From the St. Nicholas monthly bulletin…
On the Christian Life
Contemporary Problems: Transgenderism
OUR BODY IS THE TEMPLE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
"What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's."
1 Corinthians 6:19-20
When God became incarnate, He united our humanity to Himself and sanctified our nature. We who have been baptized in Christ have put on Christ and thereby we have become members of Christ. Since this is so, it has consequences in how we conduct ourselves and what choices we make in regard to our bodies. This is the third installment of a series of articles under this heading, each discussing certain aspects of what the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit means to us.
In the news recently we have read with sadness that a few celebrities have revealed that they had decided to change from being a man to being a woman, a process that involves surgery and powerful hormones. In normal times (and these are not!) such a thing would have been completely unthinkable. But since some have raised the question of what the Orthodox Church has to say about this matter, here is an attempt at a summary (I apologize in advance if this is uncomfortable reading):
The Scripture says, God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them (Genesis 1:27). So somehow the fact that we are created male and female is a reflection of the image of God in us. Apart from rare genetic anomalies, we are all born either male or female, and this is part of God’s purpose for us. Being baptized in Christ, we begin to participate in divine grace as members of Christ. Part of the purpose that we seek to fulfill by God’s providence in our lives has to do with our sex, male or female. This does not necessarily mean procreation or raising a family, but there is a purpose to our being created male or female, and it is not pleasing to God for us to try to change this. Our bodies are not our own, but God’s, and they are holy.
Providence does not make mistakes – there is a purpose to all circumstances in our life, even the difficult and seemingly permanent ones. Whatever we may feel, we cannot be "a woman trapped in a man’s body" or vice-versa. Our maleness or femaleness is a fact, biological, psychological and spiritual, rooted in our very being, and it is up to us to understand this as we work out our salvation with patience and humility.
No amount of surgical modification of our plumbing can change the fact that every cell in our body is either XX (female) or XY (male), and that we will remain so until the day we die. No hormone enhancement can change the fact that these new breasts can never nurse a child, and these reshaped organs can never create a new life. "Gender reassignment" can only change the outward appearance, but not the essential nature of who we are from the day we were born. The desire to change this is a self-willed search for self-definition that contravenes the will of God and is alien to the Christian life.
Transgender surgery is mutilation. The canons of the Church forbid Christians to castrate or mutilate themselves. And according to the Canons of the Church, such people are ineligible for marriage and for the priesthood.
Do we say all this because we hate transgendered people? Of course not! But we urge Orthodox Christians that are considering this step to turn back before it is too late. Whatever has moved them to begin going down that path, we urge them that they remain in their former state, and with spiritual guidance to endure patiently the trials that brought them to that point.
Is salvation possible for already transgendered people to be saved? Of course it is! Where there is repentance there is salvation. However, each case must be handled compassionately and individually under pastoral guidance. Nevertheless, this practice can never be approved by the Church.
Because of the extreme novelty of this phenomenon, I have no articles to refer you to on this topic. (However, the Church has dealt with this problem under pagan Roman rule in the Apostolic times. In those days there were men – not Christian! – who chose to become women and underwent "surgery" for it. Hence the Canons on mutilation.) ∎
Fr George Lardas, Rector
St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, Stratford, CT