Freedom from Fear: Response to the Statement of the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America

by the editors of the The Wheel

This post was originally published at The Wheel and is reposted here with permission.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)

In our inaugural editorial in 2015, we stated: “The Wheel is a journal for the intelligent and constructive articulation of the Christian Gospel in the 21st century. We live in an era of pluralism, when the social identity of Christian faith and its role in public discourse present new and unique challenges. By embracing contributions on Orthodox theology, spirituality, and liturgical arts alongside serious engagements with the challenges of contemporary political ideologies, empirical science, and cultural modernism, this publication aims to move beyond the polarizations of much current discourse in the Orthodox Church.”

We also quoted the great theologian of the twentieth century Vladimir Lossky:

If the Scriptures and all that the Church can produce in words written or pronounced, in images or in symbols liturgical or otherwise, represent the differing modes of expression of the truth, tradition is the unique mode of receiving it. We say specifically unique mode and not uniform mode, for to Tradition in its pure notion there belongs nothing formal. It does not impose on human consciousness formal guarantees of the truths of faith, but gives access to the discovery of their inner evidence. It is not the content of Revelation, but the light that reveals it; it is not the word, but the living breath which makes the words heard at the same time as the silence from which it came; it is not the truth, but a communication of the Spirit of Truth, outside which the truth cannot be received…. It is the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church.

The “Statement on Same-Sex Relationships and Sexual Identity” issued by the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America on July 21, 2022, at the All-American Council in Baltimore stands in direct contradiction to the spirit of discourse and discernment that has propelled the development of Orthodox tradition. Any serious scholar of patristic writings is aware that the great thinkers of the Church, in their pursuit of truth, have engaged in lively and often scathing debate. Moreover, their opinions, consensual as well as divergent, have usually been informed by the advances and mores of the science and culture of their times. Unfortunately, the language of the Synod’s statement offers a picture of church tradition that has nothing to do with its history, and aims to ossify poorly-understood notions as a collection of  museum artifacts.

In an essay published in 2000, Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom) wrote:

The Church, or rather clergymen and some of the conscious churchgoers, are afraid to do something wrong. After all these years when people could not think or speak openly with each other and thereby outgrow, as it were, the nineteenth century, there is much fear, which leads people to be content with mere repetition of what has been adopted by the Church long before and what is known as Church language and Church doctrine. This has to change sooner or later. 

Metropolitan Anthony was speaking of the newly-resurrected Russian Orthodox Church, but he might as well have been describing the OCA. The phenomenon is the same: fear of change, derived from a misconception that the past holds all the keys to all questions—present and future—drives rejection of freedom. Fear of change replaces authority rooted in prayer, study, and open discourse with the whole Church with tyranny. And fear of losing power drives repression, which is the source of threatening clergy and laity with disciplinary action—for what? For exercising academic freedom and affirming freedom of theological and intellectual discourse, which is the lifeblood of the Orthodox tradition.

The editorial and advisory boards of The Wheel are composed of Orthodox clergy, academics, and laity from various countries and jurisdictions. We engage with a global community representing all Orthodox churches as well as other Christian denominations. As an independent and pan-Orthodox publication, we reaffirm our commitment to open dialogue and debate on all topics facing the Orthodox Church in the modern world, including gender and sexuality. We will continue to publish authors who seek to question and probe long-held assumptions in the pursuit of truth. “God desires all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim. 2:4) Knowledge is derived from entering the mystery of Christ. Consequently, the One who is Truth beckons us to draw near and not ignore, reject, or spurn honest and saving inquiry.

Call for Papers for The Wheel: Intellectual Freedom

The Wheel is pleased to announce an upcoming issue of the journal on the role of academic freedom—and freedom of thought more broadly—in the development of the Church’s tradition. The renowned scholar and prominent OCA member Jaroslav Pelikan argued that “the university is, in God’s good world, the principal community through which human rationality can examine all existing communities, families, and structures—including itself, but also including the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church—and thus can help them to become what they are.” The Wheel invites scholarly essays as well as poetry, fiction, art, and letters to the editor addressing this theme of intellectual freedom and how it can be safeguarded in our time. Please refer to the instructions at when sending queries or full contributions. Prospective authors should ideally contact us by August 31, 2022.

Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in this essay are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.