A priest who gets it, but as a voice crying in the wilderness
February 8, 2015
Rainer Maria Rilke, the early twentieth century Bohemian-Austrian author, captured the age of intense anxiety in many of his works. Perhaps most famous is a collection of letters, Letters to a Young Poet, published posthumously in 1929, some three years after Rilke’s death. The letters were written to a 19 year old military cadet, Franz Xaver Kappus, who wanted the more famous Rilke’s opinion on his own poetry. The young man was contemplating his future and deciding if to pursue a career as a writer or begin training for the officer corp. In one of the most famous and often quoted letters, written in 1903, Rilke writes the following words to young Franz:
Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given to you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.
I would encourage you to read this passage again, and look at the simple, nurturing, but dominant phrases: “be patient, love the questions, live the questions.” As a teacher, I encourage my students to love the questions and to learn from them. Frequently lecturing in the Socratic Method, I want my students to ask questions, and never be ashamed of wanting to know more. Quite often their questions lead to other questions, and the cycle of learning is enriched. Unfortunately this has not always been the method used by the Orthodox Church when teaching her faithful.
Recently a minor controversy has erupted within the Orthodox Church when a priest, a long time serving and respected pastor, dared to ask a few questions that many in the Church are uncomfortable hearing. He called upon the Church, not to condemn questions raised by many about such issues as “human sexuality, the configuration of the family, the beginning and ending of human life, the economy and the care and the utilization of the environment, including the care, dignity and quality of human life.”
“Never Changing Gospel; Ever Changing Culture” is a thoughtful essay written by Father Robert Arida, pastor of Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral (OCA) in Boston. While it has been, unfortunately, widely condemned by many in the Church, including by the priest’s own Metropolitan, Tikhon, Father’s thoughts deserve an attentive read and consideration. In particular, Father Arida was ridiculed for his suggestion that topics surrounding human sexuality be discussed. The original article was posted on the Wonder blog, which is a publication of the “Department of Youth, Young Adult, and Campus Ministries of the Orthodox Church in America.” The purpose and focus of the blog appears on its “about” page and deserves to be looked at in its entirety, because Father Robert’s article, although later removed from the site at the request of the Metropolitan, fits directly into the mission of the website.
“Wonder is published monthly on a particular theme and presents four or five articles from a variety of perspectives. This blog is particularly geared for young adults and college students, and those who minister to them. It is our hope that this blog will help provide a “good defense” for our faith, hope and love. These articles are published to spur discussion, both online and off, and provide material for those engaged in campus and young adult ministry.”
Observe the phrases used: “variety of perspectives”, “spur discussion”, “defense for our faith, hope and love”, “provide materials”. This is exactly what Father Robert was trying to accomplish with his relevant article. Is there any doubt that young adults and college students are interested in discussing such vital topics? How many high schools have GSA (Gay, Straight Alliance) clubs or LGBT affinity groups? These items are not debated in hushed tones by students, but are part of the established curriculum of most secondary schools. Is there a college student in America not exposed to gay people or disinterested in the issues of marriage equality or gender discrimination? Our faithful have long ago raised, and many times already answered the questions, that Father Robert has raised. And yet the official Church has decided that such questions are off limits, or worse, have convinced themselves that they have been answered millennia ago, ignoring decades of scientific research.
A recent study by Andrew Whithead of Clemson University, published in Review of Religious Research, found that congregations with more individuals holding bachelor’s degrees or higher were more likely to be welcoming to gay and lesbians. Therefore, imagine a high school or college student who approaches his or her pastor, and respectfully begins to ask about the Orthodox Church’s view on homosexuality, gay marriage, transgendered rights, the neuroscience associated with the gender spectrum, and a host of other topics they have discovered or learned about in school. Someone who has studied biology, psychology and sociology at the college or graduate level is not going to be content with being given an outdated pamphlet written in 1992 (OCA Synodal Affirmation on Marriage) stating, for example, that homosexuality is a rebellion against God. How many advances in science have taken place in the last twenty-five years which might better inform the discussion?
In the words of Metropolitan Tikhon “we need to begin by listening more and asking ourselves if we are truly able to hear the questions that are being asked by our college students, by our relatives, by the strangers we meet on the street, by our neighbors?” And yet, instead of allowing the discussion to take place, the Metropolitan instructs “the editors of Wonder to replace the lead article in question [Father Robert Arida’s] with my [the Metropolitan’s] present reflection.” So much for any discussion. The reader does not even know to what the Metropolitan is responding. So much for “listening and hearing” on the part of the Church. Father Robert is listening. He is listening to his parishioners, his penitents, as well as his own conscience. Unfortunately he is a voice crying in the wilderness. However, the good thing about voices in the wilderness is that many times they become prophets. (Mark1:3)
There is an ancient proverb, “the fish stinks from the head,” meaning that when something fails, the leadership is to blame. Is there anything more dangerous for the Church than a lack of compassion combined with self imposed ignorance and smugness? “Concepts create idols; only wonder grasps anything.” (St. Gregory of Nyssa – from the masthead on the Wonder blog)
This Post Has 7 Comments
As I said to the very accepting priest who teaches the catechumen course I’m attending, “On the subject of sexuality, the Church is better at studying ancient documents than at looking at the people in front of them.”
My guess is that there are probably many priests like Fr. Robert whose hands are tied by official church dogma. No doubt we gay/lesbian church attenders can support them by being as open as we comfortably can and by keeping them in our prayers.
Of course this is easy for me to say since I live in a country where the Orthodox Church is quite liberal by world standards–scandalously so, to judge from some of the writings of conservative Orthodox bloggers . The priest I’ve been seeing sent me to what I know to be the most accepting Orthodox web document on homosexuality rather than any of the more strident pronouncements. And I have seen with my own eyes that no one is being denied communion simply because they have entered a same-sex civil union. I realize that not everyone who reads this blog is so fortunately located.
Thank you for your comment and support of this website. Your line to the priest about the Church being better at looking at ancient documents that looking at people, may be all too true. The Orthodox Church, has through the gift of the Holy Spirit, been able to keep the message of Jesus Christ alive in the beauty of His Church. It has had more difficulties dealing with the realities of life: communism, social inequality, sexuality etc.
I agree with you that there are many priests like Father Robert. If the email that this website receives is any indication, there are indeed quite a few, at least in the US and Canada. Prayers for their health are indeed warranted.
You are very lucky indeed that your priest is supportive. Can you please share the document that he sent you to?
Please stay in touch.
I bid you peace,
The priest I’ve been talking with suggested I listen to a brief podcast by Fr. Thomas Hopko. In the podcast, Fr. Thomas suggested points from which discussion of women in the priesthood and same-sex marriage might proceed as these are topical issues. (This was not one of those where Hopko suggests ‘reparative therapy’ to ‘cure the gay’.) Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to relocate the podcast though I did look through the Ancient Faith Radio archive this morning since I think that’s where I listened to it.
If I remember correctly, what was suggested was the possibility of loving but asexual same-sex partnerships, This strikes me as a good compromise position to start a discussion from, but one that will no doubt leave most on either side of the ‘gay marriage’ issue unsatisfied. (And also one which ignores the question of what does and does not constitute ‘sexual activity’ in a relationship.)
Thank you for your email and support. While I think Father Hopko is an excellent priest and writer, I have significant differences with him on the issue of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. An asexual marriage is not the heterosexual norm and should not be used as a requirement for the LGBT community. While some marriages are asexual, for various reasons, that is not something that is required at all by the Church. One can find this simply by reading the service of crowning.
You may want to read my review of Father Hopko’s book, published on my website. There are also interesting comments from Archbishop Lazar.
After a good deal of searching, I found the talk I was thinking of in a previous post. It wasn’t by Fr. Thomas Hopko, as I’d thought, but by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware. It’s housed on the Ancient Faith Radio site under the title “Metropolitan Kallistos Ware on Gender Issues in the Church”. Link: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/illuminedheart/metropolitan_kallistos_ware_on_gender
The love that the Lord teaches each an every one of us made for all mankind. Man is made in Gods image and all feelings we endure are from him. Loving someone else of the same sex and wanting to be in communion with the Lord and dedicate their lives to his name, worship him, love him above all others, and wanting to raise a child under the Lord deserve the respecg and honor of dedicating their lives to God. Orthodox hierarchs position on the new law is stained and are forgetting the true meankng of marriage. We as orthodox christians should be taking the lead on this matter to fight for a change in the doctrines. Christ is in our midsts, he is and alwahs shall be!
Sorry for the typos lol