You are my son.

September 3, 2017

About six months ago my mother passed away. For those who have lost a parent, you know that the grieving process can take longer than expected. It certainly has taken me quite a while and I am still definitely in the process. There is a holy tradition in the Orthodox Church to commemorate the deceased during a church memorial service, three days, forty days, and one year after their death. These “milestones” are observed in order, according to Orthodox theology, to give rest to the soul of the deceased. They also serve another important purpose and that is to give much needed solace to the family and friends whose loved one has passed.
Many regular readers of this blog might know that for many years my mother suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and later significant dementia. For approximately the last year of her life, she frequently did not know who I, her son, was, often thinking that I worked at the nursing home where she lived. While she experienced a significant amount of mental anguish and torment, not having my mother recognize her own son was also a particular type of agony for me personally. As we were preparing to place my mother under the care of hospice, my husband and I spent a great deal of time with her. During one of our last visits with her, while she was still able to speak, my mother turned and looked at me and with nothing but love in her eyes said, “You are my son” and then she turned to my husband and said, “And I love you very much”. My mother, who had not recognized me for many, many months, blessed me with the most beautiful words I have ever heard – “You are my son!” Fearing that she would see me sob uncontrollably, I had to get up immediately and walk around the facility for a few minutes, leaving her in the good hands of my husband, the man she called her fourth son. Since my mother’s death, I have heard her words in my mind and in my heart every day. They give me strength and peace, affirmation and resolve. You are my son, uttered without a hint of judgment, regret or lament, but in the fullness of love.
The words “you are my beloved son” was spoken by God when His son, Jesus Christ, was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist (Mark 1:11). The baptism of Christ is the commencement of His earthly ministry, it is the theophany or manifestation of God to the entire universe. In the understanding of the Orthodox Church, the words “you are my beloved son” reaffirm that which always was, God is one essence in three persons. The words also affirm the start of the preaching of the “good news” of Christ to the world: a reaffirmation of that which always was, as well as a new beginning. This is how Orthodox Christians understand these words spoken by God the Father. This is also how I understand the words that my mother spoke to me before her death. She always loved me, she loves me and will continue to love me even as she leaves this earthly world, and I begin a new phase of my life. Unfortunately this has not always been the words LGBT Orthodox Christians have heard from the Church.
Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Orthodox Christians rarely, if ever, have heard the loving, embracing, accepting, affirming words of “you are my beloved child” from the Church. Instead what we have heard are words of condemnation, ridicule, and conviction for simply being who God made us to be. We have also heard the words of denunciation and pronouncement of excommunication, denied the holy sacraments and even threatened , when we make the free will choice of loving someone of the same gender to make a life with, to love and be loved by, to take care of and be taken care of, and to grow old with. Words of rejection are not how a son or daughter deserves to be treated, these are not the words that should ever be spoken by a parent, or even more so by the Church, to a child of God. Those most marginalized and forgotten by society, the poor, the physically and mentally challenged, people of color, and LGBT individuals, need to be loved just as much, if not more, than those who are the majority.
The message of Jesus Christ is fairly simple: love one another, forgive one another and do not be a hypocrite: in other words, be Christ-like. The Church, established by Christ to tend to His creation on Earth, cannot have a duplicitous message. We hear the words “you are my son” from God, beloved since our birth and nurtured throughout life by Him, but there is also a deafening silence from the Church, refusing to say the same words to us, unless we repent of our God given sexuality, unless we renounce our spouse, unless we abandon our children being brought up by two same-sex parents, unless we conform to that which we were not created to be. The Church has offered us a conditional love. The people of God are to be loved unconditionally. My mother knew this. Many of us pray that the Church will one day understand and practice this. “You are my son,” forever.

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