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Religious Tolerance logo

Attitudes towards LGBTs by various faith groups

Russian Orthodox church and homosexuality

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The Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) is the state religion of Russia. During the lifetime of the USSR, the Church was not free to issue statements on human sexuality and other social matters. There seems to be little material available on the church's attitude toward homosexual orientation and behavior. The material that is available seems to indicate that the church:

bullet Recognizes the concept of fixed sexual orientations in adults. 
bullet Condemns homosexual activities, whether in the form of casual relationships or committed relationships.

Their current stance is thus similar to that of the Roman Catholic Church's position on homosexuality: that a homosexual orientation is not sinful by itself. However, to act on it is sinful. The ROC is more liberal than conservative Protestants who often do not recognize the concept of sexual orientation, and who look upon homosexuality as chosen, unnatural, abnormal feelings of attraction. They are more conservative than liberal Protestants who generally view homosexual orientation as a normal, natural variant of human sexuality for a minority of humans.

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1998-DEC: Anti-gay pressure at WCC assembly:

At the World Council of Churches assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe, equal rights for gays and lesbians was a hot-button topic. Over opposition from Evangelical Protestants and Russian Orthodox representatives, the WCC approved a study of "diversity" in human sexuality. 

Russian Orthodox delegate Vladimir Shmaliy cautioned that "any move to develop a homosexual agenda would severely jeopardize Orthodox participation in the WCC." His motion to remove human sexuality from the report was defeated by a large margin. 5

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2000-AUG: Social policy statement:

On 2000-AUG-15, the Church "adopted a strictly conservative social policy platform that contained harsh criticisms of homosexuality, euthanasia, abortion and artificial insemination. The social policy platform was adopted at jubilee-year meeting of the Council of Bishops, an assembly of top Orthodox clergy, held at Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior." This is the church's first "formal pronouncement on contemporary social issues" since the fall of the USSR. 1

The policy statement included the following:

bullet "The Holy Bible and the Church doctrine unequivocally condemn homosexual ties as a perverse distortion of the God-given nature of the human being."
bullet Homosexuality is "a sinful injury to human nature." (We assume that they are referring to homosexual behavior here, and not homosexual orientation or feelings.)
bullet Homosexuality is to be "treated by sacraments, prayer, fasting, repentance and the reading of the Holy Scripture."
bullet "...people advocating homosexual practices should not be allowed to carry out teaching or educational work with children or young people or take positions of authority in the army or in penitentiary institutions." We suspect that the term "advocating" here refers to persons who promote the belief that homosexual behavior is normal and natural for that minority of adults who have a homosexual orientation. 
bullet They oppose same-sex marriage.
bullet "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. 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." 2,3

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Essay by Priest Seraphim Holland: 4

Seaphim Holland of the Russian Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas in Dallas TX makes the following points:
bullet To have a homosexual orientation is not sinful. However, "we must struggle, fast, pray, and do everything within our power (with the help of God), to humble ourselves, and to uproot our passions, with great labour and toil. If a man is not struggling to do these things, he is not gaining the kingdom of heaven."
bullet All sexual impurities, such as homosexual behavior, are serious sins. The degree of sin is greater than that which results from a man and woman engaging in fornication (i.e. sex outside of marriage).
bullet A gay or lesbian who has a same-sex encounter, and who does not repent of the act, commits a sin which separates themselves from God and their guardian angel.
bullet "Any man can change - he can stop being a drunkard, or liar, or homosexual, or blasphemer, or pagan, or anything else, with God's help."

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Homosexuality in Russia: 

Homosexual behavior was criminalized in the USSR during the 1930's. Article 121 of the criminal code authorized sentences of up to 5 years in prison. About 1,000 men were arrested annually during the 1980s. 

The first sustained gay and lesbian organization in recent history was the Moscow Gay & Lesbian Alliance, founded in 1989-1990. This was organized during the period of glasnost introduced by Premier Gorbachev. Tema became the first officially registered gay newspaper.  "The summer of 1991 saw the first international conference, film festival, and demonstrations for gay rights in Moscow and Leningrad." 6 A new criminal code was signed into law in 1993. The dreaded Article 121 was deleted. There are now gay "bars, discos, saunas, even a travel agency" in some cities. 6

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More recent developments:

Since the above essay was written, some progress has been made. In Bulgaria, where the Orthodox church is very similar to the church in Russia, the fifth Sofia Pride parade in the capital city of Bulgaria was held on 2012-JUN-30 -- in spite of the threat of violence. An estimated 1,500 to 2,000 marchers were protected by 600 police. Several amassadors were present, including the American Ambassador James Warlick. He  was interviewed on a local TV station as saying: "We should all live our lives the way we wish... No one should be abused and tortured because of some prejudice." An Orthodox Christian priest had called for people to throw rocks at the marchers. An Orthodox Church official criticized that suggestion, but stated that the LGBT pride march was a "harmful demonstration that violates the rights of Orthodox Christians."

Mirjana Kosic is the executive director of TransConflict Serbia, an organization conducting conflict transformation projects and research. She said:

"Intolerance is driven by a fear that homosexuality undermines patriarchal notions of the 'nuclear family,' and therefore the 'traditional values' that supposedly make a society or nation 'normal.'  Since most of the former Yugoslav countries are still states and nations in the making, their inchoate national identities feel particularly jeopardized by anything which in some way diminishes – or even breaks with entirely – the idea of heroic masculinity."

Father Antim Manoliov, Archimandrite and Protosyncellus at the Metropolitan of Vidin in northwest Bulgaria, said:

"The Church cannot promote morality with offensive, attacking, or frantic words. The Church’s position is to help people spiritually, not to throw rocks as happened in Old Testament times. Those of different sexuality are like blind people and we should help them and not say bad things. But public protests and demonstrations discriminate against the majority in society. ... A huge part of the gay population is closeted. Hate crimes are a big problem and public displays of affection between homosexuals are very rare and often met with attacks."

A counter-demonstration was organized, but only attracted 200 persons. 8

We suspect that the "violation of rights" experienced by Orthodox Christians is the right to live in a country in which all mention of the existence of a  LGBT minority is suppressed.

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  1. The Rockford Institute, Srdja Trifkovic, "Christianity and Homosexuality: Russians speak out," at: (A fundamentalist Protestant interpretation of a Russian Orthodox statement)
  3. Rex Wockner, "Russian Orthodox church condemns same-sex love," Gay Today at: 
  4. Seraphim Holland, "Homosexuality put in the proper perspective," at: 
  5. "WCC to study 'diversity' of human sexuality," The Presbyterian Layman, 1998-DEC-17, at: 
  6. "Russian Gay History," in The Encyclopedia of Homosexuality, 2nd Edition, Garland Press. Online at: 
  7. Anon, "Orthodox Statements on Homosexuality," in "The Word," Holy Trinity Cathedral, 1984-JAN, at:
  8. Andrew MacDowall, "Bulgaria gay parade peaceful, despite provocations," The Christian Science Monitor, 2012-JUL-01, at:
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Copyright © 2001 incl. by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance 
Essay written: 2001-JUN-2
Latest update: 2012-JUL-26
Author: B.A. Robinson
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