November 20, 2011
“Because, I could not live like that anymore.” Myron told me this about his life. He was from Ukraine, eastern Ukraine, from the city of Poltava. He was in Florida working as a room cleaner in a hotel that I was staying at for a conference. He was here illegally.
Whenever I hear a foreign, possibly a Slavic accent, I immediately have to stop the person and ask where they are from. I have met the most interesting people from other countries. When I discover that the person is from a traditionally Orthodox country – Russia, Ukraine, Serbia, Bulgaria – I like to discuss Orthodoxy with them. Usually, they have some very tepid or even distant relationship with the Church, only going to partial services on the major holidays. Yet, they identify as Orthodox Christians. Few, if any, attempted to attend the various Orthodox Churches here in the States.
Myron was shocked when I spoke to him in Ukrainian. He was delighted to speak in what he referred to as his “mother language.” So, often when I meet Ukrainians who have recently come to America, he said, I have to speak to them in Russian, because their Ukrainian is so poor. “It is as if, I have to become another person.” From a small village not far from the larger city, he was brought up close to the Church, attending many of the services, usually with his grandmother. His favorite – the Akafist services to the Theotokos. Impressive!
Myron got used to assuming a different persona. He has jumped through numerous hoops to remain in this country. Being an illegal immigrant, he has worked different jobs, under less than ideal circumstances, moved several times (Seattle was his favorite city – he liked the rain) never making long term friends, always trying to make some extra money to send back to his family in Ukraine. But why did you leave, I asked – “I could not live like that anymore” I sensed that there was more to the story. I told Myron that I was a priest, although a priest no longer serving – I am not sure that he understood the concept. I told him that as a gay man (his eyes began to bulge) I could not accept the position of the Orthodox Church on homosexuality, and I also wanted to live openly and honestly.
As if he could not get the words out with greater speed, said that he could not live like that anymore – as a gay man in Ukraine. “I wanted to be free.” He was willing to sacrifice his family, his home, his culture and country in order to live openly as a gay man in Ukraine. Myron was willing to risk being apprehended, humiliated, arrested, and deported in order to live openly as a gay man. He was willing to take odd jobs, poor pay, abuse by bosses, including unwanted sexual advances by one female boss, sleeping in temporary quarters and the other difficulties that illegal immigrants must face in order to exist in this country.
Myron told me that it was impossible for him and many others to speak openly about being gay or to live openly as a gay man in Ukraine. They are demonized by the politicians, the Church, local officials, school teachers, and other members of society. Gay people are harassed and brutalized mentally, and even physically on a daily basis. The worst part he said was that everyone, the government, the Church, the media and most of society continue to ignore the hate crimes. Others simply comment “they get what they deserve.”
How can the Orthodox Church not reach out, and condemn the hateful actions against gay people? How can the Orthodox Church once again climb into bed with government authorities and ignore the violence against some of the most vulnerable members of society? Is it too much for the Church to be the innkeeper and accept the gay man into the inn before he is beaten up and a stranger has to poor oil on the wounds of the hurt gay man or lesbian? “And the priest passed by” (Luke 10:31b)