By Rev. Fr. Charles Joanides, Ph.D., LMFT
Source: Greek Orthodox Archdiocese
Some of the hardest questions to answer are the simple ones that don’t have a simple answer. For example, in my efforts to gather data for my dissertation I asked religious people to define the terms religion and spirituality. Let me tell you, most respondents had some real difficulty providing feedback. Here’s another example. If you’ve been a parent with little children, you know that they can ask some of the most difficult questions – questions like, “Where do babies come from?” and, “Why are people mean?”
Recently, I was in dialogue with a brother priest regarding the topic of intermarriage, and during the course of our conversation he asked one of these types of questions. Rather frustrated, he said, “We’ve got the research, now what do we do with it?” In hindsight, one way I knew that this was one of those simple questions that doesn’t have a simple answer, is because it momentarily set me back on my heels. However, once I recovered, I asked him if he wanted the short answer or the long answer to this question. He said he just wanted an answer. So, I decided to give him the long answer. Here’s the answer I gave him.
In my efforts to begin developing some useful resources to assist (1) intermarried couples and their families, and (2) clergy and lay workers, I conducted a literature search. This is a fancy way of saying that I identified, and read, what had been written about intermarried couples and their families. What I discovered is that some good work had been done by clergy and lay professionals from a canonical, theological, historical and scriptural perspective.
I also discovered that one key question had never been asked. “What are the lived experiences and challenges that intermarried couples and their families encounter in their efforts to worship in one of the churches in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America?” By the way, if you haven’t guessed, this is another example of one of those simple questions that doesn’t have a simple answer.
Once I discerned that this glaring discrepancy existed, I knew exactly what needed to be done. As a pastor, marriage and family specialist and researcher, I decided that a systematic conceptualization and thick, rich description of intermarried couples and their families was desperately needed. In short, my own lived experiences and advanced training had taught me that you can’t meet people’s needs until they’re identified. And while I had some understanding of how the above question might be answered, I soon learned that what I knew paled in comparison to what emerged from the Interfaith Research Project (IRP).
If you’re interested in reading the results that emerged, I’d recommend that you visit the GOA’s Interfaith marriage Web site at: www.interfaith.goarch.org. Most of the results – in distilled form – are located on this site.
But, this was only the beginning.
I’m not one of those researchers who conducts research for the sake of doing research. I espouse an applied research approach. What this means, is that from the beginning, I was interested in developing useful resources that considered the experiences and challenges that intermarried couples and their families encounter, but not at the expense of our belief system. As a result, a number of what I like to call deliverables emerged from this approach. Here’s a listing and short description of some of the significant ones.
Interfaith Research Project (IRP) Up until recently, there was no empirical evidence to help guide the GOA’s leadership in its efforts to minister to intermarried couples and their families. Today, the Interfaith Marriage Research Project (IRP) has corrected this deficiency. This study has provided the GOA with a much clearer picture of the challenges that inter-Christian, intercultural couples face (1).
A Couples’ Resource A resource for intermarried couples is in its second printing. This work is entitled, When You Intermarry: A Resource for Couples, Parents and Families (2). It offers intermarried couples the following:
- General information about intermarriage
- descriptions and observations from hundreds of intermarried spouses who participated in the Interfaith Research Project (IRP)
- useful information that will identify some of the unique challenges that intermarried couples face as spouses, couples, and parents
- useful coping strategies that have proven to facilitate marital satisfaction and family well-being in the individual, marital and family lives of hundreds of intermarried spouses
- premarital preparation materials written for couples intending to intermarry
- pastoral guidelines to clarify the Greek Orthodox Church’s rules as they apply to intermarried couples
Resource for Clergy and Lay Leaders A companion manual for clergy and lay workers has been in print since November, 2003. The title of this book is, Ministering to Intermarried Couples: A Resource for Clergy and Lay Workers. This book is designed to encourage qualitatively different thinking with regards to the intermarriage challenge facing the GOA. In an effort to accomplish this objective, the information in this manual will answer the following questions:
- Why is the Archdiocese concerned with intermarriages?
- On a local level, why should we be concerned with intermarriages?
- What unique challenges do intermarried couples experience over the marital life cycle?
- What are the salient social and ecological challenges that intermarried couples face?
- What are some examples of programs and approaches that can be utilized to minister more effectively to intermarried couples?
- What are some suggestions and guidelines that can help clergy during the premarital preparation process with perspective inter-Christian and intercultural couples?
Interfaith Marriage Web Site An Interfaith Marriage Web site has been up and running for several years. It is now one of the leading sites dealing with intermarriage issues on the World Wide Web. This site has proven to be an important source of information for thousands of interested individuals. On the basis of the regular feedback I receive, this Web site has facilitated positive change in the lives of countless intermarried spouses, couples, parents and their families around the world. A retooled version of this site appeared in the summer of 2003.
Interfaith Marriage Chat Rooms Over 600 Q&As from two presently inactive chat rooms are available on the Interfaith Marriage Web site. These responses provide a rich source of information related to commonly asked intermarriage questions.
Confidential E-mail E-mail of a personal nature is received and answered on a regular basis by me. Most of this mail contains pastoral issues of a semi-therapeutic nature. Some of this mail is also concerned with the Orthodox Church’s position regarding inter-Church and interfaith marriages. A sizable number of messages have recently concerned themselves with the subject of interreligious marriage. I utilize several consultants to assist me in drafting answers.
Orthodox Observer Regular submissions on the subject of inter-Christian and intercultural marriage appear in the Orthodox Observer.
Articles, Videos, Radio Programs and Interviews I have written articles for Praxis, and The Annual Resource Companion (two publications produced by the Religious Education Department). Two videos addressing the intermarriage challenge in the GOA are currently available through the Religious Education Department. On three separate occasions, I have also been a guest speaker on Come Receive the Light, a radio program that Father Chris Metropulos produces out of Ft. Lauderdale, FL. This radio program is heard throughout the GOA. I have been interviewed by several newspapers and magazines regarding this ongoing work.
Peer Review Journal Articles I havewritten and published several articles for academic publications and peer review journals. The references appear below.
Joanides, C., Joanning, H., & Keoughan, P. (2000). Toward an understanding of religious people’s perceptions and lived experiences of religion and spirituality: Implications for marriage and family therapists. Journal of Family Social Work, 3, 79-97.
Patsavos, L., & Joanides, C. (2000). Interchurch marriages: An Orthodox perspective. International Academy for Marital Spirituality Review. 2, 215-223.
Patsavos, L., & Joanides, C. (2000). Interchurch marriages: An Orthodox perspective. The Greek Orthodox Theological Review. 45, 433-442..
Joanides, C., Mayhew, M. & Mamalakis, P. (2002). Investigating inter-Christian and intercultural couples associated with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America: A qualitative research project . American Journal of Family Therapy, 30, 373-383..
Joanides, C. (2003). A Systematic Conceptualization of Intermarriages In the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. In A. Vrame. Parish in America: Faithfulness to the Past and Responsibility for the Future.(pp. 199-208). Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Press.
Joanides, C. (in press) A social ecological developmental cybernetics of cybernetics grounded theory of intermarried couples in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. International Academy for Marital Spirituality Review.
Couple’s Day Out Workshop I conduct daylong workshops for couples preparing for marriage as well as for married couples. Some of the subjects I address are as follows: (a) why marriages succeed or fail, (b) effective communication techniques, (c) what’s your arguing style, (d) myths about divorce, (e) attributes of a Christ-centered marriage, (f) how our faith helps our marriage, (g) balancing strategies that work, and (h) intermarried challenges.
Since September of 2003 I have conducted these workshops in the following locations.
- Holy Cross School of Theology
- Elkins Park , PA ( Annunciation Church)
- Newburgh , NY (St. Nicholas)
- Hartford , CT ( St. George Cathedral)
- Flemington , NJ (Greek Orthodox Church)
- Wheeling , WV (St. John the Divine Church)
- Springfield , MA ( St. George Cathedral)
- Metropolis of Boston
Attending to Your Marriage. I am in the process of writing my third book. This self-help book will be written for all engaged and married couples. Chapters devoted to the following issues will be addressed: (1) conflict resolution, (2) communication (3) problem-solving strategies, (4) underlying issues, (5) marital life cycle issues, (6) myths related to divorce, (7) remarriage, (8) finding a professional couples therapist, (9) intermarriage, and (10) marriage from a Christian and Orthodox perspective.
Goals Over the Next Two Years
- Orthodox Observer Articles
- The continued development and dissemination of resource materials for clergy and laity will be a major thrust for the next two years.
- Completion of the marriage resource
- Development of two academic articles
- Collaborate with the Department of Religious Education (DRE) as it seeks to construct a curriculum for adolescents and young adults
- Collaborate with the Department of Outreach and Evangelism
- Refinement of the Marriage Building Workshop
- Refinement of a Premarital Preparation Seminar
- Development of a regular segment for Come Receive the Light Radio Program
Interfaith Marriage Web site(3) The Interfaith Marriage Web site has proven to be a very effective outreach tool. For this reason, the continued improvement of this Web site will remain a priority. In particular, additional sub topics will be added to address current needs.
Presentations, Lectures and Workshops I will continue to develop and conduct marital enhancement workshops for spouses, parents and couples across the GOA. These workshops contain a component designed to meet the needs of intermarried couples and spouses.
Collaboration With Other Archdiocesan Departments I will continue to work together with other departments and institutions in the Archdiocese. Particularly, more collaboration will be cultivated between the departments of, Religious Education, Out Reach and Evangelism and Youth and Young Adult Ministries.
Longitudinal Study In collaboration with SES Research, I am developing a research study that will follow a panel of couples through the marital life cycle. This research should give us a clearer picture of how intermarriage impacts couples, families and children’s religious and spiritual well-being. The research will be done at no cost to the GOA, since SES’s services are donated to this ministry.
Attending to Your Marriage The divorce rate is very high. In response, many clergy and lay people have asked me to develop a resource that can be used for premarital and marital enhancement. To that end, I am in the process of writing a third resource. The tentative title of this resource is, Attending to your Marriage. This resource will meet the needs of (a) intermarried couples, and (b) intra-Orthodox couples.
There is no doubt that the intermarriage challenge is more than just a passing trend. It’s here to stay. Moreover, I’ve come to believe that the religious and spiritual health and well-being of intermarried couples and their families is interrelated with the GOA’s continued growth and holy vision.
So, has the work which emerged from the initial research begun to answer some questions and meet some needs? From the daily feedback that I receive from across the GOA, I believe that it has. But there is still a great deal more that needs to be done. There are many questions that remain unanswered, and many needs that require prayerful, careful examination. Moreover, I believe that the deliverables that have emerged to date can enhance clergy and lay leaders’ efforts to reach out more effectively to the intermarried couples and their families.
(1) For more information about the IRP, please consult Father Charles Joanides or log onto the Interfaith Marriage Web site at www.interfaith.goarch.org.
(2) Joanides, C (2002). When you intermarry: A resource for couples, parents and families. New York, NY: Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
(3) The address of the Interfaith Marriage Web site is www.interfaith.goarch.org.