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Russian Orthodox Church freezes ties with Episcopal Church over gay bishop

Associated press, USA
Nov. 17, 2003 • Tuesday November 18, 2003

MOSCOW, Nov. 17 The Russian Orthodox Church announced Monday that it is suspending ties with the U.S. Episcopal Church over its consecration of an openly gay bishop, saying that homosexuality is a sin and that it ”cannot condone the perversion of human nature.”

”Homosexual sexual contact has always been considered a grave sin by the Christian Church,” the Russian Orthodox Church’s Moscow Patriarchate said in a statement posted on its Web site. ”Biblical passages that condemn homosexuality are clear and unequivocal.”

The statement said the consecration of Episcopal Church’s first openly gay bishop, the Rev. V. Gene Robinson, had ”forced” the Russian Orthodox Church to ”freeze its relations” with the Episcopal Church USA.

”We see a big danger to modern man in the processes taking place in the American Episcopal Church and in certain other Christian communities of the Western world,” it says. ”People are gradually getting used to the idea that homosexuality is not a deviation, not a perversion, but just one form of ‘love’ that even the Church blesses.”

The Russian Orthodox Church, which is dominant in Russia and has flocks in other former Soviet republics, also criticized the Episcopal Church USA over a vote last summer allowing local dioceses to continue deciding for themselves about holding blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples.

”All this leads to a terrible consequence: people with normal sexual orientation are introduced to homosexuality,” the statement said.

Meanwhile in Istanbul, Turkey, the Archbishop of Canterbury expressed hope Monday for eventual unity of Christian churches, but acknowledged the Anglican flock faced ”difficult questions” from within an apparent reference to the controversy over gay bishops.

Rowan Williams was speaking during his first visit as archbishop to the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, who warned against taking steps that could hurt traditionally warm relations between Anglican and Orthodox churches.

The Russian Orthodox Church said it had maintained friendly relations with the Episcopal Church in the United States for nearly 200 years. Ties grew particularly warm in the early 1990s, when the churches created a Joint Coordinating Committee, whose work the Russian Orthodox Church said was being halted because of Robinson’s consecration.

”We have no right to allow even a shadow of agreement with their position, which we consider deeply anti-Christian and blasphemous,” it said.

The Russian church said it hopes to maintain contacts with American Episcopalians who ”clearly pronounce their adherence to the moral teachings” of Christianity.

The Russian Orthodox Church defrocked a priest last month for performing what media reports said was the country’s first gay wedding in a church.

Gay sex was a crime in the Soviet Union, and homosexuality remains taboo in Russia, among churchgoers and nonbelievers alike.

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