We have no right to humble and victimize the image of God
April 2, 2015
“We have no right to humble and victimize the image of God.” Do you find those words offensive or un-Christian or un-Orthodox? Surprisingly, many bishops of the Orthodox Church do. These words were spoken, according to sources, by the Metropolitan of Pergamon, John Zizioulas, a representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, at a February 2015 meeting at the Patriarchal Center of Chambesy, Geneva, Switzerland. The meeting was a gathering of the Inter-Orthodox Special Committee established to prepare for the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church. The Great Council, according to the Synaxis of Primates, will take place in Istanbul in 2016.
In his speech, His Eminence Metropolitan John spoke of the need for sexual minorities to “be protected from any kind of discrimination and injustice.” In his remarks to the group of bishops, the Metropolitan is quoted as further elaborating upon his views on a much neglected topic, homosexuals in the Orthodox Church: “Let us ask ourselves if we need to consider homosexuals scapegoats who deserve to suffer persecution. And if we don’t want to establish that these people must be protected, it means that we want to be punish and imprison them.”
Metropolitan John’s views were supported by professor Vlasios Feidas, dean of the Orthodox Theological Institute in Chambesy, who stated that “there are sexual minorities, but they are just as we, members of the Orthodox Church. They also participate in church life. They are sinners, but we are all sinners. The state recognizes them, as respectable members of society, therefore we, in turn, must not ignore them. Sexual sins are under no circumstance the grievous [sic], so we must face the GL community not by conviction, but with love and respect.”
It was a good thing that I was sitting down while reading these earth-shattering words coming from the mouth of a hierarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as well as from a respected professor of an Orthodox theological school who lectures with the blessing of the Patriarch, otherwise I might have fallen down. One would search in vain for any comparable remarks from such an august leader of the Church, ever.
Yet, one would have thought that World War III was about to break out among the bishops present at the meeting, when they heard these words. One of the first to disagree with these words was the representative of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarchate of Moscow, Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev. Given the persecution of LGBT persons in Russia, committed with the complete silence if not at the direction and with the blessings of the Orthodox Church in Russia, the Metropolitan’s negative reaction was not surprising. According to an unofficial, although completely negative, anti-equality report, most of the bishops present voiced their fervent opposition to any change in the traditional view of the Church toward sexual minorities. The report referred to the “intense psychological coercion practiced” by Metropolitan John, resulting in a compromise amendment stating that “sexual minorities should not be discriminated against”, but not implying that all of the bishops share the same opinions and principles on this matter. To demonstrate the extreme reaction that the speech had on some bishops, Metropolitan Ignatius (Georgakopoulos) of Demetrias, Greece referred to those who did not support protecting sexual minorities, as Nazis. WOW – intense psychological coercion practiced by Nazis – no wonder the Orthodox Church is in trouble, if this is how the bishops act when called upon to simply speak up (not necessarily act) to protect a persecuted minority. It is a cliché, but the question has to be asked: “what would Jesus do?”
While others might be gloomy about this disagreement, the disparaging words and the vitriolic reactions of the vast majority of bishops who attended the conference, and see only darkness, I see light. Within the darkness, there is a small glimmer of light, of hope, and solace. As one my colleagues said, at least they are talking about us. At least we are on the agenda. That is a major victory. Sad to say, but true, just talking about the LGBT community at a gathering of Orthodox bishops in any positive sense, is a major victory.
How do we react or act upon hearing this discussion and disagreement? Words from the First Epistle of John is the message that we need to live, and express upon hearing the disheartening words, actions and lack of unity emanating from the teachers of the Church on the basic question of loving and respecting all of God’s creation. “Since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another…for whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” (I John 4:20) Our bishops need for us to pray for them, love them, show compassion towards them, and educate them.
-To each and every gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered Orthodox Christian, I extol you for remaining Orthodox within the face of significant indifference, hatred and even persecution. We need to find the strength to talk to our local bishops and priests and fellow parish members about our lives.
-To those bishops and priests with gay family members and friends, I pray that you find the grace and strength to openly love and defend them and speak up to your fellow bishops and priests when you hear or read words of disrespect or even hatred about your family members and friends.
-To those Orthodox Christians who are heterosexual, and who either have gay family members and/or friends or who despise the notion of a portion of God’s creation being ridiculed and demeaned, may you find the power and wisdom to speak up to the bishops and priests who participate in demeaning actions or use derogatory language when speaking about gay, lesbian and transgendered persons.
-Finally, to my gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered brothers and sisters, take succor in the fact that you are loved by God, unconditionally and take a moment to thank God for His mercies, especially that He is beginning to open the minds and hearts of those the Church has chosen to lead us.
Original publication (in Greek) http://www.agioritikovima.gr/