Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Sermon: Transgenderism Comes to a Texas Suburb

Click here for a sermon given on October 27th, 2019, on the recent case of James Younger, and the push to indoctrinate our children in LGBTQP+ ideology:

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

The Ed Sullivan Canon (Response to "Meeting Michelle" Part 2)

You may have heard of the "Vincentian Canon," which is named for St. Vincent of Lerins, who famously said:
"But here some one perhaps will ask, Since the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient, what need is there to join with it the authority of the Church's interpretation? For this reason,—because, owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters. For Novatian expounds it one way, Sabellius another, Donatus another, Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, another, Photinus, Apollinaris, Priscillian, another, Iovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, another, lastly, Nestorius another. Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation.
Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense "Catholic," which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors" (Commonitory 2:4-5).
St. Vincent's definition here of Catholicity has been universally accepted, but it is certainly true that, for example, both Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians claim to accept it, but obviously would not agree on whether the Roman doctrines regarding the Papacy or the Filioque fit this definition.

I would like to propose a canon that I believe is a reasonable extrapolation from St. Vincent's, however. This canon will not settle the issues between Rome and Orthodoxy, but it is a quick way of dealing with some of the slam dunk questions that have arisen in our time. If a doctrine or Biblical interpretation was not believed by anyone, anywhere,  or at any time, prior to the Beatles appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show, it obviously is, by definition, contrary to St. Vincent's canon, and so can safely and swiftly be rejected by Christians as being contrary to the faith.

Let us look then at the recent article by Fr. Richard René. "Meeting Michelle: Pastoral and Theological Reflections on a Transgender Inmate."

We see a pattern in this essay, which we have noted before. As Sergey Khudiev wrote, in response to a previous statement by Fr. Robert Arida, which was likewise replete with studied ambiguity, liberal Protestants have “a particularity which entails a tendency to explain themselves with rhetorical questions, vague allusions and highly mysterious phrases from which you can with more or less justification guess at their positions, but are unable to explain clearly” ("Let Your Yea Be Yea and Your Nay Be Nay", July 5, 2011 <>).

Making use of some obscure sounding quotations from St. Maximus adds to this smokescreen, but in Tikhon Pino's response to this essay, he has shown rather conclusively, that Fr. Richard's appeal to St. Maximus the Confessor to support the suggestion that maybe there is some basis for transgenderism in Orthodox theology, is without any actual basis.

Fr. Richard concluded his essay with the following quotation from St. Maximus:
“The one who is perfect in love and has reached the summit of detachment knows no distinction between one’s own and another’s, between faithful and unfaithful, between slave and freeman, or indeed between male and female. But having risen above the tyranny of the passions and looking to the one nature of men he regards all equally and is equally disposed toward all.” (Chapters on Love, 2.30).
Now the obvious reason this quote was so used is because it makes reference to St. Paul's words in Galatians 3:27-28:
"For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus."
He obviously could have quoted directly from St. Paul, but most people have a Bible, but do not have a collection of the works of St. Maximus. This quote, along with the other dust kicked up by his attempt to make St. Maximus suggest something he clearly never would have imagined, no doubt leaves many readers scratching their heads and wondering if St. Maximus might really provide some basis for a man claiming to be a woman, trapped in a man's body.

If one were to take the most extreme possible interpretation of St. Paul's words, you might argue that St. Paul was saying that we no longer have any sex distinctions at all. But Fr. Richard's man named "Michelle" is not identifying as a genderless person united with Christ. He is a man who wants to believe, and have us believe, that he is really a woman.

Obviously, St. Paul was not suggesting that gender distinctions cease because we are in Christ. Throughout his epistles he repeatedly states his expectation that men and women behave properly in accordance with their sex.

The only reference in St. Paul's writings that we can find to people who today would be called "transgendered," is in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:
"Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate [malakoi], nor sodomites [i.e., homosexuals, arsenokoitai],  nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God."
To better understand the meaning of the word "malakoi," let me cite Anthony C. Thiselton's highly respected commentary on 1 Corinthians:
"[Robin] Scroggs allows [in his book The New Testament and Homosexuality] that while μαλακός may mean unmanly in general terms, more characteristically it is used of "the youth who consciously imitated feminine styles and ways." This all too readily slips into "passive homosexual activity" whether for pleasure or for pay.  From the classical period to Philo extreme distaste is expressed in Greek and hellenistic literature for the effeminate male who uses cosmetics and the coiffuring of the hair, for which Philo sometimes uses the term ανδρόγυνος, male-female (e.g. De Specialibus Legibus 3.37). These Issues lie behind the astonishing array of English translations in our versions.
In general there is broad (but not unanimous) agreement that μαλακοὶ in 1 Cor 6:9-10 denotes "the passive... partner... in male homosexual relations" (Barrett), but whereas Scrogg argues that it refers to the call boy who prostitutes his services to an older male, usually for pay, many others tend to regard the evidence for restricting the term to pederasty linked with male prostitution as at best indecisive and at worst unconvincing. Scroggs depends for his view on the background of pederastic practices in Graeco-Roman society (whether voluntary, or for payment) and the impact of this culture for the pejorative reactions in hellenistic Judaism (especially Philo)"  (The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmanns Publishing Company, 2000) p. 448f).
Robert Gagnon, in his book The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics, (which was endorsed by both Brevard Childs and Bruce Metzger (certainly among the most influential scholars in their fields (Old Testament and New Testament, respectively)), after discussing the conclusions of other scholars on this word, says this:
"In my own reading, the meaning of malakoi in 1 Cor 6:9 probably lies somewhere in between "only prostituting passive homosexuals" and "effeminate heterosexual and homosexual males." Because the word has a broad range of meaning in Greek literature, what it specifically means for any given writer will vary. However, here, Paul places this vice alongside a list of offenses that lead to exclusion from the kingdom. This suggests he refers to an offense more serious than simply a "limp wrist" (contra Martin).... Immoral sexual intercourse, then, would appear to be an identifying mark of the malakoi. Furthermore, the epithet "soft" itself suggests males playing the female role in sexual intercourse with other males" (The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2001), p. 307f, he discusses the term extensively, especially in pp. 306 -312).
There are no Church Fathers that read Galatians 3:28 as suggesting transgenderism. St. Augustine, for example, says:
"In this faith there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female; since all have been baptized, all are one in Christ Jesus. And if this is accomplished by faith, by which we walk righteously in this life, how much more perfectly and completely will it be accomplished by sight itself, when we see face to face (1 Cor. 13:12)? For now, although we have the first-fruits of the spirit (Rom. 8:23), which is life, on account of the righteousness of faith, yet because the body is still dead on account of sin, that difference, whether of peoples or of legal status or of sex, while indeed already removed in the unity of the faith, remains in this moral life. That this order is to be observed on this life's journey is the teaching of the apostles, who hand down very salutary rules as to how Christians should live together with regard to differences of people (Jews and Greeks), status (masters and slaves), sex (husbands and wives), and the like; and it is also the teaching of the Lord himself..." (Augustine's Commentary on Galatians, Eric Plumer, trans., (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2003), p 173ff.).
So let's now apply the Ed Sullivan canon here. Has anyone, anywhere, at anytime prior to the Beatles appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show, ever suggested that that St. Paul was teaching that because we are all one in Christ, and in that relationship and context there is neither male nor female, therefore a person who is biologically male can therefore identify as a female? Nope. Not a single person.

Now one is free to believe that the Church has been wrong on this all along, but one cannot be a legitimate Orthodox Christian and come to that conclusion.

Update: Fr. Maximos Constas, the translator of St. Maximus the Confessor's Ambigua, has a text available on Academia, with the following prefacing remarks:

"In his Chapters on Love II.30, St Maximos the Confessor cites Galatians 3:28, which states that in Christ there is "neither male nor female." This passage, along with St Maximos's remarks in Amb. 41 and elsewhere, have led to conflicting interpretations of the Confessor's views on gender. The commentary presented here is by Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra, and is taken from The Mystical Marriage: Spiritual Life According to St Maximos the Confessor (Columbia: Newrome Press, 2018). Elder Aimilianos was an astute and insightful reader of St Maximos, and his interpretation merits careful consideration.'

The text can be downloaded here:

Friday, October 18, 2019

Response to "Meeting Michelle" Part 1

In their never ending quest to promote the LGBTQP+ agenda, "Public Orthodoxy" recently publish the article: "Meeting Michelle: Pastoral and Theological Reflections on a Transgender Inmate," by Fr. Richard René.

In part 2, I will look at the underlying Biblical allusion in a quote from St. Maximus the Confessor, which Fr. Richard used to advance his point (Galatians 3:28), but given that St. Maximus is a difficult Father to read, and that my collection of his writings is far from complete, I asked a parishioner, Tikhon Pino, to comment specifically on Fr. Richard's use of St. Maximus. Tikhon Pino is a patristics scholar who acted as research assistant on Fr. Maximos Constas’s translation of St. Maximus the Confessor's Ambigua (Harvard UP, 2014), and so is well qualified to do so. So this could be the beginning of a "Stump the Parishioner" series.

Here are his comments:

That’s certainly one of the more superficial assessments of the transgender question that I’ve come across. Here we see a person who’s committed a violent sexual crime, and this priest simply takes him at his word that he liked to try on dresses as a child… and thus we have evidence that there’s something profoundly unique and mysterious about this individual? Never mind that his mom let him go on a gender-bending shopping-spree. I’m sure that doesn’t indicate further issues with his upbringing.

Anyway, given that the priest in question is so unwilling to move even beyond this poor man’s self-presentation as transgender, there’s not much hope for a deep reading of St. Maximos!

He refers, it seems to me, to three distinct things in St. Maximos’s theology:

1. One is the distinction between logos and tropos, or between the principle of nature (that which makes a thing what it is in accordance with God’s design) (=logos) and the mode in which things manifest or express themselves, whether in accordance with or contrary to nature. Usually this refers to the way we behave, but it can also refer to accidental features of a thing or the way it is (=tropos). Thus, St. Maximos talks about the birth or incarnation of Christ as preserving the logos but innovating the tropos (see Amb. 42). In other words, the essence or logos of Christ’s conception and birth is fundamentally and essentially human, but his birth is strange and unusual in that it was from a Virgin. Thus, though it has the same (human) logos, it has a different tropos. Maximos compares this to the water in Egypt that took on the quality of blood. It had a new tropos (e.g., being red), but it preserved the same logos in that it remained water. In fact, this is the case with every miracle. God does not destroy our reality or disturb nature; he simply makes things (which remain what they are) behave differently.

This whole distinction is ambiguously cast in the article as a difference between “our true identities” and the way we exist. But the principle of our nature is not, of course, “our true identity” in some nebulous sense. It is simply the way God made us and the way God wants us to be. It’s the basis, in fact, for natural law! That there’s a paradigmatic and normative sense of what it means to be human, with things that are good for us and things that are bad for us, makes it possible to say that there’s a right and wrong, and that God wants us to behave in a certain way, in accordance with our nature (see, esp., Amb. 7.17).

2. The second element of Maximos’s theology that he refers to is specific to Ambiguum 71, where St. Maximos exegetes the statement of St. Gregory the Theologian that “The sublime Word plays in all kinds of forms, judging His world as He wishes, on this side and on that.” The sense of ‘play’ that the essayist invokes is popular in certain modern (or postmodern) philosophies. But St. Maximos has a very different sense of ‘play.’

What St. Maximos himself says is about as far away as one can get from “suspending judgement” on moral issues. To begin with, he understands the word “play” as referring to the divine condescension of the Word, being the equivalent of the “foolishness” of God mentioned in 1 Cor 1:25:
“The great and awesome mystery of the divine descent of God the Word was accomplished through the flesh, a mystery in which the truth of right faith in God was given to human beings, and which, insofar as it utterly transcends the whole order and power of nature, was called the foolishness and weakness of God by the divine Paul, the great apostle, … whereas the great and God-minded Gregory characterized this mystery as a kind of “game,” on account of its surpassing prudence” (Amb. 71.2).
And again, ‘the “foolishness” and “weakness” of God, according to the holy Apostle Paul, and the “play” of God, according to Gregory the wondrous and great teacher, signify the mystery of the divine Incarnation, since in a manner beyond being it transcends the whole order and arrangement of every nature, power, possession, and activity” (Amb. 71.3).
To be sure, St. Maximos offers other interpretations. Another reading of “play” sees it as the very interchange that God undertakes between his own uncreated nature and our lowly world.
“The sublime Word plays in all kinds of forms, judging His world as he wishes, on this side and on that.” Is this not then the same thing that he says in his oration On Holy Pentecost, when he speaks about divinity and created nature? “As long as each nature remains in its proper domain, the one atop its lofty height, the other in its lowliness, God’s goodness remains unmixed, and His love for mankind is not communicated, and there is a great chasm in the middle that cannot be crossed
So here the emphasis of “play” is on the movement between God and creatures. So far, this has little to do with “suspending judgement” on anything like a person’s gender. But the passage that the author of that article seems to invoke is the following:
“We know that parents—if I may use examples we are familiar with to illustrate things that are above us—providing their children with opportunities to shake off their sluggishness, frequently condescend to their level, and thus we see them indulgently taking part in childish games, such as playing with nuts and knucklebones with them, or showing them many-colored flowers and colorfully-dyed clothing to beguile their senses, thereby attracting their attention and filling them with amazement, for young children have no other kind of work or occupation” (Amb. 71.6).
So far so good. The topic here is condescension. And the author of the Public Orthodoxy article would have us believe we must condescend to the level of self-identified transgender folk by countenancing some sort of mystery at work in their confusion about whether they are male or female. But if we look carefully at what St. Maximos says, it’s not about being open to some kind of [fallen] ambiguity surrounding our fellow sinners. He says very explicitly how God condescends to us:
“Thus, perhaps the teacher [St. Gregory the Theologian] is saying that God, who is superior to all, by leading us through the nature of visible creations, as if it were a kind of story, seeks to amaze us or attract our attention by the sight and knowledge of these things, as if we were no different than children, after which he directs us to the contemplation of the more spiritual principles within these things, and finally leads us by way of theology up to the more mystical knowledge of Himself, so far as this is possible” (Amb. 71.7).
The “play,” then, is God’s condescension to our sensible minds by speaking to us through creation and visible things, the way we capture the attention and interest of children through a pedagogy appropriate to their age and development. There’s nothing here to suggest that God 'suspends judgement’ on our immorality or pretends that perversions are mysterious fun and games.

But Maximos offers yet another possibility:
“Or perhaps the mutability of the material objects which we hold in our hands, which shift things around and are themselves shifted around in various ways, having no solid foundation, save for the first intelligible principle, in accordance with which they are carried along wisely and providentially, and carry us along with them—and whereas it might be thought that they can be controlled by us, they slip through our fingers far more frequently than we control them, and they rather almost repel the desire of those among us who insist on clinging to them, and so they neither maintain their hold over us nor are they held by us, since the only stable characteristic their nature possesses is their state of flux and their instability—perhaps this, I say, was fittingly called God’s “play” by the teacher, seeing that it is through these things that God leads us to what is really real and can never be shaken” (Amb. 71.9).
Here we see that God “plays” with us through the elusive character of the material world and created natures (though not fallen realities as such!), which lead us up to God by their very instability. Again, I’m not seeing how this either affirms the mystery of the androgene or leads us to ‘suspend judgement’ on moral issues.

And, finally, St. Maximos offers one more interpretation and a last chance to salvage some meaning in that priest’s article:
“And if we ourselves, in accordance with the prevailing sequence of our nature, are now born like the rest of the living creatures on the earth, after which we become children, and after which, in the manner of quickly fading flowers, our youth withers into the wrinkles of old age, and dying we are transferred to another life—then not without reason are we said to be the “plaything of God” by that God-bearing teacher. For this present life, when compared to the archetype of the divine and true life that is to come, is a child’s toy, than which no other such toy could be more insubstantial. The teacher states this much more clearly in the funeral oration for his brother Kaisarios, when he says: “Such is our life, brothers, of we who live only briefly: a sort of game played upon the earth. Not having existed, we were brought into being, and having been brought into being, we are dissolved. We are a dream that does not last, a phantom that cannot be grasped, the flight of a bird that passes and is gone….” (Amb. 71.10).
No dice, unfortunately. We’re mortal, and our lives are thus a plaything. Again, I don’t see how that justifies ambiguities surrounding the gender of a sex offender, however much that person deserves our compassion.

3. Lastly, the essay ends with some rhetoric about not having to compromise our morals even in “suspending judgement” any more than the Lord had to compromise his morals when he ate with sinners. I’m not sure why, then, the author leaps from “suspending judgement” to telling us how “the one who is perfect in love” sees neither male nor female. If one follows the logic of the essay, the transgender person is a sea of unfathomable mystery, and yet we might also be right to see them as perverse and disordered, while at the same time we have to suspend judgement, while at the same time we shouldn’t countenance the difference between male or female. Which is it? On the difference (or lack thereof) between male and female in St. Maximos, he cites an offhand remark in the Chapters on Love that merely echoes St. Paul. St. Maximos goes into this topic more in depth in Ambiguum 41; and it is nothing new for would-be scholars of St. Maximos to claim that the saint espouses some kind of eschatological transgenderism. But here it’s not necessary to comment on this aspect of St. Maximos’s anthropology, since the author of this article has merely thrown that comment in at the end without connecting it to any of his other claims. The only observation we need to make is that it does not follow at all from what he has said about tropos, logos, “play,” or anything else.

I think, in the end, the problem with this essay is not that the author seems to misuse St. Maximos (which of course he does). I think the real problem is that even the author doesn’t know what he’s trying to say. Is Michael-Michelle a mystery, or are we allowed to have moral convictions about his state? And if we’re allowed to have moral convictions about his condition, what are we being called to apart from the same merciful love we’re supposed to show everyone? It’s not clear from this essay. The only thing the author manages to get across is that he himself didn’t know how to assess this person he met in jail. Which to me proves why we need to have moral convictions in the first place. Because one day we might meet a man named Michelle and be confused about his identity--even if he’s in jail for violent sexual crimes.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Stump the Priest: Jacob Wrestling an Angel

Question: "Why did Jacob wrestle with an angel in Genesis 32, what does it mean?"

To understand this passage, you have understand the story of Jacob and Esau from the beginning (which begins at Genesis 25:19). They were twins, and rivals. Jacob's very name means "usurper" or "supplanter," because he was born grasping the heel of his brother who was born first. He then gained Esau's birthright in exchange for a pot of stew, when Esau was hungry after a long hunt, and then usurped the blessing he would have received from their father Isaac by trickery, and with the help of his mother. So Jacob's very name pointed to a flaw in his character. He left Canaan to go to his uncle Laban because his mother feared Esau would kill him. While in Haran, Jacob found himself on the receiving end of trickery, when his uncle tricked him into marrying Leah after seven years of laboring for the hand of Rachel. After laboring seven more years for Rachel, and then laboring more to gain cattle, Jacob finally left his uncle, and began the journey home.

On his way to Haran, Jacob had an encounter with God at Bethel, which was the beginning of his spiritual journey. This incident happened the night before Jacob would meet, after so many years, the brother he had wronged. All his family and all that he owned had crossed over the river, and he remained behind this night. He justly feared for his life and the lives of his family. And so during this night Jacob wrestled with an angel, which the Fathers tell us was the pre-incarnate Christ.

St. Ambrose writes:
"Therefore Jacob, who had purified his heart of all pretenses and was manifesting a peaceable disposition, first cast off all that was his, then remained behind alone and wrestled with God. For whoever forsakes worldly things comes nearer to the image and likeness of God. What is it to wrestle with God other than to enter upon the struggle for virtue, to contend with one who is stronger and to become a better imitator of God than the others are? Because Jacob's faith and devotion were unconquerable, the Lord revealed his hidden mysteries to him by touching the side of his thigh. For it was by descent from him that the Lord Jesus was to be born of a virgin, and Jesus would be neither unlike nor unequal to God. The numbness in the side of Jacob's thigh foreshadowed the cross of Christ, who would bring salvation to all people by spreading the forgiveness of sins throughout the whole world and would give resurrection to the departed by the numbness and torpidity of his own body. On this account the sun rightly rose on holy Jacob, for the saving cross of the Lord shone brightly on his lineage. And at the same time the Sun of justice rises on the person who recognizes God, because he is himself the everlasting Light" (Jacob and the Happy Life 7:30, quoted in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament, Vol. II, Mark Sheridan, ed. (Downers Grove, IL: Intervasity Press, 2002) p. 218f)).
St. Augustine writes:
"So what does it mean, Jacob's wresting and refusing to let go? The Lord says in the Gospel, "The kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and those who act violently plunder it [Matthew 11:12]." This is what we were saying earlier on: struggle, wrestle, to hold on to Christ, to love your enemy. You hold Christ here and now if you have loved your enemy. And what does the Lord himself say, that is, the angel in the person of the Lord, when he had got the upper hand and was holding him fast? He has touched the hollow of his thigh, and it has withered, and so Jacob was limping. He says to Jacob, "Let me go, it is already morning." He answered, "I will not let you go unless you bless me.: And he blessed Jacob. How? By changing his name: "You shall not be called Jacob but Israel; since you have got the upper hand with God, you shall also get the upper hand with men." That is the blessing. Look, it is a single man; in one respect he is touched and withers and in another he is blessed. This one single person in one respect has withered up and limps; in another he is blessed to give him vigor" (Sermon 5:6, quoted in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament, Vol. II, Mark Sheridan, ed. (Downers Grove, IL: Intervasity Press, 2002) p. 220)).
It is important to note that the Angel asked Jacob to state his name, which was in a sense a confession of his sinful past of usurpation and deception. He is given a new name, and this incident is an image of the spiritual purification and perfection that Christ can work in the lives of those who like Jacob, struggle for virtue, and prevail.