Bishop Alexander of the Russian Orthodox church
The Christian moral viewpoint on homosexuality is founded on human reason illumined by faith and is motivated by the desire to do the will of God. There is a clear consistency within the Scriptures on the moral issue of homosexual behavior. The Church's doctrine regarding this issue is thus based not on selected verses but on the solid foundation of an unchanging Biblical testimony. The community of faith today, in unbroken continuity with the Jewish and Christian communities within which the ancient Scriptures were written, continues to be nourished by those same Scriptures and by the Spirit of Truth Whose Word it is. It is essential to recognize that the Scriptures are properly understood only when they are interpreted in accord with Church’s Tradition.
Fundamental to a discussion of homosexuality is the theology of Creation found in Genesis. God, in his infinite wisdom and love, brings into existence all of reality as a reflection of his goodness. He fashions mankind, male and female, in his own image and likeness. Human beings, therefore, are nothing less than the work of God Himself; and in the complementarity of the sexes, they are called to reflect the inner unity of the Creator. They do this in a striking way in their cooperation with him in the transmission of life by a mutual donation of the self to the other.
In Genesis 3, we find that this truth about persons being an image of God has been obscured by original sin. There inevitably follows a loss of awareness of the covenantal character of the union these persons had with God and with each other. The human body retains its “spousal significance” but this is now clouded by sin. Thus, in Genesis 19:1-11, the deterioration due to sin continues in the story of the men of Sodom. There can be no doubt of the moral judgment made there against homosexual relations. In Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, in the course of describing the conditions necessary for belonging to the Chosen People, the author excludes from the People of God those who engage in homosexual behavior.
Against the background of this exposition of theocratic law, an eschatological perspective is developed by St. Paul when, in I Corinthians 6:9, he proposes the same doctrine and lists those who behave in a homosexual fashion among those who shall not enter the Kingdom of God.
In Romans 1:18-32, still building on the moral traditions of his forebears but in the new context of the confrontation between Christianity and the pagan society of his day, Paul uses homosexual behavior as an example of the blindness which has overcome humankind. Instead of the original harmony between Creator and creatures, the acute distortion of idolatry has led to all kinds of moral excess. Paul is at a loss to find a clearer example of this disharmony than homosexual relations. Finally, I Timothy 1, in continuation of the Biblical position, singles out those who spread wrong doctrine and in verse 10 explicitly names as sinners those who engage in homosexual acts.
The Church, obedient to the Lord who founded her and gave to her the sacramental life, celebrates the divine plan of the loving and live-giving union of men and women in the sacrament of marriage. It is only in the marital relationship that the use of the sexual faculty can be morally good. A person engaging in homosexual behavior therefore acts immorally.
To choose someone of the same sex for one's sexual activity is to annul the rich symbolism and meaning, not to mention the goals, of the Creator's sexual design. Homosexual activity is not a complementary union, able to transmit life; and so it thwarts the call to a life of that form of self-giving which the Gospel says is the essence of Christian living. This does not mean that homosexual persons are not often generous and giving of themselves; but when they engage in homosexual activity they confirm within themselves a disordered sexual inclination which is essentially self-indulgent.
Reports of scientific findings pointing to a genetic basis of homosexuality have confused the issue for many Christians who are asking themselves, “How can a trait which is mapped into one's human nature be a sin?”
If indeed there is a genetic element to a homosexual inclination, this is not necessarily surprising. Presumably, our genetic make-up affects great areas of our life. We can readily accept that it influences whether we are fat, athletic, short, blue-eyed, brainy or dull. Just as some people have a greater appetite for food than others, so some have a greater appetite for sex — and it is entirely conceivable that genetics is one of the factors responsible.
On the assumption that “homosexuality” is genetically conditioned, some people conclude that it is wrong to call it sinful. This is a false deduction, and for significant reasons. First of all, being wrongly worded, it throws the discussion off course. The canons and Fathers of the Church deal with specific acts and deeds and not with such abstract terms as “homosexuality.” The question could be better worded: If a homosexual inclination is genetic, how can a person be accused of sin for engaging in homosexual acts? This is better wording, but the premise is still wrong.
Though a large sexual appetite might be influenced by our genetic make-up, this does not mean that for people with such an appetite committing fornication or adultery is not sinful. Similarly with all the other sins. Something in people’s genetic make-up might incline them to a violent disposition — this does not mean that a so inclined is not sinning when he treats people with violence or commits murder.
Furthermore, from of old, Christians have known of the unholy trinity of the causes of sin: the world, the flesh and the devil. We are instructed to resist all three, and we fail — i.e., sin — if we do not. Surely if there is a genetic element to “homosexuality,” all we can say that there is something wrong in it: our flesh is not what it was intended to be — it is fallen and sinful.
For example, when I am tempted by gluttony — I can see the world, the flesh and the devil in this temptation. The world, in that I live in an affluent consumer society; the flesh, in that I have a huge belly and a propensity for eating; and the devil in that nagging thought that this or that would taste nice, or I can allow myself that, or that I should not make a display of abstemiousness, etc., etc.
Isn't it something similar with “homosexuality”? In the last generation, not only have “homosexuals” come out of their closets, but society's opinion of them has changed dramatically.
Excerpts from a letter by Priest Seraphim Holland on homosexuality.
The clear teaching of the church is that any sexual impurity is a serious sin. This includes homosexuality, adultery, fornication, and similar moral aberrations.
When does this sin separate us from God? — When the sin is not repented of. If one is living a continual, habitual lifestyle in which sexual impurity plays a major role, and this person is not struggling to correct himself, he is estranged from God. The temptation to be sexually impure is not a sin. None of our temptations are sins, neither are our passions. One man may be inclined to be covetous, another easily angered, another may be attracted sexually to other men, etc. Our crown is won by doing battle with these passions, and “winning the kingdom of heaven through struggle.”
Some people object on a visceral level when they hear homosexuality referred to as an “abomination.” This language is quite Scriptural, but it often offends people who have bought into the pluralism and relativism of our society. Many arguments can be made that prove that the practice of this sin is unnatural and leads to spiritual, moral and physical ruin more quickly than other sins. The informed Christian can easily find the Scriptures and canons to prove this. Homosexuality is a serious sin, the habitual practice of which will cause a man to be estranged from God, even more than some other sins, because of its effect on the soul of the sinner. The temptation to be homosexual is not an abomination, but the habitual, unrepentant practice of this lifestyle is an abomination.
There is a side effect to fornication between members of the same sex that is not present in the “natural” variety. Because it is so clearly proscribed in Scripture and church tradition, and the physical acts in it are never blessed by God (unlike heterosexual relations), some have been forced to make up incredible stories to justify their activities. This has led to heresy in other areas. One look at the suffering Episcopalians can show this. They are riddled with lesbian ministers, some of whom are even preaching a kind of “Goddess” worship.
Some homosexuals say things like, “You don't realize how much emotional and spiritual suffering I have gone through, because, through no choice of my own, I have discovered in myself a homosexual orientation. I was born this way.”
Christians understand about the emotional suffering. Sin causes suffering. This is no different than alcoholism, drug use, kleptomania, or any other sinful, abnormal condition. We all suffer because of our sins. Homosexuals suffer more that most, since many cannot even comprehend that their sexual activity (not orientation) is a sin.
As for “choice,” the Christian view is that a man may have a homosexual inclination (a passion), and still be God-pleasing. If he wars against this passion, as much as he would against blasphemy or anger, or any other inclination that, if acted upon, would be a sin, then he will be a great God-pleaser. If he caters to this passion, and satisfies it in blasphemous carnal relations, then he is far from God.
A devoutly religious person who regularly engages in homosexual relations, with self justification, is an oxymoron. The terrible problem is that such people, in the spirit of this age, are being convinced that their actions are not really a sin, just as women are being told that an abortion is not murder. How can a man or woman repent, if it is not “politically correct” to do so, and if they are being barraged with information which is designed to keep them from recognizing their sin?
Any man or woman can change — can stop being a drunkard, or liar, or homosexual, or blasphemer, or anything else, with God's help.
Hell is more painful than anyone can imagine. All sin leads to it, whether or not it is called “sin,” or “lifestyle,” or “orientation.”
Priest Seraphim Holland
Excerpts from the “Synodal Affirmations on ... Sexuality and the Sanctity of Life” (Orthodox Church in America, Tenth All-American Council, July, 1992).
Created to know God's divinity and power through creation, human beings have refused to acknowledge God, to honor and thank Him, and to obey his divine teachings. Through their rebellion “they became futile in their thinking and their senseless hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:21). Therefore, as the Apostle Paul continues to teach, “God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves...their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error” (Romans 1 :26-27).
Homosexual acts, like adulterous and incestuous behavior, are condemned in the law of Moses. Those who do these things, both men and women, are, according to God's law of the old covenant, to be put to death (Leviticus 18:6-23; 20:10-21).
According to the apostle Paul, those engaging in homosexual acts, along with fornicators, adulterers, idolaters, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers and robbers, will not inherit the kingdom of heaven. Christians come from all these categories of evildoers who have, voluntarily and involuntarily, been caught up in the sin of the world. They are those who through their personal repentance and faith in Christ, their Baptism and Chrismation, and their participation in Holy Communion have been “washed...sanctified...and made righteous in the name of the Lord Jesus and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Orthodox Baptism and Chrismation Service).
Jesus teaches mercy and forgiveness for all sinners, but the Lord does not justify sin. When the Son of God pronounces divine pardon to those caught in evil he always charges the forgiven sinner to “go and sin no more” (John 8:11).
Convinced of these God-revealed truths, we offer the following affirmations and admonitions for the guidance of the faithful:
Homosexuality is to be approached as the
result of humanity's rebellion against God, and so against
its own nature and well-being. It is not to be taken as a
way of living and acting for men and women made in God's
image and likeness.
People with homosexual tendencies are ... to
seek assistance in discovering the specific causes of their
homosexual orientation, and to work toward overcoming its
harmful effects in their lives.
Persons struggling with homosexuality who
accept the Orthodox faith and strive to fulfill the Orthodox
way of life may be communicants of the Church with everyone
else who believes and struggles. Those instructed and
counseled in Orthodox Christian doctrine and ascetical life
who still want to justify their behavior may not participate
in the Church's sacramental mysteries, since to do so would
not help, but harm them.
Assistance is to be given to those who deal
with persons of homosexual orientation in order to help them
with their thoughts, feelings and actions with regard to
homosexuality. Such assistance is especially necessary for
parents, relatives and friends of persons with homosexual
tendencies and feelings. It is certainly necessary for
pastors and church workers.
These affirmations on marriage, family, sexuality, and the sanctity of life are issued by the Holy Synod of Bishops on the occasion of the Tenth All-American Council of the Orthodox Church in America.
Miami, Florida, July, 1992
As in every moral disorder, homosexual activity prevents one's own fulfillment and happiness by acting contrary to the creative wisdom of God. The Church, in rejecting erroneous opinions regarding homosexuality, does not limit but rather defends personal freedom and dignity realistically and authentically understood.
Thus, the Church's teaching today is in organic continuity with the Scriptural perspective and with her own consistent Tradition. Though today's world is in many ways quite new, the Christian community senses the profound and lasting bonds which join us to those generations who have gone before us “marked with the sign of faith.”
Nevertheless, increasing numbers of people today, even within the Church, are bringing enormous pressure to bear on the Church to accept the homosexual condition as though it were not disordered and to condone homosexual activity. Those within the Church who argue in this fashion often have close ties with those with similar views outside it. These latter groups are guided by a vision opposed to the truth about the human person, which is fully disclosed in the mystery of Christ. They reflect, even if not entirely consciously, a materialistic ideology which denies the transcendent nature of the human person as well as the supernatural vocation of every individual.
The Church position cannot be revised by pressure from civil legislation or the trend of the moment. It has been argued that a homosexual inclination in certain cases is not the result of deliberate choice, and thus the person so inclined would have no choice but to behave in a homosexual manner. Lacking freedom, such a person, even if engaged in homosexual activity, would not be culpable.
Here, the Church's wise moral tradition is necessary since it warns against generalizations in judging individual cases. In fact, circumstances may exist, or may have existed in the past, which would reduce the culpability of the individual in a given instance; or other circumstances may increase it. What is at all costs to be avoided is the unfounded and demeaning assumption that the sexual behavior of homosexual persons is always and totally compulsive and therefore inculpable. What is essential is that the fundamental liberty which characterizes the human person and gives him his dignity be recognized as belonging to the homosexual person as well. As in every conversion from evil, the abandonment of homosexual activity will require a profound collaboration of the individual with God's liberating grace.
What, then, are homosexual persons to do who seek to follow the Lord? Fundamentally, they are called to enact the will of God in their life by joining whatever sufferings and difficulties they experience in consequence of their condition to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross. That Cross, for the believer, is a fruitful sacrifice since from that death come life and redemption. While any call to carry the cross or to understand a Christian's suffering in this way will predictably be met with bitter ridicule by some, it should be remembered that this is the sole way to eternal life.
It is, in effect, none other than the teaching of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians when he says that the Spirit produces in the lives of the faithful “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control” (5:22), and further (5:24): “You cannot belong to Christ unless you crucify all self-indulgent passions and desires.”
 Mt 11:12. This means that we must struggle, fast, pray, and do everything within our power (with the help of God), to humble ourselves, and to uproot our passions, with great labor and toil. If a man is not struggling to do these things, he is not gaining the kingdom of heaven.
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