CONJUGAL FRIENDSHIP: A YEAR LATER by Giacomo Sanfilippo

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SS. Theodore of Tyre and Theodore Stratelates. 14th century. Holy Transfiguration Monastery. Zrze, Macedonia.

A year ago this week, Public Orthodoxy had the courage to publish my “Conjugal Friendship,” for which I remain immeasurably grateful to the editors.

I feel equally grateful to the editors of The Wheel, in whose Spring-Summer 2018 issue (13/14)—entitled Embodiment and guest-edited by Father Andrew Louth—my “Father Pavel Florensky and the Sacrament of Love” will soon appear. This article expands upon “Conjugal Friendship,” and attempts to address some of the questions raised by my supporters and critics at that time. For a tiny preview of my upcoming article you can read my recent review of Pavel Florensky: Early Religious Writings 1903-1909 here. What “Conjugal Friendship” failed to achieve, and I hope to accomplish this time around, is to generate a discussion not on my views on the place of same-sex love in Orthodox Christian life, but on those of Father Florensky. I examine—briefly, because of The Wheel‘s space constraints—not only some elements of Florensky’s text, but also the social, historical, and autobiographical context in which he wrote The Pillar and Ground of the Truth and its culminating chapter, “Friendship.” Orthodoxy in Dialogue will let our readers know when this issue of The Wheel comes out.   

To conclude this post, I would like to share the following brief excerpts from the introduction to my MA thesis, “A Bed Undefiled: Foundations for an Orthodox Theology and Spirituality of Same-Sex Love.”

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The irreplicable mystery of each human person’s innermost self, known to God alone and unveiled by degrees through the gradual acquisition of the Holy Spirit in the Church’s liturgical, mysterial, and ascetical life, can never be distilled to one’s sexual identity. Yet the erotic power embedded as a mark of the divine image within the deepest recesses of a person’s psychosomatic being, latently germinal from his or her earliest innocent memories, represents an unquantifiably  momentous determinant of human nature and personhood created by God as “very beautiful.” Both the ontological roots and eschatological end of human sexual desire, however marred by sin in its fallen state, reside in the divine impetus eternally to consummate the ecstatic union of love within the Trinity of uncreated divine Persons, and likewise in the impetus of this triune God to seduce the innumerable multiplicity of created human persons into that same uncreated union of joyous love. Insofar as human nature in general and its erotic aspect in particular, mysteriously resemblant to divine nature and divine love in their creation and teleological vocation, never subsist in abstracto—anterior to or apart from their specific, multiple, individual, concrete enhypostasizations—a person’s sexual orientation, wherever it manifests along the spectrum between exclusively opposite-sex and exclusively same-sex, whether one becomes sexually active or remains abstinent by free choice or compulsion, comprises from the earliest stages of life a singularly formative dimension of personal identity in the vast range of conscious and unconscious influences it exerts on one’s self-knowledge from early childhood to the end of life. Irreducible to a catalogue of verboten carnal “acts”—acts which very young children incipiently aware of their attraction to their own gender cannot even begin to imagine—same-sex orientation subsumes, qualitatively no less than opposite-sex orientation, a person’s entire capacity to grow spiritually, socially, intellectually, psychologically, emotionally, sexually, and soteriologically into authentic personhood, “to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.”

[…]

For two united in Christ, the ascesis of erotic love both subsumes and resignifies the external behavioural restraint—the “morality,” so to speak—commanded by the Law: Do not commit adultery. With the intuition of the rich young ruler we perceive that the life of “grace upon grace,” offered to us in the Church by Christ through the Holy Spirit, utterly eclipses mere morals and good behaviour: “All these I have observed; what do I still lack?” In reply the Lord’s voice beckons, If you would be perfect…. The “perfection” to which the Gospel invites us—τελείωσις—“even as your heavenly Father is perfect,” signals not the achievement of a morally upstanding life (a category absurdly inapplicable to God), but an infinite progression of theandric collaboration, a mystically synergistic dynamism through which the human person moves continuously by grace towards the greater existential and ontological completion of personal being—“even as” God actualizes without beginning or end the completeness of His tri-personal being. Teleiosis—“even like God’s”—conveys a dimension of theosis, our endowment through the deifying operation of the Holy Spirit with all that the Son possesses by reason of His divine and human natures immiscibly united. This pneumatizing force, never imposing itself on the unwilling or uncooperative, permeates in the Church’s mystical life everything proper to human nature, including our sexuality.

The perfectibility of sexual desire, by creation reflective of the divine image and by redemption acquisitive of the divine likeness, resides in its capacity to be purified of all carnality through the co-ascesis of equally yoked partners and returned to them, sanctified and ever fresh, as the divine gift of eros. In the voluntary nailing of carnal passion to the joyful cross of asceticism, holy eros springs to life and flourishes in the hearts and bodies of the two. The very physicality of their relationship transforms itself, both for the couple and prophetically for the whole body of the Church, from a mark of egocentric gratification, sin, and death into a life-giving sacrament, a sign and foretaste of the future aeon, a holy mystery through which created human love becomes truly pleasurable for body and soul, luminous with the interpenetration of uncreated divine love; and truly unitive, not of mere bodies (as postmodern thought would have it), but of embodied persons. The boundless range of tactile and psychic intelligibility proper to sexual love, communicated in a language known only to the two—and inviolable to the voyeuristic intrusion of regulatory scrutiny by any “authority”—itself undergoes by grace a transformative refinement the more each partner perceives in the other no longer an object for mutual gratification, but a subject in whose spiritual beauty the face of Christ reveals itself more radiantly day by day.  

The full text of Mr. Sanfilippo’s MA thesis is available here.

Giacomo Sanfilippo is a PhD student in theological studies at Trinity College in the University of Toronto, an alumnus of the Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies at the University of Toronto, and an editor at Orthodoxy in Dialogue. He holds a BA in Sexuality Studies from York University and an MA in Theology from Regis College/St. Michael’s College. Earlier in life he completed the course requirements for the MDiv at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary.

Orthodoxy in Dialogue seeks to promote the free exchange of ideas by offering a wide range of perspectives on an unlimited variety of topics. The publication of an article by an editor implies neither the agreement nor disagreement of the other editor.
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