Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

What is Wrong with Gay Marriage?: Random Quotes from an Unpublished Paper: Part 9

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 25 August 2015

These are random quotes from an unpublished paper. I will post more quotes from the same paper every few days during the Dormition Fast (Old Calendar).

As a case study of how a liturgical understanding of marriage may be relevant to the realities of our lives, let us take a look at the “issue of the day,” same-sex marriage. We shall not discuss why society seems eager to promote same-sex unions. Whatever their reasoning is–some notion of fairness for all (why toward gays and not polygamists or zoophiles?) or society’s financial and legal support for gay unions (are gay unions a beneficial and stabilizing institution in our society to be supported and promoted?)–the Church has her own reasons.

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Furthermore, arguments based solely on scriptural prohibitions of same-sex acts have their own limitations. Some may be satisfied by saying that same-sex marriage is sinful because the Apostle Paul identified same-sex acts as sinful. But a more inquisitive mind may ask ‘why?’ And why is the Church so selective about the Scripture? Why do we allow divorce and remarriage, for example, which is nothing less than blessed polygamy, when Christ Himself prohibited it and called it adultery (Matt. 19:8-9)? Perhaps, a second marriage is just as sinful as same-sex acts, as the Apostle Paul indicated: “Do not be deceived; neither… adulterers, nor  sexual perverts [‘men who lie with men’–ἀρσενοκοῖται]… will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9-10). The second-century apologist Athenagoras put it very plainly: “He who rids himself of his first wife, even if she be dead, is an adulterer in disguise because he transgresses the hand of God, for in the beginning God created but one man and one woman.”

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Saint Basil the Great uses the word ‘polygamy’ (πολυγαμία) to refer to remarriage after divorce(canons 4, 50). He treats all marriages after the first, initial, marriage as sinful and different from one another only in the degree of sinfulness (canon 4). While seemingly tolerating at least some second marriages after a one-year-long excommunication of the newlyweds, Saint Basil notes that third marriages are ‘uncleanness’ (ρυπάσματα–canon 50), and anything beyond that is ‘animal behavior’ (κτηνώδες) and ‘worse than adultery’ (canon 80).

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Arguments based on natural law can be equally questionable. To propose that certain parts just fit together, and that is argument enough, is to question many other human acts on the same basis. Most nutritionists and evolutionary biologists will agree that it is unnatural for humans to consume refined carbohydrates, such as sugar or white flour, and that many of our health problems stem from our unnatural dietary behavior. And yet the Church not only offers plenty of “blessed” doughnuts and other sweets to her flock at various coffee hours and festivals, but also refuses to give an honest assessment of the causes of many of our ailments, choosing instead to spiritualize them and to offer comfort to her flock through prayer and words about Christian patience and carrying one’s cross. Finally, if God wanted me to wear a cassock, would I not have been born wearing one? Some find it rather unnatural to wear cassocks (or much of anything, for that matter). There is a reason that their philosophy is called ‘naturism,’ for they think it natural to be a naturist. All of this, of course, is very silly, but I hope that this illustrates that neither social theories nor non-Christian philosophies can serve as the foundation of our opposition to same-sex marriage or, most importantly, as a foundation of our own understanding of marriage.

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Perhaps, the most outrageously-unnatural thing that humans do is the consumption of bodily fluids of other animal species. Adult humans extract and consume milk from cows and other mammals. Naturally, of course, cow milk seems to be intended only for calves and only during their infancy. I think that a strong argument can be made that a grown human consuming milk, especially that of another species, is a rather unnatural act.

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This is important, because in proclaiming marriage as sacramental, the Church insists that the union of man and wife transcends the matters of fairness and civil rights and social stability and financial considerations, and even nature as we know it–in its fallen state, and reveals that which was “in the beginning” (Matt. 19:4). This “in the beginning” is the beginning of our inquiry–not whether two women can be in love or would be allowed to receive each other’s Social Security payments. “In the beginning” pries into the deepest mystery of creation: “In the beginning God created…” and all was good–all but one. There was only one time in the course of all of creation that God said: “It is not good” (Gen. 2:18).

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One thing was not good; it was not good for man to be alone. This was hardly an oversight on God’s part–the One who made the fish and the birds and the plants to multiply surely knew what was necessary in order for man to do the same. But man was not created to bud or swarm or fly or creep “according to his kind.” His nature, his “kind,” was to “till and keep” (2:15) and to “have dominion” (1:26). Thus, while man can both swarm and creep like other living creatures, and even learned to fly, it is in the discharge of duties that constitute his true nature that we must search for the meaning of marriage.

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Nothing seems to indicate that any living creature had any difficulty finding a helper for itself for the purpose of breeding. But if animals were clever enough to find their mates, why couldn’t Adam? And why did God bring to Adam “every beast of the field and every bird of the air” (19) in an attempt to find him a helper (18)? Surely, breeding is not what Adam needed help with, and Eve was not created primarily for that purpose.

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The life of the Trinity is the communion of three Persons who share one divine nature. Christian marriage is the communion of man and woman in Christ–three persons who share in one human nature. In the Trinity, the Persons differ categorically rather than nominally.

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This is the mystery of one flesh: not in romantic infatuation, not in brotherly love, not in equal rights or in any other such thing, but in “thine own of thine own” of man and woman, of Christ and Church. Only in Eve can Adam find that which is the bone of his bones and the flesh of his flesh. Only in Eve can Adam once again become complete.

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The Scripture is clear that the image of God is “male and female,” not male and male or female and female: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Gen. 1:26-27) Why male and female? Because this is the image of God, not any other union, and the revelation of the Scripture testifies to this fact. We are not the authors of marriage, God is; we do not get to change that which He established and revealed not as a social convention but an image of Himself, and image of the Trinity.

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A union of two Adams or two Eves is physically possible (albeit, physiologically barren), but it can never be the image of the life of the Trinity, and this is why the Church does not sanctify it. A same-sex union can have love, commitment, mutual care and support, financial benefits, and legal responsibilities, but the Church speaks of other realities; the Church speaks of paradise and of the life of the Holy Trinity. This is a liturgical union in which Adam and Eve are restored to their priestly nature within creation as “one flesh,” one “co-being.”

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Our opposition to same-sex marriage is not based in bigotry or a desire to withhold some earthly good or benefit from people we dislike, as if we did not want to share. Rather, it is based on our understanding of the true purpose of marriage, which is not in the facilitation of hospital visitation rights, but in the restoration of the liturgical nature of man in the image and likeness of God. The two must return to the tree and partake of the fruit, not as thieves, and not because it is “good for food” or “a delight to the eyes” (3:6), but as priests offering their hearts to their God and receiving the Gift of Himself offered freely to the world.

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God once allowed Caesar to have that which was Caesar’s (Matt. 22:21). But Caesar was not satisfied; he also wanted that which was God’s. Today, Caesar does not want to pass laws allowing people to decide who should receive their Social Security benefits or visit them in a hospital; he insists on marriage. He is not satisfied with a mug; he wants to drink his coffee out of the liturgical chalice (cf. Dan. 5:2-3). This is the core of our objection to same-sex marriage, and this is the core of our understanding of true, sacramental, Christian marriage.

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