The Orthodox Pages

email: pater@christopherklitou.com

    TALK ON HOMOSEXUALITY

AND THE ORTHODOX CHURCH

        30th October 2008

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Today we are going to look at the controversial subject of homosexuality, what Holy Scripture says on the subject, how the Church regards homosexuality and how we as Christians should treat persons with a homosexual orientation. We all know someone who, whether friend of family, is this way inclined, but what if one of our children was homosexual, what would we do and what can we do in such a situation.
The subject of homosexuality is not an easy subject to talk about, and even though our modern ways have accepted them into society, the Church has always stood firm in her teaching on the subject. We all know what homosexuality is. It is a predominant, sexual attraction toward members of the same sex. A homosexual person is one who feels a physical and psychological sexual desire for persons of the same sex and who seeks or would like to seek actual sexual fulfilment of this desire by sexual acts with a person of the same sex. In our present day societies, homosexuality has been accepted as an “alternative lifestyle” with many countries even legalizing homosexual marriages and accepting them on a legal par with the traditional heterosexual, monogamous marriages.
For years a crusade on their behalf has bombarded us to accept homosexuality as something normal and natural, which with the help of magazines, TV soaps, comedies, talk shows and movies has been very successful in brainwashing any previous prejudices we may have had. It has become so fashionable that it has become the “in” thing and you are not “with it” unless you have experienced this forbidden fruit as least once. Indeed it has come such a long way in just a few years that homosexually orientated people no longer fear “coming out” and openly saying that they are gay. There is no longer the social stigma that was associated with homosexuality, which not so long ago, treated them as outcast and freaks of nature. They were forced to live secret lives especially if they wanted employment in areas of government or the armed forces. Today there has been a complete “U” turn with “gays” being offered high posting jobs to prove that they are not discriminated against.

Homosexuality may be the “in thing” but it is not something new that has become fashionable only in our times; it is probably as old as man himself. The first mention of it is in recorded in Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament, where because sexual depravation in the cities of Sodom and Gomorra had reached such immoral levels, God sent fire and brimstone and destroyed them. Abraham “bargained” with the Lord not to destroy them and the Lord agreed that if it was found that ten righteous men lived there then he would not destroy them, but only four righteous people came out of Sodom, Lot, his wife and his two daughters. The city of Sodom gave its name to the homosexual act which is referred to in many places in the Bible as Sodomy and the homosexual person as a Sodomite.
Many of today’s “gay” men and lesbians claim that the Christian faith is the guiding rule of their lives. Some of them hold that their sexual orientation is given by God, that it is good, and that there is nothing wrong or sinful with their homosexual activities. These persons say that the Bible and Church Tradition do not condemn homosexual behaviour, but have been misinterpreted and misused, sometimes unknowingly and other times quite wilfully, by prejudiced and hostile people who hate homosexuals. Those who believe in this way obviously want others to agree with them, and many are now working hard to have their views accepted, particularly by fellow Christians and Church leaders. But do they really believe that the Church, whose basic teaching is love and who prays for the salvation of all men, would single out certain passages in the Bible, then with hatred purposely misinterpret them with the intention of condemning homosexuals? Isn’t it rather human nature to blame others for our wrong doings and to twist the truth to justify our actions?
The Church doesn’t condemn or judge anyone: that is not her purpose here on earth. God laid down the natural law for mankind and Christ, who alone is the Judge, will judge all men according to how we have observed this law. Homosexuals, to justify their sexual preference, want us to believe that there is no law in the Bible condemning the sexual activity between man and man, but if anyone believes that the Bible doesn’t condemn homosexual behaviour then he is deluded or deliberately choosing to ignore what is very clear in black and white throughout both the Old and New Testament. In Leviticus there are two references to Homosexuality: “Thou shalt not lie with man, as with woman: it is abomination”. (Lev. 18:22) And again: “If a man also lie with man, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them”. (Leviticus 20:13) We see therefore that not only was it not acceptable, but that it was considered such an abominable crime that it was punishable by death.

The Old Testament is clear that the only sexual relations which is “normal” is that between a man and woman with the express purpose of procreation. Genesis reveals that with the creation of Adam and Eve, man was created with two modes of being: male and female. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28) and “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (Gen. 2:24) This is the first reference to biblically ordered sexuality, a sexual union or rather a marriage ordained by God and thus deemed as good. We have talked before on this “Marriage made in Paradise” last year where we saw that marriage was established and blessed by God as part of His eternal purpose for humanity in the midst of creation. As also we saw that the disobedience to God and the fall of our first parents brought corruption into human nature: evil and death entered into the world and all aspects of human life went astray from their original form and purpose. This damage to human nature had an adverse effect on all forms of private and social life, including the marital relationship. Thus, natural attraction between individuals sometimes becomes disordered, taking various forms of sexual perversion such as prostitution, polygamy, homosexuality, marital unfaithfulness and so forth. In the Old Testament these unnatural sexual perversions (except for polygamy) were punishable usually by death.

With the coming of Christ and what we call the “age of grace”, we see that emphasis is not on punishment, but on salvation and healing the wounds of fallen human nature. Remember the woman taken in adultery whom the scribes and Pharisees brought before Christ and they wanted to know what he would do because Moses in the law commanded that such should be stoned (John 8: 3-5). Christ used this opportunity to lay a new law concerning sexual sins punishable by death. He said: “He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone” (John 8:7). When everyone left because they were all convicted by their conscience, Christ, who being without sin, was the only one who had the right to cast the stone of condemnation, and although he condemns the sin, he doesn’t condemn the adulterous woman, but gives hers direction on how to correct herself: the cure is simply “Sin no more”.
In the light of the New Testament, this new teaching, this new way of thinking is continued. We condemn the action, but we never judge or condemn the person. St. Paul writing on these sins comes across very strict, but not to condemn any individual, but rather to warn anyone who continues in these sexual practices that they will not inherit the Kingdom of God. There is love and concern for the individual with emphasis on his or her salvation. What is significant in St Paul’s writings is that homosexuality is no more singled out as the abominable sin punishable by death, but is mentioned collectively with other sinful activities and passions. Here then is what St. Paul says: “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God”. (1 Cor. 6: 9-10)

In Greek the words translated into English as effeminate is “μαλακοί” and abusers of themselves with mankind is “αρσενοκοίται”. Those who wish to defend homosexuality say that these translations are wrong and discriminating and do not refer to homosexuality. They point out that the word “μαλακοί” means soft and that it could refer to men who live in rich and extravagant surroundings and have an easy life, which is how some of the ancient Greek philosopher writers have used the word. But if that is the case then why does St. Paul use the word “μαλακοί” in the same context with other sinners who will not inherit the kingdom of God. It has to refer to a grave sin, thus “μαλακοί” is referring to men who act softly like women who are the gentle sex. But it must also be more than this because being gentle or effeminate, as it is usually translated, is not in itself a grave sin. Other translations are more direct and translate “μαλακοί” as meaning “male prostitutes” and this is probably what St. Paul was referring to: young soft and gentle boys who sold their bodies for a price. The word “αρσενοκοίται” was probably used for the first time by Paul and because it has no precedent as to its meaning and use, those in favour of homosexuality accuse the Church of wrongly using it to mean homosexuals. If that is the case then let us look at how the word is compounded. It is made up of the word (αρσεν) αρσενικό meaning male or masculine and the verb κοίτομαι which mean to lie down in bed. Thus the compound word “αρσενοκοίτης” means someone who lies down in bed with another man, not with the intention of sleeping. It cannot refer to woman with man because that is already mentioned with fornicators. “Αρσενοκοίτης” is therefore correctly translated as meaning a homosexual or a sodomite.

But for all those who accuse the Priests of deliberately misinterpreting Paul because of their prejudice and hatred of homosexuals, there is another quote from St. Paul which is much clearer: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness… Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet… Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness… Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them. (Romans 1:18-32)
Thus we see that the Old Testament and the New Testament are both clear that homosexuality is an unnatural sexual desire, a sin against nature and God. The Church has a duty to teach what is edifying for man, to show him what is right and what is wrong with a view to correcting him and helping him find salvation. She cannot teach anything contrary to the Word of God even when the truth is very difficult for some to digest. For the Church a sin is always a sin, and condemns all sin no matter what form it takes: but sin is one thing and the person is another. As we have said elsewhere, the Church is a spiritual hospital for all spiritual and psychological diseases. The Church firmly believes that homosexuality is a disease which can be treated and cured with the right medicine, prayer, fasting, repentance, reading of the Holy Scripture and the Sacraments. Of course this is easier said than done especially when a great many who have a homosexual orientation believe that they were born that way. Thus we need to see more on how the Church explains these feelings: where did they come from and why and also see scientific research to determine if homosexuals are really born that way.
No one can deny that our biological makeup has a profound influence on our lives. Hormones have a great impact on our sexual drive. When it was discovered that both male and female hormones circulate the bloodstream of both sexes, it was speculated that an effeminate man simply had too many female hormones. However, such a theory would not explain the muscle-bound weight lifter who sexually prefers men to women. Obviously, his problem is not a lack of male hormones. Scientists who have run extensive tests on male and female homosexuals have found their hormonal level to be the same as heterosexuals. However, other scientific evidence shows that there are biological factors involved which attribute 20% of sexual orientation to genetic factors and the other 80% probably to social and emotional elements.

If the 20% means that, at least for some gay people, homosexuality is inherited, this is not contrary to what the Church teaches. When God created Adam, he created him immortal, but when Adam fell from grace he not only became mortal, but he also suffered from various consequences due to his wilful separation from God. One of these consequences was his passions which might seem natural to us now, but they are only natural to the fallen human nature of Adam and alien to the nature that God created. As the image of God was distorted by Adams fall so also were the passions and became diseased. We inherit Adams fallen nature and with it all the distortions. Thus we can say that homosexual orientation is an inherited distorted passion: something that scientist would not be able to prove unless they first accept that all our sexual passions are unnatural when compared to the original body that God created. Talking of natural and unnatural gets a bit confusing so from now on when I mention natural passion or natural movement I am not referring to the original nature of man as he was originally created, but rather to what we call natural to our fallen state.
Now because the natural passions we have are a result of the fall, the Church, sees the passions as illnesses which need to be cured, but at the same time it doesn’t mean that all passions are a sin. For example there is a natural movement, inherent in the body, which does not produce anything sinful or burdening to the conscience, but merely lets it be known that it exists in the body; such as hunger. Feeling hunger is a natural and innocent appetite, it only becomes a sin when we eat beyond what we actually need and become bloated to the point of bursting our seams. Thus the natural passion of hunger is distorted and becomes gluttony, a diseased passion and needs to be cured. Another way to explain this more simply is to say that when thoughts or natural movements come to us involuntarily, they are not considered sins; they constitute neither virtue or vice, but merely disclose the inclination of our will. They remain innocent until we engage and accept these thoughts with our will, and then act on them.
According to the Orthodox Church not all sins are wilful and voluntary, and not all acts of sin are the conscious fault of those who do them; at least not at first. To put it briefly, sin is not always something for which the sinner himself or herself is necessarily guilty in a complete and conscious way. There are sins of ignorance and passion, sins which work in our bodies even against our rational and conscious wills. As St. Paul says: “I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members”. (Romans 7:23). There are sins which are involuntary, unwilled, unchosen; sins which overcome people by weaknesses of the flesh and force them through misguided desires to act upon them even when they don’t want to, sins which they often despise and abhor - even when they are engaging in them. These are known traditionally as the sins of passion.

The fact that these sins are not always freely chosen do not make them any less sinful. As Christians, we are all called to do battle with these passions regardless of their orientation. A heterosexual male is called by God to be bonded with one woman in marriage; any sexual activity outside of marriage with multiple females is fornication: we might think of it as a natural sexual appetite, but it is still a distorted passion that needs to be cured. It is a passion called lust which we justify by calling it love, but in most cases it is nothing more than twisted and perverted sex. People casually sleep with anyone who stumbles into their lives and after having experienced sex with many partners, they become numb to the true beauty and wonder of sex as God created it. Lust disfigures sex, whether heterosexual or homosexual. A heterosexually immoral person is just as guilty before God as a homosexually immoral person.
In the Church’s view, adultery, fornication, homosexuality or any other sexually abusive behaviour are sinful because they are a threat to the Church’s teaching of marriage. There are only two ways of life that leads to salvation Marriage and Celibacy. The first, Marriage is where sexual relations for pleasure and procreation is practiced in it proper context for which it was given. The bride and groom are joined together through the Sacrament and become one flesh much in the same way the “Church is joined to Christ.” Its importance within the Church is shown by the fact that Christ's first miracle was performed at the Wedding of Cana (John 2: 1-11), forever sanctifying the Sacrament of Marriage.
Celibacy is the free choice of some people to live fighting their natural sexual drive whereby, with chaste and celibate lives, all the energy and passion is channelled into their spirituality. But are Marriage and Celibacy practical choices for homosexuals? For those 20% whose sexual orientation is due to genetic factors, marriage would probably be out of the question, but for the other 80% whose homosexuality is due to social and emotional elements they have the ability to learn to be heterosexual. There are many factors which develop homosexual behaviour such as a hostile father or mother or something else in childhood that played a role in the child’s sexual development. Homosexuality is a learned behaviour. These homosexuals are not born that way, but rather develop homosexuality by thinking positively of homosexual practices. Participating in such practices provides pleasure and consequently leads to more positive thoughts toward homosexuals. As his or her thoughts and activities become more same sex oriented, he or she tends to think negatively about the opposite sex.

In days past, when homosexuality was still illegal, homosexuals suppressed their homosexual feelings: they feared society who treated them like the plague. Many never had the opportunity to put their feelings into practice and very often married only to discover that they were not homosexuals at all or at least they learnt to be heterosexuals leading happy and contented lives. What they had done was to misinterpret certain natural feelings towards the same sex: innocent feelings which men are not allowed to express openly. For example: women can embrace their female friends, but men cannot for fear of being misinterpreted. We often see women giving a friendly kiss to another female friend on the lips, but again not men. Did you know that the original Christian kiss was lip to lip? This was the type of kiss St. Paul referred to when he said “Greet ye one another with an holy kiss”. (1Cor. 16:20) Some societies still greet each other in this way without the stigma that it is wrong. Russians kiss like this, many Italians, especially Sicilians greet family with a lip kiss as also many Irish. But in general men are not allowed to express their innocent love towards another man and very often these feelings are misunderstood by the person who believes that he is homosexual.
For those whose homosexuality is a learned behaviour the Church can help them overcome it in the same way she helps all people to overcome their temptations, and passions. Homosexual orientation can be cured and homosexual actions can cease when the homosexual Christian is willing to struggle to overcome them. Let us not forget that with God all things are possible.
The first step to overcoming any sin or passion is to sincerely accept that the behaviour is wrong, coupled with an equally sincere desire for correction through prayer and repentance. We are reminded of Christ's own words to the paralytic: “Do you wish to be made whole?” (John 5:6) Once the courageous soul accepts his condition he must then be prepared to fight with all the spiritual strength he can muster. A great number of homosexuals already accept that their feelings are not good and resist indulging in them. These people hold that they are called by God to struggle against their homosexual tendencies as all people are called to struggle against the sinful passions which they find within themselves. They work to heal the causes of their disorientation and disease. Those who hold this position look to their fellow Christians, their family and especially their spiritual fathers for support and assistance in their spiritual struggle. Holy Scripture supports that a cure can take place. St. Paul, when mentioning all the unrighteous who will not inherit the kingdom of God which we heard earlier, the fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, homosexuals etc. then proceeds to say; “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, ye are sanctified, ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God”. (1 Cor. 6:11)
He continues to tell us that mans vocation is to devote himself to God. “Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body. And God hath both raised up the Lord, and will also raise up us by his own power. Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid. What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh. But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit. Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's”. (1 Cor. 6:13-20)
Thus all God's children are called to respect their bodies as the temple of God. Everyone must conform their sexual behaviour to the commandments of Christ. A heterosexual man has to overcome his inclination toward multiple females. A homosexual has to overcome his/her inclination towards others of the same sex. All people are called to conform their lives to the will of God and thereby partake of the way of salvation. St. Paul again says: “For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that. I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn”. (1 Corinthians 7:7-9)
Thus also for the 80% of homosexual for whom homosexuality is not inherited, but rather an acquired taste, should, when they are cured of their disease, live celibate lives and if they find they cannot, should learn to express their sexuality in marriage. The other 20%, if they are Christian and desire to be healed, must force upon themselves celibacy. They must learn to be what I often call “Nonsexual”, in other words neither homosexual, nor bisexual, nor heterosexual. This is what monks do, they devote themselves to God and all their energy is expressed in their love for God and the Church: they learn to be nonsexual. I’m not saying that all who cannot marry should enter a monastery. Monasticism is a special calling for a select few. If someone thinks that a monastery is a place where he can hide his homosexuality he is deluded. I had such a boy recently who after confiding in me of his homosexual orientation told me that he was thinking of becoming a monk. What he didn’t realize is that if we are not prepared to subdue our passions they will always follow us wherever we go. People do not enter monasteries for sexual reasons, but because their faith in God is so strong that they want to devote their life to prayer and repentance with the aim of reaching sainthood. They freely abstain from the natural sexual relationship and live in purity not because they despise sex, but to dedicate all their energy living in God and for God. They fulfil Jesus’ saying: “For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it”. (Matth. 19:12)
We have seen what the Bible and the Church teach on homosexuality; we have seen how someone with a homosexual tendency can be cured if he or she truly recognises in themselves that their passion is unnatural and sinful and sincerely seek to be cleansed of their defilement. It thus remains for us to see how we as Christians should cope and treat homosexuals. What if we suspected that one of our children was “gay” or we were told that he or she was; how would we react? As Christians we have a duty to accept everyone, even homosexuals, as our brothers in Christ. Thus we should not avoid them as though they had a contagious disease, but rather show them that we love them as we love all God’s children. We should with sensitivity and compassion try to help them realize that their lifestyle is contrary to the will of God and with the help of scripture show them that there is a way to change. Most homosexuals despise their feelings, but feel they have no other option in life for a close relationship with another human being unless they submit to these feelings. We thus should try and increase in them a knowledge of God which will in time bring them to question their feelings and hopefully will push them to seek help within the Church. We must also remember them in our prayers just as we would pray for someone who is ill. They are struggling with passions they themselves don’t understand, which for many are not only confusing, but also create an inner turmoil bringing with it suicidal inclinations.

If you see in your children certain effeminate tendencies do not automatically think that they are homosexually orientated. Many boys have a gentle character as do many girls have tomboy characters. This doesn’t denote their sexual orientation. Keep an open mind and in time you will see through other things in his or her life if they are interested in the same or opposite sex. If it turns out that they are attracted to the same sex, then we must show them that we love them for who they are and not disown them as many have done because they didn’t live up to their expectations of them. If their inclination is inherited then we are also somewhat to blame, if again their inclination is because of social and emotional elements in childhood, we the parents played the biggest role and influence in their lives. But it is no good saying “what did we do wrong”, we cannot pinpoint from where and when these feelings came into being. Our only thoughts should be to help our children to be cured of these feelings in the same way we would do everything to help them to overcome a bodily ailment.

If possible talk with your child gently and lovingly and with the utmost respect remembering that he or she is not only our offspring but also a human being and a child of God. Show them that you are not disgusted and that you understand their confusion. Then, if you know of an understanding priest, ask, but don’t push your child to speak with him. If the child has faith and commitment in God then part of the battle is already won. But don’t expect an overnight cure; it will take a lot of time, a lot of spiritual counselling and a lot of self determination on his or her part. Patience is needed, but at all times, and this applies also with our own passions, we must believe as St. Paul says: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. (Phillip. 4:13) Homosexuals can be cured to live a normal married life, if they struggle and fight the good fight. To such that do battle with the passions, the Lord grants victory crowning them with a martyr’s crown.

 

ON AIDS


I think we should also say a little about the AIDS virus as this has provoked much concern throughout the world and for Orthodox Christians as well. Mentioning AIDS during a talk on homosexuality is like saying that it’s a homosexual disease, but that is not my intention. I do not want to come across as though the Church judges those who have caught the virus. Indeed there are some who innocently were inflicted by blood transfusions. But at the same time it cannot be ignored or denied that the major causes for the spread of this disease are behaviours which the Church has always taught are immoral and ought not to be practiced such as homosexual behaviour, promiscuity, and narcotic drugs by using contaminated needles. People say that the best prevention is to have safe sex. In other words carry on doing what you have been practicing, but take precautions. Sadly the voice of the Church came over like a whisper and was hardly heard when she re-affirmed her teaching that the best prevention against the AIDS virus is the virtue of celibacy and a godly life. In short – no sex, no drugs – no worries.
Within the Church there was also the question of possible contamination through the Communion Spoon. Theologically, the Orthodox Church cannot accept that the Sacrament would be a source of illness, since it teaches that it is a “medicine of immortality.” But also, not one single case of the transmission of any illness has been reported as coming from participation in the Sacrament. There is also scientific evidence that saliva inhibits the transmission of all kinds of microbes, including the AIDS virus. This scientific evidence is rather old and dated to 1988. Let’s just hope it is still valid. Nevertheless we should not fear to have Holy Communion. It is the very Body and Blood of our Lord which cannot be contaminated. It should also be reassuring that we priests are called to give communion to the terminally ill including those who suffer from AIDS, thus we are exposed to this virus on the frontline so to speak, yet no Orthodox Priest has caught AIDS in this way.