[HuffPo] Manhattan saw many couples married that day, but one wedding was different, not only because it was two men being married in a Christian church, nor because they were joined by 80 supportive family members, nor even because it was a fully legal marriage of a same-sex couple, but also because two thinly handcrafted silver metal hoops, seven inches in diameter, with decorative scrollwork on the side and a long ribbon tying them together, made an appearance during the ceremony. The stefana, or crowns, as they are commonly called, are symbols of royalty, martyrdom and unity and are used in the wedding ceremonies of the Eastern or Greek Orthodox Church. They are symbols of royalty because the marriage ceremony itself, in the Byzantine tradition, follows the form of a coronation, creating a small “kingdom” or family, as we would call it. The crowns remind Orthodox Christians of the holy martyrs because of the church’s ancient belief of martyrdom being linked to the concept of God’s crowning glory. Lastly, the crowns symbolize unity with their unending circular design and the ribbon tying them together.
Perhaps this same event has happened elsewhere in recent years (I hope it has), but I have been unable to locate any documented instances. So, very proud of our love, sexuality and family, Andrew and I stand hand-in-hand as two men married in the Byzantine rites of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Perhaps the service wasn’t within the walls of an Orthodox parish, but it was under the mantle of God’s love, and that is where the Church is truly found. Together we say in Greek, “σ’ευχαριστούμε,” which means, “We are thankful!”
Daniel Kostakis (né Storrs and referred to by that name throughout this article, just to keep things clear) writes on HuffPo about a ceremony in June, conducted by ELCA cleric Phil Trzynka (himself in a same-sex union and strangely referred to as the “priest” throughout the HuffPo article, although Trzynka’s own site doesn’t use the term) which joined him and Andrew Kostakis legally in a same-sex union conducted in Manhattan. Both men live in Indiana, where what they did in New York has no legal force. Both Storrs and Kostakis have a history as members of the Orthodox Church. This morning, Storrs called the ceremony the “historic first Greek Orthodox gay wedding” on Twitter.
Storrs, formerly an Orthodox subdeacon and convert to Orthodoxy, had been headed into the priesthood of the Episcopal Church USA but decided instead to pursue ordination in the Open Episcopal Church, because ECUSA didn’t crack down hard enough on their conservative clergy. (The OEC mainly exists on the Internet and does not require the usual theological education for ordination that most denominations do. Storrs himself serves a weekly Eucharist via Skype. Update: The OEC apparently also offers “host in the post,” sending consecrated communion wafers to people through the mail for a small fee.) Andrew Kostakis was raised in the Orthodox Church.
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.
Aside from the personal stories of those involved (which I’m sure are quite interesting), this event is noteworthy for several reasons. The first is that it is an instance of an Orthodox liturgical service being used outside the Orthodox Church. This isn’t the first time that’s happened, of course, and it’s also not the first time that Lutherans have done it. Ukrainian Lutherans have their own version of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, and one of my brothers-in-law was baptized by a Lutheran cleric using the Orthodox baptismal service (he somehow got an Orthodox priest to teach it to him; go figure).
I wasn’t there, so I don’t know how faithful this was to the traditional text of the wedding service, but from the looks of things in the photographs provided by Storrs in his article, it only just barely looks like the traditional service (aside from the glaring absence of a woman). One can, I suppose, excuse the Western vestments, but I’m not sure the Lutheran cleric knows exactly where he’s supposed to be standing. What is he doing with the Common Cup behind that table? And what was done with the reading from Ephesians 5:20-33? I’m not even sure I want to imagine what they might have done with all those prayers of blessing that invoke the names of all those Biblical couples—unrelentingly heterosexual, every one.
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.
This leads us to the bigger issue here, which is really ecclesiological. Storrs himself actually puts forward an ecclesiology in his piece: “Perhaps the service wasn’t within the walls of an Orthodox parish, but it was under the mantle of God’s love, and that is where the Church is truly found.”
Packed into that one sentence is a whole lot of ecclesiology. First, Orthodoxy doesn’t teach that the Church is found “within the walls of an Orthodox parish.” This betrays the legalistic sensibility that Storrs has regarding Orthodoxy in his piece, that it’s about canons and rules and walls. Orthodoxy knows that the Church is the people who are united to Christ in His Body and that that reality exists outside walls.
Second, read closely where Storrs locates the Church: “under the mantle of God’s love, and that is where the Church is truly found.” Sounds good, right? Who wouldn’t want to be “under the mantle of God’s love”? But isn’t all creation “under the mantle of God’s love”? Isn’t every human being “under the mantle of God’s love”? But that’s not the Church. The Church is a concrete community, founded and built by Christ through His Apostles, who in turn ordained successors to themselves. And the Apostles were led into all truth, which they passed on in tradition to those successors, who have kept handing it down from one generation to the next, showing the way to holiness through repentance.
If you get to make up your own theology of the sacraments, of morality, of anthropology, of the creation and of the Church, how exactly are you actually in any sense standing within the Orthodox tradition that produced the text of the wedding service that was used by the Lutheran cleric who joined Storrs and Kostakis?
One of the first teachings I remember encountering from the priest who would eventually receive me into Orthodoxy was found in a pamphlet he wrote that I still have around somewhere. In it, he very clearly and succinctly says that Orthodox tradition is either accepted as a whole or not at all. The meaning and power of the Orthodox wedding service come from its context within the tradition. If you accept that tradition, then the service has its meaning. But if you don’t, what you’ve received isn’t the Orthodox wedding service. It’s something else.
The Rev. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick is pastor of St. Paul Orthodox Church of Emmaus, Pennsylvania, author of Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy (Ancient Faith Publishing/Conciliar Press, 2011), and host of the Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy and Roads from Emmaus podcasts.