In the past few days Metropolitan Kallistos Ware has generated more discussion of his thought than at any other time in recent memory. The venerable Metropolitan wrote the foreword to the newest edition of The Wheel, a journal ostensibly dedicated to questions of Orthodox theology and praxis. More specifically, this edition of The Wheel focused on human being and sexuality, particularly questions of homosexuality. The Metropolitan’s foreword sets the stage for what is to come by asking questions and raising issues that others will address more fully. However, the foreword is no mere window dressing. In his own genteel and modest way, His Excellency does make an argument. And it is that argument that I want to examine a little more closely.
The Metropolitan begins with a quote from Ivan Turgenev’s A Month in the Country; “The heart of another is a dark forest.” Given that the theme of the issue is, in large part, human sexuality, establishing an existential frame for his thoughts is not surprising or inappropriate. However, the subjectivity of human experience, at least in Christian theology, is always interacting with the objectivity—the changelessness—of God. This has the dual effect of breaking the isolation of our subjectivity but also of conditioning our freedom. His Excellency would not likely disagree with this, and he does touch on the fact that what it means to be human is revealed in the person and work of Christ.
But that objective dimension, which is integral to our understanding of ourselves, isn’t reflected in the questions he raises or in the flow of his argument. In the hypothetical scenario of the promiscuous and monogamous gay men, for instance, the question he leaves us with is merely a question of fairness which, while important as a subset of justice, is not capable of answering properly theological objections.
To say this more plainly, it is possible to treat the two situations more fairly and still fail to treat them Christianly. Further, by placing the statement about Christ as the paradigm of our being at the beginning of his elaboration of three points he wants us to keep in view, and his discussion of human dynamism in the second, one retains the impression that human dynamism is open ended. This impression is strengthened by his citation from the first epistle of John (3:2). Here the objective frame is not quite missing but sits in the background while we imagine the unexpected places this human dynamism might lead.
This leads to his third point, concerning the sources of our theologizing. The Metropolitan rightly emphasizes the primary importance of the marriage rite over the voice of any particular saint of the Church in terms of our elaboration of what marriage means. But, rather surprisingly, he then suggests that this liturgical source is something distinct from, and prior to, dogma. One hardly knows what to make of this.
On a historical front it is difficult to imagine how such a claim would be defensible. The dogmatic truth of our faith and the content of our worship are inextricably bound together. Liturgical worship can’t be reduced to dogmatic statements, of course, but neither can we offer true worship without them. However debatable the disjunction of worship and dogma may be it does serve a purpose in the flow of the argument. By sundering the connection between dogma and liturgical worship the Metropolitan is able to foreground one of two primary themes he identifies in the marriage service—the theme of mutual love—more or less absent the dogmatic context in which it is nested. He does mention that mutual love is often connected to the other main theme of the wedding service—procreation—though he emphasizes that neither is given pride of place. But here again the flow of the argument is toward the subjective experience of mutual love and seems to guide the reader toward the thought that in the hypothetical problems that are to follow, that theme should be a guiding light.
The penultimate section of the Metropolitan’s foreword begins with a case of special pleading. Shouldn’t the fact that a homosexual person doesn’t choose their desires and feelings, and that those homosexuals who remain faithful to the Church are expected to strive toward celibacy, affect how we think about their situation? Is the burden of celibacy, perhaps, too heavy to impose? Here again we find ourselves mired in the subjective frame, and His Excellency does not offer a solution to free us. At least not directly. It is well worth stopping to consider the question however. If the burden of celibacy ought not be imposed on those who don’t choose it, shouldn’t we also relieve heterosexual men and women who have, for one reason or another, been unable to find a spouse, of the burden of being celibate? I am sure the good Metropolitan would not accept this proposal.
Which gets us to the heart of the matter. In the hypothetical scenario of the promiscuous and monogamous gay men which follows his question there are two distinct sins under consideration— promiscuity and homosexuality—but they are not distinguished. Rather they are conflated which puts us in a pastoral bind. By asking whether celibacy is a burden too heavy to impose on homosexuals in the Church the Metropolitan certainly doesn’t intend to suggest that promiscuous sex ought to be permissible. But the only other way to answer his question affirmatively, to get out of the bind, without establishing new inequities between the way homosexual unmarried and heterosexual unmarried people are treated, would be to recognize monogamous homosexual relations as permissible within the Church. This puts us, the readers, in a situation in which two options emerge more distinctly than anything else: embrace the cruelty of the current situation or change the rules so that promiscuity remains verboten while homosexual monogamy is permitted. This conclusion is not forced on the reader but gently commends itself from the gathered material.
With these thoughts and questions lingering in our minds, His Excellency shifts the dramatic tension once again, away from the plight of the long-suffering monogamous homosexual to the figure of the perverted priest. Why, he asks, are we so obsessed with genital sex? Why do we inquire so eagerly as to what adults of the same sex do behind closed doors? It isn’t possible to know whether any such thing is at all common. Fishing for sins during the rite of confession is not only not taught in American seminaries but actively discouraged. But the caricature of the Peeping Tom priest is a powerful rhetorical instrument that effectively brings our moral sympathies to the aid of our emerging conclusions. This rather dramatic flourish seems to suggest that we adopt a pastoral practice akin to the US military’s widely derided “don’t ask don’t tell” policy of yore.
Now we come to the end of the beginning. And we’re on uncertain ground. Questions have been raised, problems described, and unpleasant images and feelings conjured. Where do we go from here? The Metropolitan has a very simple answer: we must be willing to experiment. How, he does not say. But the flow of the argument, the subjective frame, and the selection of heroes and villains in the preceding paragraphs suggests to the reader everything necessary to arrive at some preliminary conclusions. Whether those conclusions will be supported theologically remains to be seen.
embrace the cruelty of the current situation or change the rules so that promiscuity remains verboten while homosexual monogamy is permitted.
I fail to see the “cruelty of the current situation”. I myself am celibate and single and will probably never be married but I recognize without doubt that Christ is here, with me in this situation. There is nothing cruel about that. It is only if I focus on my own desires, my own passions, that I feel it “cruel” or unfair or demeaning. When my life is focused on Christ, I find no issue.
Forgive me, but if this post is an accurate reflection of what has been written, I believe the Metropolitan has seriously erred. The Church and her leaders must always focus on love and repentance, not “experimentation”.
Well stated, Father John. It is altogether troubling that as an academic His Eminence has opted for the path of pathos as opposed to genuine inquiry, and that as a pastor he seems more concerned with notions of fairness than the spiritual health of those who seek it.
God in His mercy and infinite wisdom lead me to Orthodoxy while in the middle of a monogamous same-sex relationship. Since we are good friends first, the only thing I can look forward to is eventual celibacy either within this relationship or not. Trust me, not all “gays” are looking for the church to change its doctrines in any sort of manner and my priest knows what I am going through and he is compassionate but firm. May the Lord have mercy on me, the sinner. I agree with Byron above; it it no more cruel or demeaning than a single heterosexual person being called to the same thing, our focus is on Christ.
God bless you, Michael. Some of the most heroic Orthodox Christians I know are homosexuals who have taken on the burden of celibacy. They truly exemplify what it means to deny oneself, take up their cross, and follow Christ. God bless your journey!
May God continue to bless and strengthen you, my friend and brother in Christ!
God bless you, Michael. I too am a struggler, though I’m married with children. It’s the ideological burden and cognitive dissonance that tempts me with despondency, not so much the fleshly desires. But God is faithful!
Issues of sexuality aside, what seems the most shocking part of the article is Met. Kallistos’s suggestion that there are private sins, as such. But he knows quite well that Orthodoxy sees all sin as in some sense universal in its impact (similarly Salvation). I am at a loss as to how he could possibly suggest otherwise given his body of work- both his essays and his work on the Philokalia.
Excellent and insightful article by Fr. John Cox. His review and analysis confirm what so many chose to overlook or dismiss as “outrageous”, “inflamatory”, and “inaccurate” regarding the full implications of what Met. Kallistos wrote, how he approached the argument, and what he’s actually advocating for.
Fr. John write:
“Which gets us to the heart of the matter. In the hypothetical scenario of the promiscuous and monogamous gay men which follows his question there are two distinct sins under consideration— promiscuity and homosexuality—but they are not distinguished. Rather they are conflated which puts us in a pastoral bind. By asking whether celibacy is a burden too heavy to impose on homosexuals in the Church the Metropolitan certainly doesn’t intend to suggest that promiscuous sex ought to be permissible.
But the only other way to answer his question affirmatively, to get out of the bind, without establishing new inequities between the way homosexual unmarried and heterosexual unmarried people are treated, would be to recognize monogamous homosexual relations as permissible within the Church.
This puts us, the readers, in a situation in which two options emerge more distinctly than anything else: embrace the cruelty of the current situation or change the rules so that promiscuity remains verboten while homosexual monogamy is permitted. This conclusion is not forced on the reader but gently commends itself from the gathered material.”
But what is the ONLY way for the Church to “recognize monogamous homosexual relations as permissible within the Church”? Only through MARRIAGE of course!
“Where do we go from here? The Metropolitan has a very simple answer: we must be willing to experiment. How, he does not say….Whether those conclusions will be supported theologically remains to be seen.”
Thanks for the analysis of Met. Kallistos’ argument Fr. John. For a long time, his Excellency has “deconstructed” (to choose an imprecise term) the anthropological Tradition as it is understood in the dialectical, academic corner of the Church. At any point in time he is not always resting on the same conclusions (e.g. compare his essay in the first edition of Fr. Hopko’s “Women and the Priesthood” to its revision in the second edition). However, his methodology and hermeneutic has been consistent in that because humanity (anthropos) is in a Christian process of “becoming” – we are not yet fully “revealed or “manifest” (ἐφανερώθη ) – his Excellency assumes that that our normative moral and anthropological Tradition is itself relative and thus the object of questioning and experimentation. To do anything less would be to fall into a traditional-ism, or “fundamentalism”. As you point out, his characterization of this “dynamism” has dogmatic and moral implications. If theological anthropology begins with Christ the God-Man, is Christ Himself in also still in a process of becoming or is he “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb 13:8)? If Christ is the Archetype, why would a dynamism manifest itself as relativism in morality and anthropology on the sexual level (or any other)? As you so succinctly put it, where is the “objective” in his Excellencies theology?
Where I hope to add to the conversation is to suggest that we already have evidence as to the direction of this proposed experimentation, we already have tasted of the fruit. Writing for the St. Phoebe Center for the Deaconess, Dr. Carrie Frost explicitly argues that a pseudomorphosis took place in early Christianity and ” acquiesced to Roman norms”. Is her anthropology, in the end a morality, of “absolute parity” Christian Dogma? I would argue it rather comes from “the world”, our contemporary understanding of Justice and Equality that rests on Kantian (and thus Cartesian) anthropology. Met. Kallistos lends the weight of his Episcopacy and scholarly authority to those who argue similiarly when it comes to homsexual identity and proclivities – that these are from nature and that only a modern and enlightened understanding of man allows us to see the pseudomorphosis that has taken root in the Church long ago.
Where would the hypotheses to be tested in these experimentations come from if not from our present age, the ‘signs of our time’? I suspect that his Excellency and everyone like him see the fact that the Spirit is not merely contained in the Church as an indication that He is “out there”, in the world in such a way that He has new truths for us that waiting to be discovered. “Whatever is true, whatever is just…”, however this does not imply that the moral and anthropological Tradition is in some way in error or is relative – something that is in a state of dynamic movement from one moral and ascetical truth/tradition to another. If it is true human beings (and thus the Church) is dynamically in a kind of process of becoming, it has to be the truth that this is an *additive* (or transformative) process and not a mere *relative* or destructive one. The truth of God, of Revelation, of Tradition is not a “creative destruction” in a modern sense. “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.” The Cross is that which does not destroy a life utterly, but transforms into life into Life. Our bodies as male/female binaries are brought forward into the Kingdom.
To see that the shape and character of an experimentation that is couched in the epistemic and metaphysical presuppositions of the Enlightenment is not to be “merely defensive and reactive, “running after the facts,” As Met. Kallistos would have us believe. It is rather to start at the right place – a place of Revelation and Tradition which is a true and firm foundation for our life in God including (especially) in how we provide a reasonable answer to those who suffer passions in this world, which is all of us.
We are still waiting for words from Met. Kallistos that would propose a *Christian* way forward, a Christian way of theologizing about the “dark forest” which is our sojourn in this world. Unfortunately what he offers us instead begins (and thus can only end) within the confines of the world itself.
I haven’t examined Orthodoxy long, but one thing that’s clear to me is that Orthodoxy doesn’t “experiment.” We can find natural truths through trial and error, but right doctrine and practice is not a scientific venture. The Apostles and the fathers didn’t do A/B testing. The Council of Jerusalem didn’t say, “Well, let’s circumcise some Gentiles and leave others uncircumcised and see what works out best.” If the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit, then there is no need or place for experimentation. We may not be able to predict beforehand what the right course will be, as the Apostles in 50 AD didn’t yet know what would become of circumcision, but after 2,000 years of experience, we do have a very good idea of the boundaries of possibility. The idea that we can find doctrinal truth through experimentation is just modern scientism imposed onto Orthodoxy and that is like patching an old garment with new cloth.
I hate to be rather blunt, but, if homosexual acts can be considered not sinful in a monogamous context, so can masturbation in a unmarried context. For homosexual acts are effectively one using the other in a masturbatory act.
Is this the kind of experimentation that the good Metropolitan is inviting the Orthodox to entertain? Is experimentation against the Holy Scriptures and the witness of the Fathers congruent with Tradition? I honestly do not think so.
Barring copyright issues or other obstacles I’m not aware of, it seems to me that blog post should have contained a link to the document being analyzed, or have given information to the reader about the document’s availability and location. FWIW, I myself am not going to read a commentator’s partial summary and analysis of the document before I read the document itself.
Here you go. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/54d0df1ee4b036ef1e44b144/t/5b199e5f03ce64a767c66c7f/1528405608178/%2313%3A14+Foreword.pdf
Fr. Thomas Hopko (+)
Suppose someone said, I don’t know… Let’s use the hottest issue going right now: gay marriage, which is now entering the Orthodox Church and people are defending it. And we say: We cannot affirm this. We do not think it’s right. People will say to us: Who do you think you are? You think that you’re smarter than all of the other people? You think that you’re better than them? You think that they’re going to go burn in hell and all that kind of thing by doing these things? We have to say, and really say with all our heart: No, no, that’s up to God. We have to say, really: I don’t hate anybody. I love the people, you know, the two men who got married yesterday or something, the two women, or whatever.
In a free society like America, I could just say publicly I just think this is terrible and it is contrary to what is true and right and good, but if people are going to do it, they do it, and it is for God to judge them, but it is also for me to say that I don’t agree, and then refuse to go along about it—but without arrogance, without pride, without judgment, without condemnation, without thinking that they are horrible, ugly people who are going to burn in hell. That’s not for us. We cannot go there. St. Maximus did not go there. The three youths in the fiery furnace, they did not go there. They said: God will judge; he does what he wants, but one thing is for sure: We cannot confess with our lips, believe in our heart, what you are asking us to do, because we simply believe that it is not true, right, and good, and not godly, and not Christian.
That’s all we can do, except one more thing. We have to be ready to stand the consequences, and it might very well be that the time is coming and is already here when Orthodox Christians who follow the traditional interpretation of Scripture and the Fathers and the Saints and the Sacraments, when they will be persecuted for that. We might even dare say when we will be persecuted for holding what we do. But if we do find ourselves persecuted and oppressed and treated unjustly and perhaps even be convinced of being stupid and arrogant and immoral by holding our positions as we do, we have to say: Well, that’s too bad that you think that way. We don’t think that way. On the other hand, we want you to know that we love you; we don’t condemn you. We turn you over to God who is merciful and just; he will know what to do, but in the meantime, we do have to say: Forgive us if we’re wrong, Almighty God, but we don’t believe that we are. And therefore, we cannot go along with what you are asking us to believe and to do.
And this has not only to do with sexual morality and marriage. It has to do with the structures of the Church. It has to do with authority in the Church. It has to do with the proper way of explaining and understanding the Sacraments. It has to do with the discipline of participating in the Sacraments. All these questions are there, but the one thing we cannot do is hate anybody for anything, and the other thing we cannot do is to think of ourselves as the only right and just ones. We confess our own sins, and Maximus himself even said he thought that he had to endure all these persecutions and beatings and mutilations so that his own sins could be forgiven. (Resisting Like St. Maximus)
Having lived through all of this conniving in the Episcopal Church, I find it rather fascinating that this scenario is now commencing in the Orthodox Church. Nothing new. I note that following that battle and the acceptance of same-sex marriage, the Episcopal Church is dying. Slowly but surely. One thing I have learned in life is that God always wins.
The basic problem as I see it is that we are trying to serve two masters. God has given us a soul with which He communicates with us. He has also given us our sexuality. They have to learn to live together. Which is the center of our being?
Our present age teaches that it is our sexuality. The Bible teaches us that it is our soul.
Furthermore, basing anything on fairness is like building on shifting sand. Nothing in life is fair. It is not fair that I live in a nice house in a relatively peaceful world while others in the world have had their livihoods destroyed by war, earthquake, illness, murder etc. it is not fair that some people are geniuses with great talent and others just struggle trying to find a niche. One could go on and on about the ‘unfairness’ of the world.
As my father used to say, ” You play the hand you are dealt”. This whining about life being unfair by one small group of people is getting obnoxious.
I have to say that from the moment that Orthodoxy began entertaining the notion that contraception is now, suddenly, acceptable, and that the Holy Fathers and Tradition were never opposed to it(!!!) we were always going to have escalating troubles of this nature throughout the Church. The whole of Christendom condemned and opposed contraception since the very founding of the faith (even the protestant sects) until the Anglicans embraced it and opened the floodgates in 1933. This is a consequence of that slippery slope and how dare we indignantly condemn those within (and without!) Orthodoxy by holding them to the standard of Tradition! Our Lord had a great deal to say about hypocrisy…
I’ve read your article a number times over the last few days contemplating how best to respond to it. What repeatedly astounds me on this blog and others is how many priests and monks are eager to fight off the threat of homosexuality and yet, at the same time, betray that they have no serious interest in understanding or speaking to the gay persons who are surely in the Church and probably within their own parishes. I’ll preface this by saying that the answer to these questions may very well be that all the Church’s traditional sexual ethics must be maintained. I think that is an entirely legitimate position to hold and it may well be right. Yet to write a refutation of Met. Kallistos that completely fails to recognize the challenges a gay people only hurts your cause.
I will pick but one example for now. You write…
“If the burden of celibacy ought not be imposed on those who don’t choose it, shouldn’t we also relieve heterosexual men and women who have, for one reason or another, been unable to find a spouse, of the burden of being celibate? I am sure the good Metropolitan would not accept this proposal.”
First, I think it is very unfair to His Excellency that you completely sidestep the fact that his discussion of the “burden of celibacy” is in reference to what St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7. However, what I want to highlight is the way you equate the situation of unmarried heterosexuals with homosexuals. I’ve seen many Orthodox people make this move in their arguments but if one thinks about it seriously for more than five minutes it becomes clear how absurd it is. What we are really talking about is the ever-present possibility of marriage for straight people and the life-long impossibility of marriage for gay people.
The straight person who simply hasn’t found a spouse has considerable say in the matter. Perhaps their standards are too high, maybe they have things they need to change in their own life to attract a spouse, maybe they just need a friend to set them up with the right person. Yet, even if none of that works, the straight person still gets to live in hope, knowing that their longing for romantic companionship is not only proper but will one day, most likely, be fulfilled in the spouse they simply have not yet found. (We shouldn’t forget either that marriage may actually happen for the straight person multiple times, not just once.)
Now the idea that a straight person in that situation has ANY similarity to the experience of a gay person striving to faithfully follow the Church’s teachings is particularly galling. The gay person must constantly deny any hope of romantic companionship. This isn’t a matter of striving to overcome sexual desire any more than straight person only wants a husband for wife for the sake of sex. Nor is it a matter of patiently waiting, because not only will this desire never have fulfillment. In fact, the gay person must go out of their way to crush any hope for it, sometimes cutting themselves off from those they feel closest to because they’re rendered unable to reciprocate affection.
Ah, but you’ll probably say these people just need to live happy celibate lives. Perhaps this is so, but do you have any idea how challenging this is in practice? Most people idyllically recall being single and how it wasn’t too bad, certainly compared to the challenges of having children. What they fail to notice is that it is one thing to be single and care-free in your 20’s, but it is another thing entirely as you get older. Life moves forward and we live in a world that, even now, is built around families. We exist in parishes built around families. It would be challenging enough to be mid-30’s married and childless. It is excruciating to get older and literally have no one, struggling to relate to everyone around you as you lack both spouse and children. This is further exacerbated by having priests who little understand the situation.
Do you even realize that there are groups of gay people, not only within the Orthodox Church but in other churches as well, who are gay yet strive to be celibate? Have you spoken to any of them about the challenges they face? Not all are ‘liberals’ out to corrupt the Church.
Please forgive me if my tone seems harsh but clergy need to start treating this issue seriously. Perhaps the answer is celibacy but then at least care about gay people enough to not make arguments largely predicated on a total lack of understanding of their situation. Met. Kallistos may very well be wrong but he clearly cares enough to treat the question seriously. You may say the intent here was only to criticize the rhetorical form of the Foreward. Very well, but then please, point me to the other articles you’ve written addressing the issues facing gay people? I did look and found none at all. The distinct impression I often get from clergy who are very eager to stop ANY discussion of homosexuality is that they would really just rather the gays go away because it would be a lot easier to not have to deal with them at all.
You appear to equate that because something is difficult, that it is not understood. Priests are just people, with all the limitations and faults of the rest of us but in my experience (20 years, several priests and “jurisdictions”) they do indeed understand and respond to our sins with all possible love and compassion.
Here is a hard truth: God and Christianity are not defined by the difficulty and struggle of desire. On the contrary, all desire and struggle (and everything else) is defined by (i.e. given meaning) by Christianity. This whole issue is not an “argument” or an attempt to persuade – indeed treating it as such is a central error of Met. Kallistos…
Jon, thanks for your reply. My purpose in writing was simply to elucidate the lines of argument I saw in the Metropolitan’s foreward because I didn’t think they were very clear. In the example you chose I am not making a riposte to His Excellency, I am trying to bring the logic of his argument forward by means of extension so that it can more easily be seen. In other words, I am not making an argument against homosexuality. I am not making any argument at all except in the sense that this kind of analysis of someone else’s argument may reveal inconsistencies, logical leaps, or implications that were not readily apparent, and may be judged by some undesirable or unconvincing. As you said, I am simply criticizing the rhetorical form of the foreward. More on this anon.
Further, I didn’t sidestep His Excellency on 1 Corinthians 7 because I don’t think he intended to deploy it here. To make the argument that Paul’s principle that “it is better to marry than to burn” can be applied to homosexual persons would require one to demonstrate that 1) the principle can be extended beyond the context of Pauline ethical categories, or, 2) such an extension would not actually be an transgression of Pauline norms. Either approach would require a great deal of argument to have even a hope of being convincing. A passing inference is wholly inadequate to the question and I am not prepared to believe that Metropolitan Kallistos is a stupid man.
To return to the purpose of my article, you ask why I haven’t published other articles addressing the real difficulties faced by homosexual people in the Church. First I should point out that I don’t publish articles very often at all. The most recent post on my blog is probably two years old. The only reason I published in this case was because Metropolitan Kallistos is an important and influential figure in the Church. His words carry more weight than mere scholars and I felt they deserved to be considered closely. Second, in my own imperfect and very modest way, I have tried to be a good friend and support for same sex attracted men whom God has placed in my life.
But this line of questioning about my own understanding of and sensitivity to the struggles of gay people in the Church points back to what I said at the beginning of this comment. My article was not intended to be a pastoral reflection on the subject of homosexuality any more than it was a theological response to His Excellency’s argument. So it seems to me that part of your criticism here is that I didn’t write a different article than the one I produced.
Finally, I will say that I most certainly do not want SSA folk to go away. Nor do I want to stop any talk of their struggles in the Church. But, as Edith Humphrey said, ambiguity serves no one. Let our talk be conducted as Christian reflection on serious matters should be, with honesty and clarity.
Fr. John, thank you for your reply.
I already conceded that you’re writting to criticize the rhetorical form of the forward (Although I think it playing coy to suggest this isn’t an intentional refutation). I am not then, as you suggest, criticizing you for not writing a different article.
Instead, my criticism focused on a particular point in your article (equating the situation of unmarried heterosexuals with that of homosexuals) that I think suggests you have not adequately considered the issue at hand. You’ve chosen to not address this in your response, but that was the crux of my point. I went on to question your own understanding and sensitivity to the issue because I do not see how anyone who has taken the time to acquaint himself or herself with these issues, and with gay people in general, could have made such a casual error.
I realize you don’t publish very often and have not in two years, but that illustrates my point. You’ve chosen to expend your energies to refute/point out His Excellency’s “ambiguity” in a Forward where he explicitly calls for discussion of sexuality. Again, it is entirely fair to disagree with the Metropolitan, but one could do so while still acknowledging gay people and their legitimate struggles, rather than coming across as having not carefully considered their situation at all. Everyone leaps to action to defend the Church from the threat of gay marriage, yet the clergy fall silent when it comes to the real struggles of gay people trying to be faithful (and celibate) within the Orthodox Church. Surely one can do both at the same time? You say that you don’t want gay people to go away or to stop any talk of their struggles. I certainly don’t doubt your sincerity, but where exactly does this happen now? To even mention anyone being gay results in uproar and refutations such as this one. You should read some of the truly ugly comments about gay people made online by Orthodox Christians and even priests.
Jon, I’m not being coy, I promise. In order for it to be a refutation I would have to respond to His Excellency’s argument with one of my own. My program was much more modest. I wanted to show the shape of his own argument. That’s only a refutation to the extent that people don’t find the argument persuasive once you show them the shape of it.
In any case, I hear what you are saying, that the comparison of homosexual celibates and heterosexual ones was inapt. If I grant it on pastoral grounds I still think it holds logically for two reasons. First, the standard the Metropolitan sets here is fairness, which is subjective. Second, that particular argument is one I am saying he would NOT accept. In other words, it’s a bad argument when I raise it. It isn’t intended to be taken seriously. So let’s look at the argument more closely.
Question: Is unchosen, permanent celibacy a burden too heavy for us to impose?
Answer 1: No. Ok, great. Then we don’t have a problem to fix here. But he’s already suggested we do have a problem that needs to be addressed, or considered at least. So “no” is obviously not the correct answer in the context of this foreward.
Answer 2: Yes. Ok. How do we deal with that? A number of theoretical possibilities come to mind. We could encourage a gay person to get married to an opposite sex partner; put them through conversion therapy; allow fornication (we already tolerate it in the sense of not barring people from communion for years at a time for doing it.); or bless same sex marriages. We can dismiss the first two options out of hand. That leaves us with allowing fornication and blessing same sex marriage. This is where the rhetorical question of the heterosexual incel comes in. If we bless promiscuity (directly or indirectly by dropping it from things we identify as sin) that eliminates the maximum sexual unfairness by doing away with all (or almost all) involuntary celibacy. But the Metropolitan is obviously not suggesting that we ought to bless promiscuity. This is literally unthinkable, which is why I say that he would not be persuaded by that kind of appeal to fairness even if it was logically consistent. In my article all of this was by way of pointing out that we are being pushed toward the only remaining option; blessing same sex marriage. If we take the question at face value it’s the only logical option. Blessing same sex marriage would eliminate involuntary celibacy for everyone, at least theoretically, without allowing for promiscuity.
I don’t see my article as an attempt to shut down or shout down anything. I see it as a contribution to the discussion. What I did here was try to clarify His Excellency’s own argument so that it could be evaluated more easily. If I wanted to leap into action to protect the Church from gay marriage or establish a public voice on sexual issues in general I had lots of other opportunities to do so in the past. This isn’t the only time sex has come up in the past 2-3 years. I don’t have any interest in that. But, as I said, Metropolitan Kallistos’ voice is more important than the others and merits greater attention.
One point that comes to mind, is the fact that “having a romantic relationship” is not one of the goals of the Christian spiritual life. I have seen more than one marriage based on romantic feelings come apart in a rather hard way. “I couldn’t wait to be with her”, “He was all I could think about”, clearly a kind of idolatry that led in the end to divorce. A marriage needs a serious and devoted soul to carry on for “better or for worse”. So what we are looking at is the spiritual state of the homosexual. In my experience, there is much hurt and even abuse or negelct behind homosexual feelings. A fellow priest once shared an idea with me. It was, if I am not mistaken, taken from St John Chrysostom. A homosexual’s acting upon his sexual feelings is actually his punishment. Not at all politically correct, but then when was Orthodoxy such? Clearly this is not atv all the tone to take when speaking with homosexulas in 2019, but how is bending to emotional pressure going to help the situation?
I regret that this Fr. John Cox, whom I do not know, has chosen to make a caricature of Metropolitan Kallistos’ questions in the foreword that the latter wrote for an anthology of articles discussing the difficult issue of homosexuality. While Fr. John refers to “The venerable Metropolitan,” he doesn’t really get his point.
First of all, I must be clear that NO individual, no layman or bishop, is infallible. Metropolitan Kallistos could well be wrong, and it doesn’t shake may faith in the Orthodox Catholic Church at all, because the Church is the Body of Christ, and it is only the whole Church that is infallible. Indeed, most of the heretics through history have been bishops, from prominent sees at that, and the Church has remained “the Pillar and Bulwark of the truth.”
Nevertheless, I think Metropolitan Kallistos was very thoughtful and serious in his foreword to the volume of The Wheel that’s in question. I have attached the text of what he wrote as a PDF. It is always better to look at the primary source, in this case what the Metropolitan actually wrote and the sensitivity with which he wrote it, than simply to rely on a commentary.
Metropolitan Kallistos raises the questions that we pastors—including me—are challenged with all the time by the world and by our own young people. We struggle to respond in a cogent way that makes sense to this generation. The old ways of answering no longer work, and we are losing this generation from religion altogether on account of this issue. They are using our religious language of love and compassion against us, charging that not to accept homosexuality is unloving. The devil is using this very issue as his wedge to pry our young people from us! I believe failure to address these questions is to roll over and play dead and accept defeat by the evil one. God forbid!
Here are a few quotes from Metropolitan Kallistos’ foreword:
1. As John Behr insists, “What it is to be human and how our existence as sexed and sexual beings relates to our common humanity” is “perhaps the defining question of our era.” In the past, Orthodox have usually been reluctant to discuss such matters; but the questions cannot now be avoided. Silence is not an answer.
2. I am not suggesting here that we should bluntly set aside the traditional Orthodox teaching, but we do need to enquire more rigorously into the reasons that lie behind it.
3. Nowhere is it said, in negative terms, that marriage is a remedy against lust, a way of keeping under control our disordered passions and desires.
I think he’s just trying to frame the discussion of the articles to which the foreword is prefixed and to state the questions that are being thrown at us by the world. I agree with him: we can no longer take the view that questions can’t even be raised. They must be raised and discussed and sound responses given. This does NOT mean changing our morals or ethics at all; it just means answering the questions “why” in language that make sense to this generation.
This has been the challenge of theologians in every generation. This is what the great Church Father St. Athanasius had to do when he coined the term homoousios. Athanasius faithfully cast the Semitic language of the New Testament into a Greek philosophical term to make clear orthodox Christology clear to his contemporaries, against the errors of Arianism. This is what we must do.
As the Dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, Fr. John Meyendorff of blessed memory, charged me and my colleagues on the first day of orientation for entering students, “You are not here just to learn what the Church Fathers said; you are here to become Church fathers!”
Forgive me for anything I misstate or misunderstand, but the issue here seems very clear to me and was laid out clearly in this post and in Fr. John’s responses to comments. Following the Met.’s arguments (or questions, if you will) to their logical conclusion (based on the fact that he is outright asking if celibacy is an “unfair” burden) you end up with blessing gay marriage as the only solution. Though, personally, I am not against matching gay ppl of the opposite sex in marriages, if they are willing, ultra-orthodox jews are doing it with some success.
I would ask these questions, are the following undue burdens on people based on requiring them to control their passions and refrain from sin:
1. People have food addictions. Is it unfair to ask someone like this to fast half the year? To not eat too much? Or should they STRUGGLE with this?
2. There are men who struggle with lust. Is it unfair to ask them not to masturbate or cheat on their wives? Or should we condone this behavior since it’s not fair to ask them to struggle?
3. Apply this to any other addiction or struggle with sin.
We can’t condone sin or say that clear sins are no longer sins just to make Christianity “easier”. It’s a narrow path for a reason. That doesn’t mean we don’t recognize people’s struggles or hold it against them forever if they inevitably fall into their sin as we ALL do).
I will conclude with this: At what point will this same logic apply to pedophiles? Yes, there are people in this world who are only attracted to members of the opposite sex… Similarly, there are people who are only attracted to children (or to animals for that matter)… Do we not DEMAND that these people control their passions? Sometimes with the threat of jail time. Where does the line get drawn here? When do these mental illnesses stop being mental illnesses that require help and should be suppressed and become accepted in society as a lifestyle choice or “I was born this way”?
Greetings fellow traveller,
It seems to me that the debate which Metropolitan Kallistos Ware has entered is complicated at the very least by two factors: a) divergence on the denotative and connotative meaning of the cardinal virtues and b) divergent visions of the rightful relationship between them (that is, which is ultimate). Perhaps these two factors pertain to the question of where one locates Chaos/Darkness and where one locates Order/Light.
1) For egalitarian communalists, the ultimate virtue is justice rather than wisdom. In fact, it seems that such people equate justice and wisdom, and affirm the two other cardinal virtues as subservient. Courage becomes fortitude in the face of received tradition; and moderation becomes strategic concession to received tradition only insofar as necessary until society celebrates those who were least celebrated under the regime of received tradition; or, viewed from the other direction, moderation is toleration of what was formerly intolerable until it can be celebrated. Now the most ardent egalitarian communalists settling upon the ethos of the Sexual Revolution could simply recede from society as a multi-sexual nudist colony of mix-and-match committed pairs, disappointed with the fact that most are unprepared to cast off the clothing of tradition that veils their understanding. When those dedicated to the ultimate ideal of wise justice as simple mutuality and compassion for the “other” give a hearing to zealots, who lay a heavy accent upon confrontational courage, their ethos takes a strident turn. Patience with individualist and hierarchical accretions to simply Edenic mutuality comes to an end; and a hard progressivist run down the highway ensues to blow out the carbon build-up in the engine of society by force. As a result, what was viewed as wise tradition or Order comes to be viewed as intimidating, immoderate, and unjust Chaos; and what was viewed as Chaos comes to be viewed as one’s own inner truth or order, whether one believes that truth is one’s preference to be transsexual or one’s genetic inheritance of an alternate sexual orientation or one’s innate right to end one sexual relationship to begin another.
2) For zealots (whether leftist or rightist), the ultimate virtue is fortitude/courage as depicted by a caricature of Samson the Hebrew or Hercules the Greek or Conan the Barbarian. Other virtues must serve the grand purpose of courage in battle. As one might suspect, the other virtues are subservient to courage. Moderation becomes the modus operandi for learning the self-control needed for martial discipline; justice becomes the principle of retaliation (tit-for-tat pay back in the struggle for survival and hegemony); and wisdom, if not equated with courage, becomes the subordinate virtue of tactical ingenuity that enables the zealot to maintain the upper hand. The grandmaster of chess, for such people, is wise because he understands strategy in pursuit of conquest. The National Socialists and Antifa, then, operate under the same rubric of zealotry even if they disagree about the status of homosexuality. Both movements opt for straightforward confrontation of the ancien regime identified as Chaos (whether it is viewed as non-Aryan or as a patriarchal sexist or homophobe or transphobe). For Order is defined from within as one’s own truth whether it is the choice to be transsexual or the inheriting of a homosexual gene; and Chaos must be crushed in the struggle for survival.
3) For libertarians, the ultimate virtue is wisdom as temperance/moderation. The remaining two virtues serve the development of moderate wisdom. Courage becomes the will to self-determination, the choice to accept the risk of becoming; and justice is education in the school of hard knocks as one learns probabilities and certainties regarding which consequences rightly or actually flow from particular actions. The wise one may then mature into moderation as he navigates through the various kinds of pleasure on offer, taking up only those that maximise cost-benefit analysis — even in sexual matters. Such people live in a thoroughly desacralised, quantitative, negotiable worldview, in which just law concerns itself with limiting the impact of the consequences of one person’s sexual decisions on others while also limiting the power to exact sexual conformity from others, even in sexual matters. Only when homosexuality is viewed, with hard evidence, as a public danger would a libertarian actively restrict its legal status; and only when zealous sexual revolutionaries come to impose the celebration and practice non-binary sexuality would libertarians thrown in their lot with conservatives who demand the freedom of the narrower conscience. Otherwise, it is live and let live as everyone seeks their own more or less moderate path.
4) Tradition-minded persons prize wisdom as the ultimate virtue, and ensure that it is not equated to the three other virtues. Courage becomes the fortitude to face the Chaos in one’s own soul and in the world. It is the fount and the crucible of moral formation as one faces the reality of Order; for as Screwtape observes, the total coward lives in the misery of chaos within and develops no ordering virtue (see Rev. 21:8 “For the cowardly…will not inherit the Kingdom”). Moderation becomes the temperate recognition of two goods enacted when appropriate: one learns that sexual engagement with a spouse is productive, and that sexual disengagement with a spouse is also productive. The result is the temperate sexual engagement of true love. Justice becomes the authentically egalitarian voice that recognises which consequences rightly follow from action. It is not the anomic spirit that would abolish natural law in the name of compassion, or of the courageous will-to-survive or of self-determination, but the spirit that would uphold the natural law as it applies to the rich and to the poor, to the male and to the female, to the compatriot and to the alien; to the leader and to the follower. Wisdom become the judicious skill that hears the voice of courage/fortitude, the voice of moderation/temperance, the voice of justice, and refuses to equate itself to any of them as it discerns good and evil in the light of truth about reality and the greatest purpose: love of God and of neighbour. The wise one judges when permanent exceptions or temporary oikonomia or the extension of mercy serves the greater good without changing truth become wisdom is the skill of discerning good and evil informed by truth, who is Jesus Christ. Courage is the cutting tool (that cuts evil away or cuts the good out from evil); temperance is the measuring tool; justice is the pounding tool (that fastens truth to love); and wisdom is discerning which tool is needed at which juncture for the task of building the truth-in-love.
Proverbs 22:28 asserts as wisdom the command, “Do not remove an ancient landmark, which your fathers have laid.” Applied to the question of sexuality, the landmarks are male and female rightly related as king-husband and queen-wife. It seems to me that Metropolitan Kallistos Ware has removed an ancient landmark, or at the very least, has prepared the ground for an ancient landmark to be removed. I do wonder to what extent his longstanding affection for Mme Elisabeth Behr-Sigel, a lady who accepted pastoral ordination prior to Chrismation, has bent his ear away from the hierarchical nature of his office charged with discerning wisdom and proclaiming truth.
Oh Lord, grant us priests who humbly embrace their hierarchical office as priests, custodians of Word and Altar; who wisely refuse to allow the ear to be bent by the social justice warrior; who will not attempt to be nicer than God, but rather would emulate his wisdom and goodness, come what may!
Godspeed to all, loved by God, who struggle with homosexual inclination or with involuntary celibacy, whether inside and outside of sacramental marriages.
“Anatomy” or “Autopsy”? This is sad news.
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