Is Silence the Enemy

January 12, 2014

facebook_covers_Martin-Luther-KingMartin Luther King Jr., the great African-American civil rights leader, delivered a sermon in 1957 in Montgomery, Alabama where he spoke the following words: “in the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” These words ring true for many people, not the least for members of the LGBTQ community. While we have unfortunately come to expect hatred and vile speech from members of the extreme political right, religious fundamentalists and the ignorant[1], we are particularly confused and hurt when our friends and allies in the straight world are silent, and do not defend our civil rights in the face of injustice and bigotry. Where the silence is particularly painful and unjust is when it is practiced by those in the Orthodox Church; metropolitans, bishops, priests and lay persons who know better than to spew, and tolerate the hateful words and actions directed at gays and lesbians. They remain silent even though, whether from their own relationships, experiences, personal knowledge, family members, or friendships they know that the words preached, the actions taken, and charity denied is un-Christian and therefore unjust. The silence of our friends and those with whom we share baptismal water and chrism, is what we will remember most; the silence of our friends.  

Silence, aside from the absence of sound, can also be defined as “a situation or state in which someone does not talk about or answer questions about something.”[2] Roman Catholic theology refers to the sin of omission, or “a failure to do something one can and ought to do.”[3] Traditionally Orthodox theology does not recognize degrees and grades of sin, but all sin (amartia) is viewed as a “missing of the goal” or mark, in our quest to reach our full potential.  However, St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain (the Hagiorite)[4], one of the compilers of The Philokalia[5], does refer to “sins of omission” in his work Manual of Confession. He believes we all will have to render an account before God, on the Day of Judgment, for the sins we committed as well as for the kindnesses and charitable acts that we could have done, but avoided.[6] How many times have we neglected to speak out on behalf of our family members, friends, or even total strangers, when they are in need of our vocal support? At times nothing more is needed than a kind word, a small gesture of compassion, and at other times it is a vociferous defense of those too weak or outnumbered to be heard.  We are remembered by God for our silence and therefore we have missed the mark.

But is silence ever the answer? In the Orthodox Church, and in many other religious and sacred traditions, it is believed that God speaks to us through our being still and silent.  The monastic practices silence for long hours in order to chase away his or her own voice, and discern the voice of God. In our present day world it is harder and harder to find moments of silence, as we are bombarded by a cacophony of sounds and numerous voices with varied messages. How do we discern the voice of God, the voice of truth?  How do we know when to listen and when to speak up?

While there are those that truly believe it is the obligation of the Church to tell us what to believe at all times and what is right or wrong in every situation, the history and practice of the Church tells us that this is simply not true. While there may indeed be certain “light” and “dark” truths in Orthodox Christianity (for example, the existence of one God versus the existence of evil) there are many more grey areas than many of us would like to believe there are[7]. Certainly, the multitude of lesser traditions, practices, customs and examples of episcopal dispensations and pastoral oikonomia[8]point to these grey areas. Therefore we have an obligation to listen to and discern the voice of God within us, our conscious. Each and every one of us has an obligation to ourselves, and each other to question the times we are silent. Will our conscience be clear if we choose to remain silent when our brothers and sisters, gay and lesbian and transgendered Orthodox Christians are ridiculed, maligned and denied full acceptance in the Church simply for being and living who God made them to be? Will you speak up for them or are you a silent friend?  Should you remain one?

 



[1] Recently this website received an exceptionally angry email from a mother who believed that gay men completely controlled the internet and therefore would turn her 17 year old son gay, because his school wanted him to do research using the internet and therefore he would be influenced by the massive amount of pro-gay material we, particularly gay men, had placed online. She stated that this “recruitment” was part of the agenda of the gay community.

[2] Merriam-Webster Dictionary

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sin_of_omission

[4] An ascetic monk from the late eighteenth century

[5] The Philokalia, or love of the beautiful, is a collection of writings from the 4th to the 15th centuries, authored by various holy fathers of the Church.

[6] http://orthodoxinfo.com/praxis/exo_sintypes.aspx

[7] To provide only one example: the Church calendar. Aside from the adherence to either the Julian or the “revised Gregorian” calendar by Orthodox Christians, there is also the example of the Autonomous Orthodox Church of Finland which adheres to the Western calculation for the date for Pascha (Easter).

[8] Oikonomia is the “managing of the house” or making decisions in the Church which are not specifically addressed in Scripture or the canons of the Church, or more frequently, subverting the law for a “greater good”.

  1. Anonymous Said,

    You omited that same compiler of the Philokalia speaks out against homosexual practices very strongly though.
    Only “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3) would drug people’s conscience by condoning what the Saints call us to overcome.
    Calling people to repentance certainly mustn’t be in any way malicious, it must be loving. But you are confusing ‘acceptance’ as a call to repentance to ALL, with ‘acceptance’ as condoning a life without repentance…
    Christianity without the cross in the name of ‘love’ has been prophesised as the bait of the Antichrist by many Fathers.

  2. andre Said,

    The saints are not saints because they were infallible. They wrote and spoke with the knowledge that God gave them for the time. St, Nicodemus was not aware of modern studies in biology or science concerning homosexuality or gender identity. We are all called to repentance, but we were not all called to celibacy nor were we all created as heterosexuals. There is the cross, but there is also the resurrection, which conquers death.

  3. andre Said,

    It is doubtful if the earlier saints of the church knew about gay men and women as we understand them in light of modern studies in biology and genetics. The Lord God Himself made me and countless others with an attraction to our same-sex. We are as sinful and in need of repentance as everyone else, but not for who God made us to be. About who God made me to be, I am not confused. Nor am I confused when I state that God called me to love and be with my husband as a “helpmate”. Perhaps in the same manner that you were called to be with your spouse.

  4. Laura Said,

    I so wish to stop my silence. I am Orthodox and I want to speak out in support of my gay and transgender brothers and sisters. But I have two close family members in the clergy and I am afraid. Please pray for me.

  5. andre Said,

    Thank you for your email and support of this website. I apologize that it has taken me a few days to get back you – the holidays have kept me occupied with other things. First of all, I would tell you not to be afraid. The Lord knows that your heart is in the right place, helping those who are persecuted for no reason. Since you have family members who are clergy, this does put you in a unique position; treasure where God has placed you. However, there is no need to break families apart, there has been enough of that in this world. Just choose your battles carefully and slowly. Perhaps begin with one family member, asking questions, offering your own thoughts and experiences. Some hearts take time to soften and sometimes they need to experience the issue first hand, perhaps when a family member or close friend announces that he or she is gay or lesbian or transgendered.
    Please know you are loved and will be prayed for so that Lord will give you strength.
    I bid you peace,
    Please stay in touch,
    Andriy

  6. Takis Said,

    I think that in Orthodoxy we know that as someone who truly wants union with Christ progresses towards this, through humility and repentance, all other things get sorted out on their own.
    In fact it is very true that all sexual practices, even those traditionally blessed by the Church, effortlessly tend to be forgotten – even eating and sleeping tends to be forgotten- as someone progresses towards communion with that Light of Love Himself.
    Question is, do we want Christ above all or do we want to justify our selves?

  7. andre Said,

    Takis,
    You certainly are drawn to this subject and website. You are very interested in the topic of homosexuality and the Orthodox Church. Perhaps you should also spend some time telling married heterosexual couples that the life they share, the meals they enjoy together, the stories they share, the sorrows and joys they have known together, the children they have together, and everything else that they share is second to Christ. This is all true. Gay people just want the same thing and many of us already have it. It is given and blessed by Christ. The Church needs to catch up.
    Andriy

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