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OCANews Reflection: "A Pastor's Thoughts On Same Sex Marriage"

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  • Nina Tkachuk Dimas
    http://www.ocanews.org/news/AridaResponse7.1.11.html 7.1.11 A Pastor s Thoughts On Same Sex Marriage                  Fr. Robert Arida,
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 1, 2011
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      "A Pastor's
      Thoughts On Same Sex Marriage"
                       Fr. Robert Arida, Boston MA

      Is the legalization of same sex
      marriage/union a threat to the Orthodox Church’s stance on matrimony being the
      sanctified union of one man and one woman? This question is again becoming the
      focus of many Orthodox Christians in light of the recent passage by the New York
      State legislature to legalize same sex marriage.

      As a priest in the state of
      Massachusetts where homosexual marriage has been legal since 2004, the law of
      the Commonwealth has never intruded upon my ministry nor has it sought to alter
      the Church’s vision and theology of marriage. That some Orthodox Christians feel
      obliged to voice their opposition to same sex marriage for fear that the Church
      will inevitably be coerced to comply and therefore oblige same sex couples with
      a rite of marriage seems premature.
      On the one hand, civil law does not and
      will not become the standard for what takes place within the precincts of the
      Church. On the other hand, the legalizing of same sex marriage in some of our
      states offers the faithful the opportunity to reflect on the long and complex
      history of monogamous heterosexual marriage within the Church.

      Beginning with our Lord’s public
      ministry, the Gospel accounts reveal that what he understood marriage to be was
      not quite in tune with that of the Pharisees. This is
      especially clear in the
      discussion about divorce. The Pharisees justified divorce based onn the
      authority of Scripture in the person of Moses. Christ responds: “For your
      hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of
      creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his
      father and mother and bebjoined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.
      So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together
      let no man put asunder." (Mk. 2-9)
      In the Gospel according to St. Matthew
      an additional detail is contained in Jesus’ response: “For your hardness of
      heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not
      so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wifeexcept for unchastity
      and marries another commits adultery.”(19:8-9)

      While the Pharisees and Sadducees
      argued with Christ over the nature of marriage, in the case of the Sadducees the
      discussion seems to focus on the levirate system of procuring heirs through a
      deceased husband’s brothers (Lk.20:27ff), the Pauline letters indicate that the
      great missionary grappled with issues relative to marriage in light of what he
      anticipated to be the imminent second coming of our Lord. Combing the Pauline
      corpus regarding marriage one is struck by the inconsistency of the missionary’s
      For example, was marriage to be encouraged or discouraged? (1 Cor.
      7:25 ff) Should a Christian spouse divorce his or her non-Christian spouse? (1
      Cor. 7:12 ff) Does marriage exist solely for the bridling of passions and
      therefore a check on fallen human love? (1 Cor. 7:1-9) Does marriage exist to
      restore the proper relationship between a man and a woman whereby submissiveness
      of the wife to the husband the bearing of children result in her salvation? (1
      Tim. 2:15) Or, is the sharing of life between husband and wife a reflection of
      the relationship between Christ and the Church? (Eph. 5:21-33).
      Because St. Paul was a missionary his approach (or approaches) to
      marriage should not be perceived
      as a systematic treatment of the subject. As
      the Apostle to the Gentiles, he was encountering the new and unexpected not as a
      Jew but as a Jewish Christian newly converted to the crucified and risen

      Over the course of centuries the Church
      continued to face new and unexpected challenges. The canons of our Church attest
      to this fact especially when it comes to marriage and divorce. Once the
      symphonia between Church and State was established the integrity and sacredness
      of monogamous heterosexual marriage would eventually be undermined not from
      without but from within the confines of the Church.

      In spite of the many canons seeking to
      strike a balance between marriage and monasticism and which sought to protect
      marriage (as well as married clergy) from the
      monastic or ascetic extremists
      (Council of Gangra, cir. 341), the balance inevitably tipped toward the latter.
      A striking example of this imbalance allows for divorce should a spouse choose
      what is referred to in Matthew Blastares’ “Alphabetical Collection of the
      and Divine Canons”(14th c.)as the better life i.e. the
      monastic life. A divorce was easily granted even in cases where
      there was no mutual consent.(Letter Gamma, chapter 13)
      The superiority of monasticism over
      marriage continues to be a prevailing ethos for many in the Orthodox

      Monasticism was not the only challenge the Church would have to face
      with regards to the place of marriage in society .The issue of slavery also drew
      the Church and Christian State into new waters. While Christianity contributed
      to a more humane treatment of slaves, slavery remained an established
      institution which, for the most part, was necessary for maintaining the natural
      order. From a Christian perspective this meant that slavery was a social
      phenomenon established by God. The Letter to the Colossians helps to make this
      point. St. Paul implicitly states that the relationship between slave and master
      is just as important as the relationship between wives and husbands, children
      and parents. (3:18-25) Slavery was a cornerstone in the foundation of a well
      ordered society. That St. Paul returns the runaway slave Onesimus to his owner –
      presumably Philemon a “fellow worker” in the Gospel - also shows that slavery as
      an institution was not to be tampered with.(Philemon 8ff) Parenthetically, one
      has to ask how the return of Onesimus to his owner stands in relation to
      Deuteronomic teaching:“You shall not give up to his master a slave who has
      escaped from his master to you…”(23:15)

      By the 4th century
      slavery as a component of natural law began to be articulated in the writings of
      the Church Fathers. Yet, with regards to slavery, natural law was understood as
      a product of sin. As such, slavery was sustained by God’s will as punishment due
      to human folly and transgression. As Chrysostom stressed, from the beginning God
      created all men free but because of sin, war and greed slavery ensued. (Eph.
      Hom. 24) As the Fathers, both East and West, sought to uncover the source of
      slavery the slave continued to hold the legal and social status as a non-person.
      Among other things, this meant that slaves could not marry. While St. Gregory of
      Nazianzus condemned slavery he remained a slave owner who, in his will, offered
      them their freedom and personhood. St. Basil the Great saw slavery as a
      necessary evil. St. Theodore of Studios forbade monks to possess slaves and yet
      slave holding monasteries were not unknown. Canon 3 of the Council of Gangra
      anathematized those who encouraged slaves to flee their masters.

      The slave as a
      non-person also comes across in various hagiographies. In these accounts the
      freeing of slaves owned by a holy person was not first and foremost an act of
      charity but a way to dispose of property. (cf. the hagiographies of St. Melania
      the Younger and St. Symenon the Fool) It would take a period of about a thousand
      years before civil and ecclesiastical law would bestow upon slaves the status of
      person which in turn allowed them to marry in the Church. Indeed, when God so
      wills the natural order is overcome. Given our Church’s biblical, patristic,
      liturgical and canonical sources one eventually detects that there is no
      universally consistent and accepted teaching on marriage as to its origin,
      purpose and goal. Is it prelapsarian or postlapsarian? Is it eternal or
      temporal? Is it dissoluble or indissoluble? Is it a legal contract between free
      persons? Is it an accommodation to human passion – a form of legalized
      fornication - and therefore subordinate to monastic puritanism or is it a
      sacrament of the Kingdom which leads to the salvation of spouses? Each question
      has been answered in two ways, yes and no.

      If the Church is
      going to respond to the legalization of same sex marriage/union it seems that it
      should begin by considering how to minister to those same sex couples who being
      legally married come with their children and knock on the doors of our parishes
      seeking Christ. Do we ignore them? Do we, prima facie, turn them away? Do we,
      under the rubric of repentance, encourage them to divorce and dismantle their
      family? Or, do we offer tem, as we offer anyone desiring Christ, pastoral care,
      love and a spiritual home?

      Indeed, the Church
      has never sailed these uncharted waters. But our history teaches us that what is
      new need not compromise Christ who is the “same yesterday, today and

      ©2011 Father
      Robert M. Arida

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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