This I believe:
The priest must support the struggling penitent in their desire to grow in all purity and chastity, and help them to know that their struggle will eventually lead them to the state where they can freely, and with joy, embrace the holiness that is their inheritance. If the priest ministers from his heart, and is grounded in the love of Christ, he will be able to give hope to the person who struggles with habitual sin, or relapses into sin already confessed.
When priests center the ministry of healing in compassion rather than passion, they are able to help the person who is struggling with same sex attraction embrace chastity as a gift, and not a terrible burden that forever dooms them to a life of loneliness and exclusion from the Mysteries of the Church. If priests do not marginalize the persons who are struggling with their homosexuality, but make a place for them within the life of the Church, they will give them the opportunity to grow in holiness and truth, just like all of us who have turned to the Church for healing.
Pushing aside those who have such a great cross to bear, or barring them from the life of the Church while accommodating those who relapse into sins such as masturbation, pornography, or gossiping, sends the wrong message to the lesbian or gay man who is struggling to maintain their Orthodox faith. They need love and support to live a life of chastity and holiness, and the priest must lead the parish community to be their welcoming family. The Church needs to lovingly say to the persons who struggle with same-sex inclinations that “we love you, and we are going to be patient with you. If you fall a thousand times, we will still be there for you”.
When we demonize those with same sex attraction, we do a disservice to everyone who is struggling with sin, for if that person’s sin is viewed as far more serious than ours, we are inadvertently distracted from our own road to repentance. If we would rather drive out the homosexual from our midst than create an atmosphere of hope and healing within the community of faith, we condemn ourselves, and our sin is compounded by our having judged another more harshly.
Thank you for saying it so well, Abbott Tryphon.
Let me break it down a bit:
- Purity and chastity are high virtues, not punchlines. Sanctity is not sanctimony, either.
- “[L]ead them to the state where they can freely, and with joy, embrace the holiness that is their inheritance.” Not “lead them to straight marriage.” That’s not the summum bonum. Re-read I Corinthians 7:7-9 if you think it is.
- “[G]ive hope to the person who struggles with habitual sin, or relapses into sin already confessed.” What serious ecclesial Christian (i.e., one whose church has a sacrament of confession) doesn’t struggle with habitual sin, relapsing, and confessing over and over again? (But remember: sin is not a moral problem.) I sure do.
- “[E]mbrace chastity as a gift, and not a terrible burden.” See point 1. I believe, from a combination of empathy (what would it feel like to be in those shoes?), hints from “between the lines” and occasional candid and insightful declaration, that the prospect of life without orgasm, ever (again), is a major driver of “progressive sexual ethics” in some Christian traditions. Faith oftener is lost in the bedroom than the library or classroom.
- “[J]ust like all of us who have turned to the Church for healing.” See point 3. And see point 4 if you think I’m micro-aggressing by equating sins like greed and life with same-sex attraction or gay identity. No doubt, especially in this sex-saturated culture, the latter seems harder to bear, but that’s not a fundamental difference, is it?
- The “priest must lead the parish community to be their welcoming family.” I know that this can be a huge issue, especially for folks with same-sex attraction who are totally out of the closet about it. And my own urge to push back with “can’t you be a bit more discreet?” (by which I do not mean “please go away” but rather “this may create bad reactions for you”) probably is part of the problem – as is my conviction that sexuality issues are legitimately “on the front burner” of our culture and churches right now and that unilateral disarmament is ill-advised.
May God have mercy on us as we struggle to be a welcoming family without being “inclusive” in the relativistic term-of-art sense that I think it has taken on:
At the same time, we priests must not, in our desire to embrace them with our love and acceptance, fail to call them to repentance. Regardless of what psychologists are saying, or what the courts are declaring, or pop artists and sports heroes are proclaiming about themselves, the priest must not fail in his duty to proclaim the unchanging message of the scriptures regarding biblical morality. Priests must resist moral relativism, while remaining true messengers of Christ’s mercy.
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The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research, but they are much, much less off-the-cuff than some of the stuff I routinely dish up.