Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

Homosexuality and the Church: A Coptic Orthodox Perspective

Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

Homosexuality and the Church: A Coptic Orthodox Perspective

Article excerpt

The following is an expansion of a lecture given by His Holiness Pope Shenouda III in November 1990 to a group of predominantly Anglican clergy in Great Britain.

In the Christian tradition of the East, "rightly dividing the word of truth" is done not with a scalpel but with a father's hand. The style of teaching is pastoral, conversational, intimate and loving. Unfortunately, the printed word cannot convey the concern in Pope Shenouda's voice, the gentle admonitions, even the embarrassment at having to introduce certain subjects into his lecture.

It has been a hallmark of Pope Shenouda's style of speaking that genuine compassion resonates in the midst of stem pronouncements. He is a man who accepts the calling of handing on all that he has received from the Tradition of the apostles. Although it would be much easier merely to echo the voices of change without regard for the truth, his genuine love and concern for his children make him completely forthright about doctrine and faith. Consequently, a "hard saying" may be accepted without any cruel inference being drawn. It is our hope that this message in what follows will be understood in such a light.

Pope Shenouda began his lecture by expressing his joy at having the opportunity to speak to the "pastors of the Church of England, I mean to the angels of the church and to the ministers of our Lord, those who were mentioned in the book of Revelation as stars in the right hand of our Lord. I thank God for the chance to speak to those to whom the Lord said, `You will be witnesses to me.' `Witness to me means witnesses to the truth, to the Holy Bible, to the commandments of God, to what the Holy Spirit has said to the churches...

The holiness of the church

"The first matter about which I wish to speak is the holiness of the church. In the holy creed we say, `We believe in one holy church.' This holy church is apostolic and catholic. In the apostolic age, all believers were called saints. In the language of the Bible a believer means a saint, because we are sanctified with faith, sanctified in baptism, sanctified in the holy chrism, sanctified by the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. We are not merely human beings, we are temples of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is abiding in us, as it is written in I Corinthians, chapters 3 and 6. As temples of the Holy Spirit. we should have communion with the Holy Spirit. The work of any believer is not only the work of a human individual, but is actually the work of the Holy Spirit.

"We are also the image of God, and we carry the image of God to the world. The world sees in our conduct, in our behaviour, the proof that we are the real children of God. Recall the beginning of some of the epistles of St Paul. To the Romans, for example, he writes, `Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ' called to be an apostle. separated to the gospel of God..., to all who are in Rome, beloved of God. called to be saints In another epistle he writes, `To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.' Again he also says in his second epistle. `To the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in all Achaia.' When he writes to Ephesus, he sends his greetings to all the saints in Ephesus: to the Philippians he says the same. In Hebrews 3 he writes to `those who are called to the divine call who are saints also.'

"If we are supposed to be saints, how must we behave as saints, charged as we are with carrying the holy iconic image of our Lord to the world? In the apostolic age, not everyone was allowed to enter the church, only those who were worthy to attend the holy eucharist and partake of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. This holy life is what we are called to, because we are the children of a holy Father. St Peter speaks about this point and says, `as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, "Be holy, for I am holy. …

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