CONJUGAL FRIENDSHIP: THREE ARTICLES by Giacomo Sanfilippo

Orthodoxy in Dialogue is republishing the following articles from the University of Toronto Press Journals Blog and Public Orthodoxy in order for them to be easily found by our readers who are interested in this topic.

Florensky

Father Pavel Florensky (1882-1937)

Introducing “Conjugal Friendship” (UTP Journals: March 20, 2017)

Wendy VanderWal-Gritter’s Generous Spaciousness: Responding to Gay Christians in the Church, which I was asked to review for the upcoming issue of the Toronto Journal of Theology (Volume 33, Issue 1), serves an important “pre-theological” purpose. She has written not a work of theology per se—as she herself acknowledges—but the raw material from real human lives out of which a living theology can take shape over against a lifeless casuistry.

She frames her book as an appeal to the leadership and laity of traditional and conservative churches to open their hearts to the testimony of Christian men, women, youths, and children who experience their attraction to their own gender as a natural, inalienable aspect of their God-given selves.

It comes as a surprise to my colleagues when I mention that the modern world’s first Christian theology of same-sex love appeared in Moscow in 1914.

[Continue reading here.]

Conjugal Friendship (Public Orthodoxy: May 2, 2017)

One of the more useful insights of postmodernism, so self-evident that it hardly needs to be said, is that reframing one’s fundamental question will produce a different answer. To the question, “Can two persons of the same gender ‘have sex’ with each other?” we hear from Holy Tradition a resounding no. Yet if we ask, “Can two persons of the same gender form a bond in which ‘the two become one?’” the scales begin to fall from our eyes. Holy Tradition possesses in germinal form everything necessary to articulate, thoughtfully and cautiously, an Orthodox theology and spirituality of what we now call same-sex love, adequate to the pastoral needs of the 21st century and fully consistent with the ascetical ethos of Orthodox life for all.

Father Pavel Florensky, in his 1914 essay “Friendship,” was the first in all Christendom to attempt such an articulation in modern times. His biographers identify his beloved dedicatee and addressee in The Pillar and Ground of the Truth, in which “Friendship” figures as Letter Eleven and the thematic culmination of the book, with the deceased Sergei Troitsky. Florensky and Troitsky had shared a dormitory room at the Moscow Theological Academy, and planned to spend the rest of their life together in an izba deep in the forests of Kostroma after completion of their studies. “Friendship” stands as a perpetual testimony to their relationship, its nuptial language and playfully homo-romantic emblem all the more remarkable if we consider that Florensky was a married priest and father of his first child when he prepared Pillar and Ground for publication.

[Continue reading here.]

Conjugal Friendship: An Appeal for a Conversation (UTP Journals: July 5, 2017)

UTP Journals Blog published my “Introducing ‘Conjugal Friendship’” in March. Six weeks later my “Conjugal Friendship”appeared on the Public Orthodoxy blog of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center at Fordham University.

Both pieces emphasize that the conjugality of a certain kind of friendship between two men—understood as a lifelong spiritual union blessed in church and presupposing a shared home, joint ownership of possessions, mutual obedience, and some form of bodily intimacy—received its initial articulation in a 1914 essay by the married Russian Orthodox priest and father of his first child, Father Pavel Florensky.

The fact that Florensky has lately gained widespread recognition not only as one of the most prominent Orthodox theologians of the 20th century, but also as a Soviet-era martyr awaiting the Church’s formal elevation to sainthood, has blinded many of his devotees to what his essay and his life before marriage reveal in plain sight. His contemporaries saw his theology of friendship as far from uncontroversial. In their eyes it clearly did not pertain to “friendship” in any usual sense of the word.

[Continue reading here.]

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See “The Vocabulary of Conjugal Friendship” for my use of the term conjugal within the context of the particular kind of friendship described by Florensky.

“A Bed Undefiled: Foundations for an Orthodox Theology and Spirituality of Same-Sex Love” (MA thesis, 2015) can be read here.

Giacomo Sanfilippo is a PhD student in Theological Studies in the University of Toronto, and an editor at Orthodoxy in Dialogue. His dissertation will examine Florensky’s “Friendship” in The Pillar and Ground of the Truth contextually and textually. 

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