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Question 13.

Αγαπητέ πάτερ Χριστοφόρε,

Στην Καθολική επιστολή του Ιακώβου διαβάζουμε ότι οι χριστιανοί δεν επιτρέπεται να ορκίζονται. Παρόλα ταύτα η Εκκλησία τελεί ορκομωσίες τις ακολουθίες των οποίων έχει περιλάβει και στα λειτουργικά της βιβλία. Πώς δικαιολογείται κάτι τέτοιο;

 

Translation of Question 13.

Dear Father Christopher,

In the General Epistle of St. James, we read that Christians are not allowed to take oaths. In spite of this, the Church performs oaths in her services which are also included in her Liturgical books. How can something like this be justified?
 
Answer to Question 13.
Dear Constantine,
You mention that St. James in his Epistle says that Christians should not take an oath, but Christ himself tells us not to swear:

"Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil."
(St Matthew 5:33-37).

So the Lord commands that we should not swear by anything or take an oath. Now you mention that the Church performs Oaths in her services which can also be found in her service books. I don't know what services you are talking about or which books. The only oath the Church asks of people is when they come for a Certificate of Celibacy (πιστοποιητικό ελευθερίας). This she does when the person who is to be married is unknown to the priest and so that the priest cannot be accused of marrying someone who is already married, asks them to take an oath in the civil courts saying that they are not already in any other marriage. This does not justify that the church asks people to take an oath, but as the Church is the body that marries people, the civil authorities insist that the Church takes all possible precautions. In Limassol we have been talking of abolishing this and instead of a civil oath, to get them to sign a declaration that they are free. This is not something that we can do immediately: we are seeking legal advice to see how the signed declaration would be accepted by the Legal courts because in cases of bigamy it is not only the bigamist who is accused but also the priest who has the legal responsibility. The only other instant that I know of is the Libel Document that we ask people to sign when they return to the Orthodox Church, but this is not an oath. It is a signed declaration saying that the undersigned denies the church they came from and accepts the teachings of the Orthodox Church. If these are not the oaths you had in mind, please let me know as I honestly can’t recall any other occasion when we ask people to take an oath.


 

Dear Father Christopher,
I am referring to the oaths taken by the Prime Minister and many other authorities of the country, especially civil servants. These services can be found in the euchologion.

Dear Constantine,
You are quite right, there is what is called The Order of Swearing in of Public Servants in the Small Euchologion. In the Great Euchologion this Order does not exist or at least I cannot find it. The official Euchologion of the Church is the Great Euchologion. The Small Euchologion was adapted from the Great so that it could contain the services and prayers most commonly used by the Church in a small compact book easier to use by the Priests. I would think that the Great Euchologion doesn’t contain this order of swearing in because at the time of its compilation we still had Kings and each person in authority gave his allegiance to the King. Note that Kings were not sworn in but were officially recognized with the Ceremony of the Crowning. With the abolishment of the Royal system and the introduction of the Presidential system, which in theory doesn’t involve the Church, there was a need for each person in authority to take an Oath. This we can see with the Royal system of England where I have never seen anyone taking an oath in comparison with the American system where they do. So I would say that Greece copied the American system and whether a Priest would be present or not, they would still take this oath, as people do in the civil courts by swearing on the Holy Bible. I think the Church didn’t want to be left out of such important events as the swearing in of presidents and others who hold important positions of dignity that she came up with this very simple order which doesn’t consist of much. The Priest makes the opening blessing, then says the very commonly used hymn from Pentecost “O heavenly King and Comforter” followed by the oath, which would be taken even if the church was not represented, and finishes with a short prayer that the Lord might strengthen the person to undertake his responsibilities with God’s guidance and grace. This is important as the Church can suffer under a Government with unfavourable feelings towards the Church. This we have seen in contemporary history with the communist governments of Russia. Its seems that the Order of Swearing in Public Servants is a dispensation or compromise so that the Church can be seen as working side by side with government. Also note that it is not the Church that insists on the Oath, but the system of elected leaders.