Father Andrew Damick, an Eastern Orthodox priest, examines the case of a Greek Orthodox same-sex couple who married in a New York ceremony. The legally valid ceremony uniting Daniel Storrs and Andrew Kostakis was conducted by a Lutheran pastor who used the Orthodox liturgy. Father Damick explains why this was not an Orthodox wedding, and why claiming or thinking that it was reveals how disordered modern thinking about tradition is. Excerpt:
I’ve read many accounts like this of same-sex services, and they nearly all focus on how happy everyone is, goshdarnit, and the implication is that that should be enough. After all, isn’t that what weddings are really all about? But I’m interested in this story for the theology of both worship and ecclesiology that is put forward here, and such things matter far more than individual feelings. Human beings are by their nature responsible to the truth, and the truth is something that is far bigger than how happy you feel about getting the wedding you like.
Fr. Damick says he doesn’t know if or how the ceremony departed from the text of the Orthodox marriage service, but the photos of the ritual don’t really look like an Orthodox marriage. More:
These kinds of details underscore something profoundly significant that Storrs doesn’t address in his piece. The Orthodox liturgical tradition is precisely a tradition, something that functions within a covenanted community, led by a priesthood ordained in apostolic succession. You can’t just open up a book and conduct “the Byzantine rites of the Eastern Orthodox Church.” These books are not how-to manuals for do-it-yourself liturgists. Even if the Lutheran cleric who did this service really were an expert in such things, and even if he could account for all the bits of unwritten knowledge needed to do these things (something that occurs to me regularly, not only being a priest but serving on an archdiocesan committee dedicated to this stuff), it still wouldn’t make this service Orthodox. Removing a liturgical service from its context necessarily makes it something other than what it is. Storrs and Kostakis may like Orthodox liturgics, but what they did in June was not an Orthodox wedding service. It was a Lutheran wedding service imitating Byzantine liturgics.
That these folks would regard this as somehow valid and Orthodox indicates that they’ve already accepted a theology of sacraments which is not Orthodox but rather is essentially Latin in its sensibilities, which treats everything according to categories of validity that can actually function outside the covenanted community. (Assuming the spare groom were swapped out for a bride, I have no idea whether the Latins would look upon this service as “valid,” but I daresay they would not find it either Catholic or Orthodox.)
So we’re already dealing with a major departure from Orthodox tradition in theological terms. But Storrs believes this is just somehow a matter of rules being broken (dare to break the rules!): “Together, Andrew and I dared to break the canons of a church that would declare our love false and our marriage impossible. We dared to be who God made us and receive the Divine’s blessing for our family with tangible Greek traditions that date back over 50 generations. We dared to have the wedding of our dreams.”
But there actually isn’t a canon that says two men shouldn’t have a wedding service. Why? Because there is a major theological problem with such an act. This isn’t just a matter of canonical discipline, a “bigoted god” unleashing his “vengeance” on those who would “dare to be who God made” them by breaking a rule. But God didn’t make them that way, any more than He makes anyone with sinful passions. The way they feel is a result of the Fall, not the Creation, just as the sinful feelings I feel are also the result of the Fall. It may feel really right, but many of my sins feel that way, too. That’s why there has to be an objective measure by which we can know exactly what God intended in His creation. And you won’t find anything in Orthodox tradition that says that He made people feel sexual attraction to members of the same sex.
It’s interesting that there is a repeated reference to tradition in this piece—”tangible Greek traditions that date back over 50 generations”—but what would happen if those 50 generations were consulted on the matter? That doesn’t matter, though, really. What matters is that they “dared to have the wedding of [their] dreams.” You can both love and reject tradition simultaneously, it seems.
Fr. Damick says that aside from the theological problems here that keep this service from being authentically Orthodox, there is a problem with ecclesiology. Storrs seems to believe that the Orthodox Church is whatever he says it is. He does not have the authority to make that claim. This is like Catholic women who pantomime the priestly ordination of other women. Whatever else those women are, they are not Catholic priests, and cannot be Catholic priests.
This is how it is in modernity: we do not conform to an independent notion of reality, but rather we make it conform to us. I am Napoleon, because I say so! It’s getting to be hard to discern between being au courant and being insane.