Orthodoxy and Homosexuality
I have just finished writing a short piece on Orthodox Ministry and Homosexuality. Could people please read it and tell me what they think.
It was in response to a discussion two friends of mine (One Catechumen who is struggling with banacing faith and acceptance and one Romanian Seminarian who is vry strict in his views) had. the discussion came to verbal violence so I decided to write on it and put forward a third view.
Here it is:
Orthodox Ministry and Homosexuality.
To talk of the Church Fathers and Homosexuality is an obvious point of contention in the modern world, it causes our secular sensitivities and our wishes to be a boulder against the diluting of our faith to be at odds with each other. As in recent weeks I have witnessed a growing debate in this field via Tumblr, Facebook and other forms of social networking, some of which have resulted in Orthodox Christian brothers heedlessly attacking one another and even the blessed saints who they claim to venerate.
Those who sin without meaning to not only repent with all their heart, but also do not often have cause to repent. ~ Ilias the Presbyter
Rev Dr Stanley Harakas, in his discussion of Orthodox Christianity and Controversial Issues, stated simply that “The Orthodox Church believes that the act of homosexuality is a sin.” To be blunt and honest on the matter, this has been the Church teaching at the times of the Holy Apostles and it has remained so today. The Church cannot support or condone any form of Sexual Immorality and therefore in no case can it condone the Sexual union of two members of the same gender. Although this issue is hotly contested in modern secular thought, the Church does not change the Laws of God or Moral life for the sake of the sinner, the sinner must change for the sake of his or her salvation in Christ.
This view is also echoed in the Oriental Orthodox Tradition as Fr. Mikhail Mikhail demonstrates in his essay ‘Introduction and Conclusion of The Coptic Orthodox Church's View on Homosexuality’ when he bluntly states that “A Christian person is one who basically seeks to obey the word of God. A homosexual is deceiving himself if he thinks he can practice the lifestyle and still go to heaven.” This does not mean that the Church should hate Homosexuals though, we are never taught to hate someone because they fall into sin. We have a distinct role in the world, this is to love others as Christ taught.
“Christ, the Church, and the Sacraments."
The recognition of Sin in this lifestyle does not mean that the Church should not show love to those who struggle with Homosexuality. We are all worthless sinners and all called to repentance of our sins, so who are we to deny others the same. In Church history there have been many instances in which those struggling with Homosexual urges have, with great strength of will, overcome Sin and in modern Orthodox ministry, this view is commonly seen. Rev Dr Stanley Harakas states that “In full confidentiality the Orthodox Church cares and provides pastorally for homosexuals in the belief that no sinner who has failed himself and God should be allowed to deteriorate morally and spiritually.”
In his book 'One Flew Over the Onion Dome,' Fr Joseph David Huneycutt tells of an experience in this field which is highly enlightening. He states that "a priest once told of a man who came to see him about becoming Orthodox. The priest said, "Okay, we'll need to discuss who Christ is, the Church, the Sacraments..." The man interrupted him saying, "I'm gay." The priest said, "Okay. But if you want to become Orthodox, we'll need to discuss who Christ is, the Church, the Sacraments..." "Dammit! Didn't you hear me? I said I'm gay!" "I heard you," said the priest, "but if you want to become Orthodox, we'll need to talk about who Christ is, the Church, the Sacraments." Crying, the man told the priest that other pastors had either told him it didn't matter, or to get out! It took the man a couple of years to become Orthodox, but another ten years to become celibate. He claims he would never have made it without the benefit of Christ, the Church, and the Sacraments."
Fr Joseph’s example here shows a distinct trait which we see in the Orthodox Church of an Emphasis on reconciliation. This approach is also seen in our Sacrament of Holy Confession, where there is a stress of reconciliation for your sin over the cliché “100 Hail Marys!” of the Western Churches. I will develop this point as we progress.
“Let my prayer be right, like incense before You.” - A Romanian Hymn
The approach that we should help sinners rather than shun or punish them is as old as the Church itself; this is why we commonly see the suggestion of denial of Holy Communion amongst certain groups as soldiers and adulterers amid the Church Fathers instead of outright excommunication. The unwilled sins (Sins you commit with little control) have always been something which the Church has worked for, people will always suffer these without recognition or remorse and from the teachings of our Fathers in the desert we see that the demons torment even the most holy and stalwart in the faith.
Archbishop Lazar of Holy Transfiguration Monastery bravely tackles the difference between these two reactions to sin when he stated that “Moral grief is an expression of co-suffering love. Not howling, shrieking, screaming, waving arms and dancing around a stage, spewing hate and malice, as if in the name of God.” I read this in complete agreement and as much as I would love to hear him and shout “Yeah! You tell them!” I approach the quote with a sorrowful heart for those times in which I have been the one howling, shrieking, screaming, waving arms and dancing around a stage.
So the problem here in our awareness of the sin is how to balance our acceptance of the person and cater for their needs without compromising our own spiritual life, after all, to show a silent consent to something is commonly akin to accepting it as agreeable.
“I, however, who am a man of weakness, fear temptation." - Abba Ammoun
Going back to the first sentence of this piece I stated that current political and social attitudes on homosexuality have polarised and left people on either the side which holds the label “the religious right” or “the secular left” and expecting us who are tragically pitted with and claimed to be supporters of the likes of the WBC and other nutcases to hate both the sin and sinner. Fr Thomas Hopko explains this issue in his important piece ‘The Homosexual Christian’. He explains how:
“The homosexual Christian is called to a particularly rigorous battle. His or her struggle is an especially ferocious one. It is not made any easier by the mindless, truly demonic hatred of those who despise and ridicule those who carry this painful and burdensome cross; nor by the mindless, equally demonic affirmation of homosexual activity by its misguided advocates and enablers.”
Fortunately Fr Thomas also explains that the key to this is to seek guidance from the community, declaring that for one who actively fights these urges, the community will give strength and hope, as we are all part of a community of sinners called to repentance. Even in the Earliest Church, during Christ’s mission we see people struggling with lustful desires. St Mary Magdalene is a perfect example, as a former prostitute she was able to come from living for the flesh and defiling herself to serving the Lord even to his death. Tertullian also reminds us that “To all sins, then, committed whether by flesh or spirit, whether by deed or will, the same God who has destined penalty by means of judgment has withal engaged to grant pardon by means of repentance.” (On Repentance, ch.4) So in the same way that Mary Magdalene repented and was saved, one who struggles with the sin of Homosexuality is to be given the same treatment as someone struggling with laziness, pride, gluttony or even simple addiction to online social networks.
“They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Mark 2:17)
So, what is the role of the Church in this matter? We have heard the Church’s outright condemnation of Homosexuality as a lifestyle as well as the view that we should be helping those that struggle with these feelings. This is not as polarised as one would expect since it is our very condemnation of sin that preserves for us the role of helping the sinner.
German Sociology Erich Fromm said that “There is perhaps no phenomenon which contains so much destructive feeling as moral indignation, which permits envy or to be acted out under the guise of virtue” and the Orthodox worldview agrees. Our Desert Fathers saw humility in the face of sinners as a key aspect of Salvation. This is echoed throughout the ages and, from the Desert Fathers, reached the ears of the monastics of Greece, Russia, Western Europe and even the USA. Saint John Kronstadt once said that you should “acknowledge yourself to be the greatest of sinners, not just out of humility, but truthfully” as none of us have a right to cast the first stone, all being sinners.
This is the key point and the best to conclude on. We, the Fathers, The Church and many others see Homosexuality as a great sin. It is condemned in both Old and New Testaments, the Didache and the writings of many Church fathers but the condemnation of the struggling sinner is not. Like the Thief on the Cross, someone struggling with homosexuality is called to repent and like the adulteress in the Gospels, Christ reminds us not to judge but to call those that struggle to his care.
As Saint Makarios of Egypt said “To attain the full measure of virtue we need to possess faith and love, and to struggle to exercise our free will with integrity.” We should never see another sinner and deny him this measure. He may commit sins of a measure which disgraces us, e may struggle with the greatest demons and he may even be unrepentant but we must pray for his salvation and clarity for we are all sinners seeking God.
"The true Christian is a warrior making his way through the regiments of the invisible enemy to his heavenly homeland." - St Herman of Alaska.