Ministry to Those with Alternative Lifestyles
"Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her." (Jn 8:7)
"I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me." (Jn 14:6)
A question has arisen among some ordained into the Apostolic priesthood of Christ as to how those who are living an alternative lifestyle, that is to say, outside of the teachings of Christ, should be ministered to? This question is especially relevant, but not limited to, clergy who serve in military and/or government chaplaincies. The ascendency of post-modernism, relativism and secularism, have politically legitimized lifestyles under the guise of "human rights" that were previously the domain of Judeo-Christian teaching. (Morelli 2006d, 2009) The pendulum of political correctness has swung from merely tolerating non-Christian teachings to forcing on a nation a worldwide religious correctness that some argue has the apparent goal of imposing secularist values and principles on all.i As in the early days of Christianity, being a committed Christian, especially for clergy, will be a criminal act, subject to censure and punishment. I will point out in this essay that an Orthodox understanding of true priestly pastoring would ameliorate this concern.
What stands out in St. Gregory the Great's The Book of Pastoral Rule, (2007), originally written in 590 AD, is that the foundation of the ministry of what he variously terms priest, ruler, preacher or shepherd is spiritual discernment and consideration of the individuality of the person being ministered to. For example, St. Gregory tells us: "Therefore the discourse of the teacher should be adapted to the character of his audience so that it can address the specific needs of each individual and yet never shrink from the art of communal edification." Some selected audience examples that St. Gregory gives that must be considered in individualizing what we may today term the work of the priest and evangelization are:
- men and women;
- the wise of the world and the dull;
- the bold and the modest;
- those who fear punishment and therefore live innocently, and those who have become so hardened in iniquity that they cannot be corrected by punishment;
- the humble and the proud;
- the obstinate and the fickle;
St. Gregory goes on to specifically single out what he calls "also those to be advised differently." Some pertinent selected examples are:
- those who misinterpret the words of Sacred Scripture, and those who understand them but do not speak about them with humility;
- those who are bound by wedlock and those who are free of the ties of marriage;
- those who boast about their sinful behavior and those who confess their sins but do not put an end to them;
- those who are overcome by unexpected desires and those who bind themselves deliberately in sin;
- those who have experienced the sins of the flesh and those who are ignorant of them;
What should be immediately noted is that St. Gregory is discussing those who, in the post-Constantinian Church, considered themselves Christians and at least nominally wanted to follow Christ's teachings. One distinction St. Gregory does not make is between those who are Christians committed to Christ and His Church versus those who are deliberate pagans, agnostics or atheists or those who choose to create "a church of their own making." (Morelli, 2006a). However, I maintain that this is an important distinction to be made in this modern pluralistic, politically and religiously correct world.
In this regard, Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev comments on what the Creed of the Councils of Nicaea (325 AD)-Constantinople I (381 AD) which first canonized what was the "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church,” of which is the Orthodox Church:
The Church is synonymous with Christianity; one cannot be a Christian without being a member of the Church. "There is no Christianity without the Church," writes the hieromartyr Hilarion (Troitsky). Archpriest George Florovsky noted that Christianity is the Church." Christianity has never existed without the Church or outside the Church. Following Christ has always meant joining the community of his disciples and becoming a Christian has always meant becoming a member of the body of Christ. . . [Florovsky writes]. . . . "No one could be a Christian as an individual by himself, as a separate individual. . . ."
I will also add that these comments are also relevant to those who are members of ecclesial communities that are founded my men, such as those groups deriving from the Reformation in the West. Such communities broke with the Church founded on the Apostles by Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It should be noted that many times members of these communities are praiseworthy in terms of sincerity and devotion.ii Unfortunately, however, many of these groups appeal to what they consider to be the intrinsic authority of Sacred Scripture,iii for example, calling Sacred Scripture by the title: The Holy Bible, implying, as per dictionary definition, that the text is authoritative in and of itself.iv This view has an effect on theology and practice. It leaves readers of Sacred Scripture open to individualistic interpretation of Scripture, instead of measuring their individual understanding with that understood and taught by Christ's One, Holy, Apostolic Catholic and Orthodox Church. The effect of such a break from the Church of the Apostles is deleterious. As I have written previously (Morelli, 2010b):
Some who label themselves Christian communities are even teaching that several of the societal sins. . .such as abortion and same sex marriage, are Godly acts. Some have acquiesced to political correctness and teach that females can be ordained to the holy priesthood and episcopacy. The effect of this sell-out is not only to not preach the Gospel as Christ has taught us, but also to produce a greater alienation from the Orthodox Church, which the non-Christian world can perceive as outright scandal and hypocrisy. It has also undermined the common Christian witness to the secularized world. Equally reprehensible is the message of those who preach hatred, retribution, vengeance and death in the name of Christ. This is a mockery of all Christ stood for by His emptying of Himself (kenosis) of the Godhead and taking on our human nature.
A question to be answered later in this essay will be how to minister to those who are members of His true Church versus non-members.
The action of Christ
Let us recall the action of Christ as he met a pagan Roman centurion who approached Him to heal his dying servant. This encounter is well recorded by St. Matthew (8: 5-13):
And after Jesus entered into Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, beseeching Him, and saying, “Lord, my servant is laid on a sickbed in the house, a paralytic, being terribly tormented.” And Jesus saith to him, “I will come and cure him.” And the centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not fit that Thou shouldest come under my roof; but speak with a word only, and my servant shall be healed. “For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goeth; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he cometh; and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he doeth it.” And after Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, “Verily I say to you, not even in Israel did I find so great faith. “And I say to you that many shall come from the east and west, and shall recline at table with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of the heavens. “But the sons of the kingdom shall be cast out into the darkness, the outer one; there shall be there the weeping and the gnashing of the teeth.” And Jesus said to the centurion, “Go thy way; and as thou didst believe, let it be to thee.” And his servant was healed in that hour.
It should be noted that Jesus did not reject the pagan centurion, nor did he castigate him. In fact, Jesus listened to what he had to say. Obviously, he discerned humility in the centurion's heart and a trust that Jesus could, in fact, heal his servant. St. John Chrysostom, in his Homily 21 on St. Matthew's Gospel, (The Orthodox New Testament, 2004) gives us an important spiritual insight into what this Gospel account means in terms of ministering to others:
If we wish to regard him as more believing than the Apostles, we must then understand the testimony of Christ to mean that the good which anyone does is to be praised according to the capacity of that person. For an unlettered person to say something profound is a great thing, which from a philosopher is a matter that excites no wonder. In this sense is it said of the centurion. For it was not the same thing for a Jew to believe as for one outside that nation.
An even more telling interaction of Jesus and sinners is with those who were the tax-collectors. The Jews at the time of Christ considered tax-collectors as great sinners, as being greedy, exploiting the poor and over-taxing and pocketing the money they collected. (Orthodox Study Bible, 2008). Zacchaeus' confession, told to us by St. Luke, (19: 8) confirms their criminal activities: "And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, the half of my possessions, Lord, I give to the poor; and if I extorted anything of anyone by false charges, I give back fourfold." (Lk. 19:8) The view of the Jews is shown clearly by their being scandalized by Jesus’ consorting with 'such' a man: “But after they saw it, they all were murmuring, saying, “’With a sinful man He doth enter to lodge.’” (Lk. 19:7)
St. Matthew (9: 10-13) also records the encounter:
And it came to pass, as He reclined at table in the house, also behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining at table with Jesus and His disciples. And after the Pharisees saw Him, they said to His disciples, “Why eateth your Teacher with the tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus, having heard it, said to them, “They who are strong have no need of a physician, but they who are ill. “But go and learn what this is, ‘I wish mercy, and not sacrifice’: For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Through the Holy Gospel account Jesus is giving to those around Him and, of course, to us down to the present day, a very important lesson., Our Lord appears to be accepting these egregious sinners and freely dining with them without demanding they change their sinful lifestyle. Why would Jesus be so tolerant and kind? God created us with free will. This, in part, is because of our being created in the 'likeness of God.' We are reminded by St. Diadochos of Photiki that "All men are made in God's image; but to be in His likeness is granted only to those who through great love have brought their own freedom in subjection to God." (Philokalia I). This great spiritual father goes on to give us a great counsel: "Free will is the power of a deiform soul to direct itself by deliberate choice towards whatever it decides."
Throughout his public life Our Lord respected the free will of all those he came across. As I pointed out in a recent article on God's acceptance of our free will:
Let us contemplate the words of St. Isaac of Syria (Alfeyev, 2000) on "how compassionate God is, and how patient; and how He loves creation, and how He carries it, gently enduring its importunity, the various sins and wickedness, the terrible blasphemies of demons and evil men." (Morelli, 2011).
The Witness of St. Paul
The Acts of the Apostles (Chapter 7) recounts the actions of St. Paul when he visited Athens and met with some of the pagan populace. Epicureans and Stoics obviously did not accept Christ as true God and true man and that no one goes to the Father except through Him. These pagans would be considered heathens, infidels and the 'lowest of the low.' His encounter is remarkable, both psychologically and spiritually. As a psychologist, based on St. Luke's account of St. Paul's dialogue with them, I would give him an outstanding rating for building clinical rapport. He was not judgmental. He appeared to accept them and their beliefs for what they were and had a continuing dialogue. He used a clinical method that I often used in supervising my clinical doctoral students. He started out by first affirming what was favorable in what they believed: "I perceive that in every way you are very religious." (Acts 7: 22). It should be noted that St. Paul did not chastise them for the errors of their belief, just the correctness that they had a belief. Approaching those who differ with us is brought to a higher spiritual level by employing the same spirit. In this regard , we can contemplate the words of St. John the Baptist about what Jesus will do: ". . . to gather the wheat into his granary, but the chaff he will burn. . . ." (Lk 3: 17) St. Paul, guided by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, was first focusing on the wheat, the good that his listeners believed in, before moving on to instructing them in the fullness of Christ's teaching.
A clinical example
Early in my work as a mental health clinician (I was a pre-doctoral intern, and not yet ordained a priest), I had an interesting case that illustrates how important it is to start any "therapy-healing-ministry" by first focusing on the what is favorable in any patient’s thoughts, intentions and actions, before proceeding on to 'fine-tuning,' so to speak. My "patient" was a young man in his early twenties with moderate mental retardation. The presenting problem, brought to the attention of the intake section medical center I was at by his mother, was that he would lean out the window (a second floor apartment over a store) and was in imminent danger of falling out of the window. After listening to her presentation and talking to the 'designated' patient, with the patient's permission, I asked the mother to come into the room. She had to sit next to her son. As she was starting to sit he caught a glance of her and reflexively jumped away from her. I immediately intuited that this was not a normal reaction. A mental yellow flag, so to speak, went up in my mind. I immediately got the insight to direct my initial comments to the mother. My question went something like this; " I know you love your son very much, and you are quite concerned about him falling out the window.” She responded affirmatively. I went on. "So, what do you do to keep him from falling out?” She responded immediately, without hesitation: "Doctor, the only thing I found that will work is bug spray." (I had an instantaneous sick stomach -- but as a clinical psychologist, I was trained to show no external emotion in body or voice, thus I proceeded in a caring, neutral voice). She continued: "I spray it in his face until he goes back from the window. . .and that works for a little while." My response, in a kind, supporting voice (but with my stomach still churning), "Well, you found something that works, good for you, you love him and care for him. But you know there may be some side effects of using bug spray in his eyes and face that may not be so good . . . . suppose we could find another technique that would work just as well. Would you consider this?” She said 'yes.' We then went on to discuss behavioral management techniques (Morelli, 2005a, 2006b, 2006c). The clinical (and spiritual) point is: if I would have denigrated, castigated or humiliated her, etc., I would have lost her. She never would have been open to change. That is to say, to using a non-toxic, not potentially lethal technique to aid her son. Like Christ and St. Paul: first focus on the wheat, then carefully remove the weeds. St. Matthew (13: 30) tells us Christ's instruction: "Let both grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'"
A Pastoral-Clinical approach to ministry
The witness of Christ Himself should be the model for any service to those who are separated from His Church. Recently, Morelli (2011) pointed out that, in His ministry, Christ respected the free will of those He encountered. In the course of my work with others over many years I have encountered those committed to the totality of Christ's teachings and have adopted, so to speak the Mind of Christ and His Church. (Morelli, 2010b). On the other hand, I have also interacted with individuals who are vehemently opposed to Christ, His teachings and His Church. Many individuals or couples I have counseled were living lifestyles diametrically opposed to Christ's teachings. Now, to be sure, it cannot be missed that I am a Christian and a priest. I have icons throughout my office and wear clerical garb. Some have started out counseling being openly antagonistic. They have outright informed me that they do not believe in God, certainly do not want to convert to Christianity, some even pointing out that they are very contented being engaged in the "alternative lifestyle"v they are living.
The spiritual state of mind for dealing with anyone who is living an alternative lifestyle is magnificently summarized by St. Isaac of Syria (Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 2011):
Let this always be the aim of your conduct: to be courteous and respectful to all. And do not provoke any man or vie zealously with him, either for the sake of the Faith, or on account of his evil deeds; but watch over yourself not to blame or accuse any man in any matter. For we have a Judge in the heavens, Who is impartial.
St. Isaac goes on to say:
But if you would have any man return to the truth, be grieved over him and, with tears and love, say a word or two unto him; but do not be inflamed with anger against him, lest he see within you signs of hostility. For love does not know how to be angry, or provoked, or passionately to provoke anyone.
I pray it is in this spirit that the rest of this article is written.
Of course, clinically, I have to determine the presenting problems (symptoms) and do a diagnostic analysis. During this interview I usually incorporate discussion about the patient's fundamental values. This would cover areas of conduct, honesty and caring for others.vi It has been my clinical experience that many times such open-ended dialogue provokes interest in the authentic teachings of Christ and His Church. In a clinical setting the patient has filled out an Intake Questionnaire. Some of the questions are about the religious background of the patient and his/her parents and the degree of religion in their lives. Then I ask follow-up questions querying if the patient(s) are living by their fundamental values.
A critical legal caveat and moral imperative
The lifestyle of the patient has to be within the boundaries of what is legal. All governmental jurisdictions have a mandatory reporting law that must be followed for certain professions, such as mental health workers and physicians, etc., when actual or realistically potential abuse or injurious behavior toward others (or self) are disclosed. For clergy of the Apostolic Churches, the seal of confession is inviolable, but prudence must be employed by the priest if any abuse is suspected to have been committed by an individual requesting the Holy Mystery of Confession. Such a person should not be given the Holy Mystery, or absolution should be contingent on reporting to the legal authorities (c.f. Morelli, 2005b).
Contemporary Ethics and Christ
In accordance with contemporary standards of ethical practice for mental health practitioners and chaplains,vii the beliefs and opinions of those being counseled are to be respected. Each individual has the freedom to choose their religious and spiritual preference with no doctrine or spiritual practice imposed on them. As discussed above, this position conforms to Christ's own ministry. However, if an individual asks of their own accord if a particular viewpoint or action is in accordance with the Mind of Christ and His Church, (Morelli, 2006d) I certainly can be totally forthright and respond truthfully. I also have the right to conform counseling to my conscience as informed by Christ and His Church. If someone with a same-sex orientation, for example, should ask me to help them overcome their social anxiety so as to facilitate meeting same sex partners, I certainly would inform them that I cannot counsel them in this regard as it goes against my own value system and that my "practice" is limited to Orthodox Christian teaching. I would suggest that they seek out another counselor.
While I have never faced such (or similar) situation, I did for example, have to refuse treatment to a wife who found out her husband was having an affair and wanted me "to help her get back at him and take him for all she could get." I straightaway informed her that in conscience I could not enable or facilitate anger and vengeance, and therefore could not counsel her in this regard. This is to say that, as an Orthodox Christian, I cannot participate in the sin of another by counsel, command, consent, provocation, praise, concealment, partaking, silence or command. (A Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians, 1956). To stay within the boundaries of Christ and His Church and professional mental health practitioner ethics, I can, and have, said, "If ever you want to know what Christ and His Church teaches in this regard (some alternate lifestyle behaviors or sinful actions), I will be more than happy to talk to you about it." Parenthetically, and of great importance, it has been my pastoral and clinical experience that individuals are much more open to consider what is being discussed when they first 'consent' to talk about the topic. This may be considered putting into practice the individual pastoring advice St. Gregory the Great gives in his Pastoral Rule discussed above, but with the other's permission.
The spirit of the law
In a previous paper (Morelli, 2010a) I pointed out that in spiritual direction it is important to take into account the "stages of the spiritual life" of the individual being ministered to. This is in accordance with the counsels of the Holy Spiritual Fathers of the Church. Holy Nikitas Stithatos (Philokalia IV), for example, writes:
There are three stages on the spiritual path: the purgative, the illuminative and finally the mystical, through which we are perfected. The first pertains to beginners, the second to those in the intermediate state and the third to the perfect. It is though these three consecutive stages that we ascend, growing in stature according to Christ and attaining 'mature manhood, the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ' (Eph 4: 13)
The saint goes on to tell us that "the purgative stage pertains to those newly engaged in spiritual warfare." Now, applying this to those living alternative lifestyles, the following may be considered. Some may live such a life voluntarily, quite deliberately. Using the terminology of St. Nikitas, they are not even desiring to enter the purgative stage. Others may recognize they are not living a Christ-like life and are engaged in a form of spiritual warfare and often failing. Once again referencing St. Nikitas, they are wrestling within the purgative stage. St. Nikitas describes this as being ". . .characterized by the rejection of the materialistic self, liberation from material evil, and investiture with the regenerate self, renewed by the Holy Spirit." In this regard, particularly apt are the words of St. Paul to the Colossians (3:8-10):
But now ye also put off from yourselves all these things: wrath, anger, malice, blasphemy, foul language out of your mouth. Cease lying to one another, since ye have put off the old man with his practices, and have put on the new that is being renewed toward full knowledge according to the image of the One Who created him.
Despite whether an attachment to un-Christ-like alternate lifestyles is deliberate or non-deliberate, that is to say voluntary or involuntary, any discussion of the lifestyle must start with the spirit of what a Christ-like life is like, in contrast to what it is not. This makes good psychological sense. As I point out and discuss more thoroughly in Morelli, 2010a:
What should be done for pastoring or catechizing to be fruitful? We know from psychological studies that "internalizing" the reasons for moral behavior facilitates individuals acting morally. Children (and implicitly, adults as well) who function on a "hedonistic" or pleasure level "act out" more than those who have developed higher levels of moral reasoning such as empathy. . . and universal ethical values.
Always referencing the spirit of the law of Christ also makes good spiritual sense. As St. Maximus the Confessor (Philokalia II) reminds us: "All sacred Scripture can be divided into flesh and spirit as if it were a spiritual man. For the literal sense of Scripture is flesh and its inner meaning is soul or spirit. Clearly someone wise abandons what is corruptible and unites his whole being to what is incorruptible."
The inner meaning (spirit) of alternative lifestyles
The confession described in the spiritual classic The Pilgrim Continues His Way (French, 1996) gives us an insight into the sinful spirit of alternative lifestyles and the Godly spirit of living a Christ-like life. The confession is divided into four categories: a lack of love of God; of neighbor (others); having no religious belief; and being prideful (displaying sensuous self-love).
Recognition of the Majesty of God and Love of Him
The ethos of some of the alternative lifestyles listed in endnote v can readily be seen as contrary to love of God and appreciation of his majesty and glory over all creation. Such lifestyles include animism, astrology, divination, occultism, paganism, pantheism, sorcery, superstition, wicca, and witchcraft. A commitment to any of these alternative lifestyles includes a belief in some way in supernatural powers, and/or the belief in the supernatural in nature and the possibility of bringing these under the control of mankind.
What has God taught us regarding Himself and creation? The Holy Spirit-inspired Sacred Scripture author of the second book Maccabees (7: 28) tells us: ". . .look upon heaven and earth, and all that is in them: and consider that God made them out of nothing, and mankind also." The beautiful, and as far as humanly possible all-encompassing, description of the Godhead is given to us by St. John Chrysostom in the Divine Liturgy Anaphora Prayer:
It is meet and right to hymn Thee, to bless Thee, to praise Thee, to give thanks unto Thee, and to worship Thee in every place of Thy dominion: for Thou art God ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible, ever existing and eternally the same, Thou and Thine Only-begotten Son and Thy Holy Spirit. Thou it was who didst bring us from non-existence into being.
What better description of all material creation and mankind than the Idiomela by St. John of Damascus that is used in the Eastern Church Funeral Service:
All mortal things are vanity and exist not after death. . . all these things vanish utterly. . . where are the gold and the silver. . . all are dust and ashes, all are shadows. . . I looked into the graves and beheld the bones laid bare. . . . Who then is the king or the warrior, the rich man or the needy. . . .?
It is no wonder that the spiritual Church Fathers consistently counsel that remembrance of death is necessary to orient the intellect, our highest faculty of knowledge (noesis), in order to experience God. St. Philotheos of Sinai (Philokalia III) puts it this way:
. . .ceaseless mindfulness of death. . . purifies the intellect and the body. . . having once experienced the beauty of this mindfulness of death, I was so wounded and delighted by it -- in spirit, not through the eye -- that I wanted to make it my life's companion; for I was enraptured by its loveliness and majesty, its humility and contrite joy, by how full of reflection it is, how apprehensive of the judgment to come and how aware of life's anxieties.
Examination of Lifestyle: The Socratic Method
For those willing to examine their alternative lifestyles, the cognitive-educational model called the Socratic Method (Beck, 1995) would be useful. In conformity with Christ's actions in encountering those who were unrighteous, as I discussed above, and in accord with counseling ethics, data, knowledge or wisdom would not be given directly. Rather, the individual discovers it for themselves as a result of answering a series of questions. When someone discovers something for themselves, or makes appropriate connections between things, it is far more meaningful than referencing authority to impose the answer. Be ready, however, to outline some of theological principles behind the analysis. (Morelli, 2008b).
Clinical Example: Astrology and the Occult
A middle age female patient, whom I will name Judy, consulted me for social anxiety. Her intake form indicated she was a member of an Apostolic Church, attended church services every week and was highly religious. At the first session she asked me my "astrological sign." Now I told her I don't think that way, but I did tell her my birth-date. She often mentioned her friends and relatives, their "astrological signs" and the meaning it had in their lives and in relationship to herself. During the course of several sessions her commitment to Christ and His Church was confirmed, as was her commitment and participation in astrology and divination. Over some time she became aware of my total lack of interest in such matters and, in fact, my outright avoidance. She commented on this, and I asked her if she would like to discuss it. I then reminded Judy of her stated commitment to God and His Church. We went on to discuss her concept of God. As we discussed the supremacy of God's majesty and the finiteness of the world and her attempts to control the world as if she were God, she began to discover the contradiction inherent in her astrological beliefs, consultation with fortune tellers, superstitious beliefs and the initiating of incantations to influence people and the world about her.
Lack of love of neighbor (others)
Some of the alternative lifestyles fit into this category. These include gay and sexual fetishism, polyamory, polygamy, polygyny and swinging. In order to understand how these lifestyles fall far short of love of neighbor, true love of neighbor must be understood. St. Isaac the Syrian tells us that by "the superabundant outpouring of [our] love and compassion upon all men [we] resemble God." (Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 2011)
St. James tells us: "God is love." (1Ja 4: 6,16). On this Evdokimov (1979) comments:
[The Father is the] absolute beginning. . .of that 'eternal movement of love,' the circular movement of the Divine Life that comes out from the Father, manifests itself and speaks in the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit, in order to be plunged anew into the Father: the eternal generation and spiration going out from the source and returning to it.
We are made in God's image. (cf. Gn 1: 26-27). We know that this image is Trinitarian, One God in substance composed of three persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Bobrinskoy (1999) tells us: "It is the entire Trinity that "dwells in an inaccessible Light, and the economy of salvation falls within the mystery of love hidden since the foundation of the world" (as St. Paul says)."
The act of God in creating the cosmos, and mankind in particular, is also an act of love.
Thus, we have to start with the love God has and how our love has to resemble His love. Without such love the world and our lives have no meaning. Consider Staniloae's (1994) comment on this: "Apart from the existence of a perfect eternal love there can be no explanation for love in the world, nor is the purpose of the world at all evident."
It becomes immediately apparent that any sexual action outside of a blessed marriage is a lack of true love of neighbor. As Morelli (2008a) explains:
In the marital relationship two individuals become "one flesh;" a term that means that two individuals work in concert to become one in mind and heart. They are joined together in love in a way that replicates the Three Persons of the Trinity’s relation of love to each other. Becoming "one flesh" in a blessed marriage is an act of agape, a selfless giving of one to the other; a self-emptying (Greek: kenosis) in a manner like Christ when He took on human flesh and assumed human nature.
We can also reflect on St. Paul's understanding of marriage as the bond a husband and wife have to one another. In this regard, the writings of the Church Fathers on this topic can be the subject of a Scriptural-Patristic study on the true meaning of a Godly marriage.viii
In ministering to individuals with alternate lifestyles, the Socratic Method, discussed above, would be useful. Such questions would have to do with the compatibility of their lifestyle with living a Trinitarian-Christ-like kenotic life. Morelli (2010a) gives an example of the use of the Socratic Method in Holy Confession.ix However, most probably someone who has been committed to an alternative sexual lifestyle like the ones mentioned above would first seek some counseling before going to confession. If they made such an inquiry, they would certainly be at the very beginning of the first stage of the spiritual life, of which St. Nikitas states, "the purgative stage pertains to those newly engaged in spiritual warfare."
Example (the beginning of spiritual warfare)
Priest: "You said you are into some way out things. What kind of things are you into"?
Counselee: “Father, I'm into 'xxxxx'.”
Priest: "How long have you been doing this?"
Counselee: "A few years. I know it's wrong but I don't know why."
Priest: "Do you want to explore what God and His Church has told us is the way to live our lives with our sexuality?"
Counselee: "I know it's hard, but I would like to look into it and see if I can change. What is really hard is that we all do it as a group."
Priest: "How did you start living this way?"
Counselee: "My wife was my girlfriend then at the time we started, we thought it would be sexually exciting to have group sex. One thing led to another; we really got into it; now we live with two other couples and we all do it . . . you know, switch off with one another, like we are all 'married' to one another."
Priest: "Ok! I get the picture. Look, I can’t just tell you to not live a sexual lifestyle because that is the rule of the Church, you know, sort of like the driving rules listed in our State's Driver’s Manual. You know, like you will get a ticket if you change lanes without signaling, but this is like trying to control yourself out of fear. It doesn't work very well. There is a much better way to help."
Counselee: "What's that?"
Priest: "To understand God, (as best we can) how the Persons of the Holy Trinity relate to one another in a relationship of love, how He became man emptying Himself of His Divinity (kenosis) for our salvation and how Christ so loved His Church."
The reflections of the Fathers of the Church, such as the ones I mention in Endnote viii below, could be studied and applied to their own lives. This would be done in the spirit of Saint Chrysostom as he tells us the spiritual meaning of St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians (Eph 5:33): “‘Be loving’ (. . . present active imperative). To the husband he discourses concerning love, and commits to him this province of love. . . . thus binding him close together to her and cementing him to her.” (Hom. 20, P.G. 62:150 (col. 142).) (Orthodox New Testament, 2004).
Priest: "What does your lifestyle say about how you think and feel about the men and woman you are 'hooking up' with?"
The spiritual counseling continues by helping the counselee see that it is a lack of respect for a person made in God's image; it does not emulate the selfless love that God has Himself, or the selfless love God asks us to have for others; it is a self-centered act.
The humanly unimaginable difficulty in lifestyle change
Now, I am not under any illusion that making a lifestyle change is easy. In this regard, we can consider the psychospiritual anguish of the Prodigal (Parable of the Prodigal Son, Lk 15: 11-21),x which he only experienced when he was in the depths of despair feeding swine in swill and being separated from his father. (Morelli, 2010) Another good consideration for understanding the difficulty of lifestyle change, especially when others’ lives and the social pressures that would be imposed are factored in, would be to compare it to someone who for years was heavily into a strongly addictive drug such as heroin. For example, one study (Hammett, Roberts & Kennedy, 2001) indicated a recidivism rate of about 75% among heroin-addicted criminals.
. . .but with God
However, we must also consider Jesus’ words to his Disciples when they were dismayed at the difficulty of attaining salvation. Jesus had just said: “Verily I say to you, that a rich man, with difficulty, shall enter into the kingdom of the heavens. And again, I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” (Mt.19: 23-24). But then Jesus continued, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Mt. 19:26). We also can look to the great penitents of the Church; probably one of the best known is St. Mary of Egypt (344-421 AD). Undoubtedly, before her 'conversion,' she certainly would be considered to have been living what in today's age is an alternative lifestyle. As we read from the Synaxarion of her Feast Day:
I was born in Egypt and my parents being yet alive, and I being a twelve year old girl, I left them and went to Alexandria. There I lost my chastity and gave myself over to unrestrained and insatiable fornication. For more than seventeen years I indulged licentiously and I did it all gratis. That I did not take money was not because I was rich. I lived in poverty and worked at a spinning-wheel. I thought that all the meaning of life consisted in satisfying fleshly lust . . . . But evidently, God desired my repentance, not the death of the sinner, with long-suffering patience awaiting my conversion.
Her life shows the importance for us of keeping focus on God's mercy, to repent, the first step in which is metanoia.
Careful reading of the Parable of the Prodigal Son will give us a glimpse of the meaning of metanoia. Under Abrahamic Law (Lv 11:3–8; Dt 14:3–21) it would be a major transgression for a Jew to eat swine and even to be associated with such animals, as they are "unclean” for them. Initially, the Prodigal Son was focusing on gaining his inheritance and the riotous living he was enjoying. But then he had a 'wake-up call,' a sudden insight; he found himself mired in swill feeding swine and separated from his Father. St. Luke tells us of the Prodigal's thinking: "But having come to himself. . . ." (Lk 15: 17) Thus the first step in metanoia is an insight, a 'realization leading to a change of mind. He had to leap beyond what he was previously focused on, what would be considered his sinful lifestyle, and thus begin a program of setting his life aright. Metanoia must lead to action. This is shown in the Prodigal's return to his father.
Metanoia eading to action for those living alternative lifestyle in the 21st century would take on different but similar challenges. Of course, keeping with the spiritual symbolism in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, it would mean a re-commitment and engagement with Christ and His Church. However, being actively committed to and engaged in appropriate healthcare treatment resources is also critical. This would include drug, alcohol and sexual treatment programs. These range from community programs such as outpatient type groups similar to Sexaholics Anonymous, to residential treatment centers.xi Learning the use of, and practicing, cognitive behavioral management techniques, which involve cognitive, stimulus and response management is critical in effecting lifestyle change.
Having no religious belief, pride and sensuous self-love
Referring again to a lifestyle-analysis based on the pilgrim's confession in The Pilgrim Continues His Way (French, 1996), I suggest that any alternate life-style involves elements of having 'no religious belief and being prideful (displayed in the form of sensuous self-love).' Uncovering the spiritual dimension of the lifestyle should be undergone under the guidance of an experienced spiritual director. This is someone to whom inner thoughts and feelings can be readily disclosed.
Qualities of someone giving spiritual direction
In discussing why St. Antony the Great was so sought out by his disciples, Hausherr (1990) states:
Antony [felt] the pain of others as if he himself had been the 'patient' (ton paschonta) and, on the other the discernment (diacrisis) that gave him experience in prescribing the appropriate remedy for each. Charity and discernment are pre-eminently qualities of a spiritual father.
St. Basil the Great provides a model for those ministering in the 21st Century to individuals with alternative styles. Hausherr comments on St. Basil's humane and psychological focus. He goes on to point out that St. Basil "recommended mercy and forbearance for the sinner, 'not by passing sins over in silence but by supporting with gentleness those who are recalcitrant, by applying the remedy with clemency and moderation.'"
Christ the ultimate healing physician
Christ is the one true high priest, and we, either in the royal priesthood by baptism or the ordained priesthood by the Holy Mystery of Holy Orders, are merely His instruments. As the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom says of this: ". . . vouchsafe that these gifts may be offered unto Thee by me, thy sinful and unworthy servant: for Thou Thyself are He that offers and is offered, that accepts and is distributed, O Christ our God." So, too, it is Christ that is our heavenly physician and we are merely the tools of His healing hands. Yes, we are created with intelligence and called upon to use it, but it is Christ who is our ultimate heavenly physician and guide in any healing ministry. Once again, this is expressed so beautifully by St. John Chrysostom in his Divine Liturgy. Right before receiving the Eucharist, His very Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity we implore of him to ". . . heal the sick, Thou who art the physician of our souls and bodies."
Christ respecting the free will of His creatures
St. Matthew records how Jesus ministered to others:
And it came to pass, as He reclined at table in the house, also behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining at table with Jesus and His disciples. And after the Pharisees saw Him, they said to His disciples,“Why eateth your Teacher with the tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus, having heard it, said to them, “They who are strong have no need of a physician, but they who are ill. “But go and learn what this is, ‘I wish mercy, and not sacrifice’: For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Mt. 9:10-13)
As I point out in a previous article (Morelli, 2011), Christ did not coerce anyone to follow Him or do the Will of the Father. While always affirming the spirit and word of Divine Truth, He respected the free will of those around Him to accept or reject this Truth. In emulation of Christ, true priestly pastoring respects the free will of others, even those living alternative lifestyles. It is done by proclaiming and teaching God's word in charity while never departing from the mind and practice of Christ and His Church.
“I am the vine, ye are the branches. The one who abideth in Me, and I in him, this one beareth much fruit; for apart from Me ye are not able to do anything." (Jn. 15:5)
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ii There are movements that are working toward full reconciliation of the Churches that trace their episcopacy in an unbroken chain or succession from Christ and his Apostles. One such is association is The Society of St. John Chrysostom — Western Region (SSJC-WR). SSJC-WR is an ecumenical organization of laity and clergy of the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches and the Eastern Catholic and Roman Catholic Churches.
[SSJC-WR] work[s] to make known the history, worship, spirituality, discipline and theology of Eastern Christianity, and for the fullness of unity desired by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. [taken from the Society website: http://lightoftheeast.org/]
This is in distinction to those ecclesial communities which are not Apostolic Churches but call themselves Christian. Such communities were founded by individuals such as, for example, King Henry VIII, John Calvin and Martin Luther, and not by Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
iii For a scholarly commentary on Sacred Scripture in Tradition from an Orthodox Christian perspective: http://modeoflife.org/2012/05/15/the-meaning-of-holy-tradition-by-dr-guy-freeland-lecturer-in-liturgical-studies-and-hermeneutics-at-st-andrews-theological-college-sydney-source-the-greek-orthodox-youth-of-a/
v The phrase "Alternative Lifestyles" implies individuals identifying with adopting the behaviors of a non-normative sub-culture within society. Examples of such may include: animism, astrology, BDSM, divination, fetishism, goth, homosexuality, occultism, paganism, pantheism, paraphilia, polyamory, polygamy, polygyny, sexual fetishism, sorcery, swinging, wicca and witchcraft.
vi Major Life Values can be broken into three major categories: Behavior, Honesty and Charity in Interpersonal Relations.
Behavior value categories include self help skills such as: appearance, food preferences, health & hygiene, modesty; social skills such as: acceptable behavior, manners, helpfulness; ethics skills such as: conduct, courage, dependability, duty, efficiency, ingenuity, initiative, perseverance, punctuality, resourcefulness, respectfulness, responsibility.
Honesty value categories include accuracy, curiosity, determination, discernment, fairness, fearlessness, honesty, integrity, intuition, optimism, purity, quest for knowledge reason, righteousness, self analysis & awareness, sincerity, inquisitiveness, synergia of thought word & deed, synthesis, trust, truthfulness.
Charity value categories include acceptance, affection, care, compassion, dedication, devotion, empathy, forbearance, forgiveness, friendship, generosity, gentleness, interdependence, kindness, patience, reverence, sacrifice, service, sharing sympathy, thoughtfulness, tolerance trust.
Adapted from: http://www.sathyasaiehv.org.uk/methodology.htm
viii From the Notes in The Orthodox New Testament (2004) on St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians 5:32:
"Saint Symeon the New Theologian: “See how he shows us that, just as Eve was taken from the flesh and bones of Adam and the two were one flesh, so also Christ gives Himself to us to the extent of communion of His flesh and bones. . . .From the same flesh and bones He gives us to eat, and through this communion makes us, too, one with Him. Again the apostle, wanting to make God’s contact with us absolutely clear, adds, ‘For this reason shall a man leave his father and mother,’ meaning that he leaves them for the sake of Christ, ‘and shall cleave to his wife,’ that is, the Church, ‘and the two shall be into one flesh [Gen. 2:24],’ clearly, he means the flesh of Christ God. And to show that the text is to be interpreted in this sense, and that we do not arrive at this meaning through forced reasoning, the apostle adds: ‘This mystery is great; but I speak in regard to Christ and in regard to the Church’ [Eph. 5:32]. Truly, therefore, this mystery is great—and beyond great!—and so it will always be, because the same sort of communion, and union, and intimacy, and kinship, which the woman has with the man and the man with the woman, such—understood in a manner adequate to God and as transcending our reason—is the relation which the Master and Maker of all has with all the Church, as with a single Woman: blamelessly, ineffably, inseparably, and indivisibly united to her, being and living with her as with the one whom He loves and holds dear. Thus in turn the Church, united to her most dear God, joins herself to Him as the whole body to its own head. As a body cannot live at all without being attached to its head, then neither can the Church of the faithful—I say, rather, of the sons of God whose names are inscribed in the heavens—in any way be a proper and whole body for God without her Head, Christ God Himself, nor can she live the true and imperishable life without being fed by Him with her daily and substantial Bread. From the latter comes life and growth into the ‘perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of the Christ [Eph. 4:13],’ for all those who love Him.” [“The Church and the Last Things,” On the Mystical Life: The Ethical Discourses, Vol. I, First Discourse, VII:47, 48.]
Saint Chrysostom: “Why does he call it a great mystery?...‘For the present, however,’ says he, ‘I speak regarding Christ that, having left the Father, He came down and came to the Bride, and became in spirit one.’” [Hom. 20, P.G. 62:148 (col. 140).]
Blessed Jerome: “The same allegorical interpretation applies both to Christ and to the Church, that Adam is to prefigure Christ and Eve the Church. For ‘the last Adam became a life–creating Spirit [1 Cor. 15:45].’ Just as the whole human race is born from Adam and his wife, so the whole multitude of believers has been born of Christ and the Church.” [“Epistle to the Ephesians,” 3.5.31, P.L. 26:535B (660), in ACC, VIII:198.] “Gregory the Theologian used to say while discussing this passage with me, ‘Even all that is said of Adam and Eve is to be interpreted with reference to Christ and the Church.’” [Ib., 3.5.32, P.L. 26:535D-536A (661), in ACC, VIII:199.]
Saint Methodios: “It is a perfectly accurate analogy: The Church has been formed from His bones and flesh [cf. Gen. 2:23]. For her sake the Logos left His Father in the heavens. He came down in order to cling to His Spouse, and slept in the ecstasy of His Passion. He willingly died for her. . . . He did this to make her ready for the blessed spiritual seed which He sows and plants by secret inspiration in the depths of the soul. And like a woman, the Church conceives of this seed and forms it until the day she bears and nurtures it as virtue. So too the word, ‘increase and multiply [Gen. 1:28],’ is duly fulfilled as the Church grows day by day in size and in beauty and in numbers, thanks to the intimate union between her and the Logos, coming down to us even now and continuing His ecstasy in the memorial of His Passion.” [Symposium, Logos 3(8), in ACW, 27:65, 66.]"
ix Example III:
Priest: "What sins do you want to confess to Our Lord"?
Penitent: Father, I committed adultery. [Priest knows the penitent is a married man.]
Priest: "Is this the first time?"
Priest: "Have you done this before?"
Priest: "Tell me how did you come to meet this person?"
Penitent: "I was alone on a business trip; I went into the hotel bar for supper and this beautiful woman sat next to me and one thing led to another."
Priest: Ok! Now that you know something like this can happen, how can you prepare for this in the future [similar to the counseling in Example II: "We pray, in the Lord's Prayer, 'not to lead us into temptation.' The closer you are to something that arouses you the more your desire for it. If you had a friend who had an alcohol problem, and he asked you if he should take a job as a bartender, what would you tell him?"—in these cases alternative ways of dealing with temptation can be elicited: having dinner in one's hotel room; practicing assertiveness scripts which focus on turning down advances. This last[acp3] might include telling the woman immediately: "I am married and do not cheat on my wife . . . , etc." (Morelli, 2006) continuing similar to Example II above:]
Priest: "What does it say about how you think and feel about the woman you had the affair with?"
[The counseling continues by helping the Penitent see that is a lack of respect for a person made in God's image; it does not emulate the love of others God asks of us; it is a self-centered act.]
Priest: "What about your wife? What does having an affair with another woman say about your commitment to your wife? Do you remember that in our Orthodox Wedding Service we see the commitment to our spouse to be just as Christ was committed to us . . . . He loved us so much he took on our flesh, was crucified, died, was buried and rose from the Dead?”
[Once again, the Penitent is asked if he has any other sins to confess, whether he is sorry, commits to pray to God for the grace to resist temptation and to do all he can not to place himself in the 'occasions of sin'—- absolution follows.]
x And He said, “A certain man had two sons. “And the younger of them said to the father, ‘Father, give to me the portion of the property which falleth to me.’ And he divided to them his means of living. “And not many days after, the younger son, having gathered all together, went abroad into a distant land, and there scattered his property, living profligately. “But after he spent all, there arose a severe famine throughout that land, and he began to be in want. “And he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that land; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. “And he was longing to fill his belly from the husks, which the swine were eating; and no one was giving to him. “But having come to himself, he said, ‘How many hired servants of my father abound in loaves, and I am perishing with hunger! “‘I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I sinned against heaven and before thee, “‘“and am no longer worthy to be called thy son; make me as one of thy hired servants.”’ “And he rose up and went to his father. But when he was yet far away, his father saw him and was moved with compassion, and ran, and fell upon his neck, and ardently kissed him. “And the son said to him, ‘Father, I sinned against heaven and before thee, and am no longer worthy to be called thy son.’ “But the father said to his slaves, ‘Bring forth the robe, the chief one, and clothe him, and provide a ring for his hand and sandals for the feet. “‘And bring the calf, the fattened one, and slay it; and let us eat and be merry; “‘for this my son was dead and is alive again; and he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry. “Now his son, the elder one, was in a field; and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. “And he summoned one of his servants, and began inquiring what these things may be. “And he said to him, ‘Thy brother is come, and thy father slew the calf, the fattened one, because he received him back safe and sound.’ “But he was angry and not willing to go in. Then his father went out and besought him. “And he answered and said to his father, ‘Behold, so many years I am serving thee, and never did I transgress thy commandment, and never didst thou give a kid to me, in order that I might make merry with my friends; “‘but when this thy son came, the one who devoured thy means of living with harlots, thou didst slay for him the calf, the fattened one.’ “And he said to him, ‘Child, thou art always with me, and all that is mine is thine. “‘But to make merry and to rejoice was fitting, because this thy brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’” (Lk. 15:11-32)
xi An example of a residential treatment center: http://transformationstreatment.com/sexual-addiction-treatment-center/oregon-sexual-addiction-treatment/ Not all treatments used at this center or others meet the standards of rigorous scientifically based treatment, thus careful discernment is needed. (c.f. Morelli, G (2006, May 08). Orthodoxy and The Science Of Psychology. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/OT/view/morelli-orthodoxy-and-the-science-of-psychology. & Morelli, G. (2006, December 21). The Ethos of Orthodox Christian Healing. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles6/MorelliHealing.php.