Male and Female Created He Them – Part One

resurrectionicon

Please note that I have made some changes in this article, in listening to comments and observations.

Despite all social discussion to the contrary, the most irreducible level of our human existence is binary – we exist as male or female. This intuition, stated in the story of creation, has a profound place within the Christian gospel. The story of our salvation is revealed to us in terms that are male and female. Far from being grounded in some antiquated view of humanity, the Christian story, the story of Jesus, is a profoundly human story. It reveals that this most irreducible level of our humanity is neither incidental nor unnecessary. To be human can only be expressed in terms of male and female. Any other account of what it means to be human is a mere abstraction, ignoring the only way we can possibly know ourselves.

This imagery is woven into the Biblical narrative of our salvation, at least as it is related in the New Testament and preserved in the teaching of the Orthodox Church. Christ is born of a woman, the Virgin Mother of God. And this portion of the story is not incidental to our salvation. It is not a mere dramatic device to get the story rolling. The story of Christ’s conception is of a piece with the whole account of Jesus.

The story of the human fall from communion with God is a male and female story – including the somewhat comical note of both Adam and Eve seeking to pass the blame on to someone else. But, just as we are created male and female, so we fall, male and female. And just as we fall male and female, so the story of our salvation is told, male and female.

Mary is the New or Second Eve, in the words of the Fathers. Christ is not incarnate apart from her “yes.” Her self-emptying answer to the angel, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to your word,” is the New Testament counterpart to Eve’s disobedience. An even greater role involves the very heart of her existence as woman. As we say in the Creed, “He became incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary.” The flesh, the whole of the human nature that is united with the divine in Christ, is a gift from the Virgin. Christ’s humanity is Mary’s gift, not a special creation within the womb.

Every woman who gives birth, gives of her humanity (just as every man who is united to a woman gives of his humanity). To be human is to be the gift of a man and a woman, through the mercy of God. In the case of Christ, we confess that there is no human father. Christ is born of a Virgin.

Our salvation, when the story is rightly told, is the work of God and Man, the work of the God/Man Jesus Christ. As the Fathers repeatedly said, “God became what we are that we might become what He is.” The Orthodox account of Christianity is the story of a union: first a union in the womb of Mary, but also a union on the Cross and a union in the Resurrection and the Ascension. There is no genderless version of the Christian gospel that is orthodox.

Tragically, the role of male and female has largely been removed in contemporary versions of Christianity. In an overreaction to Roman Catholicism, Protestant Christianity increasingly told the story of our salvation with minimal reference to Mary. For many contemporary Protestants, Mary’s womb is but a borrowed space, her role quite secondary. Our salvation is related as a payment, a death that assuages the wrath of God and allows God to see us as though we were righteous. There is no union. Baptism becomes but a token symbol, the Eucharist a mere memorial. The entire human story, that can only rightly be told with reference to male and female, is transformed into a story of contract and payment, a sexlessly neutral theological event.

This account of salvation provided the groundwork for the modern view of humanity. Gender in the modern world is but a biological inconvenience, something to be minimized if possible, reimagined when necessary. What matters about human beings in the modern world is that they produce and consume. We exist for the economy. Career trumps child-bearing. Gender expectations and traditional roles are dismissed as patriarchal nonsense that prevents people from fulfilling their dreams and vocations.

This modern account of what it means to be human is deeply flawed. It is driven by modern economics and makes being human into an abstraction, divorced from reality. Our technology allows us to ignore the realities of our biology – and thus to live make-believe lives. We are able through technology to pretend that sexual intimacy is about pleasure and self-fulfillment and not about procreation. Any account of what it means to be human that requires the wide-spread intervention of technology is simply delusional. It is a lie.

In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, procreation has been moved to the laboratory and artificial wombs. All human beings practice birth control and perceive sex as a purely recreational activity. Through a series of accidents, one of the characters is removed from this technological world and becomes pregnant. She sees this as tragic. What was once seen as science fiction has now come to resemble many aspects of our times. We are living in a fantasy novel.

The reality of the gendered account of the gospel is carried over into the life of the Church. The Body of Christ, the Church itself, is spoken of as the “Bride of Christ,” and its final union with Him at the close of the age as the “Wedding Banquet.” The imagery of marriage (with its implied conjugal union) is a primary way the Church speaks about the human relationship with God. The relationship between a man and a woman is not something incidental to our existence, a side-show for pleasure, it is somehow of a piece with our complete destiny in God. Every celebration of the Eucharist is a marriage feast, brought forth from the Bridal Chamber.

The modern view of human beings is that we are  autonomous centers of consciousness whose choices and decisions bring about self-actualization. Male and female have nothing to do with our humanness in this view. Being human is about choice, decision-making, freedom and autonomy. The givenness of gender is therefore an obstacle to our fantasy existence. The lofty words of choice and freedom, enshrined in the laws and philosophy of our land, are actually just disguises for saying that we are producers and consumers. When a human being’s ability to choose is impaired, we despair that they have somehow lost their personhood. To produce and to shop are the core of our being.

This modern account represents a wholesale attack on the true dignity and worth of human beings. We become subservient to nothing more than economic interests, a disguised way of saying “survival.” Survival is the role of a beast, not a human being. “Man shall not live by bread alone,” we are told.

Our salvation is a Divine/Human event. But to be Divine/Human, it must be at least truly human. Humanity viewed as nothing more than a survival strategy cannot be saved. “You cannot serve God and mammon.”

This directs our attention back to the truth of our existence. From the beginning we have existed as male and female. That human beings continue in existence is wholly dependent upon our being male and female. There is no other way to be.

The most authoritative definition of male and female in the Tradition is found in the work of St. Maximus the Confessor. He states that male and female are “energies” of our human nature. That is a way of saying that male and female are not something that exists on the level of choice – they are the very mode of our existence. Male and female are the normative expressions of our humanity.

We have become aware in modern culture, that not everyone experiences that “mode” of existence in the same way. The reasons for this are complex. There are certainly physical, genetic and environmental factors that disrupt that normative expression. It must be remembered that all experience of our humanity is, at present, tragic (tragic=fallen). There should be no triumphalism for those whose experience is perceived as “normative.” The Church grounds the sexual expression of our gendered mode of existence in marriage and procreation. The wisdom of Scripture is not rightly viewed as an uninformed, antiquated understanding of what it means to be human. However broken male and female marriage has been at different points of history, it remains foundational for child-rearing and the well-being of society.

The grounding of our sexual existence in the confines of a life-long union of man and woman is the foundation of human culture. It predates any notion of government or the State. The many experiments with other treatments of sexual existence have proven to be dysfunctional and disastrous for the most fundamental tasks of our existence. If it is not so in every instance, it is so in the aggregate. The commandments we have in this regard are for our well-being.

The frustration of modern culture with the Christian tradition of being human is with the limits it places on choice and freedom. We demand that every choice we can imagine should be available for us to realize. The Church fully and completely understands the nature of this demand. We call it “sin.” Human existence must not be grounded in consumption, much less in unfettered consumption. When it is – we ultimately consume one another and ourselves. It is also the case that our modern paradigm has little place for the tragic – we do not suffer well nor do we help others to bear their suffering well.

The roles of women and men in the life of the Church, though varied in many ways, are nevertheless grounded in this primary understanding of a truly human, gendered existence. That the ordained priesthood is expressed in men rather than women (for example) is an affirmation that gender matters and is of consequence. Male and female are not interchangeable.

The burdens that we encounter in our gendered existence (most of which are created by the false expectations of the modern view of humanity) are no different than the burdens of having a body. I am not what I imagine myself to be – I am a human being and I am what my body says I am.  Existence is inherently given, not invented.

The autonomy and choice demanded in the modern model are in deep conflict with the traditional understanding of what it means to be human. In this conflict, the Church rightly points to Christ. He is the example of what it means to be fully human. The shopping-careered humans of the modern world are sad caricatures of that Christ-like existence. Self-defined, self-designed, self-authenticating, self-affirming – self, self, self, self, is no way to exist.

 

91 comments:

  1. How does this square with the theologoumenon of so many of the Fathers that male and female would not be part of mankind’s eschatological state? Don’t mistake me, I’m personally not inclined to buy it, but I’m curious how you deal with it.

  2. Thank you for this wonderful reminder of who and why we are. May God grant us the grace to live accordingly in the midst of the confusion and chaos that surrounds us.

  3. “In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, procreation has been moved to the laboratory and artificial wombs. All human beings practice birth control and perceive sex as a purely recreation activity. Through a series of accidents, one of the characters is removed from this technological world and becomes pregnant. She sees this as tragic. What was once seen as science fiction has now come to resemble many aspects of our times. We are living in a fantasy novel.”
    After all recent events, I was thinking about the
    same, that Haxley’s Brave New World becomes reality.

  4. I think the male/female dichotomy in the eschaton is “overcome” in some manner, but not by disappearing. We are neither married nor given in marriage, meaning there is no sex, but we are married eternally – a relationship that has a union – and in some manner will still be grounded in male/female.

    There is no belief in a genderless human being at any time.

  5. A tour de force of a post, here. I keep thinking, and have been thinking, about all the poor Jungian and Freudian therapists and theorists in this age of “gender” (i.e. there is no real sexuality, it’s all gradations, and social constructions [all ‘fifty shades” of it]. Freud and Jung were such important frameworks during the sexual revolution, but which required the notion of fixed, and binary sexuality, to work at all. Perhaps now, instead of every other anthropologist looking to Freud and Jung when they analyze Tibetan mandalas and Bantu initiation rituals and positing Freud and Jung as mediating analytical tools, they will now begin to notice that postmodernity has no language at all with which to interpret the symbols and rituals of traditional cultures at all, as postmodernity has completely gone off the rails and abandoned any common framework with them.

  6. I’ve been considering that our creation, as Adam and Eve, is a reflection of the Trinity in a communal manner. As God is always in communion with Himself (as Jesus stated when He said, “I do nothing that the Father has not told me”–Father/Son/Spirit), His creation of humanity “like Us” reflects His Image and produces life. So also communion within the marriage sacrament (Man/Woman acting within God’s Will) also reflects Him (“Us”) and, in a reflection of His creation of humanity, produces life.

    While genetic (or physical) issues can take away our ability, within this communion, to produce life, they do not take away our ability to enter into communion within the sacrament itself. Just my thoughts; still working this out and I appreciate any feedback/correction.

  7. This is all insightful and important, but to tell the whole story, Christianity also challenges our stereotypes of gender roles. For some people, simply to assert that we are unchangeably gendered signals an affirmation of those stereotypes. What can we tell them about how God’s view of gender makes more room than our cultural assumptions?

  8. One of the best explanations for the primacy of gender as an ontology of incarnational personalism I’ve encountered. Everything about our gender informs us about precisy ‘what’ we are opening the door to the mystery of God as a Tri-unity of Person(s)

  9. Trevor,
    Yes, the “whole story” is quite large indeed. I think first, that we need to “deconstruct” their concerns about gender roles. The current narrative of Modernity is, in fact, simply a way of reducing us to economic consumers/producers. Much of the anxiety people have about “roles” are driven by the modern economic definitions of our humanity.

    Obviously there are many ways to express our gender. But it is important for Christian thought to challenge the false assumptions that have been used to assault the most normal and obvious aspects of our lives. Our wealth and technology has created many false ways of being – and we’re miserable as a result. Orthodoxy is utterly committed to the truth of what it means to be human. I often tell inquirers that as the last Traditional form of Christianity, Orthodoxy is a living remembrance of what it means to be human. Modernity is a project that has sought to redefine our humanity in order to make us serve other ends.

    Think about what is actually being said when we ask a child: “What do you want to BE when you grow up?” We are already teaching them that their reality is defined by a job. This is the language of Mammon.

  10. I think the male/female dichotomy in the eschaton is “overcome” in some manner, but not by disappearing.

    Thank you, Father. This incidentally addresses another thing that’d been in the back of my head, which I’ve carried over from my evangelical-then-atheist days – whether in the final washing away of our sins our particularity and whatever we’ve done in our lives would somehow be wiped out and made to conform to some “perfect” neutrality.

    Perhaps I still need to get out of that wrongheaded understanding of “perfect”.

    That said, a fellow parishioner pointed out something problematic with your article when it was shared on Facebook: it is our experience that no one “is”, at total reduction, either male or female with nothing in between. Every one of us has some traits that are predominantly masculine, or feminine, or go either way – some of these may be bodily (women with capacity for substantial facial hair, men without, to say nothing of genital ambiguity or androgen insensitive people who are genetically fully XY but are born fully female). That the “Bride” of Christ also includes men also complicates things considerably.

    (Then again, much of these may be outside of one’s fundamental gender – but where exactly is that and how would any observer tell?)

    What you’re saying makes perfect sense to me within the theology, but the way it’s presented can be easily misread as ignorance about the border cases. Perhaps an introductory paragraph could fix this, to help define what you are (and more importantly what you are not) talking about when you say gender/male/female would be helpful – distinguishing identity, expression, and cultural expectation?

  11. Thank you for this, Father. I appreciate both the perspective you offer here and Trevor’s question because, especially in the conservative Christian subculture, there is also a deeply disordered version of how the sexes should relate to each other and together before God with a seemingly similar careful attention to embracing and preserving our “natural differences”, but which is actually a profoundly worldly political caricature of the God-given Mystery of Christ in His Church. It is a profound distortion that is deeply destructive of our communion with one another and with the Lord.

    I’m especially conscious of this right now because I have just finished reading the memoir of the grand-daughter of a man who started an authoritarian Fundamentalist Baptist-style group of churches when the “shepherding movement” was strong, which evolved into an extremely abusive cult with the most horrendous systematic spiritual and physical abuse especially of women and children (although men were also victimized) all in the name of preserving the God-given hierarchy of things. The woman whose memoir I was reading suffers from PTSD because of the abuse she suffered starting when she was an infant. She found healing through a discovery of the Theotokos and is now a Roman Catholic.

    I also mention this because quite frankly when I first came into the Church, I encountered some converts from a conservative Protestant background (men in positions of spiritual authority) who seemed to still be on a bit of a power trip. There were also some scandalous things reported of the goings on in certain jurisdictional hierarchies, so I know ethnic Orthodox are no strangers to the abuse of hierarchical power and that women and children are often more easily oppressed and victimized when this occurs.

  12. Matt,
    The only difficulty in translating this into our present cultural terms is that so much of the present language is corrupted by modern assumptions.

    There are no “border” cases – per se. There are certainly defects of various sorts. And there may be very unique forms of suffering associated with such cases. But to use such cases in order to destroy gender or to relativize it is absurd. And its relativizing is not born out of a concern for the border cases. It’s still about a redefinition of the human in terms that serve the economy.

    Frankly, a better way of describing this is that people are sort of in “the Matrix,” the Matrix being a redefinition of themselves in terms better suited for consumption and production – indeed they are like batteries. Little more.

    Arguing with someone in the matrix who wants to make you into a battery is pointless. Our task is to rescue as many as we can from the delusion of the present age. That it is delusional is obvious in the extreme. There was a reason Christ had his disciples give away everything and come and follow Him. They walked away from every distraction from the truth of their existence, so that they could truly exist.

    Forgive me, but the mind of the present age is the “mark of the beast” in one form. Nothing in all of human history has ever so convinced people to rethink their most basic humanity. I am stating this in a fairly extreme form – but it is not actually an extreme observation. We must come to our senses.

  13. Interesting reflections, Father. I sometimes find it difficult to accept the Orthodox perspective on gender as being ontologically binary. I think your critique of modern gender fluidity as stemming from a Western preference-satisfaction model is apt, and perhaps applies to the majority of persons who identify as something other than male/female. However, I wonder what you would make of the countless testimonies, which have the appearance of complete genuineness, of homosexuals who recognize themselves as such from a very early age and who, despite being vehemently disinclined to identify themselves as gay, cannot seem to shake this guiding intuition. I know that this article isn’t aimed specifically at homosexuality as such, but do you think such a thing (same-sex attraction) could be written into the ontological fabric of the universe, perhaps as an impetus toward celibacy (as a disinclination toward the opposite sex) or something else?

    Thanks in advance.

  14. Greetings Fr Stephen,
    Thank you for a very helpful article. I am especially appreciative of how you use current issues and the ideological and monetary opinion of mankind, which has swept the West , to explain the Christian view of human nature. Ideologies reject reality whereas Christianity is grounded in it. From what you write we cannot escape being drawn to certain conclusions about teaching which deliberately misinterprets the Biblical position. This is a call to mature in the faith. The fact the article draws out questions shows it’s value in getting us to think about what is happening .

  15. Matt: male and female are neither static nor linear nor inherently carnal. They are. In fact, quantum like. They are of the Holy Spirit in ways that make them indefinable yet, because they are human, wholly knowable by His grace.

    When I began my conscious Christian journey I asked myself ” What does it mean to be a Christian man?”

    Decades later I’m still asking, still finding, still failing but I have found out along the way that I can be neither a man nor a Christian in isolation or in ideology — only within interrelationships. Trinitarian ones. Male and female require each other and are dependent on God.

    The particulars are unique and intimate but in context work for our salvation. A sacramental mystery that is at the core of creation.

    Am I most fully a man when I am not “being a man”? Perhaps.

  16. Fr. Stephen, with respect, it seems you didn’t actually answer Matthew’s question, you just flatly denied that it is a problem at all and then started talking about the Matrix.

    The problem with Orthodox anthropology with regards to intersex persons is that the Scriptures insist that God created a binary, and yet many intersex people find that their experience is of being both/and and not one or the other.

    You’re left essentially saying that intersex people don’t reflect the image of God because they aren’t one or the other, or else having to work out a whole different anthropology. One can’t blame liberal Protestantism for grappling with this question and opting for the latter option. Orthodoxy seems to go with the former.

  17. Ryan,
    Perhaps you’re right – that I did not answer Matthew’s question closely enough. First, your description of intersex people (quite rare), is still binary. They experience both/and not some other third thing. We can only describe this human experience in terms of male and female. Even homosexuality is not an experience of a third gender, but of same gender attraction – and even that is often characterized by a “male” role and a “female” role.

    The image of God is written into us quite deeply. How that image is shown forth is not seen in “how we are born.” Many people are born with all kinds of problems – not requiring a new anthropology. It is a matter of the mystery of our existence that it is known male and female. That knowledge may come at a great cost to some. There is no human life without suffering. There is no image of God that does not include suffering. The image according to which we were created is the crucified Christ. And it is that mystery that we come to know in our conformity with His image. “Image” and “Likeness” are not properties with which we are born – they are the telos, the end for which we are intended. So, everyone is born disordered in some fashion. But our transformation into the image and likeness of God occurs through and in the Cross of Christ.

    Liberal Protestantism is barely Christian at this point – and long ago abandoned any semblance of the Tradition. I have no idea what anthropology they profess this week, nor what it will be a week from now. I’ve been there. I don’t think “grappling” is the right word for what they do. Not even remotely.

  18. If intersex people do indeed experience both ‘halves’ of God’s image within themselves (for want of a better word), ought we not to recognize this specially – similarly to how two-spirited peoples were recognized and honoured by many of the indigenous peoples on this continent before colonization?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Two-Spirit

  19. (I suppose I’m asking this: I’ve often heard it said that when the Fathers from Russia set out to go and meet the Aleutiq peoples of Alaska, their attitude was not “Let’s go convert the heathens!”, but “Let us live among these people, and perhaps they can teach us something of God that we don’t already know, and by the grace of God perhaps save some”. They did indeed learn a great deal from the Aleut.

    Could it be that the indigenous anthropologies of this continent, as pertaining to people who experience the spirit of both male and female within themselves, have something to teach us as well?

  20. Ryan,
    We do not speak of male and female as halves of God’s image. But we certainly express the image of God in an embodied way. That embodied way is normatively male or female, but there are genetic or development causes for various forms of intersexed individuals. They do not constitute a sub-culture, such that there is some tradition to be learned. They are certainly part of the human experience.

    The monastic missionaries to Alaska were told to live “as a guest in someone’s home.” They were not sent to “learn.” They certainly incorporated everything possible from native peoples. Your suggestion sounds interesting, but mostly as a romanticized notion of how we learn, etc.

    Orthodoxy is a 2000 year-old tradition with a vast range of experience. It is non-Western, etc. Currently, we are being lectured by a culture that has largely destroyed in nuclear and extended family and become a wasteland of endemic social problems. I don’t think there’s much within modern culture for us to learn. Intersex people are not a tribe, or a culture. The question for Orthodoxy towards them, or anyone of us, is how to we live as the kind of community that can help someone bear their suffering?

  21. Jack,
    “God became what we are that we might become what He is,” is not found in the Bible. It was first credited to St. Irenaeus in the 2nd century, and is a very common statement within the Fathers of the Church (particularly in the Eastern Church). It echoes the Scriptural phrase that “God made Christ to be sin, who knew no sin, that we might become the righteousness of God.” in 2 Cor. 5:21

    You may not be familiar with Orthodox Tradition, or with the early Fathers of the Church (authors of the Creeds, and the major doctrines of the Christian faith). This statement is a foundational statement within the Eastern Church.

  22. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. – Gal. 3:28

  23. Gee, Dave,
    Do you think I’m not familiar with the quote? It’s become an American Christian slogan of liberal protestantism in which it is twisted into a meaning to serve our economically based anthropology – which is a world away from asking what does St. Paul actually mean by the phrase.

    Obviously, Christ does not abolish male and female – or else there would be no children in Christ Jesus. Nor does the Jew cease to be a Jew, nor the Greek the Greek. The one that we become in Christ would be an oppressive state of being if it destroyed the proper distinctives in our lives. It does not. The Greek becomes more truly Greek, the Jew more truly a Jew, a man more truly a man, a woman more truly a woman in Christ Jesus. And there is a form of unity (like that of the Trinity) in which, though God is One, the Father does not cease to be the Father, nor the Son the Son, nor the Holy Spirit the Holy Spirit.

    Instead, this verse in St. Paul has been “sloganized” to fit a modern agenda that has nothing to do with Christianity nor the Triune God.

  24. Fr. Stephen,

    I have to agree with you in your last post.

    For many years I was separated from my home Church/Germany and recognized the oddity and Christian-less society here in the US (so was Germany becoming after it rebuilt itself—forgetting what we just had gone thru and how we had to thank God that we even survived) and I felt utterly threatened. I sought out churches where I would find encouragement and a community with fellow believers. That did not happened. So I prayed for my life…literally, I am a True Christian and Baptist, I KNEW YOU, BUT I’ve LOST YOU, and how could I be lost…..it was heart felt and longing to return to the church. In my struggle and pleading to help me find a True Church….HE SAID: I AM not here of my self to have, but I AM here of my Father…I AM my Father….and my Father beholds I AM. The spirit is in likeness a link and expresses that I AM…..more was said, but wish not to reveal. And at that moment I knew a union took place and that God would always and forever be with me as he had promised…..I will never leave you or forsake you. He is the father of the fatherless.
    In this moment, many years ago, I also realized this Male/Female and God Triangle, Within the Trinity being the Logos/Male, Wisdom/Female, the Holy Spirit/Water the Church….and when union occurs all three are present and with you. But your life will continue in the expression and unique experiences of/in our Gender you were born. But in the spirit you are all Three.
    God Bless.

  25. Is there actually any sort of equivalent to two-spirit, etc. in pre-Christian Aleut culture? I’ve never heard of it – surely if they had something like that there would be stories about missionaries having to deal with it somehow.

    Father:

    What you’ve answered and Ryan has had you clarify wasn’t really my question – I actually agree with you, but my concern is that you might be swinging a bit too far in the opposite direction that your message is lost on those who may be on the fence.

    The bigger question for me, though, is just what is it that we can point to that can tell us whether any given person is male or female. I think we can rule out any one single objective trait as being either unfalsifiable (“there is an inherent transcendent sense gender in each person that is wholly independent of any observable phenomena” – transsubstantiation, anyone?) or simply unsupported (if you say DNA, then you get AIS women who are women in every anatomical, social, spiritual and psychological sense except they have XY chromosomes and no functioning womb, and to call them men would be patently absurd; if you say one’s subjective sense of their gender, then it would be a Christian duty to enable surgery for all transsexuals which is obviously not what the Church has taught). Is it the overall culmination of numerous genetic, physical, spiritual and social traits? Or is it relational, like being a father or mother?

    The one that we become in Christ would be an oppressive state of being if it destroyed the proper distinctives in our lives.

    Going back to this and my previous comment here – would it be a reasonably fair approximation to suggest that salvation/damnation and the resurrection is that God will take everything that we are and bring it to its true fulfilment, including all the evil, and that our torment (for those of us who end up that way) would be a result of the fufilment of that evil?

    Also, a bit of a tangent but since another commenter did bring up that quote… are you at all familiar with N.T. Wright’s 2004 conference paper re: gender in Paul’s letters, and if so how safe is it to take it at face value for an Orthodox, at least as theologumenon?

  26. Bless, Father.

    Another edifying article. Thank you.

    For an interesting insight on this topic, see http://www.cse.dmu.ac.uk/~mward/gkc/books/sexlessness.html

    The culture of “choice” and “freedom” is gathering pace, I fear. The National Academy of Sciences is holding a meeting later this year to begin an international conversation on the topic of human germline editing (see Dr Lander’s article “Brave New Genome” in the New England Journal of Medicine). Please pray that the idea of “editing” humans proposed by Dr Lander and others is not espoused by this meeting.

  27. I have not read Wright’s article. I’m not aware of a two-spirit tradition among the Aleuts. There are obviously difficult situations regarding identity – chromosomal, genetalia, etc. It takes great care, love, economia, to pastor and be of use. But my point is that such cases are difficult precisely because gender is real. Were it only a cultural issue, these things would not be difficult. Great compassion is needed.

  28. Matt: I wasn’t referring to the Aleut specifically, but other indigenous peoples of this continent with regards to the two-spirit identification.

  29. I have gotten the impression the “two-spirit” tradition is quite peculiar to the Navaho and related North American groups (where alcoholism and sexual abuse are also not uncommon problems) and does not feature in traditional religion world-wide. I have known African Christians with backgrounds in African traditional religions who are much more conservative of the traditional Christian moral taboos surrounding sex and marriage than their denominational Christian peers from modern western cultures who have been swayed by the modern ethic. Case in point are the Afrcan Anglican bishops under whom the “Continuing” Anglicans in this country have placed themselves for this very reason rather than under the American Episcopacy that now ordains women and practicing homosexuals.

  30. Father Stephen,

    Would you say it’s impossible for gender to exist independently of biological sex? As I understand it, this is what transgender people say is their experience. If male and female are energies, as St. Maximus called them, couldn’t it be possible that one would have the anatomy of a male, but the energy of a female?

    Related to that, what are the distinctive of these energies? Surely men can be nurturers and caretakers, and women can be strong and providers, so what exactly are the distinctives that have no overlaps? Where do we draw the line and say “this is female and this is not” beyond anatomy?

    And since homosexuality necessarily comes up in this conversation, I have wondered to myself, what is the clear damage of homosexual relationships? Sin in Scripture seems to have very obvious and clear consequences, but I can’t say that I’ve ever seen what that would be in relation to same-sex attraction. Is it because it doesn’t “show” us the true nature of things, the way male/female relationships do? And if so, is the ideal the only acceptable form of something?

    I hope these questions are coming across as sincere, because they are. I will state flatly that I accept the teaching of my Orthodox Church, but at times I don’t understand how, for example, a loving, committed, monogamous same-sex relationship couldn’t be seen as an act of mercy and chastity, while at the same time acknowledging that it’s not the ideal and doesn’t reveal fully the nature of things.

    It is very confusing.

  31. @RC:

    “couldn’t it be possible that one would have the anatomy of a male, but the energy of a female?”

    Such a question introduces a fracture between the different levels of existence. What exists on a lower plane is a symbol of that which is on a higher one. The biological sex is the incarnate expression of the “essential sex”.
    The attempt to claim there is a conflict between the biological and the essential is a diabolical attempt (literally that which separates- dia-bolon). – Of course, I don’t mean by this that you are diabolical 🙂 Just this kind of mentality which is propagated today.

    “what is the clear damage of homosexual relationships? ”
    The eros between male and female is more than biological, it is a metaphysical impulse towards union between the two complementary parts of humanity. It is the attraction of two poles to achieve union. Same sex relationships constitute psychic deviations, as they amount to the perversion of the eros- there is no union achieved.
    Of course, here I would make the difference between homosexuality as sin, which deserves to be treated in a therapeutic manner like all other sins (and which I wouldn’t even say constitutes some kind of “pinnacle of sin” as some fundamentalists overreact) and the modern “gay rights movements” which stem from a diabolical impulse to invert and destroy the natural order created by God.

    This is my comment and take on things. Father, as well as those more experienced may, of course, know things differently and correct my views.

  32. RC,
    Good questions. By the way, I highly recommend Fr. T. Hopko’s Same Sex Attraction. It’s a small book but speaks very carefully about these questions.

    There once was a name for same-sex attraction. It was called friendship. I think, for example, of CS Lewis’ circle of friends. Their friendship was deep, and dominantly male. But they were hetero. The Church’s issue on the topic of same sex, is its genital expression. The activities of same sex genital expression are even forbidden to hetero couples in the canons. They change the meaning and function of sex. Fr. Tom has much more on this.

    Quite honestly, the genital expression changes the nature of a friendship, and not for the good. Some of this is difficult to talk about. For one, the arguments from the pro-homosexual side are deeply marked by misinformation. It is not like marriage only different. But I don’t want to argue it here. The Church is being asked to defend the Tradition against a make-believe form of sexuality that doesn’t really exist. Why, for example, are gay pride parades across the country the sort of thing you wouldn’t want your child to watch? It’s not a parade of men holding hands and just wanting to be normal and accepted by everyone. When you read the gay-pride literature – these things are not about marriage – they are about a redefining of sexuality.

    At this summer’s Episcopal General Convention, their gay organization had a Mass whose theme was celebrating God who “disorders our boundaries and releases our desires.” or something like that. But when it comes time to have serious discussions, suddenly you’d think that such things have no place in the gay community.

    Sex itself has been distorted in homosexual activity, just as it is frequently distorted in much of heterosexual activity. The commandments of the Scriptures and the Tradition are for our well-being, the well-being of children, and the safeguarding of societies.

    The sexual revolution, of which the gay rights movement is a part, has been one of the single most devastating things in our culture over the past generation. It has destroyed countless lives (especially of children). The coarseness of our culture, its violence and many other aspects are deeply connected.

    We have an occasional commenter who can give much better first-hand accounts of his former gay experience. I think he speaks with a voice of compassion and understanding, but with a clear discernment about what is at stake. I would welcome his comments.

  33. Folks, my wife is part native American and when we met she was attending a Native American Christian church. One of the congregants was the leader of the Two Spirit group. He is a married man with a family troubled by the spirit of same sex attraction.

    I saw the fruit of his work and struggle. It is emphatically NOT a recognition of same sex attraction as equivalent to normal male*female. Rather it is a recognition of the struggle and a way to bring that struggle into the community for support and repentance and healing.

    The man of which I speak was able to return to his wife and his family and assist many others to achieve great wholeness.

    You cannot and should not shoe horn the modern ideological blasphemy of egalitarianism and the embrace of the passions as normative into a deep and subtle community based spiritual healing that is sympathy with the Christian approach, the Orthodox approach.
    It makes me angry.

    Tread carefully as you are dealing with deeply sacred things that the modern world is incapable of understanding or illucidating. The modern world only desecrates such things.

    Gid forgive us.

  34. “. . . just as [sex itself] is frequently distorted in much of heterosexual activity”.

    Fr. Freeman and others,

    From what I observe in our various entertainment and sales-oriented media, this is perhaps an even more serious problem than the same sex marriage issue –which involves a relatively small number of persons, more than three-fourths of whom evidently are as sincere in their notions of commitment and respectful, dignity-preserving, sacred (in their understanding) love as their fellow general church-goers.

    Our culture seems to have welcomed a self-centered, pleasure-oriented notion of sexual expression. Even the notion of relationship seems ultimately focused on the good to be gained, not given. I am reminded of at least one of Juvenal’s lengthy poems (‘Satires”) about conditions in 1st century Rome. It saddens me greatly because the young persons I know are not even capable of reflecting on history in this regard.

  35. Albert says:
    It saddens me greatly because the young persons I know are not even capable of reflecting on history in this regard.

    That is because History is being taught by the winners. And the winners are guilty as much as the losers. But the winners guilt is not talked about, and so no lessons are learned, but repeated.

    Homosexuality existed in the OT, but just because it is Biblical does not mean we should practice it, and it clearly states so.
    We no longer stone our children, or woman, at least to some extent, are no longer treated as property (some still are) like slaves were. Though woman are still disadvantaged thru child bearing and few laws exist to protect her. The focus should be on redeeming the male and female in/of the natural order, Marriages have been disastrous since the 60tis, thanks to Hollywood, and less trying to figure out why homosexuality even exists.
    It has been my understanding that a very stressful pregnancy by the mothers alters the natural development of the infant, as do drugs alcohol etc.=sin. It may explain why during war-time, check the 30 year war, then ww1, and many of Hitler’s regime who survived ww1, were gay. The lives before and after these wars, I cant imagine living under or in a war, PTSD probably produced them. My mother told us horror stories of the war and the stresses running to bomb shelter etc. and consequences of war. SIN! The new age of working mothers, the stresses of juggling two or more jobs to bring food to the table, because her man ran off with a younger woman etc. PTSD all around us in male and female. What can this produce? No healthy family,

    Like Fr. Stephen said there is no third Gender, and there are no two spirits. They are One, God is One, but is expressed in the Logos and in Wisdom. They live or abide in each other as I AM, they are not two or separated. But expressed in Creation, they are always attracted to each other, in the natural expression….to this oneness ..thru the Holy Spirit, to do the will of God from who all things emanate. For that reason the Church in Christ was created.
    GEE, lets focus, this is just to divert a whole Country…to/from the real NEEDS. Our souls are dying male and female.

  36. RC,
    The term “energies” is misleading to many people (it’s a technical term in the Fathers). The biological expression of male and female is itself, one of the energies. Obviously, for various reasons (DNA, Chromosomal disordering, etc.) those energies can fail to be accurately expressed.

    There is, at present, no evidence in general homosexuality of a genetic component. There is the testimony of some that they were “born” that way, but this is only to say that they have no memory of a time when they did not experience themselves in a homosexual manner. There seems to be a complex of factors involved – none of which particularly seems to be “choosing.” We have a difficulty even having an honest conversation in our culture at present since any number of answers and questions are simply considered bigoted and may not be asked.

    But I’ve pastored for 35 years and encountered people with any number of sexual and orientation issues. As their confessor, we’ve worked at wrestling honestly with the Tradition and their life. This is true of pretty much every priest that I know. Many priests are hurt when they listen to people speak about the Church’s insensitivity or lack of knowledge on the topic. Priests have struggled very quietly and respectfully for years alongside parishioners and their families – and often under the silence and discipline of confession.

  37. Michael, thank you so much for bringing your wife’s first-hand perspective from the Native American community to bear on this discussion. What you say makes so much sense to me, given what little I know of the Native Americans’ traditional respect for living in harmony with the laws of nature.

    I see a possible parallel here with the modern “New Age” fascination with the supposed “Gnostic Christianities” of the early centuries. What modern New Age folks imagine and project these Gnostic cults to have been is very different from what they actually were.

  38. Here is one example if male-female synergy: our kitchen sink sprayer was leaking. I knew it was a simple fix and got the part I knew would fix it. Got it home and it did not fit like I expected. My wife who had not known how to fix it originally took a more practical look and made it work.

    As our brother Gregory has said repeatedly same sex attempts at union don’t work.

    Fr Stephen has pointed out many reasons they don’t work. They are a perversion of both friendship and marriage.

    But that is the issue: they don’t work and no amount of mind bending “apologetics” will make them work.

    As my priest eloquently reminded us this morning the Christian life is the Cross. The reward of the Cross is the Ressurection.

    Glory be to God.

  39. Father, that take on friendship has been on my mind a lot these last few weeks. Lately I’ve been reading the Spiritual Friendship blog, which is run by a group of celibate gay Christians trying to navigate modern life and faith. Many of them lack clear guidance from their churches (most of them seem to be Catholic or mainline Protestant; I haven’t noticed any Orthodox) on how to balance chastity with their need for companionship. They’ve been drawing from earlier in Christian tradition–especially Aelred of Rievaulx–to re-learn the idea of chaste affection, friendship, and community as a holy calling. This article by Eve Tushnet is a good summary.

    It resonates with me because, as a single straight man, I’ve felt some of the same loneliness and frustration. I’ve had to unlearn some of the societal values that tell me women are things to be conquered or that I owe myself certain pleasures and experiences (although I would still like to get married someday). It also resonates because, since my dating life has been so unsuccessful, my friendships are what has been most important to me.

    And because I’m saddened at how men are discouraged from showing affection to one another without it being seen as sexual (by both sides!). A few years ago I ran across a set of photos of how male friendship was expressed before the 20th century. It had 1800s soldiers sitting in each other’s laps, without even a hint of guile between them. It wasn’t all that different from how children treat their best friends. The idea isn’t entirely extinct in our culture–witness the word “bromance”–but it’s still too often seen as unusual.

    Part of the problem might be the treatment of the orientation–by pre-1970’s psychologists, Evangelicals, and fundamentalists–as the problem, rather than actions. When most people today hear “Homosexuality is a sin,” they hear “love for someone of the same sex is a sin” or “affection to someone of the same sex is a sin.” So anything that hints of that is automatically viewed with suspicion. Secular people don’t want to be misidentified or seen as “other.” Christians don’t want to be seen as “perverts.” So men hide their feelings, and wonder why we feel so alienated.

  40. Fr. Stephen – I am sorry about the way I posted Gal 3:28. I did not add any comment because I wanted to hear yours. I should have explained that I thought it was relevant to the discussion, but I did not know how it fit in. Obviously, my failure to do that caused you to misinterpret my post as a challenge and take offense at it. That is my fault and I apologize for it.

  41. I understand that in Ethiopian culture it is common for male friends to hold hands as they walk down the street…this is without a hint of sexual desire. I suppose this is not unlike female friends in the united states, though I haven’t seen this in recent years. Our culture has nearly destroyed the possibility for intimate same sex friendship.

  42. Dave,
    No problem. It is a real question – and its answers are along the line that I laid out. The passage really has been coopted by a modern agenda. When I was in seminary lo the many decades ago, it was easily some people’s favorite verse in the Bible – and they were particularly upset that St. Paul said it!

    Within Paul are some of the most profound insights and uses of male and female in Scripture. It is striking to me, that having studied with liberals who castigate fundamentalists for their abuse of the Scripture, that they engaged in their own cherry-picking without apology.

  43. Alex,
    Friendship is indeed something of a lost art in our culture. There are many reasons. There’s a lot of bad things to say about social media, but I’m personally grateful for having regained contact and relationship with some dear friends that time and distance would have forced me to ignore. I have regained contact with high school friends and far-flung family. Some of my college mates – and friends from my Jesus Freak years. All quite special.

  44. A side-note:

    As beautiful and as true these articles are written and bless us, as we see our own mind and thoughts like in a mirror, I still wonder what good is this dialogue. I question the churches mission or state of affairs, if we can not bring about changes.
    When I look at History, it has always been the men and woman who broke out of their tradition, in Judaism and Christianity, that have helped the Church and Judaism move forward and brake out of their mental frozen-ness, status quo, ageing regulatory affinities and political power fancies, now meaning political correctness. Yes we loose our job, or our Title, or our means of support for our self and family. God is risky business, Jesus gave his life so we may live. Our soldiers risk their life’s so we can continue to live and make this Country the best and blessed in the world. Immigrants risked everything they had in their old country coming here for the past 200+ years, most for religious freedom though not all.
    This has been taught to us, and it has been all done for us, and taken as a given, and what is this Generation doing, or what has my Generation done, ……but live it up and then retire into apathy….or blame the rest of the world for the current state of affairs.
    God help us all.!
    Yes, God is risky business, some have given the ultimate in the past, but you don’t see this in, or from the Churches any more.

  45. Quite honestly, the genital expression changes the nature of a friendship, and not for the good.

    I’m reminded of a one-liner floating about on Tumblr that I reblogged shortly after Pascha that went something like: ~R.I.P. all those friendships where we once acted like we were lovers and now we barely even talk.~

  46. As beautiful and as true these articles are written and bless us, as we see our own mind and thoughts like in a mirror, I still wonder what good is this dialogue. I question the churches mission or state of affairs, if we can not bring about changes.
    When I look at History, it has always been the men and woman who broke out of their tradition, in Judaism and Christianity, that have helped the Church and Judaism move forward and brake out of their mental frozen-ness, status quo, ageing regulatory affinities and political power fancies, now meaning political correctness.

    Maria Wenzel, I think the biggest need for this dialogue is that we need definition–especially in these confusing times. The men and women who came before and brought change to the world did so with clear understanding of what needed to be communicated. While it appears that many people here do understand these issues, one must keep in mind that this is a very small audience for a single blog. Even in the churches we all attend, there is confusion and misunderstanding concerning these subjects, especially among the young. This dialogue is needed to keep the confusion and misunderstandings of the current culture from taking further root. It is difficult to keep the bombardment of lies out of one’s head as we go through the day/week/month/year. Some remembrance is required and, I at least, find that remembrance here–along with deeper wisdom the dialogue allows. Just my thoughts.

  47. Thank you Bryon, I meant no offense,
    but sometimes I think their need to be boundaries and trust. If we are believers, then why do we need to know if a third gender, like transgender is natural and normal. I am not a Bible pounder, but some things are just so common sense, and the creation story loaded with wisdom, even if you don’t want to believe it literately, check your pulse and heart and ask God what is right. He is our greatest Teacher who resides within you/us, and as it is said, he will teach you directly.
    If some want to be gay, let them be, let them ask God if they are Christian. And let God answer them. I think we spend so much time, decades on discussion about gays, while in the meantime marriages fall apart, and often those men declare themselves gay, and woman and children in need are neglected.
    It is an attention getter, to be different, and they can live out some fantasies woman wont’t submit to. There is fame in it now etc.

    Trust in the wisdom of male and female he created them, sanctified and make sex holy. It is a beautiful thing in the eyes of God, as it returns Fruit in due season. And let this be unto him.

  48. Great post. This is why the modern world will never fully understand the Christian objection towards same sex “marriage”. The accusation that we are homophobic bigots is much easier to understand and has stronger rhetoric. I think it was G.K Chesterton who said that belief in God isn’t really at odds with modernity, but rather the source of most modern mans controversies is human beings created in the image of God. The statement, “human beings are created in the image of God” is a far cry from “The human species are a product of millions of years of natural selection.” one of those statements is a statement about what human beings actually ARE. The other is merely an empty description that is without any ontological meaning at all, which makes it easier for people to “redefine” whatever they want for the sake of “freedom, whatever that is in a naturalistic/deterministic world.

  49. Father,
    In regard to the nature vs. nurture discussion as it is applied to discussions of the roots of SSA, where nature is understood scientifically (DNA), I reject the scientific argument. To illustrate my point I relate an anecdote I’ve used before; one which I believe illustrates the point well.
    My father, a somewhat uneducated man, born in North Carolina in 1895 (?), like many of his generation, did not approve of inter-racial marriage. He always defended his position by citing the old saw: “Birds of a feather flock together”. My mother, also a southerner, but an educated woman and a geneticist by profession, tired of his rationale, finally responded: “Yes, dear, but birds don’t fall in love!” She understood well enough that genetic programming dictated why “birds of a feather flock together” but she also understood that genes could not account for the singularly human emotion we know as love. I cannot accept that our ability to love as we do originates in our genes; that our genes are the fount, the source, of human love. Were it so, and given what appears to be our advancing ability to tweak genes to correct defects, it shouldn’t be hard to imagine a time when one could have one’s genes adjusted so as to correct one’s apparent inability to love neighbor more than self or, better yet, to love God with all one’s heart, mind, and strength.

    In this same vein, the term “same-sex attracted” begs a question: attracted for what purpose. There are still flowers about where I live and as I look out the window I notice that the hummingbirds are not attracted to all flowers, only the ones from which they extract whatever it is they’re genetically programmed to extract. The same with the butterflies; they’re not interested to all flowers, only some. Evolutionary theory appears to rely heavily on the premise of utility; everything must have purpose, a function. Activities which are not useful in a utilitarian sense die off. Everything must have a utility or usefulness. Propagation of the species is a prime example, yes? And of course this is the primary utility of heterosexual sexual attraction; it’s usefulness, its practicality is the propagation of the species. So what is the evolutionary purpose, the evolutionary usefulness of homosexuality. It can’t be “love”. Does evolutionary theory have anything to say about “love”? Can it? I can only conclude that if it were up to evolution, homosexuality would atrophy and whither on the vine.

    All this is not to say that there isn’t an explanation for SSA; there is; but genetics isn’t it.

  50. Gregory,
    re- fecundity/propagation: Science has created and might increase further man’s ability to sin and to justify his sin… It is a tedious and non-spiritual point, but as an aside, I have come across hard-line evolutionary atheists in the past who have been very anti-homosexuality due to the undeniable fact that if one was to place 100 gay male (or female) couples -(unlike with a 100 hetero ‘normal’ couples) on a deserted island you will certainly have nothing but bones (rather than descendants) after 100 years.

  51. Maria Wenzel, no offense taken. Please always feel free to post here; this blog is friendly to any questions or concerns you may have.

    If we are believers, then why do we need to know if a third gender, like transgender is natural and normal. I am not a Bible pounder, but some things are just so common sense, and the creation story loaded with wisdom, even if you don’t want to believe it literately, check your pulse and heart and ask God what is right. He is our greatest Teacher who resides within you/us, and as it is said, he will teach you directly.

    The reason for knowing is that we may serve God as He desires and not embrace sin. Correct doctrine, is important and the Church is the primary interpreter of both scripture and doctrine. When we each try to answer according to whatever we think God is telling us individually, we end up with 30,000+ Protestant denominations and a divided Church. Father and others have spoken about this in the past and I’m sure can speak to this point far better than I.

    All this is not to say that there isn’t an explanation for SSA; there is; but genetics isn’t it.

    Gregory, you’ll be hard-pressed to make this point stick with almost anyone in today’s society. But it’s worth stating that genetics and God’s Will are two very different things. Even if someone wants to claim that they “are born that way”, it does not mean that is the way God calls them to be. There may in fact be a genetic reason for SSA but the fact is that it doesn’t matter if there is or not.

    Science has created and might increase further man’s ability to sin and to justify his sin….

    This. Even moreso, our society has become a safety bubble so that people may sin without consequence. As long as people feel in control of “their world” then they will act as if they are entitled and can do as they please. I don’t actually fault science for this as much as I do society.

  52. Maria,
    Your observations would be more to the point if the only thing in our lives were this conversation on the blog. Obviously, our lives are much more than this. But, it is important to understand that our purpose in this world is not to change the world but to love God and our neighbor. Changing the world is an alluring deception of the adversary. I suggest reading this article: We will not make the world a better place.

  53. To date I have yet to hear any heterosexual Christian or secularist attempt to seriously validate or justify homosexuality in ontological, historic, theological, or anthropological/social terms. Instead homosexuality is fine because to think otherwise is unloving. Common midwest culture believes love is the ultimate justification and rationale for homosexuality and gay marriage. This is the prevailing hermeneutic of love. Or more simply, loving everyone is the right thing to do. It’s a moral thing.

    Therefore, any of the above smart and insightful arguments above find little traction in my experience. Thank you for your helpful and intelligent comments Fr S., et al. But I find someone convinced against their will is of the same opinion still. What shall we do?

  54. Rev. Daniel,
    We probably need to lose our arguments gracefully (not giving up the truth). I think you’re right that the “hermeneutic of love” prevails. Perhaps it falls to us to articulate a greater love. The only love that matters, I think, is seen in the Cross. Only that Love can speak to the brokenness that shapes our existence. The instinct to love is not wrong. It is the expression and understanding of love that fails.

  55. Rev Wilburn, we remind them that God loves; it is Him. He loved Hitler, Judas, me and them–and still does. God’s love is a “given”, as they say.

    I think we also need to remind all that Christianity is a transformative religion, calling us to deny ourselves in order to grow closer to God. This observation tends to remind all that God does not pat us on the head and tell us we’re okay (“Uncle God!”) as so much of society teaches and requires. This observation, I have found, will be met with either great indignity or it will open up dialogue (or both, at times). Those who are too steeped in society’s “self-affirmation is all” message will usually turn away; those who are not may enter into dialogue.

    We do what we can, but always in God’s love.

  56. Fr. Stephen says:

    is not to change the world but to love God and our neighbor. Changing the world is an alluring deception of the adversary.

    I disagree (on agreeable terms). If we all would truly love God and our neighbor the world would look different. Jesus loved God and made it look different from his beginnings. (escaping the murders of all new borns as an infant)

    We play with the church and it’s teachings and engage in mental gymnastics and acrobatics trying to understand what 4000 year old scriptures, as well as the past two thousand years, in/ of navigating the bombshells of history, Roman time onward, and wonder if, and what if any is true, half truth, fiction etc., after all there is enough opposition that tell us Christians we are mentally deranged, and enough evil done by the church, and hierarchy, to tell us woman and men our place, come to us we have the answer.
    I suppose woman do not have God’s spirit, or are incapable of knowing or communing with God in your Tradition. They are to imitate Mary as you are to imitate Jesus. I have no desire to imitate Mary, nor will I ever be or wish to become her, nor will you ever be Jesus. But we are endowed thru God’s spirit to live our life, and as testimony or witness to his love.
    Every individual living his true God given self in this life will make an authentic difference. If authentic Christianity does not change the world or make it a better place to live in this world, then it has lost its salt, its living God, and is nothing more than another empty organization and playground for power, dominance over others, or plainly a wonderful social club we engage in as subjects .

    As much as I love God, and let there be different understandings in mho, by which we sharpen our stone, I will not lay down my life for lies. And the truth is, God does teach us directly and it will never be in violation with/of his fundamental laws/love. This may not fancy the male ego, nevertheless, truth is truth. Humility comes hard for some, or to give up some of your male status/power over woman. Jesus did. He practiced what he preached.

  57. Maria,
    I think you are confusing some very modern ideas with the Christian faith. I did not say that our lives and faith would make no difference. I said that we will not change the world. The witness of Christ and the Apostles is quite clear: the world gradually gets worse and worse until the very elect would be lost if God did not shorten the time. We have explicitly been told by God that, though we are the light of the world, the world lies in darkness and will perish.

    Many modern Christians have instead decided that their job is to improve and fix the world and, with very good intentions, they eventually do evil. The outcome of history is in the hands of God alone and it is idolatry for us to think otherwise.

    I’m not sure why you then went on to attack male ego, etc. When you way “woman,” you obviously have to have something in mind for the term to mean something. I would say that Mary is God’s ideal definition of woman. Why is that not so?

    And Christ, as the Second Adam, is indeed the ideal definition of what it is to be man. Of course, Christ gathers all things, male and female, into Himself. I do not mean to make Mary an equal of Christ, nor to make women less than men.

    I’m not sure what “evil” that you think the Church has done. And please, if you want to cite instances, understand that I’m an Orthodox Christian. I’m not Roman Catholic (the Crusades and Inquisition) and I’m not Protestant (Colonialism, Imperialism). But if you’re going to make charges (male ego), then please be explicit in what you mean. Otherwise it just sounds like empty rhetoric.

    BTW, I’ve been around for 61 years, and I’ve never experienced what it is to have power over a woman. I really can’t imagine it.

  58. I suppose woman do not have God’s spirit, or are incapable of knowing or communing with God in your Tradition. They are to imitate Mary as you are to imitate Jesus.

    I’m not certain where you see this implied or stated, but I can say that the distinction you are making is not true (although to be as humble and open to God’s Will as Mary would be something wonderful for any of us, I think!).

  59. Byron,

    Why should I look to the past of 2000 years and wish to be like Mary? I honor her and respect her as Jesus’s mother and can not imagine what she must have gone thru, watching and losing her son to such a horrible death.
    I have a son who was a Navy Seal for 21 years, and I feared for his life and wished he would have never chosen that calling. For that alone I value, feel for her, cry for her, and love her as the human being. To lose my son would break my heart, and I am sure it did hers. But I am still me, and she is Mary with Joseph.

    Our humility shows up in different ways, I get frustrated when the present is not valued, when woman of today are not valued. We work like men, we have to think like men, we have to provide for our families like men, of no choice of our own. We are tired and weary, But the church and society can engage, discuss with great empathy, and invest a half a century on homosexuality/lesbianism. That ANGERS me as a straight woman. Our children suffer without fathers, and the focus is on unnatural unions.

    I am not judging Orthodoxy, I know as good as nothing about it and probably should not even be posting here. But I am still looking for a community of Believers, where I feel there is a fit, or place for me. And it may not be Orthodoxy. So please take no offense. It is difficult being cross-cultural, multi-faith and European educated, painfully lost and disillusioned about Christianity and its place and role in the world.

    Fr. Stephen,
    I have little or nothing to hold in my consciousness about Orthodoxy. No empty rhetoric intended though, To my knowledge and In all of History, male dominated institutions, religious just as Governments and their inherent politics, have/are always strongly ego motivated/ centered. Self-preservation at its worse. It is still in my bones/members and I fear it.
    Perhaps that is why the Catholic Church, and I know little about yours, reveres Mary so highly for balance…, but is it?
    If my writing style is odd and comes across offensive or accusatory , I am truly sorry. English in not my primary or native language. So sometime I am struggling. Seems to be the story of my life…with God and man. My humblest apology, and perhaps I should say my thank you and good bye….blessings!

  60. Maria,
    You’re right. The blog is probably not the place to start – if you were interested in finding out about Orthodoxy. But I pray that you find your way. Blessings.

  61. Why should I look to the past of 2000 years and wish to be like Mary? I honor her and respect her as Jesus’s mother and can not imagine what she must have gone thru, watching and losing her son to such a horrible death.

    Maria (not sure if you will read this), my apologies if my statement was not clear. I was commenting on how Mary accepted the angel and answered his question. Orthodoxy teaches that she was not *required* to carry Christ, she was *asked* to do so. Her answer showed her humility (not servitude, but openness to God) and it was that on which I commented (“…to be as humble and open to God’s Will as Mary would be something wonderful for any of us, I think…”). Her humility and openness is something all people, male and female, should strive to emulate.

    It may be considered a bit odd but in the Orthodox parish I now attend, I found a great connection to an icon of the Theotokos–one with the words “Let it be done according to your Word” written on it. I consider that attitude, that humility before God, to truly be one worth seeking in life. Again, my apologies if I was not clear in my earlier post. Blessings to you and your son.

  62. Maria, the male short comings you rightly decry that have left you and many other women abused, neglected and abandoned are not caused by the faith. They are in fact departures from the faith common though they are.

    Unfortunately, such short comings make it quite hard for you to realize the fullness of your femaleness.

    Men have to do a much better job of being men…and you are correct too if we had done so there would be far less problem with homosexuality.

    We have not held ourselves and our fellows to chastity, honor and self-sacrifice.

    Man is head of the woman as Christ is head of the Church and He went to the Cross for us. Men are called to no less for women especially our wives and our daughters.

    The same applies to leadership in the Church.

    May God forgive.

  63. Father Stephen —

    To paraphrase a reflection that elucidates for me the “neither male nor female” passage — one that has moved me profoundly for more than forty years:

    Sexuality is the instrument both of virginity and of conjugal virtue; neither men now women will be asked to throw away the weapon they have used victoriously. It is the beaten and the fugitives who throw away their swords. Victors sheathe theirs and retain them.

  64. Alex,

    this is excellent. It’s helpful in terms of the fact that what we have to do now is deal with this new reality that is upon us. Discussions of the eschatological nature of our sexed being (i dont use the word “gender”) and the iconicity of it in relation to the liturgy are needed. But we have got to be extremely practical too. What the “marriage equality” folks are doing shows up “on the ground” as it were in things like changes in adoption law. In the UK, Catholic charities, which had put needy kids in stable families for over a century, has been banned from dealing with adoptions on the UK because they see legislative marriage for same sex couples and natural marriage for sexually complimentary couples as different. This has major consequences. Your article points to a parallel shift in the ground beneath our feet.

    I highly recommend this, to learn more about what is going on.

    http://www.aoiusa.org/15-reasons-marriage-equality-is-about-neither-marriage-nor-equality/

  65. Fr. Stephen,

    This makes a lot of sense concerning the deep American sense to do something. While there is a balance to be struck between doing – and accepting what is, Americans are quick to fall on the “do” side of any issue – not a flaw, just a tendency. Some peoples need to be urged into action, but in this part of the world we need to be urged simply to be…..and then decide if an active response is even necessary in any given situation.

  66. Drewster,
    It is always difficult to act well in anything if you’re not at peace. Sudden action is usually angry action (it is the passion of NOW!). And, St. James says, “The anger of man does not work the righteousness of God.”

  67. Fr Stephen,

    that’s it exactly. I get far too dragged into this. I have got to learn to stay with Christ and the Church, far outside this dark world.

    Todd

  68. If you don’t mind my asking a question that’s a tad bit off-topic, Fr Stephen, do you think that there’s room within Orthodoxy for *any* male-female sex that is not directed toward procreation? Would it ever be permissible for husbands and wives to ‘space out’ having children via birth control, for instance?

  69. Christopher, not all are properly geared towards family/reproduction and there are many physical/mental/spiritual/genetic/medical reasons why people cannot or will not have children. This in no way belittles the mystery of male-female marriage, which exists to draw us closer to God. Continue in the proper male-female/marriage relationship and seek God in all things. There is Grace.

    Father, please correct me if I am wrong here.

  70. Christopher,
    Obviously most acts of intimacy are not immediately directed towards procreation. However, procreation provides the context. That is the union of husband and wife is also fostered and nurtured in intimacy and that union provides the stable and continuing place where children are nurtured and the family, etc., built up.

    Orthodox directives (in my own OCA) certainly allow for the spacing of children, etc.

    And there are clearly marriages that do not have children (late marriages, etc). But those relationships are also to be directed towards the larger life of procreation and nurture and not merely selfishly directed.

  71. Those marriages where children are not possible can still be exceptionally fecund in other ways. That fecundity is directly linked to the way we ate created male & female as well as being a function of the union in marriage.

    That fecundity can be lost in a marriage too if the man and woman are overwhelmed by the existential challenges of the world but it is always a possibility.

  72. Yes, the whole birth control issue seems to be yet another situation where general policy is good to have in place but needs to be supplemented with discernment. I know couples who’ve decided not to have children at all and it’s obvious to me that this was actually a selfish decision. On the other hand I know some that can’t have children but therefore channel their desire to care and nurture through other means, i.e. adoption, their brother’s kids, finding a way to plug into youth ministries, etc.

    Having children as nothing more than a menial duty to continue the species is actually way down on the priority list. I’ve found that the main point is to provide yourself with an opportunity to pour out your life for others. Most of us are too selfish to do it for strangers or casual relationships, but we might do it for our beloved and our offspring. If we can accomplish this kind of sacrifice, God is less concerned with how far apart we produce those opportunities.

    A general rule of thumb is that we need to have a relationship with our children, something striving to be similar to the one God has with us. If there are too many too close to accomplish this, then pause and recalibrate.

  73. Thank you for this thoughtful and thought-inspiring article. I am impressed at the connection you’ve drawn between the dismissal of the importance of an embodied humanity (wherein sexual differences between males and females are obstacles to be overcome rather than vital descriptors of who we are) and the modern western striving for self-gratification. A truly Christian perspective embraces the fact that we are all created with both bodies and souls. Humans were created limited, even prior to the Fall. Our limitations as embodied beings point us to a need for God and a need for one another, and this need is good. I will remember that as long I as I understand that I am not my own. I was purchased at a price. Therefore I am to honor God IN MY BODY.

    The longer I work with people, the more I recognize that a great deal of anxiety is born from the belief that we should not be limited, that limits are inherently bad. When I believe that others should never limit me or that I should be able to do everything, I am overcome with resentment, stress, and guilt. When I remember that I belong to God and that my responsibility is to try to honor and glorify Him in this present moment, I am free to accept my own limitedness. I am free to accept that others are limited, too. I find it easier to forgive them and to release the desire to control them. The notion of enslavement to God in Christ flies in the face of “unfettered consumerism” because we embrace the belief that being fettered to a perfectly loving Father is far preferable to being turned over to our own unfettered (and often childish, destructive) desires.

  74. Thanks for this article. It is obvious that your articulation was insightful by all of the comments linked to it. I am encouraged by the language of the conjugal union between Christ and the Church. God made us “Male and Female”. However, from your perspective what does that mean? I am inclined to believe that idea of “male” and “female” mean more than simply a difference in physiological construction.

  75. bob,
    No doubt “physiological” doesn’t say enough. I cannot find the source that I once had, but St. Maximus the Confessor, as I recall, described male and female as “energies” of the human. That, indeed, is much more.

  76. From my studies over the years, the energy difference is quite apt. A good little book as an introduction to that is “Mr. God, This is Anna”.

    It is only our un-natural state that does not allow the wonderful differences to be quite obvious.

    Still there is a depth to the reality that can never be fully known I think.

    Perhaps a “deeper magic from before the dawn of time..”

    It is, I think, somehow part of the mystery of the Cross.

    God is good.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *