What to do about LGBTQ individuals connected with the Orthodox Church (or who want to be connected to the Orthodox Church) is the biggest doctrinal issue we are dealing with today. The pat answers we have are inadequate to the questions we have because, while the mechanics of same-sex acts have not changed over the centuries (or so I imagine), the social conditions under which same-sex desires and relationships are lived out are drastically different. In Greek times, same-sex acts were tantamount to child abuse. In Roman times, it was about the exercise of power. Degrees of condemnation varied in Christian Europe, ranging from scolding youthful mischief to prescribing penance for marital infidelity or fornication. It was not until the Victorian era that “homosexuality” came to be considered a kind of diagnosable and thus treatable condition. Continue reading “How Not to Talk about Homosexuality in the Orthodox Church”
It is telling that the 6-7 essays (out of 150 total) Public Orthodoxy has posted about marriage and sexuality have an outsized readership.
— George Demacopoulos (@GDemacopoulos) September 2, 2017
When an Orthodox Christian brings up the church’s teachings about sexuality…critics respond more to what they perceive to be the agenda of the author than the substance of the argument.
Ancient Faith’s “Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy” blog recently featured a guest post by Dr. Alfred Kentigern Siewers, responding to Giacomo Sanfilippo’s recent article on Conjugal Friendship in Public Orthodoxy. Sanfilippo deserves praise for broaching a topic that puts a bullseye on his back, and Siewers deserves praise for his thoughtful and measured response. These two articles, together, exemplify a spirit of dialog over an issue that needs to be fully and reasonably considered, but which often generates more heat than light. That said, Siewers seems to be countering a set of arguments that Sanfilippo simply does not make. Continue reading “Further thoughts on Conjugal Friendship: A Response to Siewers”
This model of friendship, in which two people become one soul, sharing life together in all ways but procreation, has roots in Scripture and other holy writings. We see examples of it in David and Jonathan or the saints Sergius and Bacchus. Conjugal friendship has such deep roots in the church that it actually predates the rite of marriage, or so the author claims.
Public Orthodoxy recently posted an article by Giacomo Sanfilippo on “Conjugal Friendship,” which he puts out there as a kind of alternate way of beginning to think about same-sex marriage from an Orthodox theological perspective.
Sanfilippo uses the Russian theologian and polymath, Pavel Florensky, as a kind of case study in conjugal friendship. (Pyman’s Quiet Genius is a superb introduction to Florensky.) Florensky, the author claims, was the first theologian to articulate such a theology in modern times. This model of friendship, in which two people become one soul, sharing life together in all ways but procreation, has roots in Scripture and other holy writings. We see examples of it in David and Jonathan or the saints Sergius and Bacchus. Conjugal friendship has such deep roots in the church that it actually predates the rite of marriage, or so the author claims.
Despite whatever one might be inclined to read between the lines here, it does need to be acknowledged that the modern idea of a macho, tough-guy who only grunts around other men is a historical aberration. There are multiple examples from history of deep friendships between members of the same sex. We would be inclined to see these as “gay” today, but maybe not. Masculinity today is a reaction to perceived threats of feminism, and thus men, at least in the time and place where I live, are not inclined to do things like kiss or hold hands, even though such displays of affection are common in many other parts of the world.
Sanfilippo’s article needs to be read…twice. And then read again. I am still processing a great deal of it. I have plans to look through his original sources. I recommend the same for all of his readers, especially those who were convinced of its errors before ever setting eyes on it. That said, there was one statement he made that raised some immediate questions.
Yet to project “sexual orientation” anachronistically onto a time and place where such a thing was unknown as a marker of personal identity is historically inaccurate and theologically unhelpful. If conceived as indiscriminate carnal desire for members of the opposite, one’s own, or both genders, all sexual orientations originate in the fall of human love from its primeval capacity to reflect and participate in the ecstasy of divine eros.
I would like Sanfilippo to elaborate on this statement a bit more. What does he mean by it? On the one hand, it seems to suggest that all sexuality is a result of the fall. This would make all sexual desire and sexual pleasure sinful. Is this something the author himself agrees with? Or is his point more nuanced? Is it possible for sexual desire and pleasure to be experienced as a kind of ecstasy in divine eros?
It is the second possibility that fascinates me. I have blogged about this before when thinking through the theological anthropologies of St Augustine and St Gregory of Nyssa (and their implications). Augustine has a reputation for being anti-sex, but I actually think the evidence has it the other way around. Augustine sees sex and procreation as being part of God’s plan before the Fall. For Nyssen, it was a result of the Fall. So for Augustine, sexual desire post-Fall is disordered desire because it cannot fully escape selfishness, but in theory, absent the constraints of original sin, this leaves open the possibility of a kind of theology of redeemed intercourse. For Nyssen, on the other hand, that is never really a possibility. Sex is just there, temporarily, to continue the human species. In essence, sexual differentiation and sexuality are just not part of who we are. That is not necessarily the case for Augustine. One might say that for Gregory of Nyssa it is a necessary evil while for Augustine sex is a disordered good.
I realize at this point that I am beginning to sound like one of those people at academic conferences that pretends to have a question but really just wants to talk at length about what interests them. That is not my intent. What I am curious about is which of the two options does Sanfilippo think is most compatible with his argument. If we are to have conjugal friendship, then is it better for us to be without sex or gender in essence, as Gregory of Nyssa thought? Or does the physical affection that he says comes with conjugal friendship necessitate an anthropology more along Augustinian lines, wherein we are bodies that demonstrate affection for each other, and that affection can, at least in theory, be holy?
Or to put it another way, from the perspective of Sanfilippo’s argument, does conjugal friendship have the potential to be a rightly ordered good, or can it only ever be a necessary evil?
To all the people who believe that I have a secret agenda behind my writings on gay marriage, that my true intention is to push the Orthodox Church to become more Episcopalian (which is apparently an insult), to make our priests wear rainbow colored vestments and bless the marriages between two men and a horse, picture me blowing you a raspberry.
Honestly, I was tempted to make a ruder gesture, but that wouldn’t set a very good example now would it? Obergefell v. Hodges made gay civil marriage legal, which means that for me, as an issue, it has more or less dropped off my list of priorities.
Not long ago, Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse suggested that Fr. Robert Arida go become an Episcopalian. For those who don’t know, that’s the conservative Orthodox equivalent of, “Go f@#k yourself!” This sentiment was echoed by the always level-headed, never trollish, commenters of Monomakhos.com. The ostensible source of their outrage is an article that Fr. Arida had posted on Wonder, a blog for OCA youth. According to Fr. Jacobse, Fr. Arida attempts to “legitimize homosexual parings” in clear violation of “Orthodox self-understanding and practice.” That is a pretty bold accusation, one that demands a first-hand investigation. Unfortunately, the original article was
censored taken down, but I found a PDF version. In it, Fr. Arida says the following about “homosexual pairings”…