From the time of the Apostles, the Orthodox Christian faith has taught that God has ordained marriage as the union of one man and one woman (Gen. 1:26-28, 2:18-25; Mt. 19:4-6). Complementarity of the sexes and the potential for procreation are the very essence of traditional Christian marriage. Such a marriage strives to always be open to procreation, even in marriages where–due to Providence or tragic circumstance–procreation does not happen.
With our culture’s current focus on the issue of homosexuality, the Orthodox Christian faith continues to teach and affirm that sexual relations are blessed only within the marital relationship. Any sexual relationship outside of marriage–pre-marital sex, adultery, homosexual intercourse, or any other form of sexual activity–is understood as a sinful falling away from the will and intention of God.
That said, the Church is not an organization of self-righteous souls. It is rather a hospital for sinners. Every human being suffers from the inner brokenness of sin and corruption, which can only be healed in Jesus Christ. Because of our brokenness, each person has a cross to bear. Gay Christians carry a very heavy cross, especially if they strive to live in accordance with Christ’s teaching on sexual purity. To all of her struggling members–regardless of whether the sinful passions against which they struggle stem from genetic disposition, addiction, or freely chosen behavior–the Church strives to be a community of love, forgiveness, mutual support, intimate friendship, repentance, and ascetic discipline.
Regarding modern sects that seek to reinterpret Apostolic Christianity’s universal approach to the issue of homosexual intercourse, we can only say this: the Orthodox Church will continue to look to her own experience of divine revelation and our subsequent consistent teaching on this and every other moral issue. In faithfulness to this revelation, Orthodox Christianity cannot and will not perform or recognize same-sex marriages. Nor will it seek to redefine any other behavior that has been revealed by Christ as sinful.
We affirm that, according to Christ’s own words, He came not to abolish the divine revelation that He Himself gave in the Old Covenant, but to fulfill it (Mt. 5:17-19). To proclaim “good” any of the activities that have been revealed in Scripture as damaging to our relationship with God ultimately impedes repentance and inhibits our growth in the likeness of Christ. While homosexual intercourse is currently in the spotlight, it is but one sin in a long list with which each Christian must struggle everyday.
The simple fact, largely ignored today, is that following Jesus Christ is difficult. There is no Christianity without the Cross, and Christ asks each of His followers to bear their own cross if they would be His disciples (Mt. 10:38; Lk. 9:23-26). Because He is the Incarnate Son and Word of God–co-equal with the Father and the Spirit–He may make great demands of those who would follow Him. Christ said that “he who loves father or mother....[or] son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Mt. 10:37). If we desire to be made worthy of Christ, we must place Him above self-love of our own sinful passions, whether they be disordered heterosexual or homosexual desires, greed, gluttony, envy, gossip, resentment, pride, etc. Sadly, the list of human spiritual illnesses is long. In God’s presence, we may find unconditional love, unending mercy, and divine adoption. We do not, however, possess any “rights” before our Creator.
Though He commands that His followers give up much that they might desire, Christ is not a tyrant. He Himself was tempted in every way as man, yet without falling into sin, and promises to help us to overcome our sin. He also forgives us when we repent and turn back to Him when we fail to live up to His love. As the compassionate, loving, and merciful God, He gives us the awesome gift of freedom, even knowing that we may misuse our freedom to pursue earthly pleasures and seeming self-fulfillment. Yet, He tells us that we are created not for happiness in this world, but for blessedness with Him in eternity. This is a revelation that the world cannot comprehend.
Though unimaginably rewarding, the Christian life is extremely difficult. Because of this, many would-be followers turned away from Christ during His ministry on earth (Jn. 6:66). As a venerable Orthodox elder recently taught, the calling of Christ is exceedingly high. It is so high, in fact, that it is impossible to live up to being a Christian. A follower of Christ can only die to self daily. To follow Christ as He commands–“be perfect, even as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:48)–is a lifelong journey of failing, falling, and standing upright again, with faith that He Who has begun a good work in us will complete it. It is a journey of repentance, lived in faith and joy, that leads to resurrection.
All who so desire it are called to walk this path, which is none other than the Way, the Truth, and the Life: the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ. To follow this path means continuously crucifying the old man with his lusts and passions (Rm. 6:6; Gal. 5:24; Col. 3:5). But this path, which at times seems so hard, ultimately leads to our heavenly homeland where “eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor. 2:9).