The Church and Homosexuality: A Meditation

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
—Romans 8:18

And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” At that saying his countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful.
—Mark 10:21–22

It was a busy night for Jack Phillips, when his ship hit an iceberg in the frigid North Atlantic. He was in charge of the Titanic’s telegraph radio and of course after the collision he was frantically sending SOS signals to any ships nearby. But he had been busy before the crash too. The radio hadn’t worked the previous day and there was a backlog of personal messages to be sent ahead to New York via the nearest radio relay at Cape Race in Newfoundland. The Titanic’s passengers were having a grand time, and they had money to spare for sending trivial text messages across the Atlantic.

Morse code was time-consuming, of course, and it could be loud or faint as the transmitting radio was near or far. Cape Race was far, its signals faint. The S.S. Californian was near, and her Morse signal blared in Jack Phillips’ ears warning of danger ahead from ice. But Phillips wasn’t interested. “Keep out! Shut up,” he shot back, “I’m working Cape Race!” He had more pressing business—after all, his ship was unsinkable.

The Titanic launched out into the Atlantic at the dawn of a promising new century whose glory was still undimmed by World War I. Her maiden voyage was a dazzling emblem of human progress, and for many passengers, the Atlantic crossing was more cruise than voyage: getting to Manhattan wasn’t really the point. But few among those motivated more by ship than by land would have chosen to make their permanent home with the Titanic on the ocean’s floor. This tower-of-babel opening to a century full of appalling tragedies continues to sound a sober warning: when you go to sea (barring something very unusual) you’ll either end up safe back on land—or you’ll have drowned.

The Ark of Salvation

“They that go down to the sea in ships…” Perhaps Jesus chose fishermen as his disciples in part because he wanted men who knew the threat of water. It can be no accident that the disciple who began to sink as he walked on water towards the Lord is the same Peter who wrote in his epistle about Noah’s great ark as a figure of the Church and of salvation from something much worse than drowning (cf.Ps. 106/107:23; 1 Pet. 3:21).

The Church really is on a voyage; her destination is the safe harbor of the Age to Come. Her captain is Christ; her officers: bishops and priests. And she has a crew: everyone whom she has drawn up out of the baptismal waters and whom she has branded—not with iron but with chrism—as enlisted warriors of Christ. Warriors, because this is no luxury cruise ship! The Church is a battleship, and her course lies through seas plagued with piracy: Satan and his demonic hosts who hate the Name of Jesus and who seek the ruin of Christians.

Such are the enemy forces without, but they have agents inside the Church as well, because they have found that infiltration is often more effective than direct attack. The devil wants the Church to change course and so get lost at sea and come to shipwreck. But he keeps this goal hidden from his agents—or rather his dupes. These insiders are usually officers—bishops and priests, that is—and they think the Church should alter its course (by just a few degrees!) in order to sail in less hostile weather. For these officers, arrival at the advertised destination isn’t really the point. In fact, they find the old belief in the stark alternatives of safe harbor or ocean floor to be either very naive or very heartless. Heaven-or-hell theology bores them, but as officers they must play their part for the time being. Quietly and gently, but persistently, they ask their questions, they sow their doubts. “Did God really say…?” Thus they lay the groundwork for mutiny.

Ever-Changing Culture

In his 2011 essay, “A Pastor’s Thoughts on Same Sex Marriage,” Fr. Robert Arida challenges his readers with a series of questions:

If the Church is going to respond to the legalization of same sex marriage/union it seems that it should begin by considering how to minister to those same sex couples who being legally married come with their children and knock on the doors of our parishes seeking Christ. Do we ignore them? Do we, prima facie, turn them away? Do we, under the rubric of repentance, encourage them to divorce and dismantle their family? Or, do we offer [them], as we offer anyone desiring Christ, pastoral care, love and a spiritual home?

Here we have a multiple-choice question, and clearly there’s only one correct answer. That the Church must offer gay couples “pastoral care, love and a spiritual home” should be obvious to anyone whose heart is not made of stone.

Fr. Robert is aware that this constitutes new territory for the Church. Indeed, he strikes a nautical theme when he writes that the Church today is “sailing through uncharted waters.” But having first sketched the complex history of both divorce and slavery in the Church, he suggests that a moral reversal such as this is not without precedent, and that “our history teaches us that what is new need not compromise Christ who is the ‘same yesterday, today and forever.’”

He would expand this theme three years later in a piece offered to the youth of the Orthodox Church in America.[1] There he contrasts the never-changing Christ with an ever-changing culture, such that the Church in a pluralistic society must “expand the understanding of itself and the world it is called to save.” He avoids explicitly saying what such an expansion would involve, but he does refer to “issues … related to human sexuality, the configuration of the family, the beginning and ending of human life, the economy and the care and utilization of the environment including the care, dignity and quality of all human life.”

There can be few who would dispute the need to preach the Gospel in a way that resonates within particular cultural contexts. As Fr. Georges Florovsky put it, “Of course we must speak so that it is understandable.” But, he says,

One cannot forever fit the Gospel to the so-called modern man … It is simply impossible … One isn’t dealing with a linear development of thought. It goes in zigzags … Modern man changes so quickly that it is impossible to keep up with the ins and outs.[2]

Thus looking to same-sex marriage as an element in missionary enculturation is not only erroneous but futile. For it has never been an enduring element in any human culture throughout history, including North America. It is an element that, to repurpose a theme from Fr. Robert’s article, is “new and alien.”

Certainly, homosexual acts are not new. They were frequent enough in polytheistic societies, but they were almost never viewed as an alternative form of marriage and family life. And despite their presence in the surrounding cultures of the day, in both the Old and New Covenants they were always, without exception, forbidden. If Scripture has any authority at all, then the absolute exclusion of homosexual activity from the Jewish and Christian ethical vision cannot be an aspect of “ever-changing culture,” but must be integral to the unchanging substance of the Gospel. “From the beginning of the creation,” Christ declares, “God made them male and female.” This reality is stamped on every layer of revelation and woven through the whole seamless cloth of our faith.[3] Christ is himself the Bridegroom of the Church, and we await the consummation of the Kingdom at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, the New Jerusalem adorned as a bride for her husband (cf. Mk. 10:6; 2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:25; Rev. 19:9, 21:2).

These broad nuptial themes that permeate Scripture are the key to a meaningful treatment of sexual differentiation in human nature and how that bears on Christian theology, cosmology, and morality. The Church has never before faced anthropological and moral heresies of the scope we’re seeing today. Much hard work is therefore required from those bishops, pastors, and theologians who, in the face of the zeitgeist, would maintain the integrity of the Faith and an untroubled conscience. The elements are all there in our tradition, but they need to be more fully unpacked and synthesized.[4]

Is this the aim, though, of those who repeatedly call for “conversation” and “dialogue” about sexuality? Too often such invitations are disingenuous, as they come from those who have already set their minds and hearts (to say nothing of their actions) against the moral law, but who know that in a Church characterized by extreme conservatism, they must accomplish their goals slowly and incrementally.

Indeed, Fr. Robert can be credited with laying a foundation which others—particularly priests and academics in the OCA and the GOA—have been building on with increasing forthrightness and success; that is, if success can be measured by the relative silence of their hierarchs and of senior clergy. Fr. Robert made effective use of questions as a rhetorical tool, since he knew that in the early stages of this revolution, questions would be safer than blunt statements of false teaching.

A Spiritual Home

“…Do we, under the rubric of repentance, encourage them to divorce and dismantle their family? Or, do we offer [them], as we offer anyone desiring Christ, pastoral care, love and a spiritual home?”

Fr. Robert doesn’t define what “pastoral care and love” means; he assumes it will be understood. But he indicates something of his meaning by contrasting it with what he derides as the “rubric of repentance.”

Is this a meaningful contrast, though? What exactly is the content of “pastoral care and love”? What is its aim? A pastor’s primary task is surely to rescue those drowning in passions and sins, and to bring them to the harbor of the Kingdom. It is, in other words, the shepherd’s task to deliver Christ’s rational sheep from ravenous wolves, leading them to safety through the gate of the sheepfold (Jn. 10:7 ff.). And this sheepfold has only one entrance: the “gates of repentance,” gates which are barred to no one. The Lord himself gave a warning to those who thought of themselves as righteous—who thought of themselves as in no great need of repentance: “The tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.” Why? Because unlike the chief priests and elders, they believed the preaching of John the Baptist (Mt. 21:31–32). And the whole of John’s preaching hangs on the one word: Repent.

You cannot have unrepentant sin and communion with God at the same time. More to the point, in the words of a modern monastic elder, “Sexual sin makes prayer impossible.”[5] Why must this be so? C. S. Lewis explains:

Repentance is not something God demands of you before He will take you back and which He could let you off if He chose: it is simply a description of what going back to Him is like. If you ask God to take you back without it, you are really asking Him to let you go back without going back. It cannot happen.[6]

Yet Fr. Robert contends that the Church should offer a “spiritual home” to people who are, as a matter of public identity, inflexible in their commitment to grave sin.

And this “spiritual home” is itself an odd expression. Certainly the Christian tradition has used many images for the Church: ship and sheepfold we’ve already seen, but the Church is also imaged as a body, a bride, a temple, an army, and a hospital. And all these images have something in common: none of them is its own end. Each image points beyond itself to a corresponding purpose or goal. A body has a head; a bride has a bridegroom; a temple has a sacrifice; a sheepfold has sheep to keep safe from wolves and robbers; an army has a war to fight and a commander to lead the fighting; a hospital has patients who need healing and a physician to heal them; and a ship voyages towards a destination.

But a spiritual home? According to the Scriptures, our citizenship is in heaven. Here, we’re taught, there is no abiding city, but we seek the City that is to come (cf. Phil. 3:20; Heb. 13:14).

And yet to refer to the Church as spiritual home is perhaps to hit upon the one image likely to resonate with a practical atheist! The more traditional images all indicate that this life points beyond itself to our true, eternal home. But according to the secular mind (even among those who embrace things spiritual), putting all your eggs in the basket of the “Age to Come” is foolish—and teaching others to do so is callous. Fulfillment and true happiness are only available here. Home can only be found here. And since, as the saying goes, home is where the heart is, then for the secular-minded love is only to be found here.

Yes, the heart of man longs for home. Yet home remains elusive. True life, true love: man searches for these with urgency, he pines for them, he will have nothing stand in the way of them. But every time he seems to have attained his goal, something goes wrong, something impedes his desire or disappoints his hope.

The Church’s answer is Christ’s answer: How long can you keep water in your cupped hands? Try holding on to your life—your home, your love—with both hands and clenched jaw, and it will run through your fingers and you will certainly lose it for ever. Open your hands, let it go, pour it out on God’s altar, and rivers of living water will begin to flow from your heart. A cup brimful of life will be placed in your hands, life in abundance, “pressed down, shaken together, running over,” the finest vintage. Drink from it as much as you can, gulp it down, inebriate yourself on its rich sweetness: it will never be exhausted, and it will never make you sick. (See Mt. 16:25; Jn. 7:38; Lk. 6:38; Ps. 22/23:5 LXX).

Such is the life of a Christian. You renounce something that promised to enrich your life with depth and purpose, and you find yourself seated at a banquet of imperishable sustenance and delight. A Christian is one who recognizes that he’s a pilgrim—he’s an exile, not a tourist. So he presses forward to the City of the great King, the New Jerusalem, where God and men are at Home together, and where sighing and sorrow are no more (cf. Is. 25:6; Matt. 8:11; 1 Pet. 2:11; Phil. 3:13; Ps. 47/48:2; Rev. 21:3–4). It is our sweetest Christ Jesus who promises to wipe away every tear from every eye—there.

But here, he does not promise dry eyes and contentment. True, at times we may be given a foretaste of the eschatological banquet, but this happens only when we are bearing our cross and following Christ in what for him was the way of sorrow and for us sinners is the path of repentance. Here, he weeps with us, he suffers with us, he is lonely with us. Here we offer him our weakness, our desolation, our storms of dark thoughts, and he touches them all, one by one, and slowly transforms them (cf. Jn 15:20; cf. Jn. 11:35; Lk. 22:44; cf. 1 Pet. 5:7). Archimandrite Zacharias of Essex puts it thus:

Sorrows are very important in our life, because without them we are unable to understand either the Gospel or the ‘man of sorrows’ referred to by Isaiah [53:3]. Without godly suffering, our heart cannot be enlarged so as to embrace all Adam. We read in the psalms [4:1]: ‘Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress.’ …

The sufferings endured ‘for conscience toward God’ [1 Pet. 2:19] are an invaluable source of wealth for us, which will be transformed into everlasting glory at the bodily resurrection of all.[7]

This is what the Church has to offer to passion-plagued humanity who, in Fr. Robert’s words, “knock on the doors of our parishes.” This—and nothing else—is what the Church can offer to console, to build up, and to save those who come to her with sexual desires or relationships that, however celebrated and glorified by our contemporaries, remain incompatible with the Gospel. To offer anything else is a disservice.[8]

But if people come to the Church with something else in mind, if they come hoping to have their passions affirmed or their false beliefs validated, then the Church is not what they’re looking for. Like the rich young man who approached our Lord, they might indeed “go away sorrowful” (Mk. 10:22). We will pray for them; we will sorrow for them; but, like Christ, we must allow them the freedom to depart.

The Church cannot impose her views on them, but neither can they impose their views on the Church. Thus, if (as may happen) they come to us not as open-minded inquirers but as cunning zealots of a new, secular pharisaism, in order to test us and entangle us in our words, then we, as sheep in the midst of wolves, must be innocent as doves, yet wise as serpents (cf. Mt. 22:15; Mt. 10:16).

If, however, we encounter “same sex couples who…knock on the doors of our parishes seeking Christ,” if they truly want Christ, then we must bring them where they will find him: the foot of the Cross. If they are looking for the way home, we must not provide a faulty map. We cannot give a stone to those asking for bread. To those hungry for the imperishable sustenance of the Kingdom, we cannot instead dish out the prodigal son’s pig slop. We know the way to the Father’s house, and sodomy lies in the opposite direction (Lk. 15:16; Lk. 17:29–32).

Two Ways

The Church is “the Way” (Acts 9:2). But not all roads lead home. “There are two ways,” as the Didache says, “one of life and one of death, and great is the difference between the two ways.” Progress along either of these ways is measured not in numbers of miles but by the gradual interior transformation of the heart. For with every act of our will we are either restoring or disfiguring the image of God within us. Every decision, in word, in deed, even in thought, carries us farther along one of these two roads. And when we’ve gone the wrong way, repentance is the u-turn that puts us back in the right direction.

But death is the point of no return.

The path that leads to destruction, “the broad and easy way,” was made not by God but by man, and we are at liberty to take it or not. God has given us free will: God is love, and thus he desires that we would freely love him in return. He does not force himself upon us; he does not coerce. Hell exists, then, precisely because God is love (cf. Mt. 7:13; 1 Jn. 4:8).

But because God is love, “he desires that all should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.” And the Church—here’s one last image for our list—is “the pillar and ground of the truth.” Because God is love he has appointed in the Church apostles, bishops, and priests, commissioning them to teach everyone “to observe all that I have commanded” (Mt. 28:20; see also 1 Tim. 2:4 and 3:15).  And because God is love, there are times when those with responsibility for the Church must say “no, you cannot do that, or believe that—or teach that—and be recognized as a member of the Orthodox Church.”

But, some might respond, isn’t the Church for everyone? Didn’t the Lord himself quote from Isaiah, saying, “my house will be called a house of prayer for all peoples”? Yes, all are invited, to be sure, but not all have prepared themselves. Christ teaches this in one of his parables: the invitation is given to all, the banquet is laid for everyone, but you must come wearing a wedding garment—the garment of repentance—or be cast out. Indeed, on one occasion, in the Temple, the Lord made ready for his own use a whip of cords. Zeal for his Father’s house consumed him.[9]

“That’s not very Christ-like!” some might retort. And yet there it is. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. His love is a consuming fire (Heb. 10:31; 12:29). And if the Gospels show us anything, they reveal the wrath Christ has stored up for clergy and spiritual teachers who pervert the commandments of God to cater to the passions of men—particularly their own (cf. Mt. 23:13–15; Mk. 7:8). Those who use clerical rank, academic standing, or moral authority to give a blessing for sin, to call evil good, to cause the little ones who believe in Christ to stumble—it would be better for them, according to Christ’s own terrifying words, if they had a millstone hung around their neck and they were drowned in the depths of the sea. Those who give a stone to people hungry for bread starve others; they drown themselves (Is. 5:20; Lk. 17:1–2; cf. Mt. 7:9).

Floating and Sinking

Unlike millstones, however, and indeed unlike the Titanic, the Church herself can never be sunk. Christ promised that the gates of hell shall not prevail (Mt. 16:18). But even though the Church is unsinkable, individual crew and officers have no guarantees. The Captain, our Savior and our Lord, will without fail guide his Church through every peril, but officers or crew are free to frustrate his work, free to ignore his voice.

We’ve been describing the Church as one ship, but we could also think of her as an entire fleet, all united under the one admiralty of Christ, all sharing the same life and the same destination. Yet any single ship in this fleet can fall prey to mutiny or plain negligence: our history teaches us that entire local churches can forsake the Apostolic Faith. St. Paul warned Timothy of this in 2 Tim. 4:3–4: “The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth.”

On that April night in 1912, the ship closest to the Titanic was the Californian. After its radio man sent the warning about ice that so irritated Jack Phillips, he waited awhile for a more serious (and courteous) reply. None came. After some time he switched off the radio and went to bed. An hour later, Titanic was sinking, but the closest ship couldn’t be radioed for help.

Conditions in the North Atlantic that night were such that those on watch in the Titanic’s crow’s nest could scarcely have seen the ice before it was too late. But low visibility would not have proved fatal had the warnings sent by radio been heeded.

Every era of human thought and culture has its own characteristic blind spots, its own vulnerabilities. As the Church, we must recognize impaired visibility in society and compensate for it. In the twenty-first century, our cultural blind spot comprises everything relating to sex. Even if we strain our eyes, we find it difficult to discern in sexual sin the degradation and destructiveness that were so obvious and so troubling to our forebears. We have itching ears for speculation and experimentation of all kinds—homosexuality is just the beginning. Dazzled and captivated by promising new vistas of human self-definition, we are oblivious to the icebergs ahead. But those who have gone before us see more clearly, and they’re calling back to us. Their shrill warnings interrupt our amusements and blare in our ears. So we cut them off: “Keep out! Shut up! I’m working Cape Race!” We’re unsinkable, we think. What could go wrong?


I have not hearkened to thy voice, I have not heeded thy Scripture, O Giver of the Law. But accept me in repentance and call me back to knowledge. Let me not become the possession and food of the enemy; but do thou, O Savior, take pity on me.
Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, ode four


Endnotes

[1]“Never Changing Gospel; Ever Changing Culture,” Wonder, October 2014. This article was quickly removed from the OCA website, however it remains posted on the website of the Cathedral of the Diocese of New England.

[2] In Elsa Breen, “Det gamle budskap i ny emballasje?”, Familien [Oslo], 3 January 1968, 14, as quoted in an online response to Fr. Robert’s article posted by Father Matthew Baker. (This, along with all the other comments, was removed from Wonder soon after Fr. Robert’s article was itself removed.)

[3] There have been countless hermeneutical attempts to minimize or overturn the theological and moral significance of the Bible’s absolute proscription of homosexuality. They are roundly refuted in Robert Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics. Nashville, Abingdon Press: 2002. See also his videos online, such as this.

[4] Two significant examples of such work are (1) Christopher Roberts, Creation and Covenant: The Significance of Sexual Difference in the Moral Theology of Marriage. New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2008 (and on YouTube); and (2) Angelo Cardinal Scola, The Nuptial Mystery, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998.

[5] Jean-Claude Larchet, Elder Sergei of Vanves. Monks of the Monastery of St. John of San Francisco, trans. Manton, Calif.: Divine Ascent Press, 2012, p. 41.

[6] Mere Christianity, in chapter 9, “The Perfect Penitent.”

[7] Archim. Zacharias (Zacharou), The Engraving of Christ in Man’s Heart. Essex: Stavropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist, 2017, pp. 288 and 290.

[8] Indeed, one of the comments posted in response to Fr. Robert’s 2014 article is as poignant as it is succinct: “Reading this sort of thing can be extremely painful for those of us same-sex attracted who are struggling to live faithful to the Church’s teaching.”

[9] For example: Is. 56:7; Mk. 11:17; Mt. 22:1–14; Jn. 2:15, 17; Ps. 68/69:9.

About Hieromonk Herman (Majkrzak)

Fr. Herman is a member of the Brotherhood of St. Tikhon's Monastery, South Canaan, Pennsylvania, and a liturgical editor for St. Tikhon's Monastery Press. Fr. Herman also lectures in Spirituality and Liturgics at St. Tikhon’s Seminary and taught liturgical music at St. Vladimir’s Seminary in New York for several years. His 12-part video series that introduces the Typikon to chanters, choir directors, and readers can be found here.

AsceticismCultureEcclesiologyEthicsGay MarriagePraxisRecent EventsSacraments

28 comments:

  1. This is a brilliant article which places the disaster of sodomy in crystal clear prospective. It is important to realize that this contemporary malaise has been created by mass media. Thus it is important to counsel believers not to expose themselves or their children to the outlets of mass culture which are quite obviously in the service of Satan at this particular time. “By their works shall ye know them.”
    John Kuhn Bleimaier

    1. I definitely agree about mass media. I think it’s also important to realize that this contemporary malaise has its source in hell. It is truly demonic, which is not a word I use lightly.

  2. I read Fr. Robert Arida’s essay back in 2011 and it depressed me to see a Priest write such things. As you have mentioned, it was/is very vague in many ways and was obviously meant to legitimize a heretical view concerning same sex attraction and the Church.
    How wonderful to read such a rebuttal! Many thanks for this, Father!

  3. “Reading this sort of thing can be extremely painful for those of us same-sex attracted who are struggling to live faithful to the Church’s teaching.”
    Yes. I assume that some are drawn towards the heresy out of sympathy to those who have been unable to accept the Church’s teachings. But how about those of us who are faithfully struggling? Are we so few that we do not elicit sympathy? I don’t know.

    1. A good and important question!

      On this theme, I highly recommend Anthony Esolen’s heart-piercing 2014 article “Who Will Rescue the Lost Sheep of the Lonely Revolution?” Though written from within the Roman Catholic context, much of it, alas, applies increasingly to our own situation. https://goo.gl/VQrHNi

      I also cannot recommend highly enough Patricia Snow’s masterful analysis of our contemporary view of suffering: “Empathy Is Not Charity.” https://goo.gl/pvNpSY

  4. This is the single best analysis of what is happening *within the Church* on homosexualism and the anthropological issues of the day I have yet to read, and I read A LOT of this sort of thing. I know your not supposed to tell a monk ‘well done’, so I will just say thank you Fr. Herman.
    Christopher Encapera

  5. Superb article, full of truth, wisdom, and right discernment! This is truly teaching and preaching planted firmly in the Scriptures and the right theology and teaching of the Holy Orthodox Church!
    The lie being spread now (even by some deacons, priests, and bishops like Bp. Kallistos) is that we need to re-evaluate homosexuality, female ordination, and same-sex “unions” because “progress” has shown us, that the Church, the Apostles, the Saints, the Fathers, did not really understand these issues and were not sophisticated enough in their teaching and preaching for us to trust them anymore; they are no longer relevant in our “modern and progressive” culture. Of course, this is nonsense! It betrays an appalling lack of wisdom and discernment, and a sort of “chronological snobbery” that wrongly elevates modern thought above ancient wisdom.
    The rational flock must be vigilant and watch out for the purposeful duplicity and muddled thinking in these false teachers’ writings and speeches. They specialize in constantly posing rhetorical questions. They hide behind modernist long-winded phraseology, obtuse language, overly-ornate words, and pseudo-erudite expressions they believe will awe and impress their readers, but actually confuse most people. Their cowardice makes them muddy the meaning of what they really think and want to accomplish.
    They purposely paint over their moral rebellion and theological deconstructions with convoluted language that masks their real intentions and allows them to pretend they’re not saying and doing what they’re actually saying and doing. “Who me, I didn’t write that! No, you misunderstood what I said. I didn’t mean that, I was only asking rhetorical questions.” The opposite of “Let your Yes be YES, and your No, be NO.”
    They continually challenge or seek to change the genuine and authentic Orthodox Traditions and Orthodox Theology and Teaching, the faith preached by the Apostles, embodied in the Creeds, attested by the Scriptures and the Martyrs, witnessed by the Saints, and expounded by the Fathers.
    They have unmoored themselves from the true Church and float on a sea of moral confusion, theological uncertainty, modernist nonsense, and lukewarm and carnal “wisdom”; always questioning and never finding the right answers.
    “Professing to be wise, they became fools,” comes to mind.

  6. For those with SSA as well as for all others who earnestly look for Christ’s Coming. I think that both soteriology and eschatology are being omitted or dismissed from this discussion.
    A hymn for these times from my protestant past:
    1
    Fight the good fight with all thy might!
    Christ is thy strength, and Christ thy right;
    Lay hold on life, and it shall be
    Thy joy and crown eternally.
    2
    Run the straight race through God’s good grace,
    Lift up thine eyes, and seek His face;
    Life with its way before us lies,
    Christ is the path, and Christ the prize.
    3
    Cast care aside, lean on thy Guide;
    His boundless mercy will provide;
    Trust, and thy trusting soul shall prove
    Christ is its life, and Christ its love.
    4
    Faint not nor fear, His arms are near,
    He changeth not, and thou art dear;
    Only believe, and thou shalt see
    That Christ is all in all to thee.

    1. Yes, Fr. John! Soteriology and eschatology are in large part what my article is about. “Set your minds on the things that are above, where Christ is,” says St. Paul. If we were actually striving to do this, then a life of celibacy in obedience to God’s Law would not strike us as so burdensome and unfair. Rather, we would sell everything we have in order to obtain “the pearl of great price.”

      And thank you for quoting this wonderful and encouraging hymn. “Fight the good fight — with all thy might” must become a byword for us.

  7. The Church doesn’t exclude anyone, individuals remove themselves from the Sacraments. When my husband divorced me, I was not able to receive the Eucharist for a year. We are serious about the human condition and our relationship with God.
    I received a note from a stranger (gay) who wanted to know if he could visit my Parish or would he be thrown out.
    I could say with confidence that everyone would be friendly. “Sit with me”. He knew the Church position on Homosexuality and I gave him our Priests email.
    Our Priest doesn’t place homosexuality in a separate category above other sexual sins and addictions. He has preached about porn more than once and that my friends plagues our Orthodox Parishes more than the threat of Homosexuality!
    Without batting an eye, I can love anyone who is interested in Orthodoxy but is entangled in “stuff”. My ex-husband was in “stuff” and it was a nightmare for me but for him also.
    I’m celibate. I know lots of celibate Orthodox people of all ages and it’s about time that somebody says it’s not only ok, but fulfilling!

  8. Hi Bonnie, thanks for these thoughts! I’d like to comment on three of them:
    1. “The Church doesn’t exclude anyone, individuals remove themselves from the Sacraments.”
    This is true if you mean that by sinning and refusing to repent we cut ourselves off from God’s grace and should also voluntarily remove ourselves from the Sacraments. But not everyone acknowledges this. Some refuse to admit they are, as the old expression had it, “living in sin.” And in those cases the Church, through her bishops and priests, does have the authority to exclude. St. Paul ordered the Corinthian Church: “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife … When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Cor. 5:1, 4–5). Here and always, the exclusion is for the sake of ultimate salvation, both the salvation of the one currently refusing to repent and of the wider church membership which might otherwise be influenced to take the sin in question less seriously.
    2. “Our Priest doesn’t place homosexuality in a separate category above other sexual sins and addictions.”
    I think there is a perception among some that homosexuality is being singled out unfairly by Orthodox pastors and writers. If this were actually true, this would be a serious problem. In fact, however, in my nearly 20 years in the Orthodox Church, I don’t think I’ve once heard a sermon about it, aside from an occasional brief mention. Most priests, in my experience, are quite reluctant to address this and other controversial subjects beyond a passing comment. Depending on the parish context this may be prudent. However the issue of late is that several Orthodox writers, so far from singling out homosexuality as a separate and worse category of sin, are in fact arguing that in some cases it’s not a sin at all! And this argument constitutes a grave error that requires a very specific and insistent refutation.
    3. “I know lots of celibate Orthodox people of all ages and it’s about time that somebody says it’s not only ok, but fulfilling!”
    I completely agree and am so glad you said that!

  9. Fr. Herman,
    Your blog and what is happening in the church reminds me of the fourth chapter in Ezra:
    “Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple to the Lord, the God of Israel, they approached Zerub′babel and the heads of fathers’ houses and said to them, “Let us build with you; for we worship your God as you do…” But Zerub′babel, Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of fathers’ houses in Israel said to them, “You have nothing to do with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build to the Lord, the God of Israel…”
    Hopefully the day does not come that we have to draw lines in the sand as Zerubbabel did in telling others that they are not building a house to our God, but rather a temple of self-worship.

    1. Jeremiah, I would say, alas, that that day has already come. But thank you for mentioning this very relevant passage from Holy Scripture.

  10. Father Bless,
    Thank you for replying so quickly.
    1. I feebly attempted to convey that it is our sin that causes the separation.
    2. I don’t think Homosexuality is being singled out unfairly (although in some Orthodox Countries there has been unfortunate physical brutality against gay people). What is missing too often is the rest of the story that is running rampant in our society and our Parishes. Pornography addiction!
    My Parish has an addiction/depression group and this pornography addiction is a tough one to overcome.
    Our Priests should address this more often! (my opinion, and I feel the same way about addressing fortune telling, yoga, occult practice which is more common than we’d like to think)
    3.👍🏻Happy and celibate (Should be a bumper sticker).
    Never claimed that I’m not opinionated but I’m also never speaking for the Church.
    Forgive old Photini

    1. May the Lord bless you!

      Thanks for your further comments; I think you are spot-on with everything you’ve mentioned.

  11. Thank you very much, Fr. Herman, for this excellent response to Fr. Arida’s comments which question what cannot be questioned if we are to be faithful to our Orthodox Tradition. As St. Paul says so powerfully and succinctly, “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that you should abstain from fornication, that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor” (1 Thess. 4:3-4).

  12. It seems to me, Father Herman, that society’s inclination to affirm the right of one man to marry another man reveals not so much confidence in the institution of marriage as non-confidence in the fruitful (viz. responsible) binary of the irreplaceable male and the irreplaceable female; also, this selfsame inclination suggests non-confidence in the notion of single-sex friendship that must not and, in the non-fallen order, does become sexual in order to maintain its function. Similarly, the demand that women should be ordained to the priesthood reflects not so much confidence in women’s potential as non-confidence in actual femininity and, equally so, non-confidence in the actual fatherly role of priest qua priest, that is, as a teaching and absolving authority. The issue of dignity (tied up with the modern notion of potential) rightly does not arise in this connection, even when distinctions arise, because the Church holds both St. Peter the Apostle, Bishop of Antioch and of Rome, and the Blessed Virgin Mary in great affection and in high esteem. One key distinction between the two is that affection for St. Peter, as primordial bishop, is the affection for a father that is mingled rightly with the mind-clarifying ‘fear of the Lord’ (as when St. Peter announced the death of Ananias and Sapphira). There is no distancing thought of dread in connection to the intercessory and motherly role of the Theotokos. The bishop operates as spiritual father in persona Petri (and in persona Christi), and not in persona Mariae, precisely because he cannot become to close to anyone as he builds affection within the faithful. By the same token, the Theotokos — and the motherly figure also — is so near and dear to the believer on account of her truly feminine welcome.

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