The Fear of Being Alone – The Orthodox Church and Gay Marriage

January 6, 2013

Sadly, my mother is plagued with the debilitating disease of Alzheimer’s. The illness has robbed her of many good memories. Thankfully it has also taken away many of the bad ones as well. Frequently she hallucinates and remembers things that never happened or could not have taken place. Perhaps one of the saddest consequences of her affliction is that she commonly experiences a dreadful fear of being alone and feeling afraid. No matter what I and others who care for her say or do to try and instill in her the belief that she is surrounded by people who care for her and would not abandon her, she quickly forgets this, if we are not in her immediate sight. If my mother had no family, did not have the option to get married and raise a family, she might have been left totally alone. Sadly, in my mother’s nursing home there are numerous residents who aside from the staff are all alone. Therefore, my mother’s imagined fear of being all alone might have been a realistic one had she not had the opportunity to create a family.

For most people, the desire for companionship in life and the fear of being all alone in their lives, especially later in life, draws and calls them into lifetime relationships. Couples meet, fall in love and decide to marry. Their families and friends share in the joyous decision by publically offering their prayers and support for a long and happy marriage for the couple. The vows of the Western Churches used in the wedding ceremony of “to have and to hold, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part” is really what marriage is all about. It is easy to find people to have a good time with, but they are much harder to come by when sickness, adversity or tragedy hits. So often in my priesthood did I witness couples who finished each other’s sentences, cared for each other during the most trying of illnesses as well as sincerely rejoice in each other’s accomplishments and achievements. They were not alone, but faced every joy, battle or adversity with the person they choose to be their life partner. Their choice and relationship was greeted and sanctioned by their families, friends, the church, society, and even the civil government, and I, as the priest, acting as an agent of the state, at least in Massachusetts, signed the civil marriage license.

My grandparents met in Church and they had a long marriage. Together they faced a world war, forced emigration, famine, repression, a second immigration, sickness and all other types of adversity. At every difficult turn in their lives they had each other to rely on, they were not alone. They were one spirit and one flesh. I often think about the role that the Orthodox Church played in their lives. The Church not only brought them together, but the sacred services, the mysteries and the time honored traditions and holy customs brought them spiritual comfort and sustained them throughout their lives. No matter what country they were living in (borders changed frequently in that part of the world in that time period) they always managed to locate the Orthodox Church where they were able to find spiritual nourishment. Certainly the Church was a constant source of solace in their married life.

Many if not most LGBT people want the same things from life that heterosexuals want.  On that list, certainly near the top, is the gift of loving and being loved by one special life partner. We desire someone with whom we can share our joys and well as our difficulties. We desire to laugh and cry with one person who has the same memories as we do as well as someone who will support our individual and mutual aspirations. There are those in governments, society and certainly the Orthodox Church who believe we should be denied the opportunity to love, to be loved, to be supported and not be alone. They are wrong. God has given LGBT people the desire to love, be loved and to express that love in life-long relationships and since it is given by God, no one can take that away from us.

What role does the Church play in the life of LGBT people who want to find a partner and live with him or her and have their choice and relationship blessed and sanctified? Since very few individuals are called to a life of solitude and celibacy, the Church has always encouraged fostered, and at times even facilitated the joining of man to woman and crowned their decision to live as husband and wife.  The Church in her wisdom understood this, developing not only the liturgical celebrations of the mystery of crowning, but also liturgical services for a second and even a third marriage. Very few LGBT people are called by their Creator to a life of solitude and celibacy. The Orthodox Church in her wisdom should recognize what is true and evident in the lives of her LGBT faithful. And in her understanding the Church should encourage Orthodox LGBT persons to seek a partner with whom they can create an honorable life. Then the Church, in her mercy and compassion, should sanctify the union with crowns in “glory and with honor.”

  1. Rachel Said,

    That made me tear up. I’m so sorry about your mother. My grandfather went through the same thing, and it was so hard. My grandmother was there for him the whole time though. They were together for about 55 years when he died. They were such an example of pure love, of what marriage should be. My grandmother is alone now, physically, but sustained by her faith. The church and her married life went hand in hand.
    She doesn’t know that I, her only religious grandchild, is gay. Maybe one day she will. I would like to think she would look at her wonderful marriage and realise that everyone, everyone, deserves a shot at that. But I don’t know. Just thought I’d share.
    God bless you.