by Fr. John Guy Winfrey –
I never imagined in my entire life that I would actually see the day when same sex marriage would be legalized in the United States. But far more troubling, and absolutely beyond my wildest imagination would be that it would be accepted within the Orthodox Church. The acceptance of homosexuality as an acceptable behavior is, of course, one of the reasons that caused me to leave the church of my birth and enter Orthodoxy in the first place. It is tightly tied to women’s ordination to the priesthood and many other things that entirely undoes the historic Catholic (and Orthodox) Faith. Like so many before me, I had honestly assumed that crossing the threshold of Orthodoxy into the “unchanging Church”, I had finally arrived at a place wherein I simply live the historic Christian Faith untroubled by apostasy from within.
That illusion was popped for me a couple of months ago with a web post titled, Never Changing Gospel, Ever Changing Culture, on an official blog of the OCA, Wonder (wonder.oca.org/blog) [since removed by the OCA hierarchy], by the Archpriest Robert Arida, of Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral in Boston, Massachusetts. In his essay he obliquely proposed the acceptance of same sex marriage as something we Orthodox should embrace. His language was guarded, but was richly laden with symbolic expressions used by those who support such things. If one reads other things he has written there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever what he is suggesting. Following this revelation, I found that there are organized, and quite sizable, groups intentionally and deliberately pushing the Orthodox Church to accept this aberration. It has been more than suggested to me — to my horror — that a substantial number of the power brokers within the OCA are at least sympathetic to this if not entirely supportive.
As Antiochians we are not in as bad a state, but we’re not free of this either. One priest, whom I count as a friend, supports this in his parish in Cambridge, Mass. I have been told that another friend, the Economos of our Archdiocese believes the same. A parish in South Carolina has a priest whose daughter is lesbian and while he does not support homosexual behavior, he will nonetheless not speak out against it in fear of damaging his relationship with his daughter. As a parent I know that I have told my children that I love them but can’t accept particular behaviors. I have no bones about doing that and so I’m gobsmacked at such a lack of backbone. Is that too harsh? I don’t think so.
This is a fundamental Scriptural morality of Christians. It is a non-negotiable. But too many clergy will not stand firm because they look to their parish for their personal affirmation. God help us all. It is not only an OCA and Antiochian issue, but the Greeks have had trouble with this too.
I am not concerned that there are homosexuals within the Orthodox Church. There are and thank God for that because they need salvation just as much as I do. But I have to repent of my sins, and they must repent of theirs which includes this sin. Sin is not to be tolerated and condoned, but repented of. Some clergy have the gravely mistaken notion that by accepting practicing, unrepentant homosexuals at the chalice is the only way to hopefully one day bring them to repentance. This is a novel idea. The Church has always set those who are actively engaged in grossly sinful behavior apart from the chalice until they repent. To allow them to receive at the chalice is to give approbation to their behavior. What’s more it is seen this way by the homosexual activists.
I am aware of another priest, again a friend, but one who believes in the fulness of the faith, that has made this mistake. His name is now listed publicly by homosexual activists as one who is receptive to their aberration. In other words, he is not holding them for future repentance, but is actually making room for the establishment of their behavior as acceptable beginning in his parish.
And now I come to the deeply disturbing concern — if all of this isn’t enough. The Orthodox Church has grown over the past several decades because it has been able to say that we believe the Faith as delivered by the Apostles without alteration or change. Thousands of people have joined the Church because they have been seeking peace and stability. But if this fundamental thing is altered all bets are off. Unless our bishops publicly stand against this, and publicly reprimand those clergy who are advocating for this, then the Orthodox Church will not only cease growing but it will begin to radically decrease in size. Converts who had placed their hope in Orthodoxy will withdraw in large numbers.
Take a look at the Episcopal Church or the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America if you want proof. Moreover it won’t only be laity who leave, but there will be clergy who do so as well and some of them will take their communities along with them. Without being able to actually show the continuity of “keeping the Faith unaltered” then the Orthodox become nothing more than ethnic enclaves with an esoteric spirituality and an elaborate liturgy. Why would anyone want that? No me.
There are things that must be discussed about this issue honestly from a pastoral perspective. For example, if an Orthodox receives a same-sex civil union how should he be disciplined? There is no room to discuss the acceptance of this, but our response. Another issue, which I have raised before, is should we now withdraw from participating in the civil aspect of marriage in the Church lest we be forced to perform same-sex unions? These issues must be discussed frankly and honestly. But, sadly, I don’t think they will be. I rather think that we shall try to move along with business as usual and our heads buried firmly in the sand — full ostrich mode, until it is too late.
Pray that our bishops speak up about this. This is not the concern of only one jurisdiction but is the concern of all Orthodox. Pray that they speak quickly and definitively. And if they don’t, then pray that God shows us all where we must go to live the Faith of the Apostles without this cancer.