Coming out to our Orthodox Priest
September 26, 2015
Softly, the candles glowed in the dimly lit temple.
We found ourselves, my wife and I, alone on this Friday evening, standing in front of the altar of our church. Our priest was gathering holy water and the brush of hyssop to sprinkle us with.
Gently, I leaned over to my beloved and whispered in her ear, “Don’t lock your knees. You wouldn’t want to faint.” She smiled, with a slightly ironic twist to her full lips. “You forget,” she whispered back, “I’m former military. I know how to stand.”
Eight months had passed since my spouse had come out of our bedroom closet as her true self: a transgendered female. We had been married for several decades now, had birthed children together. We were devout, godly pillars in our church community. By all outward standards, to friends, loved ones, neighbors, we looked to be the “perfect” family.
Except for this one little thing. This secret that had remained deeply hidden. This one little thing that kept cropping up in our marriage, like an ever-growing elephant in the room. Was my husband gay? Did he want to leave me and move to Boca Raton with a handsome, young model? For most of our marriage, I lived in fear of abandonment. That one wretched day, he would speak his truth, and leave me.
So, that evening, when I saw her quietly emerge from our closet, truth showed me a gentler face. For my story, at least, the truth was kinder than my fears. That of a woman, not a gay man. Specifically, as a male-to-female woman who identifies as a lesbian, who for more than four decades was mortally afraid her truth: being trans. Certain, that once known, would cause her wife to run screaming for the nearest divorce lawyer.Yet, time had allowed me to face my fears. To be willing to accept the truth, whatever that was. It ultimately gave us both courage.
Courage to know and accept the truth.
To wrestle with that truth.
To weep and grieve over it.
And now, finally, we had the courage to tell our priest.
Our first meeting had caught Father completely off guard, blindsiding him. This second meeting was being held about a week later “to talk more and pray.” So, here we were, standing together in the temple of the church that we had helped to build. The talk a few minutes earlier had not gone so well.
It turned out, by our priest’s own words, that the talk was to be a “sermon on the Church’s teaching with no discussion permitted.” The prayers our priest desired to pray were the prayers of exorcism. He believed my spouse to be, not per say, “demon possessed,” but definitely under the influence of the demonic.
Never in our wildest dreams could we have imagined that this was how this evening would progress. If you are an Orthodox Christian, you are familiar with the four prayers of exorcism. Usually, you hear them during the catechumen service, where one is welcomed into the Church. Decades before, those prayers had been prayed over us and our children, before their baptisms. Many times over the years, as new members came into the church, we listened to those four solemn prayers. At times, as godparents, and also, as faithful witnesses.
As the priest laid his hand on my spouse and prayed the words, “expel from him every unclean spirit…” our hearts broke. Gently, I grasped my beloved’s fingers, willing my love to be felt as a counterpoint to this immense sadness. Besides, if there were any demons lurking about me, I’d just as soon get them cast out of me as well. Were there demons, alongside our guardian angels? Sobbing lamentations? Falling down with overwrought emotions? Profound revelations? No. The hot, muggy August air was heavy only with the smell of melted beeswax. Gently the holy water fell on both of us. We each kissed the cross and gave our priest the kiss of peace. Deep inside, we knew, in that moment, that we would not be back to this parish again. Thirty-nine minutes had passed, since we had walked in the door.
In answer to our honest confession, when we most needed compassion and empathy, we were met with a sermon and an exorcism. How many others, throughout history had experienced what we had just gone through?
Last night, I dreamed that years had passed and I was at an art gallery opening. There, for the first time since that fateful night, I saw our priest. We embraced and he whispered a soft litany in my ear, “I loved you. So-and-so loved you. So-and-so loved you. And he and she too loved you.” As the litany of loved ones continued, I realized what was being said in my dream. Tears ran down my face as my sleep-induced mind listened to the words and began to comprehend them.
It was neither balm, nor solace.
I woke myself up and turned to look at my beloved in the pre-dawn light. Her features were softened in, what I prayed was, restful slumber.
Orthodox Christianity is our faith.
What am I to do? Will I take our children to church and participate in the sacraments and leave my wife to languish here at home alone as some pariah? Shall we pretend, as our priest suggested we do, and continue the pretense that we are man and wife? She is not welcome to present as a woman at our church. Much less a woman with a wife of many years and multiple children. We are; however, wife and wife. Does God not see this and know? Is it hidden from Him, who is everywhere present and fillest all things? So, we are hiding from our brothers and sisters, even though God knows the truth? How is this helpful to anyone? No, I’ve put away such pretense as pride, status, and vanity. We are a family and this is who we are.
Love us in the now. Love us in the present, not merely past, before you knew our secret.