New York, January 23, 2018
Fordham University’s Orthodox Christian Studies Center will begin an official study of “LGBTQ rights alongside Eastern Orthodox identity,” reports Fordham News.
The center, co-directed by Aristotle Papanikolaou, Ph.D., the Archbishop Demetrios Chair in Orthodox Theology and Culture, and George Demacopoulos, Ph.D., was awarded a grant by the British Council in the USA to conduct the study along with the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom.
Fordham’s Orthodox center focuses on connecting cultural and religious traditions to raise awareness of Orthodoxy, and engaging in ecumenical activity:
The Orthodox Christian Studies Center of Fordham University connects an archipelago of cultures, religious traditions, and academic disciplines to advance awareness and knowledge of Orthodox Christianity in public discourse. In its distinctive relationship to Roman Catholicism through the Jesuit tradition of Fordham University, as well as its location in New York City, the Orthodox Christian Studies Center is uniquely poised to engage ecumenical discussion and to foster Christian unity.
“Eastern Orthodoxy has many challenges that it needs to face in the contemporary world including sexual diversity, the role of women in the church in a democratic and secular age,” said Brandon Gallaher, Ph.D of Exeter University, who will also be working on the project. “I see this project as part of a larger cooperation of Fordham and Exeter to study the place and role of the pre-modern Eastern Orthodox Church in the modern West.”
According to Gallaher, Exeter specializes in both LGBTQ and Eastern Orthodox studies.
The grant is part of the Bridging Voices project which will bring diverging voices from both America and the United Kingdom together at Fordham for a seminar in June 2019 titled “Contemporary Eastern Orthodox Identity and the Challenges of Pluralism and Sexual Diversity in a Secular Age.”
According to Papanikolaou, the aim of the project and seminar is to facilitate discussion on touchy issues of sexual diversity “where there’s not a standoff.” “We hope this discussion will help educate public policy and open conversation to more nuanced ways to address the issue in the wider public sphere, rather than there being a reactionary approach from both sides,” he said, adding that, in his opinion, such discussions usually lead to “butting heads.”
The Orthodox Christian Studies Center is no stranger to the study of LGBTQ issues. The center also sponsors the blog Public Orthodoxy, which is well known for its many articles on such issues, and has a similar goal of fostering discussion. “Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity,” the site reads.
Since its inception in September 2015, the blog has become known not only for giving a forum to conversation, but has earned the widespread reputation as a forum for positions, especially on matters within the LGBTQ sphere, that are incompatible with Orthodox teaching.
In addition to many other articles that have proven controversial, the blog hosted the article “Conjugal Friendship” by Giacomo Sanfilippo, a defrocked Orthodox priest and publicly-known practicing homosexual, in which the author attempts to justify homosexuality, stating that “Holy Tradition possesses in germinal form everything necessary to articulate, thoughtfully and cautiously, an Orthodox theology and spirituality of what we now call same-sex love, adequate to the pastoral needs of the 21st century and fully consistent with the ascetical ethos of Orthodox life for all.”
Public Orthodoxy has also published an article from Mark Arey, who gave up his Orthodox priesthood after 30 years and “married the love of his life,” as his biography states.
A recent article entitled “Beyond the Binary: Hymnographic Constructions of Orthodox Gender” by Ashley Purpura argues that “Although the hymns rely on traditional gender categories that are in many ways challenging for values of equality and inclusivity, the tradition of praying Byzantine hymns reflects gender fluidity,” and asks, “if gender is so fluid in the voice of the hymns, then why is there so much elsewhere in the tradition that reinforces gender expression exclusively along an essentialized binary?”
The blog has also featured contributions from Inga Leonova, the founder of a pro-homosexuality group on Facebook, and Gregory Tucker, who is involved in a homosexual “marriage” with a former hieromonk who gave up his priesthood and broke his monastic vows to live with Tucker.
According to Papnikolaou, the Orthodox Christian Studies Center is “one of the only—if not the only—place where these issues can be addressed and that’s sort of our MO. Most of these issues can’t be addressed in a parish setting the way they can be in an academic environment.”