Replying to Sr. Vassa’s Mail

Recently Sr. Vassa Larin (famous for her “Coffee with Sr. Vassa” podcast) has attracted much and varied attention from a correspondence she published in which she replied to a question from a woman of a fourteen year old boy about how to handle her son’s “coming out”. (The mother’s question and Sr. Vassa’s response may be accessed here.)  Her advice, prefaced by a disclaimer of sorts that it was but her “personal opinion…not in line with some official pronouncements of my Church” (i.e. ROCOR) has drawn lots of admiration and praise from the gay community and lots of criticism from Orthodox clergy.

I have always been and will I trust continue to be a fan of Sr. Vassa’s work, though I think this current episode represents a serious mis-step for her. Clergy such as Fr. John Whiteford have replied at length to her piece with his customary candour, scholarship, and common sense, and there is no reason for me to weigh in as well and respond to her advice directly. I have nothing to add by way of critique, and am happy to simply say “Amen” to what Fr. John has written. But I would like to respond directly to what the mother asked Sr. Vassa, since Sr. Vassa has kindly given me the opportunity to read her mail. What follows would be my own response to the mother’s query if she had asked me. Though it is of course my own opinion, I will not offer much by way of disclaimer, since I hope that it also represents the teaching of the Church. I say this not because I am trying to play it safe, but because I genuinely believe what my Church teaches about this, and because I feel that no one wearing their church’s cassock with integrity has any business publicly dissenting from that teaching.

One difficulty in responding to a pastoral issue by way of blog post is that a blog post must be made at one remove at least from the situation. In real life a pastor could sit down with the parents and the young man and talk about what is really going on. Is the boy really gay? Is he bi-sexual? Is it a matter of gender dysphoria? Is he confusing feelings of admiration and love for an older adult as evidence of homosexual orientation, and thus interpreting strong emotion for eroticism? In our over-heated debates about homosexuality and transgender, all feelings of love are increasingly sexualized, and delight in physical contact with persons of the same gender is almost always now read as evidence of homosexuality. It was otherwise in previous eras, when men could express love for other men in open and physical ways and not be considered homosexual. Given the fact that sexual feelings always exist on a kind of continuum and with some fluidity, the issues of homosexuality and gender are far from clear, whatever the gay community may say. All the more reason to sit down first and talk. It could be that the young man has always had a strong sexual attraction to males and none whatsoever for females, living in a kind of sexual inversion to the norm. The point is, we cannot tell from the little the mother writes.

A blog post may address the issue of what to do with a young man genuinely experiencing what used to be called sexual inversion, but a pastor working in real life must take nothing for granted. He is not dealing with abstract issues, but with people’s actual lives, with all their complexity, brokenness, heartbreak, and potential. If someone sent me an email asking for advice about this situation, I would not give much of a reply because I am at too great a distance to offer a sensible one. Instead I would send the parents back to their pastor. They might say that they are “not comfortable revealing this information about my son” to their parish priest, but the priest will find out sooner or later, and anyway it is his job to talk to them and offer love and guidance. And such guidance must be based on real communication and counselling, not on a 288 word email query.

In this real life situation, I would tell the mother (and the boy) that God loves him regardless of his sexual orientation, his sexual confusion, and his sexual choices. In that sense, God’s love is unconditional. But love is not the same as approval—God loves me, but He does not approve of all of my choices, and because He loves me He calls me to repent of the sinful ones. God knows that certain choices lead to stability, health, happiness, and life, while other choices lead to instability, sickness, misery, and death. In His love He insists that I choose the former, and avoid sin. Sin is not simply a no-no, and God hates it not because He is irritable, unreasonable, mean, or feisty, but because He sees that embracing sin is never in one’s best interests.

One form of sin is unchastity—i.e. any sexual activity before marriage. Sexual activity is a fire, which can only be safely contained in something strong, hard, and permanent—like a fire-place. If a fire is lit in the fire-place, then the house and its occupants will be warmed by it. If it is lit in the living room outside the fire-place, it will burn the house down. And here a miss is as good as a mile—lighting the fire very close to the fire-place but not actually in it is no better than lighting it across the room from the fire-place, for the resultant fire will still burn the place down. In the same way, sexual activity can only safely fulfil its function when contained in the strong, hard, and permanent vows of a marriage commitment—and for Christians, marriage involves the union of two opposites with the potential for personal and numerical growth—i.e. a family.

This means that any fourteen year old, whether boy or girl, homosexual or straight, should be dissuaded from sexual activity outside of marriage. In the case of heterosexual Christian singles, this will involve self-control and celibacy for years, and possibly permanently. In the case of homosexual Christian singles, it will involve self-control and celibacy permanently, assuming that their homosexuality cannot be overcome. (Some people have reported that it has been overcome in their lives, and their experience, though perhaps rare, should not be discounted simply because it flies in the face of current gay dogma.) This commitment to chastity is unpopular advice, but the teaching of Christ allows for no other course of action.

The main issue here is not homosexuality, but obedience to Christ, who simply disallows His disciples to be sexually active outside of marriage, and who defines marriage as the union of man and woman. Our own culture has for a generation considered Christ’s expectation of chastity an impossible demand, but our generation is both historically myopic and lacking in courage. Previous eras assumed that life-long chastity, though difficult, was not impossible. We have been trained to regard all our desires as “natural” (i.e. legitimate) by definition, and also as irresistible. In fact they are neither, and so part of our parental counsel to our adolescent children must teach them that. Our culture gives everything a sexual tinge and declares that sexual abstinence is unhealthy, psychologically morbid, all but impossible, and more than a bit pathetic. We must teach all our fourteen year olds that in this instance our culture is insane.

As the fourteen year old boy continues to mature, his parents should refuse to offer any counsel or encouragement but the ones Christ would give. They will always love their son, of course, whatever he chooses to do, but their actions and approvals, whether explicit or implicit, must conform to the demands of Christian discipleship. This means remaining in His Church and continuing to grow in a life of prayer, Eucharist, and sexual self-control. This will reveal that true intimacy need not be equated with sexual activity, but that it is possible to live a full and emotionally-satisfying life even as a celibate. It will be a difficult path for the young man, and one that will receive its commensurate reward from Christ at its end. This is all the more reason for the parents to strengthen their son’s hands and encourage him to remain faithful. One cannot make a treaty with sin and accept it because rejecting it proves ascetically difficult. Deciding to accept sin in our lives because we are “only human” is not an option for any disciple of Jesus. We may fail time and again, but our constant striving must be for righteousness, and the path we tread the path of repentance. To tacitly accept a homosexual lifestyle is to throw in the towel of discipleship and forsake that way. Now is not the time for acquiescence to the world’s way, but for courage to follow Christ.

 

 

 

88 comments:

  1. Whiteford is no scholar.
    Best anyone can tell he went to some unaccredited bible college somewhere. That doesn’t make him a scholar. Sr. Vassa on the other hand IS a scholar with the diplomas to prove it.

    1. Sr. Vassa is indeed a scholar, and I eagerly read whatever she writes. I especially love her historical commentaries on the Liturgy. Apparently superlative scholarship is no guarantee of pastoral or parental wisdom.

      1. Given the gross misrepresentation of Sr. Vassa’s points, she nowhere advocated in any sort of sexual activity, Fr. Whiteford has acted rather unscholarly to be quite honest.
        As I noted, Fr. Whiteford went to some sort of Nazarene bible college that if memory serves isn’t, or wasn’t, accredited.
        And it shows in most of his writings and apparent lack of pastoral sense in this peice.
        That he cites a periodical with a well known bias is just one example of how poorly put together this piece is.
        I’ll add that the rather vicious, to put it mildly, comments I saw posted on the original piece by Sr. Vassa are something that needs to be addressed.
        A great many were more at home amongst the Westboro Baptist group than they were in Orthodoxy. They dripped with Fundementalist/Calvinist venom and sadly represent a growing number of people in the Church.

        1. Let’s, please, not stoop to ad hominem attacks (where one went to school or even whether one went to seminary) and focus, please, on Christ and His Church. Are we speaking and acting in accordance with His ways?

          1. Exactly. Best teachers and preachers of Christianity never went to graduate schools or any schools at times but showed by the examples of their virtuous life the Truth

        2. To be quite clear..i read her original post, without influence of other scholars or otherwise pastoral council,in horror.
          I had up to that date generally enjoyed her Coffee posts.
          It didnt take a scholar to point at gross flaws in her council.There isnt ambeguity in what she said.She failed to council them to submit to their Priest, confession, obedience in chastity, going so far as to suggest finding another more receptive church community.There were some back peddling there and disclaimers which were just irresponsible on her part. This is no different than any other sin..not born to it therefore do it anyway..accept it as a ,”Gift and Cross” but a gift to the church. Yes..be kind..yes council with undrrstanding and gentelness..but we have become lazy in reguards to seeking Gods Transformative Grace, His Medicine for all ills if you suggest this can not be changed or easily challenged by any one.I do not mean to suggest it will be easy but it can be recognized and you can be taught self control.
          Father Farley addressed this very very well.
          All of us have battles with passions and if we are honest..this psssion is no different just distasteful to most. We do not join ourselves to Christ to get our own way or be accepted by msinstream worldly views. We come to die that we might Truly Live.

          1. Hello Gregorios. It amazes me that go on at length to discredit Father John Whiteford’s examination of Sr. Vassa’s publicly posted letter repeatedly citing his supposed lack of “valid academic Orthodox credentials”. I say this because the entire point is that what she wrote BY HER OWN ADMISSION was at variance with the “official” judgements of the Orthodox Church and Holy Tradition–and that is entirely the point that Fr. John brings to bear in his article, and several others who have written on this matter, without being “venomous,” as you put it. By the way, Sr. Vassa is someone we have all enjoyed very much, and most of us are not inclined to be nasty about this recent fault of hers, but because we love her so much, we are very zealous to seek her correction on this point, that she not disagree with the so-called official pronouncements of the Church., Official here obviously meaning, The Law and the Prophets, The Gospels, The Pauline Epistles, The Holy Fathers, The Ecumenical Councils, the Lives and testimonies of the Saints. It was really not to her credit to try to obfuscate just what she was trying to sweep under the carpet of the word “official” — namely, the whole history of Divine Revelation itself.

        3. Hello Gregorios. It amazes me that you go on at length to discredit Father John Whiteford’s examination of Sr. Vassa’s publicly posted letter repeatedly citing his supposed lack of “valid academic Orthodox credentials”. I say this because the entire point is that what she wrote BY HER OWN ADMISSION (an aspect that compounds the seriousness of the error) was at variance with the “official” judgements of the Orthodox Church and Holy Tradition–and that is entirely the point that Fr. John brings to bear in his article, as have several others who have written on this matter, without being “venomous,” as you put it. By the way, Sr. Vassa is someone we have all enjoyed very much, and most of us are not inclined to be nasty about this recent fault of hers, but because we love her so much, we are very zealous to seek her correction on this point, that she not disagree with the so-called “official pronouncements” of the Church–“official” here obviously meaning: The Law and the Prophets, The Gospels, The Pauline Epistles, The Holy Fathers, The Ecumenical Councils, and finally the Lives and testimonies of the Saints such as St Nektarios of Aegina just to name one recent example. It was really not to her credit to try to obfuscate just what she was trying to sweep under the carpet by her use of the word “official” — namely, the whole history of Divine Revelation itself.

      1. I enjoyed your response to ,”Sister” Vassa very much.You annslysed it very well..in my opinion.
        I shared it with many of my Orthodox friends who also had encountered her..i. my opinion..misguided attempt at council.

      2. Accredited or not it’s not an Orthodox seminary. It’s a Nazarene college.
        Two very different things based on very different theology.
        But it explains why your blogs are what they are.
        The fact remains you grossly misrepresented what Sr. Vassa said in her article and I’ll add that some of the most venomous comments I saw on that post were coming from people who regularly share YOUR posts.
        Birds of a feather I guess.

        1. Gregorios, seminaries did not exist for most of Church history. Clergy were educated by other means. Obviously what happened for most of Church history can still happen.

          You haven’t made a single substantive argument against anything I said. What you are doing is simply engaging in ad hominem. Do you have any substantive criticism of anything I actually wrote?

          Sister Vassa blocked those who disagreed with her post, but did not block pro-homosexual posters. Why do you suppose those posters were praising her post? Birds of a feather? They know what she meant, and if she actually was affirming that homosexual sex was really a sin, do you suppose they would embrace that?

        2. Gregorio’s, Please, stop attacking Fr. John. Any churched Orthodox has the right to criticize the response of this nun who actually tempts people by offering suggestions she provided in her response, and her degrees do not make excuses for her unorthodox approach to handling issues of teen homosexuality. You do not have to graduate from the Orthodox Seminary to know that by encouraging your son to bring boys perceived as possible sexual partners to your home you actually open the door, and open it widely, for sinful behaviors. If this nun has poor understanding of effective parenting skills especially when it comes to dealing with homosexuality she should simply refrain from giving personal suggestions of this sort. She should refer people to Orthodox and Christian counselors instead

    2. Gregorios, Jesus did not make scholars his disciples, but those who would follow him and teach his flock properly. Diplomas do not equal knowledge of the Truth.

  2. I have never heard Fr. John Whiteford referred to as a scholar. However, a scholar proves his mettle by the material he references and the way he interprets it. Fr. John claims that “little in the way of hard evidence that homosexuality is somehow innate,” and cites the Washington Times newspaper, which is owned by the Unification Church, and is nowhere cited as a repository of truth or good journalism. Furthermore, if Fr. John had actually read the entire article that he claims disproves the innate nature of an LGBT orientation, he would find this statement by the researchers: “I’m not suggesting the statement [that gay and transgender people are ‘born that way’] is false,” Dr. Mayer, a biostatistician and epidemiologist, told The Washington Times. “I’m saying there isn’t enough scientific evidence to support the statement.” Fr. John is critical of any scholarly argument, because they are influenced by “political pressure,” here invoking, of all people, the NAZIs (Godwin’s Law!!!) then using scholarly articles which attempt to prove that Danish homosexuals are more prone to suicide (correlation does not equal causation). He cannot have it both ways.

    Fr. John implies that Sr. Vassa suggested to the boy’s mother that she tell him to go out and have sex, which she most certainly does not. This is a gross mischaracterization of Sr. Vassa’s argument. At no point does she advocate extra-marital sex, and certainly not by those below the age of consent. This is shameful, as is the extremely offensive “paleface” comment that is accompanied by a Lone Ranger cartoon.

    If you wish to engage in scholarship on this issue, Fr. Lawrence, then engage. Do not hitch your wagon to Fr. John Whiteford, who is no scholar, and seems severely lacking in pastoral sensitivities as well. You can do better.

    1. Dear Lewis and Gregorios: Thank you for your comments. Rather than deal at length with Fr. Whiteford’s credentials (since the piece was not about him and mentioned him only in passing since his was the only detailed response to Sr. Vassa I could then find), I will confine myself to responding to Sr. Vassa’s advice. I had hoped to avoid this out of my esteem for Sr. Vassa personally, and since my blog piece was not about her advice, but about the advice I would have given in her place. But I will offer the following.
      It seems more than a little disingenuous of her to say that homosexual practice is “a sin” and “a no-no” and then to go on to essentially minimize it by saying that there are “so many other things which we tolerate in ourselves as ‘only human’” and that “all of us do not perfectly live up to the scriptural ideals set out for us”. Comparing it to “masturbation and glimpses at pornography in one’s early teens” (or “crossing the line”) is a breath-taking example of such minimization. She suggests that because “there are things we cannot change in our children” like homosexual attraction, this attraction must therefore be indulged. Because the boy will “date” and “doesn’t want and isn’t going to commit himself to celibacy”, then the parents should “let him ‘date’” [i.e. indulge in homosexual behaviour]. This is indeed tacitly blessing homosexual behaviour and sin, with the attempted justification that it should be regarded as less intolerable than other sins and because he is going to do it anyway. The notion that if they refuse to bless it he will be “chased into some kind of underground” is absurd, as my adult daughter reading the piece immediately perceived. An underground is no longer required, since homosexual behaviour is now openly celebrated in our schools and under the sun. And suggesting as an option that he find “a parish that is acceptive of your son’s particular gift-and-cross”—i.e. a church that blesses and celebrates homosexuality—even as the second of two options—also constitutes a kind of tacit acceptance. If one truly regarded homosexual activity the way that the Scriptures regard it, one would not so easily accept it as inevitable, as if embracing chastity were as impossible as defying gravity. Allowing him to bring home a homosexual partner as if it were normal is indeed “encouraging” it, whatever she may say. Sr. Vassa does not need to “advocate” homosexual behaviour. In our current climate, dealing with it as an acceptable second-best is sufficient—and comes to the same thing.

      1. I think my friend Lew’s reply stands. Whiteford has no scholarly credentials. And wants to waste everyone’s time with a table-pounding insistence on only thee’s and thou’s during liturgy. Why you make common cause with someone like that is a total mystery to me.

        And as Lew adroitly observes, Sister Vassa did not actually condone that the young man in question indulge in sexual activity. The bulk of the brouhaha surrounding her letter is just a lot of senseless quibbling over words. There are far more pressing issues to be concerned, Sister Vassa’s innocuous letter is not one of them.

        1. Gavin, do you have any substantive arguments against my article?

          Sister Vassa’s advice was hardly innocuous. No where did she suggest that the mother encourage him to refrain from homosexual sex, and her statement that he would likely be excommunicated, but that this wasn’t such a bad thing underlines that fact. If he was not expected to engage in homosexual sex, why would he be excommunicated?

          Her argument was disingenuous, and pretending that she was not condoning homosexual activity is likewise disingenuous.

          You can tell by who is praising her, where she was headed. The pro-homosexuals loved it. They obviously think they know what she meant, and she has not nothing to dissuade them from thinking so.

          1. “You can tell by who is praising her, where she was headed.”
            Oh dear. I’ve got screen shots of white supremacists and Holocaust Deniers praising your articles, Fr. John. Are you sure you want to use that line?

            While I do have a substantive argument. I already stated it. You put words in her mouth.

          2. Gavin, you have made that assertion, but have not made any arguments to demonstrate that this is true. I would add that your parish priest reads her words the same way I do.

        2. Hello Gavin. This debate is a classic example of the double talk and double escape-route strategy that is so typical of modernists who presume to speak for God and override divine revelation from WITHIN the Holy Church. Sister Vassa essentially did this: She said, on the one hand it is wrong and I advise you to not indulge in homosexual activity. [Bottom (CYA) number one covered–for all Divine Revelation has to say on the matter). On the other other hand, I know that it is a near certainty that you will indulge in it anyway, so that being the case, I advise the following… [Bottom (CYA) number two covered–for all that have a vested interest in supporting the “New Morality” based in human logic irrespective of God but catering to the passions of men] So now, people like you can argue (side-step as you did actually) against Fr Farley’s points that you just responded to, by being selective on what you focus on in Sr Vassa’s advice. None of you on the Pro side will answer this titanic strike against her support: She openly admitted what she was about to say was against Church Teaching And by Church teaching what is signified is this: Not God’s “opinion” but God’s inerrant and infallible revelation from Moses, and Christ and the Apostles and, hence, the entire canon of Scriptures OT and NT, and all the Holy Councils ecumenical and local, not to add to that body of divine revelation all that the saints have said and written on the matter of Homosexuality down through the centuries. Here you all are defending the indefensible and then claiming that no contradiction exists anyway with what she said and what the Church teaches, even when she admitted that there was indeed such a departure in what she had to say. When there is a political agenda–and a raging passion seeking indulgence to fuel that agenda, the only thing any of you seem to see is justifying one side and remain blinded to valid criticisms rooted in the Canon Law of the Church and the express and plain teaching of the Law, the Prophets, The Apostles, and the Saints. Meanwhile side-track the whole discussion by going on and on about academic credentials, when the real issue that has you and Sr Vassa in a headlock is plain for all to see: Know this, you stand outside and contrary to the Holy Church you who take such a position. This is the problem from which you must extricate yourself if you care for your soul.

      2. And I also want to stand by my good friend Gregorios comments. He is bang-on. Whiteford put words in her mouth.

        I’m surprised that they’re not thee’s and thou’s!

        1. I refuse to enter into ad hominem arguments of any kind, whether about Fr. Whiteford or anyone else. And Sr. Vassa’s willingness to suggest the boy find a church which blesses his homosexual activity is as close to condoning it as one can get. Her letter is far from innocuous, since it strengthens the hands of the parents and their child to practise homosexual activity.

          1. Thank you, Fr Lawrence, for your longer comment above, which details the problems with Sr Vassa’s counsel. It is important to also keep in mind, in my estimation of the original correspondence between the boy’s mother and Sr Vassa, that the mother wrote asking, essentially, how to affirm her son precisely as a homosexual, assuming that his course in life was set, that he would soon be, and for the remainder of his life, a practicing homosexual living the “gay” lifestyle. The mother expressed her “unconditional support” for her son, not her “unconditional love”, which are two very different and even at times essentially opposed positions. Your blog post, ‘Replying to Sr Vassa’s Email’, makes this distinction very clearly.

            The saints and elders (& eldresses!) routinely point us to the Mother of God, admonishing us that if we knew how much she and her Divine Son love purity, that we would weep over even the smallest sin in our lives, and seek diligently, labor assiduously, to root out from our hearts all causes to impurity and sin, so that the enemy of mankind would find nothing of himself in us. This should be our hope and prayer for this boy, that he would be drawn to such an awareness, and that, by the grace of God, he might become a struggler. And who knows, he might grow to be a great saint through such a struggle! His cross might very well be his path to sainthood. May it be so!

            When a pastoral situation such as this case — of a boy with an enabling mother seeking affirming counsel from someone she sensed might be predisposed to provide such affirmation (and her presupposition proved to be correct!) — crests the tempestuous waves of the sea of modern life, it is the duty of Orthodox pastors — whether they are scholars, bloggers or simple priests — to offer wise and compassionate advice, both to specifically correct the false advice already publicly given, and to contribute to the Orthodox phronema of our time, articulating the Orthodox anthropology in a manner which is at once both True and Loving.

            None of us may perfectly present the Orthodox teaching in this matter, but that does not lessen the perfection of the Orthodox Christian teaching itself. And as our Lord said, “Wisdom is proven right by all her children.”

            Thank you both, Fr Lawrence and Fr John, for stepping forward and shining light on the narrow path of Truth and Love for all of us struggling against the passions!

      3. Thank you Fr. Lawrence, for your reply. I, too, both admire Sr. Vassa and think this was a misstep for her. I appreciate her heart in the matter in looking to a guard this family against the disastrous possibility of a breakdown in relationships, but she did unfortunately advocate tacit approval. Your corrective article is full of wisdom. I would, like the above commenters, however, recommend avoiding referencing or hitching your wagon (through an Amen) to Fr. John’s stuff, only if because your general tone is very different (i.e. yours is amiable, and his is… well, not). You and your readers will be the better for it.

        Thanks again.

        1. Thank you for your kind and irenic comments. I am not aware of having hitched my wagon to anything in particular other than the Scriptures and the Fathers. I wanted to provide a reply to Sr. Vassa’s piece, and I agreed with the facts as presented by Fr. John. I suppose I am less attuned to tone than others are.

    2. Lewis, if there is scientific proof that homosexuals are born that way, could you please point me to where I can find it? There are scientists that make the case for it, and scientists that argue for other factors. There is no gay gene, and no conclusive evidence of any other innate cause… much less if there proof that any innate inclination removed free will from the equation.

      1. Fr. John, this is a most important point. I recall hearing — I believe it was in a talk by Fr Thomas Hopko — that even if there were proven to be a “gay gene” or that same-sex attraction was able to be proven by science to be an innate characteristic, that such a proof would only confirm the far-reaching repercussions of the Primordial Fall, which St Paul reminds us has consigned all creation to corruption so that now it groans waiting for the sons of God to be revealed, that the entire cosmos would be liberated from its fallen state (cf. Rom.8:18-23).

        St Innocent of Alaska, in his book ‘The Way Into The Kingdom of Heaven’, describes both ‘exterior’ and ‘interior’ crosses. Same-sex attraction, gender dysphoria, whatever one wishes to call them, whatever the cause, are examples of ‘interior crosses’, against which we are called to struggle through our life in Christ, in the Church, diligently working on ourselves — in synergistic cooperation with God’s grace — that thus purified, in the words of St Silouan, we “may come to know the Lord through the Holy Spirit.” As the Lord teaches us, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” But we cannot see the Lord if we reject Him and His words, and persist in our sin. The prodigal son “came to himself” and returned to the Father, and confessed his sin, and look at the love his father lavished on him!

        We pray at every divine service, “That we may pass the remainder of our life in peace and repentance…” Christ began His ministry preaching “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” In our age, when confusion and self-actualization and self-affirmation reigns, perhaps the simplest way for us is to return to the very beginning and seek to repent. Repentance is the greatest miracle of the gift of free will. One of the desert fathers even said that to truly know oneself (i.e., to repent) is a greater miracle than even raising the dead.

        Regardless of the predispositions and afflictions of our interior crosses, we can still strive to repent in and through the Church. God does not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear. We may need to be as tenacious as St Mary of Egypt, but God will send His grace if we keep on asking, seeking and knocking.

        I would even boldly assert that this 14 year old boy is called to be a saint, and the proof of it is that he has this difficult cross to bear. (His cross is a scandal! And it would be doubly scandalous to the modern world should a homosexual seek to repent and live his life in purity and chastity in Christ within the loving embrace of the Orthodox Church!) The full teaching of the Church and the Scriptures witness that not only can he be saved, but that he can be purified and sanctified through faithfully saying “Amen” to the call to repentance, and taking up his cross. If we love him, we will counsel him to follow this narrow path which leads to Life! This is the pastoral counsel this boy is starving for, which our age needs to hear, and which pastors like Fr Lawrence and Fr John are seeking to provide.

      2. All of those commenting here should read Mario Bergner’s book “Setting Love in Order.”. He became a Christian in the midst of his titanic struggle against homosexuality. You will all learn much about this topic through his incredible story.
        Jessica

    3. Your attack is rediculous .An old Monk said to me once..The Dog only Barks when it has something to protect!! Me thinks you dost protest too much.Your crucifiction of John is over the top.
      “Sister”Vassa did suggest the boy be allowed to same sex date under controled corcumstanced, in the dsy light..as opposed to exploring in the more seedy places of contact.This is no way to council a parent with this issue. To suggest to even Date a boy was complicit to saying having these feelings and yurnings are ok.This does not match with Orthodox thought in any way what so ever. I see no quotes from The Holy and Righteous Ancestors, Holy Fathers and Mothers of The Church backing up this sort of council in any way..coming from you or ,”Sister ” Vassa. Where is your scholarship, patristic quote?
      There isnt any scientific data the purely proves these tendencies are genetic, born with it qualities.However studies have been done to prove your sexuslity can be fluid, changable. You can reorient towards the image God made us to be only if you let the false image die.
      We do not inshrine sin by giving it a type of honor or special name..like Gay. We do not celebrate sin.
      This child needs council not liscense to continue thinking this is Gods will.

  3. Southern Nazarene is indeed accredited. Not that a dozen doctorates would convince some people the church’s teaching on sexuality is true. I recall Inga Leonova spreading her opinion on gay sex far and wide on FB, and the internet. I think she’s an architect. One wonders where her expertise comes from.

    1. Indeed, and the hypocrisy of those who harp on the point of Fr John’s education is clear, because they never bring up the same criticism of someone’s competence if they agree with their position. Hence, this proves that their dissent is not about credentials or strengths or weaknesses of a person’s given argument at all, but simply that the outcome is contrary to their liking! All their words heaped up are just window dressing and distraction from their real motives and objection.

  4. Thank you, Fr. Lawrence, for your thoughts. I think you have some wise words here.

    What would you advise the parents if, either now or in the future , their son decides to not follow the church’s teachings on this matter? I disagree with Sister Vassa on some points too, but I read her reply (and the mother’s original letter) as assuming or considering the possibility that the son would not want to live a chaste life as the church proscribes. What then? I don’t think I’ve seen anyone else address this question, so I think good on Sister Vassa for at least trying. I mean, in four years this son will be old enough to vote, join the military, attend college, move into his own apartment–if he wants to have a boyfriend, I don’t see how the parents can stop that in any way, regardless of their personal convictions or what the church teaches. So how do the parents respond then?

    1. A very good question! It is hard to lay down hard and fast rules in the abstract apart from actual interactions with the family. But in general I think that the parents must insist on maintaining a commitment to godliness and sense regardless of the personal cost to family unity. As a child develops his moral compass over the years, the parents function like a magnet north–if the parents do not hold to the truth, then the child has little or no chance of their moral compass functioning properly. Perhaps a story might help: I know of one young person some years ago aged 14 who was in love with a clearly unsuitable person. The father declared (with quite uncharacteristic determination and severity) that he would never bless the union, would not attend the marriage if it took place, and would never accept the person. The young person was impressed at such an uncharacteristic stand from the father, and rethought the issue. Several years later the young person realized the folly of the original plan and was grateful for the father’s inflexibility and extreme stand. One size does not fit all, but it is worth remembering the value of parental consistency of integrity in the face of overwhelming pressure. Sometimes the wisdom of the parents is not recognized for many years.

      1. Thank you, Father. I am not sure if comparing an infatuation with a single person to an attraction to an entire gender is the best comparison, but I think I get your point.

        I am glad you mentioned the aspect of time, in that it may take years to recognize the wisdom given to us. One of the most fruitful spiritual lessons I’ve learned is, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, that Aslan is not a tame lion. One thing that has been bothering me about other responses to Sister Vassa is this sense that if one simply repents, the same-sex attraction, or any sin, will simply disappear or be resolved by God’s grace. I suppose that is technically correct, in that God will respond to repentance, but it 1) seems to imply that we can control God’s response by our repentance, 2) it gives no sense of the struggle that is still often involved, and 3) fails to acknowledge that God’s grace may not come when or how we expect. The answer may be, “I am with you in the struggle, and you will continue to struggle with this very passion for many years to come,” which can be hard words to hear, and is not at all the cut and dried response that we may want.

        Same-sex attraction, especially in our age, seems to me a particularly difficult passion to struggle with. I would hope that our response to those who struggle reflect an understanding of that struggle, so that we do not alienate or harm the very people we are trying to help.

        1. I quite agree with you that repenting of the action of homosexual coitus will not cause same-sex attraction to disappear. In the same way, repenting of the action of heterosexual fornication will not cause heterosexual lust to disappear. But resisting coitus outside of marriage is incumbent upon everyone. I am sure that lust, whether homosexual or heterosexual, constitutes a difficult struggle. All the more reason to strengthen the hands and resolve of those committed to the struggle by reaffirming the importance of the struggle itself.

  5. May I suggest that Sister Vassa lives in Austria . Does Austrian society insist on conformity to a view of homosexuality which is at odds with the Orthodox Christian one. It could be so, given the oddity of the EU.
    Maybe we should all do some research into the matter before condemning.

    1. I’m not quite sure I see the relevance of Austrian norms. The whole point of the baptismal repentance and renunciation of Satan is that the Church must conform to Christ, whatever standards the World insists upon.

    2. May God heal us all and help us to stand steadfastly in the face of a conniving devious entity that is Satan. He seeks to divide and destroy and to malign the human soul with comforts and pleasure so that our opinion slowly on universal Christian Orthodox principals change over time. Satan’s insidious nature is just to open up conversation and discussion on spiritual things that have been held universally true.
      Sr Vassa unfortunately made a grave error with her advise. It is surprising to see people defend her post. That she “never asked him to have sex”. Yet condoning “dating” is in of itself a prelude so such physical behaviour. Are we not throwing this young boy into the pit of tempation. How is dating any different than throwing oneself into the fire of tempation? Is this something we’d hear out of the mouths of Sts Basil, Chrysostom, Athanasius or Antony?
      They would, in love and longsuffering urge all parties to repent and unequiviclly seek healing through whatever means, first through the Eucharist, repentance, spiritual guidance, prayer, etc.
      As St Amoun, the disciple of St Antony used to always say, whenever we surrender a pure heart to God or even at the very least begin the struggle, then God will illumine us and reveal to us mysteries of heaven.
      Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God
      Ephesians 1:7
      In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace

  6. Father, as I read all of these comments, my heart broke. I felt you had a very good response to Sr. Vassa, and as a mother of a lesbian, I took both her response and yours to heart. You both have loving advice. I have come to terms with my daughter’s life and although I don’t agree with it, I love her and I don’t reject her and I pray for her every day, that God will work in her life as He will. This road that God has given me is not easy, but I trust in Him.
    But to see Christians bearing false witness against each other in the comments is distressing. To insult each other is also a sin.
    If you have not walked in my shoes as a mother of a gay person, please just listen and pray for me. And my child.

      1. Thank you, Father! I am frequently worried that someone will counsel me to desert her. She knows how I feel about how she lives her life, and she also knows I love her very much. Thank you for your prayers.

        1. Dear Laura,
          My sister is a lesbian. She knows that I, as an Orthodox Christian, believe and hold to the fact that God intends marriage only between a man and a woman. She knows, however, that I love her and will continue to love her. Never let anyone persuade you to turn your back on your daughter. Whatever sin she commits, she will always need to know that you love her, and your enduring love may in the end bring her round. My own daughter said to me the other day that she admired the fact that I don’t agree with my sisters’ lifestyle, but still love her and show that love. Aren’t we all sinners anyway? Christians are just sinners who have repented! And as beggars who have found the Bread, we can help other beggars to find Him too.
          Best wishes,
          Jessica

  7. Fr. Lawrence: I think the call to refrain from ad hominem attacks is a good one, so let’s agree to refrain from them. I stated that Fr. John is not *a scholar* and this is true. I did not attack his credentials, but rather the sources that he used to make his case. They simply do not hold water. The Washington Times is a questionable source, but the source doesn’t even say what Fr. John wants it to say, in fact, it says quite the opposite, as I stated above. The doctor cited in the article published by the Unification Church published Washington Times states, “I’m not suggesting the statement [that gay and transgender people are ‘born that way’] is false … I’m saying there isn’t enough scientific evidence to support the statement.” This simply does not prove that homosexuals are NOT born that way.

    Fr. John has asked for articles that prove that homosexuality is innate. There are no articles that *prove* this, but there are articles that make a convincing case for it, or that suggest that this is the case, as is true for the one that is cited in the Times. We cannot state for certain, in the same way that we can state that gravity is a universal law or that global warming is settled science, although many dispute the latter, despite the preponderance of evidence, that homosexuality is caused by *this* or by *that.* However, we may state that there is a strong body of evidence that suggests this, and that it needs further study. Human Psychology, as every psychologist will tell us, is as much an art as it is a science, and, like the priesthood, requires a strong attention to the individual, and the situation and circumstances that he or she finds himself in. It is rarely a case of “this child is homosexual because of this,” however I think all people who are honest have known a child who they knew or surmised might be homosexual in adulthood. It isn’t as simple as it was understood to be 1000 years ago, much less 100, or even 50 years ago.

    Furthermore, Fr. John has linked scholarly pursuit with politicization, suggesting that even the Nazis used science to prove their theories. He’s right. And I will not walk into the trap he is so clearly setting. If I give a series of articles, he will claim that, since they were written by Professor W, or they came from the University of Y, they are ALL politicized. Then he will criticize my churchmanship, and he will cite the few sermons of St. John Chrysostom that single out homosexual activity. Then he will pound the table, call ME the problem with the Orthodox Church, and declare me anathema. I have seen this before, and I won’t go down this path.

    While we’re dealing with ad hominem, though, what does Inga Leonova have to do with this argument? She has not weighed in, so there is no logical or reasonable excuse for involving her, nor is there any reason to bring up her profession. I don’t know what Ms. Blackburn was reaching for here, other than a rather pathetic slur of someone who is extraneous to this argument. We’re not going to question a person’s credentials, so I’m not going to question Fr. John’s lack of an Orthodox theological degree or training in developmental psychology. These are facts. Why question Ms. Leonova’s degree in architecture?

    Similarly, Sr. Vassa is a scholar of liturgics, so Fr. Lawrence, you note her lack of “pastoral or parental wisdom.” I don’t know if you intended this to be funny, but it did make me laugh. Of course she has no pastoral or parental “wisdom,” if by wisdom one requires her to be a pastor or a parent to have this. She’s a celibate nun in the Russian Church! The Fathers that we turn to for advice are largely celibates, so they, too, have no parental experience (perhaps wisdom). Sr. Vassa is very clear from her opening comment that she speaks *as a nun* in the Russian Church, and not FOR the Russian Church. She does not pretend to be a pastor or a parent, so charging this to her account is petty and trivial.

    The fact remains, though, that several commenters are putting words in Sr. Vassa’s mouth, and this is beneath the dignity of a fellow human being, much less a Christian. It is unfair and I evil to claim that someone said something that she clearly did not. At absolutely no point did Sr. Vassa counsel the mother that she should let her 14 year old son have sex with another boy. Nowhere. She states that the mother should let the boy date. Actually, she says “date.” The scare quotes are important. “Dating” does not equal dating (the two can’t even drive, much less pay for a date in the traditional sense) and dating certainly does not equal “provid[ing] them with a room and a condom,” in Fr. John’s vivid phrase, where he claims false equivalency with a heterosexual couple. Sr. Vassa simply does not claim, suggest, hint, or intimate that a male-female couple, much less a male-male couple at the age of 14 should be having sex. To suggest that she does, in Fr. John’s hierarchy of sins, is to bear false witness. That’s commandment Number 9.

    Fr. John reminds us that there are degrees of sin. The mother in Sr. Vassa’s question says that her 14 year old son has expressed his homosexual attraction. He has not (as far as we know) had homosexual sex. Therefore, even if one considers attraction a sin, the degree here, is rather low. Sr. Vassa responds more pastorally than many priests I know. She suggests that the mother love her son, that she be patient with her son, and that she remain in dialogue and communion with her son. Where is the mother’s sin? Where is Sr. Vassa’s sin?

    Yet in our beloved church, the sin of homosexuality seems to have been catapulted high above all others. We assume that if two men are together, they “must be” having sex, without knowing a jot or tiddle about their private lives. Nor should we either jot or tiddle. That knowledge is for their confessors alone. The suggestion is that “where there is smoke there is fire.” If homosexuals are not having sex, there would be no need for excommunication, either with adults, or with the 14 year old in Sr. Vassa’s letter, disregarding the news reports we’ve all heard of same-sex couples being denied communion (the Cathedral in DC) because they co-habitated or had a civil marriage, or members of affinity groups who were summarily excommunicated by trigger-happy bishops. Why is this one sin worse than gluttony, or slander/libel (evident in this thread) or even heterosexual fornication? Why are straight people so terrified of homosexuals?

    1. Just a brief response about Sr. Vassa, since I have no interest in this comments section’s long and tangential wrangling with a fellow-priest. My reference to Sr. Vassa’s “lack of pastoral or parental wisdom” was my attempt at courtesy rather than humour. I could have referred to her advice in other terms, but I was trying to be polite to someone I care about. And of course references to “dating” are about eventual sex; to assume otherwise is spectacularly naive, if not disingenuous. Does anyone imagine that the course of action being debated is the boy’s social but celibate lifestyle with other boys? Furthermore, no one is putting words into Sr. Vassa’s mouth in the sense of distorting her meaning. The fact that she did not counsel the parents to encourage the boy to celibacy and her suggestion that he perhaps find a church which will bless his homosexual activity is evidence that she regards their family unity as more important than his homosexual activity and lifestyle. It is a kind of pedantic literalism to continue to say “she didn’t actually tell him to be sexually active”. Her resigned acceptance of his sexual activity is tantamount to the same thing, and the actions she counsels speak louder than words. Since you ask the question, Sr. Vassa’s “sin” (I would prefer to call it a well-intentioned mis-step) is in counselling tacit support for the boy’s homosexuality.

    2. I mentioned her, Lewis, because her beliefs about gay sex are all over FB, and have been for years. If Fr. John, who is a priest of the church, and I would assume, studies, reads, and serves, is not qualified to weigh in, then why did people take Ms. Leonova seriously when she started a whole FB group to dissent from church teaching? Or, why were her remarks left up on Sr. Vassa’s wall, the last time I looked, when she called Fr. John an evil man (or was it his writings she called evil? It was one of those). SO, I guess what I’m saying is if you want to carry on about credentials, which you did, it might be good to remember that one of the loudest voices of dissent on FB, unless I am seriously mistaken, would also not fit the bill to speak. It never stopped her.

    3. Lewis, despite my academic shortcomings, you have conceded the point I was making in the article. There is no proof that homosexuality is caused by innate factors. You have even less proof that it is caused by irresistible factors.

      I have pounded no tables here, nor have I anathematized anyone. I have asked you if you actually agree with the teachings of the Church and affirm that homosexual sex is inherently sinful. I asked you that because past discussion indicate that you do not, and so your pretended objections in this discussion ring hallow. But you can prove me wrong here if, you answer the question is other than you have led me to believe.

      So what is your answer?

      And I have not born false witness against Sister Vassa. If she was not assuming and condoning the notion that this boy would be engaging in homosexual sex, why would she assume he would either be excommunicated, or have to go to a parish that affirmed homosexuals (i.e. communed those actively engaging in sodomy)?

      You are simply not being honest here, and your refusal to answer a simple question demonstrates your dishonesty.

  8. Speaking as a mom of 3 and definitely not a scholar or an activist of any sort, I think the best advice that could be given to parents struggling with their children’s sins would be to find a priest that the child can open his/her heart to. Preferably an older married priest with kids, perhaps even kids who have travelled down a broken road and made it back. That produces humility in a parent and a reliance on God. Fr Lawrence you are so right when you said this is a pastoral issue that has to be handled in the context of relationship–because it is the relationship itself that produces the healing. Sr Vassa should have understood that given her family background. Maybe that is what she meant by advising the mom to find another church. I still cringe remembering the well-intentioned but off-base childrearing advice I gave as a single person to my married friends. Maybe Sr V is cringing now too!

    1. Thank you, Anne. So many comments here seem to have bypassed what was my main point in the blog piece–namely that the situation briefly alluded to by Sr. Vassa cannot be sensibly and fruitfully dealt with apart from a personal pastoral relationship of trust and one-on-one conversations. My heart goes out to the mother and to her son (assuming their actual existence and that this was not Sr. Vassa’s construct for the purpose of broaching the issue; I trust her that it was not). Presumably Sr. Vassa had secured her permission to share her email so publicly. But even so it must be difficult for her to find her personal perplexity and pain splashed across the internet as fodder for a wider–and sometimes venomous–discussion. At the back of all this is a family in pain and in need of our prayers.

      1. Yes indeed! Is there any pain more bitter than watching one’s child struggle beyond one’s ability to help? Prayer must have been invented just for that.

  9. Behind much of the tension displayed in this comments section (and this whole episode in general) around “scholarship”, expertise, homsexualism, and “what we know today vs. what we knew 50/100/fill-in-the-blank years ago” is Orthodoxies relatively recent encounter and partnership with the modern Academy (i.e. the modern, western, university and the “scientific establishment”).

    This tension has a history of course (Scholasticism, nominialism, the Enlightenment, etc. etc.) that western Christians and secularists are more familiar and experienced with. I sense that our hierarchy in general is still feeling all this out – that is when they are not frozen like deer in the headlights by the power/social cachet of the Scientific Establishment.

    On the “average man in the pew” level it this tension also runs very deep and is displayed here by Gregorios, Gavin and Lewis. They appear to have confused what is “natural”, inborn (that made of “dust” as Scripture repeatedly phrases it) and its relationship with sin, will and Personhood. Orthodox doctrine (or as the Fathers put it, “Holy Dogma”) around what man(anthropos) is ontologically and his relationship to God is not really informed by, let alone defined by the Scientific Establishment, the Academy (and the “scholars” and “theologians” who haunt its halls), or a culture who exalts these institutions as the only place where “real knowledge” can be found. The Church proclaims “Christ is Risen!” and these institutions/culture proclaim “Francis Bacon!”. The moralistic finger waging by these institutions/persons (e.g. “your being hateful because we are born this way” & “your hold to Calvin/Reform theology – you are a *fundamentalist*) is unfortunately on an important level (that of human sin) quite effective and obviously very influential in that so many of the Faithful are captured by these falsehoods.

    In my opinion, Orthodox leadership both hierarchical and lay, are going to have to do some soul searching about the place of modern epistemology/”scholarship” in and around the Church on a very pragmatic level. Right now, certain modernists such as Demacopoulos appear to have an out-sized voice. The tired refrain of “The Fathers often had good Greco-Roman educations and were simply doing what we do – address the issues of the day” is being used as a club to bludgeon those who recognize modern commitments (however unconscious/unexamined they are in those who hold them) that are most obviously seen in the anthropological – that is in homosexualism, sex, abortion, divorce, sex, women’s ordination, sex, pornography, end of life, sex…and something else…oh yea, sex.

    Not sure how this examination, this questioning of the current Orthodox-and-scholastic-partnership can begin but IMO it is here that real work has to be done…

    1. Amen and amen. A good place to begin might be the seminaries, where very often Orthodoxy and liberal academic thought are combined like oil and water. Or so it seems to me, but I have admittedly been out of seminary for a long time, and may be out of touch with them. Doubtless some places are better than others.

      1. In the seminary program I participate in (distance education except for a twice year on-site practicum – a deacons formation program) there is this mixing, but it is subtle/subdued . More worryingly, it is largely unconscious and unexamined which means it is simply the status quo of our time and place. I have no direct experience with big names such as St. Vlad’s and the like, but based on some of what they publish they appear to be stuck in the status quo. These RC and Orthodox partnerships such as Fordham, Loyola Marymount, etc. are more conscious about the mixing on the one hand (which is good), but they actively promote it as a good thing (which is problematic).

  10. Its difficult in our time to stand firm for truth. Maybe it has always been difficult. But today, nihilistic thinking has seeped so deeply into our world-view that truth itself makes most of us feel uncomfortable. We aren’t used to having strict standards, with expectations attached to them. If someone is bold enough to remind us of absolutes, the basic instinct is to attack ‘the oppressor’. True council from one’s own Tradition is nearly equated with ‘hate’, if the tone isn’t exactly to our liking. I guess we are called these days to be extra gentle and understanding in discussing limits and discipline. But without that hard kernel of the unyielding absolute in the foreground, stated clearly amidst the compassion….I believe there is no Orthodoxy. And ‘Orthodoxy’ is the medicine the world needs, not more false validation, given with good intentions. And if our Orthodox clergy are vigilant in calling that out if they think they see it…. then they’re doing their job. I don’t fault anyone these days if they err a bit on the side of strictness, but a red flag goes up if they err on the side of leniency. One is swimming against the current of our time, the other drifting with it. We may cringe a bit now, but on that dread day, it could influence the destiny of countless souls. So be ready to suffer the outrage, suck it up, and give the enemy of man no quarter.

  11. I thank both of you, Fr Lawrence and Fr John, for your thoughtful comments. The faithful DO need to be reassured that the Church will continue to uphold its teachings in a world that is rapidly surrendering to the public approval of sexual sin.

    Two observations, if I may:
    1) This seems to me to be a clash, not about whether we are going to go “soft” on sodomy, but between a view that insists that our Tradition is constant, that the fathers speak authoritatively about human nature, and one that asserts that our Tradition is “developing”, or “evolving”; that with our modern science and accumulated “knowledge”, we have authority to correct the fathers, to decide when we “know better”.
    This latter seems to me to be serious heresy, but it is widespread, and it is on that foundation that people in the Church push demands to accept into the Church, not only people who suffer from bent sexual passions, but the passions themselves. And other issues like women’s ordination, being pushed because of the blip in our history called “deaconnesses”, are on the same foundation: “we should change things because we know better”. Not all supporters of Sr Vassa’s advice believe that; some honestly confuse the patristic understanding of “judging” with an idea that no one should condemn sin, that the person is indistingushable from his sin.

    2) On language – I am a career language teacher, and one thing that constantly mires us in falsehood is use of language never used by the fathers, who never said a person “is” (the linguistic equivalent of the “equals” sign in math) “homosexual”, let alone the evil euphemism “gay”. The language we use has embedded in it philosophical assumptions about the nature of things, and most of the really false language has been used for less than fifty years, and it was a prime enabler of the social acceptance of these evils. So it behooves us, asmuch as we can, to avoid the modern wildly non-traditional language of lies. That goes for the modern misuse of “gender” as well, and is why the insane idea of “transgender” became possible.

    Thanks again for your great words!

  12. Having read quite a few of the comments posted by advocates of Sr. Vassa’s letter to the mother of the 14-year-old, and subsequent posts by detractors who criticise those who voice their concerns about her stated infidelity to Church Teaching on the matter, the vast majority of them can be distilled to essentially stating the following:

    You ignorant and uneducated traditionalists know nothing!
    FIRST OF ALL: Sister Vassa did NOT contradict Church teaching!!!
    And SECONDLY: For your information, Her contradiction was entirely justified and scientific. So There!!!

  13. Fr. John said: “And I have not born false witness against Sister Vassa. If she was not assuming and condoning the notion that this boy would be engaging in homosexual sex, why would she assume he would either be excommunicated, or have to go to a parish that affirmed homosexuals (i.e. communed those actively engaging in sodomy)?”

    Yes, Father, you have. You and Fr. Lawrence are applying the appeal to probability logical fallacy. “If they date, then they must have sex! Do either of you apply these standards to your children?

    Fr. Lawrence said: “And of course references to “dating” are about eventual sex!” I dated several people before I married. Are you assuming I had sex with them? Did either of you have sex with the women you dated before marrying your wives, or is pre-marital sex only something that homosexuals do?

    Assuming that “where there’s smoke there’s fire,” is also a logical fallacy, presented here as “why would a church excommunicate a person if there was no sexual activity present?” There are the examples I presented: The Cathedral in DC wherein a deacon excommunicated a lesbian (or a woman he presumed to be a lesbian), and the excommunication of presumed homosexuals at an OCA parish in Long Beach, California. There are places where even suggesting that one is homosexual will result in excommunication. Let’s not pretend this isn’t the case.

    1. I find I have not much to say in reply. If you really believe that Sr. Vassa is not talking about a scenario in which the boy eventually has sex, I really can’t help you. As Woody Allen once quipped, “I’m due back on planet earth now.” Sr. Vassa’s exact words were: “So what am I saying practically, about what you should do when your son ‘wants to date’? I think you won’t be able to change the fact that he will ‘date,’ unless he wants to commit himself to celibacy. But I am going to go ahead and presume he doesn’t want to, and isn’t going to, do that, since he’s ‘come out’ to you.” Even a superficial reading of her words reveals that by “dating” she means not “committing himself to celibacy”. No logical fallacy is involved; just a calm reading of the text.

      1. Father Lawrence, I cannot help but wonder if such people as Lewis are even Orthodox. Nobody I have EVER met at any Orthodox parish would ever have the temerity to boldly slap the priest in the face with the demanding question: “Did either of you have sex with the women you dated before marrying your wives, or is pre-marital sex only something that homosexuals do?” In my experience, this is only the kind of tactic employed by godless heterophobes who have no real interest in any kind of regular church attendance much less in serious participation in an Orthodox Christian parish community–and I have met plenty of those, they are called atheists.

        1. I do my best to respond to posts apart from any social context, and to avoid personalizing responses. What matters is not my dignity or any else’s, but the truth of the Gospel. If a person has an online presence (such as myself or Sr. Vassa, whom I continue to esteem, love, and value) one must be prepared to compartmentalize and deal with the arguments and comments on their own merit, quite apart from friendship or ecclesiastical rank.

    2. Lewis, you are not being honest, as is evidenced by the fact that you refuse to answer a very simple question:

      Can you tell us whether or not you agree that homosexual sex is inherently sinful, and incompatible with the Christian life?

      You wont answer that question because the answer is that you do not believe homosexual sex is sinful, and you are defending Sister Vassa’s post because you know full well what she was saying.

      1. Well said Fr. John. While homosexual activists in the Church attempt to portray themselves as sincere individuals who are the victims of misunderstanding or prejudice, this exchange demonstrates that in reality they are quite comfortable employing deceptive means to promote their agenda.

        There were commentators on Sr. Vassa’s FB post who even went so far as to describe the act of sodomy as a means to theosis.

        Thank you for helping to expose the great danger that we are facing.

  14. Before that, though, her exact words were: “I must say, and cannot say otherwise, that actively living it out is a sin. It’s a no-no. ” Full stop. Now, she does go on to say, “But so are many other things, which we tolerate in ourselves as “only human,”” which is absolutely correct. Why are people so absolutely obsessed with what a homosexual person does (or does not) do in his bedroom? Some do date, and choose a life of celibacy. I still maintain that assuming that “date” equals “premarital sex” is unfair and is playing into a rather odious stereotype. I would also maintain that you know this.

    1. As I said, I am due back on planet earth. Clearly Sr. Vassa assumed that young man would not be celibate. Hence the entirety of her post.

    1. 2 Timothy 3:10-17. The Apostle Paul instructs us in the Truth, provides the cure for eternal death, and also writes in verse 13 concerning people who do not want to be saved if it means calling their lust for the sin that it is and forsaking it — like Lewis and Gregorios …

      10 But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, 11Persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me. 12Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. 13But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. 14But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; 15And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

    2. I feel sorry for you Lewis. You do not yet understand what it is you are doing to yourself. You cannot have Heaven, eternal life and the blessing of God, without doing what we all must do to be saved: admit that God knows best what is for our salvation, what is sin and what is virtue, and surrender to His divinely revealed Truth committed to his Holy Apostles and through them to the Historic Orthodox Catholic Church. I hope that you will escape the loneliness of your opinions and embrace the embrace of God that is awaiting you the moment you turn towards Christ and follow Him.

  15. “Does anyone imagine that the course of action being debated is the boy’s social but celibate lifestyle with other boys? Furthermore, no one is putting words into Sr. Vassa’s mouth in the sense of distorting her meaning. The fact that she did not counsel the parents to encourage the boy to celibacy and her suggestion that he perhaps find a church which will bless his homosexual activity is evidence that she regards their family unity as more important than his homosexual activity and lifestyle. It is a kind of pedantic literalism to continue to say “she didn’t actually tell him to be sexually active”.

    And it is actually lamentable that she did not counsel him to celibacy because whether or not she has parental experience / wisdom is one thing, BUT the fact is that she – as a monastic – has a lot of wisdom and advice to offer toward celibacy. I would not blame someone who is not a parent for not understanding how stating positions in a certain way give tacit approval to youth – it takes years of parenting or working with youth to understand that.

    The Church needs to set the bar high on this issue – If you set the bar high, the youth will have something to reach toward – but if we set it low, they will only trip and fall over our lack of wise counsel and caring expectation and they will have been led astray. Also, I think the Church needs to counsel/teach parents on this issue – they are the first line of defense for their kids. The culture is confusing our youth on sexuality in a way that is tantamount to psychological child abuse.

    I do believe that there are people who are legitimately homosexual – they have an enormous struggle. They should not be discriminated against or made to feel less than human. BUT I am 46 years old, when I grew up, the boy we thought was homosexual in our high school actually was. It was really no surprise. I am still friends with him.

    However, in my kids high school, a large amount kinds identify as bi or homosexual, pan or any number and combination of adjectives to describe the fluidity of the sexuality or gender identification. It’s baffling and my own kids have been attacked for not knowing which adjective another student wanted to be identified with on a certain day.

    God bless this mom for seeking advice from the Church and we should pray for her son and for her and for the counsel they receive, that they be supported and not be led astray.

    Thank you Fr Lawrence and Fr John for being voices in our Church standing firm on this issue. There are others like Fr Josiah and Fr Alexander who also are voices of Truth and sanity.

    “A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, ‘You are mad; you are not like us.’”

    + St. Anthony the Great (Book Sayings of the Desert Fathers)

  16. I am autistic. I did not ask to be autistic. I was born autistic. Because I have autism I have a drastically much harder time experiencing faith. It’s difficult for me to conceive of a personal God who has thoughts or feelings, and for me to experience any sense of connection to such a God. Yet I am an Orthodox Christian, even on day’s when I am also an agnostic. I struggle with the most basic components of faith because of an innate and pervasive aspect of my neurology. Autism is integral to my formation as a person and can not be separated from me. So am I an unbeliever when I doubt? When the idea of God seems preposterous to me? Am I unfaithful when I can’t even begin to understand other’s experiences of faith? Or is it possible that God is merciful to me, a sinner, and has grace upon me, knowing that I am made differently? Can I say with St. Paul, His grace is sufficient for me?

    Like me, our LGBT brothers and sisters in Christ did not choose to be LGBT. They were this way for as long as they can remember, either from birth or from environmental factors. They have no more power to change their orientation than I do to not be Autistic. Their orientation is fundamental to the shaping of their person-hood, both through neurological difference (like me) and through differing life experience (also like me). Can they, like St Paul, say “His grace is sufficient for me?”

    I too know what it is like to ask God to let you die because you are divergent from the societal accepted norm. From being routinely excluded and rejected by Christians because I see and experience the world differently. I too know what it’s like to feel the anxiety of wondering if I’ll ever be able to truly belong to a church community and be accepted by the body of Christ.

    I know, like many LGBT Christians, the intolerable cruelty of people, christian or otherwise, towards anything deviates from the perceived norm of a social group. I have experienced the marginalization that occurs when even well meaning people who have no skin in the game make armchair pronouncements about your very existence and treat your experiences as merely academic issues. I know what it’s like to be be routinely rejected by faith communities because you are unable to conform, no matter how badly you wish you could.

    But the truth is I have come to love that I am autistic, and that I wouldn’t want to be cured if it were possible (it’s not and that idea is preposterous). I realize that I would no longer be me if I were not autistic. I’ve come to believe that God created me autistic and the world is a better, more beautiful place because of autism, not in spite of it. I believe many LGBT people are beginning to feel the same way.

    The chief difference between them and me is that the church does not ask me to not be autistic before I could participate in the life of the church. There is no demand that I attempt to pass as neurotypical before I can receive the sacraments. People of LGBT orientations on the other hand are being asked to pass as something contrary to their person-hood to receive acceptance. I can understand the angst and grief that many of them experience and why they choose to walk away from the Church when given such a demand.

    I think it’s also worth pointing out that 48% of all LGBT people in the US identify as Christian. We must not mistake the LGBT community as a Christianity hating atheist movement. There are many LGBT people who deeply love Christ and want to belong to him.

    1. Braxton Bragg says:

      “I am autistic. I did not ask to be autistic. I was born autistic….”

      There follows the usual secular understanding of what it means to be a human being and an Christian. Braxton, I was born an angry man. I did not ask to be angry, I was born this way. Simply because it is the “social norm” for me to do nothing (if not courteous) when someone cuts me off in traffic why should I have to suppress/oppress who and what I am and be courteous? I was born a man with normal sexual desires. Why should I suppress/oppress who and what I am? I should be allowed to committ adultery, or even marry as many women as I desire (my desire after all is what it is – God made me this way).

      Braxton confuses the dark for the light – the world for the Church – sin for our true selves and our risen humanity…

  17. To friend Lewis, the revelation of truth since the prophets, through the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, through the Holy Apostles and Church is revealed Truth. We as Orthodox Christians draw nigh to be enlightened. St Isaac the Syrian tells us of the three types of knowledge in the 52nd Homily. Through Holy Baptism and drawing nigh to Christ we receive the Truth. Now Christ Himself thanked God that these things were hidden from the wise and revealed unto babes! To the arrogant Pharisees the Master said because ye say we see your sin remaineth! So, perhaps so many , Sister Vassa tbe example here, are darkened concerning the true faith while being wise in the worldly sense of the word. Yes, monastics study but they seek other-worldly knowledge beyond what is discoverable through books. Such enlighten aligns us with the ancient Church, with the Holy Spirit that will not lead to contradiction of the Holy Fathers or the Holy Scriptures. Modern liberal thought is a contradiction of both. So, we have countless saints who understood the most profound Mysteries without having attended great schools. As St Paul counted all his former learning as dung. Let us become blind so that we may truly see. I pray this also for Sister Vassa and myself as well. Forgive me.

    1. Though of course I cannot see into the heart of anyone including Sr. Vassa, I think that her advice does not mean that was darkened concerning the true faith, but simply that she took a mis-step. No one bats a thousand, including me. I retain my esteem for her personally, and for her impressive body of work.

  18. Christ said that if a man even looks upon a woman to lust after her, he has committed adultery. St Paul refers to the sins of evil concupiscense and inordinate affections and those who do these things will not inherit the kingdom of God. These are not actually actions commited but desires, unlawful, disordered passions. These are in additionto the actual sin of sodomy. A person who has the illicit habit to view porn would not be admitted to the Holy Mysteries until this is acknowledged and repented from. So, it is error to say a person can remain a homosexual but celibate. No. The very attraction to the opposite sex is an inordinate affection that is damnable according to the Apostles. Straight is the gate and narrow the way that leadeth unto Life and few there be that find it, but broad is the way that leadeth to destruction and many go thereby. So we may not despair St Paul says “and such WERE some of you but ye are washed…..” at Holy Baptism we renounce these things including the inordinant desires. If one falls into them again it is like the pig wallowing again in the mud and the dog returning to his vomit. Those are the descriptions of Christ concerning such souls. May God in His unfathonable mercy grant us true repentance from what displeases Him. Forgive me.

    1. I cannot agree that a mere temptation to commit a sin is in itself sinful. A homosexual can resist the temptation to act out his or her desire in the same way as an alcoholic can desire to drink to intoxication but still resist the temptation. The homosexual desire itself is disordered, but does not involve guilt unless it is acted upon. What were denounced as damnable by St. Paul in 1 Cor. 6 were the actions, not the temptations to actions. Our Lord’s words about looking upon a woman to lust after her in Mt. 5 similarly referred to a man’s inner commitment to lust and commit adultery–Christ says that where the inner commitment to sin is present, the guilt remains even apart from the action. A mere attraction to a woman is not the same as a commitment to adultery with her. In all of Mt. 5 Christ is warning about the sinfulness of inner commitment, as a counter to the mere externalism of the Pharisees.

  19. Fr. John: Of course I could answer your question, and I am being completely honest. But I just don’t give in to bullies.
    To be blunt, you are not my confessor, nor my parish priest, nor my bishop, nor even in my jurisdiction nor my state I would happy to answer any pertinent questions about my faith, my beliefs, my prayer life, my spirituality, my reading, my fasting, my communion, the frequency of my confession or any other items pertaining to the Christian life as asked or directed by my spiritual father. As for now, he has specifically encouraged me NOT to engage with persons like you. Yes. I am serious. (And yes, by name). As an obedient Christian, I am bound to observe this, as your spiritual children would be bound to do the same. I appreciate your understanding.

    1. Lewis, if your spiritual father is encouraging you to be coy on what you believe, you need to find another spiritual father. And I also, I think you have an incorrect view of the obedience due to a spiritual father outside of the monastic context, on issues that are not matters of clear Church doctrine: http://fatherjohn.blogspot.com/2017/02/stump-priest-spiritual-fathers.html

      There certainly is not teaching of the Church that prevents you from being honest about what you believe on the issue of homosexuality, and so citing obedience to your spiritual father as a reason from not being honest, is nonsense.

  20. Fr. John:

    My spiritual father is encouraging me to avoid belligerent priests like you. Why are you so fixated on this topic?

    There is no coyness here, and my spiritual father is quite well respected. I think I’ll stay put. I appreciate your “concern,” though.

  21. I think it is time to draw this particular thread to a close. I remind and ask that all commenters speak with courtesy and respect, and would especially ask that clergy be addressed with the deference and respect due their office. If these exchanges took place not through the anonymity that comes from being online, but in a church setting, they might properly be prefaced and concluded with asking for the priest’s blessing. One may of course disagree with another’s opinions, but in the case of responding to clergy, let us also remember to “salute the uniform”. Presumably any proper spiritual father would agree with this.

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