I adapted the following from an article on the Catholic Church here. It spoke to some problems that we have too. I’ll have more to say, but let’s get the raw meat on the table, first. Again, what follows is an adaptation!
I don’t call for discussion to change teaching, but to expand it to include missing parts… the “missionary” and “pastoral” dimension… the merciful, healing, loving, welcoming part of the Church, which those outside the Faith don’t get to see. If you come to understand why they don’t, well, you get the point of my call. Those of us who know the Church know that in our parishes, schools, and institutions, our pastors pastor. They tend to us, nurture us, help us, and support us… whoever we are, and whatever our stage of moral development. Most of us live in a gap between who we are and who we’re called to be; being Orthodox isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. The doorway is wide; inside, essentially, it’s warm and welcoming… a clinic for the feeble, not a club of the smug. It’s nuanced and compassionate, even if it keeps the goals clearly in the spotlight.
So why do so many people see only judgementalism and rejection, even pharisaism? It’s because some concentrate on asserting doctrinal clarity and uniformity, partly to restore direction following divisions opened up in the early 1960s (the time of the Church War… SVS and Jordanville had a real Cold War going on). This meant keeping out the pastoral. We just didn’t discuss awkward pastoral questions, so, existing teaching and practise suffered, too. We have to bring the peripheral into the centre, breaking open the Church to a new (yet ancient and old) pastoral language. We need to ask tough questions with unprecedented frankness… how does one bind the wounds of the divorced, whilst promoting indissolubility? How do we embrace gay people, whilst celebrating marriage as a conjugal institution? How can the church be, like a good parent, both clear teacher and merciful mother? The tensions are as old as Jesus, who called people to lifelong sexual fidelity yet saw the adulteress as both sinner and victim. What’s new is bringing the tension into the governance of the Church.
A few think this is deeply misguided. They make a lot of noise… but compared with those who consistently favour a pastoral and missionary reset, they’re a tiny number. However, that means only that we need a lot more discussion and reflection before we can come up with concrete proposals. What matters is that we bring the pastoral to bear on the doctrinal… the Church decided to live in that tension. It’s a lot less tidy, but a lot more holy.
His Holiness said, “The Church respects all human decisions, including those of sexual orientation, but we reserve the right to call sin a ‘sin’”. That is, I’m not calling for throwing out actual synodically-defined doctrines of the Church. The Councils are what they are… the Lived Tradition is what it is… the Canons as actually wielded by the Church reflect what it truly is.
To hear some, you’d think that homosexuality and abortion are the central questions in Christianity. They are not. Emphatically, they’re not. Our Lord Christ left us no clear guidance… the Church simply tells us that homosexual activity is sinful… and that abortion is a sin, too. However, neither is at the level of greed… the Mother Sin, as it were. As the Apostle put it, ῥίζα γὰρ πάντων τῶν κακῶν ἐστιν ἡ φιλαργυρία (Root for all the evil is the love of money)… “Love of money is the root of all evil”. In Latin, it’s Radix malorum est cupiditas… cupidity is ardent desire, inordinate longing or lust; covetousness. Yet, the modern-day moralists say nothing about this… they urge us to vote for Republican greedsters due to their stance on “morality”. However, if greed, cupidity, the love of money, is the root of all evil… and Apostle St Paul IS an authoritative source… it means that we can’t vote for a faction whose mottos are “Greed is good”… “Winning is the only thing”… “America is a spotless city on a hill”.
Note well that there’s no tension in their world-view… as there must be in all forms of Truth. Its all “black n’ white”… yet, the Church is the most Zen-like of all the Christian bodies… it out-Zens Zen! As a priest told me once, “The Church keeps certain things undefined so as to give its clergy the pastoral freedom to deal with specific cases. When a teaching comes under attack… then, the Church MAY define it… but only after reaching a consensus”. Orthodoxy gives us the right questions to ask to come up with the right answers… it isn’t a stereotyped set of responses, regardless of the circumstances. Orthodoxy is authoritative… but only after long and often acrimonious debate. It took the Church CENTURIES to deal with Arianism… it wasn’t an overnight thing.
We face the same sort of thing here. There are pastoral problems in the Church… but they’re pastoral, not doctrinal. I truly don’t see a major problem with homosexuality in the Church (sorry, the konvertsy obsessed with it don’t seem to realise that they’re in a body that really doesn’t have much of a “gay problem”). It’s simply not there… as the Church doesn’t excommunicate gays… it doesn’t shun them… but it also doesn’t bless “gay marriage” nor does it bless homosexuality. It realises that a certain number of people are gay… it recognises this. It doesn’t bless it… it doesn’t commend it. When Bishop Job Osacky allowed Mark Stokoe to take communion, he wasn’t blessing homosexuality… that was oikonomia… an exception that didn’t overturn the rule. That’s how we do things. The rule stands… but we interpret it compassionately and with the intent of keeping people within the Church. We don’t use the rules as clubs… as one sees in certain konvertsy circles (Paffhausen is a good example of this). We deploy the canons as positive tools of healing and integration.
I know that this will cause certain of the rigourists to come out of their holes. So be it. I am NOT arguing for “anything goes”… however, I AM saying that we can’t allow a loud set to take over the direction of the ship. Remember, the same people who obsess on homosexuality and abortion also obsess on questionable doctrinal positions like the so-called “toll houses” (I believe that the ROCOR Synod was correct in closing down all discussion on them).
As a priest at Jordanville once told me, “St Serafim said, ‘Save your own soul, and thousands will be saved around you’. That means that you should concentrate on cleansing yourself. If you can do this little thing, the larger will fall into place”. The older that I get, the wiser that gets! If you can work on yourself, it affects the world around you… now, that’s what I believe. If you want to go out to crusade against this or that, my advice is to leave Orthodoxy… that’s not what we do. However… do ponder what the “big tent” means… and the big tent does exist in Russian Orthodoxy. There’s room for all sort of people in Christ’s Church. It’s a House of Sinners… not the Haven of the Saved. The older that I get, the more “lenient” that I get… the Church is all about Ultimate Things. Anything that distracts from that is wrong. The Crusaders against gays and abortion should reflect on that. There IS a wrong way on focusing on the right things… now, THAT’S a meaty bone to gnaw upon!