Q&A: Can I Divorce and Become a Monk?

We have received an email from someone which goes as follows:


I was just wondering if you could give me your opinion on a question about entering into the monastic life.

If one was married in the past and had a child, and now the two are divorced and she re-married and he has not can he enter the monastic life? Become a monk?

Thanks for your time! God Bless you!"

Here is our understanding of the matter.

We assume that you live in the United States. You are subject to U.S. civil and criminal law as a citizen of the state in which you live. Hence, whatever you do religiously, you are subject to the civil and criminal laws of your jurisdiction. The matter is the same, with the necessary changes, for whatever legal jurisdiction you live in.

Assuming that there is no impediment in regard to civil or criminal law—for example a court order concerning child support or some other matter—then according to the tradition of the Orthodox Church and Orthodox canon law (as far as we know; we are not an expert in Orthodox canon law), there is no impediment to your becoming a monk having been once married, having fathered a child and then having been divorced.

However, the question would arise of the status of your marriage in the eyes of the Orthodox Church. This is especially true if you originally married in the Orthodox Church but obtained a civil divorce. Historically, the Orthodox Church has treated the monastic tonsure as dissolving an existent marriage, and without the consent of the spouse, but it is doubtful whether today any Orthodox jurisdiction would apply this principle without an investigation of the particular situation. This is a matter you would have to discuss with the senior members of the Orthodox jurisdiction to which you presently belong.

There is also the question of the welfare of the child—whether you have any legal or spiritual responsibility that would interfere with your becoming a monk in a particular monastery. This is again something you would have to discuss with the senior members of your Orthodox jurisdiction.

The next problem is that to become a monk in the Orthodox Church, you have to become a monk in a specific monastery–there is no such thing as an Orthodox monk of nowhere in particular. But that means that the superior of the monastery and possibly the council of senior monks of the monastery would have to be satisfied with your bona fides. They would make their own assessment of you and your marital history. Normally, a monastery is not obliged to accept any particular postulant so this will be an assessment independent of whatever the senior members of your jurisdiction decide. However, if the senior members of your jurisdiction have decided that you have an impediment then the monastery would normally acquiesce and refuse you. This phase of personal assessment will vary from monastery to monastery and jurisdiction to jurisdiction and country to country. We could only suggest that you discuss the matter with the superior of the monastery which you are interested in entering.

Finally, both the senior members of your Orthodox jurisdiction and the monastic superior together with the senior members of the monastery will want to assess the significance of your marital history for your personal psychological and spiritual condition with regard to the possibility of your entering the monastic life and of remaining in that state until death. There is no dispensation from vows in the Orthodox Church.

Hence, there is no theoretical impediment to your becoming a monk per se, but both the ruling bishop and the monastic superior would have to judge the merits of your particular case before you could receive permission.

Source: https://orthodoxmonk.blogspot.com/2008/12/can-divorced-man-become-orthodox-monk.html