On the 25th of May
2018 an article titled
“Christianity and gender” was posted by Mr. George Steiris
(Deputy Professor of Philosophy at the National and Kapodistrian
University of Athens) on the website huffingtonpost.gr.
Treating the teachings of the saintly Church Fathers Gregory of Nyssa and Maximos the Confessor rather casually and without any prerequisites, the author attempted to show that in recent discussions regarding gender identities, the Orthodox Church “was not all that right” when “emphatically maintaining that gender is a sacred trust; that it is a divine gift to mankind, which should be developed for their sanctification.”
Of course with a first read it becomes clear that Mr. Steiris’ text aims to support transgender individuals – that is, those who do not accept or are resentful of their biological sex; and of course he is not the first one who has resorted to using the teaching of those Church Fathers in order to blunt the differences between Christian teaching and transgenderism/homosexuality. In a recent book presentation, Mr. Dionysios Skliris referred to Adam G. Cooper and his particular attempt to adapt the teaching of Maximos the Confessor in a way that would offer transgender indivifuals a “mitigative agnosticism”(1) ; according to him the biological sex in Christianity “may not, after all” have the weighty significance that some “believe”.
Additionally, in a book by Fr. Vasilios Thermos “Attraction and Passion - An Inter-scientific Approach to Homosexuality”, the author dedicates an entire section (pages 605-631) on a critique of views which maintain that in the Holy Bible “heterosexuality is not a binding rule.”
This school of thought
which promotes an ideology of “gender fluidity”
Mr. Steiris -
to Gregory of Nyssa and Maximos the Confessor,
having however excised from their overall teachings certain
references to the eschatological transcendence of gender
doing so, they are led to paradoxical conclusions of a
supposedly “biblical” and “Patristic” vindication of
homosexuality and transgenderism.
Consequently thenecessary discussion on the rights of those individuals who are problematized by issues of transgenderism or who have developed the psychosomatic peculiarity of homosexuality, is being transferred to the realm of theology and invested with a “Christian” ideology that arbitrarily describes such conditions as supposedly “a taste of deified human nature” (Thermos, pg. 607), and moreover, with the “stamp” of the Church Fathers.
So, what do we have here?
As Fr. Thermos writes, it is a given fact that this sort of religious-style ideology regarding “gender fluidity” has ramifications, and has been linked by its inspirers to homosexuality and same-sex marriage (pg. 660); however, even someone who has minimal contact with ecclesiastic texts could not possibly believe that the Church Fathers had actually approved notions such as those described by Mr. Steiris:
If we accept the theology of Gregory Nyssa and Maximos the Confessor,
a) Gender distinction has no importance whatsoever in the present, for someone who aspires to advance to the next spiritual level.
b)We need to approach issues of gender identity from another perspective; the biological gender is not as important as has been presented by many members of the faith community;
c) Human beings cannot find their completion in gendered sociality, but in God.
Are these really the positions of Saint Maximos the Confessor? Reality indicates the exact opposite:
How can one possibly assert that biological gender is not that significant, or that gender distinction is not a mandatory condition for a saint, or that behaviour based on one’s biological gender is not a mandatory condition for our fulfilled union with God, when Maximos the Confessor clearly states (3) that :
1) ...he regards behaviours that emanate from transgender perceptions as a “trampling” on the “law of nature”?
2) ...he characterises every factual relativization of the biological identity of gender as an “abuse” of the God-given characteristics/traits that lead a person to a highly intense “control of their conscience”?
It is therefore clear that “distinction” and respect towards the biological genders are mandatory prerequisites for all the saints, as well as for the path leading to our union with God, given that the opposite belongs to a cadre of actions befitting only “the devil and his angels…”
Can it also be, that Gregory of Nyssa leaves a certain innuendo in favour of transgender perceptions?
As we can see, the Accord of the Fathers is “deafening” here also:
For Gregory of Nyssa (whose specific teaching also comprises a Sacred Canon of the Church)(4), a homosexual admixture (“against the male”) comprises “an adultery of nature”, an “unnatural injustice” and a “prohibited evil.” This act is clearly regarded as a “sin” and demands “healing” through sincere “remorse.”
And of course, the fact that carnal admixture was more prevalent between men at the time does not mean that we will confine it only to men in our day, inasmuch as the notion of “unnatural injustice” applies to homosexuality in general.
Whoever therefore reads Mr. Steiris’ article and then examines the Patristic positions, will discover that they do not allow even the slightest margin for views on a supposed “fluidity” of the biological gender, when they describe every kind of transgender behaviour as an obstacle on the path leading to deification (theosis).
The fact that the Church Fathers are assuredly philosophers should be respected; however, they do belong to a specific school of philosophy, and Patristic Philosophy is, par excellence, Biblical.
The Faith of the Church remains eternally the same and unvarying: “as the prophets saw, as the apostles taught, as the Church received, as the teachers dogmatised […] this is the faith of the apostles, this is the faith of the Fathers.”(5) However, as Athanasios the Great teaches, when we refer to “the apostolic faith that was delivered to us by the Fathers” we do not mean any arbitrary teaching that someone “concocted from outside”, but the faith that has been carved out “according to the Holy Scriptures.” (PG 26,605 D).
Therefore, according to the New Testament, “Jesus said […] and from the beginning of Creation, God made them male and female” (Mark 10:5-6); and this reference to Genesis 1:27 of course also applies to its epilogue, which describes the creation of the two sexes as “very good” (Genesis 1:31).
How is it therefore possible - in view of this “very good” status of God’s work (which also includes the biological gender) – for the holy Fathers to project antithetical teachings? And how much more so, when the Bible itself with the following words: “ an advance warning for all homosexual and transgender proclivities ?
Therefore, Mr. Steiris, perhaps unintentionally, has implemented a stratagem in order to achieve another type of “Orthodox” opening on the issues of gender: he strives to create the “mitigative agnosticism” that we mentioned earlier, by presenting the Patristic teachings - which pertain to the future state of man in the Kingdom of Heaven - as if they likewise apply in the present phase of Divine Providence, which is the phase of the Fall.
In his work “On the Creation
of Man” (chapter 19) Gregory of Nyssa writes, for example, that
when mankind finds
itself in the Kingdom of Heaven,
we will not be
living “by food and drink” but that “afterwards
in the Kingdom
of Heaven) “we will be rid of such a function” (PG 44,196 BC).
Likewise paradoxical is Mr. Steiris’ article, which "blends" all references together, without taking into consideration the Patristic demarcations about what applies “before” and “after” the Second Coming... For example, from within chapters 16 and 17 of Gregory of Nyssas’ “On the Creation of Man”, we cannot possibly ignore the fact that today we are neither in the era of the Paradise of the First-fashioned (Adam and Eve), nor are we yet in the Kingdom of Heaven. We are currently living in the phase of the Fall, where the “very good” biological specifications (including the two sexes) that God’s Providence had given mankind are currently valid and which should be “utilized for man’s sanctification” on his path towards Theosis (deification).
Both Gregory of Nyssa and Maximos the Confessor are major personages of Orthodox philosophy and it is far wiser that we study what they are actually teaching, unadulterated.
In conclusion, we should be reminded that all of us are carrying the loads of this Fallen world (genetic characteristics, disabilities, psychological particularities, family history, etc.), in which world each one of us is struggling with his own personal battles, great or small, with its good and its bad moments, with victories and with losses. Saint Paul believed (which is why he used to say it) that he was “the first among sinners” (1 Tim.I:15), while Saint John the Evangelist wrote: “if we say that we have no sin, we delude ourselves” (1 John 1:8).
This means there is not a single sinless person in the Church, that could make the homosexual or transgender person feel cast out - because he is supposedly in a space comprised only of “saints.”
As for those who want to regard “the others’” problems as “graver” than their own, let them always remember the quote “do not judge, lest you be judged.”
We would therefore direct every individual with transgender concerns, as well as every Christian, to the excellent webpage https://omofylofilia.gr which was created by an Orthodox Christian wrestling with homosexual attraction, through which website he helps us all to comprehend the multiple facets of the matter.
(1) Dionysios Skliris, “BIBLIOSTASION: ‘Knowing the Purpose of Creation through the Resurrection. Proceedings of the Symposium on St. Maximus the Confessor (2012)’” Theology 3/2013, pg. 354.
(2) See Luke 20:34-35: “The sons of this age engage in carnal intercourse and marry […] in that age they will neither engage in carnal intercourse nor will they marry."
(3) Question 99 in: "Maximi Confessoris Quaestiones et dubia" (ed. Jose H. Declerck), Leuven University Press, Brepols 1982, p. 75-76. (see image of excerpt below, left - with translation beneath)
Gregory of Nyssa
Gregory of Nyssa- "Canonical Epistle to Letoium, Bishop among the saints" - Migne Patrologia Graeca vol. 45, col. 228CD
(5) Synodicon of the Orthodox Faith in the liturgical book “Triodion”, p.157a.
Article published on: 10-06-2018.
Article updated on: 12-06-2018.