Tuesday, July 12. 2011
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There is much in Fr. Alexis' article to comment on, but the part I appreciated the most, if I interpreted it correctly, is that too often the Orthodox Church in the modern era has tended to define itself by who it keeps out, who it denies access to, who it keeps out of passing through the airport security booth. This person is a homosexual, therefore they cannot approach the Lord's Table; this person is divorced, therefore they cannot remain in the clergy; that person is married, therefore they cannot shepherd the flock of Christ.
As he mentions, we have caught ourselves in maintaining the horizontal access of reality, but we have totally forgotten the verticle dimension, of what brings us closer to God and what can bring others closer to Christ. I have a sense that one day, as we stand before the Lord, we will not be asked how many people we excluded from the Lord's Service, but rather how many people we were able to encourage, no matter who they are, to be included. The Lord will remind us that it is His Table, not ours, and it is His judgement, not ours, that matters. He will remind us that it is His flock and we have sinned by rejecting capable shepherds because of marital status, married, not married, formerly married, whatever.
If one is capable of bringing souls to Christ, and nurturing them as able shepherds, why have we rejected them? There will be an accounting, and I fear our lack of vision of the verticle will weigh far more heavily than our rejection of those on the horizontal scale.
#1 Sean O'Clare on 2011-07-12 11:05
An Alaskan friend shared his reaction to Fr. Vinogradov's essay:
I never knew we had any priests or God forbid Bishops with any common sense or true knowledge of an all forgiving God...
I have never read anything pertaining to human sexuality that compares to this... NOTHING...
To see this coming from within the church.... this is the sort of person who ought to become a Bishop..."
Nina Tkachuk Dimas
#2 Nina Dimas on 2011-07-12 11:42
Dear Fr. Alexis,
I appreciated your reflection very much. I think you brought up many excellent points. Each of us is unique in the eyes of God, even as we attend the same liturgy. We are not cookie-cutter images of each other. The stronger are there to help the weaker. We each are at our own spiritual developmental level, and while any of us can point the way, and seek spiritual guidance, who of any of us can continue on the Way with coercion or force? (That is, coercion to say to anyone you are not welcome anymore in this church, as long as any of us are struggling to some degree to be with God; I don't know how much I struggle, but I do struggle).
Steps forward towards Christ and our neighbor more authentically come from love, compassion, empathy, and kind words. But steps forward towards Christ rarely come from judgment, hate, and condemnation: for any of us, no matter how perfectly we think we may be in our relationship towards Christ and our neigbor.
Each of us is made to be in church, to be with God, no matter how imperfect we are, or what we may be struggling with. There is free-will and choice, but free will and choice have even more of their fallen say and hayday outside the loving arms of the church. In church at least we have a fighting chance (!) to struggled towads God. How can we strive to be in communion with God without a community to be in?
Among other thought provoking things you wrote, toward the end you said this:
"The development of my full humanity, in consideration of the fallen condition in which I work towards my salvation requires me to take into account my weaker brethren [Romans 14]. Herein lies the root of the Church’s ascetical life. Self-restraint, the restraint of my “self” is precisely so that the “other” next to me can arrive at fruition, can reach his or her own “goal” without the imposition of my ego and my claims.... The beginning, as we look for beginnings, and as I see it, is therefore, a true asceticism of restraint on all fronts. It ought to be a restraint on the part of the believing and worshipping gay person, as it must be for the bishop, the priest, the monk, and every layman or woman—a restraint in judgment, in quick responses and final answers.
I believe that you articulated it well, how we are to work with all of this. Thank you.
#3 Patty Schellbach on 2011-07-12 11:44
What a beautiful reflection! I am thankful for this and for Father Robert Arida's response
#4 Alice Carter on 2011-07-12 13:02
Is this reflection really about gender issues? If not, why the title?
#5 Jackson Downs on 2011-07-12 16:28
The 'priests' homily ,without saying so, is based on the false tenet that sexuality, whether hetero or homo, must be expressed openly, without regard to the people around them. The idea of celibacy in this article is not even a footnote. Instead, he goes on and on, blah,blah, like a long sermon, building a tower of babel with his own fine-sounding words, twisting and turning them into a pretty tapestry.
God made a man and woman to continue the human race. Go forth and multiply. That only happens with a man and a woman. Everything else is abomination. Why is that so hard to understand? Mainly because strong-headed people don't want to follow a clearly enunciated tenet of our faith from thousands of years back because it doesn't agree with what they want NOW. How divine.
It's like this: If you discover you are homosexual, consider it your cross to bear in this life and carry it, CELIBATELY. To do otherwise is to sin. If you want to sin anyway, go ahead. But don't expect God or His church to look at it as anything else.
In our American society we understand that to desire sex with children, animals,multiple spouses, etc. is wrong. But now a very vocal group has stamped up on the stage and are screaming continuously at the top of their lungs that homosexuality is OK. IT IS NOT, no matter how hard you scream or how many times in succession you declare it to be. The teachings of our church are so crystal clear on this, it doesn't even warrant valid debate. We are told you will be assaulted all your life by people telling you things to be true that are not. If we do not follow what the church has taught and fall away with false prophets, the end is ours, not the church's.
We shouldn't hate the homosexual. In fact, we shouldn't even give much of a care if our brethren is that way or not. We are told not to worry about these things, but instead tend to the things of the kingdom of God. If the homosexual is leading a chaste, celibate life in the realization that he has his cross to carry, it won't make a difference in the life of the parish anyway. But if the homosexual comes flaming into church and loudly and brashly demands his sin to be legitimized, recognized and even, eck, married, how else can the church respond but to inform the person their behavior is a sin? The sin is not being homosexual. It is how the individual deals with it that sin has the opportunity to enter in. Imagine if a man came into church declaring his sexual love for a child or his goat or his three wives. For some reason, we clearly see the abomination in the latter instances, but not in the former, although there is no difference in the eyes of the Lord. Sin is sin, there are no gradations of 'sinfulness' in His eyes. All sin is abomination, is it not? To the folks with homosexual tendencies who are reading this,I hope to be clear: Celibacy is the only course open to you for salvation as far as what the church has taught for 2000+ years. Hey, maybe I'm wrong. God is the final and true judge. But I can't find in either Testament where any tolerance for the sin of homosexuality is merited to the extent we as a church and a nation are being bombarded these days. To the contrary, we are warned to watch out for this kind of shenanigans as coming from the deceiver, telling us sin is good, or at least not so bad as the church makes it out to be.
If you want to be homosexual, married in a church and kiss at the altar, go become any number of faiths that stomach this sin. I will stand with my fellow right-believers and say 'no' to this behavior and uphold the tenets of marriage that Christ instituted.
You want rights?
You have the right to 'worship' at any other church in the nation. Go exercise them.
Mr. Vinogradov has very eloquently enunciated the current dogma of the deceiver. 'We can't be sure what sin is.' Nice try, fella. Not biting on that hook.
#6 Not Deceived on 2011-07-12 17:43
This is the type of Reflection that we need to see more of, not just on this site, but in the OCA magazine, as well as other venues!!! What permeated (actually, oozed) out of every sentence of this article was the unconditional love that God has for all His creatures!! It was also good to see the stark contradiction of what we really should be focusing on and the sham externals that we so often sadly get trapped in (position, status, vestments, etc.)!!! Fr Alexis, may God bless you to keep reminding us of the "one thing needful" (Luke 10) that we so easily and tragically lose sight of!!
#7 David Barrett on 2011-07-12 18:27
#8 Anonymous on 2011-07-12 18:29
I would like to thank Father V. for is insightful, well-written and compassionate reflection. No doubt he will take some heat for it, but we need articulate voices like his to overcome the hysteria over this matter that's being shouted by some. The depth of his insight about the Church in history and God's continuing love for Her are evident in every line. Many years, Father V.
#9 Matt Gates on 2011-07-12 19:05
More of the same--"Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone"--but they always forget the ending "Go and sin no more!"
#10 Robert on 2011-07-12 21:00
This is gibberish, cloaked in academic prose. It is certainly not the Mind of Christ or His Church.
Look; If a woman came in and said she was having sex with some of the husbands in the congregation and she had no intention of stopping would you give her communion? Without repentance or even acknowledging that what she's doing is wrong? I think not.
So, why is it OK if a man comes in and says he's having sex with some of the husbands? This is not hard to understand.
We should not even be having this conversation, it makes no sense.
#11 Anonymous on 2011-07-13 04:55
To put it simply this is a load of crap. Or more eloquently put by Fr. John Whiteford on the "Orthodox Forum" yahoo group:
It is time for the faithful of the OCA to wake up, because the camel's nose is
not only in the tent... the camel is inviting his friends over for lunch in the
tent. You can let this sort of nonsense go for awhile, but if you do not
confront this sort of thinking head on now, it will be the ruin of the OCA.
What we have in this essay, is a load of gobbledygook that is designed to send
up a pious and intellectual sounding smoke screen, but the bottom line is that
Fr. Alexis is saying that the Church's stance on homosexuality is due for a
change, and the change he has in mind is apparent to anyone who wishes to see
the writing on the wall.
As an experiment to test the validity of what he is saying, read his essay and
imagine that it is not about homosexuality, but pedophilia, or alcoholism. Do
pedophiles "choose" to become pedophiles? Do alcoholics choose to be alcoholics?
No more than homosexuals choose to be homosexuals. Do such people need the love
of Christ and the help of the Church? Of course. Should the Church change its
position on drunkenness, pedophilia, or homosexuality to facilitate that? In
King James terms: "God forbid! In more colloquial terms: "Hell no!"
As a matter of fact heterosexual marriage or celibacy is the absolute norm of
the Church. It always has been, and always will be. There is absolutely no
basis in the Tradition of the Church for questioning that, debating it, or
negotiating it. That we have priests that openly are questioning this clear
historical fact is what is absolutely abnormal. It is a cancer, and that cancer
will either be removed from the OCA, or it will spread.
To anticipate a repeat of a previously made charge, I do not say this because I
have an axe to grind against the OCA. I have always defended the OCA when some
in ROCOR suggested that we could not be in communion with it, and I can point
you to the posts if anyone doubts me. I raise my concerns because I want to see
Orthodox unity in America, and want to encourage the best of relations with the
OCA, but Orthodox unity can only be based upon a unity in the Orthodox Faith and
Tradition. The modernist nonsense we are talking about here is not Orthodox,
and did not originate within Orthodoxy. It comes from Liberal Protestantism, and
is being promoted by those who have perhaps spent a bit too much time hobnobbing
with liberal Episcopalians and Presbyterians.
"Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light,
and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!"
"Professing to be wise, they became fools... who exchanged the truth of God for
the lie... For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their
women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the
men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another,
men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the
penalty of their error which was due. And even as they did not like to retain
God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things
which are not fitting... who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those
who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also
approve of those who practice them" (Romans 1:22ff).
Presbyter John Whiteford
St. Jonah Orthodox Church
Parish Home Page: http://www.saintjonah.org/
ROCOR Discussion Group: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/orthodox-rocor/
Parish News: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/saintjonah/
#12 Dan on 2011-07-13 06:17
An atypically sober reflection as conserns this subject one oft used for personal posturing, appolegy and shallow moralizing. Thank you.
#13 anon on 2011-07-13 09:22
Dear Fr. Vinogradov,
Thank you for your reflection. Forgive me if I am misunderstanding you in some way, but implicit in your reflection seems to be the suggestion that all those who hold to the traditional teaching on the subject of active homosexuality do so mindlessly, judgmentally, and with no apparent pastoral love or sensitivity for those struggling with same sex attraction.
Yes, of course, all human beings are made for communion and love with others, but the central question here is this: does active homosexuality truly meet that need for love as God so designed or not? Is it an adequate substitute in a fallen world or, in the long run, a harmful counterfeit and a lie? That's the central question. Many in our tradition believe that the latter is the case, and they do so from a place of genuine love and concern, not from judgment or a need to circle the wagons.
#14 Theone on 2011-07-13 09:59
I read Father Alexis' reflection on “gender issues” with great interest, as he is a senior and well-respected priest of the Diocese of New York and New Jersey.
Father Alexis has a reputation as a wonderful and caring pastor. He has been taught by his mentor, Father Schmemman, that the entirety of creation is to be sanctified and infused with God's grace, and that we, as members of the Body of Christ, are called to aid in this transformation. This is an inspiring perspective on the life we are called to live in accordance with our Baptism and Chrismation, and it is a hallmark of Father Alexis' priestly ministry.
Nevertheless, it is distressing that Father Alexis would so readily dismiss those who would look to the writings of the saints (those who have been sanctified, and who knew what it meant to be filled with God's grace) and “proof-texts” from the Holy Scriptures in order to learn the mind of the Church on this topic. If Father Alexis wants the Church to re-evaluate Her approach to same-sex attraction, homosexual acts or the like, he will have to address, at some point, the Tradition of the Church, in all its forms, which speaks with one voice in declaring homosexual acts to be disordered and same-sex attraction to be a broken expression of human sexuality.
The Church does not “quarantine” those who struggle with these afflictions. In fact, we can say that, in some sense, the Church does view same-sex attraction as “normal”—insofar as it is within the “normal” range of temptations and distortions that threaten man's integrity. Homosexual acts and same-sex attraction have existed at every point of the Church's life, in every place, along with adultery, fornication, self-gratification, pornography and—yes, read Father Cyprian Kern's book on pastoral theology—bestiality.
In every case, the Church does not identify the sinner with the sin, no matter how odious the sin, no matter how many times the sin is committed (and subsequently forgiven). Our identity, our life, is “hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3); it is a deep, irreducible, eradicable mystery known only to God and revealed only partly to us, until the never-ending day of Christ's kingdom, when we see Him, and ourselves, fully.
This is the telos and foundation and blueprint of the life of man which God created, a life so precious to Him that He went to the Cross to save it. Thus, the Church knows how to forgive, how to heal, how to strengthen, how to chasten, how to raise up—better than we as individuals do, as we are mired in our own failings and sins—and it longs to do all of these things for us that we may be saved.
What the Church does not do, however, is call unrighteousness righteousness; it does not, and never will, see sin as anything other than sin—a separation of man from God that needs to be healed.
When we conflate sin and righteousness, we place ourselves outside of the communion of the saints, outside of the life-giving Tradition of the Church, and we reject the treasury of moral theology, anthropology and Christology that we have inherited through no merit of our own. No one can teach with authority beyond, above, or outside this Tradition, but only within the Tradition.
Though there is no support for normalizing homosexual relationships in the Church, there are valid, worthwhile questions regarding the practice of pastoral care in the cases of those struggling with same-sex attraction. Perhaps Father Alexis would care to bring this up at the upcoming clergy symposium for the diocese? This would give his brother clergy an opportunity to discuss these matters openly, as they seek guidance in how best to show the love of Christ to those struggling in repentance. Speaking as someone who, God willing, will be ordained to the holy priesthood in a month's time, I know I would benefit greatly from a discussion like this.
#15 Subdeacon Alexis Schmidt on 2011-07-13 21:57
Thanks, Fr Alexis, for a compassionate and gracious reflection. We had a priest once who focused so much on sins of a sexual nature during confession, that one couldnt help but wonder who was struggling more in that area..the "confessee" or the confessor.
#16 Anne on 2011-07-14 09:41
I didn't write either of these but they are True!
Archpriest Alexander F C Webster
Just when we begin to wonder whether some of the recent musings of OCA priests and laity on homosexuality may not be what they seem, along comes another one that raises the rhetorical ante and reminds us that we are, indeed, whether we desire it or not, engaged in spiritual warfare.
In a bizarre, presumably unintended way, Fr. Alexis Vinogradov’s latest “reflection” on the OCA”News” website is another case of the gift that keeps on giving. It affords us who cherish the moral tradition of the Church, along with all the wonderful facets of Orthodoxy as the light of the world as long as we reflect Christ the True Light, an unexpected windfall—a sobering glimpse of the way the spirit of the world (note the lower case) has captured the minds, speech, and, actions of some who would take it upon themselves to lecture and even scold us [fill in the blank: simplistic, frightened, totalitarian, intolerant, superficial, intransigent, self-centered, unrestrained, callous, spiritually weak—Fr. Vinogradov hurls all of those epithets our way in his brief for affirmation of the "other"] Orthodox Christians who reject the tiresome, very au courant notion that the times are a-changin’ and we must change with them.
He has thrown down a gauntlet for all the Orthodox world to see, a public challenge to abandon ancient Christian verities under the guise of a “conversation.” I, for one, am ready—and, I hope, able—to retrieve that gauntlet, brush aside the pseudo-dialogue, and engage in spiritual combat.
Here is the link to this, at once, erudite and tedious essay: http://www.ocanews.org/news/Vinogradov7.12.11.html. I invite a “conversation” about its content, what it portends, in particular, for the Orthodox Church in America, and how we can repulse this frontal assault on Orthodox moral tradition.
May God the Holy Trinity, the God of Truth and Virtue, sustain us in the dark times ahead.
Archpriest Alexander F. C. Webster, PhD
Chaplain (Colonel), U.S. Army Reserve (Ret.)
Board of Advisors, American Orthodox Institute (AOI)
Dear fellow Christian,
In today's perilous times, (2 Tim.3: 1) the enemies of Orthodox Christianity are not only numerous but within the very walls of the church; the weeds of neo-idolatry, syncretism, secularism, and pan-heresy are blooming and de-Christianizing the confused members of the Orthodox church of Christ. Today more than ever we need to abide by Saint Paul's deception-proof recipe found in the second letter to the Thessalonians, Stand fast and hold on to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle. (2:15) The Lord gives the same instruction to the bishop of Thyateira and accordingly to all the sincere members of his body, Hold on what you have until I come back (Rev. 2:25). The true gospel of Christ, the fullness of Christianity and its ability to heal today's heavily burdened man remain in the bosom of Traditional Orthodoxy, the ark of salvation.
Orthodoxy came to this hemisphere over one hundred years ago and the leadership of the church in its vast majority instructed the priests to alter their traditional attire, in order to facilitate the establishment of the Church. It was thought that these "progressive" measures would help make us more acceptable to the financially powerful Catholic and Protestant denominations. Unfortunately, we have been overly influenced by the superficial theology of these secular forms of Christianity and now we find ourselves in the position of the bishops of Sardis and Laodicea; we have a name that we live but we are dead or at best, lukewarm. Christ is calling us to WAKE UP!!!
My dear family in Christ, it would seem that this century long American Orthodox experiment has missed its mark. We have no saintly fathers or elders to speak of with the exception of several Russian Orthodox Saints who practiced the very traditional form of Orthodoxy. In the same period in the small country of Greece, alone we can name and boast about many dozens of sanctified, miraculous, truly charismatic, and saintly fathers. Today more than ever we need to bring to the surface the bright example of these saintly contemporary fathers and their God-Inspired Traditional Orthodox teachings to help us understand that holiness is attainable; purification, illumination and theosis are attainable even in these dark ages of materialism, atheism and secularism.
Saint Nikodemos Publications
(Editor's note: Once again, an error of fact in the latter piece that cries out to be corrected: to suggest the only holiness that has been found in this continent was from Russian Orthodox traditionalists is wrong, absurd and rather insulting to the generations of Orthodox Christians we honor as the Saints of North America every year," known and unknown, bishops, priests, monastics, pious men, women and children..." This includes Greeks, Carpatho-Russians, Serbs, Albanians, Romanians, Arabs, and so many more. It is their prayers, as much as our wonderful fathers from the Russian Orthodox tradition, that sustain and encourage us. To denigrate them and dismiss them is shameful.)
#17 Alex on 2011-07-14 20:41
Just a comment on the 50 dollars if anyone wants comments from the peanut gallery...
1. 50 dollars is a convenient number to propose, but really a strategic plan ought to be the driver for the dollars, and the 50 sounds like a rabbit in the hat amount...just saying
2. If the real goal is to shift spending from labor to some other place, wouldn't the resolution more appropriately be just that?
Finally, in my opinion, if the church is operating at a surplus, that ought to be a cause for celebration and the church ought to pay down Honesdale (this could be an incremental step in the churches strategy, but is only a tactical piece, not really overall strategy). I also believe the Metropolitan and Synod of the church ought to play a large role in determining these amounts based on strategic plan and a reasonable approximation of churches wherewithall. I don't really believe the attendees of the AAC ought to dictate. I would really like to see the church move to a percentage of general fund budgets instead of the head tax; it would be a big undertaking and some churches would be paying less and others more, but it seems fairer to me.
#18 Daniel E. Fall on 2011-07-14 20:44
Mark, you openly welcome one view (pro) on this issue and have on occassions chastised those who have criticized you for it by claiming openess to differing opinions. How about a piece, or two to ballance things out, arguing the other side, that is, the historical teaching of the Church on the matter. It seems if you want to present a full discussion/debate on the issue, you should allow the pro-Tradition view the same amount of air-time. From what I can tell, however, you are using the past success of your web site to help push an agenda that you well know is not in line with the Tradition, theological or canonical, of the Orthodox Church. The views of the two priests you have endorsed do not uphold the Traditional view of the Church but argue that the Church has been wrong on such a fundemental truth. If we are to take the two priests' views as truth, we would have to say, then, well maybe the Church has been wrong on other "less important issues", such as, the ordination of women, or the ordination of homosexuals men, or women, to the priesthood. Perhaps the Church is wrong about the Liturgy. Indeed, such an archaic form of worship should be updated to include modern sensibilities: genderless references to god, instruments, shorter sound bites, dancing. What about our pantheon of saints? Perhaps the Church has been wrong about who are saints. Why not Cezar Chavez, or MLK, or Ghandi, or Malcom X, or Buddha, or even Mohammed? We might as well paint them on our walls as well. Perhaps the Church has been wrong all along about its own self understanding as Church, and it reality the church is all of us, Christian and non-Christian. Perhaps it is wrong then on who should should commune of the chalice and that limiting it to only baptized orthodox christians is a thing of the past and we should invite all people of all faiths to commune with us. Perhaps it has been wrong about other sexual questions such as adultary. Modern science has now proven that man genetically tends to polygamy. We should not discourage sexual activity out of marriage, but even encourage it, and even with people of the same sex. Indeed, bishops should be allowed to have affairs with men, then divorce their wives, marry their lover, and still continue to be bishops. If the Church has been wrong on all those issues, perhaps it is even wrong in its interpretation or understanding of who Jesus is. Perhaps he is not the son of God. Perhaps, he was even gay or at least engaged in sexual activity with them and his women disciples, as some of or fine modern theologians would have us believe. Perhaps the Church has been wrong about the virgin birth and if we are to believe, once again, our fine modern new testament scholars, Mary was raped by a Roman soldier and thus concieved Jesus. Perhaps then, the Church is has been wrong about understanding God to be Trinity. Wait a minute, has the Church even proved God exists? Perhaps the Church is wrong on all accounts. God does not exist. All that is exists is matter. There is not ought, simply is. Which if that is the case, this little, unimportant, frivolous debate about with whom one chooses to copulate is just stupid and boths sides are right in the same way they are both wrong.
Mark, you may think my remarks "fearmongering", but I just ask you to visit St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco. You think it can't happen to the Orthodox? Perhaps you would welcome such a change, i don't know. The two priests you endorse would see the Orthodox change, but I wonder if they are willing to accept the consequences?
(Editor's note: A little over the top friend, from two reflections, neither of which I solicited, don't you think? As for "both sides", are you even reading the fascinating comments here? I have learned a great deal these past two weeks - but I am not sure I would call it "pro and con" as some would. I dont' see either priest advocating same sex marriage or any of the wild speculations you set forth: I see a pastoral question being asked, if not answered. What I also see is great fear among people, and a desire for "stability", even at the cost of being able to ask real questions. Fear is never helpful for a Christian; and Christ himself encourages us to ask questions to grow in faith: "Who do men say I am?" He asked. Such questions are not related to the specific questions asked by this site concerning transparency and accountability ; but they come up and should be addressed, if only in a glancing fashion, because they are real. We need to be transparent and accountable ( for our Faith) to the world as well. And here is where the world is, or at least, seems to be going. The world will not end when someone asks a question; even on this topic. It will end when there are no more questions allowed to be asked, and it withers and dies. I welcome all respondents, whatever their perspective. ( Except, those who are really abusive... that the world does not need more of, not matter their perspective.)
#19 Anonymous on 2011-07-15 03:43
Mark, could you please post this article by your beloved father in Christ, Fr. Thomas Hopko. Thanks.
"Many gay men and lesbians claim that the Christian faith is the guiding rule of their lives. Some of them hold that their sexual orientation is given by God, that it is good, and that there is nothing wrong or sinful with their homosexual activities. These persons say that the Bible and Church Tradition do not condemn homosexual behaviour, but have been misinterpreted and misused, sometimes unknowingly and other times quite willfully, by prejudiced and hostile people who hate homosexuals. Those who believe in this way obviously want others to agree with them, and many are now working hard to have their views accepted, particularly by fellow Christians and Church leaders.
Other homosexual Christians hold that their sexual orientation is not from God – except providentially, since the Lord’s plan inevitably involves human freedom and sin but derives from human fault. While some of these people are not willing or able to identify the specific reasons for their sexual feelings, though still affirming that they are not good and are not to be indulged; others with the help of what they believe to be sound biblical interpretation and accurate psychological analysis, identify the source of their sexual orientation in faults and failures in their family experiences, particularly in early childhood, and perhaps even before that, which contribute to their sexual makeup. These people hold that they are called by God to struggle against their homosexual tendencies as all people are called to struggle against the sinful passions which they find within themselves, while they work to heal the causes of their disorientation and disease. Those who hold this position look to their fellow Christians, especially their Church leaders, for support and assistance in their spiritual struggle.
The Orthodox Position
Given the traditional Orthodox understanding of the Old and New Testament scriptures as expressed in the Church’s liturgical worship, sacramental rites, canonical regulations and lives and teachings of the saints, it is clear that the Orthodox Church identifies solidly with those Christians, homosexual and heterosexual, who consider homosexual orientation as a disorder and disease, and who therefore consider homosexual actions as sinful and destructive.
According to Orthodox Christian witness over the centuries, Biblical passages such as the following do not permit any other interpretation but that which is obvious.
If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination . . . (Leviticus 20:13)
For this reason (i.e. their refusal to acknowledge, thank and glorify God) God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameful acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error. (Romans 1:26-27)
Do not be deceived; neither the sexually immoral (or fornicators), nor idolators, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals (or sodomites; literally those who have coitus, or who sleep, with men), nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
According to the Orthodox Church not all sins are willful and voluntary, and not all acts of sin are the conscious fault of those who do them; at least not at first. In a word, sin is not always something for which the sinner himself or herself is necessarily culpable in a complete and conscious way. There are sins of ignorance and passion, sins which “work in our members,” as St. Paul says, even against our rational and conscious wills. (See Romans 6-8) These are the sins referred to in the Church’s prayers when the faithful beg God for forgiveness and pardon of sins which are not only conscious, but unconscious; not only voluntary, but involuntary.
There are sins which are involuntary, unwilled, unchosen; sins which overcome people and force them by irrational impulses and compulsions, by weaknesses of the flesh, emotional drives and misguided desires into actions which they themselves do not want, and often despise and abhor – even when they are engaging in them. These are known traditionally as the sins of passion. The fact that these sins are not freely chosen do not make them any less sinful. To sin means to miss the mark, to be off the track, to deviate, to defile, to transgress . . . whether or not the act is consciously willed and purposefully enacted; and whether or not the offender personally is freely and fully at fault.
According to Orthodox Church Tradition, Christians are redeemed sinners. They are human beings who have been saved from sickness and sin, delivered from the devil and death by God’s grace through faith in Jesus by the Holy Spirit’s power: “and such were some of you.” (1 Cor. 6:10) They are baptized into Christ and sealed with the Spirit in order to live God’s life in the Church. They witness to their faith by regular participation in liturgical worship and eucharistic communion, accompanied by continual confession, repentance and the steadfast struggle against every form of sin, voluntary and involuntary, which attempts to destroy their lives in this world and in the age to come.
The homosexual Christian is called to a particularly rigorous battle. His or her struggle is an especially ferocious one. It is not made any easier by the mindless, truly demonic hatred of those who despise and ridicule those who carry this painful and burdensome cross; nor by the mindless, equally demonic affirmation of homosexual activity by its misguided advocates and enablers.
Like all temptations, passions and sins, including those deeply, and oftentimes seemingly indelibly embedded in our nature by our sorrowful inheritance, homosexual orientation can be cured and homosexual actions can cease. With God all things are possible. When homosexual Christians are willing to struggle, and when they receive patient, compassionate and authentically loving assistance from their families and friends – each of whom is struggling with his or her own temptations and sins; for no one is without this struggle in one form or another, and no one is without sin but God – the Lord guarantees victory in ways known to Himself. The victory, however, belongs only to the courageous souls who acknowledge their condition, face their resentments, express their angers, confess their sins, forgive their offenders (who always include their parents and members of their households), and reach out for help with the genuine desire to be healed. Jesus himself promises that the saintly heroes who “persevere to the end” along this “hard way which leads to life” will surely “be saved.” (Matt. 7:13; 24:13)
” . . . the Lord guarantees victory in ways known to Himself”"
#20 Anonymous on 2011-07-15 04:19
First, Fr. V. is a Priest, not a "fella" or a "Mr." to you and to me. We learn this from the same Church that teaches us about the focus and limits on sexuality. Why you harp on the one and ignore the other is something for you to consider.
Second, your response is based on the false notion that Fr. V. advocated "open expression without regard for others." But he did the opposite as everyone knows who read it, quoting St. Paul.
Third, to equate homosexuality with beastiality and pederasty is so off the mark in terms of reality and psychology and every other discipline as to be embarrassing. The Church's teaching and canons see no need for this. Why do you?
Fourth, why are you so fearful? It's time for the Church to delve deeply into the meaning of male/female, sexuality, etc. It will happen. The Church needs us all to be on board, but leaving behind our passions -- our passions of fear as well as unchastity. Why don't you consider joining in this discussion positively rather than defensively? The Church has much to teach us and the world, but she cannot do so from a vantagepoint of fear, defensiveness and rigidity.
#21 Rdr. John on 2011-07-15 14:13
This is gross and disgusting.
Why are those of you who are most fearful of this subject the most likely to talk about sex?
This reveals a mind that is fearfully without understanding, both of Fr. V.'s comments (I agree with the above: too verbose, and does smack of "academia"-speak -- which says nothing about its content) as well as persons who are homosexually-oriented.
#22 Rdr. John on 2011-07-15 14:19
Mark, that's not all that incorrect.
I believe that the encouragement to wear western clergy garb was that distinct "standing out" was considered by some early bishops in America 0these weren't "American" bishops, btw) to be opposed to the intent of the Church. Told to me by a priest so-instructed by such a bishop.
But, to quote the first excerpt: "bizarre" it is to use clergy garb as the example and touch-stone for spiritual battle.
#23 Rdr. John on 2011-07-15 14:39
Mark, I apologize for so many responses today. I'm sure you will be wise and only choose one or two. But I will not sit here silent while people who claim "Tradition" co-opt the conversation and vocabulary, and I happen to have some time whereas maybe others don't.
Yet again, someone claiming and truly thinking s/he is on the side of "Tradition" opts for the gross, scandalous and extreme. We are going to get nowhere in these discussions if this continues.
Fr. V. advocated no such thing as he is being accused of. This is ridiculous. At most, he advocated for a mature regarding of homosexuality that allowed for the recognition of companionship. He NOwhere suggested that gay persons be blessed by the Church to have sexual unions.
Fr. V. wisely recognizes that same-sex attraction is not merely about "sex." Can the self-proclaimed holders of Tradition please get beyond this. Why are you so sex-oriented? Unless I missed, something, Fr. V. was speaking for a way of dealing with homosexuals beyond and not merely about sensuality.
Might I encourage folks to consider that not everyone lives in the gutter of depravity?
#24 Rdr. John on 2011-07-15 14:51
This reflection by Fr. Vinogradov is a timely and inspired contribution to a complex and sensitive ongoing discourse within the Church. Predictably, a parade of convert priests are already denouncing this article, and think that by preaching loudly the "true, unchanging Orthodox position" on sexuality, they can drown out the legitimate pastoral questions being raised. As refugees from the culture wars in other denominations, many of these critics have an axe to grind and are simply unable to appreciate the profound Orthodox Christianity of Fr. Alexis's reflection. Notwithstanding the protestations of these self-proclaimed guardians of "morality," no Orthodox Christian need fear the consequences of respectful, prayerful, good-faith dialogue about what is unquestionably an urgent pastoral issue. Many thanks to Fr. Alexis for his incredibly thoughtful and thought-provoking words.
#25 Anonymous on 2011-07-15 16:39
No, I really don't think it is over the top. Look at St. Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco. I'm not sure the members of the episcopal church some 50-60 years ago imagined a St. Gregory of Nyssa San Francisco could exist, or that slightly tweeking their traditional theology to accomodate modern theology would eventually create such a community or other phenoma such as a openly lesbian bishop in L.A. or a Gene Robinson.
I'm not saying we shouldn't ask questions. It was a good idea to to have this discussion so that we can see where people stand and why they have chosen to stand there. I'm simply trying to look down the road at where some of the ideas proposed by the two priests will lead. If the church has been wrong about the issue of homosexual activity, it might be wrong about adultary, polygamy, divorce, etc.
I'm just curious: What do you think about Dr. David Dunn's article: “Civil Unions by Another Name: An Eastern Orthodox Defense of Gay Marriage” or groups such as AXIOS? Their message is unmistakable. They share some of the same arguments the two priests use to advance their particular way of thinking. You say the two priests aren't trying to change the Church's teaching on homosexuality, but, to borrow a phrase oft used by you, "if it quacks like a duck...".
(Editor's note: It also has to walk like a duck, and look like a duck, to be a duck. Quacking alone may make it just a guy in blind waiting to trick unsuspecting ducks.... So, until I hear from them about it, I will assume they are not trying to change dogma, and are, as they state, asking pastoral questions. As for David Dunn's article I am unfamiliar with it - but I think you just gave it a whole lot of publicity; and as for AXIOS, I thought it went out of business 20 years ago. I may be wrong - but I am sure I will hear about it one way or the other. Finally, I would caution you to draw comparisons about the teaching of the Church regarding homosexuality and divorce or polygamy, for example. That could take you down roads you don't want to go. I remember Archbishop Anastasios (Yannolatos) of Tirana telling of his early days in Kenya not so long ago, demanding that his very angry 60 or so priests allow their presbyteras to gather with him. They finally gave in. The meeting was held -- and 180 "wives" showed up. Ooops. Economia. And although our Lord expressly forbids divorce, except in the cases of adultery, the Church will, through economia, bless up to two divorces, and three marriages. Ooops. So, my guess is you don't want to open that pandora's box....)
#26 Anonymous on 2011-07-15 20:00
Could you please give a link to the original of this helpful and faithful article by the wise and compassionate Fr Hopko?
(Editor's note: Fr. Tom has written a book on this subject, available from the seminaries.)
#27 Nicole Troon on 2011-07-16 01:17
Well done Mark!!
We are now "talking" about something that has been decided a long time ago. Where do you stand on this issue? Seems obvious, but care to draw your line in the sand? I suspect that you are just delighted that we are now treating the acceptance of homosexual practice in the Church as a serious issue. And so it begins. We are just talking, right? What could be the harm in that? Homosexuals need companionship and love (er...umm....sex?) as well. They have a "right" to be happy too....yada yada yada.
What about my needs. Why can't I sleep with every woman that I am attracted to? Because it is detrimental to my soul. It is a perversion. The church is clear on it. The suggest otherwise is a lie!! Its a lie no matter how eloquently it is danced around and gussied up by a well intentioned, but massively deluded Priest.
Am I one to judge someone for having sexual attraction to the same sex? That is equally absurd! It is a heavy cross to bear. But as Orthodox Christians...God help us...let us hold fast to the truth....and continue to call sin, sin.
(Editor's note: I think, upon reflection, you can understand that I am in a no-win situation no matter what I allow to be posted. If I had not posted Bishop Michael's statement, I would be criticized as well. I certainly was for doing it. Blame the NY legislature for this, not me. As for a line in the sand, the trouble with that is that everyone who lives on a beach knows, the tide just washes it away. Rather that fake lines in the sand, let's strive to learn to walk on the water.)
#28 Josh on 2011-07-16 06:43
I have read the posts to Fr. Vinogradov's reflection to date and time (7-16-11), and am commenting now from my reflections on #1-#20. I also enjoyed Fr. Tom Hopko's comments that were quoted in #20 by "Anonymous."
I don't think Fr. Vinogradov, and/or many others, are really challenging the Orthodox teaching about homosexuality being wrong. But I think they are continually challenging how we can be more pastoral to it.
I could be wrong, but at least I believe so, that if you had a homosexual person, or couple, come to the Orthodox church to "Come and See" that they would not really bring up their sexual issues for quite some time. They would first "Come and See," see if this is warm, loving Christian family, and see if the priest is warm and loving. You don't have to be homosexual to be turned off from an Orthodox Christian community. How is any one person "received"? I have heard of a family leaving an Orthodox church for another one because the other one seemed more warm and friendly. This wasn't even dealing with the issue of homosexuality.
Then, if a person was raised Orthodox, this person, who may be homosexual, probably made it through much of their yound adult life without acting on it. This person probably already had a good knowledge of the stance of the Orthodox church on homosexuality. But this person has probably developed strong, pastoral, and confessional relationships with his priest.
I would like to think a priest is treating any of us that he knows, as first, a person. We are made in the image and likeness of God, and then we are female and male (Gen. 1)...
Also, did a homosexual person or couple made it that far to even checking out the Orthodox Church? Many homosexuals probably know that the Orthodox Church is very strict on these issues and would possibly check out a more liberal denomination that accepts homosexuality much more readily.
Thus, how many homosexual people even come to the Orthodox Church to "Come and See?" Take out of the equation those who are very secular minded and don't even go to church, and take out of the equation those that have checked out another denomination, and how many homosexuals are left that are even interested in the Orthodox Church? Who is left? In what probably many homosexual people know anyway that the Orthodox church is very strict, probably very few anyway. I could be wrong, but intuition tells me that folks do some type of homework before venturing out before being rejected.
With those homosexuals that do exist, it seems as if some of the commentators make this out to be a multitude. I highly doubt it. The homosexual community is still a small minority. They may have a loud voice right now, but if you really look at numbers, who really chooses this life style? I don't think it is a great multitude of people.
I just don't think that you are going to get many "angry" homosexuals to the Orthodox church that want to "shout" their "anamoly" to the roof top and to the world. To me, this is not how humans work, when they may be seeking the Orthodox Church.
If you polled any one Orthodox parish, you may have some challenges of alcoholism, drug addiction, broken marriages, and homosexuality, and so on. But I believe these are usually still the exception, not the norm. And if they are not, the comments from Fr. Alexis try to make sure they have a spiritual home, to continue to be with God.
Fr. Alexis Vinogradov, as does Fr. Tom Hopko, make many pastoral insights and comments to those persons seeking out the Orthodox Church. I don't think either condoned homosexuality. I didn't read either as they did. But I think the homosexuals CAN find that they have a home in the Orthodox church. For I think any of us are first of all persons, children of God, in the sight of God.
I think the point of Fr. Alexis reflection is that, in a pastoral sense, whether one is the priest or parishoner, we can make is extrordinarily difficult for these people to find their true home, which is in God and the Orthodox church.
On doctrine, the Orthodox Church has spoken. Homosexuality is wrong. But the Orthodox Church, in my knowledge or understanding, has never said that personhood, that being a person, a child of God, is wrong.
I think most authentic persons approach religion to find their way to God. Some are weak and some are stronger, and the stronger can help the weaker, as Fr. Alexis said. I don't think they try to defend their "lifestyle," but it remains the cross, as Fr. Tom says, to work with and try to overcome.
#29 Patty Schellbach on 2011-07-16 10:19
Dear Deceived: I fear that you have missed one of the key points of the good Father's essay, that we are too often caught in judging the horizontal reality, human-to-human, while we ignore the verticle, between God and mankind. This essay is an excellent reminder that our relationship to God, and the relationship of others to God, is far more important than judgementalism, far more important than the Pharisaical approach you suggest. Orthodoxy should not be defined and celebrated because of who we have keep out of the Church and away from the Lord's Altar, but rather, who we have brought into the Church and to His Altar. Let's leave the judgement to Christ, where it belongs, and let us, as humble God-fearing individuals and communities, do all we can, to bring as many as we can, to Christ and His Holy Church.
#30 Sean O'Clare on 2011-07-16 11:16
“Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say. . . . . ?” Gen. 3.3.
“Fear is never helpful for a Christian.” Mark Stokhoe
Mark, I must respectively disagree that fear is never helpful for a Christian. If it’s an instinctive reaction to a real danger it’s a good thing. How much better had Adam and Eve had been afraid of the serpent and fled instead of sticking around to be sucked into the quicksand of his subtleties.
And so I freely admit to a healthy dose of alarm to Father V.s post. As a veteran of the Protestant mainline culture wars (Presbyterian pastor who became Orthodox 20 years ago), my first thought was, I’ve seen this production before and I know how it turns out. It’s really a three-act drama that roughly adheres to the following script.
First comes a set of sweet and charitable pleas for openness to reconsiderations of a long-held teaching or practice. Arguments are produced that don’t precisely advocate a radical change, but don’t precisely reject it either. These are often accompanied by gentle chidings not to be narrow-minded or judgmental; after all, the church has changed some of its ideas over the centuries. Examples are produced, often of peripheral or culturally-context specific practices that have been dropped or changed, or clearly ought to be. Perhaps in addition, reference is made to implications of earlier teachings that weren’t realized until later. These are then jumbled together with the enduring and hitherto nonnegotiable church teachings to produce the effect that “if some things are up for grabs, then everything might be!” This blurring of boundaries might be compared to the special effects produced by a fog machine sometimes used in stage plays. The spreading haze of argumentative mist obliterates the clean and clear outlines of even the plainest of doctrines, those that are well-supported by scripture and universally attested by church teaching tradition, life, practice, and conciliar definition.
The fog clears off by act two when its done its job of confusing and softening people up for the day when the agenda pushers can step into full daylight and plainly declare who they are. By intermission, the innovation has now achieved “parity” with traditional teaching as a kind of “option” over which reasonable and faithful people can agree to disagree. Then, after intermission, in which commissions and “study groups” are formed (and stacked with supporters of radically new and improved Christianity), comes the third and climactic act. Here advocates for radical innovation emerge triumphant in church bureaucracies and courts, ghettoize the traditionalists, silence or expel their clergy, and deny ordination to their seminarians. Ask our Episcopalian friends how this works!
So my word to others who might be posting here is this: be charitable, argue carefully and reasonably (as many of these posts have), recognize the complexities and the pain of homosexuals who find themselves caught between desires that pull them one way and the plain word of Scripture and church tradition that pull them another, but, perhaps for that very reason, don’t let anyone convince you that it’s wrong to be scared at what might be coming down the pike. The misguided temptation to please and accommodate another at the cost of truth is to be shunned as much as much as a nasty attitude that wants to judge and exclude others because they struggle with different sins than we do. Neither attitude brings us near the Kingdom of God. The truth of God is exchanged for a lie, whether it’s the “nice” lie of accomodationism or the nasty lie of judgmentalism.
What we’re called to do is speak the truth in love. Perhaps that’s the really scary thought.
#31 Brian McDonald on 2011-07-17 13:51
True as well in the Roman Catholic Church...Heterosexual celibacy outside of marriage is equally difficult to maintain/preserve and has been rationalized away as well by many and is now counter-cultural as well. The sexual so-called "prohibitions" on both activities outside of marriage, like all designed by God, are for our greatest good and freedom. Please may the Orthodox Tradition hold firm and not be swayed by my or anyone else's particular self-destructive and other-destructive passion.
#32 Nicole Troon on 2011-07-17 21:22
Dear Mr. McDonald:
I'm sorry that you had a bad experience with the Presbyterian church, and I guess I can understand an instinctive sense of panic when an article about proper pastoral response to a contemporary social issue seems to bring back bad memories.
But your use of the passive voice obscures the fact that those initiating this particular conversation are not wide-eyed liberal activists; they're senior archpriests whose knowledge of Orthodox theology and experience as pastors is unimpeachable. The urgency of these questions is incontestable, but the Church evolves slowly and deliberately, and just because we start a conversation doesn't mean we will tumble down a slippery slope into utter moral confusion. So let's not shut down discussion out of a fear that "agenda pushers" might force a "radically new and improved Christianity" on the Church. It isn't going to happen.
I suggest that we not start a culture war here. The Orthodox Church is not inherently "radical" or "traditionalist." It does not have a brief either to adopt current social conventions or to enforce a hoary book of "nonnegotiable" rules. It is guided by a living relationship to the unchanging God. The task of leading souls to theosis involves finding the right pastoral approach for each time and place. That's what this conversation is about. Let's engage in it respectfully and, as Fr. Alexis counsels, with restraint.
#33 Joseph Clarke on 2011-07-18 11:13
My first comment should read, "respectfully" (not "respectively") disagree and Mark, I'm sorry I misspelled your name. I meant to recheck that before posting, but forgot.
#34 Brian McDonald on 2011-07-18 18:57
There are choices religions must face when they wish to operate in a secular world.
As far as accomodationism; the only two cases I can think of would be the lesbian wedding - the court was really right on the answer there as it had nothing to do about accomodating them; they didn't really care until it bugged someone as there was no clear policies re:, and the Massachusetts adoption issue. The church actually didn't accomodate the law, they were forced to weigh the ministry of adoption against the ministry of marriage. If they had only allowed sinners to adopt...imagine that. As horrible as it may sound, it is speaking the truth in love.
#35 Daniel E. Fall on 2011-07-18 20:33
Two things immediately come to my mind upon reading this essay of Fr. Alexis: the constant reference of the Fathers to creation "as it was in the beginning," and the pastoral reflections of Met. Anthony Khrapovitsky and Bp. Basil Rodzianko that we are "far removed from the time of grace." It seems to me these are the heart of this pastoral reflection. As to the former, we must never lose sight of that pristine glory of God's intention in the creation; the latter speaks to the pastoral reality of the tragedy of where we are. It seems to me that both Fr. Alexis and Fr. Robert Arida have simply spoken to their pastoral reality.
I would offer an example of my own:
in the course of my day, I found myself in a locked-down, cavernous administrative segregation unit of a state prison, alone, seated across from a man with his hands cuffed behind him. He alternately spoke in whispers and shouts, his affect was depressed, and he was mildly manic, finding it troublesome to sit still. "Why are you here?" "290" (referring to the CA Penal Code, "Lewd and Licivious Acts with a Child Under Age 14"); he was a paedophile, a child sexual perpetrator, and had multiple convictions. At the conclusion of my assessment, he shocked me off by stating, "When I get out, the first thing I'm going to do is buy a pair of handcuffs." Yikes! "If I'm tempted by a child, I'm going to handcuff myself to a pole or a bench and start yelling for someone to call my parole agent or the police." Having been an intern in the child psychiatry unit of a major military medical center, I had treated victims of sexual abuse, and likewise drawn conclusions regarding paedophilia. I further admit that, in the course of assessing paedophiles in prison (who are themselves univesally despised by other inmates, as a rule), there are days when my sense of revulsion so overtakes my sense of compassion for another human being that it could not have been bought with gold. Nevertheless, the interview I describe opened my eyes to a struggle within a human that was, on the one hand, unimaginable, and on the other hand, terrifying in its magnitude. Do all paedophiles acknowledge the fury of such drives? Acknowledge the "disonance" and dystonia of their urges? Obviously not. But I openly confess that my immediate presumptions have changed.
I have great respect for Fr. Thomas Hopko, which I believe he knows. I believe his words regarding sexual activity between persons of the same gender and the depth of the necessary struggle (a "rigorous battle") against sins of passion are correct. Nevertheless, to state that (homo)sexual orientation "derives from human fault," and suggesting an underlying psycho-sexual and/or family dynamic, culminating in a "disorder and disease" is simply untrue. In my mind, the only manner of concluding this to be an "Orthodox" position is by presumption alone. I have argued that there is sufficient evidence to support the fact that sexual orientation is genetically determined, and there is no evidence to support the claim that "post-natal" experience has any impact on gender/orientation development.
Hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer is an "autosomal dominant" genetic disorder - resulting from a single copy of a mutated gene derived from a parent - meaning a child has a 50% chance of inheriting this defect. And should they inherit this defect, they have an 80% lifetime chance of contracting this form of cancer. Am I to conclude that this genetic defect is characteristically derived, ultimately, from "human fault?" If you say this is an unfair or ridiculous analogy, I would suggest that it was certainly on the minds of the Apostles, who questioned, "Master, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" (Jn 9:1). St, John Chrysostom explains this "mistaken question" by indicating, "when He declared, "neither has this man sinned," He said not that it is possible to sin from one's very birth, and be punished for it; so when He said, "nor his parents," He said not that one may be punished for his parents' sake." (Commentary on John 9:1-5). Our history of consciously & unconsciously ascribing blame to the sick is well documented in Susan Sontag's "Illness as Metaphor."
Do I believe homsexual orientation is a disease or defect. No. Is it an "anomoly?" In that it is a "statistical" deviation, differing from the genetic norm, but much more importantly, a significant deviation from "as it was in the beginning," absolutely. Have I embarked upon a "misguided temptation to please and accommodate another at the cost of truth"; proferred an argument that is not "pro-Tradition," or suggesting the "Church has been wrong on such a fundemental truth"; covertly opening "the door" for those "agenda-bearers" lurking in shadows who "would see the Orthodox change"; or simply "massivly deluded?" I repeat what I know: we can only refer to "as it was in the beginning," tempered with the reality that we are "far removed from the time of grace." It seems to me there is a massive line between "revisionism" & "dirty tricks," and the frank compassion for a brother or sister who struggles. Compounding this struggle, as noted in the comments, is that it is most often conducted in fear and alone. No one, and I repeat, no one in the Church deserves to struggle alone.
Lastly, I am troubled at the supercilious lack of respect for Fr. Alexis & Fr. Robert, whom I deeply respect, and at the idea that a priest, "entrusted with the administration of things which are in Heaven, and have received an authority which God has not given to angels or archangels" (On the Priesthood, Book 4:2), would be so personally disrespected by "anonymous" cowards, as well as their own fellow-ministers ("for no others covet his dignity so much" On the Priesthood, Book 4:2). Shame on you.
#36 M. Stankovich on 2011-07-19 00:00
Quite simply, Father Hopko, who I respect, is wrong. He is "hanging his hat," so to speak, on the now discredited notion that homosexual orientation is a choice, or the result of early childhood influences that can be overcome. The overwhelming scientific and medical evidence that exists rejects this assumption. Thrown into this mix is a curious resort to original sin--meaning, of course, that from their conception homosexuals are somehow "fallen" in ways unique to them.
The whole issue of human sexuality is one on which the Church's message is increasingly irrelevant because it is based on false assumptions and information. It is heavily influenced by Gnostic notions that the material world is evil and that sexual impulses are inherently sinful. So we are left with an ideology that only allows sexual relations in a married, procreative context as a sort of second best choice to celibacy. The overwhelming majority of modern Christians, including Orthodox Christians, reject this construct as self-evidently outdated and wrong.
We are a long way from formulating a new expression of human sexuality in a Christian context that makes sense. Father Vinogradov's reflection is at least a first good step in that direction.
#37 Kenneth R. Tobin on 2011-07-19 06:58
Anyone who has been on the other side of the aisle (Protestantism) can see where all this is leading. It doesn't take a rocket scientist.
#38 Darlene on 2011-07-19 10:16
Though perhaps unintentionally, I think you have touched upon something extremely important, and that is the fact that many of us are possibly misunderstanding each other here. I have read Fr. Hopko’s Christian Faith and Same Sex Attraction (2006) , and I think it provides an honest, compassionate, balanced engagement with this issue – taking into account both Orthodox Christian and secular positions, respectively – while still remaining faithful to what most of us would consider the longstanding teachings of our Church.
It has been my assumption – perhaps incorrectly – that Fr. Hopko’s book has served as the general guide for pastoral care on this issue since its publication in 2006. I could be wrong, but I don’t think anyone here is questioning the pastoral approach suggested by Fr. Hopko in this book. I’m certainly not. We all have sins, and we all struggle in one way or another. And if, for some, that sincere struggle involves falling down and getting back up 7x70, I don’t think anyone is questioning that undeniable aspect of repentance and movement toward God either. Again, I am certainly not. What has concerned many, I think, is the suggestion that the Church now needs to rethink its longstanding position of identifying active homosexuality as a sin that requires ongoing struggle and repentance. If this is not what Fr. Arida is actually suggesting, then I think we have all unfortunately wasted a lot of emotion and energy to no good purpose.
#39 Anonymous on 2011-07-19 23:20
Dear M. Stankovich,
Thank you for your thoughtful comments.
I agree with your comment toward the end: "No one, and I repeat, no one in the Church deserves to struggle alone."
To this end, the discussion continues.
#40 Patty Schellbach on 2011-07-20 11:43
Kenneth, you're not quite correct.
Fr. Hopko believes, as he states in his little book on same-sex attraction, that the science is irrelevant -- that science studies the way things are in a post-fallen world.
While I'm debating that and its numerous implications within myself (The Fall as a bit of a theological cop-out is a challenge for me in a number of ways.), it isn't correct to assume that Fr. Hopko doesn't consider the science, which your posting implies.
Btw, the book on same-sex attraction has a lot of surprises in it, and its audience is not just those with homosexual orientation.
It ought to raise many eye-brows several times.
#41 Rdr. John on 2011-07-20 11:45
I recommend accessing the following articles and then offering comments concerning the "nature vs nurture" debate.
#42 Anonymous on 2011-07-20 15:13
"it's not going to happen"
That's a relief. Seriously, what guarantees can you produce that persons that happen to be Orthodox will not follow the same path as Episcopaleans, Presbyterians, and Methodists? Is there something about Orthodoxy that makes it impossible for people to disagree with the teachings of the Church? One someone is baptisted and Chrismated are they automatically and completely perfected? No, abviously. So, I don't think you can honestly say, "it's not going to happen". It might not happen. It's unlikely, perhaps. But, you can't produce any guarantees that it won't. I rather think Brian's post is well reasoned, ballanced, and the middle road.
#43 Anonymous on 2011-07-21 01:24
As much as I dissagree with Kenneth's conclusions, I appreciate that he doesn't mince his words or hide behind softly chosen phrases. I wish both Frs. would just forward as Mr. Kenneth, because many believe they aren't advocating that the Church should change her teachings, while other's do. What is the result: confusion and ambiguity. Frs. Arida and Vinogradov, please speak plainly and clearly, like Kenneth has.
#44 Anonymous on 2011-07-21 02:03
Thank you for your correction/clarification. It helped me to understand the basis of Fr. Hopko's position. Like you, however, I have problems with the explanation of the Fall by our theologians and how that relates to human sexuality.
Of course, for most of us, the Creation mythology contained in Genesis and the resultant Fall are not literal historical events. As C.S. Lewis would say however, they are true myths. But how they are interpreted and understood is critical to the "truths" they may contain. And those interpretations and understandings can change with time and greater knowledge. All of this is very disconcerting to our fundamentalist friends who like clear and simple explanations for everything. But this is not how the Almighty necessarily works in revealing the wonders of His creation.
Frs. Arida and Vinogradov, as well as Mr. Stankovich, are breaths of fresh air in grappling with the issues of homosexuality and more broadly, human sexuality as well. I do caution, however, that the defenders of the status quo (i.e. a rigorous condemnation of homosexuality and presumably all sexual behavior outside a married procreative context) are determined to reduce this discussion to a matter of pastoral care for "Class A" sinners. Thus the emphasis on repentance. The honest response from the rest of us is that that is not sufficient or acceptable.
These last two reflections restore my confidence in the vision of Orthodoxy I embraced many years ago, even prior to my formal conversion. They are a light in the darkness.
#45 Kenneth R. Tobin on 2011-07-21 07:46
Do you seriously believe that the evolution of pastoral approaches and Church doctrine is no different in Orthodoxy than in mainline Protestantism? The purpose of my post was not to "produce guarantees" about the specific outcome of this conversation, but rather to allay Mr. McDonald's concern that merely starting it would lead us down a slippery slope of precipitous doctrinal revisionism. Given the moral seriousness of our bishops and the need to maintain communion with the other canonical Orthodox churches around the world, I am quite sure that it will happen slowly and deliberatively, and that we will not lose our moral bearings in the process. I certainly don't agree with those who would declare this topic -- by all accounts a serious contemporary issue -- off limits for discussion. The cynical attitude of those who would mishear in Fr. Arida's and Fr. Vinogradov's words echoes of mainline Protestant "culture wars" does not do justice to the way the mind of the Church works.
#46 Joseph Clarke on 2011-07-21 08:51
I appreciate your thoughtful comment, Theone. With respect, I think it is important to separate the doctrinal question from the pastoral one, which concerns the "oikonomia" spiritual advisors exercise in helping individual Christians flourish as members of a Eucharistic community.
The Orthodox Church has consistently maintained that same-sex genital relationships were not part of God's plan for the world and are not an adequate stand-in for heterosexual marriage. I could be wrong, but I don't think this issue is on the table for discussion. Nevertheless, setting an individual up for 7x70 "falls" may not always be the most psychologically or spiritually helpful advice a priest can give. It's the longstanding practice of many pastors to permit some homosexuals to remain in loving, committed relationships. The Church does not affirm sexual relationships between persons of the same gender as a desirable norm, but decisions about individuals' lives are made on a case-by-case basis. (Likewise, many priests permit heterosexual couples to use birth control, which is prohibited by the strictest interpretation of Orthodox teaching; divorce and remarriage, too, may be allowed depending on the specific situation.)
Based on anecdotal evidence, it seems that Orthodox pastoral guidance about homosexuality varies significantly from one parish to the next. The open discussion of homosexuality was totally taboo in our society until recently, so these variations in pastoral approaches have not previously been apparent. The question now before the Church is: how far does pastoral oikonomia extend? If it can make allowances for divorce and remarriage (which Jesus himself suggests is far more problematic than homosexuality) can it not permit homosexual relationships in some cases as well? If the answer is "no," this would be a significant departure from current practice.
#47 Anonymous on 2011-07-21 11:31
Just curious why you didn't feel it was relevant to post ..... It was not my intention malign Fr.....but rather to show that his particular slant on Orthodox teachings is a bit out there -- as evidenced by his praxis. ...
(Editor's note: In the future, FYI, if someone wants to ask me a question about why I did not publish a comment, I would suggest sending a valid email address so you can get an private answer. My point being made, I can answer your question easily. You did not get published because a) he did not do what you said he did, least of all in the manner you inferred, which I know for a fact, personally. I don't knowingly publish things I know personally to be untrue.
That being said, you did mean to malign him, as evidenced by the end of your second comment, still unpublished. There is no need for that. If you want to say somebody is out of the mainstream practice, then say so. Of course, the same could be said of Athanasius in the days of Arianism, or Florovsky in the days of seminary scholasticism. It was also true of Christ with the Samaritan woman, and the good Samaritan for that matter. So your point, while true, may not be very helpful. )
#48 Anon. on 2011-07-22 08:56
"This reveals a mind that is fearfully without understanding"
Why do so many people in Orthodoxy think that the mystical tradition of our Church is a license for making sanctimonious judgments against people who don't have the same theological view as them?
This is as bad as when, during a theological discussion, someone writes, "You think that? Tsk, tsk.... I'll pray for you!" instead of actually praying for the person.
#49 anonymous on 2011-07-22 09:27
How does Holy Scripture teach that others will know that we are Christians? Isn't it because our love is made manifest? Fr. Alexis' article is written, in my opinion, in a spirit of love. Thank you for sharing it.
#50 Jillian on 2011-07-22 22:07
Joseph, his point was that this has occurred repeatedly and not just in the PC-USA. If the guy across the street shoots someone, claims it was an accident, produces a plausible set of facts to support his claim and then proceeds (and here is the critical point) not to shoot anyone else ever, then yes, it would be over-reacting to insist that the neighborhood is going to the dogs. But when six guys in six different houses on the same block are involved in shooting neighbors, then it is reasonable to fear the presence of guns in the neighborhood, to suspect a faulty theory of acceptable behavior among the population, and we would certainly be correct to at least wonder if maybe the way guns got discussed might be inadequate and weighted. We might begin to see the logic in not, thank you very much, wanting guns in the neighborhood, we would not be “intolerant” to ask questions about propriety; we would, in fact be negligent if not naïve if, after six shooting incidents, we continue to insist that it can’t ever happen in our own front yard just because our household happens to call itself Orthodox.
Mr. McDonald’s point is that this has not only occurred in the Presbyterian Church USA, but (in varying shades and degrees) the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and numerous smaller denominations here as well as in large, national (and notable ethnic) denominations such as the Church of Sweden and others. Many others, such as the Methodists, have stopped, for now at least, at ordaining women while merely “affirming” homosexuality. But the play just keeps on having opening nights, that is the point; it is not unreasonable to ask if Fathers Arida and Vinogradov might, unwittingly and despite their good intentions, be putting up the latest round of posters in a brand new theater venue, the Orthodox Church. And even if it plays, it does not necessarily follow that its good for Peoria.
So far, the introduction of “dialog” about sexual and gender revisionism has had an uncannily repeatable (and apparently irresistibly) trajectory that invariably ends in female ordination, homosexual “weddings,” and finally homosexual ordination. It is not paranoid and accusatory (nor disrespectful to Frs. Arida and Vinagradov) simply to notice this; John Shelby Spong and James Pike were also, within their denomination, voices everyone instinctively listened to because they were experienced and respected.
Epithets like “culture war” aimed at more cautious folk are unfair. It might be interesting for me to point out that Mr. McDonald, far from being a hick truck driver, is a long time college lecturer in English literature with numerous plaudits and himself no stranger to considered and careful discussion. He is widely read, well informed, and respected in the academic community. Fears that he wishes to "shut down discussion" betrays a different but equally reflexive assumption that those who urge caution are mere obstructionists. Give him, Joseph, the same latitude and respect you insist be given Frs. Arida and Vinogradov.
It seems to me, frankly, that it is the culture that is going to war here and not the faithful. Proponents of revision seem to forget how some might be scandalized, and then proceed to ignore or ridicule them when they are. In the case of my mother’s denomination, the ELCA, it was almost humorous: You could almost see the mild, slack-jawed surprise on the faces of denominational officialdom, by simply reading what got written in their publications, after it became obvious that elderly Lutheran farmers in small Midwestern towns would rather not, in fact, have an openly homosexual minister to their parish. And the naked truth is exposed just here: The surprise in ELCA officialdom gave away the fact that these folk had not been consulted, were numerically gerrymandered when the homosexual ordination issue was put to a vote, and if consulted would likely not have been listened to anyway. In short, once the issue of homosexual ordination was “out there” it was carefully and hermetically sealed off from any meaningful challenge from the “rubes.”
So while it may indeed be prudent and necessary to, metaphorically, engage the fire of contemporary sexuality; scholarly and urbane open-mindedness does not mean we are immune to getting very badly burned. I join Mr. McDonald in urging that sort of caution and restraint as well.
#51 Protodeacon Michael Myers on 2011-07-23 10:15
Subdeacon Alexis, Axios! Well said.
#52 Karen on 2011-07-26 06:50
"Why are those of you who are most fearful of this subject the most likely to talk about sex?"
because friendship is not a sin. Only when erotic love enters is it so.
#53 Anonymous on 2011-07-27 15:36
Dear Mr. Stokoe:
I would be interested in the responses of commenters to Met. Jonah's encyclical as above. ..
Many thanks for considering this,
(Editor's note: I suggest people comment on AOIUSA if so inclined. As remarked, this thread is closing down, and opening a whole topic of discussion would defeat that purpose. )
#54 Nicole Troon on 2011-08-01 12:41
"Let it be understood that those who are not found living as He taught are not Christian--even though they profess with the lips the teaching of Christ." Saint Justin Martyr (160 AD)
Active homosexuality is not and never will be acceptable Orthodox Christian behavior for it is sin -- no matter the toxic PC (politically correct) or gay propaganda imposed upon us. Many of us have been exposed to this gay propaganda in the Roman and Protestant churches and, also, in colleges and universities and in the news and other various communications media . . . and it just does not work at all historically or theologically or psychologically (etc.). This gay propaganda is transitory, vaporous and nothing more than a lie repeated over and over again as Joesph Gerbils, of Nazi fame, taught which the masses think is "true" just because it has been repeated over and over again in the various medias and ingrained in the common parlance and consciousness of a society. Repetition and amplification and sponsorship by celebrities does not make a "lie" the "truth."
It is sad and pathetic that this gay propaganda would even be discussed as substance and "fact" amongst the pious in any serious way whatsoever -- I can assure you that this is not a serious discussion if the abominable sin of active homosexuality is not confronted squarely and directly. Sin is sin and the Holy Spirit gives no quarter for our sin no matter how much we wine from our degraded and comfortable and toxic suburbia and our over-stuffed couches of compromise.
"Welcome into My Kingdom My good and faithful servant:" This is the goal and the glory of all who would be actual Orthodox Christians and not just facsimiles who live atheism daily and fake being a Christian on the weekends in a church building with secret dark and insidious sins buttressing their bold hypocrisy and self-idolatry. All Orthodox Christian spirituality is about destroying every bit of hypocrisy and heresy and delusion that exists in our lives. Active homosexuality is DELUSION and it is TOXIC and it should NEVER be pampered by any false compassion but it should be confronted and expelled as all delusion should -- love the sinner but hate the sin.
In a recent e-mail to an active homosexual trying to be a "good Orthodox Christian" I recently wrote: "It is easy to condemn and cast people out of our lives but the difficult thing is to love as Christ loves. I love you dearly but I hate your sin as much as I hate my own sin. Why do you want me to respect your sin when I don't even respect my own? How could it be any other way and me still be an Orthodox Christian?"
I can assure you as our Holy Faith has consistently proclaimed uncompromisingly that Christ hates sin -- all sin -- this is the revealed truth of the All Holy Trinity in Holy Orthodoxy. There is grace and mercy for all who repent and love in truth and seek the authenticity of theosis and self-offering as we carry our cross daily after the Saviour.
We Orthodox Christians are NOT to be like the pagans or minimalistic Protestants or the trendy Romans we are amongst. We are different by virtue of our Holy Baptism, Chrismation and our Eucharistification! We are called to be holy as God is holy -- active homosexuality is in no way a "holy" thing or a "holy" activity nor is it life-giving in any dimension that is salvific. We are not to compromise the Holy Faith just to please our nefarious proclivities and all-to-often private abominations.
In summation, we do not spell "Orthodox Christianity" in other letters as "C-O-M-P-R-O-M-I-S-E" but we live it in the freedom from delusion our Holy Baptism has gracefully provided for us.
(Editor's note: "Eucharistification?" Live and learn.
#55 Hieromonk Joshua + on 2011-08-02 13:22
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