Stances of Faiths on LGBTQ Issues: Eastern Orthodox Church
Considered the second largest Christian body in the world, the history of the Eastern Orthodox Church can be traced to an unbroken continuity to Jesus Christ and the Twelve Apostles. It encompasses several autocephalous (self-governing) churches: the four ancient Patriarchates of the early church, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, the four Patriarchates of more recent origin, Russia, Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria, the Catholicosate of Georgia, and the churches of Cyprus, Greece, Poland, Albania, and the Czech Lands and Slovakia.
The structure of the Eastern Orthodox Church is conciliar rather than monarchical. That is, the patriarchs all hold equal authority in the Church and there is no centralized headquarters from which jurisdiction is maintained. However, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople is recognized as the spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians and is considered “first among equals." Orthodoxy as a separate tradition has its origins during the ecclesiastical and theological disputes with the Roman Catholic Church that lead to the Great Schism in 1054 CE. The liturgy of Eastern Orthodoxy is marked by its evolution in the monastic tradition, with iconography playing a key role. Today, the Eastern Orthodox Church numbers 260 million members worldwide. Estimates for the United States range from one to three million, depending on how membership is defined. Orthodox churches in the United States collaborate through the The Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America.
While Eastern Orthodox churches are autocephalous, there is consensus on official LGBTQ policy. For example, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese lists homosexuality beside fornication, adultery, abortion and abusive sexual behavior as “immoral and inappropriate forms of behavior in and of themselves, and also because they attack the institution of marriage and the family.” It adds that, “the Orthodox Church believes that homosexual behavior is a sin.” Similarly, the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States, declares, “Like adultery and fornication, homosexual acts are condemned by Scripture.”
The spiritual tradition of orthodoxy is based on the relationship of a chrismated (confirmed) member to his or her spiritual father/confessor, who either grants or denied access to the sacraments. As a result, sacramental access may be lenient and policies are not always enforced with a consistent practice from region to region. There are, however, inclusive Orthodox churches and organizations outside the canonical norm of Orthodox Churches. These include the emerging Orthodox-Catholic Church of America, which welcomes “people on the basis of love, not category,” and the lay organization Axios, which sponsors Orthodox services in Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.
There appears to be no formal policy regarding transgender issues for the leading Eastern Orthodox churches in the United States. While transgender issues do not yet have formal treatment by a council of bishops, gender reassignment is condemned as an affront to God's design for each individual. Numerous clergy members have repeatedly confirmed this in sermons and publications.
On Marriage Equality
The Eastern Orthodox Church does not perform or recognize same-sex marriages. According to a statement by the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops, "The Orthodox Church cannot and will not bless same-sex unions. Whereas marriage between a man and a woman is a sacred institution ordained by God, homosexual union is not." The Orthodox Christian teaching on marriage and sexuality is "firmly grounded in Holy Scripture, 2000 years of church tradition, and canon law, holds that marriage consists in the conjugal union of a man and a woman." It adds that, “marriage is necessarily monogamous and heterosexual."
Despite official stance, a survey realsed in 2015 by the Public Religious Research Institute (PRRI) finds a small majority, 56 percent, of U.S. Eastern Orthodox Christians supporting marriage equality.
The Eastern Orthodox Church does not ordain openly LGBTQ people, nor does it ordain women. However, alternative organizations such as the Orthodox-Catholic Church of America do ordain both women and LGBTQ people.
The Eastern Orthodox Church has not taken an official stand on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) or other issues regarding LGBTQ employment discrimination.
While the stated policies of traditional Eastern Orthodox churches are unwelcoming, individual congregations may vary in their approach. Some practice a “don’t ask - don’t tell” attitude, while others may prove more inclusive. While such attitude might be standard practice in some parishes, clergy reassignment may bring a sudden rigorous examination of LGBTQ members' lives at any time.
For more information on finding your place as an LGBTQ congregant, or on finding your voice as a straight ally committed to creating an inclusive church community, download the HRC resource Coming Home: To Faith, To Spirit, to Self.
Resources for LGBTQ Orthodox Christians
Axios, an organization of Eastern & Near Eastern Orthodox, and Byzantine & Eastern-rite Catholic LGBTQ lay Christians.
Inclusive Orthodoxy, an inclusive online resource that is both orthodox in theology and grounded in the radical message of Jesus Christ.
Orthodox-Catholic Church of America, an inclusive church that is part of the universal ("catholic") church that is informed by the traditions of ancient ("orthodox") Christianity.
Orthodox and Gay, a website and online platform for LGBTQ Orthodox Christians seeking support and refuge.
Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the USA
8 East 79th Street
New York, NY 10075