Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew unequivocally condemns same-sex marriage

on September 17, 2013

On Monday, September 9, The American Orthodox Institute  published this article on its blog The Observer. Re-posting from this piece published on Mystagogy (the influential blog maintained by prominent Boston-based Greek Orthodox author, scholar and theologian John Sanidopoulos), The Observer reports on an extraordinary homily which His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople and New Rome, offered on Saturday, September 7 at Vespers while visiting Tallinn, Estonia’s historic Orthodox Cathedral of Sts Symeon and Anna.

Tallinn's historic Orthodox Cathedral of Sts Symeon and Anna.
Tallinn’s historic Orthodox Cathedral of Sts Symeon and Anna
Interior of the Cathedral of St Symeon and Anna, which dates to 1752
Interior of the Cathedral of St Symeon and Anna, which dates to 1752

Taken from Mr Sanidopoulos’ English translation from the original Greek edition of the sermon, which the Patriarch authorized to be published here on the Patriarchate’s website, His All Holiness’ words offer an unambiguous condemnation of homosexual behavior and same-sex marriage as out of step with the inner life, Scriptural witness and revealed Tradition of the Orthodox Church.

H.A.H. Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, Archbishop of New Rome, and primus inter pares among the Eastern Orthodox hierarchs
H.A.H. Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, Archbishop of New Rome, and primus inter pares among the Eastern Orthodox hierarchs

Mr Sanidopoulos provides the following English translation of His All Holiness’ homily:

The Church, my beloved parents and children, and subsequently the family, which consists lawfully and by the command of God of men and women, and the children acquired, is not a foundation or association or a simple organization, but a Body, as it is wonderfully depicted by the Apostle Paul. And this parallelism is accurate and true. Church and marriage. Husband and wife. Body and its members.

This community, signified in the Mysteries and in the obedience of Faith, both in the Church and in the family, is sanctified and mystagogued through the Mystery of Marriage, which, according to the Fathers, is a mystery of co-creation, and the ontological link of love with the Head of the Body, to ensure health and life, which is salvation and sanctification.

As in our Orthodox Church, where no member is forgiven to deal with things in a peculiar form and at one’s discretion and to prey on the proper operation and sincere communion of the love and unity of faith of the other members, or despise and ignore them, because they create cancerous disorders, agitations, dissensions, schisms, and heresies. This applies as well to the miniature church, the family, in which is required compassion, love and unity for the structure to be built, in which the father, the mother and the children have a place inter-embracing one another’s gifts, responsibilities and rights, and they are “individually members of it”.

God blesses our every effort towards the fulfillment of His will, and every struggle in life, according to one’s faithfulness in each and every talent. It suffices to realize in time our given talents and gifts and therefore our obligations for our every personal role, which God expects us to live out in the ecclesiastical and familial body as Orthodox Christians, activating its divine-human nature, within the framework of our God-given limits and conditions. For God created man “male and female”, that we might not imitate those who “exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator — who is forever praised” (Romans 1:24-26) […]

Citing Romans 1:26-28 in his closing, His All Holiness minced no words, condemning as “unknown” to Christ and His Body “the partnering of the same sex”:

To our Lord Jesus Christ, who blessed families through the Mystery of Marriage at Cana of Galilee and changed water into wine, that is, into joy and feasting, and to His Body, the Orthodox Church, the partnering of the same sex is unknown and condemned, and they condemn the contemporary invention of “mutual cohabitation”, which is the result of sin and not the law of joy, and by their actions the “females exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error” (Romans 1:26-28). Let this not also be born in you, Orthodox Estonians, brethren and children.

Patriarch Bartholomew venerating an icon (Source: Mystagogy)
Patriarch Bartholomew venerating an icon (Source: Mystagogy)

Patriarch Bartholomew‘s citation of Romans 1:26-28, and the public posting of the homily on the Patriarchal website carry clear implications. As The Observer notes:

This statement was delivered at a homily in Estonia but also posted on the Patriarchal website so it carries the imprimatur of the Patriarchal office. Note Pat. Bartholomew’s reliance on the book of Romans where the Apostle Paul describes Roman culture at the time. Again, this is significant because the Patriarch’s reference to St. Paul’s admonition shows the teaching applies not only to the Church, but to society as well. The erroneous idea that the Orthodox Church has nothing to say to the larger culture about homosexual marriage has been repudiated Pat. Kyrill in the past and now by Pat. Bartholomew.

Patriarch Bartholomew greeting young worshipers in Kihnu, Estonia
Patriarch Bartholomew greeting young worshipers in Kihnu, Estonia last week

Patriarch Bartholomew is the spiritual leader of all Greek Orthodox Christians, and, among all canonical Eastern Orthodox Churches, recognized as the presiding hierarch in an honor of rank which holds him as primus inter pares. Thus, it is highly significant for all the faithful in the world’s second-largest Christian confession that the Patriarch has so clearly spoken out  on this issue, when previously he tended to offer more cautious or ambiguous statements which stopped short of affirming that the Church cannot bless or sanction any kind of same-sex union or relationship.

There can be no further cause for debate among Orthodox Christians as to whether or not the Church can bless or sanction same-sex marriage. As the Observer notes rather triumphantly, yet still truthfully:

This is bound to make some of the Orthodox Progressives squirm because there is no room for doubt, no artificial distinction between Church and society where the moral teaching applies to the former but not the latter, where there is a different ontology implied for those within the Church and those outside of her.

One scholar who presents himself as a lay Orthodox theologian who has written widely on the subject of Orthodoxy, homosexual relationships and marriage is Dr David J. Dunn. According to his public vitae, Dr Dunn received his PhD in theological studies from Vanderbilt University in 2011. I will not critique his approach here, as others have already done so, but I will simply refer you to these posts, here and here, which he wrote for The Huffington Post.

While I do not think that Dr Dunn is someone who is advocating what The Observer terms “the arguments that the Church has no interest in the broader health of the culture and should remain silent about the critical moral issues of the day”, he is someone who has consistently, publicly and repeatedly offered a perspective on same-sex relationships and marriage which differs markedly from the universal consensus of all canonical Orthodox bishops in North America.

My concern is that the prominence of Dr Dunn’s blog – and his own status as a well-known commentator on Orthodox theology as applied to the public issues of today – may cause some unwary readers who view his blog to perceive him as some kind of authority on Orthodox theology as relating to the pastoral and public issue of homosexuality. It is crucial that readers realize that while Dr Dunn is free to offer his own perspective and personal position on a host of issues, as he regularly does, when it comes to the question of  same-sex relationships or any kind of same-sex civil union or marriage, he does not speak for the Church’s position, but rather, openly criticizes and opposes it.

In a post provocatively titled “When “Orthodoxy” Gets it Wrong”, Dunn has commendably acknowledged that his views on same-sex relationships and marriage put him at odds with his own bishops. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, he and others who share his sentiments have to offer on Patriarch Bartholomew’s recent homily in Tallinn.

  1. Comment by Adrian Croft on September 23, 2013 at 10:26 pm

    I applaud this guy taking a stand for the right, but I know lefties well enough that I can tell you their reaction to seeing his photo: just another old white guy on “the wrong side of history.”

  2. Comment by Ryan Hunter on September 25, 2013 at 12:42 pm

    Thanks for your comment, Adrian. I certainly hope that anyone critical of Patriarch Bartholomew’s message will at least consider that he speaks as the archpastor of the world’s tens of millions of Greek Orthodox, and is the honorary first among equals of all world Orthodox bishops. In short, his words carry enormous influence with a very large audience. Though, I suspect, anyone who could possibly dismiss him as “just another old white guy on the wrong side of history” probably knows next to nothing about Orthodox Christianity or Church history. . .

  3. Comment by Vasilios Birlidis on January 20, 2015 at 9:47 pm

    With all due respect to his holiness, Patriarch Bartholomew, and to the members of this conversation, you are wrong. Christ died for our sins and communicated a message of relentless compassion and love. Stop pushing GLBT members away from God. God embraces all. God loves all. His holiness is no different from the Pharisees, whom held up religious law and used it to kill our lord, Jesus Christ. I forgive his holiness for his closed heart. May God open up your minds and your hearts.

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