Divorce in the Coptic Church



  • I think that there is a difference between a couple who are not best suited to each other, and who argue, staying together, which should always be the case; and a husband (usually) who is physically abusive.

    Many couples argue because there are stresses and strains in life, often strains which almost bring a marriage to breaking point. It is not that the couple do not love each other, but that these trials and tribulations cause tensions and disagreements. If a couple stay together in the face of such testing then this is a good thing. Even if the couple argue. Life is not filled with happiness. One of the Fathers says somewhere that we have a finite deposit in our spiritual bank in this life and we can either choose to spend it all on pleasure here, or save it to be given infinite value in the world to come.

    I am not convinced that there is any reason for a committed Orthodox to not bear whatever tribulations come in marriage and family life with faith and patience, and this includes having a partner who does not entirely share the same interests, attitudes and personality traits. All of this must be received with long-suffering, and not being happy is never a reason for separation or divorce.

    Who said that there would be happiness in this life?

    BUT... there is never an excuse for violence and abuse in a marriage partner. It is not acceptable AT ALL for a woman (usually) to be told that she must submit to violent physical and/or sexual abuse. The Church must intervene robustly in such cases and whatever the reasons for such abuse it must be made clear that there is never an excuse. The violent partner should be made to leave the family home if necessary, and even the police called. I have heard of too many occasions when the Church has insisted that the woman must submit to violence.

    Whether or not such violence is just cause for divorce I do not know, I am not sure. It is certainly grounds for a formal separation in which the innocent party is not censured at all, and is not looked down on, and is provided with every support as if the husband HAD committed adultery.

    It seems to me that the initial focus of our Lord's teaching is that the Jewish MEN were wrong to think they could just dismiss their wives, rather like the Muslims, and take a new one when they fancied. I find it interesting that the Jewish man who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against his wife, but that when the same phrase is used of the wife divorcing her husband it is not said that she commits adultery against him, but just that she commits adultery. It does seem to me that the two cases are not dealt with in exactly the same way because the relations of men and women are not entirely equal in this time, or even in our own.

    This is just something perhaps I need to study. But I am concerned for the treatment of Coptic wives who are physically and sexually abused by Coptic husbands but are taught that they must submit, and be harmed and even killed rather than leave him. This does not seem a proper exercise of pastoral care, even if the woman be counselled that she may not marry again, but can be considered 'formally separated' from the abusive husband.

    I do wonder though if there is some sense in the term 'adultery' which describes an abandonment of the marriage vows, a loss of any concern for the partner, and a destructive and selfish abuse of the one who should be the object of love and care. I am not sure that this does not also constitute a form of adultery. Otherwise we must consider that if a faithful man falls once into sin - and actually our Lord taught that a lustful look was adultery - then his wife might divorce him, but if he beats her every night and rapes her then she has no recourse at all. It seems to me in some sense, as a personal opinion not dogma, that to treat a person so is to already have committed a lasting spiritual adultery.

    I am not concerned with divorce as such. I do think that the Church is right to press for people to try to work through their problems, and divorce is not usually the answer, but there should perhaps also be a clear and commendedable status of being separated due to abusive and criminal behavior on the part of one party so that the abused one is able to be safe.

    Father Peter
  • The teaching in the Coptic Church is very clear regarding divorce. No divorce except for adultery whether it is spiritual as is the case when someone leaves the faith or physical through adding a partner to the marriage.

    In recent times, the last 25 years, things have changed within the Coptic Church regarding abuse within marriage. Each case is studied to find out the cause of such behavior. For example, some cases would call for annulment if the husband is found to be mentally unstable, or there was no consent in the marriage, ...

    I do acknowledge that there are still some clergy, especially in Upper Egypt, who advise the wife to sustain abuse rather than leave the house. Of course this is the result of traditional norms that people are still holding on to. However, if the wife does file a formal complaint, she will be advised to separate if this were the last resort.

  • The trouble with you definition is that it is not clear what 'spiritual adultery' means?

    Someone who beats his wife and turns up at Church is no more Orthodox than someone who decides to leave the Church but has always been kind to his wife. Indeed it is not clear that someone who remains loving but becomes a Roman Catholic is worthy of divorce, while someone who is a hypocrite and violently assaults his wife is not liable to divorce.

    I say this only in respect of the case of 'spiritual adultery' which you referred to.

    A violent and abusive husband has 'left the faith', just as much as someone who has joined the Protestants. Do you not agree? I am not pressing towards any view of whether or not divorce is appropriate but I am asking whether you consider someone who pretends to be Orthodox outwardly while living an evil life to have 'left the faith'.

    Father Peter
  • If indeed the church does recognize some type of spiritual adultery, it is there to allow for circumstances such as the one we are discussing to be a legitimate divorce.

    However, it seems like we fall into a slippery slope if we use the term spiritual adultery. Seemingly any unstable marriage can fall into that category.

    I think the take-away from all of this is that there can be a divorce in situations where no physical adultery occurred. The church has to use its wisdom to decide on these issues case by case. It is similar to the Supreme Court. The church does not set a precedent that allows any trivial dispute to be regarded as reason for divorce but only very serious ones. And to make their decisions legitimate they attach the term "spiritual adultery" to it.

  • Spiritual adultery is very clear in the Coptic Church and I thought earlier posts in this thread clarified it.

    It is when a Coptic Orthodox leaves the faith to be come a Muslim or any other religion that is not Christian (usually we are dealing with Islam)

  • So what is the recourse for the woman who gets beaten by her husband? And imagine this guy as a 'moderate wife-beater' he only beats her when he gets angry. Must she remain with him just because he is still Coptic Orthodox and hasn't cheated on her. Assume that they have tried talking with abouna, etc. and he is unwilling to change. This reminds me of stories I heard about the Jews who would not leave the temple to help a woman as she was being stoned to death just outside.

    *BTW I was being sarcastic with the 'moderate wife-beater' I do not mean to be facetious. All abuse is unacceptable whatsoever.
  • Unworthy1, I also would like to know what the Church wishes us to do with cases of violent and sexual abuse.

    On a social level these are crimes in Western countries. The perpetrator is liable to be arrested and charged as a potential criminal. It seems to me that if the Church does not have a clear policy then we are in danger of falling into the sort of situation which the Roman Catholic finds itself in regard to child abuse. The issue is not that the Roman Catholic Church is riddled with such abuse, all the evidence I have seen shows that it is no worse than any other organisation in terms of percentage of claims and claims verified. But THEY DID NOTHING.

    In our own case, the Church and our Christian community, is never at fault simply because there are incidents of violence, but if it is shown that a woman was badly beaten, injured, even killed, and we had no policy, or the policy was to make the woman suffer such abuse in silence, then we will be liable to public criticism in the West, and will be treated as little better than the Muslim abusers of women we condemn.

    So it does seem important that there are clear policies which are known and followed in the case of violence against members of the Church by their partners. I am not even talking about divorce, which is secondary to ensuring the safety of members of the Church.

    Father Peter
  • But this is where we start adding and changing the traditions and rules of the church. If there was no rule for abuse, then I would think the fathers did not see it as an acceptable reason for divorce. And I am sure abuse was much worse back then since you only spent time with the same person everyday.  I feel like we are slowly bending some rules like the Catholics and eventually we will have homosexuals getting married in our churches... :-\ :-\ :-\
  • Per the Church rules, Abuse is no grounds for divorce.
  • + Irini nem ehmot,

    Not according to H.G. Anba Bola. The Church, in her wisdom, allows for each case for divorce to be brought forward and discussed. If the Bishop of Marriage sees that divorce is the only alternative to resolve the issue, he will grant it. It's called οικονόμια, economia. We are not Pharisees.
  • [quote author=imikhail link=topic=11331.msg136901#msg136901 date=1304124008]
    Per the Church rules, Abuse is no grounds for divorce.

    Maybe it is just me but that is just ridiculous!
  • [quote author=Unworthy1 link=topic=11331.msg136904#msg136904 date=1304125091]
    [quote author=imikhail link=topic=11331.msg136901#msg136901 date=1304124008]
    Per the Church rules, Abuse is no grounds for divorce.

    Maybe it is just me but that is just ridiculous!

    funny....so the belief against abortion...homosexuality and many other things that we wouldn't want to follow as men.
  • If the only thing in the marriage is abuse, divorce will not be granted. Divorce is based on adultery and adultery only.

    No divorce on the grounds of anything except adultery.

    May be it is ridiculous in the eyes of men. However, God does not care about how man views things. An Orthodox Church will follow her Master.

    The last time I checked, the Coptic Church DOES follow her Master. Therefore, she will not grant divorce unless there is a case of adultery.
  • + Irini nem ehmot,

    'Woe to you also, doctors of the law! For ye burden men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers.'

    Read up on ecclesiastical economia. Then come back and make that statement.

    Have you even attended a wedding ceremony? During the ceremony, there is a reading from St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians. In it he says the following, 'Husbands, be loving to your own wives, even as the Christ also loved the Church, and gave Himself up for her...' Now you tell me, a man who abuses his wife, is he imitating Christ? This is a COMMAND, not a suggestion, not a good idea, not an ideal.

    'Woe to you scribes and Pharisees! Hypocrites!'
  • The rules of the Church is that she will not grant divorce except for adultery.

    It is not me who is making the rules and this is not an opinion either. It is the reality.

    Abuse is not grounds for divorce .. adultery is.

    It is not for you to suggest how the Church should operate. I am simply telling you how things are run .. with all due respect, your opinion does not count.

  • + Irini nem ehmot,

    And your skewed views of what the Church teaches (translation: opinion) doesn't matter either. The Church is far wiser than you, and will deal with each couple's individual circumstances as she deems fit. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: WE ARE NOT PHARISEES!
  • The Church does teach and practice that there is no divorce except for adultery.

    This is not an opinion but what the Church practices and teaches..
  • + Irini nem ehmot,

    Just because one says it doesn't make it true, no matter how many times one says it. The Pharisees taught that the Law meant one thing. Christ showed that the Law meant something else entirely. You say the 'church' teaches one thing, the Church of Christ, the Church of Love, Mercy and Economia, teaches something else entirely.

    For the benefit of those here, a little definition of what Church Economia is:

    From OrthodoxWiki:
    Oikonomia (also spelled oikonomeia, economia or economy) literally means "household management," the "law of the house," or "house building," and refers primarily to two related concepts in the Orthodox Church—the divine plan for man's salvation and the specific episcopal application of the canons in the life of the Church. The latter usage is a derivation of the former.

    Oikonomia is one of two ways of observing the Canons of the Church, the other is Akriveia or strict adherence (precision, exactness). Whereas the application of Oikonomia is generally regarded as being a more flexible application or interpretation of the Canons, the application of Akriveia is regarded as being a more precise and strict one. Pastoral Discretion is of key importance in either application.

    From Wikipedia:
    In the Eastern Orthodox, the Greek Catholic Churches and in the teaching of the Church Fathers which undergirds the theology of those Churches, economy or oeconomy (Greek: οικονόμια, economia) has several meanings.[1] The basic meaning of the word is "handling" or "disposition" or "management" of a thing, usually assuming or implying good or prudent handling (as opposed to poor handling) of the matter at hand. In short, economia is discretionary deviation from the letter of the law in order to adhere to the spirit of the law and charity. This is in contrast to legalism, or akribia (Greek: ακριβεια)—strict adherence to the letter of the law of the church.

    As such, the word "economy", and the concept attached to it, are utilized especially with regard to two types of "handling": (a) divine economy, that is, God's "handling" or "management" of the fallen state of the world and of mankind — the arrangements he made in order to bring about man's salvation after the Fall; and (b) what might be termed pastoral economy (or) ecclesiastical economy, that is, the Church's "handling" or "management" of various pastoral and disciplinary questions, problems, and issues that have arisen through the centuries of Church history.
  • Do not insert your interpretation on what the Church practices or teaches.

    It is not a matter of debate or opinions.

    In the Orthodox Church there is:

  • [quote author=imikhail link=topic=11331.msg136914#msg136914 date=1304131037]
    Do not insert your interpretation on what the Church practices or teaches.

    It is not a matter of debate or opinions.

    In the Orthodox Church there is:


    Then explain the cases in which there was no adultery and a divorce was granted. Were these priests or bishops out of line?

    Christ came in part to overthrow this foolish mentality. The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. These laws are there to help us. In allowing a woman to be beaten daily and telling her that she must deal with it, "it is the teaching of the church," the church becomes exactly like the priest and levite who walked over the beaten man.

    The church has a responsibility to its flock and that responsibility comes before the laws. People are more important than keeping the law!

    Certainly Christ would not stand for a woman being beaten daily. To think there is some reason that we do not comprehend for allowing this is just being silly.

    Jesus and his disciples did not wash their hands before eating. He healed on the sabbath. He associated with the outcasts and impure people in society. For what purpose? To show us that God cares about His people and He cannot turn away from those who suffer.

    Time and time again we see throughout the Gospels Christ telling us that the law is for our gain, not our destruction.

    I will repeat: The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.
  • Unworthy1,

    The cases you mention are not divorce cases they are annulment. Read the earlier posts and you will understand.

    Do not take one verse and apply it to all situations. The example you bring up regarding the Sabbath does not mean that Jesus belittled the Sabbath. On the contrary He honored the Sabbath to comfort man. The Jews did not understand the reason behind the Sabbath and created rules beyond God's intention and changed the meaning of the Sabbath.

    Do not force your interpretation on how the Church's teachings. Rather, submit yourself to the Church.

    In the Orthodox Church there is:

  • You can tell a woman who is being beaten by her husband to submit to the church - I will not.
  • Then Do Not Tell Her. 

    Read the earlier posts on this thread.

    In the Orthodox Church there is:


  • It is indeed the case that abuse is not usually grounds for divorce, but it would be appalling and wicked even to tell a woman who was being abused that she must put up with it.

    Again I will say that the Church should have a clear policy as to how it will support women who are being sinned against in this way, and how it will allow a formal status of separation, which is not the same as divorce, to safeguard the woman and her children.

    If there is no policy, and worse, if the policy is that the woman must just put up with abuse, then we deserve to be criticised.

    The main issue it seems to me is not divorce, but how we safeguard the vulnerable members of our congregations and keep them from harm.
  • Fr. Peter I appreciate your input on this.

    I do not, for one minute condone that a woman, or a man, put up with abuse. The issue is that we have to distinguish between divorce separation and annulment. This is why I keep putting the same phrase:

    In the Orthodox Church there is:


    Divorce has a very clear definition within the Church and thus is one of the main dogmatic differences between the Orthodox and other Churches.

    There are ways to deal with abuse in the household. Anba Bola, the bishop responsible for the social cases, is very keen to protecting the abused party and will advise for separation till the situation could be resolved if at all. However, the Church will not grant divorce based on pure abuse, either we like it or not. This is in accordance to the Church teachings.

    I do agree that in the past the Church may have turned the other way and did not deal with the abuse. Things have changed though.

    But I have to repeat it again:

    In the Orthodox Church there is:


  • Define separation. How is it different from divorce?
  • In my opinion a separation would be a formal recognition that the marriage had broken down due to the actions of one party and that the injured party was no longer subject to her abuser as her husband and was free to live separately and free from his abuse.

    But there would still be a formal, sacramental status of being married. Neither party would be free to marry another.

    The status of 'separated' would free the woman from further abuse under the guise of submission to her husband, and would not allow the abusive husband to insist that he could beat or rape or abuse his wife without penalty.

    A divorce says that the marriage has ended and the two parties are not married any more. A separation should be a formal status which exists to protect an abused woman and her family without ending the marriage, and therefore it preserves the hope that the marriage could be healed, even while removing many rights from the abusive husband during the period of the separation. The separation should not be ended without the free consent of the abused party.

    What must be avoided is any sense in which the abusive husband is able to say 'You must come back to me', and the Church says to the abused woman, 'Yes you must go back whatever happens'.

    I know that this has happened, and not only in rural parts of Egypt.

    Father Peter
  • What literally takes place in a separation or divorce? Is it a written declaration? Is there some kind of ritual?
  • I don't think that there is a formally constituted state of 'separation', which ISTM leaves the abused woman in a position of some risk.

    I may well be wrong.

    I am also not sure how the Church formally handles the process of divorce. I do not believe there is a rite. There will, I guess, be a written judgement from the relevant bishop which says 'You are divorced'.
  • [quote author=Unworthy1 link=topic=11331.msg136949#msg136949 date=1304192498]
    What literally takes place in a separation or divorce? Is it a written declaration? Is there some kind of ritual?

    there is none of that. no formal declaration of separation. the parties are simply separated; do not live together, do not depend on each other. but still, legally and with in the Church, married. i thought this is a very clear concept here in the states to. many catholic people do this knowing that they can't get a divorce.
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