Coming out to our Orthodox Priest

September 26, 2015

By a Handmaid of God

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.

Loved.

Past tense.

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.

  1. anonPriest Said,

    I am so sorry about your experience. if faced with what you presented to your priest, it would never have occurred to me to perform an exorcism! It’s so easy for priests to be cowed into the “official” teaching of the Church. Amazing that he wanted to hear nothing from the two of you; the struggles, the emotions, the spiritual turmoil, … He thought he could make all that better with a few prayers? My head is spinning after reading your reflection. I’m so sad for the both of you. … (Being gay; it makes me wonder what would happen if I came out to my bishop; which I’ve been considering doing. …)

  2. andre Said,

    Dearest Father,
    Bless!
    Thank you for your kind and thoughtful support of this family. I will let them know of your compassion and prayers for them. On a separate note, if you wish to contact me privately about coming out to your bishop, please do so.
    Again, I thank you for your words of encouragement for this family.
    I bid you peace,
    Andriy

  3. Maria Said,

    Oh my goodness…My heart breaks reading this. You and your wife have so much courage. I am sure God knows, loves, and understands you both for who you are.

  4. andre Said,

    Thank you for your loving support of this family. They will know of your kindness. Please pray for them.
    Andriy

  5. chrysostomos Said,

    Pure sience fiction. Transgender processes never come even close to real God’s work and is not fertile what so ever.
    Tis site purpouse is to throw confusion among the orthodox community.

  6. andre Said,

    Dear Chrysostomos,
    Might I suggest that you do some reading in the modern transgender studies, by scientists. God’s real work is evident in transgendered individuals, just as it is in left-handed individuals, people with different colored eyes and all of His creation. There is no confusion, only a desire by others to block the wonders of God’s creation.
    Andriy

  7. James Said,

    Reading the biblical accounts of Jesus, it is clear that He looked below the surface and knew those to whom he spoke at their core when interacting with them. It’s such a pity that so few in the Church are willing to do the same. And such a pity that so many–no doubt not just transgender and gay people–have to fear being honest with their priest and congregation.

    To those who feel called to post hurtful comments here: You would do well to reread the story of Paul’s conversion experience and keep in mind that you, too, may one day hear Christ’s call to open your heart and you, too, may regret your previous self-assured hardheartedness.

  8. andre Said,

    James,

    Thank you very much for your comment and support of this website. A special note of gratitude for supporting the family that wrote the guest reflection. Your reference to the conversion of St. Paul is directly relevant.

    I bid you peace,

    Andriy

  9. Marika Said,

    Agreeing with Fr. Andre that science is needed here (not science fiction)–it is as critical to our understanding of sexuality today as it was in grappling with the mysteries of mental illness at the beginning of the 20th century. And to the family that had to endure this situation, it was remarkable that you were able to handle it lovingly, by simply withdrawing. Perhaps in the future God has in mind that you will able to provide very different support to other couples undergoing this transformation. All the best to you.

  10. andre Said,

    Marika,
    Thank you for your supportive comment. Some in the Orthodox Church are a bit afraid of science and its implications for dated interpretations of the world and people. I will make sure that the couple receive your words of support.
    Andriy

  11. Mic Said,

    I am confused by this. What is wrong with what the priest did? Is not homosexuality an obvious sin in the Orthodox Church?

  12. andre Said,

    Mic,
    God made homosexuals. We are created in His image. We did not choose to be gay, anymore that you chose to be heterosexual. It is not a choice.
    Andriy

  13. Bob Said,

    I have gay friends and they say being gay is a choice. Other than that, I have experience attractions to to people which are impulses that come from I don’t know where. They come from me being a sinner, a wrong thought, which may seem like I don’t have a choice but I do. So God help us all.

  14. andre Said,

    Bob,
    I have never met a gay man who has said that being gay is a choice. Your statement is absurd on its face. Please provide the source of your statement.
    Andriy

  15. Bobby Said,

    Nice and eloquent narration. Yet the story parts don’t seem to fit.

    The writer suggests that they are active members of the Church. And they follow a spiritual life with their Father. (“our church”…, “our priest”… “Orthodox Christianity is our faith”…”If you are an Orthodox Christian, you are familiar with the four prayers of exorcism”).
    So presumable they also live like who they say they are. So far, so good.

    How come they never confessed in the past?
    How come none of the couple ever told their priest about their problems?
    How come for eight months after coming out they hadn’t told their priest?
    Who would honestly call that a living relationship with “our church” and ” our priest”?!

    The writer actually says that their followed their own will, their own choice. Then they announced it, expecting that the Church should bend over to their own personal choices. Well, the prayer goes “THY Will be done”, not “MY Will”. It’s the exact opposite.

    Now, the writer feels shocked, taken by surprise and disappointed. Well, that sounds a bit hypocritical. Nice story, won’t buy it though.

    Knowing that Andre will reply in full disagreement, I have a question to Andre that needs to be clarified first:
    Andre, some people call you “Fr.” in this context, and you thank them for their supportive comments. Do you consider yourself a “Father” or not? (That should be an easy “Yes” or “No”, correct?)

    Bobby

  16. andre Said,

    Bob,
    I am amazed at your deep interest in these subjects. Thank you. You have prejudged my comment, so I will only say that as Christians we should have compassion and understand that not everyone is on our timeline. If you are a Christian who confesses, you perhaps have experienced times when you did not experience the same confession with different priests. It is in my opinion unfortunate that in the contemporary Orthodox Church, every parish priest is authorized to hear confessions, a major departure from the early Church, even up until the last century, when only certain priests were authorized to hear confessions, and even fewer referred to as spiritual fathers or elders (starets or geron).
    Concerning your comment/question about people calling me Father. As my full story is given on the website, I see no reason to repeat it here. I never sign any email or comment with Father, but only with Andriy. I left the active priesthood of my own accord. Although the bishops of my diocese never issued an official document about my status, I can only conclude with the very real truth that the Holy Spirit blows where it will. I do not serve as a priest or refer to myself as a priest, if the grace of ordination was removed from me by God, then I accept His will and action.
    Andriy

  17. Bobby Said,

    Andre,
    Having been a priest in your past, you know better that not all priests can confess. You also know better that the Mystery of Confession is, in fact, literally a Mystery: the same priest, hearing the confession of the same person, for the same sin, will react differently at a different status of the confessing person’s heart.
    Reading through the lines, this subtle degradation of the Mystery of Confession and the Charisma of Priesthood is very disappointing. Every supporter of the Handmaid’s eloquent FICTION feels like they own the truth, so “woe” to everyone who disagrees. “Shame on priests”, “shame on the church”, “shame on anyone who disagrees”.

    This is how heresies start, Andre. Our church is not the Republic of Gilead.
    Bobby

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