It was a normal Greek summer day in July 2022, before an Orthodox baptism provoked a fervent debate, or another episode in the “culture wars,” regarding the requirements (are there any?) of a child being baptized in the Church. Although Greeks are accustomed to reading about Church activities in newspapers and on social media, for instance on ecclesiastical property or the interference of the Church in political issues, this was something different in nature. It brought to the fore a series of crucial questions related to Christian identity in a secular age. Are there any specific theological, or other, preconditions that permit or prevent a person’s baptism? Does the Church accept same-sex marriage?
On July 9, 2022, Archbishop Elpidophoros, head of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, visited Athens to baptize the children of celebrity fashion designer Peter Dundas and Evangelos Bousis in a parish outside of Athens (Viouliagmeni). This parish belongs to the jurisdiction of the Metropolis of Glyfada, one of eighty dioceses that constitute the synodal system of the Church of Greece. Soon this seemingly ordinary baptism became a battlefield for the local bishop and other traditionalists who reacted against it for various reasons: on the surface, for jurisdiction, but essentially for homosexuality, since it involved children of a same-sex couple.
At the conclusion of the “Bridging Voices” conference in Oxford in 2019, I thanked the distinguished group of participants for restoring my confidence in the church as a discursive society bound by love of and in Christ. Our meeting was demanding, at times very tense, and inconclusive, but commitment to working through some of the most challenging questions of our day kept a large group of thinkers with divergent perspectives together productively at one table. As far as I am aware, no factions formed at the conference and no participant found it necessary to denounce or reprimand any other. Most attended the divine services together and many remarked on the importance of the liturgical unity of the gathering. Patience and humility made space for attentive listening, transformative encounter, and the refinement of theological argumentation without fear.
It is therefore disheartening to read the latest statement of the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America on same-sex relationships and sexual identity, which appears to intend to stifle genuine, faithful intellectual inquiry and cultivate a climate of fear. Much in this text is unremarkable, little more than a rehearsal of apologetic tropes, and a repetition of statements issued previously. Nobody can honestly claim that the position of the Holy Synod of the OCA on these topics is unclear. The same conclusions, the same small body of proof-texts, the same appeal to the unanimity of the tradition, and the same assertion of synodal authority over these issues have been repeated time and again. So why issue yet another statement?