Gender and Sexuality, Theology

Same-Sex Marriage in Greece: A Critical Analysis

Published on: February 14, 2024
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On Thursday, Greece’s parliament will vote on whether to legalize same-sex marriage and adoption. Perhaps surprisingly, the initiative is led by the Center-Right Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who faces opposition most forcefully from the Church of Greece’s Holy Synod of bishops.

Although the Synod acknowledges that the State, not the Church, legislates, it insists that legislation should align with its view of Christian morality despite Greece’s being a pluralistic democracy. For those of us who live in such settings, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew rightly observes that “our experience of individual national identity has to be lived out within a pluralistic and multicultural context.”[1]

As a second-generation Greek American, I am not under the Synod’s jurisdiction, but I am a member of the Church as it was originally conceived as a collective body: “Our heavenly mother in whose womb we are born into life, anticipated…in the sacramental life of worship.”[2] The Church is “embodied, manifest, realized, in each local community,” so we are all constitutive of it.[3]

The Synod claims its objection to the proposed legislation is based upon scriptural, canonical, and patristic tradition. But its reading of those documents is so narrow that it undercuts the Orthodox teaching of personhood.

The Synod writes that the legislation is “in conflict with Christian anthropology” and warns that same-sex marriage disturbs proper gender roles as well as “fatherhood and motherhood.” This belief that female-male parents translates into a particular pair of personalities presumes gender essentialism. It is precisely this use of gender essentialism that is incompatible with Orthodoxy’s theology of personhood.

Gender essentialism is the belief that humans fit neatly into distinct—yet complementary—groups that align assigned biological sex (male/female), gender identity (man/woman), sexual orientation (heterosexual), and gender roles (masculine/feminine). The problem is not gender essentialism’s recognition of difference, but rather the way it predetermines personality and relationships based on an assumption of immutable traits. 

To support its position, the Synod prooftexts Genesis 1:27-28: God “created them male and female…saying, ‘Increase and multiply…’” The Synod deliberately ignores that Church Fathers interpreted these lines in wildly different ways. But even if we were to follow the Synod in its narrowly literal way, the text says that God created “day” and “night,” but did God not also create dusk, dawn, and twilight, even if it isn’t in the text? When we say God is the Alpha and the Omega, are we saying that God is only the first and the last? Or are we saying that God is everything from the first to the last?[4] Perhaps, when God created humanity male and female, God similarly created everything in between.

In fact, Orthodox theology discourages us from categorizing human beings in the way that gender essentialism does. Orthodoxy’s understanding of personhood, reflected in our teaching of the Trinity and Christology, suggest that human persons, with all their complexity, cannot be reduced to the categories that gender essentialism requires.

The Trinity, as Metropolitan John Zizioulas explains, provides a model of personhood beyond classification. The Trinitarian persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—share a divine essence (ousia), but each has a unique way of being in relationship with us (hypostasis). Reflecting the Trinity, humans share in a common human nature (ousia), from which we derive a collection of attributes (e.g. race, body type, sex, gender) for which there are variations.[5] A set of characteristics constitutes someone as an individual, which is different from their personhood (hypostasis).

Personhood is one’s unique identity that emerges in relationship with others just as, for example, the unique hypostasis of the Holy Spirit is realized in relationship with other Trinitarian persons. The Holy Spirit constitutes us as irreducibly unique persons who share in the Son’s relation to the Father. Each human person, therefore, is beyond classification and transcends our shared essence.

Since Orthodoxy emphasizes the person rather than the individual, the Synod misplaces its emphasis on an individual’s attributes instead of a person’s hypostasis. Put simply, the Synod mistakes being LGBTQ as determinative of personhood.

Like the Trinity, our Christology also emphasizes the person. Christ’s unique hypostatic union of being simultaneously fully divine and fully human—a non-binary that defies categorization—calls us to understand other human beings not based on “what things are but how they are.”[6]

The Synod’s wrongful elision of shared essence (ousia) and the unique person (hypostasis) causes spiritual harm. Its strictures make it difficult for the unique image of God in a particular person to be expressed as fully and authentically within the Church. As St. Athanasius wrote, God does not reveal “knowledge of himself in one way” but has “unfolded it in many forms and by many ways.”[7] Gender essentialism washes over those “many forms” and “many ways” by problematically predetermining how we can be in communion with others.

It is not enough to say we “accept” people by allowing them to sit in our pews nor is it enough that a civil union is available. Theotic love, modeled in the Trinity, requires allowing another person the freedom to be different but still in communion with us. Zizioulas writes, “If we love the other not only in spite of [their] being different from us but because [they are] different from us, or rather other than ourselves, we live in freedom as love and in love as freedom.”[8] Theosis calls us to embody a collective in which no one is denied the Sacraments based on immutable traits.

The Synod beautifully describes Christian marriage, with or without children, as “not a simple partnership agreement, but a Holy Sacrament through which God’s grace is given to the relationship…to their common journey towards theosis.” But its additional prescription of only male-female relationships presumes what is sacramental based on immutable traits.

Sacramentality describes the presencing of God through the transformation of material form.[9] All materiality has sacramental potential.[10] Thus, marriage, as a sacrament, is not merely the ceremonial moment but an ascetical struggle shared by a couple, learning to love as God loves. That presencing of God in marriage (and marital sex) is not dependent on immutable traits.

The Synod wrongly claims that the Holy Sacrament of marriage has a singular unchanging history. The Church did not even develop a sacrament of marriage until the tenth century and, even then, it did not perform marriages for the poor (the vast majority of Christians), and women were told to endure domestic violence as an act of martyrdom.

If we all constitute the Church, and if Orthodox marriage and parenthood are ultimately about learning to love as God’s love, why would we exclude people from encountering God’s love in that way?

The Synod asks, “Why is [same-sex marriage and parenthood] being promoted with such insistence?” One answer is that our faith demands it.

[1] Bartholomeos, P. (2007). The Ecumenical Patriarchate as a Beacon of Hope: Insights Into the Role of Religion in a Changing World. European View6(1), 117-124.

[2] John Behr, “What is Church?”

[3] Behr, “What is Church?”

[4] Rev. Kali Cawthon-Freels, Reclamation: A Queer Pastor’s Guide to Finding Spiritual Growth in the Passages Used to Harm Us (Nurturing Faith, 2022) 9. 

[5] Church Fathers believed, sex differentiation, which shapes our human experience, does not reflect being made in the divine image. Valerie Karras, “Patristic Views on the Ontology of Gender” in Personhood: Orthodox Christianity and the Connection Between Body, Mind, and Soul (Bergin and Garvey, 1996), p. 113-115; see also Catherine Frederick Frost, Church of our Granddaughters (Cascade Books, 2023), 28.

[6] John Zizioulas, Communion and Otherness (T&T Clark, 2006), 23.

[7] On the Incarnation 11; trans. Anonymous, St. Athanasius, 38-39, alt.

[8] Zizioulas, 10.

[9] Aristotle Papanikolaou, “A Theology of Sex” in Orthodox Tradition and Human Sexuality (Fordham, 2022), 252.

[10] Papanikolaou, 255. 

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  • Dina M. Zingaro

    Dina M. Zingaro

    Dual degree candidate at Harvard Law School and Harvard Divinity School

    Dina M. Zingaro is a dual degree candidate at Harvard Law School and Harvard Divinity School (JD/M.Div.) with a focus on women, gender, sex, and the body. She was awarded the Presidential Scholarship at Harvard Divinity School, which is awarded to “outstanding applicants who demonstrate a concern fo...

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


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