A reflection by Lindsey
My previous post has generated a lot of conversation. I’ve learned about a lot of these conversations second- and third-hand, but I would like to offer some clarifications.
I am not abandoning the spirituality I found in the Orthodox Church. It’s hard to say that I have left when I have yet to find an alternate place to go. I remember having an in-between season after I realized that I no longer believed in the efficacy of sola Scriptura. I knew I couldn’t continue to be a Protestant, but I didn’t know where that conclusion would take me. On a theological level, nothing in particular has changed for me. I did my best to bring everything I could from my past as an Evangelical Protestant with me when I became Orthodox. I’ve received many gifts from the Orthodox tradition that I intend on keeping with me permanently, but I don’t know where I’ll be able to settle. I wasn’t looking to leave the Orthodox Church, but things have happened where I don’t see a way to stay.
I am profoundly grateful to the Orthodox tradition for giving me many gifts. I first started seeking Christ in the Orthodox Church in 2008, and my journey in Orthodoxy has had lasting effects on my spirituality. I am profoundly and eternally grateful to the Orthodox tradition. I have done my best to cling to what is good, and I will maintain forever that the Orthodox Tradition can be a wellspring of life.
The Orthodox Church taught me about how prayer shapes beliefs. Within the context of the Orthodox Church, I learned the principle of lex orandi, lex credendi. I loved the services of the church. Chanting the service made it so much easier for me to remember and reflect on various parts of the service during the rest of the week. I experienced the services of the Orthodox Church as a kind of atlas to the rest of Scriptures. If I had a question like, “What do the Scriptures say about the Mother of God?” I would look at all of the readings associated with feasts dedicated to Mary. I had never considered that the Burning Bush or Jacob’s Ladder were intended to point towards Christ Himself. Interpreting the Bible using typology literally blew my mind wide open so many times. Reading the marriage service of the Orthodox Church, and investigating all of the Scriptures referenced by this service to the best of my ability, gave me a profound vantage point to see that true Christian marriage is exceptionally rare and spurred me on towards redoubling my prayers for all married people I knew. It seemed to me that the Orthodox tradition supported the life of people married in the Church in countless ways, while also providing pastorally for people with failed marriages.
The Orthodox Church also challenged my understandings of pastoral care. Many discussions I had with people about sensitive pastoral matters included references to oikonomia. I understood oikonomia as trying to balance the principles of truth and mercy. Too much strictness could crush a person; too much laxness could stunt a person’s spiritual growth. Exercising oikonomia rightly is a fearsome task, with the burden falling almost entirely on priests providing spiritual care. I prayed, and prayed and prayed some more, for priests. I adopted the practice of praying for specific priests I knew while also praying for any other priest who bore the same name. Praying for all priests named Gregory or John asks that God guides a ton of people. I did my best to seek confessors with whom I could share my life, my heart, my journey, and my questions. I discussed particular matters with my closest friends, allowing them to call me out when something simply was not bearing good fruit in my life.
The Orthodox Church opened to me a deeper understanding of celibacy. My spiritual journey is a bit complicated, but before becoming Orthodox, I had an extremely limited understanding of celibacy. I thought it was a Catholic thing that nuns and priests did. I knew that there were male religious orders in the Catholic Church, but I tended to view them as a way of forming men who were eventually going to become priests. In the context of the Orthodox Church, I met many female and male monastics living in a range of situations. I saw monastic families in action when I visited small communities housing between 6 and 12 nuns. I recognized possibilities for celibate people living in the world when I met monastics who were attached to a local parish while working in the community. I learned about how monastics shared life together, especially as it relates to dimensions of caregiving and the daily routines of doing life. Being encouraged by an abbess of an Orthodox monastery to do my best to put the monastic life into practice as much as I could was instrumental in helping me define celibacy. Orthodoxy introduced me to the concept of skete monasticism, where sketes tend to be small communities of 2 or 3 celibate people committed to sharing life together.
I am incredibly grateful to people who opened up diverse spiritual truths to me while I was in the Orthodox Church. One of my favorite priests was known for encouraging people with “Pray as you can, not as you can’t.” I believe that God’s grace can reach each and every person striving to follow Christ to the best of their ability. One of my favorite icons in the Church is St John Climacus and the Ladder of Divine Ascent. Everyone on the ladder has their eyes fixed on Christ, and I like to think that Christ will reach much further down the ladder than we will ever succeed at climbing. The parable of the Prodigal Son convinces me that the Father will run towards his children who want to find His house.
The Orthodox Church challenged me to think sacramentally. What did it mean that God found it fit to dwell within our humble offerings of water, oil, bread, and wine? How could we offer God our hearts in addition to the work of our hands? My sense of spirituality has been forever changed by the idea that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ where He desires to unite His flesh with ours. I never want to regard participating in this mystery as an automatically conferred right, and I do not want to be a person who willfully neglects the teachings of the bishop responsible for overseeing the life of the church. I have deep and profound respect for the way various archdioceses of the Orthodox Church work together to teach people about Orthodoxy, especially as it relates to the canonical situation found in the Orthodox Church in the United States. I have always found the idea that an Orthodox Christian separated from communing in one archdiocese can go to another archdiocese exceptionally problematic, even though I have understood that people need to respect the particular communion discipline of the place where they are communing.
I started attending the Orthodox Church in 2008. I came into the church knowing full well that the Orthodox Church could never bless same-sex marriages. I spent time as a catechumen studying the marriage service to understand what the church taught about marriage. I read the Scriptures referenced by the marriage service and came to the conclusion that a marriage within the Orthodox Church has four requisite components: a man, a woman, an eternal commitment, and an openness to life. I developed the analogy that marriage is to relationships what the Eucharist is to food. It was possible to affirm many different kinds of relationships as gifts given to us by God, even if these relationships were not treated sacramentally. The Eucharist is real food, but the Orthodox Church also encourages us to bless every morsel of food that comes into our body. I took it as a simple truth that God would give me a vast array of meaningful relationships because I am a human being created in the image of a triune God. I knew full well that I did not have a vocation to marriage. I visited various monastic communities with an attitude of discernment towards a monastic vocation, but it seemed abundantly clear to me and everyone around me that God had plans for me that included living in the world. I threw myself, as best as I could, in the general direction of God’s merciful kindness, hoping that the Church would exercise oikonomia to help me along my way.
Many people in my life have recognized the value in the life I share with Sarah. Clergy intimately aware of my life story and situation have told me, “Sarah is a gift, given to you by God, for your salvation.” I believe this to be abundantly true, especially as we have continued to discern our way of life as a celibate partnership. We’ve cared for each other in times of illness and distress. I have lost count of the number of hours I have spent keeping vigil while Sarah has endured the ravages of Meniere’s disease. We share the same pool of financial resources. We support one another emotionally and spiritually. We have encouraged one another as we have sought to love and serve those we come into contact with in the world around us. We have navigated job loss and career transitions together. I believe earnestly with every fiber in my being that God is calling Sarah towards changing to a career in audiology, and so I am busying myself in an effort to meet the challenges associated with supporting Sarah going to audiology school next fall. My life and future is tied up with what God will call Sarah to do just as Sarah’s life and future is tied up with what God will call me to do. I’ve opted in 100% and I’m eager to see what God has for us. I can’t look at the life I share with Sarah without seeing how God has challenged me to grow towards Christ. We remain resolutely committed to celibacy, even though we don’t see any clear legal pathways forward. A friend recently suggested that we might consider moving to Canada where domestic partnerships still exist and universal health care coverage is a thing. I am a bit ashamed to admit how seriously I have considered exploring this option, especially because I know American Sign Language is used in Canada.
When I read a sentence like “The Orthodox Church cannot and will not condone or bless ‘same-sex unions’ of any degree” I am left feeling like the Church has changed the goal posts. I respect the teaching authority of the bishops to draw the lines however they see fit, but in my heart I don’t see any space within the Orthodox Church left for a person in my situation. I did not go seeking out this statement from the Antiochian Archdiocese. I only read it because a friend praised it for its clarity and compassion. I thought that perhaps the Church gathered at the convention had authored a statement which maintained the delicate balance between truth and mercy. But as I read the statement, I came to an unshakable opinion that American Orthodox Christians had built a wall of truth around the Church where I found myself outside of its limits. I tested that opinion by seeking guidance from my confessor and my parish priest. I understood why they were reluctant to comment on the statement because neither of them are priests in the Antiochian Archdiocese. So I sought clarification from people I know who were likely to have attended the convention. It’s also worth stating that there are bishops within that archdiocese who had known of Sarah’s and my situation. The best critique I had of the statement was that “It seems like it’s clumsily worded, but they are simply reiterating what the Church has always taught.” However, another member of the clergy told me that I had interpreted the statement correctly, and it is binding for the entire Orthodox Church regardless of which jurisdiction authored the statement. When even members of the clergy have such differing interpretations of this statement, it should be no surprise that people like Sarah and me feel caught in the middle of an impossible situation.
I’ve always considered the Orthodox Church to be like a house celebrating Christmas. There is a roaring fire in the fireplace and a well-lit tree. I considered myself extremely fortunate to be able to be inside, joining in the celebrations to the best of my ability. I’ve never been the keeper of the house, and I never expected to be asked for my opinion if remodeling was necessary. I do know that I was doing my best to stand in identically one spot, but unfortunately all I can see now is that wall. When I look up, I don’t see a roof over my head. But it’s Christmas time, which means that it’s winter. It strikes me as unwise to try to drill through a brick wall of what the Church has always taught. So I’m out trying to enjoy the snow and hoping that God, in His mercy, provides me with shelter soon.
Comment Policy: Please remember that we, and all others commenting on this blog, are people. Practice kindness. Practice generosity. Practice asking questions. Practice showing love. Practice being human. If your comment is rude, it will be deleted. If you are constantly negative, argumentative, or bullish, you will not be able to comment anymore. We are the sole moderators of the combox.