Update: Comments here and on Facebook have made me aware that some people think this post is about gay marriage. It is not.
I support gay civil marriage. This puts me at odds with the official views of my bishops. If I had been asked about that on air, I would have said something about how I am personally uncomfortable disagreeing with my hierarchs, but I would also have said that in the Orthodox Church, just because a synod or council meets and says something does not mean it is right. Let me give you a few examples…
In the year 360 Orthodoxy became Arian. That is when Emperor Constantius called a council in Constantinople to adopt the The Tenth Arian Confession. One reason the Arian controversy lasted so long was because, to a lot of people, it sounded like Orthodoxy. Thus St. Athanasius was repeatedly exiled and condemned as a heretic.
In the year 754 Orthodoxy became Iconoclastic. In 730 Emperor Leo III passed a decree banning all icons, and Constantine “Copronymus” called a council in 754 to ratify his decision. Contrary to some theories, this had nothing to do with the influence of Islam on the church in Constantinople. After all, as Jaroslav Pelikan pointed out, Byzantium’s enemies were Muslim, so that would be like saying sales of sushi and sauerkraut should have skyrocketed during WWII. Iconoclasm arose as a response to genuine concerns about idolatry. The controversy lasted over a hundred years because it took that long for the church to figure out what we now know is orthodox.
In 1274 and 1439 Orthodoxy became Roman Catholic. That is when Orthodox bishops met at Lyon and again in Florence to submit to the rule of the Pope. In Florence this involved a great deal of compromise on important theological issues. Although the council was almost immediately rejected by many in Constantinople, others continue to view those councils as legitimate (we call them Byzantine Catholics).
The problem with seeing the tradition as an unchanging deposit is that it masks the fact that we only know what is orthodox because we have the benefit of history. To a certain extent, at any one point in time, knowing orthodoxy from heresy is a matter of perspective. That does not mean we should be relativists, or that we should speak without conviction, only that we also need to exercise a little intellectual humility. We should make every effort not to confuse an unshakable faith with obstinacy and hubris.
This post will almost certainly raise the alarms of some readers who see a “pro-gay agenda” behind pretty much everything I say these days. If what I have written already will not convince them, I doubt new words will be any more effective. The past two posts have been nothing but “prolegomena.” When Kevin Allen and I were discussing how to approach the topic of Orthodoxy and same-sex orientation, he proposed we start with Scripture and the “holy traditions” of the Orthodox Church.
He is right, of course. All our discussions should begin there, but that still may not mean we are both talking about the same thing.