Oikonomia

October 13, 2013Good Samaritan

Oikonomia or “Economy” is an Orthodox concept that is probably applied more often than many Orthodox bishops would like to admit. Essentially it is a way of “managing the household” of the Church. While the Orthodox Church recognizes the authority of Sacred Scripture and Holy Tradition as the main sources for what we believe, there are many instances in which situations arise or problems need to be solved, that are not answered at all, or addressed insufficiently in the Bible or the Tradition of the Church.  When such situations arise, oikonomia or economy is applied.  It is a merciful decision applied for the sake of the salvation of the faithful.  Why can’t oikonomia be applied to gay people in the Church?  Why can’t oikonomia be used to bless the union of two men or two women in the Orthodox Church? For example, if oikonomia is continuously and liberally applied to allow an Orthodox Christian to be married to a Protestant in the Orthodox Church[1], especially in countries where Orthodox Christians are in the minority, then why not use the same principle and permit an ecclesiastical blessing for the union of two men or two women who desire to be a “helpmate” to one another[2]?

The Holy Fathers speak of the “letter of law” and the “spirit of the law”. Perhaps the best explanation of this idiomatic antithesis comes from the mouth of our Lord, Jesus Christ as recorded in the Gospel of Luke (25:37). Christ admonishes a lawyer who tried to justify himself in eyes of the Lord, by stating that he followed every letter of law in order to receive eternal life. The well known Parable of the Good Samaritan is told by Jesus to illustrate the axiom that following the law is not what is always in the best interest of individuals. The letter of the law prescribed that Jews were not required to come to the aid of Samaritans, but the spirit of the law demanded that aid and comfort be given to those in need, no matter to which ethnic group they belonged. Therefore the one that “showed mercy” to the man who had been attacked, struck, beaten by robbers, was the one to emulate, and not the one who followed the “letter of the law”. This principle is again spoken of in the book of Romans (2:29) simply stating that a Jew is not someone who has been circumcised in the flesh, in other words someone who follows the law, but one who is circumcised in his heart, who is Jewish in his spirit and being, indicating that is very possible to be a good Jew in the eyes of God and not strictly follow thousands of years of tradition. Christ had special condemnation for those certain Pharisees that placed the letter of the law above the spirit of the law.

The Orthodox Church views its own laws, the canons, as pastoral guidelines, to be used with compassion and flexibility. Oikonomia, according to Dr. Patsavos of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese “is granted by the competent ecclesiastical authority and has not so much the character of urgency as it does the character of compassion for human frailty. The character of compassion is justified by the Church’s ardent desire to prevent any adverse effects from the strict observance of the law in exceptional circumstances.”[3] To be fair, Dr. Patsavos clearly states that economy is a temporary exercise and is to be viewed as a temporary departure from the normal precedent. I would strongly argue that numerous times when oikonomia has been applied, the temporary practice or allowance has turned into an accepted norm for the Church.

The history of the Church is replete with examples of extending oikonomia:

-the blessing to receive non-Orthodox baptized Christians into the Church, not through the usual mysteries of baptism and chrismation, but only chrismation and at times, through confession and the reception of the Holy Eucharist.[4];

-the blessing of marriages that allow distant relatives to be married in the Church;

-the blessing of marriages to those who have a spiritual relationship;

-the ordination of men to holy orders younger than the age prescribed in canon law;

-the blessing to celebrate a funeral for a person who has been cremated, especially in countries where this is common or proscribed by law;

-as well as the earlier stated common practice of blessing the marriage of Orthodox Christians to Monophysites, Protestants, as well as Eastern and Roman Catholics.

 

These are just a few example of the continued mercy extended by the Church to Orthodox Christians, with hope that such a blessing of mercy will bring the Orthodox soul, as well as the non-Orthodox soul, to salvation and eternal life in Christ. There was, is, and will always be gay people and LGBT Orthodox persons will continue to fall in love with a desire to share that love and its expression with another person. Heterosexual Orthodox Christians who are related to, or know gay men and lesbians, have come to the realization that there is no difference between the love that they have for their spouses and the love that gay people have with theirs. As more and more Orthodox gay people “come out” this trend of realization and acceptance will continue. Some Orthodox priests already understand this from their own pastoral experience and are extending oikonomia to gay men and women by offering them the holy mysteries, blessing their marriage, and attending to the spiritual needs of their partners. Instead of relying on antiquated interpretations of Scripture and applying Canons impossible to apply in the twenty-first century, it is time to ask the question in the Church: can the principles of mercy and oikonomia be extended to LGBT Orthodox Christians and allow us the grace and fullness of the holy mysteries? The answer is Amen.[5]

 

 



[1] The holy fathers rejected the idea of Orthodox Christians marrying Arians or Nestorians. Today allowing Orthodox Christians to marry Protestants and Roman Catholics is de rigueur. 

[2] This phrase is taken from the Orthodox mystery (sacrament) of marriage – crowning.

[3] http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/ourfaith7071

[4] The historic example is reception of Eastern or Byzantine Catholics into the Orthodox Church. The Lviv Sobor of 1946, blessed and orchestrated by the Moscow Patriarchate, accepted Eastern Catholics into the Orthodox Church through the mysteries of Confession and the receiving of the Eucharist.

[5] So be it.

  1. Rdr. John Said,

    Thank you for this brief treatment of the subject. I hope in the future that you’ll be able to expand on it. I’ve long thought that the Orthodox practice of divorce and re-marriage was rather liberal, though I realize that it isn’t strictly my business. However, the numbers of divorces and re-marriages coupled with mixed marriages and, let’s be honest, consummated relationships before marriage indicate a very strong liberalized practice in the Church. For good or ill, in this day and age, it is simply untenable to be exceedingly strict in practice. I’ve thought for some time that the Church might well take up the “cause” of gay Christians with the same pragmatic attitude. Certainly, in my life, I’ve recently come to the rather strong and confident decision that being single is doing greater damage to my soul’s health than being in relationship where someone other than ME is receiving my energy and focus. In my mid-40s, I hope it’s not too late to “redeem the time.”

  2. andre Said,

    Dear John,

    Thank you for your kind comment and support of the website. I will take your advice and think about expanding upon the idea of using oikonomia as a gateway to allowing same-sex marriage in the Orthodox Church. Surely, I will be shut down by several “canon law experts” in the Church, but that is because they are closed to the idea of an expression of gay people in the Church.
    You bring up an interesting topic about consummated marriages before crowning. When I was an active parish priest, I used to meet with couples wanting to be married in the Church and we met for several sessions. At the first session, I usually took the “information” names, addresses, baptismal dates and places etc. More than half of the time the couple was already living together.
    Your advice for the Church to approach these issues and the issue of same-sex relationship pragmatically is worthy of discussion. For me it is simply an issue of the dignity of creation. God created me as a gay man with the blessing to love and be loved by another man.
    Finally, it is never too late to pray for, hope for and want love. It is the essence of our faith. The love God has for us and we for Him, is also demonstrated in couples and families.
    I bid you peace. Please stay in touch,
    Andriy

  3. James Said,

    Greetings,

    Concerning the issue of marriage in the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Orthodox Church.

    The apparent stance of this issue of blessing a” marriage” between two members of the same sex is in my opinion a non issue, and so it should be,because it is of no real benefit to the Church or to the individual.
    The Church from its very beginnings I believe knows, by the inspiration & guidance of the Holy Spirit, that “marriage” between a man and a woman, is right and God Glorifying, as that kind of , marriage, just exemplifies, Christ as bridegroom and the Church as the bride. And for a very good reason.
    Honestly folks, he gave each the right parts so that through that intimate union they would multiply. Without that there would be no humans or any animal of its kind for that matter.

    Having said that, it also, must be understood both by the Holy Orthodox Church , and each and every individual of its members,,,, that GOD KNOWS ALL, AND HAS MERCY AND COMPASSION ON ALL, HE UNDERSTANDS EVERTHING. HE is Above the Church at all times

    Having stated that, I also, would suggest that the Church, is not infallible, especially since it is both Earthly and Heavenly at the same time. And ESPECIALLY since,,in its employ,ie Priest, are all kinds of individuals from all kinds of backgrounds and conditions, as well are the laity in that same boat, And Hopefully ALL are becoming transformed by Gods grace and our participation, into Gods likeness. God help us!

    To summarize, I would like to suggest that we should leave things as they are, and not try to change it, keeping in mind that if sometimes it may seem that the Church may or may not be COOPERATIVE, on an issue we must TRUST in that decision as coming from GOD who knows best. However, Also, know,,however, if one of its members shows ignorance and or behaves in a malicious manner towards any individual member and places there own judgment on that individual,, just always keep this in mind,,,,, that God sees and hears that. ALL WILL BE JUDGED.

    GOD HIMSELF,, Blesses, ALL who come to Him with sincere Hope, Faith and Love. Both in THE CHURCH ,corporately, and everywhere individually at all TIMES and ANYTIME. IN ANY AND ALL CONDITIONS AND, OR STATES OF MATURITY.

    Love and peace to you!!
    James

  4. Noel Warren Said,

    Dear James and all Orthodox Christians,

    SOME PEOPLE ARE GAY.

    GET OVER IT,

    LOVE,
    GOD.

  5. Dee Said,

    Father,
    my question regarding the ‘combination’ of the Holiness to which we are called and Gay marriage, (for those interested in the matter of Holiness above all) is this:
    How can someone be “one with Christ”, “carry His members” (especially through Holy Communion) and practice sodomy (whether as a heterosexual in marriage or a homosexual – even in marriage, if that were ever allowed)?
    I could not even allow myself to forget Him in favour of a fairly innocent massage after Holy Communion…
    Wouldn’t I need to confess sodomy, whether as a straight or gay practitioner?

  6. Anonymous Said,

    Dear Noel Warren,
    some people are paedophiles too -THEY- need to get over it.

  7. Georges Said,

    In my opinion, the best example of the letter of the law, the spiritual meaning thereof, and economy is the following. Hebrews were forbidden to get Gentile spouses. This is what is said in Deuteronomy 7. And we find the litteral application of it in Ezdras ch. 9-10. Now, there’s a counter-example: Ruth. And this counter-example found its place in the canon of the books of the Bible.

    Juste one clarification. Non-Chalcedonians are in no way monophysite. Nor the Church of East or Nestorius have been dyoprosopite. «Monophysite» and «Nestorian» are pejorative terms applied to people who have no Christological heresy per se.

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