Category Archives: Gender and Sexuality

Oikonomia for the Majority—Akriveia for the Minority

by John A. Heropoulos

One of the Orthodox Church’s greatest strengths is the pastoral care used to nurture the faithful.  The authority to offer spiritual care is vested in the bishop and extended to the local community through the parish priest; the spiritual father of a particular flock. Through the sacrament of Holy Confession, pastoral counseling, and living among his people, the local parish priest nurtures the flock entrusted to his care by his bishop.

The philosophical idea that grounds pastoral care are the principles of Oikonomia and Akriveia. 

Based on these principles, it is the spiritual father’s pastoral responsibility to apply the canons, disciplines, and liturgical life of the Church for the spiritual good of his flock. The spiritual father may feel that, after speaking with an individual who is seeking guidance, that Akriveia, such as a period of time for repentance and abstaining from Holy Communion, is the proper “medicine” to help the person in need of spiritual care. At other moments, and possibly for the exact same issue, the spiritual father may choose Oikonomia, such as the encouraging of fasting and the frequent receiving of Holy Communion as the best “medicine.” Continue reading

Listening to LGBT+ Christians A Review of the Revoice Conference

by Tim Markatos

“All models are wrong,” the saying goes among statisticians, “but some are useful.” The modern language of LGBTQ+ identity, while often unhelpfully obfuscating the boundaries between ontology, phenomenology, and epistemology, has been tremendously helpful in uniting and giving voice to people whose experience of sexual attraction and gender is at odds with what the majority of society (often uncritically) prescribes as normative. Within the LGBTQ+ Christian community, one finds a further distinction between Side A Christians—those who believe that God blesses sexual expression in same-sex marriage—and Side B Christians—those who believe that sexual activity is reserved for followers of Christ in the context of the sacrament of marriage, as described by the Church as the union of one man and one woman, but who also reject the narrative that one’s sexual orientation can (or should) be changed or reversed.

Revoice, an evangelical conference now in its second year, was founded as the outgrowth of years of conversation, writing, and community-building among Side B LGBTQ+ Christians. The conference is both ecumenical (speakers included Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox), and inviting. While the conference adheres to well-defined understandings of sexual ethics, Christian posture and witness, and racial diversity, the Revoice organizers have created a space for anyone interested in exploring the history, traditions, and practices of Christian approaches to sexuality, celibacy, and community, regardless of whether one considers oneself Side B or Side A. Continue reading

Dialogue, Church Teaching, and the German Orthodox Bishops’ Letter on Love, Sexuality, and Marriage

by Will Cohen

In a 2015 address at the University of Munich, Metropolitan John Zizioulas observed that “[t]he agenda of Theology is set by history.”  By “history” he meant the concerns and questions particular to a given age, as he underscores in adding, “This was known to the Fathers of the Church who were in constant dialogue with their time.”

If the Church’s theology must accept the questions of history in order to be vital and serve humanity, the same is not true of the conclusions history may hurriedly reach. Christians have sometimes not readily enough accepted history’s questions and sometimes too readily accepted its answers. Of relevance to this dynamic is how Church teaching is understood—specifically, in relation to the place of dialogue in the Church.

When in the flow of history an issue erupts, becoming a real question for human beings, the fact that there is already Church teaching on it—if that is the case—can be taken to mean it is unnecessary and even impermissible for Christians to take it seriously as a question. Instead of rediscovering and deepening the teaching through the question, those who appeal to the teaching in order to beat the question back cannot really speak to the question the present age has posed, because they have not entered into it in a sufficiently real and searching way.  Continue Reading…

Beyond the Binary: Hymnographic Constructions of Orthodox Gender

by Ashley Purpura  |  ελληνικά  |  ру́сский

Much like gender itself, Orthodox understandings of gender span a spectrum of diverse views. Many who address “the problem of gender” or the “role of women in the church” rely on an assumption that any theological interpretation of gender is necessarily situated along a cisgender binary. Simply, individuals with male bodies identify as “men” and display masculinity, and individuals with female bodies identify as “women” and display femininity. Byzantine hymns commemorating prominent saints and feasts, however, evidence that there is an aspect of Orthodox tradition where the performance of gender identities and masculine and feminine attributes does not necessarily correlate with particularly male- or female-sexed bodies. In these hymns, gender functions along traditional patriarchal lines as a means to make a saint’s holiness discernable to a temporally constrained ecclesiastical community. Gender as it is liturgically constructed through the singing of the hymns, however, functions beyond a binary categorization in relation to God. In short, a more encompassing and complex conception of gender is already present in the universally prescribed liturgical voice of the church.

The content of the general hymns for male and female martyrs, for example, reveals striking distinctions drawn along a binary gender divide. Continue Reading…