Breaking the Silence on Sexuality within the Orthodox Church

Open Letter to Metropolitan Jonah

Most Blessed Jonah
Archbishop of Washington
Metropolitan of All America and Canada
P.O. Box 675
Syosset, NY 11791

December 28, 2010

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

Your Beatitude,

Most Blessed Master, Bless!

It is with a heavy heart that I resolved to write you this open letter. I have refrained from addressing you with these issues ever since your first speech as a newly elected Metropolitan at the closing banquet at the All-American Council. For the most part, I must confess that I harbored under the hope that some of your remarks may be attributed to the novelty of your position and that you will, with the input of your flock, reconsider some of the things you were saying at the beginning of your ministry. Even after your signing of the extremely unfortunate Manhattan Declaration I still chose to keep my peace.

However, some of your more recent remarks, especially the letter to the Military Chaplains quoted in Fr. Alexander Webster’s article in Stars and Stripes that has achieved some prominence on the Internet, make me break with my self-imposed restraint.

I have no other way of expressing it except to tell you that I am horrified and deeply saddened by the ongoing verbalization of the anti-homosexual agenda that you appear to foster in our Church. By denying our homosexual brothers and sisters their identity, such rhetoric equates dehumanizing them. Moreover, singling out in self-righteousness a group of people who are still enduring widespread persecution is an antithesis of the compassion and inclusiveness of the Gospel and the real Christ.

It is true that the Church in its present state appears to be ill equipped institutionally to take on the challenges of contemporary society in a proper theological manner. However, it does not liberate us from the responsibility of engaging in prayerful discourse on the matters that affect all of us. There may be opposing points of view, certainly; yet we should be talking to each other as opposed to at each other.

This discussion needs to take into consideration the advances in contemporary science and anthropology. It is most certainly not enough to appeal solely to the evidence of the Scriptures and the Fathers since, unlike our Muslim or Protestant friends, Orthodox do not believe in sola scriptura. Much of what the Fathers have taught was based on the knowledge and culture of their time. Should we choose to freeze our understanding of the world in the 1st, 4th or 8th century worldview? If such an argument were to be applied, we would still have slavery, Aristotelian astronomy, and general social repression of women. More dangerously, we would be espousing a sort of “patristic fundamentalism” which would effectively shut the Holy Spirit out of our life and condemn us to an ossified theatrical reality of the Church completely and utterly disengaged from its culture.

Our engagement of the culture that the Church finds itself in must take into consideration all aspects of reality, even when they challenge our established views. After all, the only absolute dogmas of the Orthodox Church are Trinitarian and Christological. None of the polemic in question is calling for re-examination of Christology and Trinitarian theology. But theological considerations are not limited to the doctrine of the Trinity and the nature of Christ. Christian anthropology, for one thing, is an evolving science. St. Gregory of Nyssa, based on the science of his time, advanced the conclusion that a woman is an inferior specimen to man. That science is now obsolete. Why do we then refuse to give credence to contemporary biology and medical science which are telling us that homosexuality is a biological condition rather than behavioral?

To continue to insist that homosexuality is a “behavior” and a “matter of choice” and that it can somehow be “remedied” is to propagate a viewpoint which is responsible for much damage to persons and families. For example, an idea that homosexuals may be “cured” of their “sinful ways” by “repenting” and marrying heterosexual partners has destroyed many a family. Similarly, a more “fashionable” contemporary idea that the only way a homosexual person may be accepted in the Eucharistic community is by adopting lifelong celibacy is just as destructive. Celibacy is a gift, freely espoused, not a dictatorial behavioral norm, and when it becomes institutionalized, it ceases being a gift and instead turns into an ugly caricature. Both Orthodox and Roman Catholic Church have much tragic experience in this area.

Our culture has learned more in the last 100 years about sexuality and gender than in most of its previous history. We seem to be greatly overdue in giving up the insidious forms of Platonism that have plagued our Church for centuries by emphasizing false dichotomy between flesh and spirit. Sexuality, when being part of a monogamous, committed relationship accompanied by affection and self-sacrifice, is an intrinsically dignified activity in its own right and does not need the external justification of procreation etc; for it has its own positive value as a unique means of mutual fulfillment. It is not always or primarily a temptation to be avoided.

Vladyka, I understand that you may disagree with these thoughts. I would hope, however, that you consider those who hold them worthy of dialoguing with instead of simply condemning. There are many people, clergy among them, who are unable to engage in an open conversation for fear of reprisals. Such should never be the case in the Church. As Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom) of blessed memory said, “I believe it is extremely important that we start thinking and sharing our ideas, even at the risk of falling into error. Someone will always correct us, that’s all.” I would be most happy to continue this conversation in any form, public or private.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

In Christ,

Inga Leonova

Cc: His Eminence, Archbishop Nathaniel
His Grace, Bishop Nikon
His Grace, Bishop Benjamin
His Grace, Bishop Tikhon
His Grace, Bishop Alejo
His Grace, Bishop Melchizedeck
His Grace, Bishop Michael
His Grace, Bishop-Elect Matthias
His Grace, Bishop Mark