Q. I am powerfully drawn to the Orthodox Church, but I'm gay. Can I be chrismated anyway? How will the other members of the church treat me?
A: The church as a loving community, following the example of Christ, welcomes to its life of faith all sincere seekers with their gifts, their individual personalities, their peculiarities, and even sins. Just as Christ embraced humanity to heal and liberate people according to his image and likeness, so also the church opens its arms to all in order to share the fullness of grace and truth, evangelizing, baptizing, and teaching all that Christ has commanded (Matthew 28:19-20).
As you consider the welcome prospect of membership in the Orthodox Church, the critical question is whether you are willing to take the church on its own terms, in light of its own mission, or only on your own terms. Think about why you are "powerfully drawn" to the Orthodox Church. Is it perhaps its antiquity, colorful worship, or historical character? Are you, as well, willing to be challenged by its witness in its entirety, including its doctrine, ethical teaching, and spirituality? You mention that you are gay, suggesting that you wonder if being gay may bar you from membership. Perhaps you know that, according to traditional Orthodox teaching, homosexual activity is a sin like adultery, fornication, and other acts of sexual impurity. While we can't choose our temptations, we can choose our response to temptation. Confession and forgiveness is available to those who struggle to resist sin, but the intention to continue the practice of homosexuality would indeed impede membership in the Orthodox Church. Furthermore, advocacy of it as an acceptable lifestyle within the church would be damaging to the community, which values the historic moral practice we have inherited.
A repentant, struggling homosexual who refrains from homosexual acts can be received into the church after the usual course of instruction, but he or she would do best to keep this matter in the confessional, just as is common with every other sin.
Since you have singled out this issue, let me add a few explanatory remarks. It's not just homosexuality; the Orthodox Church opposes today's cultural permissiveness in the area of sexuality generally, especially with regard to cohabitation, promiscuity, and various forms of eroticism. It has always maintained a strong position on the holiness of the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit and on the sanctity of marriage, where the gift of sexuality finds genuine fulfillment. Homosexuality is regarded as contrary to God's revealed purpose in his creation of gender and marriage (Genesis 1-2), a position clearly affirmed by Christ (Mark 10:6-9). Nevertheless, homosexuality is not to be isolated as the only sin. It should be seen in the larger context of human sinfulness, which includes sins like fornication, idolatry, adultery, thievery, greed, and drunkenness, all of which according to St. Paul are obstacles to entering God's kingdom (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
To be sure, the church itself is a historical community of saints and sinners. Its members experience various evil inclinations, temptations, and falls. The church must be full of compassion and forgiveness toward all kinds of sinners within and without its communion. Yet its public witness and word, to be authentic, must be consistent with the church's God-given nature and mission, even at the risk of appearing harsh and cruel to a permissive culture. To be itself and serve effectively, the church must seek to incarnate the very vision to which it invites the whole world to share--to be "a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9).
Fr. Ted Stylianopoulos is a professor of the New Testament at the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Mass. He authors a question and answer column on the Beliefnet website.
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