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Question 105.


Dear Father,
I thank you for your excellent website and your questions and answers section.
I would very much appreciate your guidance on the following: recently I received an e mail from a Greek man requesting information on marriage. I asked that he and his fiancÚ come and meet with me. However his fiancÚ came to meet with me accompanied by her future mother-in -law who informed me that the young lady wished to become an Orthodox Christian. On seeking some answers from the young lady, who happened to be Chinese and in the country on a student visa, she admitted that she did not even know what a Christian was. I gave her some basic reading material, but informed her that she would have to meet with me on a regular basis (accompanied by her prospective husband) as the both needed to take part in a programme of instruction in the faith. Her prospective husband was baptised in the Greek Orthodox church but in my 12 years of ministry have met him less than ten times. They have stated that they wish the wedding to take place in early February 2017. This places me in an impossible situation. I fear that if I do not agree to their timetable they will have a civil marriage, with the consequent loss of a potential soul for the Lord. Yet I am also concerned that I would be derelict in my duty as a priest if I did not prepare her properly to be received into the church.

Fr. T.

Answer to Question 105.

 

Dear Fr. T,
Christ is in our midst!

I fully understand your dilemma as I have also been in similar situations of being rushed to baptize someone within a very short period of time because of wedding plans. Thankfully for us priests in Limassol the responsibility doesn't fall upon us but with the Metropolitan. Someone wishing to enter the Orthodox Church must first make an application to the Bishop who will then assign the person to a priest for catechism lessons. Usually the priest will decide when the candidate is ready for baptism, but if the person is in a rush to get married and has the Bishop's blessing then we will be told by the Bishop's office to speed up the catechism and baptize the person within a certain date. This is not the ideal situation, but sometimes we are forced to make a dispensation.
The question in your case is whether the candidate actually wants to be baptized or is this a requirement of the mother in law that she must become Orthodox if she wants to marry her son. As she has no idea of want a Christian is then I'm sure that she is just being obedient to the mother in law so that they can get married in Church. This is not a reason to become an Orthodox Christian. When I have had similar (but unrushed) cases I would try and meet with the candidates on their own and question them without anyone else to influence their answers. The majority of times they will tell you that they do not wish to be baptized, but that they are being pressurized by in laws to accept their faith. I will tell them that I will not baptize them if they do not fully and of their own free will accept the Orthodox faith and to go home and re-think. On many occasions they have not returned proving that they had no real interest in converting to Orthodoxy.
Not everyone needs months or years of catechism lessons, time depends on where they are coming from and how serious they are of joining the Orthodox Church. If for example the person is a Roman Catholic and has a good knowledge of the Bible and of Christian beliefs, they could have just a few lessons on the dogmatic differences between the two churches. I have had such candidates where I found it was only necessary to give them reading material and just three or four lessons. On the other hand I have had candidates who even after many months of meetings still had no idea of what they were being taught.
With your Chinese girl I would first meet with her on her own and see her views if she is serious in becoming Orthodox. If she is and is ready to devote some serious time in reading then you have at least two months to educate her in the Christian beliefs. In many cases this is enough if you have two or even three lessons a week. If the rush is because of her student visa then the couple can have a civil wedding which will allow her to stay as a permanent resident and then have the Church wedding in the summer giving you the time to properly prepare her for baptism. I do not know of the legal requirements in where you are, but in England couples are required to have a civil wedding before the Church wedding as the Orthodox Wedding is not legally recognized. We also advice couples from England coming over to Limassol to have their wedding that they should also have a civil wedding for the same reason. This I believe has to do with an old and outdated English law which still exists for Commonwealth countries.
Sadly the majority of adult baptisms that we do have marriage as the main factor of their conversion and very few are because of true conviction. Sometimes we can only do our best within the time allocated to us and leave the rest to God.

With love in Christ
Fr. Christopher