When the Wheels Fall Off

I’ve had a long standing problem when Orthodox writers, writing about theological matters, fail to build their writings on the teachings of the Fathers, the Councils, or on the foundation of our liturgical and iconographic tradition. I need to be much more cautious about that myself. Tradition, all of those things mentioned above, connect us to the Church throughout time. Since the Church is the very body of Christ (Col. 1:18, Eph. 1:23), it is necessarily living and so adhering to tradition is not adhering to something dead. In fact, one could argue that when we don’t begin our theological musings from the foundation of tradition we separate us from the living body of Christ. The wheels fall off and it is we who are no longer moving. We become dead.

Recently, in a journal purporting to be Orthodox (I am rather unfamiliar with it so I can’t say whether or not it really is), Met. Kallistos Ware wrote an article that suffers rather severely from the problems I listed above. This article was actually the foreword to an entire issue devoted to human sexuality. I’ve not read any of the other articles, but the foreword was enough to convince me that the issue would simply be so much rubbish. Others have written about the errors of Met. Ware’s piece, but I feel there are two more key points to be made. Met. Ware is guilty of failing to adhere to tradition, not because he seems to espouse views on homosexuality and marriage that are non traditional (although he is guilty of that), but because he seems to have forgotten both Orthodox ecclesiology Orthodox view on salvation. After 60 years apart from Anglicanism, it feels as if he has returned.

The first major problem comes from his comparison of the confessional process between a “married” homosexual and a single one going through a series of affairs. The committed homosexual refuses to cease having sexual relations, and so cannot receive communion. The single homosexual agrees to not have sexual relations, but has failed several times, but is blessed to receive the sacrament. In Metropolitan Ware’s view, he is treated more harshly. Given that the goal of confession (as the Metropolitan states in his own book, The Orthodox Church) is the cure of the soul, harshness is hardly in view. The question is what is the appropriate treatment that will lead to a cure. On the one hand, we have an individual who refuses to follow, apparently without remorse, the instruction of his spiritual father (and the teaching of the Church). On the other we have someone who is seeking to follow the teaching of the Church. Who needs the stronger medicine in this case? Of note is that the rules for dealing with active homosexuals is the same as for dealing within anyone who engages in sexual activity prohibited by the Church. If I were actively engaged in an affair, or a premarital relationship, the same rules apply (Exomologetarion, Chapter 10, section 8). When Metropolitan Ware looks at the application of spiritual discipline in terms of harshness, it feels more like he is focused on the Western notion as sin being something that requires punishment so that God will be happy with us again and we can be allowed into heaven. Harshness in terms of healing seems very wrong headed.

The other major problem comes toward the end of the foreword. The Metropolitan wonders about our concern with what goes on in the bedroom. “Trying to gaze through the keyhole is never a dignified posture.” This reveals to me that Metropolitan Ware’s ecclesiology may have shifted away from that of the Orthodox Church and perhaps toward that of his Episcopal roots. The Church is not merely some organization. Nobody is peeping through a keyhole. The Church is the body of Christ – the body of God. God is everywhere present (Pentecost prayer). Therefore God is standing in the room, not peeping through a keyhole. It is God that is truth, and thus He reveals the true way of life. If He declares something we do is wrong, than that must be contrary to the true way of life. While I applaud and agree with Metropolitan Ware’s assertion that we must have a conversation around sexuality, it is not because we are wrong about it, but rather we must be able to present a solid case for our views to a modern, secular society that is largely focused on the “me” and the view that our sinful nature defines us, rather than being a temporary condition from which Christ provides a means of escape.

There are, of course, other problems. For instance, I was disappointed in the Metropolitan’s implication that the Church doesn’t believe that marriage serves as a guard against lust or fornication. While a liturgical reference to this would certainly be the strongest support for the view, one would have to ignore St. John Chrystostom, among other Church Father’s to believe that such is not in view. I am forced to believe that either Metropolitan Ware is unfamiliar with St. John’s work or is intentionally ignoring it for the sake of being a provocateur. Either would be shameful for a bishop, an overseer, of the Church.

That brings me to my concluding thought. Metropolitan Ware, while a bishop, is a bishop of nothing. Metropolitan Ware is a bishop of a non-existent state, whose borders are entirely contained within the country of Montenegro. This entire region is under the omophorion of the Patriarch of Serbia and thus has a bishop. If Metropolitan Ware had actual members of his Metropolis, we would expect him to be resident in that Metropolis, not over in the UK. If It has been the custom for some time to elevate priests to a bishopric as some sort of honor. What seems to be missed is that it is a responsibility both to the faithful as a shepherd, and to the greater Church as the protector of the faith. Elevating academic theologians to the office of bishop where they have no responsibility for souls is, to me, problematic. In this case, Metropolitan Ware demonstrates why that is the case.

After this was originally posted, I was made aware of this article, by Reader Dr. Alfred Kentigern Siewers.  I particularly like the following comment, made by Fr. Johannes who reposted Reader Siewers article:

Sexual identities, in contrast to sexual practices or passions, are a relatively new concept. Only recently were passions taken to define people, i.e. seen as constituting an identity or essence, such as homosexual or heterosexual—an understanding that even many secular circles now scorn as untenable. It is, then, discouraging to see a highly respected Orthodox hierarch dare to breach the unwavering moral tradition of the Church based upon such an “essentialist” notion of “sexual orientation.” Siewers argues that this step undermines Orthodox anthropology by turning the body into a thing (reification) and alienating humanity from the incarnation of the God-man Christ.