age of 24, I can never be part of an Orthodox religion. Well, not without an annulment. More specifically, an annulment from them, meaning the Church. A legal annulment isn't required but to become a recognized part of their church body and receive their sacraments I would be required to carry out interviews and, in most cases, fill out paperwork regarding the nature of my marriage from the ceremony to the sex and everything in between. The higher church members or priest, depending on the sect, would decide if my previous marriage was valid in the eyes of their faith. In the case of Catholicism, which is not considered to be directly under the umbrella of Orthodox, if my wedding was performed by a Protestant, I could obtain this annulment since my marriage was not recognized by them in the first place.
As I read the requirements and steps I would need to take I kept thinking of "the Samaritan woman at the well".
For those of you unfamiliar with this section of Scripture, Jesus is sitting casually against a well while his disciples run into town to get food, a woman walks up and as she is drawing water from the well, Jesus asks her for a drink. To put that into context of how shocking this was, Jesus was a Jew, which means he was forbidden to drink or eat from the same dish as Samaritans, or really anyone who was not a Jew. She reacts as anyone would, extremely suspiciously with a hefty amount of disbelief, but after some brief casual conversation he calls her out on her none too holy relations with men. Jesus has a rather endearing tendency to get straight to the point.
She had five previous husbands and the man she's sleeping with now is not her husband.
She's convinced he is truly the savior when he knows her whole history and, more importantly, breaks the Jewish law to share with her regardless of her ethnicity, sex, social status, or her past. She runs to get the other Samaritans so he can preach to them and they can hear this revolutionary idea of acceptance of who we are instead of who we were or who we became. With all Christian Orthodox religions claiming to be carrying on the lessons and spirit of Christ I wonder...
Why would Jesus preach to people about salvation if they were previously married and no longer eligible to be saved?
And what about the woman in the Gospel of John, Chapter 8 who is caught in the act of adultery and thrown on the ground in front of Jesus? This woman is pulled out of the actual act and dragged to Jesus where she is thrown on the ground in front of God and everyone, literally. Jesus doesn't even look up. He draws in the dirt with a stick and then says two lines of scripture almost everyone has heard, "Let any one of you without sin cast the first stone" and "Go and do not sin again". The first of these condemns the accusers since we are all human and sinful which gives us no place to judge. The second is the instruction given to someone being forgiven, accepted, and given another chance and is said to the woman herself.
If Jesus had behaved any differently he just plain wouldn't be Jesus. The man who's example we are to follow, the man who said to forgive your brother 70 times 7 times and reminded us again and again not to judge one another, that is the example he left.
I have been unable to find any scripture giving man the authority to determine the validity of a marriage or to annul any marriage within or outside of the church. Which marriages are valid and what rules make them valid or invalid is not addressed by God, only by man as Christianity progressed and even then only in certain circles.
I genuinely believe in God and His word, and while I take issue with this specific exclusivity, I was attracted to Orthodox religions for a very real reason. The devout and personal nature of many aspects of the faith itself, and the amount of self control and discipline required is inspiring. Not to mention the art, we have all sat in awe over those stained glass windows. I had truly started to imagine myself pursuing faith from this perspective and was enjoying learning about the Orthodox Church, as well as the Roman Catholic Church which has very similar rules on conversion after divorce.
On the Catholic front, however, there is hope. The acceptance of all those "pursuing God in good faith" is being addressed in almost every speech made by Pope Francis and I remain hopeful that those of us with a less than perfect past, or present, will be accepted for the life we wish to pursue and not the mistakes we may have made before we knew enough to know we were making them.
And for all those prospective brides and grooms, if Jesus has taught me anything it's not our mistakes that make us, but our willingness to recognize and take responsibility for our mistakes and to not pursue those ways again.
No, wait, if Jesus has taught me anything.. It's Love. And a healthy respect for forgiveness too.