Gender and Sexuality, Public Life

The Things That Are God’s and the Things That Are Caesar’s On the Legalization of Same-Sex Marriage in Greece

Published on: February 22, 2024
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Same-sex marriage in Greece
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One of the temptations invariably plaguing priests and preachers as they proffer declarations and proclamations is the tendency to offer solutions to  non-existent dilemmas, providing answers to questions nobody is asking or addressing the wrong audience. Which is why it is hardly surprising that various Orthodox hierarchs and circles feel the need to express disproportionate fervor and excessive alarm on the current debate around the same-sex marriage bill that just passed in the Greek parliament.

With the legalization of same-sex marriage, Greece becomes the first Orthodox-majority country with equality in civil marriage. In Russia, merely promoting or parading with LGBTQ is still punishable with imprisonment by the State with the endorsement, if not blessing of the Church. And in Georgia, simply praising or protesting in support of gay pride incites social animosity with the tolerance, if not formal backing of the Church.

The extreme and excessive noise of conversations and statements at this time, as well as the toxicity and hypocrisy of condemnations and anathemas, would undoubtedly find more fertile ground if addressed to parish programs and parishioners preparing for the sacraments of marriage or baptism. What is clearly missing from the otherwise pedantic clamor and superfluous commotion in Greece is a sober reflection based on the ethical prescriptions of the Gospel.

Morality is one thing (perhaps open to the moralism of the Church), but legality is another (with far less room for criticism, even by the Church). There are things that are God’s, and others that are Caesar’s (Mt. 22.21). After all, by definition, the State does not expect the opinion or approval of the Church; still less would the State impose its legislation on the Church. Kyriakos Mitsotakis, prime minister of the Hellenic Republic, has been unambiguous: “We are referring to choices made by the state and not religious convictions!”

The Church has every right (mind you, as granted by the State!) to cling to conservative and—in its opinion—unequivocal rules or inviolable regulations. After all, it’s what the Church does, or what the Church deems it proper to do. By the same token, for its part, the State would never expect or assume that the Church should deviate from its dogmas, just as society would never expect the Church to abolish its doctrines.

The problem is arguably that, in “traditionally orthodox” countries, the Church has a curious and complicated relationship with the State. As a result, the Church can sometimes threaten to exclude from the sacraments those whom it considers “immoral” or “impure”—always, of course, in accordance with its own criteria—especially when State ministers take an oath before Orthodox prelates in the name of the Holy Trinity!

Nonetheless, with all the ensuing commotion and grandstanding in the debate about same-sex marriage—predominantly in religious circles—what seems to elude the Church is that, just as the domain of faith or spirituality presupposes an ongoing process, so too democracy or modernity is a work in progress. Neither is static or exclusive; both aspire to and strive for maturity and integrity. Moreover, neither is resolved by protest or populism; on the contrary, both require engagement and interaction.

Same-sex marriage does not concern the Church or its existence, but a limited and specific segment of society, for which the State is responsible and obliged to care, while the Church too—mind you!—should at the very least least demonstrate the same pastoral and spiritual care as for every other segment of society.

While the hierarchy may be adamant on passionately defining its theological understanding and sacramental rite of marriage or protecting the social role and sacred importance of family, nobody is actually questioning these positions of the Church. But the Church should also realize and recognize that its word is neither law nor science.

Let’s not fool others—or ourselves, for that matter. When invoking Scripture or referring to Christianity, it is a bold, if not audacious thing to presume that our words or emotions are God’s statements or sentiments. When God “speaks” in the Book of Genesis, the words surely belong to the author of the Pentateuch, not to the invisible, ineffable, and transcendent divinity. That is the basis and essence of hermeneutics.

Unlike the Quran, Scripture does not magically or mechanically descend from above. Furthermore, unlike shariah, the creed of the church may determine personal conduct, but it cannot dictate the ways of society. And unlike Muslim states, “Orthodox countries”—especially those intermingled or associated with Western democracies—should avoid such statements as “There are no homosexuals in the church” or “One cannot be gay and a member of the church (or, for that matter, a Christian!).” This is precisely why the communiqué “of the 40 abbots and representatives of the extraordinary double synaxis” on Mt. Athos about “these people” (sic!), in other words about gay people, is if nothing else anachronistic and hypocritical.

It is regrettable that the Church appears “primitive” on matters pertaining to science and law (including such issues as civil marriages and digital identities)—namely, with regard to everything that has emerged in recent decades, even centuries—yet “pioneering” in the dissemination of conspiracy theories. And although we are in the 21st century, some hierarchs still insist on identifying homosexuality with pathological symptoms that require psychotherapy or conversion!

Just one year after backing itself into a corner on the quesiton of baptizing children of gay couples—again with the militant support of Mount Athos!— the Church of Greece is now even reconsidering infant baptism (well . . . at least for gay individuals; I wonder how they will establish that?) on the basis that, in the words of one hierarch, “A child doesn’t have faith; only an adult or sponsor has faith”—arguably an elementary and erroneous confounding of faith and knowledge, further paving the way for violating human rights and personal freedom. The same hierarch even observed that it is appropriate to deny baptism to a child for the sake of punishing the gay adult! Once more, Prime Minister Mitsotakis has been consistent: “Our democracy requires that there cannot be two classes of citizens; and there certainly cannot be children of a lesser god.”

How ironic and striking it is that some representatives of the Greek State and scholarly disciplines—secular individuals, who nonetheless will surely “precede [us] in the heavenly kingdom” (Mt. 21.31)—display greater discernment and compassion than many of their “holier” equivalents in the ecclesiastical hierarchy and monastic community, when they remind us that the recent legislation voted by the Greek Parliament concerns adults and children who otherwise would not be recognized in public life and who face grievous discrimination. How paradoxical and pitiful it is that, when compared to their religious or spiritual counterparts, some lay and nonreligious people ultimately reveal greater understanding for and solidarity with those disproportionately spurned and marginalized  Surely the church is supposed to stand with our fellow citizens who are neglected and ostracized. The Church is by its very nature obliged and called to support those who are discriminated against and ostracized.  After all, this is where God is always to be found in pastoral and actual practice.

The world may not listen to the outdated monologue of the Church. But “those who have ears to hear” (Mt. 13.9) are surely in a position to know better. It would be disappointing if the Church is yet again caught on the wrong side of history!

Translated from the original Greek that appeared in Kathimerini newspaper in Athens (February 17, 2024).

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About author

  • Rev. Dr. John Chryssavgis

    Rev. Dr. John Chryssavgis

    Executive Director of the Huffington Ecumenical Institute at Holy Cross School of Theology

    The Rev. Dr. John Chryssavgis was born in Australia and studied theology (University of Athens) and Byzantine Music (Greek Conservatory of Music). He completed his Ph.D. at the University of Oxford. After spending time on Mt. Athos, he served as Personal Assistant to Archbishop Stylianos in Austr...

    Read author's full bio and see articles by this author

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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.


Public Orthodoxy is a publication of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center of Fordham University