Church and State in Orthodoxy
July 28, 2013
There is nothing like a few Supreme Court rulings and a few gay pride parades to get some people very upset. There have been significant protests, editorials, petitions and threats of law suits made by people who oppose the recent rulings of the Supreme Court. The actions of some in the US are mild compared to what has been occurring in other parts of the world. Countries with significant Orthodox populations have seen larger numbers of gay people willing to come out and protest against unequal treatment by their governments, simply because of their sexual orientation. In each and every instance, the Orthodox Church has supported the government in its efforts to deny equal rights and protections for LGBT persons. The Church has also refused to use its significant power and influence, to stop violent acts committed against gay people by others, including attacks committed by members of the police force. In the case of the Georgian Orthodox Church, priests took it upon themselves to lead the attacks on lesbian and gay people. From the country with the largest Orthodox population, Russia, to much smaller countries, such as Belarus and Moldova, there has been an increase in government legislative action, as well as rhetoric and violence committed against LGBT persons. In almost every incident the Orthodox Church has blessed the actions taken by these governments and individuals, and therefore has led, or significantly contributed to, physical, emotional and spiritual violence committed against members of the LGBTQ community.
As the Orthodox Church once supported, and was supported by the Tsars and then the Commissars, today the Church has entered into new relationships with the semi-democratic, oligarchic governments of Eastern Europe. The Church desires to impose certain interpretations of selected Canon Law upon all of the citizens of the coutry, Orthodox and non-Orthodox, believers and non-believers. While the Tsars were anointed monarchs, today’s government leaders are more than likely to be nothing more than “reformed” Communists in new clothes. Today’s presidents are not similar to the rulers of the Byzantine or Russian Empires who held almost divine power over State and Church. In Moldova, the Orthodox Church certainly does not understand the concept of the separation of Church and State. A few government officials in the country were recently excommunicated (barred from receiving the holy mysteries –sacraments) because a law protecting LGBT individuals was passed in the Moldovan parliament. A statement issued by the Church condemning the new law drew no distinction between homosexuals, and those who commit acts of bestiality, incest, and pedophiles. They have simply lumped all of those persons together – as “immoral”. For the Church there is no difference between the sexual molestation of an innocent child and two consenting adults of the same sex being in a relationship which includes sexual expressions of love.
In Greece, the Orthodox Church has begun a type of witch-hunt for priests who are gay. Recently the Eparchy of Kifisia, Amoros and Oropos published an article on its official website entitled “On Homosexuality” which accuses priests who are gay of leading people “by the neck and dragging them to hell”. Not only does the official statement (see link below) indict clergy who are homosexual, the Church accuses them of being responsible for procuring others into the “homosexual life”. There is no question that the Orthodox Church forces gay seminarians to marry women or remain silent about their sexuality which is a grievous problem yet to be rationally discussed and dealt with by the hierarchy of the Church. However, the article published by the Eparchy of Kifisia goes even further and quotes a 6th century Patriarch of Constantinople, John the Faster, who wrote that a boy who has been abused sexually by a man cannot enter the priesthood. “For although on account of his immature age he did not sin himself, yet the vessel of his body was rent and became useless in connection with the sacred priesthood.” While this type of argument might have been acceptable in the sixth century, today we understand it as branding and blaming the victim. I am dumbfounded why Orthodox bishops functioning in the 21st century would use such a statement and use it to promote the idea that homosexuality is evil. Does someone need to explain the difference between homosexuality and pedophilia to the bishops? Does someone need to explain the difference between rape and consensual adult sex to the bishops?
As the Church appears to be alienating its more educated, younger members with vitriolic speech, antiquated ideas, and hurtful actions it also appears that the younger, educated portions of society see the Church, with greater frequency, as an anachronistic institution willing to wed any government faction that will support its perceived power. However, there are rational voices that wish to see the Church win back the hearts and minds of those who are have been alienated from her rich traditions and sanctifying wisdom and practices. In Georgia, the site of the most recent egregious actions committed by the Church against LGBT persons, an unnamed theologian and writer commented on the actions of clergy who demonstrated and beat people. Noting that most of the priests lacked a thorough education, he observed that “if we start to learn philosophy, tomorrow we will not throw rocks”. “People should know that beating people is not Christian, it is not Orthodox, it is not Georgian… There is a vacuum of theology.”
And so perhaps, this is where we must begin, with the simple idea that beating people up is not a Christian act. There is indeed a vacuum – a vacuum of honesty, a vacuum of education, a vacuum of respect, a vacuum of love and kindness, a vacuum of forgiveness and understanding. What might have happened if only one of the Georgian priests would have gone “over to the other side” and listened to and spoke with those protesting? Would the priests have stoned him as well, or might he have started a dialogue?