Into Orthodoxy: Into Love

Read more about the Into Orthodoxy series.

By Mark Timson

Icon_of_Virgin_Mary_(fragment,_Greece) I became Orthodox because I didn’t want to be gay anymore. I wanted to write a high-minded, spiritual reflection for you about my deepening walk with Christ, but I’ve torn up rewrite after rewrite because none of them were true. I became Orthodox because I was a gay man in denial, which as we all know is more than a river in Egypt!

I was raised by devout Evangelical Protestant missionaries in the developing world, longing from middle school on for some way to change who I was, to stop being one of the guys responsible for the collapse of Western Christian civilization as my parents’ church knew it. I couldn’t love God and love another man, and I was tormented by this reality. When I finally discovered the strong, deep peasant Orthodoxy of my parents’ last mission field I thought I finally had a way to live in God as well as all the rules I needed to live righteously. And if you live in righteousness, the evils that beset you will be removed. Right? Right…

You would think this story would end in disillusionment and departure, and it has certainly included a fair amount of both. It’s been well over a decade since I started attending Orthodox churches, and there have been gaps in that attendance. Yet I am so deeply thankful for my delusion, for my vain hopes for change. Not because of the torture coming out has been or the struggle of being Orthodox and gay, but because through all of those struggles I’ve been kept in the Church by the depth and beauty of its life and continually drawn back to the loving, merciful God Who created us for a life in communion. It’s this God of love that I’ve discovered in Orthodoxy Who has led me to accepting myself as He made me and to realize that it’s not the gender of the person you love that matters, it’s the saving nature of loving someone else and discovering deeper communion with God through them.

I wish I had a story of victory or illumination, but I don’t, just the love of a God Who has, time and time again, rescued me from myself and tried to keep me living a life of love. I don’t know what the future holds and I don’t know whether I’ll always be welcome in this Church I’ve come to love so deeply, but I do know that she will always be a part of my life, as will her God.

39 thoughts on “Into Orthodoxy: Into Love”

  1. As far as the Tradition goes, I tend to be pretty traditional – wherever I've lived I've tried to attend old style (Julian), liturgically proper, and ascesis-oriented parishes if possible. (Sometimes geography gets in the way, alas.) I have no desire to change who can be crowned and who can't, but I don't see why the Church cannot bless already saving, stable, monogamous homosexual relationships through the bratotvorenije or something similarly different from crowning yet appropriate. We are driving sincere, devout Orthodox away over this blindness to reality, and that pains me, especially given what economies are extended to straight couples. (Look at how graciously uncrowned 'mail order bride' marriages are usually treated, for example.)

  2. Perry Robinson – It means that I don't see a difference between the love shared by the partnered/married heterosexual and homosexual couples of my acquaintance. Self-denying, godly love has an amazing, transformative power to it, and in my personal experience I haven't been able to see God pouring it out on heterosexual couples and denying it to homosexual ones.

  3. Many thanks for your kindness, but alas, I decided when I passed this on to David to use a pseudonym :-/. It pained me to do so, but I grew up in rather reactionary environments and still have to navigate them thanks to where I live and where I go to church, and having this published under my name would not have been a good idea. (At the present time anyways.)

  4. Tharrini Jessie Morton – The references to "the struggle of being Orthodox" and being "kept in the Church" should have resolved your confusion :-). I started attending the services a couple of years before I was baptized. As a result I've been attending Orthodox churches for well over a decade, but I've been Orthodox for 10 years now.

  5. I am happy for the writer that he finally recognized God's love for Him…just may be,with that awakening love, He could then be so moved to love God back…Amen!

    1. I couldn't say, in this case, because of the ambiguity of the article. I have often communed people who were struggling with homosexuality. The key question, as it is with any sin, is whether the person repents, and at least has the intention of not doing it again. For example, one of the last questions I ask when hearing confession, is "Do you forgive those who have offended you?" Sometimes the answer is "No." And when I get that answer, I can't just say the prayer of absolution and let them commune. I explain what forgiveness means, and does not mean, and then ask the question again. Sometimes, I have to say, "If you do not choose to forgive, I cannot commune you." And so far, I have never had anyone walk away without at least making the decision to forgive, and asking God to help them. I could not commune someone who didn't think homosexuality was a sin, or who simply had no intention of resisting that temptation, just like I could not commune a person who is living in fornication with someone of the opposite sex, unless they made the decision to cease. See what St. John Chrysostom has to say in his homily for Holy Thursday: http://fatherjohn.blogspot.com/2011/07/homily-for-holy-thursday-by-st-john.html

    2. Fr. John: Father bless! As an American I would defend to the death your right to feel and say what you are moved to. As a Christian I embrace you as having been made in the image and likeness of God. More than that I cannot say, and still be 'meek as a dove.'

    3. How would you know what goes on in this person's bedroom, Fr.? Would you interrogate him?

    4. Stephen, why are trying to change the topic to me, rather than what I have written? Is it because you can't take issue with the fact that the church has a clear teaching on this subject, and that a priest clearly cannot commune someone who expresses no willingness to stop engaging in a sin that St. Paul ssayswill prevent one from inheriting the kingdom of God? Please stay focused on the substance of what we are discussing.

    5. Lew, Priests do ask questions in confession, but I have never asked about homosexuality out of the blue… but if I had a parishioner who posted an article like this one, I would have to ask about it at that point.

  6. I applaud David for his honesty. Who among us can say we always, and without fail, follow the commandments of God, let alone the teachings of the church? We are all in a battle for our soul.

  7. I applaud David for his honesty. Who among us can say we always, and without fail, follow the commandments of God, let alone the teachings of the church? We are all in a battle for our soul.

  8. I too applaud Mark for his courage. I also appreciate that this piece was focused on his love of the Church and not about changing the traditional teachings of the church on same-sex relations, marriage, etc.

    1. "It’s this God of love that I’ve discovered in Orthodoxy Who has led me to accepting myself as He made me and to realize that it’s not the gender of the person you love that matters, it’s the saving nature of loving someone else and discovering deeper communion with God through them."

      I am not clear what that means.

    2. @Dave O'Neal, the Traditional teachings of the Church do not need to be put into quotations, as if there is some doubt on the matter. When you come into the Church, you don't get to change the Church to suit you. If you sincerely don't believe what the Church teaches, then it would be best not to join it.

    3. @Perry Robinson, this is the problem with this article. In the Orthodox Church, you not only get to love whoever you want, but you have to love those that you don't want to love. But you don't get to have sex with whoever you want and expect that the Church will approve of it, or that you will be allowed to continue to commune in the Church. Romans 1:26-27 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 are very clear on this, as are several Ecumenical canons that touch on this subject.

      When a person is received into the Church by Chrismation, here are three affirmations that they make:

      "Bishop: Dost thou accept the Apostolical and Ecclesiastical Canons framed and established at the Seven Holy Universal and Provincial Councils, and the other traditions and ordinances of the Orthodox Church?

      Answer: I do.

      Bishop: Dost thou acknowledge that the Holy Scriptures must be accepted and interpreted in accordance with the belief which hath been handed down by the Holy Fathers, and which the Holy Orthodox Church, our Mother, hath always held and still doth hold?

      Answer: I do.

      …Bishop: Dost thou promise true obedience, unto thy life’s end, in guidance which is salutary unto the soul, to the Most Holy Synod; to the Most Holy Patriarch, the Equal-of-the-Apostles (or to the Ecclesiastical Authorities of the Autocephalous Provincial Church); and to the Bishop of this Diocese, as the true Pastors appointed by the Holy Spirit; and to the Priests ordained by them?

      Answer: I promise it, with heart unfeigned."

    4. I did to, except that he left this one point vague, but suggestive. More candor on that point, and less suggestion, was in order. If he accepts that he will continue to struggle with this temptation, but accepts the teachings of the Church on the subject, I applaud him too. If he means that he will continue in the Church, but continue to have sex with men and just ignore the teachings of the Church, than I do not applaud that. That is the opposite of candor. That is disingenuity.

    5. Also it wasn't really clear–at least to me–if he is actually Orthodox or not because he simply mentioned "attending Orthodox churches"–that is not how we speak of being Orthodox. I found the article confusing in many ways.

    6. Fr John, All of what you wrote is fine, but my question I think remains. I do not know what the *author* means.

      Having been raised in the Episcopal church I've seen far too much double speak from the Lavander Mafia in emotional and sympathetic pieces like this to be very cautious. It is quite possible there is no dissimulation here, but on the other hand, I want to know what words mean by those who use them.

    7. Fr. John, I don't intend to "just ignore the teachings of the Church." I've never been promiscuous and have no intention of becoming so. Given the corner the modern Orthodox Churches have left gays and lesbians in however, I do recognize that if God in His kindness grants me to marry I will likely have to accept being placed under the ban. I am a son of the Church and if I'm put under the ban I will submit to that. I also submit to being the man God made me. Whatever ends up happening, I will continue struggling to live a life of love in communion with God, and I will not allow the small-mindedness of others to drive me out of His Church.

    8. @Mark Timson, not being promiscuous is not the same thing as not engaging in sex with a woman that you are not married to. The teachings of the Church say that you may marry a woman, if you wish, but you may not have sex with anyone except a woman that you are married to. If you marry a woman, there is no reason why you would need to be under any ban. However, if you are expressing your hope that you may one day marry a man, than you are hoping to enter into a relationship that the Church forbids — and that is fact. It is not broadminded to to believe that the Church is in error on this teaching… it is anti-Orthodox. You are welcome in the Church, but you are not welcome to have the Church on your own terms.

    9. Dave, being honest and sincere alone are not what makes one holy or righteous, which is the goal of faith traditions. If Hitler (just as an example not anything else!) had been sincere and honest without repentance and compunction, his actions would still condemn him. I think the trouble you may have – noticing that you work at Shambala – is the concept of "sin".

    1. God forgive me, but I've used a pseudonym. (Please remember me in your prayers though, I am a Mark.) I personally would prefer to use my actual name, but for my extended family's sake I used the pen name for this post…

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