No greater agony, the untold story

June 9, 2015

In memory of my friend, “Luke”

Maya AngelouRecently I found out that a friend of mine from high school, someone I knew over thirty-five years ago, passed away not so long ago. We were close friends in high school, mainly because we did not fit in with other groups of our peers. Neither of us were jocks, or overly brilliant, or cool enough to be part of the various cliques in high school, and so we found a kinship in our ostracism. One day, I decided that I was going to tell “Luke” that I was gay. It was a deep secret that I had hidden inside of me, never telling anyone. Since we were both seniors in high school at the time, soon to be off to out of state colleges, I thought that I could risk telling my best friend that I was attracted to other guys. Luke was not someone I was attracted to, but thought that he might also be gay, and so I risked it. I got the shock of my life, when he told me that he thought that there was something wrong with me. He then threatened to go immediately and tell my parents what I had said. I panicked, and with the best acting I could possibly muster up at the moment, tried to laugh the entire thing off as a big joke. I am not sure if he bought it, but it certainly bought me freedom from any embarrassment or ill treatment from my parents.

We did not communicate much after graduating from high school; we drifted apart as many teenagers do. Imagine my surprise when decades later I found out that Luke was also gay and had a life partner for many years, and that they were together until Luke died. Luke must have known that he was gay when I told him I was. Why did he not tell me about himself as well? Why did he threaten to out me to my parents, which in the mid-seventies, in a home with religious European parents, was no idle threat. What thoughts were going through his mind, what fear did he have, unable to tell his best friend that he also shared same the secret? What did he think would happen if he revealed to me the untold story that he held deeply inside?

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”[1] This is a quote from a work by Maya Angelou, the great writer who won critical acclaim for her 1969 work “I know why the caged bird sings”, which includes the heart wrenching true story of Maya being raped as a child. There are unfortunately many of us who are in agony because we hold untold stories deep inside of us. Whether it is as criminal and frightening as a child being raped by a family member, or being afraid to tell your best friend that you are gay, the agony of not revealing the truth can be excruciating and have long lasting, negative implications upon a person’s mental, emotional, spiritual and even physical well being. To bear an untold story can indeed be a great agony.

Many LGBT Orthodox Christians find themselves with a story to tell and yet we deeply agonize over telling our story. While it is difficult to tell our parents, family, and friends the story of who we are, the faithful Orthodox Christian must also wrestles with telling his/her spiritual father and the members of their church community. While many sections of society are becoming more knowledgeable and accepting of gay people, as recently demonstrated by the vote to allow same-sex marriage in “very Catholic” Ireland, there are still vast segments of people, groups and governments who malign and demonize us. It has been the practice, and remains the policy of the Orthodox Church to hurt and reject LGBT persons. And while we are witnessing a small, but seismic shift in the tone, language, and actions of the Roman Catholic Church towards LGBT persons,[2] unfortunately no such gesture or shift in tone or language about LGBT persons can be discerned from the Orthodox hierarchy. While groups such as Dignity cater to LGBT Roman Catholics, and some Catholic bishops and theologians[3] have called for greater understanding of LGBT persons and their story, there is no safe place for LGBT Orthodox Christians to tell the untold story inside of them. Instead of revealing their truth to their parish priest, to the members of the parish where they worship, to those they sing in the choir with, to those they serve on the parish board with, they either distance themselves from Christ’s holy Church or remain isolated; not the goal of a Christ-centered community. Who ultimately bears responsibility for creating such an atmosphere of fear and retribution of dishonesty and agony? The entire Church bears responsibility.

The untold story within the Church is that the vast majority of bishops, priests and faithful are ignorant in the areas of neurobiology and gender science, and lack compassion and humility in what they do not know. Priests who have little to no training in these delicate matters find themselves following their own uninformed prejudices[4]. But perhaps those truly responsible are the numerous bishops, priests and faithful, who have family members and friends who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered, and know firsthand that we are not people who are rebelling against God’s created order[5], but ordinary people, created by God. Chosen by Him to be as different as those with different eye color or dominant handedness, wanting to love and be loved by someone special and live our lives in peace and harmony with all.

I would encourage LGBT Orthodox to trust in the Lord and their fellow brothers and sisters and tell their untold story. However, the “silent sympathizers”, our friends and family members must also take the leap of faith and tell the bishops, priests and lay leaders of the Church that a dialogue of acceptance and understanding must begin. Otherwise we all remain in agony, the gay Orthodox because we can’t tell our story, and the majority of Orthodox, who will always be incomplete without their LGBT brothers and sisters.

[1] Rainbow in the Cloud, the Wisdom and Spirit of Maya Angelou. Random House Press, New York, 2014, pg. 51.

[2] For example, see The New York Times, “At the Vatican, a shift in tone towards gays and divorce.” October 13, 2014

[3] For example, see the recent remarks by Cardinal Marx, Father Thomasset Alain and Father Eberhard Schockenhoff. Yet, for a reality check, the Catholic bishop of Oyo, Nigeria, Emmanuel recently compared gay people to drug addicts, robbers and terrorists. https://newwaysministryblog.wordpress.com/category/synod-2015/

[4] Although not directly on the topic of administering to the LGBT community, see the writings of Father Sergei Sveshnikov on the matter of ill-equipped parish priests. https://frsergei.wordpress.com/2015/06/04/study-notes-call-no-man-a-father/

[5] See the recent hysterical “epistle” by the Orthodox Clergy Association of Houston and Southeast Texas http://orthodoxhouston.blogspot.com/2015/05/gay-marriage-and-houston-gay-rights.html

 

  1. Elena Said,

    This is exactly why I am not a member of the Orthodox Church that I was raised in and deeply love. It truly breaks my heart that they hold these unholy concepts on married gay couples. Obviously the Russian Orthodox Church, all Orthodox Churches, fail to ask “what would Jesus do”? God is all about love. It is truly ignorant of them not to get that. At least the Catholic Church is making an effort to change minds and hearts. Not that I’d ever be a member of the Catholic Church but, at least they are making an effort. My wife has suggested I seek another Church, perhaps the Episcopal Church which does recognize our relationship. However, I love the Orthodox Church to much to do that. I just can’t bring myself to abandon my Church, even though they abandoned me. So, I sneak into Church a few times a year and never take communion as I should be allowed to as a baptized Orthodox Christian. This truly breaks my heart.

  2. andre Said,

    Dearest Elena,

    Your comments sadden me, but I understand them. The Orthodox Church does need people like you, who “deeply love” the church. Please pray that our Lord enlighten the minds and soften the hearts of the bishops and clergy, so that they will love, embrace and accept all people, including the marginalized LGBT faithful. We know that these people have family members, relatives, friends, co-workers and acquaintances who are LGBT. By being open with them, we can have a great affect upon them.

    Please know that together, although we are small, we can be a powerful movement, because ultimately God understands us, as He has created .

    Please stay in touch.

    I bid you peace,

    Andriy

  3. Titian Said,

    Thank you so much for this article. I found this site a while ago and I already got acquainted with it a little bit. Sometimes I just need to hear something like this from another orthodox Christian to remind myself that I’m not crazy. I hope you’ll keep going with it. So please keep posting! I learned to accept myself as gay in front of Christ a couple of years ago, but only very recently I found some postive theological answers for my situation. It feels so much better when you know that God accepts you as you are, and doesn’t forbid you to have a normal love life. But nontheless, I’m still very isolated in the church and the society and sometimes I wonder if all my answers were just a hallucination. We as orthodox gay Christians need to support each other wherever we are!

  4. andre Said,

    Titian,
    You are not crazy and you are certainly not alone. Not only are there numerous LGBT Orthodox throughout the world, but we do have those in the straight community who love and support us. The hierarchy and clergy are slow to change their attitudes and embrace us, but the Church has always been slow at innovation, and perhaps that is one of the reasons that we love the Church. Please keep posting comments and ideas, suggestions and thoughts. Through such communication we strength ourselves and make our voice heard. We also help those too timid to engage.
    I bid you peace,
    Andriy

  5. mark Said,

    Hey, I kinda like this website it gives a good feeling that there’s other ppl with u in the same road u walk in, I’m still confused with the homosexuality thing especially that I’m Egyptian Coptic orthodox and till now we don’t have a clear law about the gay marriage I’m thinking that our church some step towards this thing no one tells us gay here that we devils or any bad thing like I read on the site but the most common idea that we r psycho but I think it’s not just the sex with the same gender thing is the only thing that makes us gay but also falling love with them , I still don’t know what I will do with my life but I wish to be Christian and gay in the same time but I need approval for this thing I need to be blessed not by one or two priests also the bishop himself ,and we always can pray for them to be guided to the right decision about this whole thing

  6. andre Said,

    Mark,
    Thank you for your kind comments and support of this website. There are indeed numerous other people like you, and we walk the same road, hopefully not behind or in front of you, but along side of you. There have been many tragic reports about the treatment of gay people in Egypt, which is quite sad and unjust. There have been several statements made by Coptic bishops against gay people. You are right, the bishops and priests need our prayers as well as our openness. Please stay in touch. I bid you peace,
    Andriy

  7. Titian Said,

    Hey Mark, I’m so glad you wrote. I’ve been wondering for a while what is the attidue of the coptic orthodox church regarding this issue. Even if I am officialy a member of an eastern orthodox church (serbian) after a long discernment and studying I was completely won over by the coptic expression of faith although I stil love my chalcedonian brethren. So I’d like to ask you do you have at least the liberty with your priests to say that you are gay or is it something that you need to hide in order to participate in the communion? I would like to join the coptic church one day (hopefully soon) but this uncertainty whether I’ll be requested to repent from being gay is making me doubting. I don’t know if you’ll be able to answer me, but anyway, I’m happy for this exchange..

  8. Titian Said,

    Thank you for the encouriging words, Andriy. I find a lot of comfort in the work of activists like M. Vines and J. Cannon. I guess our task as orthodox is to slowly make space for the discussion in our own Church.

  9. andre Said,

    You are correct and that is one of the main reasons that I started the website – for discussion in the Church. But I also believe, for those that can, the more open and honest we are about our lives, the better it will be. Bishops, priests, lay leaders of the Church, need to know we are. Then they can stop fearing us and begin to know us.
    Thank you for your comments,
    Andriy

  10. Bob Said,

    I am an Orthodox theologian having graduated theology at the Greek Orthodox Theological College of Sydney in Australia. I do not mewn ti be disrespectful but I must say that a lot of the thinking on this site is misguided. Christ’s message is one of repentance from our fallen human condition … repentance from sin. Our aim as Christians is to grow into God’s likeness and to be co-crucifed with Him so that we may be co-ressurected with Him. We cannot be ressurected without crucifying our fallen human nature … which means to reject sin and to struggle against it. It is through the struggle … through our desire to be with Christ and to become like Him that we will find our salvation. The Curch’s negative stance on homosexuality is that it is a sin … this is clear and undeniable in the Bible. It has nothing to do with moving with the times … homosexuality has always been present in human society. .. it is a manifestation of our fallen nature. The Church is our loving Mother and she is here to guide us to our salvation. She would be remiss in her sacred duties to do anything but preach the Gospel of Christ unaltered through the ages … and the message is Repent for the Kingdom of God is here now for all to partake … Come and receive the kingdom.

    I pray for all of you … God bless.

  11. andre Said,

    Bob,
    Thank you for your email. You are not being disrespectful. Dialogue on this issue is vital, as it does indeed affect all of our lives within the Church of Christ.
    Although I would not call myself a theologian, I have also graduated from Seminary, and hold a PhD in history, specifically the Orthodox Church in the Russian Empire. I served as a canonical Orthodox priest and taught in an Orthodox Seminary for close to 23 years.
    Now to your points: Yes, Christ does indeed have the message of repentance in hope of salvation. We are baptized unto a death like His, so that we might rise like Him. If the Orthodox Church has a solid statement on homosexuality that is negative, then the Church is wrong. The Orthodox Church has never been fundamentalists when it comes to the interpretation of Scripture, and by extension, the reading of the canons or the writings of the Fathers. Certainly you have read the canons, and know that a strict application would fins most bishops excommunicated for years, to say nothing about the laity. To give only one recent example, the current Ecumenical Patriarch is encouraging public, joint prayer with Rome. Certainly this is forbidden by the canons and numerous Fathers, even if one widely interprets them. I am sure that the Fathers would not endorse joint, public prayer with a man who has been declared to be infallible on matters of church dogma. This is a change.
    The sacred writers of Scripture and the Holy Fathers simply did not understand modern day biology, psychology, genetics, and neuroscience, that does not make them unholy. If homosexuality is a manifestation of our fallen nature, then so is heterosexuality. The difference is that you, I assume you are heterosexual, are able to marry someone that you love and create a life with, in order to grow together in holiness. That is what many gay people want. We are no different. We are all called to repentance, but not for something given to us by God, that we did not choose. To do so, would be to reject a gift from the Creator himself.
    I bid you peace,
    Andriy

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