Over the last few years I have been asked many times about same-sex marriage. Especially in the last few months, as this issue has become so big, the question repeatedly comes: “What does the Eastern Orthodox Church say about this matter?”
Some denominations will now perform such ceremonies. Within some denominations, some pastors will and some won’t. The Orthodox Church is the second largest Christian body in the world and usually considered the most traditional. Will the Orthodox Church do same-sex marriages?
No, we won’t.
Let me explain why. Marriage has always been between males and females. That is the very meaning of the word. Some cultures in history, most famously ancient Greece, were — shall we say — rather easygoing about homosexuality. But even they never accepted same-sex marriage as an open and legal institution.
If this huge change now takes place, as it seems it might, it will be a first in the history of the human race. Marriage is one of the holy sacraments of the church. And it has always been between a woman and a man. To change this would be to change the very nature of the sacrament and that we cannot do.
The sacrament of Christian marriage reflects the loving union between Jesus Christ and his church. This is clear in the epistle lesson written by the Holy Apostle Paul, Ephesians 5:21-33, which is read at every Orthodox wedding. In this epistle reading, St. Paul clearly teaches that the marital union reflects the union between Christ, the bridegroom, and his spouse the church, the bride.
A human bride and groom hopefully have a similarly loving relationship and union as do Christ and his church. But the marriage between Christ and the church can’t work if there are two Christs and no church, or two churches and no Christ! And, similarly, the human marital reflection of the union between Christ and the church won’t work if there are two human brides and no groom, or two grooms and no bride.
To have such a “marriage” would make nonsense of everything Paul says and that fact shows that such a “marriage” really isn’t marriage, no matter what terminology we humans wish to use. Ultimately, real marriage is what God says real marriage is, not what we say it is. Through the inspiration of Scripture by the Holy Spirit, God has spoken through the writings of St. Paul.
Both the Bible and the tradition of the church teach that same-sex sexual activity is sinful. It’s not an unforgivable sin or the worst sin, but it is a sin. Therefore, the church asks those who are tempted to such sin to refrain from it and be chaste. In a similar way the church asks those with no same-sex struggles to refrain from heterosexual sexual activity outside of marriage. Chastity is asked from both and it is believed that God can help a person remain chaste.
So in closing, the Orthodox Church is happy to minister to those struggling with homosexuality. Such ministering goes on pretty much everywhere and in most parishes –our people have the same struggles as everyone else does. We certainly have no hatred against people with this struggle and no interest in “gay bashing.”
We will not turn someone away because of a particular sin they struggle with. They are sinners like the rest of us who need God’s forgiveness and help.
But performing or approving of same-sex marriages? No, we can’t do that. That would be saying that what is a sin isn’t a sin. That would be a lie, so we can’t participate or approve.
May God have mercy on all of us sinners and bring us to repent of our sins and bring us all into his heavenly kingdom.
The Rev. Andrew Harmon is pastor of St. Matthew Orthodox Church in North Royalton.