Sex and the Moral Imagination

resurrectioniconAs the day draws near for the US Supreme Court to insist on nationwide approval for gay marriage, a watershed in modern thought has been reached. For although the Supreme Court is not the arbiter of morality, its decisions generally signal a deep level of cultural acceptance. Of course, in American practice, the court represents the apex of legal/forensic imagination. Its decision will signal the bankruptcy of the forensic model for continuing Christian thought. When questions of sexual behavior are placed before the legal model, Christians are simply unable to make a persuasive case for much of anything. It is at least true, that the culture has become completely deaf to the sounds of Christian thought spoken in legal grammar.

Of course, the consequences of this will likely be long-lasting. For it is Christianity, in a certain form, that taught the culture to think with a legal imagination. Therefore, it’s not likely that the culture will listen to gainsaying Christians on the topic, regardless of how they frame the conversation. And the consequences reach far beyond sexual matters.

The same legal imagination seems increasingly mute in the face of other pressing questions: euthanasia, abortion, gender management, genetic manipulation and conception, etc. We are quickly reaching a place where the will to act becomes the right to act.

For the Church, the most immediate question is not how to regain a culture that it has now lost, but how to speak to the Church whose members have been nurtured in a failed legal/forensic imagination. For what seems obvious to the Supreme Court will likely seem obvious to teenage Christians as well (and many others). Christians are hardly counter-cultural revolutionaries (despite all of our protests to the contrary). The culture in which we live is, whether we want to admit it or not, of our own making.

Sexual morality and other related social issues have been addressed in a moral framework that is essentially forensic, grounded either within a legal reading of Scripture or in natural law. Scripture no longer holds a place of central authority within Western culture and natural law arguments have been lost in a constant battle of science and counter-science. Everything seems to have been swallowed by a popular acceptance of radical Nominalism: anything can be whatever we want it to be. The wanting is the thing.

But sexual relationships (and all relationships) lose the possibility of well-being in a world where whatever we want is, in fact, the case. For relationship is inherently about the Other, and if the Other is simply what I want, then the Other serves only as an extension of the ego. 

When Christ speaks about marriage, He pointedly moves past the arrangements of the Mosaic Law and reverts to Genesis: “From the beginning it was not so…” (Matt. 19:8). He elevates the creation story to the controlling position. It is there that we most clearly see the role of the Other. They are male and female, specifically like and unlike one another. And the man without the woman is “not good.” Rather, he is “alone.”

But this also becomes the ground of union, that state of being that best describes salvation. “She is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” The complementarity is not simply opposition, ego on ego, but a unique ontological relationship admitting of union without the loss of otherness. It is, in its complete expression, the model of personhood.

And this is the “union” that the Church blesses in the sacrament of marriage. It is not simply two people, but male and female, in a union that is possible on every level. Biology is not made inferior to psychology. The modern project has reduced sexual existence to mere identity, a vehicle for the ego. Ovum and sperm have been objectified, becoming simple biological materials to be manipulated in a lab.

According to Christian understanding, in human existence, the personal is also capable of bearing the tragic, ground that is foreign to Modernity, its eradication being the goal of every Modern project. Boundaries are tragic for the ego – they say “no” to its unfettered demands. The “tragic” is viewed as any undesirable event or result in Modernity. It is viewed as suffering and is to be avoided, controlled and minimized.

Classical Christianity understands that the Cross is the way of life and that its paradox turns the tragic inside-out. For the Cross is not an unfortunate requirement, something God is forced to do in order to rescue sinful man. The tragedy of the Cross is also the pattern of healing, wholeness, well-being and eternal life. It is the revelation of true personhood.

All of the arguments regarding new definitions of marriage, aggressive reproductive technologies, gender re-definitions, etc., are made within a model that views any and all suffering as both tragic, needless and unacceptable if at all possible of alleviation. Such a line of reasoning was inevitably on a collision course with an ethic originally rooted in the Cross. The Christian view of personhood is an invitation to voluntary suffering and self-sacrifice. Nothing could be less modern.

The Church’s sacramental life exists solely for the purpose of salvation. It does not exist to bless or facilitate the interests of the State (or of the ego). The sexual models that are finding approval within the culture (and by the State) are not in accordance with the path of personhood revealed in the Christian Tradition. There are and will be many varying models of Christianity that will agree to serve the self-defined interests of the State. But these represent “another gospel,” a radical rejection and re-imagining of the Christian Tradition.

In public conversations, the traditional account of Christianity is going to come up short: the Modern promise of no suffering will always get more votes than the tragedy of the Cross. But the Cross must first be re-preached to the Christian people – they have listened long and well to Modern promises and have, to a large extent, modified their own understanding of the gospel in its light.

The irony, of course, is that the Modern drive in the name of compassion and the alleviation of suffering, is something that was first taught by the Church. And now the Church will seem to be arguing against it. Of course, the supreme irony is the Cross itself, which has always seemed like foolishness and weakness, and will continue to be despised by the builders of our Brave New World.

252 comments:

  1. May we stand firm on God and the Cross…
    It strikes me that the “radical Nominalism” of “We are quickly reaching a place where the will to act becomes the right to act”, and “anything can be whatever we want it to be. The wanting is the thing”, is disguised Satanism. It is identical to the pure, unequivocal Satanism of Aleister Crowley’s unbridled, “Thelemic” (Thelema is his word choice!) law of all laws “do what thou wilt”.
    (even though his ‘religion’ has at times been presented in sheep’s clothes -for the very naive)
    The modern (neo-epicurean to be precise) promise of no suffering truly has used Christian compassion to fight the Cross – exactly as the devil used God’s word to deceive Man from the start. (Gen 3:1)
    But the mightiest weapon of a Christian – the most practically effective – is still to keep one’s mind firmly on God, instead of starting this conversation (under any pretext) that the devil knows will lead the mind to where it will have the possibility of being deceived…

  2. Like the legal grammar to which our culture has become deaf, so likewise the natural law model has no purchase. But perhaps it is a good thing.

    Natural law is convenient – a compelling case for the Gospel is unnecessary.
    As you say, “the culture in which we live is, whether we want to admit it or not, of our own making.” And so here we are, the gig is up.

  3. Fr. Stephen,
    Thank you for your thoughts on this, I always find them thought provoking. For the sake of full disclosure, I am a Presbyterian pastor–PC(USA) variety–so I suppose my tradition is one of those that could be accused of a “radical rejection and re-imagining of the Christian Tradition.”

    I am not at all trying to provoke you, so please forgive me if I cause offense, it is not my intent. I hope that I can articulate my wrestling articulately.

    I certainly would not dispute the centrality of the cross, and I do not know any of my fellow Presbyterian pastors who would. It seems to me that there is no tension between Christian compassion and the cross, certainly no ultimate irony between the interaction of the two in our culture. I say this because I do not see a simple correlation between “suffering” and the cross.

    What does it mean to take up one’s cross? I do not see a simple answer to this. Does not Christian compassion mean that the cross the church is called to bear is the burden of a brother or sister? The suffering that Jesus took up upon the cross was not his suffering, but ours. He experienced it as his own, of course, but it was ours. The cross is love taking up the suffering of another. If this is correct, asking a brother or sister to carry their suffering is not the same as asking them to carry their cross. Rather, it is the church who is called to carry their suffering by bearing their burden. It seems to me that carrying the cross is a profoundly communal calling. There is a point at which asking another to carry their own cross in the form of their own suffering is the very antithesis of our Christian call to take up the cross.

    It seems to me that one of the church’s tasks is to discern where the cross is in a given situation so that the body of Christ may bear it. After all, in any given situation the cross can be identified in more than one “location.”

    I will refrain from applying this to same-sex marriage, because this is already long enough and because I believe the question of same-sex marriage is actually a ball of questions that has yet to be straightened out.

    I would appreciate you feedback. If I am mistaken somewhere, I am certainly willing to be corrected.

    Grace and peace to you!

  4. Jonathan,
    You (one-sidedly) only described one of many ‘crosses’ in your comment…
    There’s also the outward cross of the trials and tribulations of life, the inward cross of the struggle against the passions, the cross of our devotion to the will of God -ultimately offering ourselves up as a sacrifice to God…

    The knowledge of the cross is concealed in the sufferings of the cross. And the more our participation in its sufferings, the greater the perception we gain through the cross. (St. Isaac of Syria)

    As St Anatoly of Optina once wrote, the holy Fathers relate that when the thief of the Gospel, too, came to the gates of the Kingdom, the Archangel with the flaming sword wanted to chase him away, but he showed him the Cross. Immediately the fire-bearing Archangel himself withdrew and permitted the thief to enter. Understand here not the wooden cross. Nor a cross of bearing the burden of another… But which? The Cross in which the chief Apostle Paul boasts and concerning which he writes, ‘I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus (Gal. 6:17).’

  5. In a very real sense it is our capacity for suffering (yes, the “general” type of suffering) that makes us “save-able”.
    We couldn’t deny that God’s grace is in proportion to the burden (placed on us by our brother or sister) that we can bear, never. But the Cross as the transcendence of all suffering is the raison d’être (and “exoneration” in this world) of our Faith.

  6. Jonathan,
    I rather imagined that my presentation of the Cross in this article would occasion a response as yours – and I welcome it. The reason is that the Cross easily becomes a cipher – a symbol liable to much interpretation and reinterpretation. It is why I observed that there will be many Christians who will take on the culture’s service and render the Cross of use. As such, Christianity becomes (and is for most Christians) a bit of a moving target.

    The is clearly something that Tradition alone provides – a stable target – the union with God taught by the Fathers that is the doctrine of Christ. The parameters of the Christian life – including in the Church’s ample teaching on human sexuality – (I say, “ample,” in that the fullness of Orthodox tradition is quite eloquent in the matter – far more so than the West) – but those parameters describe certain boundaries for us – and set the scene for certain tragedies.

    The members of the Church must absolutely share in the burden of the Cross of their brothers and sisters. That indeed is love. And there are certainly unique elements in every life, viz. the Cross. The Cross of same-sex attraction has been well-known, documented and discussed for the better part of the Church’s existence. The Desert Fathers and the lives of the saints are rather matter-of-fact about it, with far more tolerance than many Modern’s might expect. And those are only a minor part of the elements of the Cross that must be borne.

    In truth, Orthodoxy has a lot to say about sex even within marriage, in the fullness of the canonical tradition. Like the eating of food, it is surrounded with ascetical understanding. There is no Orthodox Christianity without asceticism. That cannot be said of Modern forms of Christianity. And it is a modern weakness.

    The Way of salvation is an ascetical path, to be followed in some manner by every Christian. The fact that ascetical Christianity is foreign to most Modern Christians (or “exotic”) is a commentary on how estranged modern forms of Christianity have become from the faith of Christ.

    With that in mind, I suppose I see this article as a call to the faithful to remember who they are and the path they are to walk. The Cross in each life is not simply those things that fail to agree with the average middle-class American secular life (“how tragic!”). I have here suggested that personal existence is itself inherently tragic and only rightly lived in the manner of the Cross. The modern existence is, in fact, not a true existence at all but an enslavement to the ego, a life that continues in its marriage to this culture of death.

    Thus, I would say that there is a need to discern that the Cross is the nature of every situation. The Cross is the only true existence – and so it is called the Way of Life.

    I recommend the writings of the Elder Sophrony.

  7. Fr. Freeman,
    Thank you for your words. I am grateful for the wisdom you offer on this blog.

    You write “The modern project has reduced sexual existence to mere identity, a vehicle for the ego?”

    How do we as Christians engage in respectful conversations with the lgbtq community if we have a different understanding of reality, and disagree on the language used to describe reality? For example, we acknowledge a person when he says ‘I am gay.’ But is there an ontological reality behind a person’s orientation and sexual desires that qualifies it as an identity? What if we even disagree at that level? How do you respect the language that a community (and a society) provides while disagreeing with it’s ability to describe your own understanding of reality?

    Thank you.

  8. Forgive me. I meant to end your quote with a period, not a question mark. Unfortunate typos can alter the tone – I just wanted to clarify.

  9. Fr. Stephen and Dino,

    Thank you for your responses.

    Dino, I admit I did present only one side of what it means to bear one’s cross. I wanted to highlight a particular aspect of the cross, one that I would say is primary.

    My concern is a quick correspondence between suffering and bearing one’s cross. I do not deny that there are many senses in which we bear the cross, but I would suggest that there is always a pastorally sensitive–and thus a matter of spiritual discernment–dimension to other “modes” of bearing the cross.

    From my perspective, the cross is, primarily, the cross Christ bore on our behalf. The cross is also, derivatively, the cross the church bears as the body of Christ for the sake of her individual members and the world. This emphasizes the sacramental nature of the church and our mystical union with Christ. This is why I would say that the primary mode for thinking about what it means for a disciple to bear their cross is bearing the cross of their brother or sister. This is sacramental participation in bearing Christ’s cross.

    I will have to think a good deal more about Dino’s reference to St. Anatoly of Optina. I do not know the broader context of the comments, but based upon the reference I would say there is agreement with what I am presenting here (only to a point I am sure).

    Fr. Stephen, I am not familiar with Elder Sophrony. Do you have a particular suggestion as regards a place to begin with his writings?

    Also, Fr. Stephen, I do think that some of the distance between our views has to do with different understandings of Tradition. I admit I have a hard time with Orthodox explanations of Tradition as I understand them. To say that I value tradition would be an understatement, because of its implicit pneumatology, but I do not know how to appeal to tradition as a stable referent within the life of the church catholic. I do try to take seriously the witness of the Spirit in the life of the church through the ages. I know that there is a great deal of hubris within mainline traditions, but not all of us fall for a cheap arrogant commitment to modernity. (I do not hear you suggesting this.) And I would also suggest that what motivates most mainline pastors is not an intentional commitment to the modern project but a desire to bear witness to Christ’s love and grace.

    I think we would both agree that sexuality is an idol within our culture. This is true for “heterosexuals” every bit as much as it is true for “homosexuals.” (To be clear, I reject identity politics of every sort as idolatry.) I think we would also both agree that we all swim within our culture to varying degrees, and that one of the church’s great tasks is to help the baptized embrace a Christian vision for human sexuality.

    I guess I am trying to highlight the problems I see with quick associations between suffering and bearing the cross. There is a type of suffering that is bearing the cross, and their is a type of suffering that is not redemptive in any way. Said another way, there is a suffering that matures, and there is a suffering that crushes. The church must, I believe, attempt to be clear about this distinction. This is a pastoral task.

    Again, thank you both for your comments. I have a number of questions around these realities, and I do appreciate being pushed and challenged. I am not convinced by any means that I am right. My comfort is that Christ is Lord of the church and he will complete the work he has begun in each of us. Thanks be to God!

  10. Father Stephen,
    Wes’s is a good -and practical- question. I would also like applicative counsel in the matter, since our engagement with that particular slant of “worldliness” seems potentially more poignant than what’s customary.
    They “have a different understanding of reality, and disagree on the language used to describe reality” as Wes pointed out. Even though this is not dissimilar to our general ‘interfacing with the world’, a few more practical pointers wouldn’t go amiss…
    I recall having the conversation in a monastery with a shocked Hieromonk about how there are now many in the western world who have an unconscious ‘religion’ or ‘religious’ morality (for which they are willing to fight for almost with their lives) which is about nothing more than ‘rights’, particularly ‘gay rights’ (while themselves often “self-identifying” as heterosexual). Of course the “key” of the proper understanding of the Cross and self-denial is not easily employed in those bite-size (twelve words or less) ‘conversations’ the world only has a tolerance for nowadays – and unfortunately that’s exacerbates the impasse!
    Keeping a healthy distance is becoming problematic in certain types of work, and more than just conventional discernment is required by Christian’s walking on this particular tight-rope.
    Such counsel would be much appreciated…

  11. A more general guiding recommendation I have encountered by Abbot Aimilianos (which is also applicable here –though it’s certainly ‘advanced’) is that the respected meliority or nobility that inevitably radiates from a true “neptic” –one who has attained to ceaseless spiritual vigilance in words, deeds and thoughts as we all should, is like a type of aristocratic ‘shield’ in these cases of dealing with the world while not being of the world. This also implies non-engagement as far as possible though – and I do understand it’s not an option for certain people and at certain times.

  12. Thank you again, Fr. Freeman. The cross is death and a heavy burden to all believers and at times an extreme suffering…which according to the tradition begun by our Lord and passed down by the Apostolic is to be embraced by all. Whether we like it or not ! Ken

  13. As far as the homosexual ‘identity’ I draw on two sources for my comments for Christian men who openly struggle in a Christian manner with same sex attraction.

    Not surprisingly both see the source of their struggle as dysfunctional desire. One, a non-Orthodox man has written a book about it: Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality by Wesley Hill.

    The other is an Orthodox man I have had discussions with on other blogs.

    Both describe poignantly the sense of separation and loneliness involved in their struggle. The chief difference between the two is that Mr. Hill still affirms his identity as primarily homosexual. The other gentleman does not although he confesses it took him quite awhile to get beyond that particular difficulty. He says that he now enters the church as just a sinner, like everyone else–not a homosexual who is a sinner.

    His words on the topic are that seeking fulfillment as a homosexual is impossible as it does not work. He likens it to a bunch of men in a room, each with a half glass of water wanting a full glass. The only way to get a full glass is to take someone else’s half.

    I deduce from this that such relationships are inherently exploitative and sterile.

    In the mystery of the unity of male and female in Christ however, the coming together produces an over abundance of life that spills out creating children, families and all kinds of other good things. It is an icon of the Holy Trinity.

    What those of us who do not struggle with same sex attraction share in common with those who do, IMO, is the twisted nature of sexuality that our culture promotes which Fr. Stephen has so rightly called an extension of the ego–that false ‘identity’ all humans carry around within in us and defend to the last drop of other’s blood.

    The modern version of heterosexuality is just as twisted and exploitative as homosexuality. It bears no resemblance to “in the beginning’. If it did there would be no pornography, no divorce, no sexual abuse, no adultery…..

    When I listen to these two men describe their experience–the loneliness, the estrangement they feel I can relate to that. Even in marriage such loneliness and estrangement can and does exist if not for God. In fact a marriage without God is perhaps the loneliest type of existence I can imagine.

    It is God who fills and fulfills. He created male and female as integral to the salvation of the rest of His creation. If the center does not hold….

    So to talk to those who don’t believe as we believe we have to get beyond the ideology of sexual identity and speak as one human being to another. Each of us carries a God shaped hole within us. Nothing else we try to use to fill that hole will work. The loneliness is, in part, a recognition that God alone gives life.

    It is not easy for it requires a degree of honesty, humility and empathy that can leave one quite vulnerable, or seem to. If not for the armor of which the Elder Amilianos spoke we would be.

    But even if we are torn in the attempt, can we not rely on our Lord’s words from the Cross even more: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

    The modern reduction of forgiveness to simply agreeing with anything anyone else feels is a great blasphemy. The Cross is God’s answer to that blasphemy–not a way of entering into it.

    Lord, forgive me, a sinner.

  14. Fr Stephen,

    Thank you for writing this. About 20 or so years ago, as a young man trying to figure out matters of faith and God and reconciling all that with being an American trying to begin to understand the Orthodox Christian faith in which I grew up, a wise Orthodox priest (now of blessed memory!) said in a sermon that the *only* way to approach God is through His precious and life-giving Cross. I remember that sermon like it was this morning.

    This understanding of how to approach God, and of how to approach the suffering that finds all of us, whether we want it to or not, taught me more than I can express.

    And it’s not a mere option — i.e., “well, you can approach God through the Cross if you want, but you don’t have to.” Most certainly not. Those who attempt to preach God apart from bearing their own Cross(es) steadfastly and with patience and love are wolves in sheep’s clothing! They know not what they talk about.

    I realize now that most people in popular culture who talk about God have no idea what they’re talking about. I only trust the wisdom of those (both living and departed) who have themselves approached God — and continue to approach Him — through his life-giving Cross.

    And you’re right, Father, this method of approaching and understanding God never gets any votes.

    “Before Thy Cross we bow down in worship, O Master, and Thy holy resurrection we glorify!”

  15. Michael, et al
    It is absolutely important to get beyond the “culture war” in all of this. Christianity is not about such things. What you have offered here, Michael, is very much the right approach – human being to human being. I very much appreciated your observations on the alienation, etc., that exists even within marriage. The crisis of sin is existential and includes us all. It simply takes different forms and gives different takes on the same struggle. And the struggle is moving forward towards becoming an authentic human being, created in the image and likeness of God – a true Person.

    One of the delusions of secular existence is its tendency to “normalize” the condition of our existential crisis. We become numb and oblivious to the truth of who we are not. We even judge our “normal” to be better than someone else’s “not normal.” This is like comparing one pile of mud to another. It’s all mud…that has been commanded to become God.

    There is a reason that monasticism is grounded in celibacy – an ascesis that refuses to be defined by sexuality. It is not a refusal to acknowledge human sexuality, but an ascesis that seeks to truly redeem it. And this is a great mystery.

  16. {So to talk to those who don’t believe as we believe we have to get beyond the ideology of sexual identity and speak as one human being to another. Each of us carries a God shaped hole within us…It is not easy for it requires a degree of honesty, humility and empathy that can leave one quite vulnerable, or seem to…But even if we are torn in the attempt, can we not rely on our Lord’s words from the Cross even more: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”}

    This sums it up very well I think. I am (reluctantly fer sur – my ego does not like the defeat 🙂 ) beginning to accept that persuasion is not what is needed, but a conversion – a real encounter with the Holy Spirit. What can break through a “sexual identity” but the Spirit? Can the person who is holding/believing such a thing break through it? I suppose if it was a philosophy, but it is more than that, it is an “identity” – it is who they are (turtles, all the way down). Only God and those who can hear him have any inkling as to their real nature and “identity”. In a response to Wes and Dino’s question, I would say you really can’t talk to such people because their is no common grammar/definitions in which to speak – you are speaking different languages. What is needed is an “event” (usually a crises of some sort) from the outside (Providence) to jolt them and plant a seed, from which they can begin to question and listen. Can we be that? I am rather pessimistic, at least in most cases…

  17. Christopher,

    In most cases, no, we cannot be that. But the Spirit does not work “in most cases” or in general, but rather in each specific case, much more perfectly particular than we can even conceive. But there is absolutely no generalization possible; each and every human must be taken uniquely.

    But please correct me if I’m misguided.

  18. Father Stephen,

    I think perhaps you mischaracterize the legal issues involved. While it’s true that a SCOTUS ruling in favor of “gay marriage” would give impetus to this cultural movement, such a ruling, in and of itself, wouldn’t “insist on nationwide approval,” it would only signify that such unions are legal under the Constitution. Just yesterday, a probate judge in Alabama announced that he would abide by the rule of law and grant marriage licenses to gay people, even though he personally disapproved.

    I can’t tell from this piece where you actually stand on the issues of legalizing such marriages. Although I agree with many of your diagnoses and predictions, I cannot see any way, in a pluralistic society, of denying one class of citizens the same legal rights as another class of citizens, based solely on their sexual preferences. Therefore, despite my misgivings over the longer-term consequences of the sea changes regarding sexuality in society (of which “gay marriage” is just one instance), I support marriage equality — although you won’t find me on the picket lines any time soon, and you will find me vigorously supporting the right of churches to reserve the Sacrament of Marriage to heterosexual couples, if that is what those churches choose.

    And I think the mainstream churches will have to choose in coming years. While gay marriage was still wholly illegal in this country, it wasn’t an issue for the church. Although marriage equality is the law in more states than not, the churches are still waffling. I have never understand, for instance, how the Episcopal church can offer the sacrament of ordination to gay people but not the sacrament of marriage.

    (P.S.: Thank you for your ministry through this blog; your thoughts and reflections always speak to me and challenge me. )

  19. Christopher,
    First and foremost, we have to recognize that this is not “us and them.” We are all disordered, chained to the ego’s project. We have common ground on which to meet and have conversation. Getting the conversation to that common ground requires that we get ourselves there first.

  20. Are you familiar, Father, with Scott Cairns’ poem Late Results? It’s very powerful, saying the same as the last two paragraphs of your essay above.

    Late Results
    BY SCOTT CAIRNS

    We wanted to confess our sins but there were no takers.
    —Milosz

    And the few willing to listen demanded that we confess on television.
    So we kept our sins to ourselves, and they became less troubling.

    The halt and the lame arranged to have their hips replaced.
    Lepers coated their sores with a neutral foundation, avoided strong light.

    The hungry ate at grand buffets and grew huge, though they remained hungry.
    Prisoners became indistinguishable from the few who visited them.

    Widows remarried and became strangers to their kin.
    The orphans finally grew up and learned to fend for themselves.

    Even the prophets suspected they were mad, and kept their mouths shut.
    Only the poor—who are with us always—only they continued in the hope.

  21. “I would also suggest that what motivates most mainline pastors is not an intentional commitment to the modern project but a desire to bear witness to Christ’s love and grace.”

    Jonathan Hughes,

    I believe this to be true, as a matter of “self belief”. From the outside looking in, it simply looks like spiritual and psychological denial. Your comments had me thinking about Mother Thelka’s book “The Dark Glass” where when speaking about the “Orthodox attitude of life” she writes:

    “For us, the Holy Spirit has nothing to do with the century or place in which we happen to live. They Holy Spirit has nothing to do with contemporary or local morals, or with the lack of them, in an ‘enlightened’ view of sex or murder…Our Holy Spirit is a Person…Who in spite of worldly change, fashion, and ‘progress’ , keeps us steadfastly…in a mystical place where time and eternity meet. Our Holy Spirit denies that truth can truth can alter from one generation to another: denies the claim of human knowledge….He is the antidote to all that is immanent and transient…”

    Quite the contrast when thinking about how modern Christians speak of the Holy Spirit. She also talks about suffering (and of course sex) in the “Orthodox attitude”.

  22. Mark,
    The legal question is a moot point for me. It will be what it will be. I think SCOTUS will rule that laws restricting marriage on the ground of same-sex is an unconstitutional discrimination, which will make all state laws on the matter null. But if not, it will soon be fait accompli. This is simply going to happen.

    But the sacramental life of the Orthodox Church will not change. There will be some dust-ups, I think, on the pastoral application of the Church’s teaching, but it will settle out fairly soon.

    What I think is important is not the “issue” of same-sex marriage in the eyes of the State – it is the place of the legal/forensic model in the life of the Church. You might find it interesting to read my article on Wedding Vows. My articles in this series are part of a continuing critique that I’ve done on the error and bankruptcy of the legal view within the Christian faith. We’re too often asking the wrong questions, and missing the point of salvation. And in doing that, we fail to serve and preach the gospel.

  23. Christopher, but there is a common language–one we are all largely ignorant of. We can reach it with others together if there is both the will and the humility. The ascetics know it.

    A recent case in point: a couple of black activists highly critical of police response in minority communities had the humility to take a police training course in the proper use of deadly force: a course which required them to face situations where they had to decide in a split second to shoot or not to shoot. They also had the humility to enter into it without a predetermined will not to shoot at all since it was not real.

    To their credit they found that some of the assumptions their critiques had been founded upon were false. They found themselves acting in a manner they had not anticipated. Shooting, even multiple times in spit second situations. They just reacted to threat.

    When we perceive threats, we react defensively. The culture war, the identity movements all create an atmosphere of threat. That treat level is so high in many places that even to say anything offends someone.

    I have been contemplating what it means not to war. It starts first in my own heart. It is part of the contemplation on the second step of the repentance in Way of the Pilgrim: “I don’t love other people”. How can I say that I do when I am constantly at war with them?

    These are knew thoughts to me. But remember, each of has an ‘identity’ that we feel we have to defend. The fact that it is not real is beside the point. I can tell you my “sexual identity” is just as un-natural as those with same sex attraction. Both are false. Both are un-human.

    I have known and worked with many homosexual people in my life. None of them have been odious. Many are far less odious than I am. Years ago I watched as an acquaintance of mine spent a year convincing himself of his homosexual ‘identity’. He immersed himself in homosexual pornography, and casual sex. He told me got up every morning, looked into the mirror and said, “I am a homosexual”. This was in the pre-AIDS era. I fully expect that he is dead now because of his commitment to that ‘identity’ he created.

    In a similar manner, each of us is immersed in a culture that immerses us in sexual titillation and perversion of every kind and says its all good. We are urged at every term to create our very own “sexual identity” starting at a very young age. It is the obverse of the previous cultural belief that “Its all bad–a necessary evil” and being punished for sexual thoughts. We are taught to entice, manipulate, subjugate, humiliate and debase others for our pleasure.

    Those are the ways of death encouraged by demonic whispers saying:

    And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. Gen 3:4-5

    Think of one of the most frequent rationalizations for pornography: “Its empowering”.

    We may know what sex is, but we have no idea of conjugal love. I think my late wife and I approached the edges of it once and we both were so frightened by it we fought with each other for a week afterwards and never had the courage to go there again. It is perhaps the greatest regret I have in this world.

    Only God can teach us real conjugality. Only God can reveal to us the beauty of our own humanity and the glory of union with Him as male and female.

    At this point we can approach it only by saying: “That is not what it is.” That perhaps gives us the space to approach the truth.

    So in the meantime we do what we can and work on approaching what is real and true the best we can.

  24. The basic teaching of the Church on marriage clear. The Patriarchs of Russia, Constantinople and Antioch have, in the past couple of years, each restated those teachings without equivocation.

    As Fr. Stephen says, it matters not what the legal definition of marriage is. Some, unfortunately, may fall away and seek another truth. Those that remain faithful will prosper in God’s sight.

    May God grant us the grace, wisdom and courage to persevere.

  25. Christopher,
    In honesty I do not doubt that it may seem like denial from the outside; at times it seems like denial from the inside as well. I would only offer that there is no safe haven from the possibility of spiritual / psychological denial.

    Again, I do not know many within my own tradition who would deny the personhood of the Spirit.

    I guess when I hear quotes such as you mentioned, I find them agreeable in the sense that beauty is true and agreeable, but I do not see how they engage the very real questions the church must engage in every time and place.

    Of course truth does not change, but this statement is full of complexities and ambiguities. I don’t see how someone could suggest anything else. At its best it offers a rich Christology that moves us toward deeper discipleship.

    I do believe that the church is reformed and always being reformed, according to the Word of God and the call of the Spirit. It is within this framework that the church engages the witness of the Spirit in other times and places. I am not trying to convince anyone here of this, I know it is a significant difference between us. I offer it only as a reminder of where I am coming from.

  26. Fr Stephen,

    I find your opening assessment of the “forensic model for continuing Christian thought” as bankrupt intriguing & on target. It prompts questions for me from a pursuit of thought which presently captivates me.

    I have been studying Jeremiah & his contemporary history, the collapse of Jerusalem, and the people’s way of life through the lens of Jeremiah & his prophetic imagination.

    One aspect that caught my attention in Jeremiah’s narrative was the theme of God’s sovereign & intentional work. It involved God’s sovereign work of plucking up, tearing down, overthrowing, destroying & bringing disaster to the way of life His chosen people had made (almost comes across as if the covenant relationship itself had become so forgotten & misrepresented by human creation that it had to collapse for God’s ‘new covenant’ to emerge). This seemingly negative work of loss of their way of life occurred & God’s new path of life, a new “covenant”, was planted & built up to lead the people to know God & for them to be his people (Jeremiah 31:27-37). And we see this “new covenant” in Jesus’ life, death (cross), resurrection, ascension, and the giving of his Holy Spirit to teach us.

    I sense a parallel free fall (culture war as you put it) of our own way of life in the West, if not globally, very much akin to the Jerusalem free fall & collapse of 587 BC. Much of our way of life is headed for collapse in similar fashion (bankruptcy as you put it pertaining to the forensic model of Christian thought). I can only hope it is for God’s work of restoration among us.

    State all of that to ask this–Do you see such a definite collapse of thinking pertaining to Christian thinking (forensic model) and if so, what do you see on the horizon emerging as a new perspective or approach or even model of thinking about God & voicing what we learn & see of Him & his “new covenant” relationship with His people through Jesus? Would you speak to what you perceive of the weaknesses of forensic/legal thinking & what you see emerging to replace the forensic/legal filter of thought & expression? Finally, do you think the upheaval we are beginning to encounter will birth a reshaping of Christian thought to come similar to what the Reformation became as a shaping transition of the last era of history here in the West? Could we be living in the midst of recapturing something that’s been lost or a birthing of a new era of thinking & expressing God, His Kingdom & His covenant relationship with his people through Jesus?

    Hope I am clear in my thoughts and if I am far afield feel free to express that as well. Just some questions that were prompted by your article.

    Thanks for your thoughts you are making available to us. I’ve been reading for about three months now and your insights are very informative & thought provoking in life giving ways. And I enjoy the community conversation through the comments as well.

  27. Jonathan Hughes, your words:

    I guess when I hear quotes such as you mentioned, I find them agreeable in the sense that beauty is true and agreeable, but I do not see how they engage the very real questions the church must engage in every time and place.

    miss the reality that it is the thinking revealed in the quote you read that allows the Church to remain steadfast and address each time and place standing on the truth and not be swayed too far by the mind of the world.

    From where I stand, your idea that the “Church is reformed and every being reformed” is what leads us into trouble.

  28. Fr. Stephen and others,

    These are tentative thoughts, but have been bothering me for years. I am not arguing against anything said above. In fact i have been greatly inspired by your reflection and by the honest and dep-thinking comments.

    As I understand thr concept of ancestral sin, our first parents’ decision– being a departure from a harmonious existence with God as its center–casused them to walk away from that existence and live from then on (their descendants too) in the natural world, as God created it, subject to physical disease and death as well as to moral disease and death. In this view, same-sex attraction is just as “natural” as heterosexual attraction, in the sense that it is not a choice or a moral deviency but an accident in biology that occasionally occurs even among animals.–just as congenital blindness or heart disease or a variety of other “defects,” are accepted as natural and not to be criticized, derided, or even pitied.

    In this view, those who feel that their accidental a deviations from the norm hamper them from leading a full life should have the right to seek medical or psychological intervention. But it hardly seems the role of the state to require such intervention, or to put obstacles in their way (hence the accessibilities and non-discrimination laws). Aside from constitutional issues, this principal should provide sufficient motivation to acknowledge same-sex relationships without calling them sinful.

    The problem comes in the area of physical acts which involve genitals and orifices. Without even considering the role of semen in promulgating life, many argue that such activities are “against nature.” But it is clear the occasionally nature deviates from its norm.

    All this us to say that it should not be any harder to talk with homosexuals and respect them and welcome them as equals–without being condescending or judgmental–than it is to respect and accept blind or otherwise different persons. Talking and respecting do not include pity or even hopes for change. There are numerous stories of “disabled’ persons living satisfying lives and even in some cases highly creative or productive ones.

    The only issue in the case of sexuality–and this includes everyone, gay, straight, etc.–is the way love is expressed physically, whether in a state-sanctioned relationship or out. The importance of family is not challenged or undermined by such a discussion. Nor need it be a “forensic” matter if existentially (I don’t know enough philosophy to say whether “ontologically” fits here) one finds himself attracted to persons of the same sex.

    Much of my tentative thinking on this has been influenced by studying the personal reflections of two Christians in a “traditional” church (maybe ours–they don’t say, but it is rather easy to guess). They are gay, and live together in a “committed relationship” but do not seek either state approval through marriage or church sanction through ritual. The most interesting element in their writing is their discussion of why they have chosen celebacy. In other words, they violate no church teaching, yet ask to be welcomed in church and accepted in the world. In both areas, however, they find themselves as outsiders. It is clear to me that much more thinking needs to be done about sexuality. I was especially interested in what Michael said about loneliness, integrity within a God-centered Christian marriage.

  29. Christopher,
    I know that we cannot speak and persuade those who are not asking for it, and Wes’s and my question pertained more to the practical ways to deal with an environment that expects you to sign the same pledge (of anti-Christian ideology regarding same-sex relationships) with which you cannot possibly have communion.
    As Wes asked:

    How do you respect the language that a community (and a society) provides while disagreeing with it’s ability to describe your own understanding of reality?

    I did not see that yet answered -I think- in any of the comments any more than the general advise I repeated (from Fr Aimilianos) on the need for cultivating unceasing watchfulness…

  30. Michael Bauman,
    Two quick thoughts.

    First, not to be cavalier, but doesn’t discipleship risk trouble. This is why faith is essential and love must overcome fear.

    Second, can you please flush out your comments? I am having trouble connecting the dots.

  31. “Christopher,
    First and foremost, we have to recognize that this is not “us and them.” We are all disordered, chained to the ego’s project. We have common ground on which to meet and have conversation. Getting the conversation to that common ground requires that we get ourselves there first.”

    What is that common ground? If I don’t stand on it (do you mean to imply that Christian understanding of anthropology is not it or is unknown/unknowable? Or that our imperfect sinful selves are too far away – even though we acknowledge it and have some understanding and/or Grace as to what we should be standing on), and they don’t stand on it, then what are we doing again? Not sure how recognizing a lack of common ground *in present tense/state* is a “us vs. them” power struggle…except when it is, like during the upcoming persecution where “they” (i.e. the New Moralists) will be forcing their morality unto “us” by the power of the sword.

    Michael,

    “Christopher, but there is a common language–one we are all largely ignorant of. We can reach it with others together if there is both the will and the humility”

    When it comes to the anthropological truths of Christianity, you are right that it takes will and humility. “together” say, with the modernist, requires the modernist to, humbly, reject his volunteerist self and neo-Freudian soul and psychology, his neo-epicurean ethic, etc. etc. In a sense, you seem to say that the common language is, well, Christian language right? Or do you mean to say there is some “transcendent third option” where a common ground/language is to be found that transcends or synthesizes both Christianity and modernity?

    As far as “threat” and “war”, I think for many of us this is no longer a “feeling” or an “ego exaggeration” or some other passion driven state of the soul tied up in an intellectual debate termed the “cultural wars”, but rather is quite real. As a small business owner, my state has a “Human Rights Commission” that has destroyed at least one small business (that is destroyed the livelihood of a family like mine with 6 figure fines and legal defense costs) when they refused to bake a cake for a “gay wedding”. Now, I don’t bake cakes and it is hard for me to see how these moral busybodies will persecute me, but I am also not under any illusion that they can and would given the first opportunity or even perception of one. Someone upstream seems strangely say that legal does not mean legal, and that laws that define “discrimination” are wholly passive and pose no burden or requirements on religious minorities who do not agree with the religious majority (i.e the modernists)

    Michael, I understand your parish runs a books store/ministry? What happens when the persecution comes and fines/shuts you down you for selling “hate speech”, that marriage is not between a man and a women and it is discrimination to act as if it is, that sexual identity is not defined by the radical self, etc.

    Fr. Stephen, what happens when the persecution comes and informs you that you are going to be tried for rejecting the request for a wedding of an “orthodox” couple who just happen to be two females, as is their legal right to do so (actually, you probably won’t have to face this but your replacement will probably)?

    Now, I anticipate an answer containing the truths of Ephesians 6:12 and Luke 23:34, and of course we are to bear our cross, our sufferings – and here my thinking might not be Orthodox – but don’t we still retain the “us vs them”. We are to “Love our enemies”, not negate our enemy with a philosophical turn that re-defines him as something other than our enemy (usually along the lines of a “Kumbaya” turn of thought)? “They know not what they do” is not “Whether they know or not it does not matter because it is all the same in the end anyways” or “They know not what they do, nor can they, not that it matters because there really is no “they”; only a “we”.” Christianity is not Neo-Platonism that much I know (as an aside some of the Orthodox opinion on the Apocatastasis seems awfully close to a Neoplatonic consummation – not that I have spent much time on it…)

  32. albert, good questions and reflections. I certainly cannot speak authoritatively to much of what you ask but just a few observations. Take them for what they are worth.

    Anyone who live in a manner that is outside the norm should not expect to be received as if it were the norm particularly in a community that has a very clear, even ancient understanding of what the norm is.

    Two people of the same sex who are same sex attracted, even if celibate seem to be tempting God in a way that only makes their spiritual struggle more difficult. I can see a man and a woman who is each sexually attracted to members of their own sex living with each other. Even that would be difficult

    The trouble with both ‘fixes’ are that they both miss the point of the deep ontological union that is possible only between a male and a female. Such union is seldom, if ever, realized in this life but that does not mean we should eschew the model.

    Some of your other comments hit me as a little too ‘leveling’ if you will–an egalitarian reductionism which can be okay for short-term pragmatic reasons, but cannot be the standard for the worshiping community.

    Some acts are sinful. Many acts that we as a culture accept that many routinely practice are sinful. It is never OK to call such acts un-sinful. It is equally not OK to condemn someone else to hell because of such sinfulness. We’d all be in hell.

    Many marriages become full of sin because of the hardness of our hearts.

    As to false families and marriages not impacting more authentic ones consider this from the realm of economics: “Bad money drives out good.” It is a fundamental statement of pragmatic economics that counterfeit money drives real, sound money from circulation because it is cheaper, does not require the commitment to earn and to spend that sound money does. It erodes confidence in the real thing and the issuing authority. It can actually bring down governments and create chaos on a large enough scale. The inflated currency of pre-WWII Germany is a case in point. Although not technically counterfeit, it was bogus for all practical purposes.

    The mystery of male-female synergy and union is central to the salvific economy. It is a deep mystery and difficult to explore let alone realize but the work I have done since I began approaching Christ beginning on one lonely night in Ft. Worth, TX in 1974 has led me to at least an appreciate for how deep the and central the mystery is.

    The state will do what the state will do. We will have to render unto Caesar the things that are his. While the state has a compelling interest in a legal definition of marriage for property and contract reasons, it has no interest in the sacrament.

    The Church’s interaction with the State over this matter is as old as the Church and has never been comfortable. Many of the Church’s early canons on marriage are not particularly elevating. Made, it seems, for the same reason the state has an interest–to protect inheritance rights and parental privilege and to make sure that marriages were not too close in families. The Church acted as the registrar. Yet there was always an understanding that marriage was something a lot more.

    1 Cor 11 makes that clear if it is read properly. The fecundity released in marriage is quite amazing. It has no parallel in any other human relationship.

    A lot of meandering.

  33. Jonathan Hughes,

    As I said above this is from the outside looking in – though I was part of a mainline many years ago now so was on the inside briefly:

    “Second, can you please flush out your comments? I am having trouble connecting the dots.”

    The contrast is between Holy Spirit as Person – one of the Holy Trinity – and thus outside human knowledge and “progress”, and Holy Spirit as a principle, a principle of reform, of movement, of progress – the ever moving target. The second holy spirit is called “person”, but in what real (except in an ego centric) way, as he seems more like a liturgical functionary that “blesses” whatever movement, reform seems to be, well needing to be “blessed” at that moment. In that sense the second “holy spirit” seems much smaller, much more dependent on the human or group mind of the age, he is more an “engine of reform” than God, Person outside all time, all “reform”, etc.

    To be succinct, this second holy spirit looks, swims, and quacks like the “spirit of the age”…

    You say:

    “I do not see how they engage the very real questions the church must engage in every time and place.”

    The Holy Spirit engages these very real questions and concerns by being the Truth that is beyond each question, concern, time and place. One does not address such questions with the “spirit of the age”, that is self-referential. It is of the ego. When one does address the spirit of the age with the spirit of the age, you simply get more spirit of the age…obviously… 😉

  34. …as to what to do when faced with intransigent folks who wish to punish us for not going with the flow: it seems pretty clear that we will have to suffer the consequences if and when they come.

    That does not mean we have to provoke them. Each instance will be unique, but it is not unlike offering a pinch of incense to Caesar. Great Martyr George functioned quite well in the Roman state until he was asked to offer that pinch of incense as did many similar martyrs.

    We go so far and no further.

    I’m in the life and health business. Personally I would have no trouble writing a life insurance policy on someone with their same-sex partner as beneficiary no matter what they called each other as long as they met the criteria of insurable interest, just as I have no trouble now writing life insurance naming someone as beneficiary called a fiancé when there is clearly no intent to marry. Same with health insurance.

    All my state has to do to ‘legalize’ same-sex marriage is to drop one phrase from the current law that requires that the two parties to a marriage be a male and a female. Plural marriage not far behind.

    That is the state’s business. It does not touch the reality of marriage, but it does drive said reality out of the common mind. The Church is the repository for the truth. We will be attacked. We will likely become smaller.

  35. In the talk about reality and our description of it, one word is continually missing, and I believe it to be the key word for our day.

    Fallen.

    We cannot look at the world around us and say “This is how God intended it.” Because humanity’s free will mucked up that perfect vision, and we fell. And creation fell. Reality itself fell. We can’t even cite natural law – it is fallen as well.

    We can’t say “this is how God made me” – because we are most certainly not what God intended us to be. We are fallen.

    And why are we fallen? Because, plain and simple, we told God to go away – “We got this” we said. It *seemed* good to eat. It seemed pleasing to the eye. By our standard, our judgment, it was necessary to eat of that which we were commanded not to eat. We placed our judgment ahead of the judgment of our Creator. And we fell.

    We need to get away from the talk of sin and contemplate what it means to be fallen. Only then can we find sin, a consequence of fallen-ness, and use the Law offered by God, both in the Mosaic Law, and embodied in the person of Christ Himself, as our mirror, our standard, to remind us of our fallen-ness, and to point us again toward the One who restores us from fallen to “as created by God.”

  36. Thank you Michael, appreciated…

    Fr Marty,
    Undeniably, until we acquire constant awareness of our falleness on the one hand and God’s omnipotent mercies enveloping us on the other we will not be making proper sense of anything. That double knowledge is like the light that, when missing, makes us stumble in the dark; and when it enters everything is discerned with ease and we walk around freely…

  37. Fr. Marty, you are correct. That was implicit in what I was attempting to say, but I should have made it more explicit. Thank you.

    I do find, however, that folks have almost as much trouble with falleness when discussing sexuality as they do with the idea of sin. Sex being the original sin don’t you know–or so some think.

  38. One of the first consequences of the fall was the rupture of the trust and symphonia between Adam and Eve as man and woman. I believe it was St. Isaac of Syria who opined that our return to paradise would be marked by a reintegration of that symphonia as a first step.

    Long way to go if he is right.

    But as our Lord indicated, it is all there in Genesis. Our sacrament of marriage, in a sense, restores that harmony or at least opens the door for it to be restored.

    The real restoration is in the way I love my wife and she me on a daily basis.

    If our marriages are not icons of the truth then we have little to stand on.

    So, guys (and I can only speak to other men) get to work. Love your wife as Christ loves the Church.

    As has been frequently noted marriage is the only form of martyrdom where you get to pick your executioner. It is a joyful life.

    Happy Valentine’s Day!

  39. Correct me if I am wrong, but the “common ground” that is being spoken of seems to be that we are all broken and diseased needing the healing that only Christ can bring in the sacraments and through His grace. We are all on common ground. As a Christian, I lose all credibility when I speak as though I am better than others simply by my faith in Christ. On the contrary, my faith is the acknowledgement that I am the “chief among all sinners.”

    Now, of course “sin” is that word that our culture loves to hate, and the christian culture of our time loves to place the word “sinner” in front of every person that is on the outside. And, this is the disconnect and why at this moment in time the church has very limited credibility. But, I am speaking in generalities. Specifically, each person is unique and has different needs and desires which must all be taken to Christ for his healing and mercy. The Orthodox faith is very helpful in this process if one seeks to know God. The ground on which we stand is one of humble, patient, cross-bearing. This is not about morality, but about the healing of our very person.

    “And they brought to Him all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics, and paralytics; and He healed them.” Truly, this is me.

  40. Michael,

    I suppose i am expecting a much more robust and oppressive turn in all this. I was talking to a women recently (she is a Jew and typically “liberal” in education/outlook) who was looking forward to the marriage decision as she thought it will re-enforce the “live and let live” outlook she supports. I think the vast majority of modernists believe this. What is actually happening however, is not “tolerance”, not “live and let live”, not “pluralism”, rather it is the New Morality and it is increasingly being enforced.

    My sister-in-law is an urban minister in a large Texas town. Her church is almost all African american (it might be northern baptist – I can’t recall exactly) and of course they were deeply involved in civil rights. Last year, when “sexual orientation” was put forth in by the city council as an addition to non discrimination law they were shocked, just shocked. They were really really shocked that churches were not to be excluded in the original bill, and this was “fixed” not by their own efforts but by the recognition that such a proviso would not be supported by the courts. Yet, everyone knows the day will come when it will be allowed by the courts. The New Moralists have already singled they have no intentions of leaving the churches out of their morality, so they will be included just as soon as possible.

    Like you, I don’t care if one decides to make Elvis the beneficiary of a life insurance policy. However, that is not what all this is coming to. It’s about what is happening with certain local business owners who (eccentrically no doubt) actually express their “religion” in their business. It will be about what you can legally do/say in your churches and at the publishing houses, it will be about “hate speech”, and the like.

    Dino,

    I think I understand your question better. Judging by history, Christianity under Islam, etc. one learns to live in the ghetto…

  41. I’ve heard it said that we Orthodox are to curb our time spent on entertainments such as television, radio, etc. when Lent begins. I’m wondering if that includes spending a lot of time on the internet, you guys. Love your wife and spend more time with her; she probably feels neglected. Happy Valentine’s Day to all.

  42. Greg,
    What I see is that Christian thought expressed in the grammar of the legal/forensic model has ceased to have any effectiveness (or very limited) in our culture. The sexuality/anthropology discussions have collapsed it. This will effect the evangelical Churches the hardest (its been a strong grammar for many of them). Many mainline Protestant Churches continue to speak in this grammar but have long been adjusting their “legal” ideas to accommodate cultural change. That will continue, I think.

    Rome is struggling. It has spoken in the forensic grammar for a long while and it’s not working very well. But I’m not very privy to how things work in Rome – so I’ll watch them with great interest.

    Europe is in a very serious post-Christian era already. If American Christianity were to have a serious cultural set-back, we could be in for a very difficult time indeed.

  43. Christopher,
    Orthodoxy has plenty of examples of what to do when the persecution comes. You can only pray to be as faithful as others have been. The far greater trial (I think) is just trying to do the right thing every day.

  44. Fr. Stephen–You mentioned that Christians have lost a way of talking about these issues that the culture can “hear.” It occurs to me that a lot of young people and others in our culture appreciate some “Eastern” concepts such as yin/yang. Although obviously different, there are some similarities in the Eastern Orthodox understanding of opposites becoming “one:” heaven/earth; God/man; male/female…Perhaps that is something that could be appreciated by the current culture.
    The Eastern Christian understanding of two “others” being healed and made one through the power of the Holy Spirit and in the image of the Trinity might be one way to distinguish Christian marriage from secular marriage. Christian marriage is not just about the love between two individuals—it is also about the healing of the division between male and female as two “others” are made one. In that sense, Christian marriage is about celebrating the male/female re-union. It is one of the “signs” of the re-uniting of all things through the power of the Cross.

  45. Geri,
    it’s interesting how these types of creative, ‘economic’ (in the theological sense) solutions to talk to the world can be effective indeed…

    Father,
    It is very true that the far greater trial is just trying to do the right thing every day.
    I believe that the general counsel on ceasless spiritual watchfulness is perhaps the only one that can be given with confidence. I find this -to use a favourite example- always to be relevant:

    The Abbot of Simonos Petras, Archimandrite Aimilianos was once speaking to his monks who were all sat around him:
    “Is there one thing, one core problem, whose solution would provide the desired answer to all our problems?
    Yes. Absolutely…
    But allow me to use an example to better explain this:
    You come to talk to me choked in your problems. You’re sick, you sinned, you plummeted beyond imagination, they’ve expelled you from your monastery, you’ve been told you have cancer and you’ll die.
    I speak to you, and after listening to me you utter with tears:
    “Elder! My problem is solved…!”
    Solved?
    How so?
    The cancer is not healed, surgery is still required, and you will certainly die; on top of that your monastery has expelled you. How is your problem solved?
    And yet you resolutely affirm that it has been solved.
    Indeed… It is solved. It’s solved since your internal state has changed, what you now experience is wholly different. Divine energy enlightened you inside now, and you felt it in your bones that your problem is utterly solved…
    Our problems are never solved, since others cause them and they are fashioned by exogenous circumstances. However, our problem is not the others, but my relationship with God: myself and God. Once this is settled, there is no longer a problem.

    Like when it’s dark, I stumble over the seats and fall upon you because I see nothing; yet the instant that light enters, I start moving with ease and without tripping over things; so it becomes when this relationship with God is re-established like this. Our human condition remains exactly the same, I’m still the one who I was, yet the solution has now clearly transpired.
    Now I see things differently.
    Though I see you, I am now apprehending God.
    I might recognize for instance, that you don’t love me, but I’m not in the least bothered. I’m rejoicing inside now. God unquestionably remains invisible, transcendent, but He is now the God that’s known to me, I no longer have troubles concerning the knowledge of God, He enters inside of me and the divine becomes my own content. The truth of this revelation is experienced as my personal God-bearing; I genuinely live this, it’s opened my eyes.
    Moreover, this new vision reveals the meaning of beings, of angels, of doctrines… but also the meaning of what is coming to pass in me, the meaning of my illness, everything… This communion of divine Energy is my secret spiritual marriage. And it is nothing other than the reawakening of unceasing ‘spiritual watchfulness’: communion with the ceaselessly monitored (monitored by me) Holy Spirit.”

  46. Nick, monasticism is never compatible with the normal mode of existence anywhere at anytime. That is kinda the point.

  47. Since the title of the article is “Sex and the Moral Imagination,” I’d like to ask a question about normal, heterosexual, married sex in the Church. My question springs from part of the interview with Fr. Seraphim of Mull Monastery that was posted in the comments a few weeks ago, specifically the part where Fr. Seraphim reflects on the usual advice given by (monastic) spiritual writers to married couples: Not on Wednesday. Not on Friday. Not during Lent. Not before Communion. Not after Communion. Et cetera. Fr. Seraphim sees these prohibitions as blaspheming the sacrament of marriage by making fasting–which is not a sacrament–superior to it. Myself, in this oversexed world (and it’s not just America), I can see the value of ascetic restraints on sex and sexual practices. But how much restraint do you advocate before it starts sounding like prudery? The counterexample that lives in my mind is the rabbinic commandment that on the Sabbath, a man should go in to his wife and make her joyful.

    Forgive me. Not being married, I’m sure my ignorance is leaping off the page at you. But this is something I wonder about.

  48. Bless, Father.
    I am one of the fellows Michael Bauman cited in one of the earlier posts as a repentant “homosexual”. I put that in quotes because, for me, it has become a word or title that would be gathering dust on some shelf if I did not have to keep pulling it down for the sake of participating in these discussions. I put it on that shelf because, functionally, it’s no longer who I am. God has blessed me to be able to see the actual nature of homosexuality and come to an understanding of why it misses the mark. In short: It doesn’t work. It fails to deliver on the very thing homosexuals, like all humans, desire in their hearts, namely, affection. And not just any affection but that most powerful form of affection-intimate affection; that affection properly found in the marriage bed but otherwise available to all heterosexuals who, by definition, are essentially complete in their respective genders. Homosexuals are incomplete in their gender and, thus, spend their lives looking for affection and completion from those who cannot give it because they are looking for it as well and have none to spare. What passes for promiscuity among gay men is largely this endless quest for affection and completion. Thus, the real brokenness of homosexuality goes way beyond mere same-sex attraction; it is a broken affection; a dis-ordered affection; an affection that is out-of-order. Such an affection cannot be healed by a mere mortal, to say nothing of the foolish and presumptuous courts. Only Christ can comfort and console us. Of course, you have to believe that He can.
    By allowing me to actually see the true nature of the problem, God, through His Church, has empowered me to call this bogey man out into the light and see him for what he is, thus substantially depriving him of what I all along believed was his powerful hold on me. Having done so has freed me to devote my energies into struggling against everyday sins. Thus, as Michael has pointed out, I no longer see myself as a man who struggles against his homosexuality but as a man who struggles forward, to my Comforter and Redeemer. When I walk into Church each Sunday I do so as a regular, everyday sinner who seeks Christ-God’s help in fighting the same things everyone else fights against. BTW, if, like me, you’ve managed to get a sufficient enough handle on your particular sin so as to be able to carry your cross with a bit more ease, you’ll discover that something much worse, much more pernicious awaits you: self-pity! You think your particular sin is evil? Wait till you confront everyday self-pity! It is often said that money is the root of all evil. No. Self-pity is the root of all evil! And the struggle against self-pity will keep you busy right up to the edge of the grave!
    The sad part about the Court’s decision is that homosexual men will continue to be on an endless quest for an affection that the courts cannot give. I ask your prayers because the suicide rates will not go down and many men will continue to despair from loneliness. The cynical destruction of the family and the crippled fathers ( when there are any) guarantee the increase in this very sad brokenness.
    Pastors, you’re going to have your hands full. C.S. Lewis observed that either Jesus is who He says He is or he is a madman. If you, as pastors, can confidently answer in the affirmative, you are prepared to help those who come after me. I pray for you dear, dear fathers. God help us all!

  49. Meg Photini: An excellent question.

    The marital fast is, as I study the Scripture and work out my salvation in marriage, only for those who can prosper in it by both agreeing to it and using that time in other pursuits such as prayer, fasting and almsgiving. The couple has to be sound and mature in both their marriage and their faith.

    If it causes either party to move toward sin, then it should be avoided (St. Paul warns against such). If a couple wants to take on that asceticism it is best done under the direct of couple’s regular priest/confessor in the community where they worship.

    There is so much more to the marital fecundity than sexual union, but that fecundity is founded in that conjugal union with God at the center. I would tend to endorse the words of Fr. Seraphim Mull.

    Not to say an occasional or even regular marital fast is not called for, it is. Certainly I see its value on Saturday night as a preparation for Holy Communion–but only if there is a further discipline of prayer, attending Vespers, confessing, reading Scripture no TV etc. It does little good by itself and can do a lot of harm.

    The Scripture is quite pointed about the joys of the conjugal marriage bed. For instance the one you quote, look at it: “make your wife joyful” that is a command to put her ahead of yourself. It is part and parcel to the Scriptural command that the husband sacrifice himself for his wife. That he do everything he can to build her up and offer her soul to God for her salvation as an integral part of his own.

    Any word of sarcasm, anything that hurts her feelings or action that tears her down must be repented of as quickly as possible if it cannot be avoided altogether.

    If the marital fast were to make her feel unwanted, unloved or neglected even in the slightest, it would be better to avoid it. Or if said fast had the same effect on the husband. It has to be affirming of the marital union with God. Otherwise it is simply selfish and cruel. I would never advise it for a newly married couple. Remember what the marriage service says: “As a reward for their continence…”

    On a personal level, I tend to be suspicious of monks who dole out such advice to folks they hardly know on a routine basis. Makes me wonder if they are at peace with their monasticism. At the very least, it makes them sound like grumpy old men.

    I may pose the question to a certain Hieromonk I know who became a monk after a lifetime of marriage and family when his wife reposed. Before she died, he sought and was granted her blessing to become a monk.

  50. Gregory, once again I thank you for your witness. It strengthens me in ways I can’t even articulate. I hope you don’t mind that I tell a little of what I have learned from you.

  51. “In truth, Orthodoxy has a lot to say about sex even within marriage, in the fullness of the canonical tradition. Like the eating of food, it is surrounded with ascetical understanding. There is no Orthodox Christianity without asceticism. That cannot be said of Modern forms of Christianity. And it is a modern weakness.

    The Way of salvation is an ascetical path, to be followed in some manner by every Christian. The fact that ascetical Christianity is foreign to most Modern Christians (or “exotic”) is a commentary on how estranged modern forms of Christianity have become from the faith of Christ.”

    This quote from you Father is pure gold. Thank you!!!

  52. Nick Spitzer,
    I’m not entirely sure if your comment was a response to the quote from the Elder Aimilianos I translated, but it’s worth noting that the unceasing spiritual watchfulness he talks of is accessible (and indispensable) to monastics as well as laymen.
    Granted, the monastic context is clearly the most conducive to it, yet one can still become a ‘Judas’ in such a context while another can shine like a ‘Lot’ in the midst of Sodom

  53. Meg,
    I have had occasion to serve as confessor/spiritual father to a few people through the years who struggled with food: anorexics, etc. It is obvious that fasting on their part must be handled with extreme care. Indeed, in form of asceticism has to be treated carefully for them. Years ago, I gave a discipline to someone of doing one “purely spontaneous thing” a day – it was a fast from a rigidity that was killing them.

    Well, fasting from sex is quite similar. I think most people are very disordered in their lives regarding sex and can easily hurt themselves or their spouse when trying to rigidly keep a fast. Added to that, most confessors properly do not want to know any details of someone’s marital union – it’s very holy ground. I prefer that people confess “obliquely” on the topic when needed. Indeed, I would be extremely wary of any confessor who asks many questions about this topic. He may be ill-instructed or much worse.

    That said, I think it’s good to abstain before communion – that is such a light thing in most cases – that there is no harm. Mostly, we don’t want to pretend that our sexual behavior in marriage has nothing to do with the rest of our life, including God.

    Rather than focusing on sex itself – it is better to focus on intimacy – on making room for the spouse as Other – as Beloved. The more we grow in kindness and affection, the more things will take a healthy shape.

  54. I’ve recently been studying the pair of works by Paul Evdokimov on the nature of gender and the spiritual realities of marriage, “Woman and the Salvation of the World,” and “The Sacrament of Love.”

    I find they’ve given me an excellent vocabulary preparation for the discussion, and I highly recommend them to anyone interested.

    In short, it’s all about the Holy Trinity.

  55. Fr. Stephen,
    I have been reflecting on your response to my original post. In it you said,

    “The reason is that the Cross easily becomes a cipher – a symbol liable to much interpretation and reinterpretation… This is clearly something that Tradition alone provides – a stable target – the union with God taught by the Fathers that is the doctrine of Christ.”

    Is it not the case that the Cross is always, in some sense, a symbol that must be interpreted, at least when it comes to bearing one’s cross?

    You also mention that the cross is the nature of every situation. To the extent this means that suffering is and will always be a part of life, I agree. However, to take this completely seriously would seem to make Christian compassion of any sort problematic. It would mean that compassion is always depriving someone of a cross which they bear. I do not believe you think this at all, but it does seem to me that pushing the nature of the cross to this extreme highlights that in practice the church does always interpret and discern the cross.

    To state my own view positively, the church alleviates suffering where she can, and in so doing bears witness to the Day of the Lord always present with Christ. At the same time, the church knows in this life there will be trouble, and when it cannot be alleviated it must be born communally with loving trust in God. Death is defeated by Christ, but it is still dying in our world. Would you agree with this?

    Lastly, can you say more about how you understand Tradition to provide a stability? I think I must be misunderstanding you. The history of the church is anything but stable, and I am having trouble grasping your intended meaning.

  56. Jonathan,
    There is so much to say that it’s hard to know where to begin. Please forgive me. But you presume that many of the words we share have a similar meaning…they do not. With Tradition. Tradition is not a collection of history, writings, etc. Tradition is the single life of God lived through the Church across the centuries. It is how the Church continues to be the Church. It is accessed by sacrament and by living faithfully in the life of the Church as it has been received. That is what the fullness of Orthodoxy is. It can certainly be read about, studied, discussed, but cannot be known from the outside.

    In Greek Orthodox music, there is often a note called the “ison,” it’s a “drone” note that undergirds the melody. I sometimes think of Tradition as like an ison that has undergirded the melody of the Church for 2,000 years. The melody moves and does many things, but its stability is the ison.

    When you read the Fathers, and even the messy history of the Orthodox Church, you recognize what you read as, in fact, the very same life you are now living. Their “messiness” has not disturbed the ison and its steady tone. This is not true apart from Orthodoxy. Other Christians have cut themselves off from the one song that God sings and do not hear the ison. And so they miss a lot.

    But it’s also a reason that conversation between Christians is important.

    As to the Cross. Every moment of every day and every action, is the Cross. Death to self is not an occasional thing, but a way of life. It is how we rightly live with the Other. It is love. To “bear one another’s burdens” is an apostolic commandment. Of course we do this – it’s the Cross that is given to us.

    There are things about which we can do nothing (except by delusion). I cannot save you by destroying you, or end your pain by killing you. I can help bear the Cross, but I cannot promise to make it go away, or make the difficulty of the Cross easier by destroying someone.

    There is so much to say on this.You might find my article, The Ecclesiology of the Cross, worth reading. I don’t know.

    Blessings.

  57. Thank you Michael. I don’t mind at all. As you may have gathered from my postings on other sites I keep shouting that homosexuality is a sin, a missing of the mark, because it doesn’t work. We miss the mark when we fail to grasp that the Laws of God and, by extension, the laws of the Church, are more than merely compelling laws. They are in fact descriptive laws in that they describe reality and the consequences of ignoring that reality. The Ten Commandments could just as well be called “The Ten Warnings”. Implicit in each commandment is a consequence for disobeying that Commandment.
    When God speaks to us through the Church and her ancient, glorious, collective wisdom, He is warning us that if our heart’s desire is union with Him, lust, gluttony, avarice, pride, cold hearts, selfishness, and everything else the Church tells us is sin, will not take us there. If we pursue those paths we will go further and further away from Him. It seems to me that we must make up our minds about which reality we want to pay attention to; His or the world’s. C.S. Lewis once said that of all the passions, none make more towering promises than the erotic passions. As Orthodox Christians we know that the world makes towering promises it doesn’t keep because it can’t. As an aside, Lewis also said that every adult knows that the erotic passions make towering promises, except the ones he or she is feeling at the moment.

  58. Gregory,
    Thank you for your candor. That the commandments are what they are because they describe reality (and thus warn us) is a very clear way to describe their ontological character rather than their legal character.

    There is an old story about a ship in a fog. It sounds its horn, and hears one in reply. The ship tells the other to turn to the starboard, and is told, “No, you’ll have to turn.” And on the conversation goes. The ship’s captain explains that he’s an admiral and he’s on a Carrier and the other will have to give way. The reply comes, “Well, I’m just a seaman, but I’m in a lighthouse…”

    The commandments describe reality (that’s what ontology is about) not a legal fiction.

    I think it has been a great tragedy in our culture that these questions have been layered with hatred and ridicule and even persecution. It has undermined the authenticity of the Christian voice. But I appreciate your words and your experience. Thank you.

  59. The Commandments describe reality is something I have not thought about in awhile. It is good to be reminded of it. Just as the commandment to bear one another’s burdens is something we do inescapably.

    Part of the wonderful mystery of Forgiveness Sunday.

  60. I’m particularly fond of how Psalm 118 (LXX) seems to speak of the truth that the commandments describe the inner reality of reality – and must therefore be engraved upon our hearts so that our ‘inner man’ be freed from passions, to become united to God, who is Love.

    Saint Tikhon’s (of Voronezh) little prayer makes a fitting intro to that Psalm and its ontological interpretation: “Give me ears to hear Thee, eyes to see Thee, taste to partake of Thee, sense of smell to inhale Thee. Give me feet to walk unto Thee; lips to speak of Thee, heart to fear and love Thee. Teach me Thy ways, O Lord, and I shall walk in Thy truth. For Thou art the way, the truth and the life.”

  61. I want to thank all of the participants, seen and unsern, on this thread. I have learned much.

    Would that all such discussions on the topic would be so.

  62. Jonathan,

    Your comments necessitated a caveat that, if my archetype is Christ, then death, suffering and the Cross is my only proper imitation of Him (in order that His life becomes mine), and also that Christ crucified and exalted is the only Christ we know of. Our fervour for the Cross will obviously be positively coloured by the radiance of the resurrection, yet, that, is God’s work, whereas the Cross – as our suffering- is the part of life in which we can actually offer some of our volition. This is not about any abstract, notional ideas of compassion, nor about how we might practically help others, it is about how we become like Christ -ontologically-, imitating Him.
    We are therefore not so much interested in making a difference to others (e.g. by alleviating others’ suffering in imitation of our ‘model’ -Christ ) –besides God is far more capable of making that difference with or without us- but to make an ontological difference to ourselves (e.g. by alleviating others’ suffering in imitation of our model) in order to one day be given the love (God’s energy) that no man can possibly find inside of him any other way. And bearing this “cross” is personal. It’s not really done “communally” – at least not in any other sense than communion with Christ… Until I become one with Him using this method there is nothing I can ever really do that will be truly good when inspected in His light.

    The idea that potentially

    compassion is always depriving someone of a cross which they bear.

    is also problematic.
    The cross isn’t dispensed by a Church or by an individual which needs to be pastorally worrying about how to administer it, it is born individually and administered by God’s providence. Therefore one’s way of thinking should ideally be that: “There are many things I must condone -in order to not judge- but the Church can never condone these things in what she preaches or alter what the commandments are…”
    I, on the one hand, must think that myself is the only one obliged to live by the commandments – that the only one obligated to repent, to suffer, etc. is me. Yet the Church on the other hand will preach this same personal repentance and the Cross to all indiscriminately. If it stops calling a sin, a sin this would seriously jeopardise the possibility of salvation for all. Therefore, for me to try and think what the commandments should be for others creates endless complications, allowing everybody else this ‘freedom to do whatever they like’ is what I must be doing. But this is not how the Church will speak ‘in general’. The general word is always exceedingly exacting –it must be- while the personal must be highly accommodating.

  63. Fr. Stephen and Michael Bauman,

    Thanks for your comments. They reveal to me that as much as I think I believe in being guided by the Spirit, I like very much to be guided by the rulebook. Perhaps I’ll learn to judge myself properly when I stop judging others.

  64. Now there are officially over 2000 gov agencies that write laws on how to live in our society. Obama rewrites many of these laws and hands them over to these agencies to make them “the Law”. Congress does the same when they want a law and makes part of it so obscure, then hand them to the agencies. As far as this marriage of homo/lesbian marriage is concerned many say the Supreme Court has make up its mind already. Hillsdale College in Michigan has a online course on the Constitution Law, please look it up because in the last few decades, the Congress and Pres has tried side-line the Constitution.

  65. Dear Meg,
    If my experience is any indicator, when God blesses you by showing you how bad your sins are you’ll become increasingly reluctant to judge others. It’s one thing to acknowledge that you have a mote in your own eye and quite another to actually see it. When you actually do see it in all its awfulness you’ll become “gun-shy” about judging others. The initial difficulty is that we are terrified of seeing and acknowledging the reality of our own sin. I dare say most experienced confessors (as well as therapists) will tell you the same thing. Nobody truly wants to see it. It’s embarrassing and humiliating to our pride but that’s what we need, right? To drag that sin, kicking, screaming, and pleading out into the light and naming it for what it is. This is the beginning of knowing authentic humility. It’s painful calling it out but doing so liberates you to begin becoming authentically Christian. With the guidance of your confessor strike the first blow so that you can get on with this amazing journey. Leaving that sin hiding in the dark, like a computer software program running silently in the background, will contaminate all your other efforts.

  66. I strongly agree with Gregory on this. The parable of the ten-thousand talents describes the ‘mechanism’ for this perfectly and most memorably…
    We must also strongly distrust our judgmental criticisms and believe in our propensity for delusion remembering that it is perfectly possible for our mind (like it happened with the Pharisees) to have Christ in front and mistake Him for beelzebub…

  67. I think there is an even better way; to refrain from judging both oneself and others. As St. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4:3 “I do not even judge myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.” NASB

    I think one reason why it is dangerous to judge oneself is that the impression can be so deep and permanent. What is the use of that, when simply by showing oneself to Christ, one can be re-created, thus rendering previous judgment inaccurate?

    I think religious people tend to give evil way too much credit. This is another, more common way of mistaking evil impulses for Christ – by making of Christ an accuser.

  68. Reading Michael Hanby’s article over at First Things and Rod Dreher’s response to it, it made me think of our conversation here. These writers are of course addressing these issues in a decidedly political/cultural context which of course is First Thing’s mission. Something that Hanby says:

    “For in its enforcement of the sexual revolution, the state is effectively codifying ontological and anthropological presuppositions. In redefining marriage and the family, the state not only embarks on an unprecedented expansion of its powers into realms heretofore considered prior to or outside its reach, and not only does it usurp functions and prerogatives once performed by intermediary associations within civil society, it also exercises these powers by tacitly redefining what the human being is and committing the nation to a decidedly post-Christian (and ultimately post-human) anthropology and philosophy of nature.”

    Of course, the state is “codifying” these presuppositions because the people have already accepted them and want the state morality to reflect their own. Which brings me back to to the question – what is our (meaning Orthodoxy/Classical Christianity) “common ground”, what is the common language and assumptions we bring both bring to the table when discussing these things?

    I agree obviously that these questions are not “legal” as in “legalistic” – that they are ontological and anthropological. However, in a religious environment, a culture and people that is unable to reason at the ontological/anthropological/metaphysical level (for a host of reasons) you simply can’t engage them at that level. If the “legal” ground is bankrupt, how is the “ontological” ground supposed to replace it?

    If the culture is lost and we assume to speak only to those in the Church, how do we do this as they have no more grounding at the “ontological” level than the culture (I judge this based on my observations of the “average” parishioner, discussions around the anthropological questions on other blogs, etc. – I could be wrong here). I keep coming back to the fact that the people who “get it” do so due to either Providential personal “crises” moments which led to a conversion or because they happened to be raised in a true “Christian” family/cultural backwater which was somewhat common even 30 + years ago but are extremely rapidly disappearing. The young people of course don’t get it because theirs is a different ontology/anthropology than the Church’s though as I say above it is largely pre-supposed and unexamined.

    The answer is of course the Gospel, as it always has been – very difficult however to a “post Christian” because that person thinks he understands the grammar but of course does not. Things are moving so rapidly now, I think many many will fall away without the tacit or grudging acceptance of the culture. Such a mystery!

  69. AR. I look at my personal evaluation, i.e. self-judgment much the same as reins for a horse. Sometimes a tight rein is needed, sometimes a loose rein but some kind of rein or direction is almost always needed. It is best to do it with a well trained horse master (spiritual father).

    Since I tend to be rebellious and recalcitrant I find myself benefiting frequently from a tighter rein.

  70. Our brother, Mark Ehrling says <>

    Mark, how is this not an example of Nominalism and of thinking, as Father, says that “anything can be whatever we want it to be:? I am confident Father did not intend his post to occasion a legal debate. His focus is on personhood and salvation. However, I am trouble by certain unfounded assumptions in your thinking–or the way you have expressed it–which are not unique to you but are so widespread today as to be thought of as axiomatic even among Christians who ought to have the Gospel and the creation story as our anchor.

    What is a pluralistic society? What is a society at all, and how pluralistic can it be and cease to be a society at all? Are “homosexuals” truly a class of persons? Rosaria Butterfield and David Benkof tell us that we owe the term and category itself to Freud and they didn’t exist before. Here is a case of nominalism at its worst.

    What is marriage that you suggest should be subject to equal protection of law in such a way that every person (presumably) has a “right” to it? The creation story and the words of Christ, and the Tradition, tell us: it includes a procreative, nuptial (self-donating and self-sacrificing) martyrdom of a man and a woman, for the purpose of tending, keeping and replenishing the earth and raising up children in the fear and admonition of the LORD (after His image and likeness), and bearing witness to the eternal priesthood of Christ and of His kenotic love for the Church.

    The equal protection terms in which you put the matter evince an entirely different, and nominalist view of “marriage” which pales in comparison to the pattern discovered in Christ.

    What, by the way, is a “right” and whence does it come? Andrew Cuomo last week insisted in a combative interview he had with Judge Roy Moore that “our rights do not come from God, they come from man,” they come from our agreement on them. Of course, this means there is no such thing as a right at all–only something we concoct or enjoy if we have enough power, wealth or influence. But the tradition understanding of rights is that they do, like everything else essential that we enjoy, come from God, who bestows them so that we may accomplish in this life the purpose for which He made us to know Him, love and enjoy Him and our fellow man, to experience and magnify Him Who is goodness, beauty and truth, until we grow together into the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; in some small measure, according to the grace given us, to hallow His name and to participate in His will and His kingdom. A right is not preeminent as Modernity would have us think, but each is derived from a concomitant and precedent divinely-given duty and, like grace, it is bestowed so we may fulfill our respective vocations and the good things to which we are called.

    Christ is in our midst. May He forgive me, the sinner,
    rlb

    Christ is in our midst,
    rlb

  71. On self-judgment.

    Much of what passes for self-judgment is simply agreeing with our adversary. The Elder Sophrony called these accusing voices, “My assassins.” When he was praying and they began, he would say, “Lord my assassins are here.”

    These self-judgments can be paralyzing exercises of the ego. It is enough that we acknowledge our brokenness and weakness before God and be satisfied with His beloved presence. There is no need to then begin to berate ourselves in what quickly becomes a perverse form of pride.

    When we fail, just say, “Lord, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” And then enter paradise. Or have a cup of tea.

  72. AR,
    I earlier observed the need to distrust our judgment – a relentless theme in the word of our Holy Fathers and Mothers, all the way up to the recently glorified saint Paisios of the Holy Mountain. And understandably this incorporates judgment both of others, and oneself.

  73. Father Stephen, you said,

    “These self-judgments can be paralyzing exercises of the ego. It is enough that we acknowledge our brokenness and weakness before God and be satisfied with His beloved presence. There is no need to then begin to berate ourselves in what quickly becomes a perverse form of pride.

    When we fail, just say, “Lord, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” And then enter paradise. Or have a cup of tea.”

    But in Luke 23:41- the good thief sais, “…we receive the due reward of our deeds…Lord, remember me in your kingdom.” In the Orthodox Study Bible the notes say of the good thief, “the first of the criminals [the bad thief] wanted to use Jesus to avoid responsibility for his actions [when he says, “If you are the Christ, save Yourself and us”], while the other accepts his sentence and asks simply to be remembered. The latter way is the path to Paradise.”

    This reminds me of a few things:

    First, that I am Adam, in that I am responsible for the sins of the whole world. Just as Dostoevsky’s character, Fr. Zossima, says, “There is only one means of salvation, then take yourself and make yourself responsible for all men’s sins, that is the truth, you know, friends, for as soon as you sincerely make yourself responsible for everything and for all men, you will see at once that it is really so, and that you are to blame for everyone and for all things.”

    And second, David’s longing to for God to reveal to him the depth of his sins in order to ultimately be revealed the path of salvation: “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24, KJV)

    And third, From Met. Anthony of Sourozh, “No one can live without sin, few know how to repent in such a way that their sins are washed as white as fleece, but there is one thing which we all can do; when we can neither avoid sin, nor repent truly, we can then bear the burden of sin, bear it patiently, bear it with pain, bear it without doing anything to avoid the pain and the agony of it, bear it as one would bear a cross; not Christ’s cross, not the cross of true discipleship, but the cross of the thief who was crucified next to Him. Didn’t the thief say to his companion who was blaspheming the Lord: We are enduring because we have committed crimes; He endures sinlessly… And it is to him, because he had accepted the punishment, the pain, the agony, the consequences indeed of evil he had committed, of being the man he was, that Christ said, ‘Thou shalt be with Me today in Paradise…”

    So isn’t their a proper way of judging ourselves, namely in order to personally accept “the due reward deeds, realizing our “deeds” accumulate to no less than the sins of all men, as “Zossima” reflects? If Zossima is correct should we not recognize and accept our due reward, which is ultimately to recognize and accept all of the pain, suffering, and death of the whole world as rightfully resting solely upon me? And should we not bear the whole worlds suffering “with pain, bear it without doing anything to avoid the pain and the agony of it, bear it as one would bear a cross,” as Met. Anthony says? And then, because we “accepted the punishment, the pain, the agony, the consequences indeed of evil [we] had committed” that Christ will say to us, “Thou shalt be with Me today in Paradise…” ?

    How can we bear this suffering as our due reward without self-judgment? I am not saying we should be paralyzed with despair, but “keeping your mind in hell and despairing not” still requires our judging ourselves as being responsible for hell itself.

  74. Michael, you insult yourself – so how can you expect me to believe you? It would be uncharitable in me.

    Fr. Stephen, I think that is good advice, and it’s balm to my soul, as well. I’m sure there are people who never look inward to question themselves, but very few of them seem to frequent this blog. 🙂

    Dino, relentlessness I always look askance at. It has so much of the character of willfulness. Don’t you see that however logical your statement is, it easily turns into a spiral of questions one can never get to the end of? Do we mistrust our mistrust, as well?

    “If we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged.” There – I even know a scripture contrary to my own idea. But the true, inner meaning of judgement, I feel certain, is to endeavor to open oneself to the Lord’s gaze, to his creative touch, or to whatever he chooses to do with what he sees. When we pre-determine what it is that he should do or what it is that we think he must see, this prevents such activity from taking place. This is what I mean when I say we shouldn’t judge ourselves. I don’t mean, “judge, but mistrust your judgment.” I just mean, don’t spiritually self-diagnose, don’t find evil things to believe about yourself.

    I think this must be the inner meaning of mistrusting one’s own judgment as well, but I struggle to think in those terms profitably.

    Partly because I cannot function in the world without developing my judgment, and people are constitutionally unable to develop good judgment without developing a certain trust in that judgment. (You can’t have it without using it; you can’t use it without trusting it.) It’s the nature of the thing. Those who go through life without good judgment (in the usual sense of the term) lack integrity and are not fulfilling God’s creative purpose for them.

    Again, I make a distinction between good judgment and judging oneself to be guilty of various things; the latter, I think, is was what Gregory was saying people need to do. (I’m not so sure Meg meant the same thing; she seemed to mean “evaluate.”)

    I recently saw a very sad spectacle of someone who seemed to be suffering mental illness as a result of unrelenting negative religious thoughts about himself – not for the first time, either – so I’m feeling extremely cautious about such things. That is all. I am sure there are many holy people who walked a path of negative self-discipline, but as I’ve said before, and still feel, we are free in Christ to discern between good and better even within our holy tradition.

    I beg you not to be impatient with my caveats and distinctions. It is my nature to investigate matters thoroughly, but I don’t do it out of adversarial intention toward you.

  75. AR,
    I do not see any disagreement there with what you just clarified. In fact, my main caveat on ‘good’ mistrust of oneself (to try and translate Saint Paisios’ expression) mainly concerns the diametrical opposite to “unrelenting negative religious thoughts about oneself”, namely, the danger of spiritual delusion – and its permutations – something we all -according to Elder Sophrony- suffer from.

  76. I must mention that I have often encountered an important presumption missing outside of the more traditional Greek orthodox mindset. It does lead to some misunderstandings that should be corrected as AR rightly does. It is the assumption/presupposition that the sense of “having been forgiven greatly” is the main feeling when one says “I am the greatest sinner on earth”. It is therefore the love that God shows me that makes me feel a greater sinner, far far more than the sins that I discover in my heart as I progress in God’s Light, and against this background of His infinite unconditional love that I (or anybody else) could never be deserving of, that my sinfulness becomes exceedingly, (infinitely even) greater. And it is generally ‘sinfulness’ rather than particular sins that the Holy Father’s imply when they use these oft misunderstood expressions – and of course, the greater the Light that shines on one’s heart, the more clearly this ‘sinful propensity’ is revealed to our blindness…

  77. AR, I long ago decided not to be offended by anyone because no matter bad stuff they attributed to me–what they said about me was either true or could be true. I have certain proclivities that lead me in the direction of death. If I do not recognize those and rein them in, I jump in the dead pool all too easily. Recognizing those proclivities in myself seems prudent.

    While I try not to condemn myself (as that would also lead to death) it is best that I acknowledge the defects. Otherwise how could I respond in humility when friends whack me across the head with a (figurative) tire iron.

    Otherwise how could I possibly follow the outline of repentance that Fr. Stephen recently published from the The Way of the Pilgrim that my own confessor has given me to work on:

    I don’t love God, I don’t love people….etc.

    My actions tend to prove those statements are true about me. BUT….I could not make them about myself it they were absolutely, completely and irrevocably true, i.e., somewhere in my soul, perhaps a large portion of my being, is a deep and abiding love for God and a great empathy for others.

    I also have my wife who daily tells me how wonderful I am–go figure. She, as is her wont, sees the best in others. When she looks at me, I know she is absolutely right. What a blessing.

    Still, there is none good but God and theosis still eludes me.

    The paradox is that it is impossible to repent, really repent, unless one recognizes two things: 1. God is good and perfect in His love for me; and 2. He makes me worthy of that love no matter how bad I may seem to myself and what terrible things I do.

    That is awe inspiring, at least to me. Not only does God command this mud to become divine, He makes it happen if I cooperate, indeed in some ineffable way I already am divine (created in His image and likeness). I have enough evidence in my life to recognize that as more than a theoretical statement. I know His mercy and His abundance. The only thing I can say about that is Wow!

    There is patristic advice to condemn yourself before Satan does and there will be nothing against you at the dread judgment seat.

    The key, IMAO, is that I don’t lapse into despair (the way of death); nor assume that I am better than I am which could lead to hubris (the way of death).

    I am also more than peripherally aware that “in the course of justice, none of us should see salvation…” and the rest of that incredible poetry on the reality of mercy.

    “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

    Thank you for taking me to task, it is always so refreshing.

  78. Archim. Zacharias related that he was very impressed with the words –I think they were from Saint Paisios- :“Do you long to genuinely know God? It’s extremely easy. Just approach Him with a painful heart, and it’s easy to relate to Him, through a contrite and humble heart.”
    And he would often ask “which is the greatest commandment of the New Testament?”
    After all the usual answers he would go on to explain: “if you open your New Testament and read in St. Luke’s gospel, chapter 17, verse 10, you read there: When you have done all the things I have commanded you—all: to love God with all your heart, to love as I have loved you—when you have done all the things that I have commanded you, say to yourselves, “We are useless servants, and we have done that which we ought to have done.” The greatest commandment is to have this consciousness continually.”

  79. “The Christian view of personhood is an invitation to voluntary suffering and self-sacrifice.”

    It’s exactly this idea that changed my life so drastically when I came home to Orthodoxy. Though I was a Protestant for years, I saw nothing wrong with giving into my feelings of being attracted to other women and even identifying as a transgender man. As a teenager and young adult, it was easy for me to see and believe the justifications of the world for my passion; easier still to cling to the Christians and churches that professed that, since God allowed us to have these feelings and desires, it followed that it was okay to live them out. I refused to entertain the idea of giving them up because some church said God wanted me to. There is no actual concept of suffering or sacrifice being something that is pleasing and glorifying to God within most American churches.

    And yet now, a mere 6 months after first attending a liturgy and finding what is now my home parish, I’m discovering such unspeakable joy in the daily sacrifice of giving up my same sex attraction and feelings of gender dysphoria. I was so blessed by the grace shown by my priest and by the Church Fathers in the way they deal with the reality of our passions. I had come into the Church assuming my sin would be viewed with the same damning hate that many “conservative Christians” exhibit, and yet was met with nothing other than Christ loving me enough to want what’s actually best for me. Like one of the earlier comments on your post mentioned, there is such a change now from identifying as someone who was queer and transgender and proud of it, to being able to come as a sinner before Christ.

  80. Robert Bearer,

    It appears you misunderstand Mr Erling making a case for a nominalist view of marriage and personhood. He is not. He is pointing out the equal rights afforded to citizens by our civil government in the US.

    AR wisely pointed out the need for patience whilst making distinctions and caveats in the pursuit of thorough understanding. Albeit she made her remark in relation to a different topic in the conversation, her wise words apply equally to Mr Erling’s comment.

    A distinction between holy sacraments and civil rights has to be brought into perspective. Conflation of the two is hugely problematic. Besides, as Father aptly points out, promoting theology by means of legal and natural law models has absolutely no credibility anymore. I believe this to be beneficial for Orthodox Christianity in the long run. It can be, at any rate, if we demonstrate in deed the superiority of life as understood by the Church. But this must and can only be done so on traditional Christian terms. Any subverted theology and practice will fail, to borrow a phrase from Acts 17:6, to “turn the world upside down.”

  81. All

    Don’t underestimate what Father Stephen is communicating in the phrase’remember me in thy Kingdom’

    The essay from someone Father Stephen admires, Donald Sheehan, has the potential to dramatically deepen this simple phrase into the key elements of ‘The Way’. Enjoy a portion of this essay below as well as it in it’s entirety in this link:

    http://www.dartmouth.edu/~karamazov/resources/?page_id=446

    ————–
    Central to Eastern Orthodox Christendom is the singing, at the end of every Orthodox funeral, of the song known as “Memory Eternal” (in Church Slavonic: Vechnaya Pamyat). This song also concludes Dostoevsky’s great, final novel, The Brothers Karamazov, when, following the funeral of the boy whom Alyosha Karamazov (and the circle of schoolboys around Alyosha) had deeply loved, Alyosha speaks to the boys about the funeral and about the meaning of the resurrection, with this brief song as their steady focus.

    My thesis is simply this: to know something of this song’s meaning is to comprehend both the Eastern Orthodox faith and Dostoevsky’s greatest novel.

    We can best approach the meaning of this song through following the connection between the Orthodox funeral services and the crucifixion of Christ. Fr. Pavel Florensky, recently canonized by the Church in Russia, articulated the connnection by first asking, “What did the wise thief ask for on the cross?” (144) and then answering by quoting from St. Luke’s Gospel: “Lord, remember me when Thou comest in Thy kingdom” (23:42). Florensky then continues:

    And in answer, in satisfaction of his wish, his wish to be remembered, the Lord witnesses: “Verily, I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise.” In other words, “to be remembered” by the Lord is the same thing as “to be in Paradise.” “To be in Paradise” is to be in eternal memory and, consequently, to have eternal existence and therefore an eternal memory of God. Without remembrance of God we die, but our remembrance of God is possible only through God’s remembrance of us. (144)

    Florensky here articulates the essential reality of Orthodox Christianity: the relational reality of all personhood. We are persons, says the Orthodox Church, because we fulfill the three conditions of all existence. These three conditions were articulated in the third century A.D. by the Orthodox Fathers known as the Cappadocians. They are summed up in this way by J. D. Zizioulas in his wonderful essay called “The Contribution of Cappadocia to Christian Thought”:

    We are persons because we know ourselves as foundationally free, under not even the tiniest bondage to, or limitation of, either earthly history or the material world – a freedom even prior to and greater than the Church herself because (as Zizioulas says) such freedom “constitutes the ‘way of being’ of God Himself”(34).
    We are persons because we can give ourselves freely and entirely to another in self – emptying love; that is, we can voluntarily surrender all our selfhood entirely into the hands of another in the action of loving that other. Zizioulas puts it beautifully: “Love is a relationship, it is the free coming out of one’s self, the breaking of one’s will, a free submission to the will of another”(34).
    We are persons when we understand ourselves as wholly unique, as entirely unrepeatable and forever irreplaceable. As members of a species we are merely replaceable and countable individuals in a set: biological, historical, or sociopolitical. As members of a set (or sets), we can be compelled to serve extrinsic, even hostile, purposes; we can, that is, be treated as things. But as persons, we are unique and unrepeatable; hence, we cannot (as Zizioulas says) “be composed or decomposed, combined or used for any objective whatsoever”(35).

    These three conditions of personhood – foundational freedom, self-emptying love, and absolute uniqueness – shed great light on what the Orthodox Church – and Dostoevsky – mean by the phrase “Memory Eternal.” It means this: in the same way that the wise thief achieves personhood by entering into loving Christ freely (and this freedom is emphasized in the crucifixion scene as everyone else mocking Christ while the thief freely and deliberately chooses to love), just so we become persons in freely surrendering our own will, in an action of love, into the hands of another.

    Dostoevsky gives beautiful expression to this Orthodox understanding of personhood early in The Brothers Karamazov when he describes the relation between Alyosha Karamazov and his spiritual father, the Elder Zosima. “What, then,” asks the narrator, “is an elder?” He answers:

    An elder is one who takes your soul, your will into his soul and into his will. Having chosen an elder, you renounce your will and give it under total obedience and with total self-renunciation. A man who dooms himself to this trial, this terrible school of life, does so voluntarily, in the hope that after the long trial he will achieve self-conquest, self-mastery to such a degree that he will, finally, through a whole life’s obedience, attain to perfect freedom – that is, freedom from himself – and avoid the lot of those who live their whole lives without finding themselves in themselves. (27-28)

    This perfectly expresses the Orthodox understanding of the relational reality of personhood. And the whole of The Brothers Karamazov can usefully be read as a vast commentary on this single passage. At age 19, Alyosha Karamazov struggles to achieve the “perfect freedom” found only in loving obedience to his spiritual father, the Elder Zosima. At age 28, Dmitri at first rejects the Orthodox way of personhood by plunging into a life of entirely autonomous desires and their endlessly self-willed fulfillment. But then, in the course of the novel, he discovers a profounder and more directly Orthodox experience when he discovers the relational reality of personhood through his love of Grushenka. The middle brother, Ivan, age 24, rejects the ways of both his brothers in the name of a still more terrifying autonomy: not the passional autonomy his older brother Dmitri attempts but a spiritual autonomy, one wherein he asserts his own will as more perfective than God’s will in creating the world. Ivan’s spiritual and psychic agony in the novel’s final 100 pages stands as Dostoevsky’s revelation of what inevitably happens to those who attempt to deny or unmake the Orthodox reality of relational personhood. It is the attempt to unmake Memory Eternal through self-willed oblivion.

  82. Dino, I appreciate that clarification. That feeling as you express it is powerful and precious.

    Michael, I’m sure your wife is right. 🙂

    Jay, I really, really appreciate your testimony. Some friends and I are investigating issues of sex and theology and related stuff, and it’s good to know that life of the Orthodox Church has an answer for everyone, even if some of us are still struggling to articulate the why and wherefore.

    If you want to contribute to our conversation at any point, please visit us at the Theodora Society forum. We’re just getting started.

  83. Fr. Stephen, when you are able, I would like to get your viewpoint on a question about best practice in the confessional. Since I’m not ever going to be a confessor, I’ll try to ask it as a question about what lay people should submit to in the confessional. Obviously, if you don’t have a spiritual father who is a saint in the flesh, it’s wrong to entrust yourself entirely to your confessor. You have freedom in Christ to say, “Could we not do that, please,” right?

    So my question is about when you go to confession, and the confessor tells you what to say. Either he says aloud, “You know, you have such and such a problem that you should confess,” or else he gives you a printed piece of paper with a list of sins that he, with his confessor’s authority, expects you to confess to.

    Isn’t this close to being accused? I mean, that’s not best practice, right? Should lay people, especially people who have been in the Church awhile and know how to make a confession from their heart, submit to this?

    Now there was a variation of this that I experienced right after I was chrismated. It was a list of sins and you could just say the ones you felt you were guilty of. I didn’t think that was terribly harmful, although I wanted to grow out of it quickly. Perhaps this is helpful for people who don’t know what’s considered a sin and what isn’t? Still, I think it sensitized me in an artificial way…

    I understand you may be ambivalent about commenting on the practices of other confessors (and you have policies that may affect your ability to speak publicly to this issue.) But I also feel a sense of pain and concern for people who may come to Christ burdened by the condemnation of their own heart, which we all feel, and are welcomed with further reproof and judgment before they can access the Lord’s forgiveness. So I hope you may be able to say something helpful.

    I hope you enjoy your travels.

  84. Dino,
    Can you please elaborate on your comment from February 15, 2015 at 5:07 pm, where you write:

    “We are therefore not so much interested in making a difference to others (e.g. by alleviating others’ suffering in imitation of our ‘model’ – Christ) – besides God is far more capable of making that difference with or without us – but to make an ontological difference to ourselves (e.g. by alleviating others’ suffering in imitation of our model) in order to one day be given the love (God’s energy) that no man can possibly find inside of him any other way.”

    Specifically, please elaborate on the part about making an ontological difference to ourselves in order to one day be given God’s love and not just making a difference to others. Are you talking about our main motivation for imitating Christ?

    This is very interesting. Many years ago, in my college days, I was part of a church where evangelism was taught to be the purpose of every Christian’s life. It was a high pressure environment. Later, in churches of a more general conservative evangelical stripe, the focus was generally on following Christ in a broader way, in order to love God and serve others as part of that love. In more recent years, in the Orthodox church, the focus has been on union with Christ. I cannot adequately put into words what this has meant to me. Suffice it to say, everything.

    Thank you for all your comments. And, thank you, Fr Stephen and others who comment on this blog. You have all blessed me beyond measure.

  85. Robert,

    I did not intend to suggest that our brother Mark (Ehrling) was advocating a nominalist view of marriage and personhood. I agree that he appears to have been simply suggesting that same-sex “marriage” is will be accepted on the grounds of the 14th Amendment’s guarantee to every person of the equal protection of the laws. (If I’m not mistaken it seems that you and he believe this outcome to be the correct one, legally). Father Stephen is right in suggesting that the effect will be to say that states cannot deny this “right” to anyone on the basis of his “sexual orientation” and the effect will be, in short order, to nationalize this right (which has already been imposed by judicial fiat in 37 states).

    I concur that this is likely the way a 5-4 majority of the justices will hold because clear thinking is becoming rarer and rarer in our modernist culture. This is the result of a nominalism that no longer knows what a “person” is (something Father Stephen took some time to discuss), what “marriage” is for and why it is has a privileged status at common law and by statute, or what “rights” are and which has come to accept “heterosexuality” and “homosexuality” (ideas and categories unknown before the mid-19th Century and the psychological theories of Freud) as a traits fundamental to a person’s identity.

    No, we live instead in a fairyland where, since the 1990s, we no longer no what “is” is and where a justice of our highest court can be taken seriously when he pontificates as a basis for a legal decision that “at the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” This from a man who claims to be–and probably thinks he is–a Catholic Christian?

    But such a statement evinces a superficial understanding of the meaning of “liberty,” of what makes a “right” a right, or the “mystery of human life.” It denies there is an objective (read: God-given) reality to any of these ideas, and says that all these concepts are but constructs of the human mind and convention–they can be whatever one wants them to be. In a “pluralistic” (read: humanistic, secular, materialistic and relativistic) society like the one being foisted upon us, none need agree with anyone else, for these concepts have no real meaning. Each is simply a matter of taste–and power.

    This is not wisdom or careful jurisprudence, but sweet serpentine arrogance and insanity. It would be funny if it did not have dire consequences, political, moral–and more importantly–spiritual, for it shows a wrong understanding of who Man is (anthropology) and Who God is (ontology)–an errant misunderstanding leading to social catastrophe and, for some, perdition. As a cure, the Orthodox Church will need to speak and live the Gospel all the more clearly, in season and out of season and steel us for martyrdom.

    Robert Bearer, J.D.

  86. Dear Mr Bearer,

    I don’t think these God-given realities are quite as objective or self-evident as you make them out to be. What do Christians have in common with non-theists? What is our common ground? We can hardly claim Christian anthropology as “neutral” and something the non-believer will readily accept. And why would they? our anthropology cannot be divorced from theology.

    I suppose I don’t understand your position, as it seems you wish to deny non-Christians their right to vote, own property, be taxed equally, etc?

    You ask, “What is a pluralistic society? What is a society at all, and how pluralistic can it be and cease to be a society at all?” The implied assumption here is that plurality and society are mutual exclusive, as antithetical. I don’t think is true, and neither is the opposite, that singularity somehow constitutes or guarantees society.

    You speak of “the mystery of life” – and well you do. But you are preaching to the proverbial choir. The real question is – how will you convince the non-theist to submit to the mystery of life as you see it? The time of assertion by fiat is long gone, and so is that lex naturalis.

  87. Dear Mr Bearer,

    I don’t think these God-given realities are quite as objective or self-evident as you make them out to be. What do Christians have in common with non-theists? What is our common ground? We can hardly claim Christian anthropology as “neutral” and something the non-believer will readily accept. And why would they? our anthropology cannot be divorced from theology.

    I suppose I don’t understand your position, as it seems you wish to deny non-Christians their right to vote, own property, be taxed equally, etc?

    You ask, “What is a pluralistic society? What is a society at all, and how pluralistic can it be and cease to be a society at all?” The implied assumption here is that plurality and society are mutual exclusive, as antithetical. I don’t think is true, and neither is the opposite, that singularity somehow constitutes or guarantees society.

    You speak of “the mystery of life” – and well you do. But you are preaching to the proverbial choir. The real question is – how will you convince the non-theist to submit to the mystery of life as you see it? The time of assertion by fiat is long gone, and so is that of lex naturalis.

  88. One aspect of Orthodox Christianity that I admire and have often highlighted to Protestants, agnostics and atheists who know next to nothing about Orthodoxy is that it is not threatened by scientific discovery. (For example, the Creation story read as allegory in no way contradicts the Theory of Evolution.)

    On this issue, I find that the science behind homosexuality has had an impact on social acceptance (which in turn has led to the legal outcomes you mention) but it does not seem to have impacted the Orthodox position that homosexuality is immoral.

    If one was to say that “promiscuity is immoral” or even that “divorce is immoral” then I would probably agree. But the idea that homosexuality is immoral by default seems to me to be like saying that autism is immoral.

    The science is pretty clear. Homosexuality is a natural outcome for a certain portion of any human population. It always has been.

    Can you help me understand why the Orthodox are not willing to accept the science behind this issue? It seems somewhat at odds with how it views pretty much all other scientific matters.

  89. TLO,
    The genital expression of homosexuality (and I don’t want to get graphic) is in no way demonstrated to be a “natural” outcome. It is certainly not uncommon, but no one can say that it’s actually “natural.” Orthodoxy teaches that the genital expression of sexual desire serves a primary purpose – procreation – and a secondary purpose – promoting the social bond on a biological level that supports the family. But sexual desire is seen as similar to all other desires – it is capable of use and abuse (and our desires are more often abused than not – the primary cause of human suffering in this world).

    The Orthodox tradition would say that the homosexual genital expression is a misuse of sexual desires. I’m afraid I would have to be more graphic in order to discuss that in detail. In a word, there is no “homosexual” genital expression of love. All such expressions are a very sad mimicry of the actions of a man and a woman. They always fall short and can never under any circumstances find a fullness – they cannot procreate – they cannot have a biological union. Even the families with gay parents are in fact, borrowing the children of a male/female union.

    The new notion that all of these things are simply equivalent is simply a political fantasy. It is only true if we agree to ignore things that are most obvious and pretend that some things are other than what they are.

    That things are what they are and run counter to the deep emotional desires of some is, I admit, quite tragic. Many things in life are tragic. But the Tradition is being asked to agree that there is no tragedy in homosexual “unions,” and that they should instead be blessed. But the Tradition believes that salvation, healing, conformity to the image of God is only possible in truth-telling and honesty – even in the face of overwhelming tragedy.

    There is no prohibition on the love of someone of the same gender. It is called friendship and can be exceedingly profound. But friendship not only does not require genital expression, it quickly becomes distorted by it.

    The traditional Orthodox teaching does not represent an adherence to an “outdated” science. The present “science” represents a political agenda masked as science.

  90. TLO,
    Perhaps there’s something to be said about how promoters of homosexuality often address the issue of “rights” (in intercourse with anyone we desire), while prohibiting any portrayal of homosexuality as deviant – which is a cunning tactic to politicize what has historically been an ethical issue. But this does not reverse the anatomical evidence; (the natural manner in which new life is created)… for instance, if someone wanted to walk down the street with his hands instead of his feet, (some people are born with such capabilities) could he compel all to concede that the anatomical evidence suggests that this is not an abnormality? The testimony of our lives indicates that we walk with our feet and not with our hands. The same applies for the choice of homosexuality.

    Homosexuality, according to Orthodox spiritual tradition, as expressed in the New Testament (St Paul) and the teaching of the saints, is what the Church terms a “passion”. Therefore one who began his/her life as gay or turned to homosexuality at some other time, when progressing in holiness, purifying the heart from the passions, they always cease to be gay. We have no homosexual saints who were sanctified through homosexuality (as married saints are sanctified through marriage), if this had ever been so, the Fathers would not have concealed it, nor thought – along with the apostle Paul – that homosexuality is another one of the passions that separates man from God.
    We certainly have saints who were once gay (as we have saints who were sexually immoral, lewd or prisoners of various other, non-carnal passions) but took the titanic struggle against their passions –whatever they were- and by the grace of the Holy Spirit defeated them and became holy.
    They are those who “castrated themselves for the kingdom of heaven” ( Matt. 19, 12).
    If homosexuality is derived from biological causes and is produced by society is still debatable in the opinion of completely impartial science. Either way however, it cannot be converted to a non-passionate state. One can be violent, for instance, due to a biological cause (eg because the body produces far more adrenaline and testosterone than it should) , but this does not mean that for him aggression “is okay” and that this needn’t be fought against in order to be cured of the passion.

    We hope to be saved, not because of our ” virtue”, but because of the love and mercy of God, which we ask for every day in our prayers, repenting and fighting, with His help, against our passions.
    But if instead, we are trying to convince others (and ourselves) that our passions “are ok” and not sinful, we are probably hypocrites and our salvation in danger far more.
    It must be clarified that we all need repentance, each for different reasons; everyone has to face their own passions, and not t accept them, but to fight hard. A heterosexual may have to face many passions associated with sex – and marriage can not always heal these, because they might feel the need of adultery, or intercourse with multiple sexual partners or an irresistible urge towards pedophilia, incest, bestiality and many others.
    All these passions are not “okay” and ‘straight’ is not necessarily more virtuous or closer to God than gay. Both can be saved because of the love of Christ, and with the struggle against sin, assisted by divine grace…

  91. TLO et al,

    Agreeing with what Dino and Fr Stephen above have posted, it is important to add that all the spiritual/theological dimension has to be distinguished from the issue regarding civil rights, freedoms, and responsibilities afforded to those of homosexual practice.

    Something easily overlooked and often conflated.

  92. TLO, science that does not contradict the anthropological and ontological understanding of the Orthodox Church can be a useful tool. However, science or more precisely metaphysical scientism can be, and often is, used to promote and gratify passions that are unholy, e.g. that God does not exist or is unnecessary.

    You can not use a supposedly allegorical reading of Holy Scripture to refute on of Scripture’s central tenets–that God created man in His image and likeness and that He created us male and female as a central part of that creation.

    Allegorical reading of Scripture actually deepens those realities and, in addition, places God at the very heart of everything we do and know: either running toward Him or away from Him we are always contingent on Him for our life and being.

    It is His life that is the creative and motive force that the physicists who specialize in sub-atomic particles are seeing at work constantly welling up into visibility and form. The music of the spheres resonating from the smallest particles to fill the entire cosmos.

    Because of entropy and the machinations of the evil one, much is out of harmony and appears to be ‘natural’ to those who only see the physical. In the beginning and in the end, it is not so but only because Jesus Christ incarnated and subjected Himself to that entropy for a little while becoming hungry and thirsty and tired and suffering as we do (but without sin) even unto His death on the Cross, which trampled down the death that the evil one wants so much to sow and inflict on us, to trap us in.

    You are correct that Orthodoxy is not at odds with science, but all too often what is called science is at odds with the revealed truth of the Orthodox Church.

  93. Dino and Fr Stephen,

    I appreciate the clear expositions of moral issues related to homosexuality. What troubles me, however, is that we have been reading and talking about ontological issues, and it sounds as though the church’s position as explained here is mostly forensic, if I understand both terms. Possibly I’m not clear on ontology. I’ve not tried using tat concept since university days, when we argued about existence vs essence, and so forth. But here’s my question:

    If they didn’t choose to be gay, or were not brainwashed or seduced by ‘the culture,’ might it not be possible to say that such an impulse, attraction, outlook is part of their being, in the same way that “straight” attraction is part of their being? I understand that there will be no marrying, etc. in heaven, but surely the conceot of humans “being'” i.e., existing at all, includes sexual attraction. If this is true, wouldn’t it be correct to say tht the rules against expression of that being, however bizarre those expressions seem, are forensic, or “merely” moral? That is, they offend a community’s sense of appropriate behavior, but they might not offend God, who is responsible for and loves all creation, all being.

    This type of expression is not in the same category as walking on your hands, nor is it simple friendship. The attraction of male to female is both instinctive and, within the Christian community, deeply blessed. And it is called rightly “love,” not friendship. Could not a gay couple be as blessed with love for each other, and complete each other in a similar way, without challenging either the creation-and-fall story or giving free rein to the passions?

  94. Robert, while you are correct it is equally important to recognize that civil rights and civil freedoms and civil responsibilities are not to be made equal to or superior to the spiritual realities and the path of salvation.

    Something can be a ‘legal right’ and still be spiritually deadly.

    The whole construct of the civil social contract is an artificial one designed to replace obedience to God as the primary path to real freedom.

    As Bishop Basil once said in a homily on the ‘right to life’: We have no right to life, life is a gift from God alone.

    When the priest intones “thine own of thine own we offer unto Thee on behalf of all and for all…” we are offering that life and all that it is back to Him “for the life of the world”

    I frankly don’t care what the state does, nor what the law says. God commands that I love Him and that I love my neighbor as He loves me. On this is based all the law and the prophets.

    When the state says that two people of the same gender can marry, OK, that is a law, but it clearly leads to death and what is worse, as counterfeit money devalues good money; counterfeit marriage devalues real marriage.

  95. albert, it is important to realize that all of us are out of whack in our being as it now stands and we can only be restored by the sacramental and ascetical life of the Church as we participate in God’s grace and mercy.

    All sexuality is distorted. Now there is a continuum in that some sexuality does not do as much violence to us and to the manner in which we were created male and female as some other types (see the list in Dino’s post for some examples of the greater violence). But if our sexuality were not still out of whack, celibacy would not be needed–and it is.

    The desire for conjugal union is first and foremost a desire for a fecund and life-giving union with God. Only as male-female is conjugal affection even possible, as Fr. Stephen explained. The rest are simply carnal passions no matter how deeply they seem to reside in us or how ‘natural’ they seem to us.

    If you read the early chapters of Genesis, contemplating on the mystery of the male-female synergy, it may become more clear for you. That’s how I began to learn it and pretty much every time I go back to those chapters, I learn more.

  96. Hi Michael,

    Never implied or meant to say that civil rights are equal or superior to theology. It is precisely this type of ranking which leads to conflation. Each are very important and for different purposes.

    There is absolutely no need to denigrate civil rights in the name of theology. It is a false a opposition.

    Do you wish to deny the freedom of speech to a non-Christian?

    Does a non-Christian’s unbelief and practice”devalue” the truth of our faith? I think not, and neither does civil marriage “devalue” the Christian holy sacrament of matrimony.

  97. It is in fact utterly ontological Albert. It’s why the union of Man and Woman are likened to Christ and the Church, not the “Church and the Church” (woman & woman) or “Christ and Christ” (man & man). It does not work ontologically (far more than “morally”), just like a full day in the Church’s understanding, say the Holy day of Pascha, includes a Saturday evening and a Sunday morning.

    How we are born (if it was a matter of this) does not change this ontology in any way. Eg: I might not be able to get married because of how I am born for many (other) reasons, just like I might not be able to become a priest, say because I was born with a missing finger – none of this changes anything though… It’s certainly not moralistic though.

  98. Civil law, often expressed as “rights” in our culture, are primarily a reflection of the moment. As I have written in some detail, the culture is not an evolution of rights, or a progress towards a greater day, etc. This is simply the rhetoric of modernity, frequently gainsaid by any reasonable consideration of reality. “Progress” is “branding” and little more.

    And when the current “progress” is put in place, complete with gay marriages, people will discover that they are no happier and fulfilled than they were before. In time, we may even begin to see what “gay marriage” is really like. Is it a stable form?

    I personally think that matters of property, inheritance, pension, etc., are matters that are easily dealt with in civil law without using marriage as the vehicle.

    What we are not discussing at present is the utter decay of the traditional, stable family. The sexual revolution has played a major part in this decay, as have certain economic decisions, as well as other legal developments. We are already reaping the whirlwind of a society whose dysfunction beggars description. Of course, in dysfunctional societies, it is the weakest and most vulnerable who are the first and most serious victims.

    Our current lives have been bought at the most staggering unimaginable price. Abortion is certainly part of the mix of the sexual revolution. The 60 million lives of the unborn – 1 out of every 3 children conceived since 1973) in the US alone are a terrible price for the convenience of “choice.” Of the other 2/3’s who have survived, there is a legacy of dysfunctionality. The nightmare of instability and social rot have no excuse other than “we chose it.” It’s a sad tale for our children and our childrens’ children.

  99. The man-woman bodily union is offered to God – undeniably as something entropically destined to die (since we do eventually both die)- yet He gives it back to us as eternally blessed – as Holy Matrimony- without which our salvation is doubtful: as in Cana, here too, H2O is turned into wine. In the same way we offer bread and wine during the Liturgy, (that is destined to go off) and He gives it back to us as His Body and Blood, without which we have no eternal life in us as Christ says. It is all very ontological. We could never offer urine and faeces for any type of blessing, and we -even more so- cannot offer a man-man (or woman-woman) bodily “union” either, for any type of transformative blessing. Now as to why does it look so much like our salvation of necessity is dependant on ‘marriage’? Why does Christ start his ministry in Cana with marriage? Can we not escape marriage? No, we cannot. Even the ‘mystical marriage’ of monasticism is a ‘marriage’ (the prayers of monastic tonsure tremendously resemble those of marriage combined with baptism – and baptism already tremendously resembles a ‘marriage’). God is only where “two or three” are together in His name and, patristically, ‘two’ here refers to marriage, ‘three’ to monasticism. Both are a marriage.

  100. The story (creation, etc.) is not a controlling moral story. It is an explaining story. It describes something quite real (hence ontological – really truly existing). But in the new accounts of human “union,” we want to make the body of no real consequence or importance.

    We are not disembodied. We are not minds who happen to inhabit a body. We are a body. The hands and feet analogy is, in fact, quite apt (it’s the first time I’ve heard it, surprisingly). One of the tragedies of homosexuality is the dysphoria that exists between mind and body and the social relationship that is appropriate to the body. It is indeed tragic.

    But under the new view, we are not even allowed to ask, “What’s wrong?” We are told that nothing is wrong. With this comes a relativizing of the body – it’s simply something I use however I want – it has no “nature.” There is nothing obvious about the body. All that is natural and obvious is what I, in the recesses of my mind, decide is natural and obvious.

    The absurdities of this can easily be pressed with analogy upon analogy – but they cannot be pressed because they are not allowed. And they are not allowed because they are considered “immoral,” i.e. a form of hate speech, etc.

    There need be no hate nor ill will involved in any of this. I am not the enemy of anyone, regardless of how they experience their sexuality. None of this is about what offends man or God. It’s not a moralistic issue. But it is an issue of speaking the truth and in speaking the truth to move towards truth as it is in Christ – and through Him – union with God.

  101. It’s s an old pagan view of the body, rehashed for “modern” presentation. A false anthropology vigorously opposed by the Church Fathers over the centuries. Nothing new under the sun.

    We have to do some rehashing ourselves. 🙂

  102. Robert, I did not make myself clear, I’m sorry.

    It is just that the whole construct of “rights” is increasingly problematic to me–artificial and empty.

    It is interesting that in our world the totally made up “rights” to abortion and same sex “marriage” trump both Constitutional rights of free exercise of religion and speech.

    Modern rights are simply used by the state as an excuse to be tyrannical and capricious.

    I don’t believe I have a free speech right. I certainly don’t have a right to be married or to expect that the world will not hate me because I follow Christ.

    If my priest or my bishop told me to stop posting on blogs I would do it. My personal will is immaterial. The marriage I have is an undeserved gift that I almost messed up by exercising my own will. The state that has denied God will always persecute Christians despite promises to the contrary–already happening.

    The state can do what it wants. However when state power is used to promote ideas and acts that mock God, there will be consequences. By promoting counterfeit marriage they are defacto devaluing and mocking Christian marriage. That will continue to destabilize the family making less meaningful in the culture if not in fact.

    I don’t expect you to agree. You have a perspective I do not share. It is possible you are right. I won’t argue as which one of is right has no bearing on our salvation.

  103. Robert,

    The beginning of an Orthodox Christian marriage ceremony begins with: “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”. As I have been taught, a marriage is a part of the Kingdom of God – and further, it is God together with the husband and the wife that make up a marriage.
    So, civil marriage, which is merely a contract that is recognized by the state, is absolutely nothing like an Orthodox Christian marriage. The two cannot and should not be compared.

    Father Stephen and all –

    About the notion of rights…I was listening, just yesterday in fact, to a homily of +Geronda Athanasios Mitilinaios, who, back in 1982, had this to say about rights (and please, forgive my rough translation):

    There is a difference between a philosophical ethic, especially when it’s tied to the state, and a Christian ethic. The philosophical ethic accentuates duties (to the state) and rights and many so-called (Western) Christian nations have adopted it and made it their own. They have become a people/nations who neglect and forget their duties and demand their rights – and use every possible means of protecting their rights and self-interests. Demanding rights while neglecting duties is yet another sign of the evil one at work.

    And then, remarkably, he finishes this part by saying: And we, the faithful, in imitation of the saints, should not fight back.

    I think that many of us should re-adopt the language – and action/non-action – of the Christian ethic and make it our own; we have only the Kingdom of God itself to gain.

    In Christ,
    Eleftheria

  104. Hi Eleftheria,

    Yes, wholeheartedly agreed regarding Christian marriage vs. civil marriage. In no way does the world’s (re)definition of marriage have a bearing on the meaning and understanding of Christian marriage.

    Christian marriage is underpinned by Christian anthropology which in turn derives its meaning from Christian theology (understood properly in the context of the fullness of Holy Tradition).

  105. Eleftheria,
    Father Athanasius’ words on rights and duties reminded me of Father Georgios’ (Abbot of Gregoriou) who, when asked by a genuinely impressed communist visitor (a famous personality in Greece) to come “out” (from Athos) to the world and actively preach to all, his instant response to the communist was (more or less) that:

    “our difference is that you guys want to eliminate the selfishness of others, whereas we want to eliminate our own”

  106. Interesting discussion Roberts (and to respond to both):

    “In a “pluralistic” (read: humanistic, secular, materialistic and relativistic) society like the one being foisted upon us, none need agree with anyone else, for these concepts have no real meaning. Each is simply a matter of taste–and power. “

    I think “pluralistic” is not what “ humanistic, secular, materialistic and relativistic” means or necessarily implies. As you say, a certain morality is being “foisted upon us”, thus it is not pluralistic – it is as hegemonic as any other society. Modern western society is putting the lie to the belief that a certain kind of liberalism was going to be “tolerant” or “pluralistic”.

    “The implied assumption here is that plurality and society are mutual exclusive, as antithetical. “

    I think they largely are, due to “the fall” and human nature’s current state. Folks just are not that “tolerant” and thus they continually foster their morality/theology on their neighbor. “society” implies a certain unity of underlying morality. Our western society is in a rapid transition from one morality (loosely the “protestant consensus”) into another (“modernism”). Thus Christians are in for a real persecution in the future.

    “There is absolutely no need to denigrate civil rights in the name of theology. It is a false a opposition. “

    No, but one has to realize that a “civil right” is a relative concept based on an underlying theology/metaphysic/morality/anthropology. That is why the “New Moralists” do not recognize the rights of unborn children, or the rights of Christians (or any one else who does not agree with them), etc.

  107. As I re-read the recent comments (Thank you, Eletheria, Dino, Robert, and others), I keep saying to myself, “Exactly.” I couldn’t agree more–

    except when I start thinking about a dear gay friend, alone, no family, no ”companion” at the end of a long life torn apart by years of self-reproach mixed with sadness at being alienated from his childhood religious community–many of whose prayers he says by heart, especially now that he is homebound and confined to a wheelchair– because he had eventually accepted what he understood was his true self. He loves hearing me tell about the “pearl of great price,” Eastern Christianity in the West, that I found late in life, but he knows that he would not be welcomed there unless he renounces that self that he struggled so long to come to terms with.

    So for him, as we’ll as for me (because I want to share that pearl, not only with him but with my family and friends–all of whom grew up in the same tradition that he and I did), it is not a question of rights, nor of marriage, but of simple recognition of every individual’s dignity–the very name of a church group my friend attended until a local religious authority said no more of that–and search for God. I do not understand yet why it is not possible to even consider that homosexual “orientation,” a popular term that he thinks implies choice and so does not use it to apply to himself, is not sinful, but the result of an accident of nature.

  108. albert, a desire to be sexually intimate with a member of the same sex is not, in and of itself, sinful–merely a disordered affection and a temptation to sin. As Gregory Manning has testified, one of the many consequences of that disorder is loneliness. It is an emptiness that can only be filled by God.

    All of us live to some degree or another with a disordered nature, estrangement and loneliness. We do better when we don’t act on our disorders but rather seek the grace of Jesus Christ to re-order us, transform us and transcend the disorder that leads to death. Put our disorders continue nonetheless. However if we begin to identify as our disorder such as: “I am an angry man.” That makes transformation and healing more difficult. If I approach it rather as I am a man who is troubled by anger, fear and shame I have something I can work with.

    It is a shame that your friend was cast out of his religious community. He was a scapegoat I suspect. Scapegoating is a pernicious disease and sin that far exceeds the sins it “casts out”. It is demonically destructive because Jesus Christ took on all of our sins. Scapegoating’s evil twin, however, is acceptance of disordered states to create the appearance of harmony. Our political and social culture has created a false dichotomy that says if you don’t accept everyone as they are, you are evil. The Church accepts everyone, but places each of us on a path of repentance. That is the distinction.

    It speaks well of you that you visit him and pray with him. But know that the Church rejects no one who seeks the truth of Christ. Now, specific parishes and people may in ignorance, fear and anger reject some, but not the Church. All are called to repentance, forgiveness and healing. For those who have been deeply wounded by the transgressions of others, as you friend has likely been, such a path can be quite difficult–more difficult than it would otherwise have been. It will take a lot of patience, empathy and kindness.

    Everything can work for good to those who love God, even our disorders which may be encoded in our genes to some extent. But genetics incline, they do not compel when it comes to behavior.

  109. Albert,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and the deep compassion you have for your friend. I found one phrase very interesting in your description….’what he accepted and understood as his true self’.

    One of the many delusions I persist in is the ‘mistaken belief’ that I can find what is true about myself without God. My true self is a discovery that God reveals to me; not something that I can declare unto God. Paradoxically, I find myself when I stop looking for myself and seek first Him with no reservations or conditions. The false self is borne and persists in my separation and isolation from Him.

    When I place anything above Him, it is truly my idol. And this idol will never help me discover what is true and real just persuade me that my fantasy is truth.

    There is no greater truth than each of us is one of God’s kids that He unceasingly loves and cherishes. He wishes us all to return Home as we let go of all that separates us from Him. Especially, the mistaken beliefs that what is most true of ourselves can ever be uncovered without Him.

    My thoughts and prayers are with you both

  110. Fr. Stephen – There are no words to express my utter dismay at your response.

    My heart is broken. I am weeping bitterly, as if I had lost something dear to me. And I have.

  111. Albert,
    I was going to respond, but after reading and agreeing to what Michael and Robert just wrote I do not see much point.
    Keeping one’s faith alone when confronted with your friend’s tragedy is something that deserves great merit…

    TLO,
    forgive me, but I am afraid your last comment made no sense to me.

  112. TLO,
    I’m not certain as to what is the cause of your dismay. What I have described in my response is the inherent tragedy of homosexuality. I fully recognize that it’s not experienced as a “choice.” It’s an affliction and doubtless a cause of suffering. I think that there is much in human sexuality, including hetero, that is equally disordered and is an affliction and a cause of suffering. In truth, I think there’s a whole lot of things about the human condition that are disordered and a cause of suffering.

    Christianity doesn’t exist to rearrange the world in a way that makes our inherent suffering disappear. It is a way of life in which we can not only bear that suffering but conquer death and hell through it. And there must be constant compassion, kindness and mercy towards everyone, because everyone suffers.

  113. TLO,
    I think like a pastor when I think as a theologian. And these issues are not theoretical for me – I’ve lived with them and pastored through them. If someone comes to me with SS attraction – the question isn’t, “How can I help them have a fairly happy life?” It is for them, as for anyone else, “How do I help them find salvation?” And that is not some forensic thing, but real union with Christ and movement towards the Kingdom.

    It is always the case for me as a priest, that someone’s salvation will inevitably require suffering. Mine does, yours does, theirs does. Which suffering and why? How much and why? How to support someone so that the suffering they bear is, in fact, necessary and salvific?

    These are terrible questions. But they are the right questions. And there aren’t any other questions that are worth asking. I’m not being asked to solve society’s problems, but to midwife souls into the Kingdom of God. My thoughts in answer to your question are in that context. For what it’s worth.

  114. “Christianity doesn’t exist to rearrange the world in a way that makes our inherent suffering disappear. It is a way of life in which we can not only bear that suffering but conquer death and hell through it.”

    As you said earlier the Cross will always get less votes than alleviation of suffering. The new anthropology has the capability to understand this (perhaps?), but truly “believes” in their new identity, thus they believe the Church is crucifying them unjustly. Identity comes before and defines the right application of right and wrong, suffering, etc. Thus, it believes that the Church is promoting “senseless suffering”.

    Perhaps that is to say that the new anthropology puts conditions on God, that is to say “you are not your own” becomes “you are this new identity, and God works from there”…just thoughts…

  115. Christopher, the new identity anthropology is not really all that new and is a fundamental denial of God.

  116. Indeed Michael, the ‘brave new world’ that the ‘new anthropology’ would promote is merely the ’emperor’s new clothes’ on the ancient “serpentine promise”

    ye shall be as gods (Gen 3:4)

  117. Father Stephen,
    Could you comment on the difference between identity as an alcoholic and identity as a homosexual? It seems that the suggestion has been made that once an alcholoic always an alcoholic, but is this not true with homosexuality? Not to answer my own question, but does the difference have to do with embracing the struggle vs denying the struggle exists? Could there not be a group that holds each other accountable in the struggle against sexual passions much like AA? It seems that a language does not exist in our culture that differentiates between the types of homosexuality that people struggle. Could one not say as a Christian that once a homosexual always homosexual, yet not making this an identity but a cross that must be carried and bore? However the language of our culture does not allow for this distinction.

  118. Michael and Dino,

    You are of course correct. What is different I think, whereas classical Epicureanism admitted a distant God(s) (similar to a “prime mover”) today’s Neo-Epicureanism admits only the self (externalized as “science” and the like), so the self referential identity is king.

    The “science” aspect is key I think, because for the modern Orthodox Christian, to question what is an actual sentimental concept but thought of as that semi-god “science” is to to be a throw back, a “fundamentalist”, a neanderthal, etc. etc. Thus, the tosh sentimental shout downs. Does the modern Orthodox Christian have the tools to make anthropological distinctions between modernism and Christian accounts of Man? I am assuming of course that the modernist “christian”, let alone a modernist, does not…

  119. ajt,
    I think something might be said here about how a person who truly advances in the spiritual life [beyond that point where the vision of their sinfullness becomes – through Grace – clear to their spiritual eyes] discovers far greater problems than the crude carnal ones -unimaginably more refined- namely, spiritual pride, and that becomes the ultimate “once a prideaholic always a prideaholic” issue that overshadows everyting elsefor the spiritual fighter and is clearly recognised as the root of any and all problems…

  120. Dino,
    I guess my primary concern is the way in which our culture is embracing everything sexualized in a way that is clearly outside the norm…especially heterosexuality (50 shades et al.) And it seems like the church is unsure of how to speak to the culture in a way that communicates love, compassion, and also truth. I feel like an attitude that you seem to suggest dismisses the reality of our current situation as a society. Yes perhaps homosexuality is not a condition of those “advanced in the spiriual life”, but many are not even approaching the way, truth, and life because the church has been communicating her message without humility. In other words, it may be that those in the church need to deal with their pride, before we can find a language that expresses truth in love.
    Clearly the cultures behavior is expressing its deep longing for fulfilliment that only God can provide. But we need to find a way as a church to communicate the truth without harming the psyche. Perhaps a methodology such as AA would be beneficial.

  121. ajt,

    I suppose in a way one can say:

    “And it seems like the church is unsure of how to speak to the culture in a way that communicates love, compassion, and also truth”

    if one supposes that:

    “feel like an attitude that you seem to suggest dismisses the reality of our current situation as a society.”

    means certain things: that the Church (and thus by extension the Truth) has to in some sense “compromise”, because as you say the “reality of our current situation” is what it is, namely a “reality”, something real – not to be denied and not really questioned on it’s own terms because it has a power and reality all of its own – it is indeed a new reality, a new truth, a new understanding that we did not have before…

    Except…that the new anthropology, the new reality, the “current situation of society” is not really new and is not really truthful and is does not present a ‘new truth’ of man. It is indeed one of the many false versions of man, just dressed up with new words such as “science” and the like.

    I personally don’t buy into the idea that the Church is not speaking with Love, Compassion, and Truth. It is the ‘new man’ that rejects God (and thus Love, Compassion, and Truth), but that is not the fault of Love, Compassion, and Truth. As evidence of this Google “Fears of the Modern World. Archimandrite Irenei” and listen to Archimandrite Irenei speak to a group of young people about fear (directly related I think to the anthropological “issues”) and the Church’s response.

  122. ajt,
    I have been involved in this question for the entire 35 years of ordained ministry and have never seen anything but love and kindness extended by the Church to those of whatever sexual orientation. Of course, I’ve not been part of a fundamentalist or mean-spirited Church. But both Catholic and Orthodox are extremely careful when they speak on these matters. But no matter how we speak, we are vilified and demonized by those who want us to say something different. I think there can and will be a wide variety of ministries helping in these struggles – as there always have been. This is not anything new. What’s new is our present social context.

    I hesitated to broach the subject at all on the blog, but I thought that in this series of articles it was perhaps required. But I also knew that it would disturb and disappoint some, for which I truly grieve. But I’m not sure how to say any of this better or more clearly.

  123. Ajt to modern ears any thing except the unqualified acceptance of the homosexual identity is considered prideful hate speech.

    The Church has to preach and do our best to live the Gospel. Then those who have ears to hear will hear.

    Personally I find nothing arrogant in the teachings of the Church. The problem comes when they ate confused the forensic moralism of so many or worse the demonic sadism of the Phelps klan .

    In its simplest terms the message of the Church is: “Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand” followed by “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”.

    The arrogance is in the refusal to acknowledge the need for repentance or to accept the forgiveness.

  124. Well said, Michael.

    Thank you, Father, for broaching this very tender issue. I found this post tremendously helpful and appreciate both the compassion and the clarity offered in both post and comments. The sanity of what you are saying is difficult for many to hear correctly in the current context. I fear folks like TLO, so damaged by the demonic sadism and forensic moralism of fundamentalism of which Michael speaks, just cannot, because of those wounds, hear your straightforward yet loving expression of the truth for what it is. That grieves me, too. It seems to me only God can heal those wounds, and I pray He will.

  125. Karen says:

    “. I fear folks like TLO, so damaged by the demonic sadism and forensic moralism of fundamentalism of which Michael speaks, just cannot, because of those wounds, hear your straightforward yet loving expression of the truth for what it is.”

    Reminds me that “life has many changes”, something I recently read in the life of the Greek Elder, Fr. Epiphanios Theodoropolos:

    “Someone thought that the Elder had treated him unjustly. He did not want to accept his explanations for anything. So he went to the Elder, full of anger, and showered him with a storm of accusations and curses. As he peeled an apple, the Elder listened to him silently till the end. As soon as the angry one finished cursing, the Elder offered him a piece, telling him, ‘Would you like, my child, a little apple?’

    “A second shower of cursing: ‘Not from you, hypocrite!’

    “The person got up abruptly to leave. Then the Elder stopped him and told him: ‘I will only tell you one word. Life has many changes. If you ever end up in need and think that I might be able to help you, don’t hesitate to knock on my door, fearing that I will remember these things you told me today. I have already forgotten them. Go with God’s blessing, my child!’

    “Sure enough, a few years later, the person knocked on the Elder’s door—a plain shipwreck of life. Not only was he then aided and supported, but, crushed and humble, he also became a frequent visitor of the Elder’s confessional.”

    Source: http://www.pravmir.com/resentment-and-forgiveness/#ixzz3SQCF5DJe

  126. “I hesitated to broach the subject at all on the blog, but I thought that in this series of articles it was perhaps required. ”

    Interesting that you say that, Father. I’m reading Sarah Coakley’s “God, Sexuality and the Self,” the first of her forthcoming series on systematic theology, and the major thesis of the book is that there is a direct, organic link between how we understand the Trinity, and how we understand matters of all desire/sexuality. This is particularly true since the ontological end of eros is theosis, union with the Holy Trinity.

    All that to say that it appears that the two issues are not distantly related, but rather completely wrapped up in one another. So it doesn’t surprise me that you were drawn to this topic, even if it is not a topic you would choose otherwise. It seems to me that the Orthodox understanding of the Holy Trinity has much to offer… and that the issue of the filioque might not be so picayune.

    I’m reading this discussion with great interest, with the hopes of better being able to communicate in love with my GLBTQ friends. Thank you all for your insights.

  127. How is it possible to have GLBTQ friends when we speak of them as “the enemy”, the “modern man” etc?

    “I hesitated to broach the subject at all on this blog” I too am glad you didn’t. This is an important topic for most Christians who want answers and understand their faith. But it seems to me that on the one hand we are tempted to dismiss it all, retreat to our ghettos and refuse to engage with the present context – while on the other hand we expect unbelievers to accept Christian theology and practice. What are we thinking?

    Why the hesitancy to broach this important subject? Why this thread of doom and gloom in the comments above – where’s our faith in the Lord?

  128. Robert,
    Hesitated, because I know how hard this is for some, including some folks whom I love very dearly. Who likes causing pain, even if it’s because you’re speaking the truth?

    Second, because many people have very dark passions (anger, bitterness, etc.) surrounding this topic and can get very nasty…which keeps me busy removing inappropriate comments, etc. You get to see the better stuff. I see the darkness as well. It is indeed an important topic. It is something that you must be taught. But it is speaking in the face of an adamantine cultural delusion at present (I think). Which means saying an effective word is very hard. And there’s little use in saying a word that is not effective.

    I think there are many things that need greater clarity. Male and female relations – heck, simply what male and female actually means in Orthodox anthropology – is also important and made difficult by the cloudy confusion of our present cultural demons.

    TLO’s reaction – which I would be interested in hearing him actually flesh out – is a case in point of things that make me hesitant. I heard pain in his reaction. And that’s a great sadness for me. It’s going to get a lot worse, I think.

  129. Thank you for the responses. These are difficult matters primarily because of the current cultural climate. Perhaps its just me who finds it difficult to explain an ontological process of healing in the context of human sexuality in a 10 second snippet when all the other person really wants to know is “what do you believe about homosexuality”. I lament the day when I will need to proclaim the orthodox view on this matter but without proper context. Lord have mercy on me the sinner.

  130. Thank you Fr Stephen, the pastoral aspect is crucial, you are absolutely right and I can see why that would give you pause.

    Because of this, I think too that we have to be very careful casting this topic in culture-war terms. The cataclysmic rhetoric stokes the passions and does little in fostering empathy and clarity of mind.

  131. I’ve hesitated about commenting. I appreciate Fr. Stephen’s writing on his blog and more recently in his book. They’ve been immensely helpful to me for more than a few years now as I muddle along my journey of faith and life. I don’t particularly want to muddy the water on this post. But it’s a topic that’s been increasingly niggling at me as I’ve read such discussions among Christians in recent years.

    It’s this. Most of these discussions focus on sexual identity (or perhaps try to frame it in terms of sexual behavior), but wherever someone places themselves in that discussion, the unspoken assumption often seems to be that human gender/sex is binary. In this post, Fr. Stephen even refers to the biological distinction of male and female.

    But that’s simply not true. Science reveals a very different picture of the human sexes and it’s one that forms a spectrum. One could, perhaps, say that “most” people are clearly and unambiguously what we would define as male or female, but many do not. The more we know about genetics and biology and the better studies we construct, the more we are finding how much a spectrum it really is. It’s certainly more common than we once imagined and may encompass as much as 1% of the human population.

    Nature has published a good article that I think explains it well in lay terms. It includes a good chart outlining all the variation. (Including a link may land my comment in the spam filter, but hopefully Fr. Stephen will rescue it if it does.)

    http://www.nature.com/news/sex-redefined-1.16943

    Now, that’s not to say that most intersex individuals don’t identify their gender as either male or female. Some don’t. That’s true. But many do identify as either male or female.

    But it’s not a gender identity that can be unambiguously tied to biology.

    When a theological anthropology begins with the assumption that humanity can be divided into binary male/female categories, it’s building on a flawed foundation. And if its core anthropology is incorrect, that certainly casts doubt on the edifice built upon it.

    Ironically, the flawed anthropology of most of Western Christianity (original sin, total depravity, etc.) was something I similarly never accepted. I have normally found that question treated as a matter of grave import in Orthodoxy. If Christ fully assumed our humanity and that which is not assumed is not saved, then it matters that we understand what it means to be human.

    Now, I’m certainly not an expert in this area. I’m an IT guy. Nor would I say any of my family are experts. But my father is a geneticist. My aunt is a geneticist and anatomist. My mother is an educator, psychologist, and art therapist. Discussions on science like this has been part of the air I breathe my whole life. I can work my way through academic papers and grasp a fair amount of the content. And I’ve done a smidgen of undergraduate work in this specific topic area. So while definitely not an expert, I’m reasonably conversant for a lay person.

    Of course, things quickly get even more complicated as you move up from the purely physical, chromosonal, and genetic into the realm of neuroscience and the brain, a field in many ways still very much developing. Lots of interesting things appear to happen during development (largely but not entirely in utero) that combine with our physical sex characteristics to at least help shape gender and sexual identity.

    Anyway, it’s certainly a question in my mind and may be a question others have considered as well. I thought I would at least raise it.

    Thanks,

    Scott

  132. Scott (et al),
    funnily enough, as soon as Christ mentions: “Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female”, (Matthew 19:4) He acknowledges the 1% (or more) by saying, “For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb”(Matthew 19:12)

    That is not the issue I believe. The issue is something similar to what happened in the ancient days of idolatry. Back then when one would dare speak against the idols/gods they would be thrown into the fiery furnace, the colosseum or stoned. Now when you speak against the passions (and I am not just talking about the genital expression of SS attraction here, it could even be something against gluttony or in favour of chastity), you will be similarly persecuted by those who feel like “you speak against our gods!”

  133. Scott,

    Good points and thoughts. My two cents worth – it is absolutely pertinent to acknowledge the differences between the discipline of theology and the physical sciences, chiefly the methods of acquiring knowledge (epistemology), the limits of their respective domains, and the differences in their intended purposes. What this means in regards to the issue of anthropology is that theology explains humanity from the perspective of the fall from Eden and the eschatological restoration that is to come. Scientific anthropology, however, merely observes the current state of humanity. You see, then, theological anthropology is not confined to how things are currently, but draws from what was before (humanity before the fall, as mankind was intended to be), is now (current state of decay, fragmentation, entropy etc), and what humanity will be – humanity’s teleos (a purpose and end for which the hard sciences fall silent).

    This all to say that traditional Christian anthropology is not built on a false binary, it describes the perfect binary as it was divinely created. It doesn’t end there of course, as this binary is revealed to be conditional, and not an end in itself, relativized in and by Christ (“there is neither male nor female…”).

    There’s a tension, not a conflict or contradiction, but a tension between science and theology. This tension resides in the difference between what is now and what will be. We should not resolve this tension, for if we do so we will collapse theology into “the now”, and all we be left with is the kingdom of man. As it is we are looking for the Kingdom of God, the blessed eschaton.

  134. I find it interesting that a culture who in most things insists on creating false binaries in this manner refuses to recognize any boundaries.

    Perhaps it is as Malcolm Muggeridge said that sex is the sacrament for the materialist.

    Perhaps it is the false eschatology of materialism (which includes false beginnings).

    In any case we are all effected by it.

    As Robert said we must not collapse theology into what things and creatures are like now (or how our darkened perception believes them to be).

    If there were not confusion on matters of sex it would be a miracle.

  135. I am encouraged by one of today’s readings (Julian cal.) –

    “Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. ”

    Although I’m not clear whom (in our discussion) the 2nd sentence might refer to, I am inspired and hopeful when I read the final one. Now I am off to liturgy to listen and join in with all.

  136. Thank you for addressing this subject, Fr. Stephen, and for addressing the comments here with love, thoughtfulness and respect.

    I cannot convey with words the profound sorrow I felt in my heart as I held my young son — watched him crawl and walk and became involved with his education through getting my teaching degree — and realized that our culture (Western, primarily American, but we’ve lived in Europe too) will not encourage male friendships has it has in the past. Thinking of the friendship described by David and Jonathan in the Bible and the type of friendship that causes and encourages boys to love to be around one another and do things together.

    Thanks be to God that we came to Orthodox worship when he was 5 years old, leaving the Anglican communion. I am still saddened by the cultural shift that you describe and address so well here, but I have been blessed by the prayers and the worship of God in Spirit and in Truth, and I know my son and all my family is blessed by this also.

  137. Scott,

    If I may, I’d like to offer a few thoughts my friends and I have been throwing around within our ongoing conversation on sex/gender and Trinitarianism, which has touched on the topic of intersex, albeit briefly. While we do not claim dogma for our thoughts, we are hoping that they might be a theologoumenon helpful to some:

    Firstly, there are three aspects of sexuality within the person: physical sex, psychological gender and spiritual gender. All sex/gender serves the purpose of theophany; that is, to reveal to us the living nature of the Holy Trinity. For a simplified example, our differences in sex/gender show us that unity in difference is possible without dissolution or separation.

    Physical sex serves this purpose of theophany, as well as procreation. Intersexuality in physical sex, however, shows us that our identities need not be wrapped up in this sexuality as the defining characteristics of our selves. Intersexuality exists, and intersex people are not, by any stretch of the imagination, deficit in humanity. An interesting observation, however, is that while intersex people show a wide variety of androgynous combinations, none of the intersex expressions are neuter, or completely devoid of physical sex (though there is varied level of ambiguity in personal experience). As was said before, Christ Himself said that some are born eunuchs— affirming that while their physical experience is different, they are not “other” than explicitly sexed humanity.

    Spiritual gender, according to such thinkers as Paul Evdokimov, is iconic for us of Christ and the Holy Spirit. Masculine spirituality somehow has an affinity with the Second Person of the Trinity: the Logos, and feminine spirituality somehow has an affinity with the Third Person of the Trinity: the Holy Spirit. This is not to say that the Spirit is female, or that the Logos is male (though, of course Christ is male). The Trinity is not sexed, and the concept of the homoousious persons shows us that no person of the Trinity is “less God” than another. Fully God of fully God, the love of the Trinity does not subordinate one to another in itself. All this to say that neither masculine nor feminine spirituality is superior. Aside from that, St. Paul tells us that this is a great mystery. (I would love to read the thoughts of a spiritually mature person who has lived with intersexuality; I feel that this may be very illuminating to the experience of spiritual gender.)

    It is the realm of psychological gender that appears to cause much of our societal consternation. But what if human psychology is the realm by which we show that female and male are one in essence? What if psychological traits are not divisible into masculine psychological characteristics or feminine psychological characteristics? What if my feminine psychology is merely the psychology of a human being that has been informed by the physical experience of being a woman, and the spiritual experience that I am just at the beginning of? We are all capable of sharing this psychological realm, whether we be male, female, or ambiguous– and it need not terrify us, spiritually. Perhaps there is some psychological gender that is innate; however, it is easily demonstrated that much of psychological gender is cultured (and not necessarily for the benefit of people, either).

    Anyway, just a few thoughts. Please forgive me if they are just confusing, or hurtful to anyone– no hurt is intended by any stretch of the imagination.

  138. Tess,
    I am not sure, but, I am thinking that your desire to read the thoughts of a spiritually mature person who has lived with intersexuality is like wanting to see the chargrilled fish you’re eating swim. These persons enter a spiritual and bodily sobriety that transposes their will to the heavens, where there is no male or female. The thoughts of a spiritually mature intellect are of necessity above and beyond what is endemic to their body which also been spiritually nourished.

    I could use a very long list of examples but I will use Theoliptos, Metropolitan of Philadelphia from the Philokalia (italics mine):

    “When the intellect turns away from external things and concentrates on what is within, it is restored to itself; it is united, that is to say, to the principle/logos of its own consciousness, and through this principle naturally inherent in its own substance it devotes itself entirely to prayer. By means of prayer it ascends with all its loving power and affection to the knowledge of God. Then sensual desire vanishes, every pleasure-inciting sense becomes inert , and the delectable things of earth cease to have any attraction. For once the soul has put behind it all that pertains and is endemic to the body , it pursues the beauty of Christ alone, engaging in works of devotion and of mental purity.

  139. My priest in his sermon this morning indirectly addressed the new anthropology/moralism that the culture is embracing. He has on one other occasion that I can think of recently. He rather had to today because our local paper this week decided to run a propaganda piece (I don’t know what else to call it) about a local “transgendered” person on the front page. I don’t read the local paper but it turns out just about everyone else in our little mission church does. It is of course a minor scandal because this is a small south western city filled mostly with rather “traditional” RC families. The paper (i.e. it’s owners/editors) was simply exercising it’s moralistic muscles.

    Discussing it with my priest after the service I learned his reluctance to address these issues more directly comes from the fact that we have had several (now formal) inquirers tell him flat out that they reject the Church’s anthropology concerning abortion and homosexualism. His timidity is thus understandable, though I am not at all convinced that it is the right response or is sustainable.

    My sister’s (perhaps she will post more detail her self) 8 year old was invited to a classmates birthday party this week. Upon arrival at the little girl’s house she learned (along with her little boy of course) that the girl has “two mommies”. One of the mommies is pregnant.

    That’s just two examples from this week. Those who promote a somewhat ill defined “pastoral approach”, what would you have our priest/and our little mission church do? How would you have my sister counsel her son?

    As my priest said today, there is “allot of junk out there” on what it means to be a human being and what it means to live a Christian life. I will say it again that I believe ours is a time that calls for clarity (dare I say “moral” clarity). One need look no further than some of the comments on this thread to come to that conclusion.

    When thinking about my young children, I can’t say I am at all confident that they will hear what they need to hear in a few years time. They certainly are not hearing it today (not that they are of an age that it matters yet – though my oldest is rapidly approaching this important time). I sense a bit of “walking on eggshells” around these matters that simply will not do at all…

  140. Scott,
    Thanks for the article link. First, we are doubtless more complex than we’ve imagined. Of course, in the case of the intersex, we see some ambiguity, though we don’t see a “third thing.” There is still just x and y, only it’s messy in some. Yes we are “binary” (we don’t have x,y, and z), only some are more binary than others. 🙂

    We are not in the position of trying to design a new sexuality for human beings (much less new genders). In the world of deconstruction, that is precisely what is going on. That is the construction of a New Man, part of the project of Modernity.

    These “binaries” are not only part of our genetics, they are part of the very depths of our psychology. cf. Jungian type stuff.

    But what is of concern for me, and the Church, is salvation and the fulness of Personhood (in the language of the Elder Sophrony). This, as is the thrust of the article, is found in kenosis, self-emptying, not in self-definition and self-assertion.

    My own observation over the years of pastoral work and reading is that human beings are “sexual.” We like sex. The object(s) of our desire is, in fact, rather malleable and not entirely stable. It has been suggested that the bulk of the population is probably bi-sexual if we are talking about what they would potentially find pleasurable. We have to add to that the even wider variations that historically include animals and other fetishes.

    I don’t think we can assume anything biological about this wide proclivity, only that people are very complex when it comes to sexuality. The Church, following the pattern of Divine teaching, directs this proclivity only in the direction of chastity, and of a rightly-lived union between a man and a woman. And I stress “rightly-lived” because the energies of our sexual expression are among the most destructive and shaming energies that we possess, as well as creative and life-giving.

    What we do not have, however, is a no-holds barred married sex is always good, etc., teaching. That is simply not part of the Tradition. Even married sex has its downside. None of this is about puritanical guilt – but about ontological realities.

    What we clearly have at present is a culture that is being consumed by sex with very disastrous results. At the very time we are being consumed with an epidemic of porn (just to use an example), an epidemic of unwed pregnancies, an epidemic of abortion and disease, the break-up of the family ( shall I go on?), at this very time and moment in our history – it is being suggested that the Tradition has got it all wrong and that Modernity (and “science”) should be trusted to get it right.

    It is so reminiscent of the long string of failed “we now know” schemes that have destroyed our modern world. And this challenge has very, very serious political power and money behind it. This is not a cultural change – this is a revolution.

    The Tradition has a proven record of producing saints – holiness and love of a transcendental sort. I still see no science that suggests any of the Tradition is wrong.

  141. Christopher,
    I felt similarly dismayed when it was announced the new governor of Oregon is “bi.” And she’s married, to a man. So what does that mean? Does it mean that she regularly commits adultery? If not, then why do I need to know that she has this disordered passion? I’m very tired of the politics of sex – it’s “in your face” approach. I want to go to Church and pray.

    Tonight, I have a radio interview for Ancient Faith Radio. I need to get my mind right.

  142. Once again Father I simply would like to express my deeply heartfelt thanks for your ministry. May the Lord keep blessing it!

  143. Father, her bisexuality does not denote bisexual activity, as neither heterosexuality denotes promiscuity.

  144. Robert,
    granted, but it still sounds no different to a person who has discovered they are attracted by a certain rare sexual practice (one other’s would not normally conceive of -unless they are steeped deep in experimental pornography) labelling themselves as so-and-so-sexual… what is the true motive behind such a self-description?

  145. Dino,

    Thank you for the quote, it is quite beautiful. As I’ve read in numerous places recently, all desire is desire for God, and only when it is thus rightly ordered can it be fulfilled.

    However, intersexuality cannot be truly transcended until the resurrection— it is a biological condition— a condition of the physical expression of sex/gender. So I would have to disagree with the assessment that a spiritually mature intersex person would be like a swimming charbroiled fish (though the imagery made me smile).

    I’m curious, do you believe that we cease having sex/gender in the eschaton? It seems to me that you would question the idea of spiritual gender at all.

  146. Dino – votes, self-identity, freedom of conscience – what does it ultimately matter? What is it to us, why do we care?

  147. “votes, self-identity, freedom of conscience – what does it ultimately matter? What is it to us, why do we care?”

    Some reasons I believe Orthodox Christians should care:

    1) According to anecdotal (priests experiences with their flock, etc.) and more rigorous research by Terry Mattingly and others, about half of Orthodox parishioners over 30 believe in the “new anthropology”, and about 80 percent of those under 30 believe in it. This false spirituality and understanding obviously has ramifications for their salvation.

    2) Even if we somehow justify leaving our non Orthodox neighbor (let alone our Orthodox ones) to their own devices and say to our selves “Love does not require us to be concerned with their delusions, we can only think of ourselves” many of us have children, and so have to find a way to navigate through the delusion and do our best to give the foundation (of Truth) that Love demands we give them. How do we do this? What do we say to our child who just met their classmates “two mommies”?

    3) The new anthropology is of course part of the project of Modernism, which believes in the perfectibility (or at least the progressive improvement) of man, the idea that man can “evolve” into things new, take on new “identities” (sexual/gender and otherwise), as well as the radical equality of individuals, etc. etc. All this of course is a different theology, a different “story” of man, creation, sin and salvation, etc. than the Christian one. We have to live and preach (as we our commanded by our Lord to do) in such a environment.

  148. Christopher,

    It is irrelevant – Oregon’s governor’s self ID does not hinder our teaching and living the Gospel. It can be used to demonstrate a conflict with Tradition – but why be so bothered or threatened by it?

  149. Ah, but the Oregon’s governors delusion is not a single instance, or even a minority view. it is now a majority view. It is even a very common view among “average” Orthodox believers, perhaps even a majority one. In my state, the persecution has begun (very small so far true) of traditional Christians (all protestant so far I believe). My own sister now has to counsel her son about this delusion at an age that is far from ideal. Priests and bishops have to figure out a way to preach and counter this delusion. This is not an “theoretical” threat – the threat is real and real damage is being caused here and now and is all around us (e.g. the list Fr. Stephen has above which includes a “pornified” culture, abortion, etc. etc.). Our neighbors are not mere occasions for a teachable moment, we should be concerned about their salvation and our part in it (as small or as large as God would have it). The world being what it is, Orthodox believers have to find a way to live in the world and not be of it.

    I appears to me that you think this is all theoretical, or some passioned reaction to the latest demonic turn of the world. It certainly can be those things (a passioned reaction) but there is of course substance to it as well, and that is what concerns us – and we are right to be concerned…

  150. Hi Christopher,

    My apologies – something went wrong in posting my last response, likely an iPhone issue. It posted only a short part of my response and only the beginning of the first paragraph. Anyways, thank you for your response.

    The bottomline: Christians are not told to approve of SS, but to recognize as fellow humans their equal civil rights, protections and responsibilities. It’s the same rights and protections we extend to drunkards, wife-swapping heteros, greedy bankers and idol worshipers (without, btw, requiring approval of their fruit-of-the-flesh lifestyles) – and it makes no sense to single out SS to deprive them of equal taxation, visitation rights, social security benefits, civil marriage, and so forth.

  151. My father, a southerner born in 1895, was part of a generation who did not approve of inter-racial marriage. His “scientific” justification for this view was the old saw “Birds of a feather flock together”. My mother, somewhat younger than he, but also a southerner (and a geneticist) responded “Yes, dear, birds of a feather do indeed flock together BUT, birds don’t fall in love”. My mother understood what science does not: genes account for why “birds of a feather flock together” but genetics (and science) cannot account for human affection. To strive for a scientific explanation for what is called same-sex attraction you have to answer one simple question: Why? What is the end result of such an attraction? Even if we leave “love” out of the equation, heterosexuals can be said to be attracted to each other for the purpose of reproducing the species and thus keep it going. The same can be said of the animal kingdom at large. In other words, there’s a functional reason “birds of a feather flock together”. This is evolutionary theory, yes? So what is the functional purpose of SSA? I’m SSA, and I’d like to know, because if evolutionary theory is to be believed, without any functional purpose I will die off. If I am a product of nature and not nurture then I’m stuck with this and the best I can hope for is that society will unconditionally accept me, indeed, “celebrate” me which will “empower” me to do what? I’ll tell you what: it will empower me to be comfortable in my misery. Or maybe science will find some kind of genetic “cure”, but when will that be? And if it were possible to “tweak” the gene of love could we then tweak everyone’s genes so that everyone loved everyone? Could they tweak my genes so that I would love God with all my heart and soul and mind (if I ticked that box on the menu)? Orthodox Lent begins tomorrow. Will science be able to flip some genetic switch which will allow me to immediately begin to feel the “joy-creating sorrow” St. John Climacus talks about?

    Every one misses the point. As an Orthodox Christian I would normally quote from our vast treasury of God-inspired wisdom but this time I’m going to quote Hannibal Lecter when he said to Clarice: “First principles, Clarice. Simplicity. Read Marcus Aurelius. Of each particular thing ask: What is it in itself? What is its nature?” The nature of SSA is about the quest for intimate affection and completion. Yes, sex is part of it but sex for sex sake quickly becomes meaningless. This is the same for all humans. The difference is that our quest for affection and completion is directed at others who are also SSA but our efforts fail over and over and over again because no other male can complete us and the affection that he can offer just isn’t fulfilling; something’s missing. And so we move onto the next man, and the next. No mere mortal can fix this! Science cannot fix this! This is about human affection and a very powerful form of human love which, even in its un-broken state is beyond the reach of mere mortal ingenuity. If you rely on science and the human intellect alone to provide the answer you will wait in vain. As much as it grates on science and rationalists this is a realm from which they will always be excluded because the origin and provenance of all love is as uncontainable as its Author and it is to the source of this love, the Uncontainable One, that we must turn. Don’t be afraid. Ignore the World. Its words vanish the moment they are spoken. The Man your heart truly seeks knows your heart better than you know it yourself and the words He will speak in your heart, if you will just listen, will last forever. Such Comfort and Peace!

  152. Tess,
    your question is significant:
    “I’m curious, do you believe that we cease having sex/gender in the eschaton? It seems to me that you would question the idea of spiritual gender at all.”

    Christian anthropology is the key question at our times – equivalent to what Christian Theology or Ecclesiology was in the past…
    The onotological knowledge of this cannot be based on the fallen rationality we perceive through our own fallen rationality. Only the deified saints could truly give us these answers – which is why I went with St Theoliptos’ quote. I could have used the very similar last page of St Silouan’s book or St Paul, or even our Lord’s words about gender in the Kingdom of Heaven.
    Gender perception relates to ‘how we relate’ and the language becomes very ‘relative’…. If I spoke to Saint Syncleteca or Amma Sara, I think I would be astounded by their magisterial manliness, while if I, or any creature spoke to God they would always feel like a “creation”, a feminine, creaturely quality.
    In Greek this is sometimes helped by the fact that some of the very words such as: creation, earth, sea, Church, love, thankfulness, eucharist, eternity, humanity/anthropotis etc are all feminine whereas God, heaven, sky, time, man/anthropos, sun are masculine.

    Maybe others more concerned with this matter know better than me though.

  153. Robert,
    I think that the secularized compartmentalization of the divine -as evidenced in the practically atheist “world” – will always sit most uncomfortably with the belief of a genuine Christian who unceasingly perceives the sacramentality of all that exists. The only solution is of Ceasar’s to Ceasar but it is a sad compromise nonetheless. It is one of the great appeals for monasticism in fact – always has been.

    Tess,
    my answer to ““I’m curious, do you believe that we cease having sex/gender in the eschaton?” is not sufficient an answer but it can only be that “are we not called to freedom” in the eschata? would it not include even this?

  154. Robert when I read and here the “rights” logic I heart weeps. It so devalues man and creation. It is based on Deism. It denies the sacred and ignores the poison that my sin is for you.

    As Dino alludes the sacramental reality of God with us is so much more. IMO if we are “bound” to respect the right if sinners to sin what is the point? We are bound only to God.

    Even on the rights and contract level are not some always excluded from the ability to contract for certain thingGod. Of course they are.

    The rights mentality is simply capricious moralism. It is a clear expression of the false anthropology. It is the paradigm of both revolution and tyranny and drips with blood.

    As a Christian I am commanded to love and forgive and demonstrate mercy and pray without regard to the person or for myself so when the agents of the state exercise their right to eliminate the hateful Christians: I am called to pray for them and forgive them.

    Forgive me.

  155. Robert when I read and here the “rights” logic my heart weeps. It so devalues man and creation. It is based on Deism. It denies the sacred and ignores the poison that my sin is for you.

    As Dino alludes the sacramental reality of God with us is so much more. IMO if we are “bound” to respect the right if sinners to sin what is the point? We are bound only to God.

    Even on the rights and contract level are not some always excluded from the ability to contract for certain thingGod. Of course they are.

    The rights mentality is simply capricious moralism. It is a clear expression of the false anthropology. It is the paradigm of both revolution and tyranny and drips with blood.

    As a Christian I am commanded to love and forgive and demonstrate mercy and pray without regard to the person or for myself so when the agents of the state exercise their right to eliminate the hateful Christians: I am called to pray for them and forgive them.

    Forgive me.

  156. Gregory Manning, Thank you for your reflection. Very helpful. I think i have been mixing Robert’s position–which I have long accepted–with a natural sympathy for the sufferings of an outsider who is sincere in his search for meaning. Your explanation helps me to examine those views separately without devaluing my friend.

  157. ” it makes no sense to single out SS to deprive them of equal taxation, visitation rights, social security benefits, civil marriage, and so forth.”

    This is a list (there are others like it) of pseudo problems for which “gay marriage” is the solution. In other words, it is political propaganda. For example, I work in medicine, where the alleged visitation rights “problem” was actually solved in the 70’s and 80’s. It was a response to the more widespread breakdown of the family and change in medical ethics. This fact of course goes against the hagiography Aids movement and their claims of this being their victory.

    If these “problems” had or have any substance, it is in the mundane level of contract law. Now, the moralists of the new anthropology do not speak of these things on that level – they use the much more grandiose concepts of “discrimination”, “civil rights”, etc. In other words, they want full moral (and even ontological) acceptance. Which is why I find it quite astounding that some Orthodox Christians think that they will stop at the coming supreme court ruling, or mere “civil unions”, etc. Apparently, more Orthodox Christians buy into the canard of “pluralism” than I realized.

    On the wider topic of the new anthropology and the normative moral Tradition, I really don’t get those Orthodox who struggle with this. I mean, if you are going to wiring your hands over basic Orthodox dogma, why even bother being Orthodox? There is a plethora of “progressive” churches out there who quite explicitly and consciously accept and preach the new anthropology and the new moralism. Stay tuned, for they will be active participants of a persecution coming to a time near you…

  158. Christopher/Michael,

    You can’t have it both ways – complain about the rights of Christians whilst refusing to acknowledge the same rights of others.

    You make the rights of Christians sacrosanct, but when you speak of the rights of others you make these rights to be mere “moralism” part of a “project” and other derogatory language.

  159. Christopher, I am surprised at your surprise. Even St John Chrysostom opined that the majority of Christians in his time were as a millstone around the neck of the Church. Add to that and most of the proponents of the new anthropology are of the opinion that if the Church doesn’t agree, the Church needs to change.

    There are even hints of that on this thread.

    The Church will endure and those who are faithful will too.

    I pray for the strength to do so and for others as well. So far there are still more than two.

    I rejoice in that.

  160. Robert I do not in fact seek my rights. I don’t expect rights because such things to the extent that they exist at all are defined solely by the state. They have always been a cultural delusion. At best the state decides whose rights will prevail over other competing rights (the foundation of contract law)

    I claim no right to life. Anybody can take any time they want–especially the state. As they thought they did to Jesus.

    I have no right to liberty as the only freedom is in obedience to God.

    I unequivocably have no right to happiness as I am called to the joyful suffering of the Cross.

    Even less do I have a right to property. What I have is a gift from God and I have no call on it at all.

    Even in the most oppressive state I can always rejoice in God my savior…and I am commanded to preach the Gospel that sin and death have been overcome.

    Expecting much less demanding not only life but a particular kind of life is insane arrogance. Which as I said drips with blood.

    Even at the best of times the state will think itself higher than the Church and conflict will arise.

    I am thankful for the state’s forbearance but I realize what that is and have realized that for a long time.

    I pray that I will also be able to rejoice when the forbearance ends to the glory of God.

    End it will of course in the name of rights and fairness.

    Render unto Caesar….

    He does not have the authority to define man. Neither does the vain imaginings of so-called science that seeks to storm and tear down the gates of paradise.

    Such folks always forget: Christ is Risen!

    Lord, have mercy.

  161. Michael,

    All good and well for you. That is a choice you make, and your freedom to do so. But it doesn’t give you the right to deprive others to make a different choice.

  162. We must realise that the notion of true ‘apostasy’ has to do with, predominantly, baptised Orthodox apostatizing; calling a sin not a sin is innate in modern anthropology (and even when no sin is practised is more dangerous than a done but potentially repent-able sin) and trying to amalgamate that with Orthodoxy must be alerted as heresy. There’s already one self-proclaimed gay Orthodox …‘priest’ I know of around – who has concocted a “gay marriage as a sacrament” (!) – I know this because he has a “gay and orthodox” site [where after “first and second admonition” (Titus 3:10) I had to terminate further commenting, a few years back] –he is spreading the poison of “repentance –necessary for all sin- is unnecessary for homosexuality” (…!) under the banner of Orthodoxy… I do therefore understand Christopher’s apprehensions concerning the upbringing of the Orthodox children in a world that is promoting an anti-Christian anthropology.

  163. Christopher, i can see where you are going with this. A week ago I might have dismissed your concerns as overblown. Today, however, after reading a Feb. 20 column in the Washington Post entitled “I’m gay. And I want my kid to be gay, too,” I’m at a loss. Safe though uncomfortable in my conservative Midwestern city, where troublesome racial issues blur other concerns, I have never been confronted with “the gay agenda.” This article brought me up short. I can only hope that it represents the outliers, and not the future majority. I am listening more thoughtfully now to what I once wrote off as shrill voices.

  164. “You can’t have it both ways – complain about the rights of Christians whilst refusing to acknowledge the same rights of others. ”

    This is perhaps THE great lie of our age. This lie is an attempt to claim that the sky is green while the grass is blue. Pure and simple. The agenda of the left is in no way interested in pluralism or the rights of anyone. They are simply interested in forcing their beliefs on all. But, as has been true for decades, often the best political move is to take what you’re doing, and then to accuse the other side of doing it. This is precisely what the left is doing on this issue (as well as on many others). They are the totally intolerant ones, while having the audacity to claim that Christians are intolerant.
    In our secular society, I, a Christian, am perfectly and totally willing to allow my LGBT friends to live as they please and to have the same “rights” from the govt as I do. I am also perfectly fine with an LGBT owned bakery or florist to refuse to do business with Christians. They own the business, it’s totally up to them to choose to do business with who they please. Of course, as we’ve seen, they are the ones who are not willing to extend this same courtesy to me. I’m being tolerant, they are not.

    Game, set, match. Please stop with the lie.

  165. @Robert

    That what is required of us that we not “deny rights” to someone? My approval? Even my kids don’t ask for that anymore.

    If I were an autocrat, and everyone everywhere were dependent on my approval for any behavior whatsoever, I could see the merit for the kind of grenades you are lobbing, but in American government the responsibility is more diffuse.

  166. “No one is demanding we approve of SS…”

    Wow, not sure what world you live in. In the world I live in, we have court cases in Oregon and Colorado (bakers), New Mexico (photographer) and Wash DC (florist) that disagree with your statement.

  167. For yet another example of where this is going (persecution) and the lie of “tolerance” and “equal rights”, look at what happened in San Antonio, TX last year (I may have mentioned this before so forgive if I repeat). My sister-in -aw who is an “urban minister” in inner city San Antonio (and can be described as a natural “liberal” politically and culturally – with provisos – she also does some good work in her role) is the one who originally told me about this. The city council put forward a non discrimination policy that included “sexual orientation” and did NOT exclude churches. Now, the African American community and their representatives on the council objected, as they still have a rather “traditional” christianity (majority are northern baptists if I am not mistaken). Their fellow political allies (all on the “left”) tried to shame them into supporting the law, because it is after all about “civil rights” and were they not the benefit of the civil rights movement in the last generation? To their credit they rejected these arguments.

    Not that it was enough, the city was still going to pass the law! Only when the state AG explained that such a law would not make it past the Texas Supreme court, given its current make up, did the city council back down. They did not back down out of any commitment to “equal rights” or “pluralism” (religious, moral, or otherwise) or “tolerance”, they only backed down because they simply did not have the raw political power (yet) to enforce their morality unto the churches. When they do have the power, no one should be under any delusion as to what they are going to do with it – they have already explicitly signaled their intentions.

    Notice this is not San Francisco, or Seattle, or New York. This is San Antonio Texas which is otherwise a rather “conservative” military town smack dab in the middle of “Christian America”. Our society is much further along this road than many realize…

  168. Albert mentions:

    ” “I’m gay. And I want my kid to be gay, too,” ”

    The title says it all does it not. Under the New Anthropology, man is an ever moving, ever evolving plasticity. The direction of this “change” is of course assumed to be good, because man is not regressing, he is “progressing”, thus the New Man looks upon his creations, and they are very good. If I can “choose/affirm” my “sexual identity”, then it is of course simply another step in this logic to “my choice is good”, and if my choice is good then the next step is I want my procreation (the irony of course of “gay” procreation is largely lost) to affirm my choices, my morality also.

    To such a people, it will be “hate speech” if a Christian (or a Jew, or a Muhammadan, or anyone else) questions this morality, but it is a nature good if he wants to encourage his children to be “gay”…

    It occurs to me that Chesterton has some things to say about this evolving/moving/plastic man in “The Everlasting Man”. We need a modern Chesterton to write the follow up. It will have to begin with his dictum “I do not believe in being dehumanized in order to study humanity”

  169. Robert,
    Please forgive me pulling you up on your comment that no one is demanding we approve of SS. There’s certainly a real problem of this now. What was a voluntary tutorial for a teacher, for example, in a school, is now legally compulsory. I am not talking maths here… Sex education (which teachers cannot avoid anymore in many countries) is legally required to include SS genital practices and the teachers express approval of these (they avoid this anymore) or they lose their job as “discriminators”. They cannot use the ‘belief card’ anymore. I think there isn’t much of a need to add more examples to the list that others have already provided of such cases where we are indeed being “demanded to approve of SS”. Do you really not see that?

    You make the rights of Christians sacrosanct, but when you speak of the rights of others you make these rights to be mere “moralism” part of a “project”

    the ‘pluralism’ of this type that characterizes modern secular man clearly prohibits any faith to declare the “fullness of truth” and claim to be the only “way” (John 14:6) of salvation…

    Proclaiming such an absolute Truth is “not allowed” and brands the proclaimer a “fundamentalist”. The ‘preaching’ of true Christianity as ‘not another religion’, not ‘another way’ to the same (syncretistic) God of all the man-made religions, but as a direct revelation of God Himself – made man-, calling all other religions “thieves and robbers” (John 10:8) is something inconveniently ‘absolute’ – a threat to all pluralistically accepted notions.

    ‘Pluralism’, unfortunately, is obliged to malign the uniquely singular, unparalleled, apocalyptic revelations of Christ (all His “I am’s…”), ‘relativism’ advocates the dispute of all ideologies except for its own. (It’s “intolerance in the name of tolerance”)

    However, Christ’s absolute claims only allow for one of two positions, (a third is mathematically impossible in honesty):
    1) you either accept that He is what He says He is (the True God, the only Way, the Truth, the Light, the Resurrection and the Life – Whom you are commanded to love above all and to the point of total sacrifice),
    or
    2) you are stuck -unable to explain away his historical existence, since describing Him as something any less than what He Himself claims (as, for instance, a great ‘Philosopher’, a ‘Prophet’, a ‘Mystic’ etc. etc…) axiomatically doesn’t stand to reason: it automatically makes Him the greatest and most demanding liar in existence…

    So, in order to avoid going down this unavoidable dead-end, the modern pluralist -hell-bent on never accepting position (1) along with its inevitable consequences- circumvents this disquieting stalemate and alleviates his conscience through the all-pervasive vehicle of constant distraction. Distraction, is welcomed and all counter arguments to this simple logic always merely distract from what our Lord has not (thankfully) left open to us.

  170. correction:
    …”is legally required to include SS genital practices and the teachers express approval of these (they cannot avoid this anymore)”…

  171. Dino,

    1.) Teachers are not required to make a moral judgment/approval of sexual practices, in fact they are instructed to refrain from doing so.

    2.) “the ‘pluralism’ of this type that characterizes modern secular man clearly prohibits any faith to declare the “fullness of truth” and claim to be the only “way” This is a non-sequitur – the free speech right of Christians is not diminished/impeded by granting free speech to non-Christians. You have the freedom to believe and preach that Christianity is the one true religion. I do, and I teach it, in school, privately, and I publish this in writing as well. Our freedom is not restricted whatsoever.

    You are failing to make the distinction between cultural and religious pluralism, conflating the two.

  172. Dino and others,

    I think it is approriate, when discussing this topic, to distinguish between sincere Christians as a general group and those who profess no religion. (I woud not presume to speak for Jews and Muslims, even though they probaby experience a similar inner conflict.) And so the statement “All who came before me are thieves and robbers” is not the same as branding many who came after Him with those (more likely even in the scriptural context) metaphorical terms.

    If sincere Christians interpret their faith differently, what good does it do to insult them? Jesus insulted hypocrites, but not sinners, and certainly not his own followers, however confused or uncomprehending they were. He taught in parables and in positives. That’s a better way to win “hearts and minds.”

    With regard to the larger issue of “the culture” we find ourselves in, I am pleased that all beliefs are welcome, even if it means that some (ours, but also many others’) are met with rejection, pressure to change, or suffering. That sounds like what has happened throughout history. It is what we signed up for. It doesn’t mean we should lie down, but I am not sure that we should fight either. Christopher’s concern is with his children, and so is mine. But none of us will protect them from dangerous ideas unless we live out our own beautiful and true ones–which are never successfully imposed, either on children or on a culture.

  173. Robert,
    your distinction between cultural and religious pluralism is solid rationally in some contexts but not in others.
    Besides you can argue, as Albert did, that Christians may benefit greatly from pluralism in some contexts (e.g. in an otherwise religiously hostile country). I am thinking of (and therefore mentioned apostasy earlier) traditionally Christian, Orthodox even countries which makes the other side of this (very recent) development of enforced pluralism a problem.
    I assure you, as did others above, that the -still nascent- persecution and -already flagrant- mockery is very, very real and also relatively recent. The distinction between cultural and religious pluralism makes little difference to this vey real experience.

  174. Meaning: the -still nascent- persecution and -already flagrant- mockery of those who refuse to accept, advocate and promote homosexuality as another option for all

  175. Robert,
    That you mention that teachers “are not required to make a moral judgment/approval of sexual practices, in fact they are instructed to refrain from doing so”, demonstrates, to me, the quintessence of secularisation (thinking about countries where -traditionally- teachers were co-responsible for the right moral formation of youth).
    To advise against the “conflation” of religious and cultural pluralism seems to me, in a sense, the essence of secularisation – “compartmentalising the faith”, as Met Jonah describes it in the intro to “Every Where Present” by Father Stephen.

  176. Albert, when you say:

    “If sincere Christians interpret their faith differently, what good does it do to insult them?”

    I think you are talking about how I distinguished some christians “modern” or “progressive” christians. I do that not as an insult (though I know for a fact that they can take it that way) but to make an important distinction. Due to historical, cultural, and theological factors the term “christian” is very very elastic – many groups term themselves as such, all of which are to varying degrees different than the Orthodox Church. In context of a discussion of “modernism” and the New Man, there are “christians” who are in fact modernists in every way, they simply are “christian” in only a nominal and “nostalgic” sense. Some of them are hardly even really deists.

    Because they claim the term one has to in discussion refer to it, but again they are not Christian in any recognizable sense – they don’t hold any basic Christian beliefs at all. I try to get around this by capatilization, etc.

    I think it is important to be honest and recognize this, and not simply be cowered by their sensitivities. I don’t think they would be so sensitive to these distinctions if they themselves did not know in some way how far they have wondered from the Faith.

    Personally, I wish those of us who are actually Christian in any meaningful sense (i.e. Classical Christians, including Orthodox and RC’s and the “conservative” or “faithful” protestants) would “take back” the term, use it somewhat less loosely and honestly – but again this is difficult due to a number of factors.

    I was having an discussion along these lines with a relative of mine about 6 months ago. I asked him “ok, would you say that Unitarian Universalists are “christian”? He said “yes”. I grew up a Unitarian Universalist, and I would (as the majority of my fellow UU’s) would have been quite insulted by calling me a “christian”! Of course, we UU’s had become “self conscious” modernists and were quite aware of the foundation of our philosophy, whereas your average “modernist” christian really does conflate his modernism with the Truth of Christ…

    Micheal,

    Thanks for the St. John’s “milestones” reminder!

  177. Dino, we disagree on that point. Distinguishing cultural pluralism from religious pluralism does not amount to compartmentalization. I subscribe to the former, but deny the latter.

    Albert, well put! “none of us will protect them from dangerous ideas unless we live out our own beautiful and true ones–which are never successfully imposed, either on children or on a culture.” Imposition fails, whether by us, or by the Modern Project.

    All the best, and thank you for the discussion.

  178. I don’t disagree in a place like the USA or UK, Robert, but somewhere like Greece, culture and religion have never been separated in any of their manifestations (until these outside influences started bearing fruit).

  179. Also note that the more traditional cultural pluralism of a traditional Orthodox country is motivated by its religious (Christian) “phronema”, whereas modern cultural pluralism (like religious pluralism) has a syncretistic relativism at its core based on post enlightenment humanism. I clarify this because we are obviously still discussing something markedly non-traditional: the acceptance of homosexuality as “ok” rather that as a “passion”

  180. Robert, big of you to so condescendingly grant me rights especially since they have no meaning. Neither you nor I have the power or authority to deny anyone anything. Nor do I have the desire too.

    Accepting homosexuality as equivalent to male- female interrelationships is bad for any culture or community, but is has nothing to do with rights.

    You are taking positions on premises that I don’t accept and have nothing to do with the Church in any case. Believe me I understand them quite well. I just don’t accept them.

    What the state does it does. If the state wields its power in accord with God then it will rule better.
    If not it rules badly.

    Freedom is in obedeiance to God: personally or corporately.

    Since you seem intent on falsly accusing me of beliefs I do not have and have explicitly repudiated, I have to assume you have no interest in what I am attempting to say.

    God bless you.

  181. Father’s original post on this topic was wonderful and probably needful as well, as were most of the earlier comments, but…

    Am I alone in feeling that this conversation has grown tedious?

    Forgive me…for everything.

  182. Robert et al,
    This particular tangent is indeed somewhat tedious and parsing of the various pluralisms while discussing the main topic can seem utterly beside the pressing point. As Father Stephen firmly elucidated, human sexuality is complex, yet the Church sees a person (a potential repetition of Christ) differently, with understandable implications on sexuality. Her anthropology is the Truth, whereas the anthropology of the secular outlook is to one degree or another deluded. Often conceitedly so. The Church speaks of chastity and marriage in strict terms, with obvious repercussions on the interpretation of SSA. The interfacing language with a world which sees man as something entirely different to this view might, at times, need pastoral, creative, discerning application to invite effectively – that’s something evidently acknowledged…
    But some of your commenting –irrespective of its good intention- has the potential to be perceived as little more than brushing off the concrete scenarios, and attempting to depreciate the overall rationale of those who commented having cited these, often from their personal experience, therefore counterproductively derailing this conversation or making it somewhat tedious.

  183. to clarify: concrete scenarios cited refers to instances mentioned by commenters of “demanding we approve of SSA”

  184. St. Nikolai Velimirovic in his work, The Agony of the Church, addresses some of what we have made tedious here but goes to another level. I have just begun reading as my brother sent the free e-book to me as Lenten reading. It is available on the Gutenberg project.

    Forgive me.

  185. Michael,
    he’s sublime -as always…. Manages to demonstrate the inclusivity that is right without making any mistakes. St Nikolj was the bishop who ordained Elder Sophrony.
    I like the way he mentions somewhere that the Roman Emperors would never persecute most modern churches, as they would recognise their own spirit included in her.

  186. What little I have read is truly radical in the best sense of the word but that is Christianity. We are not bound by any ideology if we are in Christ. We are free to love in humility and peace.

    Too easily I forget that.. But I strive for it. I hope for it. We must reach for it….not settling for less.

  187. Kierkegaard thought that modern man needed not so much Jesus, but Socrates, to cut through the modern thought forms that corrupt Christianity and “sound bite” thinking (e.g. “he was born that way” or “science”, “he has his rights too” and “live and let live”). I think the “tediousness” reveals something else: that what is needed is not a change of mind, but a change of heart – a conversion. In other words, no amount of “dialogue” will do, because people are essentially religious creatures. Part of the perniciousness of Modernism and the New Man is that it claims to not be a religion, when it is – and thus Christians too easily try these strange amalgamations of the two and learn to live quite comfortably with them.

    What we have here is a religious conflict, in this case between the New Man and Christianity. There really is no common ground between these two religions. People are not their philosophy, but their philosophy runs deep. This “tediousness” has the potential to run for generations (similar to any ancient heresy – how long did the Church struggle with Arianism, and was not the vast majority of of the Church essentially Arian for generations at times?).

    Today, you have a situation where in the Classical Christian churches (Orthodox, RC, various faithful protestants) at least half of those standing next to you believe in the New Man (It actually might be worse than this). The rest are thoroughly modernized. Rome (if I understand it’s ecclesiology – I probably don’t) is the only one to have actually make dogmatic declarations in response to the New Man, though in the western RC world it seems to have made little difference. Perhaps men like Fr. Stephen will continue to find an “effective word”. I pray that he does. Prayer and fasting is probably the only way the New Man comes out of a person…

  188. Things become tedious and complicated when the political landscape is brought into the Church’s life and discussion. The language of “rights” is not native to Orthodoxy, though they can certainly be encompassed in our thought. But as “essential” matters that are absolutely due as a matter of course, they become problematic.

    Orthodoxy would always affirm the importance of freedom – it is necessary to Persons, as Persons. But the State always limits freedoms for a variety of reasons. A good State, wisely limits freedoms only as required by the common good, and this is never a matter of absolutes (which is why wisdom is required).

    But we cannot read these things back into the teaching of the Church. I think, for example, that people should generally be free to hate other people – though hatred is a very wicked sin. But to eliminate hate by law yields a greater evil of oppression. Thus, I think “hate crimes” are a bit “over the top,” and perhaps too intrusive. “Did you hate him when you killed him?” Almost beside the point.

    I think, for example, that the State should make provision for inheritance and property rights, visitation rights, etc., for certain persons without describing such as a “marriage.” I don’t even think such arrangements should be called “civil unions.” They are contract arrangements.

    There are requirements, I think, of traditional marriage that should be upheld and protected, even encouraged (responsibility for biological offspring, etc.), and that the State should wisely remain very committed to this and be careful not to endanger it.

    But I say all of that under the heading of “wisdom,” and what would be involved in “governing wisely.” But I’m not a governor, just a citizen who’s been around for a while. Radical social changes are always alarming to me – under the rubric of the “law of unintended consequences.” And so I would characterize myself as a Burkean conservative (following the gradualism of Edmund Burke). We are seeing the overturning of laws of very long-standing, in the name of a very novel ideology. We have no idea what the long-term consequences will be. That seems foolish.

    But that conversation is more or less beside the point of the article, though I did comment on what will likely be a sudden change introduced by the Court this summer.

    On the whole, a culture does indeed have to have a live-and-let-live attitude in many things, particularly because of modern pluralism. Though, this will only go so far.

    It is fascinating to me that Europe, completely enamored of the Modernist ideology, invented an unnecessary pluralism in little more than a single generation, pretty much on the grounds that multi-culturalism was the preferred mode of living. There are many ways in which Europe has never – never (!) renounced its colonialist hubris. When they were planting colonies everywhere and taking on “the white man’s burden,” they knew better than everybody else what everybody needed. And today, they still do, although “multiculturalism” is the new Colonialism. They have colonized their own countries and are going to fix everyone there. And they will do this in the name of rejecting their Colonialist history.

    Once an arrogant Colonialist…always an arrogant ….

  189. Robert,
    I’ll try to clarify a little.
    The original contention, of Alan and other commenters (that I couldn’t help sympathize with), is something entirely different to the “windmills” you mention. This aforementioned contention is, in fact, still snubbed and ignored with this ‘tediousness’ of parsing ‘pluralisms’ – as if that is the real solution to their agony which I have not yet been convinced by you that it is…
    The original contention was with your comments that:

    “No one is demanding we approve of SS [attraction]…”
    and that

    Christians are not told to approve of SS[attraction]

    To which Alan responded with:

    Wow, not sure what world you live in. In the world I live in, we have court cases in Oregon and Colorado (bakers), New Mexico (photographer) and Wash DC (florist) that disagree with your statement

    I added the real world scenario my colleagues are faced with, namely, the now compulsory(!) teaching of the SS genital expressions in sex-education tutorials (in the city I live).

    You responded by mentioning that teachers

    “are not required to make a moral judgment/approval of sexual practices, in fact they are instructed to refrain from doing so”,

    which, I repeat again, demonstrates, to me, the quintessence of secularisation (especially when considering countries where, traditionally, teachers were co-responsible for the right moral formation of youth in classrooms). And I would ask you: how does one show instructional videos of SS practices (with drawings for sexual practices, and real images of real SS kissing) if one doesn’t “morally approve” of them –and doesn’t approve of them being promoted (or merely displayed) in a classroom?
    It’s really nothing to do with any “tilting” at any imagined “religious pluralism” of yours or other windmills. (especially since I’d assume you wouldn’t be a ‘religious pluralist’ anyway due to your affirmation concerning your faith.)
    It is far more related to the recent vilified Russian law (against the promotion of non-traditional sexual relationships to minors). In the educational establishment I mentioned earlier, the employees that did not gather to march against this law last year were most conspicuous by their absence.

  190. Christopher, you make a great point. Secular humanism / modernism is absolutely a religion. Sadly, those who subscribe to it have been successful (of course with the help of govt and their lapdogs in the media) in telling the lie that it’s not a religion.

    Dino, I love your comments on this blog. They are most helpful. At this point though, I would humbly suggest to you that it’s time to stop engaging Robert. It’s been proven to him that 2+2 = 4, but he willfully chooses to believe that 2+2 = 5.

  191. Thanks Alan,
    I hope I am not being naive in my belief that there must simply be a misunderstanding – and that Robert certainly would not willfully choose to believe that 2+2 = 5.
    Others (I mean those who describe themselves as non-believers might), but not Robert.

  192. Dino,

    As your comment is in good faith, I will take the time to respond, at the risk of more of the same tediousness.

    We can debate the pros and cons of sex education, but I suppose that is for another time and another place.

    Be it as it may, teaching a subject does not necessitate (dis)approval. If it weren’t so, political science, psychology, and historical theology teachers would all be in a heap of trouble. This is so rudimentary that I will spare citing tedious examples.

    I understand, that if one compares this to the”old countries” of a bygone era in which teachers were expected to impose (an officially state approved) moral formation, then yes indeed it appears, comparatively speaking, as secularism.

  193. Thanks Robert,
    I do see the logic and do not disagree on the examples of teaching a subject without necessitating a (dis)approval. It’s just that – more particularly – teaching sex education is trickier in this respect. It could be [with naive idealism] taught as something closer to ‘how babies are made’, or as something concerning ‘marital consummation’ by a chaste Christian (whether this is a Christian sexually experienced in marriage, a sexually experienced and previously promiscuous repentant one, or a virgin), -somewhat going against the grain. They could in theory even partake of Holy Communion and not feel like teaching this to their classroom is not inordinately inappropriate afterwards.
    But how would they “neither approve nor disapprove” while introducing the genital expression of homosexuality, (including the graphic images might I add – I’ll spare you the details) without this seeming inordinately inappropriate afterwards…?

  194. It’s such ‘particulars’ the obvious and inherent incompatibility of Christianity and “this world” (1 John 2:15) becomes markedly exacerbated. What will become far more of a potential difficulty is when the state will want to enforce this further, even within the very Church. This has happened before and it will happen again.
    Now my reason for bringing all this attention to it is that it’s easier to be alerted to a Stalinist-style persecution and far more difficult to a deviously refined and subtle secularisation that sips in gradually… there’s already talk that some are starting to be approving of on “the need for the Church to accept and perform SS wedings, to eradicate Her supposedly anti-semitic hymnography, to ordain women etc etc

  195. Robert you don’t think teachers in public schools are teaching a state approved moral formation? Really? That has been one if the driving purposes behind public education since Horace Mann.

  196. If I may give an another perspective . . . I taught English and Latin in public high schools in a midwestern city. I also taught teachers. Only once twice was I asked to attend professional development meetings in which an experimental “values education“program was discussed–both times the programs were eventually initiated on a volunteer basis (teachers and students-with-parent-support), but dropped after a two-year trial period. Lack of interest all around was the reason. These incidents occurred in different districts. My children attended public schools (not the districts I was employed by and now my granddaughter

  197. (Sorry. Finger slipped) . . . And now my granddaughter does. No evidence of moral instruction in any of these settings, other than standard issues like politeness, respect, following rules, etc.

    I also worked as a principal in parochial elementary schools, and members of my extended family sent their children to similar ones. I see very little difference in behavior and attitudes between state school educated children and graduates of parochial schools. Even in the area of future church attendance there seems to be little difference, except that many who went through the religious schools no longer attend church.

    I worry about what children today are learning about morality and religion, but they aren’t learning it in schools, as far ad i can tell.

  198. Robert,
    Almost all the teenagers I know have already been convinced of the entire modern gay sexual agenda. They have not learned this from their parents, or their priest or Church. Where have they learned this? How have they been so effectively propagandized? This agenda has been the most effectively disseminated idea that I have seen in my lifetime. At this point in time it’s a bit late to be saying that there is no moral agenda being furthered somewhere.

    Moral instruction is traditionally given by the older to the younger. What is happening at present is quite the reverse. That is the hallmark of revolutions, not moral instruction. Something is afoot.

  199. What is afoot, I believe – and has been for at least as long as I’ve been alive – is iconoclasm, although in our modern world the icon being smashed is male and female, the image of Christ and His Church. Destroy this icon, and the Gospel is rendered both irrelevant and incomprehensible to the modern mind.

    Although arguments must of necessity be made, they will only be heard by those who retain some grasp of the iconography of humans as being in the image of God. In other words, the target audience for apologetics is those in the Church and most especially our own children. Few others have ears to hear, having been thoroughly poisoned by iconoclasm. And as Fr. Stephen has written, it is not only the ‘what,’ but also the ‘why’ that must be spoken of. “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” This sort of teaching has less to do with laying down ‘God’s rules’ or even a Christian understanding of anthropology than it does with imparting an appreciation for the beauty of His life.

    When all the theological, anthropological, or scientific arguments have been made, it is only the beauty of the iconography of human beings living truly in the image and likeness of God that anyone will find convincing.

    I, for one, had better get to work on repentance, lest I be found unprepared for the iconoclastic revolution that is even now coming upon us.

  200. I’ve been following the tedium for a while now and I’d like to throw in a rather specific example of what Robert denies exists.

    Before that, though, let’s just get one assumption out there that I am relying on: for any given X and Y, if I were to make a moral statement that X was just as good as Y and no worse, that itself is a moral judgment about the relative values of X and Y – and, therefore, a moral judgment. If I am wrong in this, and a positive statement of equivalence is not a moral judgment, then what I describe here does not in fact rebut anything Robert says; but as a matter of how words are ordinarily used, I don’t think I’m wrong.

    The B.C. Teachers’ Federation website includes an entire Web page full of resources about how to teach sex ed. It is under the heading “Social Justice – Issues” and includes documents titled (and I am deliberately cherrypicking the relevant ones):

    Avoiding homophobia and transphobia in sexual health education
    Questions & answers: Gender identity in schools. (Public Health Agency of Canada )
    Questions & answers: Sexual orientation in schools. (Public Health Agency of Canada)
    Responding to resistance to teaching sexual health education
    Sexual education free from heterosexism

    “Responding to resistance to teaching sexual health education” seems out of place, but if you read it it is pretty much exactly what Dino, Michael, et al. are talking about. (The irony of the final response is flagrant enough that I believe it to be intentional.)

    Here’s a quote from another document:

    Don’t limit discussions of sex to being just for reproduction. Most sexual activity occurs for reasons beyond wanting to reproduce. If sex education is exclusively framed as just for reproduction or in medicalized terms, then non-reproductive sex will become equated by some as unnatural.

    It absolutely, definitely is all about the state enforcing a moral judgment that same-sex sexual activity is no less valid than opposite-sex sexual activity.

    Now there is a good case to be made that this is also the Christian position, inasmuch as we’re discussing sex outside of marriage. However, from what little I’ve read so far you would think that marriage as an institution had been entirely abolished and forgotten about. The stated intent that I’ve been given in the past (late 1990s when I was in school and this sort of thing was getting started, but before the need to validate same-sex sexual relations became a particularly serious focus) is that abstinence until marriage is a completely unrealistic expectation for most people and if there will be widespread fornication anyway at least let’s keep the unwanted pregnancies and STIs to a minimum to reduce healthcare costs on society. However, back then there was still at least an express recognition that abstinence was the best, safest policy, but this information was still relevant because not everyone would follow it and even within a marriage there may be problems (needles, tainted blood, adultery, one spouse’s sexual partners from before the marriage, etc.). But what I’m seeing from these new documents is that even that admonishment has been systematically erased.

    This in turn is entirely in line with the way even our family law has developed, which was completely overhauled about 2 years ago to completely remove the distinction between marriage and simply living together, while literally making everything negotiable (subject, fortunately, to an explicit overriding concern for the best interests of any children involved).

    There is an agenda going on – not any paranoid “gay agenda” strawman, but a very modern, nominalist laissez-faire-capitalist movement to abolish all barriers to sex beyond those of consent and human will. I say this as someone who has spent most of his adult life in explicit and fervent support of that agenda – albeit also someone who converted to Orthodoxy after trying to live that agenda out and seeing how it utterly broke my ability to have normal human relationships with women and even men.

    On that note, I also grew up around all sorts of casual endorsements of gay-bashing, use of gay men as the go-to example when we needed a worthless human being that was obviously worthy of death (“if you had a bazooka with one rocket, Hitler on one end of a football field and a bunch of gay people on the other, where would you shoot?”), hyperbolic statements about gay sex being the worst thing beyond murder, rape and wilful allegiance to the Devil, and “faggot” being automatic fighting words regardless of the circumstances – much of it by men and boys who considered themselves at least Christian in name. For the first year of my catechumenate I was distinctly uncomfortable about being any part of the “bride” of a skinny nonviolent guy and had to work over a few reservations about the whole hugging and kissing other dudes thing at “Let us greet one another with the Lord’s peace” and even receiving a blessing from the priest. Homophobia is no less real than the nominalist sexual agenda, and breaking the cycle of dehumanization and violence that come from it must be recognized an urgent and important need if any Christian commentator expects to be taken remotely seriously by the culture – as well as a need that, however mistakenly, most of those who further the nominalist agenda seriously, earnestly, sincerely believe can only be addressed by breaking down all the old sexual categories that allow same-sex sexual activity to be stigmatized in the first place.

    The problem is to convince them that the baby in the bathwater is alive and worth saving.

    Please forgive the barely-relevant ramblings of this incontinent and unchaste sinner.

  201. I typed the above before I saw Fr. Stephen’s comment at 9:33 PM.

    To clarify, the words “gay agenda” have for many of us connotations of the speaker believing that there is a global organized conspiracy of people trying to turn everyone gay, bringing up images of the Illuminati or anti-Semitic caricatures of the Elders of Zion or rainbow Nazi stormtroopers in short shorts or something even more cartoonish of that sort. Use of that term in what is now the mainstream discourse is almost a guaranteed way to either (a) get a laugh out of everyone and praise for your wit in making fun of those dirty fundamentalists, or (b) ostracized for being one of said dirty fundamentalists, depending on how ironic you’re being.

    (As for why this change has managed to be so thorough and fast… see my above comment about homophobia. A lot of us grew up on this and we must have understood on some level how dark and violent it was – all it really took, I think, was the belief that sexual orientation was as inborn, immutable and essential to a person’s value and as important in connecting them to the rest of humanity as their race and ethnicity.)

    And since I’m commenting already… Michael, can you explain a bit more about your “bad money flushing out good money” problem wrt legal recognition of gay marriage? Frankly, I just don’t see it.

  202. I’m an elder member of the younger generation, probably the youngest person commenting here, and I see in myself, and my peers and those younger than I precisely what Fr. Stephen has mentioned. Namely, that we fully accept the “gay sexual agenda”, which frankly sounds a bit dated and stodgy in its phrasing to me (no offense, Fr. Stephen, just betraying my youth).

    In some respects, we’re lost, and I worry constantly about what world my children will grow up in. It seems as though the entire Western world has gone off the rails in the pursuit of happiness, and certainly sexual rights have been a strong trend setter in this. I heard a woman at my office, a few years younger than I, say, “Life ends when you have children, that’s how I see it.” How do I convince my children that there’s something greater than being a slave to sexual identity, and that the truth is that life begins when we stop living for ourselves?

    I simply have no ideas, no tools, no conversation starters about how to help them become fully human, or tell them what that even means. My greatest fear, and what I’m sure will end up happening, is that they will grow up to view me as a relic of a bygone conservatism the great Progress has triumphed over.

    But oddly, I felt somewhat reassured by the article mentioned earlier, “I’m gay and I want my kid to be gay.” At the end of the piece, Sally said that her daughter plays family with teddy bears, and the two mothers have to gently remind their daughter that she doesn’t have to have a mom and a dad (that there can be two dads!).

    I read that paragraph, and was reminded that, indeed, there is a truth to the Church’s anthropology that is immediately apparent to even a small child raised in this bizarre modernist experiment.

  203. I wrote my comment before seeing Matt’s. Just going on names, I’ll bet we were born within three years of each other, although the fact that he seems to be Canadian might skew that.

    Matt, your comment conveys much of the same sentiments that I feel, down to the “incontinent and unchaste sinner”. I find it funny that we both picked up on the “gay agenda” statement of Fr. Stephen’s, and I wish that I had seen your second comment before posting mine, so that I could have removed that line.

  204. In my haste to respond to the “state-imposed moral values” argument, I completely forgot that Fr. Stephen’s topic is sex and the moral imagination. I was reminded by recent comments how far I drifted from that. Yes, there is both a direct challenge to Orthodox teaching in this area and a widespread “no big deal attitude” attitude among students. Other than the few who were hired to teach specific subjects (classes with titles such as “Health” and “Sex Education”), pubic school teachers with Orthodox Christian beliefs and many others are helpless in counteracting the state’s approach. I should have been more careful in my comment. Forgive me.

  205. Matth,
    Ha Ha! I think I probably am out-dated and stodgy! I know that I’ve been in this conversation since the mid-70’s. I think thought that you’ve put your finger on the matter of “what’s afoot.” When I think of my conversations with the young, this issue is not wrapped so much in questions of anthropology as it is in civil rights. That narrative is very persuasive and has been quite successful. The venom and ugliness that often surrounded the topic (imprisonment, even chemical castration) cried out for some kind of justice. And whether we like it or not, the legal system also tends to reflect or be deeply enmeshed in the public perception of morality. Thus – if you stop the persecutions and grant some legal rights – some sort of moral benediction will automatically follow (in our culture).

    And so the Church has the difficult task of teaching in the face of a public contradiction. There are, as noted, extremists who are arguing for “gender is a social construction” and similar Marxist-based notions. I blame the academy for this. But the young people I know are far removed from such radicalization.

    That said, there has certainly been a global organized effort for change – and lots of unorganized efforts. It’s success, though, as you note, probably has to do with a sense of fairness and the civil rights narrative.

  206. Gregory,
    thanks for that well written article you cited, I was reminded of the self-contradictory words of someone here (someone whose life is unfortunately currently focused on aggressive gay rights promotion): “homosexuality is one’s very nature, male-female gender bifurcation is no more than your nurture” is one (of many) radical, marxist, “inverted” statements I have heard.
    Not that he is averse to the (reverse), “choice rhetoric” if that furthers the same agenda – go figure…

  207. Albert,
    The thing is that the “no big deal attitude” from one Christian to another who’s in the thick of it can sometimes come across as what is called an ‘armchair-critic’ or a ‘backseat-driver’. There is however a proper manner to do this too – i.e.: to remind us that Christ has overcome the world… I hope that’s where the misunderstanding with Robert was.

  208. Matth: you asked. Hope this makes sense and is not just more tedium.

    Counterfeit money is a big problem because:

    1. It makes people loose all confidence in money in general as either a store of value or a medium of exchange (the classical definition of money).**comment below

    2. However, since it is cheaper than real money both in terms of effort to obtain it, cost of use, etc. It tends to become predominant because of both greed and sloth.

    3. Sooner of later, unless the counterfeit money is identified and stopped, both governments and societies can fall. Don’t forget that the Germans had a department dedicated to the production and distribution of counterfeit Allied money as part of WWII. The German counterfeits recovered after the war were really good fakes(almost too good). They just lacked the distribution opportunities. The Allies had their own projects against Axis money too.

    Hyper inflation is a government sponsored form of counterfeiting. All one has to do is look at the Weimar Republic to see the effect of bad money. A similar thing is going on with the 58 or so ‘genders’ that Facebook allows folks to choose. The more ‘genders’ there are the less they mean.

    In the case of so-called homosexual marriage–it is a counterfeit, but not the first. The original counterfeit had this progression: Serial polygamy (divorce/remarriage); living in sin; shacking up; cohabitation; living together with my gf or bf, my “life partner” is…; hooking up. You note this in your comment. The Church has largely winked at these counterfeits at each step along the way.

    That counterfeit fundamentally drove marriage from the marketplace of ideas and values and prepared the way for homosexual “marriage”.

    IMO, the lack of resistance from the religious communities was founded upon the counterfeit ecclesiology and soteriology of much of Protestantism and certainly of the Deism that was our social faith. All of it iconoclastic. Orthodox did not have position to be heard even when we wanted to be. We are still crying in the wilderness.

    The resurgence of the idea that marriage is simply a contract and nothing else was also a part of it. That allowed marriage to become solely a creature of the state combined with our own will and pleasure.

    It has been going on a long time: the fruit of our passions and the machinations of the evil one. The foundational reality of marriage is shown in the amount of time it took to erode it and the fact that it is still quite alive and even sought after (although mostly as a blind man in a dark room without a guide dog or an cane.)

    The people of the Church have done an abysmal job of understanding marriage in both how to live it and how to articulate its glorious mystery. As a result there are those who seek to drive it from the Church herself. (Perhaps the abomination of desolation standing in the Holy place.)

    Now, I realize that my analysis is very linear (at least in its presentation), but is not that way in reality. It is all interlinked with our rebellion against God and our wanton quest of death in the guise of being like God–the ultimate counterfeit.

    That is why fighting “culture wars” is pointless and a sure way to defeat as such wars are simply another counterfeit, i.e, counterfeit spiritual warfare. Just as the aggressive hatred of homosexuals is a counterfeit of waging war against sin. Such “wars” keep us entertained and distracted but in a constant state of fear.

    But you are correct. We have to prophetically state the truth while understanding that our victory is not of this world.

    The antidotes are simple and mostly ignored(at least by me): prayer, fasting, almsgiving, repentance/forgiveness, worship. All concrete acts of humility and love for our Creator and our fellow creatures. But those things seem so small, so insignificant, so ineffective and so immaterial, so utterly personal without consequence to anyone else.

    They are however the source of authority for any prophetic statements we are called to make and the source of both the empathy, compassion and healing that is necessary to bear one another’s burdens in a healing way.

    **Comment. The classical definition of money as a store of value and a medium of exchange is/has been replaced in our time. At best, money is looked upon as a medium of exchange and there is no more widely recognized store of value. Every thing is digital and traded in virtual reality. That leaves us open to constant manipulation. Everything you have in terms of “money” can either vanish in an instant or be made totally valueless by the whim of the neo-fascist world economy. I use the word fascist in its economic sense only as an alliance between favored corporations and an authoritarian state. (call it state capitalism if it makes you feel better). The other thing such an political economy needs is scapegoats; bread and circuses.

    May God strengthen you in your new life in the Church. I am grateful for you.

  209. Dino – I hope you are not referring to me when you mention someone who is involved in “aggressive gay rights promotion”.

    Albert – to which misunderstanding are you referring?

  210. Robert, Dino used that term, I didn’t. There is no misunderstning on my part.

    Dino, I don’t see a connection between “back-seat driver’ and “no big deal attitude.” I used that phrase merely to described what I have observed.

  211. Robert,
    I am certainly not referring to you but to someone in my workplace.

    Albert,
    I made the connection between the: it’s “not as big a deal as you imagine it to be” feel (which might produce a rather negative -as it did- : “what world do you live in?” comment from those who’s day to day experience would see that “no big deal attitude” as a ‘backseat driver’ comment) of Robert’s earlier comments and my suspected actual intent of Robert’s thinking perhaps (rather positively) being Christ’s admonition to us not to worry – He has already overcome the world…

    Michael,
    very well said.

  212. In Kevin Allen´s special on Orthodoxy and Asceticism, he mentioned that once he worked as an EMT and to fight against having passions, as many men have, for other women, here was his cure. He image them as “dead bodies lying in a coffin”. It worked! This was a side comment he made on this podcast…it is excellent to hear.

    http://www.ancientfaith.com/specials/acquiring_the_mind_of_the_church/orthodoxy_and_asceticism#transcript

    This is one of the best podcasts I have heard. Blessings.

  213. Dino/Albert,

    My aversion to the shrill and attenuated fear mongering of the culture wars with the over-simplified constructions is in part based on Christ’s admonition that He has over come the world. That is true. I wouldn’t frame it as “hey, no big deal, carry on” or something along those lines. But I don’t buy into the purported “gay agenda”, the ridiculousness of which Matt attested.

    Matt – I don’t seeing anything particularly alarming per se with the headlines of that BC document, but I haven’t read the content. Also, depending on the context it seems to me that a positive statement of equivalence does not necessarily constitute a moral judgment. For instance, it may be an acknowledgment of an occurrence or that equivalence is subject to degree or condition, without moral (dis)approval. So one could affirm that SS activity is equally a form of human sexual expression as is HS activity (leaving the moral, religious, social etc. question out of the discussion).

    Could I take this moment to ask all to pray for the group of Christian women/children taken hostage by ISIS? Almighty God, hear their prayer, hear our prayer.

  214. It has been six days since I posed my question. Now that the weeping is ended and the horrified outrage has ebbed, the following is as close to a reasoned response as I am capable.

    Father Stephen (and other supporters of your position):

    I am still reeling from your previous statement. To be honest, when I read it I felt like I had learned that my grandfather was the guy who put the gas into the chambers at Dachau. I was completely bewildered, horrified and physically nauseous.

    Politics Masked as Science

    Your statement that this is “politics masked as science” is exactly the same argument that white supremacists still make against interracial marriage. I know because I have heard it many times. It is the argument made by those either too stupid to acknowledge facts or too invested in a position to look at a matter objectively. In this case, the latter.

    It is this same hateful doctrine that was responsible for laws that punished 49,000 human beings in the UK either with prison time or with chemical castration for the crime of being gay between 1885-1967. Explain to me how 49,000 people would make a “choice” to be gay at the expense of having to live in hiding and constant fear of imprisonment or chemical castration.

    Forget the actual genetic data! This in and of itself should cause any reasonable person to sit up and take notice and consider that perhaps being gay is an innate condition.

    And it is one that harms no one! Certainly no straight people are harmed by someone being gay.

    There is no question that people are born gay. The puzzle is not whether “gay genes” exist in humans, but why they are so common (estimates from 5-15%). We know that gay men have fewer children on average, so one would think that these gene variants would disappear. Yet they do not.

    Is Being Gay Natural?

    To answer this question you must open your eyes and look at nature.

    Is homosexuality found within the animal kingdom? Yes.

    Is it found within primates? Yes.

    Is it found within the other members of the classification of Five Great Apes”? YES.

    Have there been gay humans since the beginning of recorded human history? YES.

    If, therefore, homosexuality occurs in nature and has always been part of human society, the claim that it is “unnatural” is just too stupid for words.

    The only way to do so is to redefine “natural” to mean “like me.” Such arrogance is simply breathtaking.

    Dino said:

    if someone wanted to walk down the street with his hands instead of his feet, (some people are born with such capabilities) could he compel all to concede that the anatomical evidence suggests that this is not an abnormality?

    Your simile has no merit. You are making it about a choice. The proper simile is “If someone was born with no legs and they were able to “walk” using their hands and arms…” in which case I would say you are a fool to condemn such a person for not having legs just as much as you are a fool for condemning someone for naturally being attracted to people of the same gender.

    In Spiritual Peril?

    Explain to me how a man who genuinely loves another man (or a woman who loves another woman), has the same kind of loving relationship that straight couples have with each other, and who respects the people around him (or her) is in any way of being “spiritually inferior.”

    You may as well say that anyone who engages in sexual encounters other than in the “missionary position” is spiritually inferior. The notion is idiotic in the extreme.

    My personal proclivities are such that the idea of kissing a white girl would be like kissing my sister. To me, it’s weird and gross. Does that make me a degenerate? Is my soul in peril because I am attracted to women who have lots of melanin?

    If your position was that I am in spiritual peril for this cause, my response would be “The finger for thee!” It’s none of your business who I love or how. The same is true for gays and lesbians. It’s none of your business.

    You want to talk about spiritual peril? I would argue that anyone who builds and/or defends a doctrine that at its core hates other human beings simply because they are different is the one in true peril.

    The Cause of Misery

    Have you ever known someone who committed suicide because he was gay and could not change or take the shame?

    Do you know how many tens of thousands of human beings in the US alone are bullied every day because they are gay?

    Who is responsible for this bullying? Who is responsible for these deaths?

    You are. Not “people like you.” You.

    You do not see gay or lesbian people as normal human beings. They are different. They are somehow inferior. They need to be “fixed.”

    You have taken human beings who were created in the image of god, who were created by god as they are and you have made yourself superior to them because they are different.

    If there was a god who interacted with humans and who had even a modicum of decency, I am positive that that god would say, “How dare you?”

    By judging these people, you are judging their creator.

    Good luck with that.

    I Repent

    I have spent years trying to help ex-Christians and some atheists to see that the Orthodox are better than their Protestant counterparts. I am utterly ashamed that I have done so and I repent of this egregious error.

    Until you posted this, I thought that the Orthodox were good people. I cannot tell you how utterly dismayed I am at the horrific way in which you and your religion view fellow human beings.

    Couch it in whatever terms you want. Lie to yourselves and say that you are being loving or just. The truth is that you are promoting bigotry of the worst kind. It is utterly despicable.

    You have no right to pontificate on “morality” so long as you hold this view. It is as immoral a view as anyone can adopt. You should not, for shame, dare to pray that these people will avoid hell when it is hell that you are bringing to them here and now.

    I am ashamed of you all. I am sorry that I ever came to this forum.

  215. TLO,
    either you are not listening or you haven’t perhaps read Father’s subsequent (and those of some with long gay experience) commentors…
    That “proper” simile you mention as “If someone was born with no legs and they were able to “walk” using their hands and arms…” describes something other than what you would like to make it describe: a person who is born able to reproduce etc. through lesbian or gay sexual practice. You are not making the sense you would like to make with that one.

  216. TLO,

    the ‘science’ is indeed quite fabricated by a political (pro gay) agenda and I fear you discard your opposition far easier than you accept those who inflate the figures in favour of what you profess. The straw man argument is used here both against believers, putting words and even actions were they never came from, as well as providing figures as scientific without them truly being that.
    For example:
    LeVay – a fervent homosexual advocate and researcher (he conducted the “gay brain” study in the ’90s) in his book, City of Friends, acknowledges that the 10% figure is a complete myth.

    He even acknowledges that Kinsey reporting that 10 percent of men having had homosexual experiences –not the same as being born gay– for at least three years between the ages 16 and 55 – later seized on by gay rights activitists and taken that one in ten men are gay- is a total myth. He acknowledges that Kinsey stated that only 4 percent of the male population are homosexual throughout their lives.” (LeVay & Nonas, City of Friends, p.51) And Kinsey called himself a bisexual or pansexual.

  217. TLO
    Forgive me but your accusations of Father Stephen here BTW are beyond preposterous:

    Who is responsible for these deaths?

    You are. Not “people like you.” You.

    Where did you see this in Father’s words to you? :

    TLO,
    I fully recognize that it’s not experienced as a “choice.” It’s an affliction and doubtless a cause of suffering. I think that there is much in human sexuality, including hetero, that is equally disordered and is an affliction and a cause of suffering. In truth, I think there’s a whole lot of things about the human condition that are disordered and a cause of suffering.

    Christianity doesn’t exist to rearrange the world in a way that makes our inherent suffering disappear. It is a way of life in which we can not only bear that suffering but conquer death and hell through it. And there must be constant compassion, kindness and mercy towards everyone, because everyone suffers.

    …these issues are not theoretical for me – I’ve lived with them and pastored through them. If someone comes to me with SS attraction – the question isn’t, “How can I help them have a fairly happy life?” It is for them, as for anyone else, “How do I help them find salvation?” And that is not some forensic thing, but real union with Christ and movement towards the Kingdom.

    It is always the case for me as a priest, that someone’s salvation will inevitably require suffering. Mine does, yours does, theirs does. Which suffering and why? How much and why? How to support someone so that the suffering they bear is, in fact, necessary and salvific?

    These are terrible questions. But they are the right questions. And there aren’t any other questions that are worth asking. I’m not being asked to solve society’s problems, but to midwife souls into the Kingdom of God.

  218. TLO,
    I understand what you are saying and I think you are wrong. And I think you are wrong, viz. persecution of homosexuals. But you think what you do and that is what it is. This conversation will likely be repeated (in varying versions) for some time to come. We will be vilified and blamed by a cultural consensus. Will we now be put in the camps ourselves, or does that come later?

  219. TLO, don’t you understand that Christ did not come to make our lives here happy, but rather to raise us from the dead? I don’t get, really just do not understand, why people get bent out of shape over the teaching on homosexuality, and yet seem to have no problem with the teaching on monogamy, even though science is just as loud in stating that it’s not the natural tendency of humans. One seems to be obvious, though viewed as old-fashioned, while the other has become an open invitation to attack.

    Human sexuality, in our fallen state, is seriously messed up. It is true for everyone, including me. Repentance and chastity are our only options.

    (Now that I think about it, people would probably care a lot more about the teaching on monogamy if society castrated adulterers. That would be an abomination, just as it was when we castrated homosexuals, but it also wouldn’t change the fact that men are called by Christ to be chaste in marriage or celibate out of it.)

  220. Thank you, Michael. I have a bit to consider.

    I was preparing a somewhat lengthy reply to TLO and the issues he brought up, but after some sidetracking and reading other things I should simply ask:

    How is what we are talking about here distinguishable from the position taken in this article, which seems to be saying something very similar or analogous about race and ethnicity as people are saying about sex and gender here?

    If it’s not distinguishable, then how do we respect that without finding ourselves spiralling into the uglier tendencies that can be found elsewhere on that site (or in the comments to that article), attracting all sorts of vitriol from the mainstream and all sorts of wrong endorsements from unsavoury “race purists” that will all but drown out the gospel?

  221. Fr. Stephen,

    In regards to your question to TLO:

    Will we now be put in the camps ourselves, or does that come later?

    The answer is yes, sooner or later. And when that happens, the resulting persecution will be far worse than anything the Bolsheviks contemplated.

    As for TLO’s outburst, I have seen this kind of blatant, dishonest emotional manipulation so many times, that I have pretty much given up trying to have “dialogues” with people on this subject. The simple truth is that people like TLO are lying, and they know that. Whenever they get called on their lies they “pitch” (and I do mean, deliberately pitch) a “hysterical reactive psychotic state” in order to elicit pity and to shock, harass, and intimidate their interlocutors into silence. I have seen these kinds of crude psychological manipulations so many times, that I have steeled my heart to them, a fact I am not terribly proud of.

    These are the tactics which must be followed by those whose lives are based upon lies. That is also why these people will never, ever leave us alone. They cannot. They claim that our very existence is an “existential threat” to them. You know something? I agree with them. Our existence truly is a fundamental, intolerable, existential threat to them. Nothing we do or say can possibly change that fact. I repeat, yet again – what we say or do (or do not say, or do not do) has absolutely no bearing on this. We cannot “behave” our way out of this predicament. The bare fact that we exist at all is an intolerable provocation to them.

    Why is that so? It is so, because the one thing lies cannot stand is truth. Truth destroys lies on contact. It destroys lies simply by existing. That is the reason the early Christian communities were hounded by raging mobs, even though they had done nothing to outwardly provoke them. When people whose lives are based upon lies come into contact with those whose lives are based (however imperfectly) upon truth, then the former has two choices – repent or kill the latter. “Live and let live” is simply not an option.

    So, yes, we can all be expected to face fundamental decisions of conscience, and even persecution, before long. I am almost 60 years old, but I do not expect to escape this. This will happen sooner, rather than later. And people like TLO will squelch their consciences and convince themselves that they are “doing God a service” by killing us, exactly as Christ foretold.

    And with that, I suspect that the time may have come for you, Father, to close off this thread. As others have already commented, the discussion does seem to be going around in circles now.

  222. Come on TLO!
    As one of the former gay men commenting on this blog I have to call you out.

    Justifying homosexuality by citing it’s dubious occurrence among apes and other primates is really embarrassing. Even if I were a defender of homosexuality I’d still have to ask you to please sit down.

    “Do you know how many tens of thousand of human beings in the US alone are being bullied every day because they are gay?” No, and neither do you. Where did you get that number anyway? From my experience I’d say there’s at least as large a number who feel “bullied” because they can’t get an increase in their credit limit at Barney’s!

    You have spent “years” trying to help non-Orthodox see the desirability of Orthodoxy yet you didn’t know the church’s moral teachings human sexuality? Thankfully, my spiritual father warned by early on about the danger of talking to others about Orthodoxy if I didn’t actually know what I was talking about.

    You’ve got a lot of cheek attempting to brow-beat Fr. Stephen! In fact you’ve got a lot of cheek coming on to this blog attempting to brow-beat most of us. You’ll have better luck at the U.N. or any other venue populated by low-information types like my former haunt, the Episcopal church.

    “Church is intolerant in principle because she believes;
    She is tolerant in practice because she loves.
    The enemies of the church are tolerant in principle because they do not believe;
    They are intolerant in practice because they do not love.”

    If you’re Orthodox, you’ll understand that.

  223. Matt,
    Generally, I work at avoiding the topic, or at least in majoring in the topic. Orthodox Christianity is not, nor has it ever been racist. Frankly, racism is a legacy of certain versions of Protestantism. Orthodoxy is, and always has included every race under the sun and has no history of preventing interracial marriage at any time.

    Nor does Orthodoxy have a history of persecuting homosexuals.

    It is easy to mistake 19th century Whig politics (the ancestors of today’s liberals) for other Christians. But they worked very hard to “fix” society with many moralistic laws that were very late on the stage of human history. It is not Traditional Christianity that did these things – but science(!) that did these things. It was science that chemically castrated men – that’s not some Christian thing.

    It was the same kind of science that produced eugenics, that today produces abortion and population control theory. It produced the Nazis and many other pseudo-scientific racist nonsense stuff.

    The Orthodox Church has never followed such theories, because we’ve never used somebody’s so-called latest science to direct our lives. We follow Christ, the Scriptures and the Fathers and the proven lives of the saints.

    TLO would do well to get his history straight.

  224. Father, Have we all left TLO beaten and wounded by the side of the road, while we passed on the opposite side?

    to: TLO, I am sorry for the lack of compassion you have experienced here. It is obvious that your pain has gone unaddressed. I am sorry, please forgive me.

  225. Father: Thank you for the reassurance. That article I had linked was not reflective of any Orthodox dogma that I knew, nor heard in any service, though I suppose it did seem to celebrate the “ethnic church” stereotype that Orthodoxy seems to suffer – and the logic of ontology versus subjugation to will seemed very much analogous, if ultimately a false or at least imperfect analogy given the two different kinds of things discussed.

    (In the meantime, it occurs to me that Genesis 1 has many divisions, but for humanity it was only male and female and the “after his kind” language reserved for the plants and animals comes to an abrupt stop when we get to creation of humanity. I take comfort in Bob Jones’ “Is Segregation Scriptural?” to show just how utterly devoid the Scripture actually is for support for racial segregation, even to someone who actively wanted to find it.)

    Helen: From the various comments from TLO I’ve read over the years and the ones leading up to this one, it seems to me more that, in this particular unfortunate episode, he has of his own volition crossed the street, stripped and beaten himself into a bloody mess, laid himself out on the street and demanded that we not come near him, all in the name of ideological protest. It is difficult to know in the best of times how to deal with someone in such a situation, but rebuking the act and telling him to get up, get dressed and act in a way that we do not all know is far beneath his intellectual calibre does not strike me as abandonment, nor necessarily lack of compassion.

  226. TLO, if you actually read the comments from Fr. Freeman, Dino and others you will find:

    >>>And it is one that harms no one! Certainly no straight people are harmed by someone being gay.

    No one has asserted that “straight people are harmed by someone being gay.” Nor has Fr. Freeman or anyone else stated, or implied in any way, that a gay person or persons should suffer what you’ve described as happened to 49,000 people. In fact, I believe it safe to say, that everyone here would actively oppose such a thing happening if it were to arise today.

    >>>if, therefore, homosexuality occurs in nature and has always been part of human society, the claim that it is “unnatural” is just too stupid for words.

    Your definition of “nature” and the Church’s definition of “nature” are two very different things. I would personally counsel to not confuse genetics throughout the Fallen creation with God’s Will for humanity as evidenced in our original state in the Garden. See Fr. Watt’s post (part of it copied here) concerning this:

    “Fallen.

    We cannot look at the world around us and say “This is how God intended it.” Because humanity’s free will mucked up that perfect vision, and we fell. And creation fell. Reality itself fell. We can’t even cite natural law – it is fallen as well.

    We can’t say “this is how God made me” – because we are most certainly not what God intended us to be. We are fallen.”

    >>>”Spiritually Inferior”

    No one has called homosexuals “spiritually inferior”. Orthodoxy recognizes that all people have sinned and all people enter God’s house as sinners. No one is “spiritually inferior”.

    >>>The Cause of Misery

    I will only say that no one is passing judgement on you (or, by default, God) and note that Orthodoxy sees humanity as a whole as suffering from sickness and in need of healing. Again, no one here sees homosexuals as “inferior” (a term you seem fixated on, at least in your post).

    I think your post is a classic example of the linguistic disconnect that Father has mentioned, and many of us recognize, in his blog over time. You are accusing many people here of things that have not been said or implied because you do not understand the terminology of the Church. Instead you are redefining everything in the political-speak used by current society. I very much hope you will go back and reread the comments made by Father and the others here with a more open mind to the language they employ and the meaning of the words they use. Grace and Blessing, my friend.

  227. Helen, I thought Fr. Stephen’s response was pretty well subdued after the vitriol and fire that came his way. He pretty much said he disagreed with TLO, and left it at that.

    I guess I’m not quite understanding where this person’s ‘hurt’ has come from. It’s not evident in his postings; nothing that Fr. S has said in this post isn’t reflected in the Church, and in his own previous writings. “I’m sorry you’re disappointed?” is all I can come up with. Every other response seems pretty focused on rebutting some very serious things leveled against Fr. S and everyone else participating on this site.

    I could say more, but I think it’s been said already.

  228. “And people like TLO will squelch their consciences and convince themselves that they are “doing God a service” by killing us, exactly as Christ foretold.”

    That’s quite a leap. Please stop the hysterics, the demonizing!

    Someone disagrees with your position and they are ready to kill you?

  229. Robert,
    in the defence of Michael’s “leap”, I would remind all that it has been prophesied by a few of the Holy Fathers that one of the key reasons why future persecutions of the Church will surpass and even eclipse all past ones is their artfully veiled subtlety. Spiritual corrosion over a long time is generally tougher to resist as compared to a sudden threat that alerts one’s resistance.

  230. Helen,
    The conversation with TLO has gone on for a couple of years. It has been marked with patience, forbearance, kindness, understanding. His rage at this is not deserved. Some things are simply not able to be addressed.

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