Shortly after the June 26 Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage, a friend emailed me an article with her own comment in two short monosyllabic words: “So sad.” My reply was a bit longer: “The world continues its course, and Orthodox Christianity its own. The two are diametrically opposed. There should be no surprise there.” I think we should add a few more thoughts on this important subject.
The reaction to this ruling by the Orthodox Church was prompt. On July 2 the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America said in a statement that it “strongly disagrees” with the Supreme Court’s decision. In plain language it stated that, “It is immoral and unjust for our government to establish in law a ‘right’ for two members of the same sex to wed.” “Marriage,” it added, “from its inception, is the lifelong sacramental union of a man and a woman,” and urged the faithful to “remain firm in their Orthodox faith, and to renew their deep reverence for and commitment to marriage as taught by the Church.”1
Earlier on the Moscow Patriarchate had formally severed ties with the Church of Scotland and the United Protestant Church of France. The reason was because the first one had approved to ordain clergy who had entered into same sex civil unions, while the second one had allowed pastors to officiate at same sex “marriages.” She had previously done the same with the Episcopal Church in the US and the Swedish Lutheran Church. “Dialogue with confessions which openly defy the Biblical moral norms is impossible,” the Russian Bishops’ Council said.2
For us Orthodox, marriage is not a legal transaction, as in Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. Marriage is a divinely ordained union of a man and a woman. According to holy Scripture (see Gen. 1:26-28 and 2:18-25) God created Adam and Eve in His image, and blessed them saying, “Be fruitful and multiply.” Man and woman became “one flesh,” for which purpose He had created them male and female. Marriage is a holy sacrament, resembling the union of Christ with the Church (see Eph. 5:32) and reflecting the image of the Trinitarian God. In the Church’s view, a homosexual union lies outside God’s plan, and such conduct has always being viewed as constituting a grave sin.
Despite the fact that over 70% of the population of America identifies themselves as Christian, it is not Christian-friendly. As Christians, we are expected to be good citizens, however we also have a moral obligation to remain faithful not only to the truths and dogmas of the Church, but also to the morals and ethos of the gospel. Conflicts are bound to exist, whether we refuse to offer incense to the emperor, bless homosexual unions or offer holy Communion to cohabiting homosexuals. Those who scandalize the assembly of believers are admonished, for their own good, to change course so they can come to their senses and reach the true life.
Legalization of homosexual unions in our country has no bearing on the Church’s firm stand. Faithful Orthodox Christians, to the best of their abilities, commit themselves to live a life in accordance with the Church’s teachings. We are saddened by this turn of events in our country, but our concern is first and foremost with our own faithful, not with the world “out there” (cf. 1 Cor. 5:12). When we fall short we are called to repentance. As a loving mother, the Church always stands by her children, and with her divine teachings and holy sacraments lovingly and compassionately she guides them and leads them to salvation.
Article graphics and editing: Tony Hatzidakis