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From Sports to Cloning, the Church Speaks

Photo (c) Pravoslavie 2000In a desperate dash to catch up with the departing 20th century, the Russian Orthodox Church this week proclaimed its values on virtually every aspect of modern life - from cloning to contraception, from homosexuality to divorce and from nationalism to globalization.

It did so in a 100-plus-page document that was introduced for the first time this week to the church's 146 bishops - and adopted by them Tuesday after less than a day of discussion.

The document itself was drafted in secrecy over a six-year period, under the supervision of the 12-man Holy Synod, which runs the church day to day. Although the Council of Bishops is supposedly a superior organization to the synod, the lightening speed with which such a sweeping and potentially controversial "social doctrine" was rammed through without debate suggests the synod is in the driver's seat.

Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, which issued its first social doctrine in 1891 - the papal encyclical Rerum Novarum - and which ever since has spoken out on many aspects of public and private life, the Orthodox Church has previously had only private opinions on many modern matters.

That changes with the doctrine adopted this week and posted on the church's web site at Copies of it will be printed for every parish in the nation and included in the curricula of all seminaries.

In some aspects, as in its unequivocal condemnation of homosexuality and abortion, the document simply reaffirms the biblical and canonical norms of the church - on topics largely avoided in the Moscow Patriarchate's official statements over the past decade.

In others, it has dealt with new realities that could not have been imagined in the period up to the eighth century, when the body of Orthodox canons was codified.


At a time when some Protestant churches have taken to performing homosexual marriages, the Orthodox Church reaffirmed its view of homosexuality as "a sinful damage of human nature" which can be overcome, as with other "passions of fallen man," through penance, fasting and prayer.

"Discussions about the so-called sexual minorities in the modern society tend to recognize homosexuality not as a sexual perversion, but only as one of the 'sexual orientations', one that has an equal right for public demonstration and respect," the document says. "Bearing pastoral responsibility for people with homosexual inclinations, the church at the same time decisively opposes attempts to present this sinful tendency as a 'norm' and even more, a subject of pride and an example to be followed."

The document mildly "suggests" that people who "propagate" a homosexual way of life should not be allowed to teach at schools or hold positions of authority in the army or in penitentiary establishments.


It remains to be seen how the doctrine will play at the grassroots of the church - there is no tradition for the codification of doctrinal matters, and parish priests and the laity can be poorly educated and fanatically aggressive.

But the Council of Bishops has declared that the church must shift its priorities from building cathedrals to filling them with Christian life, and insisted the doctrine would not be shelved. They say it has been written to cover the next several decades.

18 August 2000
Andrei Zolotov Jr.
© The Moscow Times


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