Father Hopko on Sexuality
by Pearl Homiak
"Sexuality is a spiritual problem, not a physical one. Humans are
incarnate spirits with soul and mind", said Fr. Thomas Hopko when he spoke at Sts Peter
and Paul Greek Orthodox Church in Glenview, Illinois on November 14, 1998. The Very
Reverend Thomas Hopko is the Dean of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary in
Crestwood, New York. His topic on this day was "Human Sexuality and the Orthodox
Fr. Hopko began his seminar by stating that everything begins with
Jesus Christ and the Gospel, which tells us who Christ is. This determines how we will
behave, it involves love, and includes sexuality.
"The center of our Christian faith," Fr. Hopko stated, "has to be
Jesus and the Gospel... which is our goal. You can't separate Christian life from Jesus
Christ." Yet, Fr. Hopko expressed concern that, in many cases our so-called Christian
life has nothing to do with Jesus (The word Jesus is used flippantly, for example, and
Jesus is too often quoted by people who have not read the Bible.) Basically, "there is
no Orthodoxy in itself that is not directly connected to Jesus Christ." In fact, "every
day should be a Pascha," since "our mission of reality is Christ and the Gospels".
"Love is the essence of Christianity," he said, "and, this is important
when talking about sexuality." There are three types of love: Agape (God's love in
communion with us, which is higher than the canons of the church), Eros (sexual love), and
Philos (brotherly love, friendship). Even so, we will find real love only in God. Taking
up the cross is to love as God, as Jesus Christ, loves us. Jesus said, "Love one another
as I have loved you," and the crucified God, Jesus, shows us what love is. "If we love
him, we will keep his commandments, which is," as Fr. Hopko declared, "for your own good
so you don't self destruct."
"If the Gospel is in place, we don't need to talk about sex."
Nevertheless, "we live in a fallen world." There will be sins, but what's important is
ur goal: living our lives in Christ... Christianity must be a warfare itself against a
fallen world... where the Gospel is the ideal."
Because " we are in the fallen world, we will be struggling with
sexual sins, as well as the six other deadly sins" (pride, greed, envy, gluttony, anger,
laziness). "All sin is an abuse or misuse of something good... and carnal pleasure is the
cause of all our spiritual troubles." "All spiritual-emotional problems have a sexual
component. This is where sexual deviation (which he described in terms of Orthodoxy) is
involved." Still, "we need to deal with our sins with great compassion and mercy" (to
ourselves as well as others).
Fr. Hopko emphasized that people's real hunger is for meaningfulness,
which leads to feeling. "Sinful thoughts and feelings come, just don't engage them. Don't
feel guilty for thoughts and feelings just don't put yourself in a situation of
temptation. And don't feel guilty about temptation." Within all of this we need to pray,
for "prayer working inside you helps deflect temptations." Fr. Hopko then stated that
according to St. Anthony "without temptation there is no salvation... and St. Seraphim
says that to have the Holy Spirit is to know that you can see the hideousness of your sin
and not be bothered by it; i.e., don't let the Devil rejoice twice."
Male and female sexuality is the center of creation. Within that,
there are only two possibilities: celebacy, chastity, and virginity; or, heterosexual,
monogamous marriage. (Some Church fathers view celebacy as the most difficult, yet others
think marriage is the hardest). Regardless, the prescription for living is to lead a
"chaste, holy life that is positive rather than negative... with positivity we can move
forward... fill yourself with good things, and don't freak out when you fail. When that
happens, stand up again, and move on."
As usual, Fr. Hopko peppered his presentation with stories and humor,
which embellished his topic. Following Fr. Hopko's impressive delivery, there was a
question and answer period. Many people from various Orthodox jurisdictions, as well as
some of our parishioners from St. Luke Orthodox Church, attended this event. All that was
required was a bag lunch (beverages and dessert were complementary) and a desire to learn
about Orthodox Christian living. If you missed Fr. Hopko's talk, you can still see and
hear it on videotape. St. Luke's parish will be showing it at the church on January 16,
after vespers. So come and join us for vespers (5:30 pm) and stay with us for this
important video, which will begin at about 6:15 pm.