The following excerpt is taken from Metropolitan Kallistos’ Foreword in The Wheel, Issue 13/14, Spring/Summer 2018, Being Human: Embodiment and Anthropology. The links to the full text and order form for the hard copy of this issue are provided below.
In reproducing His Eminence’s reflection on same-sex love at this time we hope to bring it directly into conversation with Metropolitan Nathanael (Symeonides) on Same-Sex Orientation, Priest to Priest: An Open Letter to Fathers Damick, Farley, Jacobse, Parker, and Trenham, Bishop to Bishop: Straight from Confession to Suicide, Letter to a Young Gay Orthodox Camper, Protodeacon Theodore Feldman’s LGBTQ+ in Our Churches, Father Aaron Warwick’s Pastoring LGBTQ Individuals in the Orthodox Church, and the anonymous Continuing the Conversation: A Response to Father Aaron Warwick. We also hope to embolden other like-minded hierarchs, priests, and deacons to speak out openly. LGBTQI Orthodox Christians are craving to hear from you.
…With regard to homosexuality, the Orthodox Church today has undoubtedly to confront a series of difficult issues. Without accepting everything that is said by the three authors of the text “Jesus Christ and Same-Sex Marriage,” I fully recognise that they are dealing with genuine problems. I can see at least three anomalies in our current treatment of homosexuals. First, until recent times, Orthodox thinkers did not make use of the concept of sexual orientation, as this is understood in contemporary psychology. More precisely, they assumed that there is only one orientation, and that is heterosexual. They considered that persons of homosexual inclination were such because of personal choice and were therefore willfully wicked. Nowadays Orthodox writers would normally prefer to make a distinction between orientation and action. Homosexual orientation, we would say, is indeed contrary to God’s plan for humankind, being one of the consequences of the fall (incidentally, I am surprised that more is not said about the fall in the course of this issue of The Wheel). But homosexual men and women are not personally guilty of their orientation, because this is not something they have chosen; they only become guilty if by deliberate choice they decide to live out this orientation in their actions. They can choose to be celibate.
This argument, however, places us in difficulty. Persons of heterosexual orientation have the option of getting married, and so in a positive way they can fulfil their erotic desire with the Church’s blessing through the God-given sacrament of holy matrimony. But homosexuals have no such option. In the words of Vasileios Thermos, “A homosexual subject is called to lead a celibate life without feeling a vocation for it.” Are we right to impose this heavy burden on the homosexual?
A second anomaly is to be found in the way homosexuals are commonly treated in the sacrament of confession. All of us recognize that there is an important distinction to be made between those homosexuals who engage in casual encounters, seeking out in some “gay” bar a partner for a single night; and on the other hand, those homosexuals who are committed to a permanent relationship, faithful and monogamous, in which deep love is involved. Surely no Christian is in favour of sexual promiscuity. Yet what frequently happens in confession? Let us suppose that the one who is promiscuous comes to feel a sincere revulsion for his way of life, and with genuine penitence resolves to pursue a life of purity in the future. In that case, he will probably be given absolution by the priest and will be permitted, perhaps with certain restrictions, to receive holy communion. For a time, he refrains from sexual activity, but then from frustration and loneliness he relapses into another casual encounter. After that he repents, and is absolved, and is once more blessed to receive communion. Then after a time he again lapses. So the cycle continues. What happens, by contrast, to the faithful and monogamous homosexual? Perhaps the priest says in confession, “Are you willing to give up your homosexual relationship?” The penitent may answer, “I cannot do that.” The priest may rejoin, “You can continue to share a common life, marked by mutual affection; but will you abstain from further sexual activity?” The other may well reply, “I am not yet ready to undertake that.” (Yet I have known homosexuals who have indeed transformed their relationship in this way.) The priest, faced with this refusal, may well feel that he cannot bless the penitent to receive the sacrament. Now here certainly is a paradox. The homosexual committed to a stable and loving relationship is treated more harshly than the homosexual who is casual and promiscuous, and who is seeking not true love but passing pleasure. Something has gone wrong here.
There is a third question which we have to ask ourselves. The Orthodox tradition teaches clearly that sexual acts between persons of the same sex are not permitted. Yet at the same time, most of us recognise authentic spiritual value in deep friendships between such persons, even passionate friendships such as that formed by Father Pavel Florensky (see Giacomo Sanfilippo’s contribution to this issue [Father Pavel Florensky and the Sacrament of Love]). Why do we put so great an emphasis upon genital sex? Why do we seek to enquire what adult persons of the same sex are doing in the privacy of their bedrooms? Trying to gaze through the keyhole is never a dignified posture. What harm are they doing to others? (“Ah!” it will be said, “they are doing harm to themselves.”) I am not suggesting here that we should bluntly set aside the traditional Orthodox teaching, but we do need to enquire more rigorously into the reasons that lie behind it.
While not agreeing with all that is said in this volume—indeed, the contributors do not always agree among themselves—nevertheless I welcome this issue of The Wheel. I welcome it precisely because it does not claim to offer a systematic and definitive treatment of sexuality, but because its aim is to “initiate discussion”….
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