Orthodox responses to the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide

For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.

1 Corinthians 4:15

A useful aphorism in these times is “God is love, but love is not God”. God is love — Holy Scriptures, part of 2,000 years of Church Tradition, tell us that. The Saints by their holy examples and righteous lives tell us that. The Church, in her timeless teachings reaffirmed throughout the ages and held down to this present day, proclaims across the world, in the world and yet outside of it, that God is love, but what the world takes to be love is not, and must not, be equated with God. Divine love is not an emotion, it is not a feeling. It is a reality beyond realities, it is a truth beyond all worldly dimensions. It is above all expressed in the dynamic life within and among the three Persons of the Holy Trinity, one God. It is above all approached within the life of the Church, in corporate prayer — the divine services — and private prayer in one’s home devotions to the Lord.

Today, my birthday and the commemoration of the repose of St John the Wonderworker, sometime Archbishop of Shanghai and San Francisco, the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States released this strong statement in objection to the Supreme Court’s July 26 5-4 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.

My own personal view is that, so long as marriage (wrongfully) contains certain legal benefits, I do not object to same-sex couples receiving the protection of equal access to these legal benefits (hospital visits, pension access, etc). What I object to and am horrified by is the Court — a committee of nine unelected, partisan judges appointed by partisan presidents — assuming to itself the invented right of declaring what marriage is and is not. In declaring that marriage is something that encompasses same-sex couples, the Supreme Court has, in a 5-4 decision, voted by a narrow majority to overturn the very foundation of Western civilization in American society.

The Assembly, which represents all canonical Orthodox jurisdictions in the country and serves as a platform for all Orthodox bishops to speak publicly on issues of importance, could not have spoken more clearly on this matter. Let all those who are Orthodox hear the Assembly’s words loudly and clearly, in offer a quiet but sure witness to our neighbors that while we must and do love all our neighbors, including those who embrace the gay or lesbian lifestyle, the Church cannot and does not approve of this lifestyle because it violates two millennia of revealed Church Tradition, of which the Scriptures are one important part, and violates the Church’s iconographic teaching that marriage is not a matter of law but of divinely ordained union between men and women, expressed in the metaphor and iconography of Christ the eternal Bridegroom and the Church the eternal Bride.

Two men or two women simply cannot image this eternal iconography, and as such, cannot work out their salvation together in the life of the Church. This is why the Church teaches what it does, and why this teaching remains unchanging despite whatever is currently in “vogue” among lawmakers and politicians. The Church, as a theandric entity, exists both within and outside of man’s invented constraint of time, and thus truth, and what the Church holds to be true, is not subject to law. What is legal is not necessarily moral (see: segregation laws) and what is illegal or unpopular (maintaining that true marriage exists only between a man and a woman) is not always popular. Truth ultimately transcends law, and while law ought to encapsulate and defend the truth, centuries of human existence show that this is not always the case.

Here is the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops’ statement on the Supreme Court decision:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 2nd, 2015

Response of Assembly of Bishops to Obergefell v. Hodges

The Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America strongly disagrees with the United States Supreme Court decision of June 26, Obergefell v. Hodges, in which the Court invents a constitutional right for two members of the same sex to marry, and imposes upon all States the responsibility to license and recognize such “marriages.”

The Supreme Court, in the narrowest majority possible, has overstepped its purview by essentially re-defining marriage itself. It has attempted to settle a polarizing social and moral question through legislative fiat. It is immoral and unjust for our government to establish in law a “right” for two members of the same sex to wed. Such legislation harms society and especially threatens children who, where possible, deserve the loving care of both a father and a mother.

As Orthodox Christian bishops, charged by our Savior Jesus Christ to shepherd His flock, we will continue to uphold and proclaim the teaching of our Lord that marriage, from its inception, is the lifelong sacramental union of a man and a woman. We call upon all Orthodox Christians in our nation to remain firm in their Orthodox faith, and to renew their deep reverence for and commitment to marriage as taught by the Church. We also call upon our nation’s civic leaders to respect the law of Almighty God and uphold the deeply-rooted beliefs of millions of Americans.

Here is the letter released by the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR):

June 26, 2015
Statement by the Chancery of the Diocese of Chicago and Mid-America on the Issue of Homosexual Marriage to the Clergy and Flock of the Diocese

Statement from the Diocesan Chancery on the Contemporary Question
of Homosexual Marriage to the Clergy and Flock of the Diocese

March 16/29, 2013 Martyrs Sabinus and Papas

Updated November 8/21, 2014 Archangel Michael and All the Bodiless Powers

Updated June 13/26, 2015 Martyr Aquilina of Byblos in Syria

Today the United States Supreme Court ruled that homosexual marriage is a constitutional right in the United States of America. Given the ubiquitous coverage the news media is providing on this issue it is important that our clergymen and parishioners fully understand the position of the Church in this regard.

Living in a free society as we do, we should first be thankful that we have the opportunity to practice our Orthodox Faith without inordinate interference from the government. In recent history this was not the case in Russia, and is still not the case in many countries throughout the world. In a free society all views can be shared in the public arena – both views we agree with as Orthodox Christians and those we disagree with. We call upon our flock to be guided first and foremost by the Holy Tradition of the Church in discerning whether any contemporary question is something that is compatible to the Orthodox faith. If an Orthodox Christian chooses to engage in public political discourse this should be done with moderation and with a firm intention and watchfulness not to fall into extremism. Extremism is not conducive to softening hearts or bringing others to the faith. Laymen who choose to engage in political speech should not state that they speak on behalf of the Church. Strictly speaking such an authoritative statement can be made only by a bishop or with a bishop’s specific blessing.

It should also be made clear that living a homosexual or any other sinful lifestyle is not compatible with Christianity and this has always been the teaching of the Church. That being stated, it is also crucial to state that the Church is a Spiritual Hospital and all those wishing to receive the healing freely offered by God through their repentance and God’s Grace are fully welcome. This includes those who have participated in immoral or unnatural acts of any kind as well as those who are tempted by such sins. The Church is empathetic to those who suffer in such a way and offers them support, healing, and Christian love. Those actively engaging in any immoral or unnatural pursuits cannot live a full sacramental life within the Church. However, this does not mean that we seek to drive away or ostracize those who have transgressed in such a way. Rather, we must make all efforts to draw those in such an unfortunate situation back to chastity and the opportunity to again partake in the Life-Giving Mysteries of the Church and to engage the struggle for their salvation within the parish community.

Today’s Supreme Court ruling makes homosexual marriage legal in the United States. It should be made clear that under no circumstances will the Church recognize homosexual marriage, accord it the status of traditional marriage, or bless such unions. However, this is not to state that those who have entered into such a union have stepped beyond a line from which they cannot return. The Church has always strongly condemned heresies (such as Novatianism, Montanism, and Donatism) which deny the possibility of repentance for those having committed certain sins. It is crucial that our clergymen not shy away from the position of the Church as regards the sinfulness of homosexuality and other unnatural expressions of the God-given gift of human sexuality – but it is also crucial that such statements be made with love and with a corresponding invitation to repentance and reconciliation with the Church.

We call upon all to pray for our land – that the Lord will forgive us our collective societal sins as well as our personal sins and provide us a safe haven which allows us to work out our salvation in peace.

Here is an open letter (along with several others) from His Grace Bishop Thomas of the Antiochian Orthodox Diocese of Charleston, Oakland, the Mid-Atlantic, given with the blessing of His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph, Primate of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America:

His Eminence The Most Reverend
Metropolitan JOSEPH
Archbishop of New York and Metropolitan of All North America

The Right Reverend Bishop THOMAS
Diocese of Charleston, Oakland, and the Mid-Atlantic

June 28, 2015
Feast of Ss. Cyrus and John

Beloved in Christ,
May God bless you always.
On June 26, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down a decision that effectively defines “marriage” as legal between any two consenting adults throughout our country, regardless of their biological sex, a decision that will no doubt have sweeping effects in our society, not just for these couples but for children, families, churches, other religious organizations and all people of faith.

This action by the Court attempting to redefine marriage is deeply wrong, but it gives us an opportunity to reiterate for ourselves and also for our whole country the unchanging, timeless teaching of the Holy  Orthodox Church regarding marriage and sexuality.

With the creation of marriage by God for Adam and Eve, the first human bond was instituted. This bond preceded all the other social bonds of humanity, including not just governments but even the covenants that He Himself instituted. It is fundamental to human nature that marriage consists of one man and one woman in a lifelong, exclusive bond. Marriage is therefore not about private desire but about the complementary, conjugal bond of family, as created by God and blessed by Him.

It is only within that blessed bond that sexuality finds its proper expression. All other sexual behavior—
whether between a homosexual couple, an unmarried heterosexual couple, multiple people, a person by
himself, or anything else—is sinful, meaning that it distorts our relationship with God, each other and ourselves. Yet such actions, including their sanction by entering into one of these new legal unions, which are not truly marriages, can always be repented of. No one is a lost cause. No one is our enemy.

Repenting of our sins is what the Church is for. We are all sinners. Even if you do not have one temptation or one sin, you have others. So we do not condemn anyone for any reason. In love and faith, we hold out the hope of salvation through repentance for every human person.

This is teaching of the Holy Orthodox Church of Christ. It has never changed and can never change, even
if it costs us. We will continue to preach and to practice accordingly, and we expect that all of our pastors, teachers and parents will continue to do so. May God give you courage and love as you do so.

Yours in Christ,
Rt. Rev. Bishop THOMAS (Joseph)
Auxiliary Bishop, Diocese of Charleston, Oakland, and the Mid-Atlantic
“The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch” (Acts 11: 26)

4407 Kanawha Ave. SE,
Charleston,WV 25304-1734
(724) 787-9832 Phone
bpthomasjoseph@gmail.com

Here is an additional public reflection on the recent Supreme Court decision by Fr. Archimandrite Maximos (Weimar), abbot of the Holy Cross Orthodox Monastery (ROCOR) in East Setauket, New York.

Since the landmark Supreme Court decision prohibiting states from banning same sex “marriage”, many of the faithful have asked me, “How do we react to this, what do we as Orthodox Christians do in this new political/legal/ social climate?”

The first thing to remember is that the actions of the civil government have no effect on the doctrines and teachings of the Holy Orthodox Church. The teachings of Christ and the Holy Fathers are never subject to the vagaries of the world, the flesh, and the Devil. Those who expect the Orthodox Church can be made to “get with the times” are in for a very rude awakening. When the US Supreme Court ruled in 1973 that a woman had a constitutional right to abort her children, the Orthodox Church completely and totally rejected such satanic nonsense. In the Book of Matthew it is written: “And He said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” And they said to Him, “Caesar’s.” And Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were amazed at Him.( Matt 12). Caesar never dictates to us our morality or anything related to our spiritual life.

Our reactions to this decision must be informed by our Holy Orthodox faith. In light of the different legal and social environment we find ourselves in we must redouble our efforts to cling to the Church and to her sacred teachings. We must strive to become as Christ-like as we can, to become lights to a dark and suffering world. We must bear in mind that this world and all its might and glory and power is fleeting and will pass away as vapor in the wind. By becoming beacons of the Light of the Holy Spirit we will do more than by speaking 10,000 eloquent words. Sanctity has power to persuade where reason fails.

That being said, it is perfectly appropriate, for those who are so inclined, to speak out strongly against this terrible decision. It is encouraging that many of the bishops of the Orthodox Church have swiftly denounced the Supreme Court decision for what it is, something that is completely at variance with the teachings of the Orthodox Church. I have read many comments by fellow clergy that are also very systematic and eloquent denunciations of this inversion of marriage. Those who wish to be politically active in this matter should be encouraged to do so.

However, in our efforts to strongly and clearly denounce this decision, we must be careful to distinguish between those who are advocates of changing the position of the Holy Orthodox Church and those who are struggling with same sex attraction. We must not fall into a kind of “spiritual vigilantism”: that is attacking our brothers and sisters in Christ solely for their temptations and personal failings.

As St Maximos says: “He who busies himself with the sins of others, or judges his brother on suspicion, has not yet even begun to repent or to examine himself so as to discover his own sins, which are truly heavier than a great lump of lead; nor does he know why a man becomes heavy-hearted when he loves vanity and chases after falsehood (cf. Ps. 4:1). That is why, like a fool who walks in darkness, he no longer attends to his own sins but lets his imagination dwell on the sins of others, whether these sins are real or merely the products of his own suspicious mind.”

We must, as Orthodox Christians, keep our balance. We must live in this world, but we must not be of this world. As we sojourn in this world, we must always bear in mind that our time here is short and that we must always have in our heart the remembrance of death.

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6 thoughts on “Orthodox responses to the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide

  1. This last letter should be read by all on a daily basis. We can get caught up in this ridiculous ideology of the Supreme Court and be ready at a moment’s notice to point out other’s sins while ignoring our own. Many are ready to condemn those who are involved in this lifestyle and instead forget we should be praying for their souls and asking God to right their hearts while at the same time asking God to forgive our sins and making our hearts right with God.

  2. “My own personal view is that, so long as marriage (wrongfully) contains certain legal benefits, I do not object to same-sex couples receiving the protection of equal access to these legal benefits (hospital visits, pension access, etc).”

    So, you’re ok with the state subsidizing, or incentivizing evil acts? Yea, that’s not Orthodox. This is not simply a sacramental question but an ontological question.

    • No — as I said, I do not believe the political state should offer certain legal benefits for marriage. This means that I do not believe that, ideally, the state should subsidize or incentivize anyone in this vein.

      That being said, so long as the political state does offer such things, the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment has always been interpreted to mean that any civil protections enjoyed by one group of citizens must be permitted and guaranteed to all. This includes — so long as marriage carries any legal benefits — those pertaining legal privileges and rights. Given the secular constraints of our constitutional framework, how do you propose getting out of that? Rewriting or throwing out the Constitution?

      I’m not saying I agree with this idea or its ontological and sacramental implications, but that our laws at present do not allow for much wiggle room. We do not live in an Orthodox country; according to the Constitution the very premise of making laws based on our particular faith is illegal. If you wish to change that, and create laws for the entire country based on an Orthodox understanding of morality, one must first change the Constitution — but that won’t happen, seeing as we are a tiny minority.

      In a secular political state — our official political institutions being all religiously unaffiliated as you know — it is not legal for our understanding of marriage to be enforced on an overwhelmingly non-Orthodox population.

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