A Report on the Homosexuality Debate in the Orthodox Church of Finland
A debate on sexual ethics goes on in the Orthodox Church of Finland, and a lot of information circulates about this debate, especially abroad causing confusion, because it is suspected that this information has been exaggerated in some ways. Moreover, those who have reacted to the problems of the local Church in various ways have been viewed in unfavourable light, and they have often been labelled as fanatics. For this reason, the board of our association has decided to create this report to be published on its website. The debate of the Orthodox here in Finland will be presented, including documents that will cast more light on it. We hope this will help the reader to have a better understanding about the matter.
The Introduction that follows, is a summary of the debate; after that comes the report itself, on the course of the events. After the report, you’ll find the documents that will cast more light on the matter.
Since 1990, those pursuing liberal sexual ethics have maintained a debate on homosexuality in the Orthodox Church of Finland in the mass media. In 2003, some priests of our local Church were involved in the process of establishing the movement Community operating in an ecumenical spirit, which pursues full equality of homosexuals in Church, up to priesthood. In the same context, the Orthodox Rainbow Society (a society promoting equality of homosexuals), was established in Finland in 2006. According to the report of the Society itself, also includes employees of our local Church.
In the autumn of 2005, four lay theologians of the Finnish Orthodox Church sent an inquiry to the Orthodox Episcopal Synod, asking about the possibility of Orthodox priests to participate in the work of the movement Community, due to the new openings in sexual ethics, but the Episcopal Synod didn’t react to the inquiry in any way. In early 2007, three Orthodox lay theologians visited Archbishop Leo and discussed the topic with him, giving him a memorandum on their views. Through the Orthodox members of the movement Community, this memorandum leaked to the public, and the movement compiled a distorting press release on it, distributing the press release through Suomen tietotoimisto (the Finnish News Agency) to the press of Finland. At the turn of 2007–2008, the Bishops of the Orthodox Church of Finland discussed the memorandum both in their Episcopal Synod and in their report, sent to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and stated that sexual ethics represented by the movement Community doesn’t fight against Orthodox tradition, and there is no need to prohibit Orthodox priests from participating in the activities of the movement.
In the end of 2008, the Brotherhood of Saint Kosmas of Aitolia published a book called Homosexuality in Light of the Orthodox Tradition. It consists of quotations from the Bible, the Church Fathers, and the Elders of our own times. The book was strongly attacked in the press representing our local Church and in the Internet. Soon after the book was published, Archbishop Leo stated in the official press of the Finnish Lutheran Church that registered same-sex couple relationships aren’t a problem in regard with Orthodox laymen; neither do they prevent their full-scale participation in the sacramental life of the Church. This interview was quoted in many secular daily newspapers and in Orthodox journals, and the views presented in it caused a lot of offense among both the clergymen and the churchgoers.
A completely new stage was experienced in the spring of 2009, when the Orthodox Rainbow Society and the movement Community arranged a conference of European Christian homosexuals in the town of Järvenpää near Helsinki. The contribution of the Orthodox was so strongly present in the program that it is well-grounded to assume that it took place with the blessing of the local Bishop. Originally it was planned that Metropolitan of Helsinki Ambrosius would himself participate in the conference, but the offense caused by the event among the Orthodox, even abroad, finally forced him to stay out of it.
The ideology of the movement Community spreads intensively in the Orthodox Church of Finland, because the members of the movement and its supporters have for a long time been in control of the media of the Church, and they occupy many key positions in our local Church.
The aim of pursuing liberal sexual ethics isn’t a random phenomenon in the Orthodox Church of Finland: at the same time, there are voices in the Church, demanding a change of view on ordination of women and the Freemason Movement. The timing of Pascha celebrated in the Orthodox Church of Finland differs from that of the other local Orthodox Churches; and in ecumenical movement, the boundaries between confessions have become badly obscured. All this indicates that ecclesiastical consciousness is undergoing fatal changes in Finland. The solution to the question on homosexuality plays a pivotal role here. It will seal the future direction of our Church, as well as the question, whether the Orthodox Church of Finland will continue its existence as a genuinely Orthodox local Church.
Prelude for the debate
It seems that the wave of questioning the traditional view of the Church on homosexuality began in issue 3/1990 of Logos, a journal directed to the young readers of the Orthodox Church of Finland. This issue of the journal was in general dedicated to the topic The Church and sexuality. In the editorial of the journal, the Editor-in-Chief (Kimmo) Tapani Kärkkäinen wrote, for instance: “In our special feature issue, we haven’t searched for the most usual views that might perhaps have been easiest to digest. We consider that those views gain publicity, anyhow.” These words illustrate the debate on sexual ethics desired by the Editor-in-Chief of this journal in our local Church, because this debate hasn’t even in its initial stages been interested in the responses provided by the Tradition of the Church, but in the demands posed by our secularized time and modern society. In the article of the issue Tell me what I may do with my body, Kari Kaskela and Johannes Myyrä question Christian sexual ethics as a whole and turn the individual into an ethical norm as such: “When we define the ‘permitted’ forms of sexuality, we turn our own activity into a norm for the other. Jesus urged us to love our neighbour, not to standardize his/her behaviour – – . When we require the Church to have a clear-cut sexual morality, we forget to ask who the Church is. Who is allowed to speak as the Church? Does an employee of the Church, who has graduated from a seminary, speak more in the name of the Church as we ourselves do? Are we again pushing the responsibility away from ourselves?”
The journal also included an extensive interview of an Orthodox homosexual, many views of whom are very problematic from the viewpoint of the philosophy of the Church. The anonymous interviewee says: “I feel that my sexual orientation isn’t an essential feature in my relationship with God or the Church. My homosexuality is outside the things related to spiritual struggle and salvation, or, perhaps it could be better described as something neutral – – . In my opinion, sexual orientation is as insignificant for salvation as being left-handed. But questions related to sexuality and power, violence, responsibility and human dignity are related to theosis and salvation. However, in my opinion, in these issues, it is not important, whether the sexuality of a person is oriented to the other gender or the same.” The interviewee denies the bans on homosexuality set in the Old Testament by stating that in his opinion, the Law of the Old Covenant isn’t in effect in any way during the New Covenant any more, and he states that according to current Bible researchers, the corresponding parts in the Epistles of St. Paul are related to prostitution, rather than to homosexuality, and says: “No matter what, I have never recognized myself from the picture drawn by St. Paul. I don’t believe that Paul talks about the kind of homosexuality related to my life, for instance. It’s possible that Paul simply doesn’t know what he is talking about.” The interviewee evaluates the work of the spiritual fathers of our local Church in the following way: “ – – my own spiritual father knows about my homosexuality and he knows that I live permanently with another man, and in my opinion, he has adopted a very wise attitude in this matter. Once I brought this matter up in the beginning of my confession and we talked about it for a while, and then my spiritual father said: ‘Well, let’s talk about the sins now– –’, meaning that I should now proceed to my sins. On the other hand, I have heard that some priests pose acts of penance to homosexuals. Therefore, it would be good to have a public discussion on this topic and the clergy to receive instructions and information so that no violence of such a kind would be carried out in the name of pastoral care.”
Already a quick glimpse to the debate on homosexuality in Finland shows that we face two tragic facts: firstly, those who have joined the Orthodox Church as adults haven’t sincerely wanted to adopt the Church’s way of thinking and to adapt their lives to it; and secondly, in this and in many other things, the Finnish Orthodox haven’t been courageous enough to display the teaching based on their Tradition. Therefore, we are all partly guilty of the current situation prevailing in our local Church, even though the greatest responsibility is shouldered by the highest leaders, because when someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required (Luke 12:48).
From a random topic into a permanent one
After Logos had opened the game, the question on homosexuality was brought up several times in the life of the Orthodox Church of Finland in the 1990s. John, who at that time served as the Archbishop, said in Aamun Koitto (the chief journal of the Orthodox Church of Finland), issue 20/1995: “According to the statement of the Editor-in-Chief of Aamun Koitto, the editors have recently once again received inquiries about the view of our Church, for instance, because Sweden has recently decided to legalize same-sex unions.” In his reply, he referred to the clear-cut statement issued by the Episcopal Synod of our local Church, issued on 31 August 1992, and stated: “Upon the request of the Editor-in-Chief, I present a few principles related to this question, even though it has been examined even before, and one might hope that it would even otherwise be clear for all those who know something about the Orthodox views on sacramental marriage.”
Issue 4/1997 of Aamun Koitto brought homosexuality up in a particularly striking manner. Tapani Kärkkäinen published in it an exceptionally extensive article Orthodox Church blessed male unions, using John Boswell’s book Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe as his source. The article was widely disapproved among the Finnish Orthodox, as reflected by the comment published in the Letters to the Editor page of issue 7/1997 On the course of Aamun Koitto. In it, Mika Kangasaho first wonders the unsuitable timing of the article chosen by Kärkkäinen, and writes: “The contribution of Aamun Koitto in Christian construction during the Great Lent is extremely peculiar. In the issue 4/1997, a lot of pages were dedicated to an article certain to attract a lot of attention by its speculation on eventual homo-erotic dimensions of male unions blessed by the Church and even on the nature of love between the Apostles and Christ. Is this an attempt to bring journalistic ins and outs to Aamun Koitto and to attract indignation, especially when the writer of the article doesn’t apply any kinds of scientific criticism on his sources, as required by the topic?” This article inspired an expert comment from Greece (On Brotherly Unions), but Aamun Koitto didn’t publish it, even though it was neutral in its tone and written in good Finnish. This text is nowadays readable on the website of our association in the Topical Discussions part. Kärkkäinen’s uncritical and shocking article, which he himself now calls a synopsis of the book, unfortunately still exists on the websites of the movement Community and the Orthodox Rainbow Society, for instance.
The Act on Registered Partnership being discussed in the Parliament of Finland inspired Professor Erkki Terho to write an article in Logos issue 3/2001 with the headline Orthodox Church and Homosexuality. Having first presented the Tradition of the Church in a meritorious manner, he then nullifies it with his own subjective views: “In studying the Bible, I have also paid attention to the fact that Jesus didn’t say anything about homosexuality. In the Bible, the condemning view announced by God is in the Old Testament, when the cultural situation was completely different from that of our times. In interpreting the condemning words in the Epistles of St. Paul, we should keep in mind that Paul was an educated Jewish erudite and along with spreading the Gospel, it was his duty to fight against all pagan Hellenic influences. The Holy Fathers of the Church were mostly ascetic monks, and thus they didn’t have any prerequisites to understand the formation of human sexual identity.” This article inspired good comments in the next issue of the journal (Logos 4/2001) from theology student Jarmo Ihalainen (Homosexuality isn’t innate) and Master of Theology Markus Paavola (Tradition of the Church and homosexuality). In Logos 5–6/2001, Jyrki Härkönen tried to negate the latter of them with his contemptuous style, although this comment was theologically particularly competent.
Tapani Kärkkäinen brought the topic up again in Logos 1/2002 in his editorial called Act on Registered Partnerships causes headache in the Church. Having stated that the disputed Act on Registered Partnerships has come to effect in Finland, and the first partnerships of Orthodox homosexuals and lesbians have already been officially confirmed, he started asking, how the Church reacts to them: what happens, if an employee of the Church registers a same-sex partnership; or will the priests even in the future bless the shared home of a homosexual or lesbian couple, as they, according to him, have always done! Stating that the Orthodox Bishops have commented the Act already when it was under preparation, emphasizing the unique nature of a marriage between man and woman, but simultaneously adopting a positive view on the attempts to diminish all kinds of injustice in society, he says provocatively: “Now the Bishops have kept silent. Is that a sign that there is nothing to add?” In the final part of his editorial, Kärkkäinen also says: “And in this issue, we publish an article on the view of the Early Church on sexual relationships between women. Thus, it is the message of Logos that information and once more information is needed to serve as a basis for the discussion.” The said article had been written by Jyrki Härkönen and it was based on Bernadette J. Brooten’s book Love Between Women; Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism. Härkönen’s article, which provides as little real information to serve as the basis of the discussion as Kärkkäinen’s previously mentioned article, is still found in Finnish on his personal website under the headline Jyrki Härkösen kirjasto (Jyrki Härkönen’s Library).
Ecclesiastical bomb: the movement Community and the Orthodox
The provoking statement made by Kärkkäinen was like a battle cry. Due to the fact that the Bishops hadn’t touched it in any way, matters far-reaching for our local Church started happening in 2003 after our Church had received its new Archbishop. At that time, the movement Community with a Christian tone, which operates on an ecumenical basis, was established in Finland to promote the rights of sexual minorities. Some Orthodox and expressly some Orthodox priests played a very visible role in founding the movement. While the number of the Orthodox is slightly over 1 % of the entire population of Finland, 9 of the 33 founding members of the movement Community were Orthodox, including four priests and four spouses of priests… The Rev. Heikki Huttunen has been the soul of the Orthodox and one of the central figures in the movement, just as editor Hellevi Matihalti, a member of the movement Community herself, implies in issue 1/2007 of Aamun Koitto journal, saying that he “was among the first ones to sign the declaration of the movement Community”. The active role of the Orthodox was also praised by the Chairwoman of the movement Community, female Dean of the Finnish Lutheran Church Liisa Tuovinen in the Guest Writer column of Helsingin Sanomat, the major daily newspaper of Finland, on 19 July 2009: “The Orthodox have played a strong role in the movement from its very beginning.”
However, for those who are committed to the Orthodox Tradition, the goals of the movement Community are completely unacceptable: 1) Homes of gay and lesbian couples will be blessed, when requested; 2) gays and lesbians working in parishes can register their same-sex partnerships without fear of consequences; 3) Churches will adopt measures to ensure that gay and lesbian couples may receive blessing to their registered same-sex partnerships, when requested. Moreover, from the point of view of the Orthodox doctrine, the allegation of the declaration, according to which “the Bible doesn’t contain any part, which would condemn a faithful marital relationship based on respect and commitment between people of the same sex”, sounds extremely radical. The statement of the signatories of the declaration: “ – – we are confident that, in accordance to the promise given by Jesus, the Holy Spirit will guide us towards the truth” is close to blasphemy in its context, because the Orthodox Church has never experienced its Tradition as one which as if evolves through evolution from a vague start into a culmination; since Pentecost, the Church has been a pillar and basis of Truth. It is impossible that the dogmatic or ethical teaching of the Church could through the Holy Spirit evolve into a complete opposite in the course of time!
At first, the work of the movement Community was chiefly indirect in the Orthodox Church. For instance, a seminar on Orthodox Church, Sexuality and Minorities was arranged on 25 May 2003 in the Church of St. Herman of Alaska located in the capital region. Orthodox priests and members of the movement Community Heikki Huttunen and Timo Lehmuskoski spoke in this seminar. In the seminar, Huttunen said that in his view, “holy fathers pay very little attention to homosexual orientation in their theology on sexuality” and Lehmuskoski, on the other hand, stated emphatically: “Homosexual orientation isn’t a voluntary choice by man, and therefore, in my opinion, it has to be considered an act of God”. After this, theologically simplified and daring claim, Aamun Koitto, which reported about the seminar in its issue 16/2003 continued: “Even though gays and lesbians cannot have a church wedding, they, in Timo Lehmuskoski’s view, have an opportunity for reciprocal love and growth – recovery in the sense of accepting themselves as they are. They, too, have to direct their lives towards God.”
In the same year 2003, the movement Community was involved in compiling the anthology Sin or Blessing. Homosexuals, Church and Society (in Finnish). The book also includes an article written by the Rev. Heikki Huttunen and editor Tapani Kärkkäinen together under the headline Orthodox Church and Homosexuality, in which they violate Orthodox theology and desecrate it. They turn Christian ethics a phenomenon dependent on times, with an individual in its center. According to them, “the fathers and mothers of the Orthodox Church characterized it as a way of mysteries, because its route isn’t visible for the beginner in advance”. Like Khristos Yannaras, they divinize sexuality and present it as a “way into Transfiguration” – a view that was sharply criticized by the great elders of the Holy Mount of Athos, Paisios and Theoklitos from the Monastery of Dionysios. The writers even say that “sexuality leads to the sources of being a human being and basic experiences”… However, the most fatal mistake is made by the writers, when they start explaining their views of sexual ethics by appealing to the Holy Trinity, turning the Live and Holy God into a human idea and a melting pot of the phenomena of the fallen world. They say: “The Trinitarian community allows difference inside the local community. Ethical examination of human sexuality should be characterized by this diversity and respect for ‘the other’, because it is a question of harmonizing difference and of a variety of identities and expressions. Trinitarian community is also equal: none of the hypostases is above the others. Different identities find their justification inside it.” Hiding their obscure message into the bright robe of sublime theology they say: “The concept of the Christian faith as the ultimate and exhaustive cosmology doesn’t do justice to the spirituality of the fathers and mothers of the Eastern Church, in which apophatic theology often plays a role more important than that of cataphatic theology and hesychastic silence is as important as prayer expressed in words.” Even though the writers also present criticism expressed in the Orthodox Church against homosexuality, they state in the end: “On the other hand, some participants of this debate have an understanding that even homosexual encounters and relationships may have something of the original purpose of sexuality present in them, and that even in those, amidst human shortages and vulnerability, there is a chance to reach something of the divine-human love opened by Christ.” On the basis of these and several other points, we could say that the characterization of the editors of the book – according to which the articles in the book share the “conviction that sexual difference isn’t a threat posed on the Church or society, but the love contained in it is a blessing for both” – can also be applied to Huttunen’s and Kärkkäinen’s article. In this way, their article has immortalized the ideology of the movement Community into Orthodox theology and its views spread unofficially as the comment of our local Church on homosexuality!
In summer 2005, the journal of the Orthodox Parish of the City of Helsinki, Ortodoksiviesti 6/2005 published a writing Discussion on Homosexuality. It was signed by four priests, three deacons, three lay theologians, three wives of priests, and two Orthodox editors. All of them, with the exception of two, were members in the movement Community. In the article, the signatories commented the possibility of registering same-sex partnerships: “This matter is to some extent discussed in the world.
The official views of the Churches emphasize the special meaning of heterosexual partnership and marriage, and are negative about homosexual partnerships and their public registration. Medical research, according to which sexual orientation isn’t a voluntarily chosen feature, has encouraged many theologians to think about the matter from other points of view, too. According to Orthodox anthropology and the basic concepts of ethics, a matter that cannot be solved by man himself cannot be a sin, at least not on a personal level. Respect for others and the divergent, which is one of the crucial ethical models posed by Trinitarian God to man, applies to the sexual orientation of another being, too.” After the peculiar view presented in the last sentence, the writers continue and present another claim that is theologically at least equally daring, but don’t wish to reveal, to whom they refer: “The return of Orthodox theology to Eastern patristic sources, which has occurred in the past century, has also influenced on the general view on human sexuality. Attempts have been made to get rid of the western view of original sin and negation of sexuality related to it, and to emphasize the view on the original goodness, beauty and potential holiness of sexuality. Some Orthodox theologians have stated that this touch of beauty and holiness is present in all human sexuality, independent on its orientation.”
In her own article published in the same journal, Kersti Juva, who always respectably appears under her own name, expresses her delight of the fact that even the Orthodox Church of Finland has finally started talking about homosexuality. However, she wonders about the coldish tone used by some writers in this context, as well as the way to read the Bible, which, according to her, is unfamiliar for Orthodox Tradition, and which is borrowed from Protestant fundamentalists. In reality, she only means with this that the Revelation of the Bible, according to them, is binding in matters related to dogma and ethics, even in our times. She ends her article in a peculiar and simplified comment: “The core of the faith is unchanging, but the way, in which it is manifested, is alive and changing. The time has come for the Finnish Orthodox to see that we gays and lesbians are quite the same sinners as all the others, and that there are as few (or many!) grounds to condemn all homosexual relations as there are for hatred of Jews.”
In the beginning of October 2005, a seminar was arranged at the church of St. Herman of Alaska in Tapiola in the city of Espoo, which examined the Church as a community of different people (Aamun Koitto 21/2005). In the seminar, many immigrants told about their experiences, but one of those who had been requested to speak was a young man, who lives as a gay and who appeared under his own name. He said that many homosexuals suffer from great anxiety and a feeling of alienation, because many churches don’t accept sexual minorities in their context, but he gave the Rev. Heikki Huttunen and the Orthodox community of Tapiola special credit in this context.
Inquiry to the Episcopal Synod and the Orthodox Rainbow Society
When information on the membership of the Orthodox in the movement Community was gradually spreading, four Orthodox lay theologians sent on 29 September 2005 an inquiry to the Episcopal Synod on the possibility of Orthodox priests to be involved in the work of the movement. The Episcopal Synod discussed the inquiry about a month later in their meeting, but surprisingly didn’t ever convey any information or a response to those who had made the inquiry. According to Archbishop Leo, the discussion on the matter in the Episcopal Synod, however, led into a situation, in which the Orthodox members of the movement Community added the following text to the declaration of the movement: “We the undersigned members of the Orthodox Church commit ourselves to the values of the movement Community and work for them within the framework of the Holy Tradition and canonic tradition of our own Church. We hope that the Orthodox who belong to sexual minorities could find their spiritual home in their own parish and that an open and objective discussion on issues related to sexuality would promote tolerance and love for one’s neighbour in our Church.” However, due to the fact that the Orthodox members of the movement Community didn’t define their relationship to the goals of the movement in any way, the enclosed addition didn’t diminish the problematic nature of their presence in the movement Community. The credibility of the enclosed addition is also diminished by the fact that they had originally signed exactly the same operation principles and goals as the others had done.
The Orthodox Rainbow Society was established in 2006, obviously as a counter-reaction to the inquiry made to the Episcopal Synod. This may also have been based on the inactivity of the Episcopal Synod in meeting the efforts of changing sexual ethics. The members of the Orthodox Rainbow Society characterized its founding in the following manner: “We are a group of Orthodox homosexuals. – – The recent discussion on homosexuality in the Orthodox Church of Finland has convinced us to come out as a society, in order to make our own voice heard in the discussion related to ourselves.” According to the Orthodox Rainbow Society, its goals include, for instance, the following: “to make sexual minorities visible in the Church as persons created by God in His own image; to promote open and pertinent dialogue and constructive interaction in the Church, seeking and serving Her truth; to clarify the views on homosexuality in the Church in accordance with present-day knowledge; to communicate and cooperate with other Christian LGBT groups and support groups in Finland and abroad”.
Already without a more detailed analysis of the goals of the society, we could say that the work of an association encouraging homosexual way of life in the lap of a local Orthodox Church raises this matter to a completely new level again. Neither the Episcopal Synod nor any individual Bishops have expressed any criticism against the work of the Orthodox Rainbow Society although, according to the statement of the Society itself (Statement 10 April 2007), employees of our local Church participate in its work.
Journal Aamun Koitto 1/2007 and the letter delivered to the Archbishop
Aamun Koitto, the chief journal of the Orthodox Church of Finland “excelled itself” once again in the beginning of 2007 by bringing up the ideology of the movement Community in a strong manner. Editor Hellevi Matihalti interviewed five men in the journal, and four of those thought that the traditional teaching of the Church should be revised; only one said that he holds to the tradition. Two of the above-mentioned four interviewees were Orthodox priests of the movement Community (Heikki Huttunen and Timo Lehmuskoski), and two young Orthodox, who live as homosexuals. One of them appeared under his own name. The views of the two Orthodox priests were both pastorally and theologically problematic. Heikki Huttunen in particular brought up his prejudiced and theologically shaky views. Due to this issue of the journal Doctor of Theology Hannu Pöyhönen wrote a comment to Aamun Koitto 3/2007, in which he concentrated on criticizing the views of Heikki Huttunen. A sign of the objectivity of his comment is the fact that he received from a very high-ranking and theologically knowledgeable Orthodox a surprising letter of gratitude, which said: “I have yesterday read your article in Aamun Koitto and with this letter I wish to thank you for your comments. In my opinion, they were well-grounded in every way.”
Aamun Koitto 1/2007 helped many Orthodox to finally learn how far the things had gone towards the direction of complete approval of homosexuality in the local Orthodox Church of Finland. For that reason, Doctor of Theology Hannu Pöyhönen and two other Orthodox theologians (Master of Theology Markus Paavola and Master of Theology Heikki Alex Saulamo) booked an audience at Archbishop Leo. When they went to meet the Archbishop on 14 March 2007, they left him a memorandum about the matters they brought up in the discussion. The following part in particular gave general offense in various circles: “According to us, the employees and clergy of the Orthodox Church cannot support the goals of the movement Community, at least in public forums. We seriously claim that the leaders of our Church should demand them to remove immediately their names from the site mentioned. Unless this happens, our consciousness demands us to act differently.” The last sentence in this paragraph was felt as a threat. However, in order to understand the sentence, it is important to keep in mind that the earlier inquiry made to the Episcopal Synod hadn’t led into any visible action, not even by sending a reply!
Reactions to the letter delivered to the Archbishop
Reactions to the letter delivered to the Archbishop came quickly, even though the Episcopal Synod discussed it only a year later. It was conveyed to the movement Community at an almost real-time speed, because the writers of the letter also sent it to the Orthodox priests and theologians who are members in the movement, including an accompanying note to it, because there were no intentions to act secretly behind their back. On 26 March 2007, the movement Community issued a press release with the headline Finnish Orthodox Bishops and clergy threatened for leniency on homosexuality, sending it to the mass media of Finland through the Suomen tietotoimisto (the Finnish News Agency). The press release says, for instance: “Archbishop Leo, primate of the Orthodox Church of Finland, has received a letter threatening with wide publicity, if the bishops of the church do not demand the removal of Orthodox signatures from a public statement on homosexuality. Personal letters with the same content have also been sent to the Orthodox serving the church, who have signed the declaration.” As an interesting detail, let us mention that on the basis of the last line in the press release (“Additional information: firstname.lastname@example.org), it is most likely that the press release had been compiled by the same person in charge of the problematic issue 1/2007 of Aamun Koitto…
Apparently on the basis of the press release of the movement Community, editor Taneli Kylätasku, who also belongs to the movement, contacted Doctor of Theology Hannu Pöyhönen in order to interview him to Kotimaa, the chief newspaper of the Lutheran Church of Finland. In issue 13/2007 of Kotimaa (published on 29 March 2007), in which the interview was published under the headline The Orthodox supporting the movement Community are threatened with a scandal, the interviewee had enough of determination and succeeded in correcting the sensational allegation about threatening with a scandal: “We don’t threaten; a scandal will emerge all by itself, if the information about the Orthodox priests who have signed the declaration reaches the other Orthodox Churches.” However, the allegation of the press release of the movement Community still exists in the headline of the interview, and thus it had a strong influence on the minds of the readers of this newspaper, which has a wide circulation.
On the basis of the letter delivered to the Archbishop, Jyrki Härkönen compiled two fairly peculiar articles on his own website under the headlines The Question about Homosexuals is Complicating Relationships between the Orthodox in Russia and Finland and Double Life. In the latter article, he slanders the signatories of the letter in a fierce and even implicating manner. The articles are still found at his personal homepage in the section Jyrki Härkösen kirjasto (Jyrki Härkönen’s Library), as well as on the website of the Orthodox Rainbow Society, where they are even translated into English. The peculiar end of the article Double Life, which the writer calls a column, illustrates the writer’s view best: “There might be one good consequence in this gay hunting. The Parliament might finally realize that times of state churches are over. Why should they finance an institution which is with this kind of devotion concentrating on the destruction of our multicultural and tolerant democracy?”
Other Orthodox protests
The events in early 2007s also attracted wholesome reactions in the Orthodox believers of Finland, other than the counter-argument published in Aamun Koitto 3/2007 and the letter delivered to the Archbishop. For instance, the Russians living in Finland expressed their strong concern in both Ortodoksiviesti 5/2007 and Aamun Koitto 11/2007 – in Ortodoksiviesti in Russian and in Aamun Koitto in Finnish. The article was signed by five people, and they concluded it in the words “We urge all the Russian-speaking members of our Church to note these problems. The era of silence has come to an end. For the sake of our children, many of whom were baptized in this Church; for the sake of the future of the Church, which faces the danger of spiritual and moral isolation in the Orthodox world, we will use all the possible chances to express our view in order to bring this madness into an end. Finally, to our great regret, we have to state that if these kinds of developments keep going in the future, we will find it problematic to remain under the Omophor of the Orthodox Church of Finland.”
Moreover, Vicar Veikko Lisitsin of the Orthodox Parish of the city of Kotka wrote a long article in the free-of-charge journal Analogi (4/2007) published by four Orthodox parishes in southern Finland under the headline Against Spiritual Blindness. In the final part, he emphasizes: “The Church doesn’t accept same-sex marriages, priesthood of homosexuals, female ordination, or Bishops and priests, who act against these doctrines of the Church! Especially now, when positive views on these matters have increased in society, the teachers of the Church and the parents and teachers of children must take seriously the correct position and teaching of the Bible and the Church in these matters. Otherwise this Society and churches are in a strange situation: they act against the basic teaching of the Bible and the Church! In my opinion, those Bishops, priests, deacons and employees of the Church, who teach and act against the views and teaching of the Church in these matters, should consider resignation from their posts.”
Finnish Episcopal Synod on the presence of the Orthodox in the movement Community
This time, even the Episcopal Synod adopted a position to the letter sent to the Archbishop, even though it did so only on 18 March 2008. In the text it sent to the writers of the letter and also published, the Synod says in the beginning: “The Episcopal Synod examined the comment on the movement Community, which has been compiled by Orthodox priests and laymen operating within its circles. The comment supports the rights of representatives of same sex to act as full-fledged members of the Church and considers that any kind of discrimination is sin. In the text they have compiled, Markus Paavola, Hannu Pöyhönen and Heikki Saulamo criticized that the comment of the Orthodox signatories doesn’t in any way dissociate them from the general goals of the movement. In their opinion, the relationship of the priests who have signed the declaration to the goals of the movement Community is a particular problem.” After this, the text continues in a fairly surprising manner: “The Episcopal Synod states that the members of the clergy have committed themselves either to marital life or celibacy. It is the demand and ideal starting from the personal decision made by each member of the clergy. The teaching of the Church cannot be revised on the basis of signing any declaration. It is valuable that the Orthodox who have signed the declaration state this: ‘We aren’t creating any new practices into the life of the Church or draw parallels between homosexual partnership and marriage’.” However, in this brief statement, the Episcopal Synod didn’t reply to the question that had been presented, but circumvented the problem they felt embarrassing – and in light of the introductory chapter, they did it intentionally. At the same time, the Episcopal Synod publicized a misleading view on the content of the letter, as if its writers had accused the priests belonging to the movement Community of unethical living.
The first sentence in the response of the Episcopal Synod reveals indirectly that the Orthodox priests and lay members of the movement Community had – upon the express demand of the Bishops – finally delivered them a new statement, in which they tried to solve the problem of their membership in the movement. The delay of this statement also explains why the reaction of the Episcopal Synod was delayed so much. The statement presented to the Episcopal Synod is exactly the same that is nowadays found on the website of the movement Community under the headline Community and the Orthodox. The text unofficially approved by the Episcopal Synod is a humanistic goodwill declaration to all minorities, and it doesn’t in any way determine the relationship of the Orthodox members to the concrete goals of the Movement. And now, when the Orthodox appear in the movement Community as a section of their own (Community and the Orthodox), each random visitor of the website immediately collides with the presence of the “Orthodox” in the movement, which makes the matter expressly emphatic and official! At the moment, the Orthodox are the one and only clearly named group in the work of the movement Community, while earlier they in a sense were lost among the others…
The Episcopal Synod has discussed the participation of the Orthodox in the movement Community also on 22 November 2007 in a report they sent to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In it, they express their approval of the sexual-ethical line of the Movement. The report states: “In the opinion of the Episcopal Synod, the declaration as such is not against Orthodox anthropology or sexual ethics. Equally, it commits to the support and work for full participation of everyone, including sexual minorities, in Christian churches. But it has been written in sociological style, and for this reason it may cause confusion among those Orthodox Christians who take some kind of fundamentalist approach.” It is sad that the report repeats the allegation of the movement Community on “threatening letters” received by the Orthodox members of the Movement and the Archbishop, and, on top of everything, in fairly strong words. This is also peculiar, because the topic had been discussed before the session of the Episcopal Synod in Helsinki between the Archbishop, Metropolitan Ambrosius and three lay theologians who had issued the letter to the Archbishop, in which this misunderstanding had been corrected. At that time, the Bishops expressed that they well understood the criticism of the writers of the letter and its necessity.
Orthodox book on homosexuality
Due to the fact that the question about the relationship of the Orthodox Church to the movement Community and the values pursued by it had in the spring of 2008 once again returned to the starting-point, the Brotherhood of Saint Kosmas of Aitolia decided to publish a book, in which quotations on homosexuality and sexual ethics would be compiled from the Bible, the Church Fathers, the canons of the Church and esteemed Elders of our times. This book, which was called Homosexuality in light of Orthodox Tradition (Homoseksuaalisuus ortodoksisen perinteen valossa, in Finnish), was publicized in the end of October 2008, and the publisher sent it free-of-charge to all the priests of our local Church.
Only a couple of weeks after the book was published, Archbishop Leo issued on 13 November 2008 a statement in Kotimaa, the chief organ of the Lutheran Church of Finland, in which he stated that he accepts homosexual partnerships for Orthodox laymen. This statement, which, in truth, seems to reflect more the views of the Archbishop’s Theological Secretary, who is a member in the movement Community, rather than the Archbishop’s own views, spread in various versions in both Orthodox journals and in nation-wide newspapers, causing a lot of confusion among the clergy and laymen of our local Church.
Less than a month later (5 December 2008), the chief organ of the Orthodox Church of Finland Aamun Koitto published an issue, in which Tapani Kärkkäinen, editor-in-chief of the journal, a member in the movement Community; Archbishop Leo; an anonymous (!?) representative of the Orthodox clergy; and an Orthodox layman who appeared under his own name and confessed his being a homosexual, criticized the said book and its views in fairly strong words. It was also the intention to interview the compiler of the book Hannu Pöyhönen to the journal, but his interview didn’t reach it in time, or, rather, the editorial board didn’t consider that they could have published it in its entire extent. On the basis of this issue of the journal, Aamun Koitto received numerous Letters to the Editor, and “for equality”, two of them were published in issue 1/2009 – one of them defended the book under the headline Truth is not to be denied, and one opposed it under the headline In the darkness of tradition. In addition to the first-mentioned comment, written by Fr. Timo Soisalo, the journal didn’t later give any room to other comments, which included constructive criticism about the line of the journal and our local Church.
Moreover, the Orthodox Rainbow Society reacted in real-time to the book, publishing a review on the book on its website already on 5 November 2008. In the review, the Society warned sensitive people against reading the book. Although in its nature, the book is a compilation of the eternal teaching of the Church, the anonymous writer of the review resorted to exaggerated defamatory rhetoric characteristic of extremist movements: “A question arises, whether it is the goal of the book to destroy the sin of homosexuality from the earth by driving all those with that orientation into suicide?”
The degree of activity of the Orthodox pursuing a new kind of sexual ethics can also perhaps seen in the fact that soon after the book was published, the website of the movement Community received a new section under the headline “Community” and the Bible. It consists of a lengthy exegetic article, which in its spirit and results is a genuine reflection of Western exegesis of our times: the article revokes all the points negative about homosexuality, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, and adopts the parts of the Bible, which talk about love neutrally on a general level, as its guiding principle. This exegetic section is extremely problematic for Orthodox theology, because with the argument of love it revokes the Bible as a whole as well as the Tradition of the Church, even though, according to Christ, love is the thing that makes God’s revelation significant. The new section that appeared on the website provides one more ground to the demands that our Bishops must oblige the Orthodox priests and lay theologians to withdraw from the movement Community. Even though the Orthodox priests and Orthodox lay theologians of the movement Community haven’t defined their view on the official exegesis of the movement, it is sad to note that in their speeches and writings they repeat these views, which are against the Tradition of our Church.
In the spring of 2009, the Orthodox Diocese of Helsinki arranged a supplementary education course in Theology for its clergy in Cultural Center Sofia on 13–14 May. On the latter day, only one topic was examined: homosexuality. There were two lectures on this topic, given by Vicar of the Lutheran Parish of Leppävaara in Espoo, Docent Kalervo Salo; and Professor Emerita of Exegesis at the Faculty of Theology of the Helsinki University, Doctor of Theology Raija Sollamo. In his lecture, Vicar Kalervo Salo said that he knows the book written by Doctor of Theology Hannu Pöyhönen, and stated that in the Lutheran Church, they rely on everyone’s own morality and ability to find an answer for their own problems. He also said that in accordance with the Lutheran thinking, the Parliament acts as appointed by God and that its power is given by God, also when the Parliament, for instance, decides about registered partnership. Professor Raija Sollamo, who is Lutheran, too, and also a member in the movement Community, analyzed the parts of the Bible which are negative about homosexuality, and questioned their binding nature, appealing to timeline and viewpoints of contemporary science. According to her, there are diverging ingredients in the Bible, too. Thus, she characterized the friendship of David and Jonathan as a homoerotic relationship that included hugging and kissing. Moreover, she stated that Jesus was in such a close interaction with His disciples that it is easy to think that it had not been only a relationship between the teacher and the pupil. In the end of her speech, she still emphasized the defense of same-sex partnership as a sign of true Christian love, and suggested that the Church shouldn’t discuss the question, whether same-sex partnership is justified or not, because it is decided by the Parliament, and the Church should just think how it could support the homosexuals in their marriages. It is noteworthy that none of those present in the lecture expressed any kinds of criticism against the views brought up in the lectures. On the contrary, the Orthodox priests present in the event emphasized in their comments that those who oppose the blessing of the lives of same-sex partners are fundamentalists and imbalanced, and that they suffer from homophobia. Therefore, it seems that this “supplementary course in Theology” was intended to convey the opposite view of the leaders of the Diocese to its clergy against the book published by the Brotherhood of Saint Kosmas of Aitolia, which had been delivered to all the priests of the Diocese of Helsinki, too.
Conference of sexual minorities in Järvenpää
The question on homosexuality in our local Church rose to a completely new level along with the international conference of European Forum of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Christian Groups held in the town of Järvenpää on 20–24 May 2009. It had the topic of Courage to Follow the Law of Love. One of the official organizers of the conference was the Orthodox Rainbow Society, as the Activities section of the website of the movement Community tells (“movement Community was the official organizer of the annual conference of the European Forum in 2009, together with, for instance, the Arcus network; Malkus; and Orthodox Rainbow Society.”). Moreover, the presence of the Orthodox Church of Finland – assumedly with the blessing of the local Bishop – was strongly felt in the everyday program of the conference. The following headlines, which in some cases are very confusing, have been selected in the official English-language program of the conference:
— Together we give a voice to our praise of Creation. Practicing the akathist to the Praise to God for all creation, a service which is easy to learn. All who want to sing welcome. Orthodox cantor and music teacher Tuomas Sidoroff (21 May at 17:00–18:30 hours).
— General Secretary, Father Heikki Huttunen, Ecumenical Counsel of Finland, Orthodox Church of Finland: Human sexuality in the Orthodox theology (22 May at 10:00–13:00 hours) [The movement Community characterizes Heikki Huttunen as a keynote speaker of the Järvenpää conference].
— Our response to persecution – growing towards spiritual strength. Johan Slätis (22 May at 15:30–17:00) [a student of Orthodox theology at Joensuu University].
— Can male priest love and live with a man? Discussion with an introduction by an Orthodox priest working in southern Finland (23 May at 09:00–10:45 hours).
— From invisibility to visibility. Spiritual and communal ways to establish a rainbow identity in an Orthodox context. Introduction to the theme by Orthodox Rainbow Society members (23 May at 11:30–12:45 hours).
— Orthodox vespers (20 May, 21 May and 22 May, always in the end of the evening).
Metropolitan Ambrosius also intended to attend the opening of the conference himself, but due to the great national and international commotion caused by the matter, a few days before the conference he probably considered it best to stay out of it. The Rev. Johannes Karhusaari, who has slightly earlier been nominated the priest in Järvenpää, appeared instead of him in the opening, as told by the press release of the movement Community on the opening on 21 May 2009: “Father Johannes Karhusaari (boldface in the press release) from the Orthodox church in Järvenpää presented greeting words in the opening. He hoped that the Orthodox who belong to sexual minorities could find their spiritual home in their own parish and that they could fully participate in the liturgical life, prayers and sacraments of the church.” However, obviously due to ecclesiastic diplomacy, it wasn’t desired that Johannes Karhusaari’s name would be visible in the official program of the conference, which sounds rather peculiar.
The program revealed in advance many features, due to which it should have been possible to realize that the visible presence of the Orthodox Church in the conference was a mistake. One of these was the lecture of a Bishop of the Lutheran Church of Finland, Doctor of Theology Wille Riekkinen How to define theological stand on homosexuality, and the Dancing Conference that was arranged as the evening program of the first day of the conference. Even the official Russian news agency Interfax noted the conference in a press release it published on 21 May 2009 under the headline Clerics of Constantinople Patriarchate to participate in a gay conference in Finland. In it, Interfax quoted some details of the program in a rather ironic tone.
However, the conference became very problematic for the Orthodox Church of Finland, above all, for the reason that those who participated in the conference received a completely false picture about the attitude of the Orthodox Church toward homosexuality. It is well-grounded to believe that the modern approach of the Orthodox has encouraged many participants to such an extent that in their home country they may approach a local Orthodox Church, where they are very likely to face a surprise, colliding with a conservative and “intolerant” spirit. At worst, the approach of the Orthodox Church of Finland may increase in other local churches external pressure to re-evaluate their traditional teaching on sexual ethics. As a defense, we might perhaps state that the Orthodox Church of Finland wasn’t an official participant in the conference. However, it is self-evident that every participant of the Järvenpää conference felt that the approach of the Diocese of Helsinki was the approach of the entire Orthodox Church of Finland. We can with good grounds ask, whether one of the local Churches has the right to convey a message against patristic teaching – and, on top of all, in such a striking manner?
After the Järvenpää conference
Even though the Orthodox Church of Finland gained a lot of criticism and negative publicity about the international conference of sexual minorities in Järvenpää, it seems that the line of those pursuing new liberal ethics won’t change. An anonymous student of orthodox theology was on 28 May 2009 interviewed in Kotimaa, the chief organ of the Lutheran Church of Finland, who declared that it is the goal of the Orthodox Rainbow Society to “get some Orthodox parish to open its doors to vespers directed for sexual minorities and open for everyone a few times per year”. According to the interviewee, these rainbow services, as he calls them, have so far been arranged in the Lutheran church of the Kallio district in Helsinki. The said interview Anonymity protects against threats was, according to the student, published as an interview of an anonymous person, due to “a small group pursuing a hard-line counter-campaign” which every Orthodox and all the Lutherans who have followed the news items published in Kotimaa about this topic links to the Brotherhood of Saint Kosmas of Aitolia. This “small group pursuing a hard-line counter-campaign” was accused of many serious things. However, anonymity is an efficient way of defense also in presenting false accusations. Let’s mention that a Lutheran member of the movement Community acted as the interviewer of Kotimaa again.
In addition to the Järvenpää conference, it is likely that the Orthodox Rainbow Society also attended the Helsinki Pride event in June, because on its website it tells that it had attended the event already in 2007, a year after it was founded. The website of the movement Community advertised the event under the headline Make a Journey to Gay Finland 22–26 June 2009. During this event, the students moved around in vehicles in Helsinki, “bringing the colors of rainbow all over the city and presented the central gay regions of the capital city”. According to the program, Helsinki Pride 2009 culminated in the “hottest party of Gay Finland”.
Although the circles advocating the idea that homosexuality is a normal orientation are thus proceeding in a determined manner in our local Church, too, it is a fact that by the autumn of 2009 the Episcopal Synod hasn’t been able to present any statements on homosexuality as an ethical problem. The statement that same-sex partnerships cannot be identified with Christian marriage isn’t a response to the phenomenon as such, and it cannot remain the final statement of the Episcopal Synod in this matter.
“Open atmosphere for discussions”
Many of those who pursue the interests of the homosexuals in the Orthodox Church of Finland have repeatedly advocated for an open atmosphere for discussions, but it has repeatedly been proven out to be an empty phrase. Instead of discussion, they have so far just been labelling the representatives of the traditional approach as fundamentalists and presented arguments, which don’t emerge from a Christian world view and the Tradition of the Church, as the Rev. Timo Soisalo says in his Letter to the Editor comment in Aamun Koitto: “One mark of aggressive and determined fight is the act of dishonouring and swinging the axe of stigmatization. The mark of foolish fundamentalist is stamped in everyone, who dares to defend Christian basic truths. The subject is allegedly discussed. In fact, there is no discussion, but by the strenuous and public sticking to the subject they seek and demand approval for homosexuality in our Church.”
The seeming nature of the discussion was revealed, when the Orthodox priests, who are members in the movement Community, refused to meet the signatories of the letter delivered to the Archbishop in a closed event at their own home area, to which Metropolitan Ambrosius invited the signatories, and to which the signatories were ready to travel from afar. At first, the date of the meeting was “sought” for half a year, and then Metropolitan Ambrosius declared that the priests of the movement Community finally don’t intend to participate in the meeting, because not all of them agree to attend it. This conveyed a picture that the priests of the movement Community don’t have serious grounds for their membership, even though, on the other hand, the cancellation of the meeting implies that perhaps there weren’t any serious plans to arrange it, because it would naturally have been easy for the Bishop of the Diocese to oblige his priests to participate in it.
The genuine desire of the Orthodox members of the movement Community about an open ecclesiastical discussion atmosphere is also questioned by the fact that in the beginning of February 2009, two Orthodox priests who belong to the movement raised in a police district near Helsinki a libel charge against a person, who had criticized their actions in the movement in sms messages he had sent to them. Let’s also mention that all the three people have known each other for fifteen years, and one of the priests has even taught religion to the person he was suing. When a policeman phoned the said person, he mentioned a few other names, too, but when he heard the background, he didn’t contact them. The matter was settled and the charge was dismissed. However, in about a month, the other of the two priests raised a new charge against the same person in the Helsinki police district, this time for libel and unlawful threat. The charge was based on the above-mentioned sms messages and one message on an Internet discussion forum, which the said priest had mistakenly assumed to be linked to the person he accused… In the middle of May, the Helsinki police announced that they will discontinue the case, due to its insignificance and costs.
The Orthodox of the movement Community acted in a similar manner in regard with Doctor of Theology Hannu Pöyhönen, because soon after his book was published, one of them contacted the principal of the educational institution in which he teaches, and accused him of matters that proved out to be groundless. It was alleged that he had in a three-day course of Orthodox ethics concentrated on homosexuality alone, even though this theme was touched for about 15–20 minutes in a 90-minute lecture on sexual ethics. Moreover, it was alleged that he had at that time been selling his book. Before the matter was dropped, it went as high as to the board of the educational institution, which is chaired by an Orthodox priest who belongs to the movement Community. Undoubtedly, it was the goal even here to silence criticism against the Orthodox members of the movement Community through such a warning.
Unfortunately, cases of this kind seem to be on the increase.
Scope of influence of the Orthodox members of the movement Community in the Finnish Orthodox Church
As the facts presented above show, the Orthodox members of the movement Community make themselves heard in our local Church, because they have exceptionally important seats in it. This can be swiftly noted by everyone who casts a glimpse on the list of the Orthodox members of the Movement. They have for a long time been in control of the Orthodox mass media, for instance. Due to this and their often questionable methods and efficient networking, a Greek “Theoprovlitos”, who is well aware of the Finnish matters, has on his website started talking about gay mafia in the Orthodox Church of Finland. Even though this allegation may sound fierce, a local Orthodox Bishop used exactly the same term in a discussion with a member of our Brotherhood, independent on the said person.
Parallel with the mass media, the ideology of the movement Community has gained visibility in the schoolbooks on Orthodox religion in the past few years. In the summer of 2007, Jyrki Härkönen compiled for senior high schools the book Orthodox ethics and dogmatics – richness of ethical thinking and doctrinal heritage in the Orthodox Church. In addition to numerous big dogmatic problems – the writer alleges, for instance, that natural disasters, just as all the evil causing destruction and sorrow, is irrational and also a mystery for God” (page 66); and that “the Church was created so that it could be split into pieces” (page 67) – the book also contains ethical views on corporality chiefly comparable with Gnosticism of the early Christian era. The problems occurring in the book are serious, above all, because the book was published by the Council for Publication of Orthodox Literature, i.e., the official publication department of our local Church.
Here are some examples of the problems of Jyrki Härkönen’s book in the field of ethics:
— On page 58, the writer states that “according to Gregory of Palamas, human body isn’t an enemy, but a friend on the road towards transfiguration”. However, in saying this, he detaches the philosophy of St. Gregory from its correct context (physical ascetism and participation of body in prayer). On the basis of his mistaken starting-point, the writer alleges that “Christianity, which emerged and had influence in the Mediterranean region considers that – – sensuality and passion are positive things” and that “divinity of corporality was the radical message of the Gospel”.
— On the same page (58), the writer appeals to Olivier Clément and states that the views of the Church Fathers on sexuality were bound to the social morality of their times, and after it he doesn’t hesitate to draw his own conclusion: “The Fathers were able to create a new view on personal and freely operating God, but didn’t agree to extend this freedom to sexuality.”
— On page 57, the writer speaks about “sexual ethics of Paul”, which, from the point of view of Orthodox theology, is somewhat peculiar, as if Apostle Paul had in the field of sexual ethics represented a line of his own, something detached from Christ! The writer questions the authority of Apostle Paul in ethics, for instance, by alleging that “it was his goal to be loyal towards the Roman society in his views on morality” and stating that Paul “wasn’t such an unambiguous and undeniable authority for his contemporaries as he has been in the later centuries.” Therefore, in the end, the writer is able to state: “Orthodox view on love and sexuality contains many various ways.”
Jyrki Härkönen’s book has often been defended by stating that it doesn’t attempt to “review the concepts on right and wrong, but tries to provide fresh viewpoints into ethical questions through Orthodox anthropology”. However, we can with good grounds ask, whether senior high school pupils are able to adopt a critical view on the allegations of the book, which strongly reflect the personal views of its compiler? Isn’t it a task of the ever-declining religious teaching in schools – especially in regard with a religious minority – to offer the pupils expressly the world view and life of the Church, stretching out towards sanctity, because that’s something they cannot get anywhere else?
Ecclesiastical way of thinking is changing
Many may be amazed how some people can strenuously for years complain about the Orthodox members of the movement Community and about the view of our local Church on homosexuality in general. However, they aren’t loose topics in our ecclesiastical reality, because they reveal that the way of thinking is changing here; let’s hope that it hasn’t been finalized yet. Our ecclesiastical situation is like a toboggan slide or skiing slope, along which we slide at an accelerating speed in an amiable atmosphere and with a smile. However, in this way, we slide farther and farther away from the top, from our starting-point – Orthodox Tradition. In the following we bring up some things that can serve as a gauge in evaluating the distance of our local Church from the Orthodox Tradition.
As a small religious minority, the Orthodox of Finland simply must take the dominating Lutheran Church into consideration. However, “ecumenical politeness” has started watering down the liturgical life of our Church. In a Diocese, for instance, the Bishop has in some cases allowed commemorating not only him but also the local Lutheran Bishop so that the Lutherans present in the church would feel more comfortable. According to the announcement of the local Bishop, one Finnish Diocese arranges an ecumenical divine service together with the Lutherans every month, but it’s true that it doesn’t include Eucharist. Nevertheless, it is a known fact that in Finland, many priests and even Bishops silently distribute the gifts to the heterodox, too. Metropolitan of Helsinki Ambrosius has even suggested that “Communion hospitality” with the Lutheran church should be adopted as a goal so that it would at the first stage extend to the (Lutheran) family members of the Orthodox in mixed marriages (Aamun Koitto 17/2005). In the proskomide, the nature of Communion and Eucharist as a sacrament of the Church has been violated in Finland a long time ago, because by the blessing of the Bishops, the priests regularly commemorate all the living and dead.
Metropolitan of Helsinki Ambrosius in practice counts Mikael Agricola, who is known as the Lutheran reformer in Finland, into the saints, when he says in Ortodoksiviesti 4/2007, circulated to the Orthodox households of the Helsinki parish: “Nothing prevents us Finns from commemorating Bishop Mikael in our private prayers, even though the calendar of Saints isn’t used in the Lutheran Church.”
In the opinion of the Rev. Heikki Huttunen, General Secretary of the Finnish Ecumenical Council, faith in Holy Trinity and Christ as God-Man is a sufficient basis for unity of Christians, i.e., to unite them into one flock of Christ. In the journal of the organization Näköala-Utsikt 4/2006, he says: “In the rules of the Finnish Ecumenical Council, this basis is expressed in the following manner: Churches and Christian communities, which, according to the Bible, confess the Lord Jesus Christ as the God and the Savior, are welcomed as members of the Council. Due to this common testimony, these Churches and Christian communities are striving together to fulfill their common calling for the glory of one God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The nucleus of the Nicene- Constantinopolitan Creed, shared tradition of the Christians of the east and west, has been summarized into this word formulation. It is a sufficient basis for spiritual unity of Christians, their common service, and confession in the world.” Soon he also specifies this thought, in which a “creed” developed outside the Church is raised to the position of its own Creed: “There are those, who would prefer to add something to the ecumenical basis. They may find it hard to trust that this nucleus of faith unites all those who commit themselves to it as disciples of Christ.”
Metropolitan Ambrosius goes even further. For him, those who belong to other religions are brothers in faith, and in praying with them, it is possible to experience something from the Miracle of Pentecost. The website of cultural journal Kaltio (http://www.Kaltio.fi/index.php?164) quotes one of his speeches, which he held, when serving as the Metropolitan of Oulu: “I had the opportunity to attend the joint peace prayer day in Assisi, Italy, in 1986, hosted by Pope John Paul II between various religions. In Assisi, representatives of Islam, Asian religions and religions of native peoples prayed together with representatives of various Churches for the peace of world. A few days later, this caused a great public commotion. Roman Catholics and we, the representatives of other Churches, were accused of syncretism (mixture of religions). The Holy See, which is better than the rest of us in the complicated figures of diplomacy, explained the event in the following manner: ‘We certainly didn’t pray together, but in the presence of each other.’ At least some of the people present, including me, experienced the situation otherwise. In my heart, I joined the prayers and sighs read by Hindus, Buddhists, Moslems, etc. The thought that the situation would be somehow unreal or absurd didn’t even come to my mind. On the contrary, the atmosphere resembled the miracle of Pentecost; a glimpse of hope amidst the variety of confrontations and upheavals of our contemporary world. Even as Christians, we were able to pray together for peace, because we understood that God was somehow present in the search of truth by the others, too.”
The newest “ecumenical” opening in our local Church seems to comprise yoga: famous Belgian yoga teacher Peter Marchand, one of the founders of the Sanatan Society, arrived to Helsinki on 3–4 October 2009 and taught yoga at the Orthodox Culture Center Sofia, which also serves as the diocesan center of Helsinki. The seminar went under the headline Yoga of Truth.
In the spring meeting of the Finnish Ecumenical Council, held on 27 March 2008 in Orthodox Cultural Center Sofia in Helsinki, Metropolitan Ambrosius in a way crystallizes the view of our local Church towards ecumenism in his speech Divine Wisdom in Post-Modern Twilight, saying boldly (http://www.ekumenia.fi/sen_esittaytyy) : “Finland is a model country in inter-church operation. If the Finnish Orthodox Church weren’t so bound by international praxis, cooperation might be even closer in Finland. We are the receptive part in the process; we follow the discussion going on in the Lutheran Church. And it has had an effect on us, for instance, in regard with ordination of women; in this matter, we certainly are on a wave completely different from the rest of the Orthodox world.”
Ordination of women
Metropolitan of Helsinki Ambrosius brought the question of female ordination to the spotlights in the Orthodox Church of Finland in the beginning of 2007 on the basis of an ecumenical document of the Anglican-Orthodox Commission about it. Helsingin Sanomat, the newspaper with the widest circulation in Finland, presented his views on 1 February 2007: “According to Metropolitan Ambrosius, ordination of women isn’t a factor separating churches. The Orthodox have an open approach to the matter, but consecration of women bishops faces big problems in terms of the doctrine of the church.” The same newspaper quoted him on 6 April 2007 and said: “According to Metropolitan of Helsinki Ambrosius, it isn’t impossible to think that women could be ordained priests in the Orthodox Church, too.” However, the question “isn’t topical yet”, and it hasn’t “so far been examined in any forums of the Orthodox Church.” Master of Theology Aino Nenola, Missionary Secretary of Orthodox Mission Association, interviewed Metropolitan Ambrosius about this topic in the radio during Holy Week 2007, and the timing attracted great disapproval among the believers.
Many female theologians and other female lay activists in the Orthodox Church of Finland commented the matter in the Letters to the Editor page of Helsingin Sanomat. Master of Theology Aino Nenola, Master of Theology Outi Vasko and Matushka (Presbytera) Leena Mikkilä-Huttunen wrote on 29 March 2007: “Many esteemed Orthodox theologians consider that ordination of women into priesthood is an open issue, for which they look for a solution through open discussion. Even though the initiative of the discussion arose outside the Orthodox Church – awakened by the ecumenical movement – it has matured into a debate of the Orthodox Church on gender and priesthood. – – The grounds for male priesthood lie in the tradition of the Church: women have never been ordained priests or bishops. This continuity is considered important, even if no-one is able to explain the theology behind it. Arguments on priesthood as an icon (priest as an icon of Christ) or different natures of man and woman are naturally very interesting in the theological sense, but they are least of all insufficient in explaining why priesthood as an office is restricted for men alone.” In the same newspaper on 4 April 2007, Student of Theology Riina Nguyen, Master of Theology Jooa Vuorinen and Student of Arts Elena Gorshkow-Salonen asked: “Can the church afford not to use the constantly growing group of women with theological education?” and added: “The arrogant attitude, according to which the Church doesn’t discuss some topics, ignores the constant and creative work of the Holy Spirit among us.”
Such a “theology”, in which Tradition is challenged to provide contemporary people with arguments acceptable for them and fit for their world view, is widely spreading in the Orthodox Church of Finland. Egotistical criticism admiring one’s own intellect has become a second nature, especially among the young.
Divorces of the clergy
Divorces of Orthodox priests have alarmingly increased in the past few years in Finland without any visible actions to restore the situation. It is likely that divorces are promoted by the fact that the divorced can now almost without exception continue serving as priests. In his article Against spiritual blindness, published in Analogi 4/2007, Father Veikko Lisitsin states: “In the end of the 1980s, there were only a few divorced (priests) in our Church, but since the end of the 1990s and up to now, there are about 30 divorced or separated priests, i.e., about 20 % of the ordained priests. This fact should awaken the Bishops and the Church to adopt measures in order to prevent such a trend.”
Upon retirement of Archbishop John, Metropolitan of Helsinki Ambrosius has several times tried to urge the Orthodox Church of Finland to revise its view towards Freemasons: first in 2002 (see Logos 3/2002) and later in 2007, when he spoke about this, for instance, in nationwide TV news. Freemasonry was strikingly brought up in the Orthodox Church in a new manner in the summer of 2009, when it was noted that Metropolitan Ambrosius had already twice in consecutive years himself actively invited the members of all the Freemason Lodges of Finland to his Diocesan Center Sofia (see official journal of the Finnish Freemasons Koilliskulma 2/2009). In connection with the EU election debate of the Rev. Mitro Repo, this matter was also discussed on a nationwide TV channel and in even greater detail on its website, where Tuomas Kerkkänen, news editor of the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE, wrote on 3 June 2009: “Metropolitan Ambrosius is known of his relationships with the business circles, and he has cooperated, for instance, with the Freemasons. He left the organization in the beginning of the 1980s, but has visited its meetings as a speaker until the recent years. According to his opinion, Freemasonry is nothing more than membership in the Rotary Movement. Therefore the prohibition in the canons against the membership in secret societies cannot be extended to the activities of Freemasons of our times.”
In regard with the Rotary Movement and the Lions’ Club, almost all the Finnish Orthodox priests are members in them, although in the Orthodox world they are considered outer courts of Freemasonry, because the “most talented” of their members are often invited to join the Freemasons. In the Orthodox Church of Finland, these movements can sometimes be criticized, but chiefly of elitism alone (see Logos 3/2002).
As is known, the Orthodox Church of Finland is the one and only local Church that celebrates Pascha together with the western Christians, i.e., at a time differing from that of the Orthodox Pascha. True, the permission for this was granted by the Orthodox Patriarch Meletios (Metaxakis) of Constantinople in 1923, when the Orthodox of Finland had sought shelter in the Ecumenical Patriarchate. However, the permission was meant to be temporary, and it should have been applied every year again. Now this “temporary” practice has been conducted for almost a century. Attempts have at times been made to inspire a discussion on returning to the praxis of the family of the Orthodox Churches, both in Orthodox journals and in bilateral discussions with the Bishops, but all the circles are strongly against a change. The most peculiar thing is the defiance based on self-sufficiency, according to which the Orthodox Church of Finland is a forerunner and shower of the way to the whole Orthodox world in questions related to Pascha. In the editorial of Aamun Koitto 7/1997, the official organ of our local Church, Tapani Kärkkäinen expresses in words the thought that is far too often heard in Finland: “We, the Finnish Orthodox, must not feel inferior in relation with the other Orthodox, whose churches are constantly in pain and lose their energy in calendar disputes. Many Western Orthodox in particular comment us in the following way: That’s a church courageous enough to solve the calendar issue in the way all the Orthodox Churches should do.”
During the year of lively debates, 2007, Metropolitan of Helsinki Ambrosius says in Aamun Koitto on 13 July 2007: “Our Church lives in the modern ages and looks ahead. Neither do we sigh for the old calendar. In our mission and confession, we take advantage of the best achievements of the culture of our own times.” However, the claim of the Metropolitan was questioned in Aamun Koitto 16/2007 by Doctor of Medicine Ilkka Soini, who pointed out that the question on Orthodox Pascha is still topical in our local Church. He said: “What, don’t we miss the old calendar? I have had innumerable discussions about this matter – at the latest a couple of weeks ago – and I can assure that in our autonomous local Church there is a remarkable group of active believers, both laymen and members of the clergy, who are conscious of their tradition and who in my way feel that the current calendar issue is an extra wound on the Body of Christ. There are innumerable connections, in which Finnish Orthodox have to try to provide explanations why we celebrate Pascha in accordance with the Western calendar – which was meant to be temporary and for which we should apply for a permission every year – and thus diverge from all the other Orthodox of the world.”
As the above may show, a deep-going change of the way of thinking is going on in the Orthodox Church of Finland, in which catholic truth is being replaced by Protestant individualistic thinking anchored to the spirit of the world. Therefore, those who appreciate the Orthodox Tradition in our country consider that the on-going debate on sexual ethics is an extremely serious stage, at which the future of Finnish Orthodoxy as a whole is at stake. Therefore Doctor of Theology Hannu Pöyhönen – writer of the book Homosexuality in light of Orthodox Tradition – replied in an interview by the Internet version of Aamun Koitto to the question “How important do you think that the topic (on homosexuality) should be examined in the Church?” in the following manner: “For our local Church, this topic is a question of life and death. If we now diverge from the universal Orthodox Tradition in this question, most probably already tomorrow we will diverge from it in some other crucial questions. Following this, soon the family of the local Orthodox Churches may not recognize us anymore as a representative of the Orthodox Tradition. Because the Church, illuminated by the Holy Spirit, has already settled this question, we should start to teach in line with the Tradition of the Church concerning this theme, instead of keeping up a discussion for the discussion’s sake. It’s also our duty to support all those who are struggling with this cross so that they would have strength to keep up the good fight of faith and take hold of the eternal life, to which they were called in holy Baptism.”
Compiled in autumn 2009 AD by The Brotherhood of Saint Kosmas Of Aitolia, Joensuu, Finland
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