October 14, 2012
One the reasons that I am a Christian is because of the mystery of God. And one of the reasons that I am an Orthodox Christian is because the Orthodox Church is sublime in living that mystery. The Church has developed, in the patristic age, an entire theology devoted to the study of what we do not know – how much more mysterious and Orthodox can you get than to study what you do not know? Essentially apophatic theology is the attempt to describe God – always a humbling practice – by exclusion or negation. In other words to speak only of what or who the Almighty is not. It is closely connected with mystical theology. In the words of St. Cyril of Jerusalem “we explain not what God is, but candidly confess that we have not exact knowledge concerning Him. For in what concerns God confessing our ignorance is the best knowledge.” (Catechetical Homilies in Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, 1994) Confessing our ignorance is sometimes the best – great idea.
Unfortunately there have been and continue to be Orthodox bishops and priests and well meaning laymen who have already decided on what God wants. A very few, brave clerical souls believe and have admitted that certain questions are still unrevealed and therefore open to debate by the Church of Christ. One of those issues that have been decided by most in the Church can be found in the letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians. “If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off.” (1 Corinthians 11:6) The Apostle Paul is writing about “every woman who prays” (verse 5). I have never heard, read or seen any Orthodox priest demanding that women who come to church to pray without a head covering immediately cover their head or leave the church and run to the nearest beauty shop to have their hair cut out, so that they might look like a man, because a woman’s long hair is her glory. (1 Corinthians 11:15) One can logically conclude that in the view of St. Paul a woman with short hair is a disgrace. Perhaps we should start with the presbyterias, matushkas and pani matkas (the wives of priests) of the Church? While some priests have indeed instructed women to come to divine services with head coverings, I would love to meet the bishop or priest who carried out St. Paul’s admonition to have the women who disobey their directive, shorn. No, this issue has been decided by the Church. We do not follow St. Paul’s implicit instructions to tell women to cut their hair if they refuse to pray without a head covering. In other words, we have decided that we know what God wants – it is not a mystery anymore – not part of apophatic theology.
LGBT people and their place in the sacramental life of the Church should also be a mystery for the Church. Unfortunately too many Orthodox bishops and priests believe that they speak for God on this issue but instead have maligned, ridiculed, humiliated and condemned LGBT people simply for being who we are, part of God, created in His image and likeness. Instead of saying “maybe we do not fully understand a few passages in the book of Leviticus and a verse of two in the letters of St. Paul and how to apply them to what we currently know about biology,” some in the Church continue to use the words and old, uninspired interpretations to condemn LGBTQ people.
Many in the Orthodox Church are awaiting the calling of the “Eighth” Great and Ecumenical Council. The Patriarchates of the Church have met numerous times to discuss everything from where and when it will take place, who will be invited, who will be allowed to vote, and perhaps more importantly, what issues will be discussed. The fact that there is a list of topics to be discussed and decided upon demonstrates that the Church is not finished with deciding important matters relevant to the Orthodox faith.
The fact is that most of the bishops and priests do know about LGBTQ people. Deep down they know that LGBT people cannot change their sexual orientation anymore than they can change theirs. Priests know that they enjoy the love, emotional as well as physical, that they share with their own wives, and cannot imagine living without expressions of that love. It sustains them spiritually and nourishes them as priests. A priest friend of mine introduces his wife as “my wife, my life”. This is exactly what many gay men and women desire and it should be celebrated and blessed by those same priests who know how important their marriage is and what being crowned in the Church meant to them. Instead of babbling, it is time for the Church to listen to the “small, still voice of God” (I Kings 19:12), admit that sexual orientation is a mystery to them, stop denying and asking questions, and embrace with love the prodigal gay son and all LGBTQ persons and prepare for their wedding.