Same-Sex Pair Uses Orthodox Wedding Service

ssm-orthodox

[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.

Update: Thank you to Rod Dreher for mentioning this article on his site and also to Timothy Fountain for the mention on Stand Firm in Faith!

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.

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44 thoughts on “Same-Sex Pair Uses Orthodox Wedding Service

  1. Very well reasoned Fr. Andrew, thank you! This was clearly a ceremony held by members of a different belief system and spiritual tradition than Orthodox Christianity.

  2. Thank you Fr. Andrew for posting this. As you know the “tolerant” society in which we live is becoming increasingly intolerant of such open and honest dialogue based on truth and reason (and not sentimentality). It is so very important, now more than ever, for Orthodox Christians to be informed, well-read, articulate, and to “speak the truth in love.” Your postings no doubt help the faithful to fulfill this sacred responsibility.

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  4. My question is: how do we help to bring them home? Daniels Storrs was once a cherished friend of mine and it broke my heart to see him leave the Church he once seemed to love so much. This sacrilege is beyond heartbreaking. I pray, but it seems really hopeless when they are, in essence, telling themselves they are what Orthodox ought to be. Is this apostasy beyond a return to the mother Church?

  5. There were lots of good thoughts in your article, but this one succinctly described exactly what this thing was: It was a Lutheran wedding service imitating Byzantine liturgics.

    Spot on.

    • Except one problem: any traditional Lutheran order of service (outside the ELCA, of course) would de facto by its language exclude the joining of a man and a man. This is a non-Christian blasphemy masquerading as a Christian wedding service under the guise of mis-appropriated Byzantine liturgy.

    • This should not be considered a Lutheran service, any more than it should be considered an Orthodox service. The Pastor should not be considered a Lutheran pastor. When he was ordained, he vowed to teach and preach in accordance with Holy Scripture, and the Lutheran confessions, contained in the Book of Concord. In conducting this service, he is doing neither. I wish all the people involved well, and I will be praying for them, as well as praying that the church body to which the pastor belongs will return to being a Christian church.

  6. A very well written post. Thank you, Fr Andrew. Those like me who are in the Millennialist generation often find it difficult to oppose the arguments of folks like these. I have many dear friends who are gay. I was just invited the other day to a wedding between two women I know. I sympathize with these folks, but I also don’t feel that homosexual marriage is from God. So, I usually just remain silent.

    • I only wish that more Orthodox and Fundamentalists would follow your lead and just remain silent. Every gay person has heard your views. Why not move on to something else? Tattoos, or divorce, or polyester might be good choices.

  7. Once again we find humans trying to make the doctrines of the Faith conform to their wishes rather than striving to make themselves conform to the examples given to us by our Lord and His holy Apostles. I ask all the Faithful to pray for them, for me and for each other that the Light of God will fill our lives and show us the knowledge of His Truth

  8. I can really relate to the commenter Jeremiah. I also have gay friends who are very outspoken about their sexuality. What we see here is wrong. It is not a judgment of their character, it is not a condemnation of their lives, it is a simple fact. Gay marriage can be justified by the law and by the logic of many people, but in the context of the Orthodox Church, marriage between two people of the opposite sex can never be correct. These two men have been fooled by the Enemy, like many of us have been fooled by the illusions of happiness and “love” that our society offers. I sincerely hope and pray that they will realize what they’ve done and they’ll return to Communion with God and the Orthodox Church, as unworthy as my prayers are.

  9. This story has set off my old fundamentalist beliefs, I can see a preacher screaming that this “marriage” will be the cause of God’s Wrath to be poured upon the whole world. I am glad that you kept it in the spirit of denounce the sin yet do not condemn the sinner, as is your way. Also you making it clear that it was not Orthodoxia.

  10. That this couple refers to this as a Greek Orthodox marriage, despite the fact that it occurs outside of the church, is such a glaring delusion. The state may be able to legally define what is a marriage, but only the Church can define what is an Orthodox Christian marriage – that is not up to these individuals. It is baffling how they can wear the crowns of martyrdom, when they were not even willing to sacrifice the outer trappings of a ceremony that should only be occurring within the Orthodox Church. This story is really sad. I hope that God opens their eyes!

  11. My wife supports gay “marriage”, she is not Orthodox. Needless to say, we disagree on this often. I try to be logical about this, not once sounding judgmental, she, as with most who support gay marriage, defends their happiness, it always becomes emotional. It’s literally as though we speak TWO different languages. I hope and pray that we can bridge the language gap. Lord, have mercy. Gabe, I like your St Antony quote, because that’s how I often feel.

    My biggest concern, maybe someone already said this, is that when people read an article like this from HuffPo they’ll assume the Orthodox Church approves of gay marriage. We have to be well informed and willing to engage with the culture, being in the world but not of it.

      • And alas, it seems, when we do get in the public eye there’s some chance that it will be with a piece like this or the other recent Huffington Post article from David Dunn, which went by the insipid subtitle “An Eastern Orthodox Defense of Gay Marriage,” The piece quoted above lends the appearance of Orthodoxy to unknowledgeable or lazy readers. Dr. Dunn’s, on the other hand, puts forward the incredible notion that moral and spiritual concerns that have a mystery associated with them should be separated from society at large and, on account of the holy mystery, kept within the Church, which should have no interest in interfering in the related civil matters (hence his conclusion, let there be same-sex civil marriages, since they won’t be recognized in the Church anyway). He has a PhD after his name, he’s Orthodox, and he talks about “our theology,” so, although he’s not a member of the clergy, there’s some … unfortunate authority that some may perceive in his writing.

        Of course there are good article out there from Orthodox. Not that anyone reads them. There was even one in the Cleveland Plain Dealer not long ago by a local priest. It’s nice to see level-headed and well-informed Orthodox chime in on this matter.

        Good post.

  12. I am from Romania and many Romanians read this article. Very well explained. We started having problems in our country with this kind of people and I hope I’ll never get to see them getting married in a church! That’s how we got to this article explaing that it’s not an Orthodox wedding anyway because media is trying to fool people that the Orthodox Church accepted marriage between two gay people. They’re trying to make it seem normal to other people I guess. God help us all!

  13. “This day was ultimately sacred because I was one of the grooms…,” says Kostakis. If there were any doubt about Kostakis’ clarity, that should lay it to rest.

  14. Kostakis has no idea of what “sacred” means. It really does not matter what the two grooms think or what they believe about “marriage”. It really only matters what God says in His Word (Holy Scripture). Marriage is between a man and a woman. Period. God does not bless this “event”. These men are only fooling themselves and this article is deceitful by leading readers to believe that this “event” has been ordained by God and that the Orthodox Church is in agreement. They are not living according to God’s will but their own will.

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  17. “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.”

    This is key insight into the line of propaganda/public relations which has worked so well in this country. Every TV show, movie, print publication and newscast that features homosexuals always focuses on their happiness. You will also see them portrayed as victims; victims of society, or some institution that has so cruelly taken their rights. This campaign is obviously the result of a coordinated strategy to completely alter the cultural landscape in this country. And it has worked, especially on women.

    What is never portrayed is their despair, nor the incidents of aggressive homosexual harassment of heterosexuals, men and women – but mainly men. I’ve both seen this and experienced it, and it is extremely disgusting and abusive. Would that the mothers who have fallen victim to the pro-homosexual message come to know what some of their sons have experienced.

    So, for folks (like the many Romanians reading this article) who live in a country that has not experienced the level of indoctrination that has occurred here in the US recently, take these warnings and spread the message of how this propaganda works, and counter it the best way you can. Once they win the hearts of your women, they’ve won.

    • It ain’t the bottom of the ninth yet Jason. There will be hard times for the Church and there will be persecution, Holy Scripture warns of this, and the Church needs to prepare those that may fall to this error in thinking, yet not give in to it or lose courage to be a true light to Christ.

      • jrj1701,
        You are right. I should have ended with “…they’ve won a significant battle.” But definitely not the war. Thank you for that comment. Faith, hope and love endure forever.

    • With your remark about mothers and my sighting of the icon of the Theotokos before the grooms, all I can think of is a line from one of Fr. Peter Jon Gillquist’s songs, “…as the Theotokos cries….”

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  19. Timothy Fountain’s article sounded to me much more like an angry, rather bitter child than a Christ-like, Orthodox-formed consciousness. Our Lord attacked only one group of people,
    religious hypocrites. He ate his meals and spent his time with all the rest.

  20. Reblogged this on Orthodox Ruminations and commented:
    “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.”

  21. Fr Andrew, thanks for posting. I too re-posted on the Ancient Faith Today facebook site. I spoke with a friend who is an ELCA Lutheran minister of 25 years. He says that the ELCA has not developed an official same sex wedding service rubric for ELCA pastors (who are men and women) to use. They can use the official service and change “he” and “she” but they can also design their own. I wonder — although as reported the men here were associated with the Orthodox Church – if this is one of the reasons for their use of Byzantine liturgics.

    • Because the two men were from Indiana and because SSM is legal in NY, my guess is that they specifically sought this Lutheran pastor in Manhattan out and presented their plan to him. The ELCA’s approach to marriage certainly facilitated this, though.

  22. It goes back to the question of what the value of such a “blessing” is. The fact that a clergyman of some stripe or other says the words, if those words are not backed up by God’s blessing they are worthless. The only standard we have to discern whether or not such “blessings” are really blessings is the Ecclesiastical Tradition which certifies it. To call the “blessing” portrayed in this ceremony as real, one would have to deny practically the entirety of Church Tradition from the first to the twenty-first centuries. It’s kind of like money. If a counterfeiter manages to manufacture the near perfect counterfeit five dollar bill, some may be fooled by it for a time, some may even manage to purchase something with it, but eventually the fraud — i.e. the fact that it is not backed by the U. S. Treasury — will be discovered, and the bill will be recognized as worthless.

  23. He has the Greek wrong too. The way it’s written is “”(we) thank you. We are thankful is “eimaste efxaristimenoi”.

  24. Misleading title. This is an ELCA service with a few symbols removed from Orthodox liturgical tradition … and I mean removed in the sense of used to serve another purpose. I suppose you could also baptize chickens but I hear washing raw chicken just spreads around the germs. Civil unions aside, Orthodox sacrament of marriage means something in particular. It doesn’t make sense to say I’m on my way to get married if I’m going to wash the car.

  25. Oye, Lutherans like this give serious Lutherans like myself a bad name. I would just like to point out that this is not something many Lutherans would ever think about doing. Some of us take the 1580 Lutheran confessions very seriously, and are aghast at what has been happening in the mainline Protestant world. Also, know that there are many serious Lutherans who have a deep appreciation for Eastern Orthodoxy and the things that we do have in common – I am shocked that these “Lutheran” pastors would [ab]use the Orthodox liturgies like this! If it is OK to say so (I will understand if it is not and if this comment is deleted), I have also started a series this morning on my blog trying to help and encourage serious (i.e. confesssional) Lutherans and Eastern Orthodox Christians to better understand one another. I’d be honored if any here would like to check it out.

    +Nathan

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