A celibate priest cannot marry after ordination, and a non-celibate priest cannot remarry and remain a priest, even if his wife dies, according to Orthodox norms. However, many priests in the United States who are not bound by this rule continue to act as married men despite their situation, possibly causing some confusion for their families and parish communities.
Priests are called to live by faith in Christ alone and thus must avoid marriage. If a priest finds himself or herself in a marital relationship, he or she should resign from the clergy immediately so as not to harm any family obligations. Priests who do not comply with this requirement are considered divorced by the church, which can affect their ability to receive Holy Communion.
An exception to this rule is made for men who are ill or injured and cannot work. In these cases, a priest may be married to assist him or her in maintaining a household during this time. However, such priests are expected to live as unencumbered as possible while still fulfilling their responsibilities as pastors.
Overall, an Orthodox priest cannot marry but is expected to lead a chaste life otherwise. There are cases where married priests have been allowed by local bishops, but they are rare.
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America similarly suffers a priest shortage in the face of an increasing population. Although there are some exceptions to this rule, generally speaking priests are not permitted to marry.
However, many priests in fact live with their wives and families. Many women who marry within the church find themselves married to two people, one being their spouse and another being their priest. Often, these women have no idea they're living in such a way until they meet other Christians who have been through the same thing.
Because marriage is considered by Orthodox Christians to be a sacrament, or sacred covenant between Christ and His Church, marrying Christians cannot be ordained as priests. However, that does not mean they cannot be priests in all other respects; often they perform all sacramental duties with ease due to years of experience and training.
In addition to being able to marry others while still a priest, some bishops may also allow married men to become priests. However, once a bishop makes this decision it can never be reversed, and the man will be forced out of the priesthood if he tries to find another parish that would accept him.
Priests are always male; there are no female priests in the Orthodox Church.
Prior to ordination, priests may marry, but not after. If their husband dies, they are not permitted to remarry. Bishops are also chosen from the ranks of the celibate clergy. The great majority of Roman Catholics, however, adhere to the Western or Latin Rite. It is this group that includes most European countries as well as the United States.
The Eastern or Byzantine Rite predominates in Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, and a few other countries. The Russian Orthodox Church has established several churches within the United States. In addition, there are many American-born Christians of Greek descent who follow a hybrid form of Catholicism that includes elements of both rites. They include some priests who are married but not bishops, and some nuns who are widows but not virgins.
In addition to being unmarried and without children, celibacy is required of men seeking election to the priesthood in the Eastern Rites. However, several Eastern Catholic patriarchs are married men with families. There are also married male priests in the Eastern Catholic Churches, but they are extremely rare.
In the West, marriage is not only accepted but encouraged among priests. Although bishops cannot be married, many priestly assignments are designated "bishop of X" where "X" is a married man's first name. This arrangement is called an "administrative marriage" and does not affect the bishop's power or status.
Celibacy is the norm for bishops in the Eastern Orthodox Church and Oriental Orthodoxy; married men may be called to the priesthood, but even married priests whose spouses predecease them are not allowed to marry after ordination. In some cases, widowers who have not married again are granted permission to marry, either by their bishop or by a presbyteriate council. The rules are different in Catholicism and Protestantism where only celibacy is required of clergy.
The earliest evidence that some Christians were married priests comes from Egypt about 300 A.D. They were members of a church that later became known as the Coptic Orthodox Church. There are still married priests in this church today.
In the Byzantine Empire, which included modern-day Greece, Turkey, and Russia, there were two main groups of monks: those who lived in monasteries owned by churches (Eastern Orthodox monks) and those who lived in monasteries owned by princes or other secular rulers (Western monks). During the 11th century, many Greek monks came to Greece's Asia Minor peninsula to establish new monasteries. Some married priests were among these monks and they played an important role in the spread of Christianity in Greece.
In the Russian Orthodox Church, monks can be married men who have taken a vow of chastity.