Living with regret
October 18, 2015
In memory of my father, Vyacheslav.
A few months ago my father died. I loved my father but we had somewhat of a difficult relationship for the last ten years of his life. When I graduated from high school, over thirty years ago, I was determined to enter Seminary in order to prepare for the priesthood, he was cautious, concerned that the life of a priest was difficult. The Ukrainian phrase that he used was that being a priest “was a tough piece of bread,” but he did give me his blessing to enter Seminary. Throughout my years of study he was very proud of me, especially when I was able to return to my home parish during vacations and allowed to preach to the congregation. He used to prod the local pastor to allow me to preach. The harder conversation came months after graduating from Seminary and telling my father that I intended to ask to be ordained as a celibate priest. He was very worried that I would be alone in my life, and that I would have a very difficult time living as an unmarried man. He believed that everyone needed someone to love and care for in their lives, and was deeply concerned that I would not have someone in my life to love and to be loved by. I tried to convince him that after much prayer, thought and preparation, that this was my true desire. I was fairly certain that he was unconvinced; he nonetheless gave me his blessing to petition the bishop for ordination. Over twenty years plus of priestly service, in the parish, teaching at the diocesan Seminary and working closely with the hierarchy of the Church, I was thoroughly convinced of my father’s love for me, as well as his admiration and respect for my chosen path in life.
What my father did not know was that over those years, his concerns proved to be true. It was difficult to be alone, to live alone, to not have anyone special in my life to love and care for, someone who loved and cared for me. What my father also did not know was that it would have been impossible for me to have gotten married to a woman, as I was gay, something that I knew about myself from a very early age. I did not believe that the priesthood would turn me straight, or take away the feelings that I had, but I did spend years hoping, praying, fasting, visiting holy men and traveling to monasteries with the sincere hope that God would take away my desires and feelings and longing for another man to love and spend my life with. What my father also did not know was that I constantly questioned my calling to the priesthood. Why would God call me, a gay man to be a priest, if He did not also give me the charism, the gift, to live a chaste and celibate life? The turmoil was significant and something I believed I could not share with my father. Why?
When my brothers and I were younger, I was in 6th or 7th grade, I vividly remember my father telling us that if he ever found out that one of us was a “homo”, he would kill us. I am not sure what provoked my father, who was not a violent man, he never even hit us as children, but for some reason he felt compelled to say this to his sons. Did he see something in me that made him question, or wonder about his eldest son’s sexual orientation? In relating this episode many years later to a dear friend, he questioned the veracity of my memory. How and why would a child ever make something like this up? What child would believe that their parent had within them the possibility to harm their children, especially if all that child knew was love and care from their parents? Of course I knew that my father would not have ever harmed us, but what I do know is that for decades I lived with the fear that one day he would find out that I was gay. And in my mind I was certain that that meant losing my father’s love and respect.
For years after leaving the active priesthood my father wondered about why I no longer served in the Church. It was a topic that I refused to discuss with him. My father died never fully knowing the full truth about his son. He never had the pleasure of meeting the most wonderful man who changed my life, my husband. Frequently I ask myself and search my conscience for regrets of not sharing with my father what he for sure already knew. I wonder why I was afraid and why I was such a coward, and now I must live with the thoughts that I will never be able to share my truth with my father, and that I might always live with the regrets. Certainly it was not because I believe I made the wrong choice to leave the active priesthood, or marry the man I love, it was the fear of losing my father’s love. But to be truthful, I never gave him the choice to accept or reject me, and that choice I regret.
Many of us have regrets in our life, for things that we should have said or done, and for times when we should have kept silent or not acted. We agonize about being candid and telling our truth, especially to those we love and from whom we crave respect. LGBT Orthodox Christians especially worry about telling their spiritual fathers that they were created differently, although very much in the image of our Creator. Called to be honest, we are particularly troubled that our families would not understand us, lack compassion, condemn us, or even bar us from the family, including the family of Christ within the Church. No child of God should ever wonder if they are loved or will be loved.
Forgive me, Dad.
Memory Eternal, Dad.
Vichna Pamyat, Tato.
 In the Orthodox Church, priests may choose to be married (to women, of course), but the marriage must take place before ordination.
 In Greek χαρίσμα, a blessing or gift from God, given in order to accomplish a task, for example, discernment.