Understanding Homosexuality: An Orthodox Christian Perspective

Icon of the Mother of God of Pimen

Icon of the Mother of God of Pimen

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America
by Father George Morelli

An Orthodox Theology of Sexuality

For Orthodox Christians, no discussion of sex whether it is autoerotic, heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or the current polyamorous sex, can be divorced from an Orthodox theology of sexuality. All sexuality and sexual behavior is based on Divine love; a love that is beyond any human feelings, empathy, or ethical standard, and even approaches the essence of God Himself. Saint John tells us "...for love is God ... God is love" (1 John 4:7-8).

This love is also given to man to experience and apply in relationships with his fellow man. It is evident through the coming of God's Son Jesus Christ, and actualized in the life of the believer through the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, because the love has its source and origin in God Who is love, it can only be appropriated and applied in accordance with God's will, which is to say in accordance with the Commandments of God. Archimandrite Sophrony (1999) quoted Saint Silouan the Athonite on this necessary synergy: "Both Christ's Commandments of love towards God and love toward neighbor make up a single life."

We get a glimpse of God's love in the writings of the Church Fathers when they spoke of the interrelationships of the Persons of the Holy Trinity. The Persons of the Holy Trinity commune among themselves in love. This love is the foundation of the creation; the cause by which creation came into being. Moreover, this love is extended to the creation as evidenced by the purpose for which Adam was created (to commune with God), as well as God's salvific activity that began as soon as Adam ruptured his communion through sin.

God's love is reflected in the anthropological ordering of creation. Genesis reveals that with the creation of Adam and Eve, man was created with two modes of being: male and female. "So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them" (Genesis 1:27). (Male and female were created for communion with each other, thereby reflecting the intercommunion within the Persons of the Holy Trinity.) "Then the Lord God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him" (Genesis 2:18).

Christian anthropology sees the male as the appropriate complement for the female, and the female for the male which includes moral boundaries of the sexual dimension of male and female intercommunion: "...a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). Here we have the first reference to biblically ordered sexuality. These limitations are further elaborated later on and include prohibitions against adultery and homosexuality.

It is important to note sexual union is ordained by God and thus deemed as good. This includes all the constituents that make this union possible including sexual desire. However, like all human desire, sexual desire must be directed into appropriate channels and expressions. Saint Maximus the Confessor told us: "Scripture does not forbid anything which God has given to us for our use; but condemns immoderation and thoughtless behavior. For instance is not forbidden to eat or beget children...but it does forbid us to fornicate..." (Philokalia II).

Further, for Saint Maximus (and indeed the entire Christian moral tradition) marriage and sexual activity are united. The Holy Church Father continued:

"...we are required by the Commandments to love God and our neighbor, to love our enemies, not to commit adultery...when we transgressed these Commandments we are condemned. But we are not commanded to live as virgins, to abstain from marriage...These are of the nature of gifts, so that if through weakness we are unable to fulfill some of the Commandments, we may bye these gifts propitiate our blessed Master" (Philokalia II).

Saint Maximus' comments about virginity and abstention from marriage presuppose that marriage consists of male and female. Unmarried people are expected to remain chaste, to refrain from sexual activity. Saint Maximus sees marriage as more than a concession to weakness, that is, marriage was not instituted because people might be unable to restrain from sexual activity outside of marital union but for the procreation of the human race and thus a fulfillment of the commandment that man should create new life. In other words, both states of being--married or single--are ordained and thus blessed by God.

In our day effort is being made to create a moral parity between heterosexuality and homosexuality. Sanctioning homosexual marriage would go a long way in removing the moral prohibitions against homosexual behavior. Gay marriage advocates borrow the moral teachings and assert they apply equally to homosexuality. In other words, just as heterosexual activity is to be relegated to heterosexual marriage, so too should homosexual activity be relegated to homosexual marriage.

How is the Christian to understand the appeal for homosexual marriage? Persons with a homosexual orientation are invited to use their struggle as a means of sanctification. In Scripture homosexual behavior is not blessed by God and is specifically prohibited: "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination" (Leviticus 18:22); and from Saint Paul: "...because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, Who is blessed for ever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men..." (Romans 1:25-27). This is not the same thing as saying that a person who struggles with the same-sex desire has lower value in the eyes of God. The focus is on the behavior, not the person.

Rather, same-sex desire is likened to a handicap, a condition that necessarily closes off some choices that might otherwise be available, such as the paralytic who can't walk, or the deaf man who cannot hear. This is a hard saying and may strike the ear as fundamentally unfair, even harsh. But we are called to live according to God's Commandments, and the struggle the homosexual might have in conforming himself to God's Commands can become a pathway to holiness.

(To be continued)


"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom


With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George