Conclusions Without the Facts

May 25, 2016

Years ago, afteMother of Compassionr completing my PhD in history, I was asked by the jurisdiction to which I belonged, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, to write a detailed history of the Ukrainian Church in the USA. A significant number of Ukrainians began arriving in the United States and Canada before World War I, many seeking economic advancement and stability in a new world.  Several of these were temporary immigrants, fully intending to return to Ukraine to reunite with their families.  The First World War changed that narrative for many. Small communities were created in several areas: the mining towns of Pennsylvania, the big cities of New York and Chicago that offered factory employment, as well as the rich farming lands of the Midwest. Naturally many of the first community centers that Ukrainians created in the new world were churches, where they could gather for divine services offered in a language and setting that was familiar and welcoming to them. From these significant numbers a Ukrainian Orthodox diocese was created, with several parishes.[1] This is a fascinating history that demands a thorough and scholarly study.

Archbishop John (Ioan) Theodorovich was sent to shepherd the newly established parishes in Canada and the USA by the Synod of Bishops of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church in Ukraine. To call his diocese vast would be an understatement as it spanned from New York City to the prairie villages of Western Canada. We do know that under his episcopal leadership the archdiocese increased its number of parishes, clergy and faithful. After World War II, and the arrival of numerous Ukrainian immigrants, including several bishops from Ukraine, there was a renewal of those efforts to serve the spiritual, religious and cultural needs of the people.[2] To write such a history is a historians dream. So, what’s the problem?  Why is there no definitive, scholarly narrative of the history of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the USA, other than what can easily fit onto a few pamphlets?

When writing a historical narrative, the historian needs sources: records, journals, diaries, minutes from meetings, photographs, newspaper articles, sermons, speeches, and diocesan publications, from the time period; what are commonly referred to as primary sources. While there are a plethora of records for the post WWII period, there is a significant dearth of material for the period from the establishment of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the US in 1924 until the early 1950s[3]. That is a period of 26 years, almost a single generation, without solid and specific evidence of how the diocese was created, how it survived during difficult years and how it prospered. As an illustration of how few records the diocese has of this early period, there are almost no copies of the diocesan newspaper which would have recorded the major events within the life of the church.[4] Thus I was confronted with a major dilemma when asked to write the history of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. How do you write a history without records? The answer for a trained historian is that you do not. And, you certainly do not manufacture the information in order to create a historical narrative.[5] Unfortunately, many in the Church are not so judicious when writing or speaking about things they know little about.

About once a week this website receives an email, from well meaning individuals, proclaiming to understand gay people. They also have the solution necessary to cure us, or tame us or save us, or even convert us to heterosexuality. Frequently quoting selected verses from Scripture or the writings of the Fathers of the Church, some of these even believe they can scare us out of our sexual orientation. In general their conclusions and recommendations seem to boil down to four:

1) When you chose to be gay, you committed a sin against God;

2) You must repent of your choice to become a homosexual;

3)  Your only choice is to remain celibate for the rest of your life;

4) With enough prayer and repentance it is possible to revert to a heterosexual life.

Usually the authors of such emails are themselves married heterosexuals, who would declare that they themselves did not choose their sexuality, while enjoying all of the “benefits” of married life. Keep in mind that all of these same individuals, according to the rules of the Church, would be allowed to divorce and re-marry within the Church up to three times. My frequent retort to these individuals is that while Scripture is divinely inspired and many of the Holy Fathers are to be treasured for their sacred words, God has revealed many new things since the Bible was written, specifically in the areas of biology, neuroscience, psychology, physics and numerous other areas of creation. The Church has over the centuries accepted these modern advances.[6]  The Church needs to do the same when it comes to LGBT individuals. Certainly the Church needs to preach the mercy of Christ, and a humility in its lack of understanding of the complexity of human sexuality, and its own application of oikonomia[7] when making decisions that affect the lives of its faithful, especially those who have been so vulnerable to exclusion and unnecessary attacks of violence. Many of these well-meaning people are in command of the facts when it comes to their own lives and the laws they choose to acknowledge, but are woefully ignorant about the facts when it comes to LGBT individuals. They construct a narrative, explanations, prescriptions and solutions without the facts.

One email to this website from “Tom” criticized my call for the Church to accept modern studies of science. That person wrote: “Similarly, let’s assume that tomorrow some scientists announce they found a gene, the existence of which might have a correlation with orientation for serial killings, cannibalism or exercising bestiality. You may find it helpful to think whether you would revise your faith so as to accommodate the latest trend about “simple biology”. This person is someone who can in his mind easily equate the love between two men with cannibalism and serial killing, and not miss a beat. Does he lack intelligence, humility, compassion or all of the above? Drawing such outrageous conclusions without all of the facts, and without compassion and mercy, is not only dangerous, it is also deeply offensive, and not only to gay people, but to the God who created us as well as the love we share.

[1] Many ethnic Ukrainians also joined the Russian Orthodox Greek-Catholic Church (the current Orthodox Church in America), others joined the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, still others joined the Byzantine or Ruthenian Catholic Church as well as other dioceses. The jurisdictional “mess” can be explained with many reasons, one of these being the limited national consciousness of those Ukrainians living under the rule of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

[2] As one can  imagine this history is quite complicated and intricate and replete with various jurisdictional disagreements and growing pains.  I have highly oversimplified this history for the sake of this reflection.

[3] This date is related to the union of two jurisdictions, and the acceptance of Archbishop Mstyslav Skrypnyk into the diocese. Mstyslav was a prolific writer and immediately took it upon himself to increase the media output of the diocese. The preservation of historical artifacts and archival material was another passion of his.

[4]  Also there are no minutes from the numerous diocesan wide assemblies held in the US (Sobors) before 1950.

[5] A pejorative term for this type of “manufactured” history, is “Soviet history”. For example, the Academy of Sciences in the USSR was famous for crediting Lenin and Stalin with various astronomical discoveries.

[6] For example, few bishops and priests today would hold parishioners to terms of penance prescribed in the canons during periods of menstruation. Also, one doubts there was much discussion as to whether to include “for those who travel by air” in the prayers of the Church, after the invention of aeronautics.

[7] Oikonomia is the “managing of the house” or making decisions in the Church which are not specifically addressed in Scripture or the canons of the Church, or more frequently, subverting the law for a “greater good”.

 

  1. Rick Zajac Said,

    Christ is Risen!

    My “dido”, my mom’s father, was one of those who came to western Canada fully intending to return home but WW One got in the way. He never returned, never saw his birth family again even though they corresponded regularly.

    Regarding the “what if’s..”, I refuse to get into a fruitless argument over hypotheticals. The smug, self satisfied, (and totally ignorant) self righteous types who proclaim with great confidence their beliefs about LGBTQ folk are just asking for a slap.

  2. andre Said,

    Indeed HE is Risen!
    Rick, Thank you for your comment. While I understand your frustration, we must be people of hope and grace. There is always hope that God will change the heart of bishops, priests, and good men and women of the Church. Maybe it will happen after a major tragedy, such as after the Orlando massacre, or when one of their children, grandchildren or friend, comes out as gay. We must be prepared to support them, even when they have thrown stones.
    Andriy

  3. Marika Said,

    Heterosexuals–especially happily married ones–lecturing LGBT folks about their sexuality and purpose in life is an unfortunate by-product of membership in the Church. Rest assured that it has little to do with scripture (which describes sex acts, not sexuality) or the life or example of Jesus Christ and more to do with fear and bigotry. Although you cannot control the e-mail correspondence you receive, I concur with Rick that many of these people do not even deserve the dignity of an argument.

    I wonder if you might think of exploring on your website the work of Dr. Valerie Karras on Orthodoxy and sex and gender. While most of her work is aimed at challenging the status of women in the church, much of it applies to LGBT folks as well, esp her analysis of how “normative” the Greek fathers think the male-female dyad is and the fact that we will be gender-free in the world to come. There is far too much exultation in the Roman Church as well over the so-called divine order of heterosexuality. IMO, this is about heterosexual males defending their male privilege. I notice that one particularly outraged critic of Karras is a bishop who demanded to know why, in her exploration of Orthodox theologies of women, she didn’t discuss “marriage.”

    Also, if I may add, when the incoming gets particularly brutal and offensive . . . there are a couple of progressive Roman Catholic publications out there that really push the envelope on LGBT issues. These are the National Catholic Reporter and Commonweal. Their readership is overwhelmingly positive–and educated–on the subject. I sometimes post at these sites from the Orthodox perspective and the community has been extremely welcoming. Christ lives in all of us.

  4. andre Said,

    Marika,
    Thank you for your comment and engagement with our readers. Unfortunately this website does receive a fair share of emails from people who condemn us, but we also receive an immense amount of emails from Orthodox who are LGBT or their family members and friends, who need support and guidance, and most of all our prayers and honest actions. This humble website and our engagement helps them immensely. I have read the works of Dr. Karras and admire her erudition and will look into engaging her in our ministry. Thank you for the idea.
    Please be well. I bid you peace,
    Andriy

  5. Bobby Said,

    Andre,
    In your reference, Tom did not equate the love between two men with cannibalism and serial killing.
    What Tom said is that forcing the Church to rely on ephemeral scientific fireworks is not really the Orthodox way. The example was stretched to make the point visible. Apparently this did not work and yoy were offended. But you did miss the point I think.
    Bobby

  6. andre Said,

    Bobby,
    The proposal that Tom makes would allow the Church, and society, to accept criminal acts where the second party does not or cannot offer consent. To equate adult gay people in consensual monogamous adult relationships with those who are murdered and eaten is not only grotesquely offensive, it is also a completely flawed analogy.
    Andriy

  7. Bobby Said,

    Andre,

    One last time, I will try and help the point get clearer, because you continue to miss it.
    You name any paraphilia that involves adult consent. There is a long list of paraphilias. You should be able to freely name one which does not make you feel “grotesquely offended”.

    Then let’s force the Church to endorse this on the basis of “orientation”, “loving all of God’s creation” or any other favorite motto you prefer.

    Let’s then compose the meaning.

    Does it get any clearer?

    Bobby

  8. Mark Said,

    I get what you’re saying, Andre, but Bobby cannot. That tells you the reality. These people HATE us and see us as pure evil. Too evil even to be listened to, but only to be dictated to about their own lives; we are, to them, a lower life form, incapable of understanding even ourselves, so that our reassurance about the purity of our affections and attractions can never be seen as other than a lie, an animal in heat behaving inappropriately and to be punished for it. We are not even able to comprehend, according to these traditionalists, what is harmful and what is non-harmful sexual behavior between consenting adults.

    They love to compare it to something like diabetes – one dreadful woman said it was like giving candy to a diabetic ward, it was poison, to say homosexuality was not sinful. If you wish to believe it’s sinful, fine. Of course, by that analogy, what they want is to take away insulin, doctors, study and dietary control to pretend diabetes is an aberration cured by pretending it is neither real nor part of you.

    How can you believe in such a faith? The Orthodox churches absolutely *hate* gays!

  9. andre Said,

    Mark,
    Thank you for your comments. I have to say that I am always an optimist, a believer, in these situations. People have and do change their views, sometimes under the strangest circumstances. God can be ironic. I do agree with you that their mind and heart are closed to us. But, people’s hearts can be melted by the gift of the Holy Spirit. Look at the changes that have happened in the USA over the last generation when it comes to gay people, equality for minorities, women’s rights, etc. While we have a long way to go, there is change. What worries me is that the Church is losing its younger faithful over many of these issues or those who remain, no longer believe the Church on social issues.
    I have met Orthodox who love us and pray for us and wish that the Church would accept us. There are Orthodox priests and bishops with LGBT brothers, sisters, and friends. Things will change. We must be the witness to the truth of Christ, His holy Church and the struggles of each other. Do not lose hope my friend.
    I bid you peace,
    Andriy

  10. Mark Said,

    I pray that you are right, Fr. Andre! I long for the day that they can understand we aren’t asking for sexual license, but the same rights – AND responsibilities! – as they have, given our orientation to the same sex. The slippery slope argument makes me despair over some peoples’ turning their backs on the simple reality – which, yes, I believe is of God.

  11. Thomas Said,

    Andre, thank you do this website and your service. I am Orthodox and gay. I have not attended Divine Liturgy for a few years due to some experiences I had with local Church . I miss attending services and being with other Orthodox Christians. Your comments above give me such hope and optimism that God will change hearts regarding homosexuality. I plan on returning to attending Divine Liturgy and Holy Communion. Just have to be careful and cautious but I firmly believe that we must work in love and trust in Christ. Thank you and God bless you.

  12. andre Said,

    Thomas,
    I hope that you will reconsider attending the Divine Liturgy. The grace that flows at the mystery is indeed one of Christ’s greatest gifts to us. I understand you might have been hurt, many of us have been injured by other Orthodox, some well meaning, others meaning us harm. Please know that you are loved and cared for by God Himself. I bid you peace. Andriy

  13. Αθανάσιος Said,

    Some of the ‘gifts’ I -and others- are hereby presented with:
    – Andre: “they throw stones”, “they condemn us”, they “lack intelligence, humility, compassion or all of the above”, their conclusions are “deeply offensive to the God”
    – Rick: “smug, self satisfied, totally ignorant, self righteous, asking for a slap.”
    – Marika: “unfortunate by-product of membership in the Church”, led by fear and bigotry, “undeserving the dignity of an argument”.
    – Mark: “they HATE us”, “they see us as lower life forms”
    This portrays the measure of your tolerance for the discomforting opposite view. Your understanding of “dialogue” is pretty interesting: you can go on discussing to fish for a flaw or a new argument, but when it stops suiting you, there is always a standard “exit strategy”: any argument you receive from married heterosexuals is de facto invalid as they do not understand gays!
    How convenient!

    Andre, I wrote you entire pages and you selected one excerpt and made a flag of it. I gave you so many questions to answer and you dodged, quote, “While I would like to engage you on every point that you have raised, I would like to begin with a simple question…” – but you never took the challenge to reply to a single one of these (and numerous subsequent) arguments I posed.
    How convenient!

    But you know what truly offends me Andre? Flirting priesthood status. When you state outloud that you have abandoned priesthood on your own (as if you could continue anyway!) you should have the dignity to not accept others calling you “father”. Instead, you have replied that you leave it to God to judge if the grace of fatherhood has ever left you. And again your name comes up in every review on controversial books with the fat bold title “written by an Orthodox Bishop” on the front cover, who is …anonymous.
    How convenient!

  14. Mark Brunson Said,

    See, Andre.

    They absolutely refuse. Absolutely. Any time you refuse to frame everything in *their* terms, they cry oppression and hypocrisy, and, as usual, make it all about them. That isn’t love. If you want, go ahead and post the list of “gotcha” questions the above poster, and I guarantee you that no answer will be sufficient. When that happens, the charges of turning willfully from Christ will come, just as predictably as the pseudo outrage at being called out for their behavior. At most, you’ll get a lot of stuff about “ineffable” and “mystical” and “mystery” and “tradition” – it’s the standard fall-back, when authority is absent. No possible way tradition could be wrong, because, of course, error only became possible *recently*, no possible way deviation from tradition could be right, for the same reason. Everyone is an erring sinner, except of course the elusive “fathers” of the Church (and how conveniently the “fathers'” prejudices reflect their own – which could not, of course, be, in any way, a reflection of *their* underlying brokenness, but their, and their adherents absolute comprehension of what is right. Why? Because they said so and it’s an ineffable mystical mystery of tradition).

    Now, given that sort of trickery and emotional manipulation, that sort of absolute disdain and rejection, how could that be anything but hate? It’s the pattern of an emotionally-abusive parent or spouse. What good can come of it? If they truly believed what they say, wouldn’t they also welcome the chance to “shake the dust from their feet” against us? Why come back? Because they can’t beat you down, can’t raise themselves up by it, if the relationship is over.

  15. Anonymous Said,

    Good question Andre – “why don’t we shake the dust from our feet against you and keep coming back?”

    Really? That is what hurts your friends? Disagreement not vanishing from the face of the earth?

    They ask “why”. Here’s why. Because you are making up a heresy, measuring up Orthodoxy and the Fathers by the measure of private likes and dislikes – and even that would be ok, if kept to your private damage; after all, it’s your life, your choice.
    But making fool of unsuspected Christians, leading them into believing that they will be “blessed” through sodomy, THAT is evil, THAT is hate – hate for truth. You see, Christ warned of those who do not enter the kingdom of heaven and at the same time neither let others enter. Maybe your “Love/Hate” motto-repeating friends will classify His words at that context as “hate” too. Well, too bad, can’t do anything about that.

  16. Mark Brunson Said,

    You see, Andre – they are like pharaoh: God has hardened their hearts so that we may be free of them. Like all slave-owners, they won’t let you go easily, because they hate and fear your freedom in Christ.

    Be free of them. Leave the dead to bury the dead.

  17. Mark Brunson Said,

    Leave them behind. If they will not shake the dust from their feet, shake it from yours, and “These Egyptians you see today, you shall never see again.”

  18. Anonymous Said,

    Yes indeed. Enjoy the cheerleading flock. Mark, the “applause” sign is lit.

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