A few years ago I read the following story in a Ukrainian satirical magazine. A father believes that it is time for his son to marry. He begins to name several young women from the village who are single and suitable wives for his son. Andrew begins to reject each one with a different excuse – one is too tall, the other is too fat, and the third is too “well known” in the village. The father starts to name several young women from neighboring villages – all quite acceptable in the father’s eyes as future wives for his son. Once again Andrew finds a reason why each of the women is unacceptable – including the excuse that one had teeth that were too big! In his frustration the father implores his son” is there not anyone in all of Ukraine that you are interested in marrying?” Well, there is one person, Andrew says delicately. Finally, the father says, “who is it?” Peter, from the next village, Andrew says. Peter? His father screams with great indignation and anger, Peter? “Marry Peter? Never, he is a Russian!”
If only things would be like this in reality for gay Ukrainians, other gay Orthodox Christians and gay people in general. In numerous cultures there is significant pressure on young people to marry. The ideal of marriage and children is deeply rooted in the individual, and collective psyche. Yet, all one has to do is to look at the divorce rates in various countries of the world to see that marriage choices are far from ideal. Yet, imagine a world in which one’s natural instinct to be with and marry someone of the same sex was celebrated by family, church and society alike. The Orthodox Church could make this happen.
For me it was easier. My parents were no different from most other parents and wanted me to marry. Indeed most Orthodox seminarians are deeply encouraged to marry, because as one elderly priest told me – when a seminarian is ordained without being married, he either has strong ambitions to become a bishop* or “there is something abnormal about him” – at which point he shook his hand from left to right – definitely indicating that such a seminarian was probably gay. Well, I think that most people within my church community believed that I had ambitions to be a bishop – certainly my ordaining bishop believed so and strongly pushed me, until the end of his life, for me to be ordained a bishop. However, I knew that I was gay and thought that one of the worst things that could happen to me would be to marry some poor unsuspecting woman and have to lie to her on a daily basis about who I truly was. How even more tragic for the woman, to marry someone who would continuously lie to her. Imagine her feelings of betrayal should she ever discover the truth. There are such cases in the Orthodox Church.
The vast majority of gay people know that they were born gay – they did not choose to be gay. Therefore it is natural for them to want to love and maybe even marry someone of the same gender. The Orthodox Church should recognize biological facts and encourage gay people to find same sex partners and live with them in monogamous relationships. The Church has recognized and practices other modern discoveries and cultural modernities – birth control for married couples and recognizing divorces (up to three!) are only two facts of modern life that the Church has accepted. It recognizes divorce even though they are forbidden by Christ except in matters of adultery (Matthew 5:32). The service of adelphopoiia (the rite of “brotherhood”) could and has been easily adapted for use in the Orthodox Church as a gay marriage ceremony. This would go a long way in the Orthodox Church’s primary mission of bringing people to Christ, and confirming Christ centered families including gay people in loving gay families.
Imagine if the only question Andrew had to answer for his father was in which village church the marriage would take place – in his or Peter’s? “Where two or three gather in my name, I am there” (Matthew 18:20).
*In the Orthodox Church – bishops must be celibate and are chosen from either the unmarried priesthood (monastics) or are priests who are widowers.