In a climate of fear where Orthodox bishops and clergy feel that they have to come to us “by night,” as it were, to express their support for Orthodoxy in Dialogue’s commitment to keeping sexuality and gender front and centre of intra-Orthodox debate—and where one bishop is even forbidden by the Holy Synod of his jurisdiction to publish his views on these questions—we thank Protodeacon Feldman for his courage in attaching his name to the following brief reflection. We pray that others of his fellow clergymen and some of our hierarchs become equally emboldened to speak out publicly. Orthodox children, women, and men whose sense of personal identity falls somewhere along the LGBTQ spectrum are literally craving to hear from you.
Christ and St. Photini (Svetlana) at the Well
I want to offer a few brief observations regarding persons identifying as LGBTQ+ in our churches: observations from Scripture, from Tradition, from worship, and from experience.
The Old Testament book of Leviticus includes many commandments that we do not keep—for example, do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material (19:19), do not trim your beard (19:27), do not sacrifice an ox outside the camp (17:3-4), render “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” (24:19-20). Those who cite 18:22 and 20:13 (do not “lie with a male as with a woman”) as prohibitions against homosexuality pluck them from a whole that we no longer countenance. In doing so—in selecting those commandments that they consider applicable to our culture—they confess to discerning how to apply Scripture to our lives. But then we may contest their discernment and counter that these verses, like the others, do not make sense in our culture.
We cannot anyway recover the intent of these two verses from Leviticus. The Hebrew words here that are often claimed as targeting homosexual behavior appear nowhere else in the Old Testament. And so they are impossible to translate reliably. We can recover neither their proper meaning, nor their intended target, nor their context in a society so far removed from our own as to make even ordinary daily activities incomprehensible. Instead, our ill-informed and selective readings turn these and other texts into mirrors of our own preoccupations, rather than true guides to the challenges faced either by ancient Israel or by our own culture.
And why do we turn to Leviticus—to the Law, from which we have been freed by Christ (Gal 3:3)? Is this the right place to look for answers to our current problems? If we turn instead to Christ, we find that he neither forbade nor saw fit even to mention homosexuality—nor any other sexual activity that we class under LGBTQ+. Among all sexual behaviors, Christ condemned only adultery. For adultery is a betrayal of our partner and of God Himself, who fashions the bond that unites two persons in one flesh. And Christ further taught that divorce followed by remarriage is adultery (Mt 5:32, 19:9; Mk 10:11; etc.). Yet we admit divorced and remarried communicants to our churches. How then can we raise barriers against LGBTQ+ communicants, when we accept those who, as Christ taught us, engage in the sin of adultery?
We hear calls for LGBTQ+ persons to remain celibate, lest they knowingly persist in sin. “Practicing” homosexuals, we are told, are “living in sin.” But couples who have divorced and remarried, according to Christ’s teaching, are likewise living in sin. Even more: Christ warned us that a married person who even looks at another person with desire commits adultery in his heart (Mt 5:28). Who among us has stopped looking with desire at other persons? We are all living in sin. This is a fundamental teaching of our faith.
Even adulterers, though, Christ accepted when they turned to Him. He foreknew the Samaritan woman for a serial adulterer, yet He broke every law in the book to bring her into communion with Himself—speaking to a Samaritan, speaking alone with a woman, sharing her drinking cup—because He foresaw that she would open her heart to Him. Indeed, she turned her entire community to Him (Jn 4). The sinful woman who washed His feet with her hair He likewise forgave because she approached Him with love in her heart (Lk 7). It was the Pharisees who muttered complaints against her and other sinners who turned to Him. How can we miss the parallel with those who are complaining today about LGBTQ+ persons who wish to draw near to Christ?
Let us look at last at that much overworked verse and a half from Romans (1:26-27). The same points regarding selective readings apply here as to Leviticus. And as with Leviticus, we can pursue historical investigation forever (I speak as a historian) before we discover just what Paul had in mind. This much we can say: by using these verses to judge LGBTQ+ persons we turn Paul’s teaching upside down. For the conclusion to the last part of Rom 1 is to be found at the opening of Rom 2—chapter and verse divisions being later additions to Scripture:
Therefore you have no excuse, O man, whoever you are, when you judge another; for in passing judgment upon him you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.
We cannot use Rom 1:26-7 to judge others without calling judgement upon ourselves.
From Holy Tradition
Both sides of the debate appeal to Tradition. But from Holy Tradition itself we hear only…silence. For Holy Tradition is rooted in the word and work of Christ. And here, as we have seen, we find nothing concerning LGBTQ+. So the opinions of the Church Fathers on sexual behavior (aside, always, from adultery) are just that: opinions, growing out of their own cultural context, but not out of Christ’s word.
From Our Worship
Each of us confesses, as we approach the Chalice, that we are chief among sinners (1 Tim 1:15). Then by our own confession we are worse sinners than any sexual transgressor. If, then, we forbid “practicing” LGBTQ+ persons to approach the Chalice, we ourselves had better run out the exit door before we brazenly approach that same Chalice with judgment in our hearts.
What is our experience, as clergy, when a communicant approaches the Chalice? Whom do we see? If, as Paul taught us, there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female, but we are all one in Christ (Gal 3:28), do we yet distinguish between gay and straight? Or do we see, standing in front of us, only a person desiring to meet the Lord?
Are we to stand in judgment between Christ and this person who seeks His face?
See LGBTQI Listening Tour: An Open Letter to Our Bishops in the USA and Canada as well as the Fifty Years after Stonewall and extensive Sexuality and Gender sections in our Archives by Author & Subject.
Protodeacon Theodore Feldman holds master’s and doctoral degrees in mathematics and history from the University of California at Berkeley. He has published on faith and science in The Wheel (Issue 11) and contributed to Orthodoxy in Dialogue’s Lenten Meditations 2019 series. He is currently working on a project entitled “The Theology of Isaac Newton’s Physics: An Orthodox Christian Perspective.” He is assigned to Holy Trinity Cathedral (OCA) in Boston MA.