Orthodox hierarch Lazar Puhalo on transgenderism

While this blog is coming from a distinctly Catholic perspective, I thought I’d share a recent discovery from the Orthodox corner. Reverend Lazar Puhalo is a retired hierarch of the Orthodox Church in America and has some strong views on transgender issues within the Orthodox perspective. The Rev. Puhalo would certainly consider me a heretic for my Romanism (even if my inclinations are often Byzantine), but I join Pope John Paul II in believing that the body of Christ has two lungs: the east and the west. Let’s hear what one voice from our sister apostolic faith has to say on the issue.

Lazar Puhalo’s initial video:

His response to critics:

According to Lazar, transgenderism is clearly an intersex condition in which the brain (one organ) is at odds with the genitals (another organ). It’s a straightforward medical condition with very little theological import. Where theology does come in is in reference to the Church Fathers. Some of the Church Fathers bear witness to the notion that the soul doesn’t have a gender, which goes back to Matthew 22:30. The body, however, does. Part of the body’s gender/sex is it’s brain sex. A transgender woman isn’t a female soul trapped in a male body, but a human soul with a mixed male-female body. Since consciousness happens in the brain, not the genitals, a person with a female brain is effectively female.

For more of his views, watch part 2 of his video response to critics, and read his article The Neurobiology of Sin

What’s most important about Lazar’s analysis is recognizing that all the theologically-charged ideology in the world doesn’t cover up the brute facts of gender dysphoria, or sexual complexity in general. This is an important point that needs to be taken to heart by all prelates and theologians, regardless of their theological tradition. Speculative metaphysics about gender is meaningless in the face of the spiritual holocaust the transgender community faces.

EDIT: I recognize that Puhalo is a controversial figure within Orthodoxy, but that doesn’t negate what I’ve said above: that regardless of what one thinks is the requirement for genuine Christian faith, his basic assertion that transsexuality is a clinical condition that requires compassion regardless of cultural ideology is valid.

19 thoughts on “Orthodox hierarch Lazar Puhalo on transgenderism

  1. Hi,

    Dear Anna,

    As I read yesterdays article on what The Pope is really saying, it had great impact on me. Today, buoyed by your post, I realized since I am severely dysphoric and independently so, as that is what the Psychologist has determined, to the point of not letting me out of her office one day, until I had made an appointment with the transgender medical specialist in my area, 90 miles away, I actually went back to the church I have learned so much from. It was amazing. I feel so much better. When I left, the almost empty room where I went, was full of people. I came home and looked at my hair, and my face and was horrified, but now I feel better. You see, I don’t pass in my mind one bit, so I think I look like a freak and am hurting everyone as they don’t know, it is okay to be Catholic and Transgendered yet.

    It is now, this post, that is helping more now, than your post yesterday, even. I cannot wait till everyone knows, that sure I may not look like a woman, but I act and feel like a little-girl/young-woman/adult-woman/old-woman depending upon my mood, and I sure am one, inside of me.

    I just wanted you to know, that your work has impact, even if you don’t always hear about it. I really needed you, these last two days, and you were here for me.

    LOVE, …Mary., …. .

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  2. A small critique to your thoughts here Anna, if you’ll permit me…

    First, Matthew 22:30 is only speaking about Jesus’ revelation that there will be no marriage in the Resurrection, (read here “heaven” since the “heaven” we Christians all hope for is the final resurrection of the eschatological Kingdom), and says nothing definitive about whether or not souls have gender. It is true that many of the Eastern Fathers, namely the Cappadocians (Basil, John Chrys., Gregory Naz. and Gregory Nyssa), extrapolated from this verse that there then must not be gender/sex in the Resurrection, but that’s a different thing than arguing that souls don’t have gender. The idea that souls don’t have gender comes from certain Neo-Platonic strands in Christianity which equates the soul with that nebulous aspect of ourselves which is said to be spiritual and immaterial. Thus, the argument goes that souls being spiritual and immaterial can’t participate in “gender” since “gender” is a reflection of the physical body’s sex differences, (of which “brain sex” is also a physical difference). The real and full meaning of “soul” is supposed to incorporate not only this spiritual dimension, but also our will, our intellect, our emotions, our personality; indeed everything about ourselves that we “moderns” might mean when we say “mind” or “heart”. The idea then that our soul/mind — everything about ourselves which we cannot directly perceive with our five senses, but nonetheless may apprehend by our own self-awareness and the awareness of “others” as we relate to them — creates an unnecessary division within the human person. This division threatens to undermine the teaching that we as creatures are psychosomatic unities composed of both body and soul. I am neither a body possessing a soul, nor a soul wearing a body. Thus if gender (maleness or femaleness) is essential to my being then it must be an aspect of my whole personhood, body and soul. Otherwise, since sex/gender differences in the brain are also physical differences in the body, sex/gender is only incidental to the body alone. Therefore, I argue that it is correct to say that one who is transgender and suffers from gender dysphoria is a “X” soul with a “Y” body… especially since everything about them that is “X”, (their will, their intellect, their emotions, their personality, their mind, their heart), is that hidden interior part of themselves which is what is meant (or should be meant) when we say “soul”. I am a transgender female human person who finds herself with a female soul in a male body. Everything about myself that is female (even if I had female sex differences in my brain, which I may never know) is that hidden interior part which no one sees. But I thank God that I have the witness of Scripture that God sees those inwards parts even if no one else can or will…

    …for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (1 Sam. 16:7b)

    Augustine and Aquinas had much to say, (as does the Catechism), on the idea that sex/gender touches our whole person, (though I forget exactly where), and I would recommend the following as a modern argument for it as well.

    http://www.amazon.com/Marks-His-Wounds-Politics-Resurrection/dp/0195309812/ref=sr_1_fkmr2_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1436341261&sr=8-1-fkmr2&keywords=marks+of+his+wounds+mary+beth

    In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas.

    ~Shadow

    • I agree, and that is why I’m suspicious of Lazar’s take on gendered souls. He follows the Church Fathers in linking that passage to the idea of genderless souls. As a Catholic with both a hylomorphic worldview and a hylomorphic experience, I’m suspicious of what seems to me to be a very Neoplatonic take on souls. However, in Lazar’s third video (which I link to but don’t feature because it’s explicitly anti-Catholic) he seems to think that genderless souls preserves us from Neoplatonism and gnosticism, and that the Catholic view is an Augustinian “heresy” that’s influenced by Manicheanism. I don’t think he has a very good grasp of Catholic thought, but he certainly does of Orthodox thought, and I wonder what the subtle difference he is making between Orthodox thoughts on the soul, and Neoplatonist thoughts.

      • I had no idea what “hylomorphic” meant and so had to go look it up… you see what growth you encourage Anna? 🙂
        Iron does indeed sharpen iron, and to echo another Kristen Haley, I am better for it!

        I know it would be near-heresy to the Orthodox to explain (at least in part) the difference between their view on souls and the Neoplatonists by way of the medieval Scholastics like Aquinas, but I think the Medievals’ discussion on substantial and accident forms might shed some light on the matter. The main question being whether gender in relation to the soul is an accidental or a substantial property. Following the Neoplatonists, I think the Orthodox want to affirm that gender in relation to the soul is an accidental property — one it gets by way of relation to the body, but which is easily shed when the soul is separated from the body. (Though of course that fails to account for their one-gender position when the soul and body are reunited at the Resurrection.) Whereas the Catholic viewpoint (i.e. Augustine and Aquinas) is that gender in relation to the soul is a substantial property and thus retained whether the soul is with the body or apart from it.

        Perhaps the subtle difference is that the Neoplatonists would argue that final perfection of the soul would be the complete removal of gender, while the Orthodox view (as explained by Lazar) would be that the final perfection of the soul is conformity to the single “Perfect Gender”.

        (But of course, it’s late and I ran out of coffee hours ago, so maybe I’m just rambling by now! 😉 )

        • Yes, the substantial versus accidental distinction is important. I often gravitate toward Catholic gender essentialism (that gender is a substantial property), mainly because even with all these accidental sexed properties (like genitals, chromosomes) that can be mixed in non-binary arrangements, people still seem to have a clear gender that feels core. It’s the difference between someone who would say they are a man because they have a penis (gender determined by accidents), versus someone who says they have a penis because they’re a man (the accidents are just an instantiation of their substance). Or, in my case, my body is a woman’s body because it belongs to me (I interpret my accidental properties in light of my substantial property).

          Ugh, I don’t think I made any sense just now. 😛

    • Also, the book you linked has been in my amazon wishlist for a year now. 🙂
      Also, there’s a post on my computer that I haven’t finished yet about Augustine and Aquinas’ views of gender and the resurrection, which I think actually supports transgender identities. Despite what Lazar may think, Augustine and Aquinas were a move AWAY from Gnosticism (which thought gender was an evil burden of the flesh) and the Greek one-gender model (which thought there was only one Male gender, and all women, “effeminates,” and intersex people were incomplete men). In both these saints’ views, we see the dignity of peoples’ specific sexual differentiation upheld as the design of the Creator, rather than as permutations of fallenness from Perfect Manhood.

      • 1) If you want to email me a mailing address, I’d be more than happy to mail you my copy.
        2) Agreed. The one thing we can be sure of is that God loves “Flesh” and fleshly ways of expression such as sexuality and gender… He did create it after all. 🙂

  3. I am also a Catholic. It never occurred to me to think of the soul as having a gender. I don’t recall being taught that growing up although I am clearly not as knowledgeable about theology as those who have commented here and the author. I believe the soul is genderless and the resurrection frees our souls – the essential us – from these bodies that keep us tethered to the earth and the imperfection of our humanness, reuniting us all in our original spirit form.

  4. Until the end of days when our bodies too are resurrected. Do our souls then become one with our resurrected bodies? Thanks, now I wont sleep tonight 🙂

    I’m loving all that has been said, and truly appreciate being able to participate in this dialogue – I am becoming a better person by it. Thanks everyone!

    • Actually yes, that’s the whole teaching behind the Final Resurrection — the body that dies will be the body that rises. Paul explains it as a spiritual body, but is it will still be in some way continuous with our body now… (though of course since acorns look nothing like oak trees who knows how such “spiritual bodies” will actually appear).

      I must confess that this particular Christian doctrine used to cause me untold amounts of grief. As a transgender person, I could envision no greater Hell than having to spend the rest of eternity in a male body. I still struggle with it at times, but I take great comfort in knowing that our Lord is a just God — and the Hebrew concept of “justice” is concerned not so much with punishment of wrong-doing as it is with righting what is wrong. So then, on the Last Day when He rights all wrongs and heals all hurts, then I have faith that I shall be whole at last.

      Many thanks to you as well, Kristen … (and especially to Anna for creating this comfortable cafe in cyberspace where we can converse!) 🙂

      • I think the key part of the teaching is we really have no idea what the Resurrected bodies will look like. All we know is we’ll be happy. I personally think we will never cease to be transgender – we’ll never become “cisnormative” – but that our transgender “condition” will be transformed into our heavenly glory just as how after the Resurrection the wounds of Christ’s crucifixion were still there but now they were marks of his victory.

  5. Anna, I continue to receive your posts with thanks and great interest and sympathy. I repeat myself that we need to listen to a person’s reality. God bless.

  6. As an Orthodox Christian I would like to ask anyone reading this to note that ”Lazar Puhalo” (real name Ron Haler) is a well known actor in the Orthodox world. He was defrocked by the Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia for espousing the heresy of soul slumber following on from which he fled into numerous heretical schismatic non – canonical sects. He was accepted as a ”retired hierarch” in the OCA even though he has never been a priest, bishop or archbishop in any Orthodox Church. He espouses some very controversial views from evolution through to support for euthanasia. Whatever his views, they remain his own and not those of the Church. A great pity the OCA chose to trample upon the canons of the Church by allowing him into their jurisdiction.

    • I looked this guy up after seeing this post, and I’ve seen a lot of sites asserting that he was defrocked, but I haven’t seen any source I would consider reliable (such as an official statement from the ROC) – only that he was censured for espousing soul sleep and opposing aerial toll gates. Could you please point to a reliable source?

      • Most of the sites that list him as defrocked seem spurious at best. Puhalo himself says:
        =================================
        From: Archbishop Lazar Puhalo [mailto:synaxis@orthodoxcanada.org]
        Sent: Thursday, April 12, 2007 9:05 PM
        To: James Morgan

        By the way, James, since I do not belong the “Orthodox Forum,” perhaps you can post an “interview” with me. Let me give you some answers to some of the more vicious assertions about me.

        1. Why did some of my earlier books bear the author’s name as “Lev Haler-Puhalo?”

        Reply: My mother’s third husband was an American military man named Haler. He formally adopted my half-brother and me in 1945. My mother met him early in 1945 and married him in November of 1945. Some of the rather un-Christian folks who post on web discussion groups have asserted that my original name was “Haler.” In fact, Mr. Haler was a 17 year old boy attending secondary school in Texas, many hundreds of kilometres away when I was born in 1941.

        My natural father was Puhalo. I have two half-brothers and two half-sisters, not all by the same step father.

      • I could see why he would be censured for supporting soul sleep, (though it by far isn’t the most radical or damaging bit of speculation I’ve heard promoted), but I fail to see why he would be reprimanded for opposing aerial toll-gates. In what I’ve read that hasn’t been officially sanctioned as an official Orthodox belief, has it?

        • I think it depends on the branch of Orthodoxy. I’m realizing that some of the controversy around Lazar Puhalo is actually part of a bigger jurisdictional/”denominational” drama in Orthodoxy. There is the Eastern Orthodox Church, which is the well-known communion gathered around the Patriarch of Constantinople. In spreading to the new world, Orthodoxy has had some trouble figuring out which churches and territories belong to whom. There’s a lot of autonomous Churches, including the Holy Orthodox Church in North America, which are either willfully, culturally, or historically separated from full communion. Then there’s also True Orthodoxy, which is an ultra-traditionalist semi-schismatic sect kinda like Catholic SSPX or Sedevacantists. From what I understand, The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia is very much intertwined with the True Orthodox movement and so has it’s own little crusade within the Americas to assert its particularly stringent views on what constitutes Orthodoxy – like turning the clock back on calendar reforms. I’m getting the sense that Puhalo is in the middle of this battle between the autonomous American churches (of questionable communion) and the True Orthodox crowd (who have an extremely strict view of communion).

          That’s just what I’m gathering, but I could be wrong.

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