Positively Monastic Silence

Just a quick post to apologize for how quiet the blog has been for the past week!  Victor is traveling and working on an article, and my dissertation has attempted to devour me.  We’ll be back next week, with more exciting entries, but in the mean time, click here for a fascinating glimpse into the lives of Victor and Eiluned.

In Corde Mariae,

Eiluned

Published in: on July 30, 2010 at 2:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
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As Queer as an Atheist in a Cathedral

A message from our Straight-White-Male-Atheist/Agnostic Blogmaster, the Righteous Pagan

I’m  a bit of an oddity on the staff here at the Homodox Confessions, being neither Queer, Conservative, nor Christian, but I’ll be weighing in now and again, as the spirit (or rather, the indefinable impulse I refuse to attribute to anything supernatural) moves me.  And I thought I might take this opportunity to talk about the sensation of being an outsider, a minority, in situations where my fellow Victor and Eiluned feel right at home.

As a Straight-White-Atheist Male, I’ve been trying to think of situations where I too feel othered.  It doesn’t happen often but I have experienced it in certain situations: in a Women’s Studies class, for example, or more seriously, when living overseas among people who don’t speak my language and look nothing like me…  But I think the moments when I feel the most queer are when I’m in church.

I find going to mass, or participating in religious ceremonies in general, intensely uncomfortable.  I’m not a rabid New Atheist who feels like all religion is an assault on rationality (or at least, I’m not one any more).  I’m well aware of the good religious organizations do around the world.  I love pre-Vatican II liturgical music (or rather, the chant and polyphony more commonly performed before Vatican II), enjoy the sound of Latin, and think churches are absolutely gorgeous.  Though I hate most of the homilies I hear, I am fascinated by homiletics.  I even find theology cool from a philosophical perspective, even if I’m unable to make some of the cognitive leaps required to grok it.  Why then, when I’m surrounded by the joyful faithful at an Easter Vigil mass, do I feel possessed by rage and frustration?  Why, when at a house blessing, do I search, panicking, for some alternative to making the sign of the cross, settling on crossing my arms awkwardly on my chest as if I were attempting to refuse the Eucharist?

Part of it is claustrophobia… I hate being surrounded by people, with limited access to exits, and I have trouble cramming my long legs and large feet into pews.   Part is boredom.  But that doesn’t explain the rage reaction.  Sometimes I can pick out specific things that make me mad, like particularly offensive homilies (those that viciously attack homosexuality, other religions, and aspects of secular culture I support, for example), or prayers for the Jews and other heathens (which I find somewhat condescending).  But since I get panicked and furious even when my buttons aren’t directly pushed, there has to be something else.

I think it has to do with my deep programming and the exclusionary nature of religion.  Being surrounded by a large group who all share a common shibboleth is a profoundly unsettling experience.  I feel like a caveman who has been dropped into the middle of a foreign cave, and my every hesitation marks me as an outsider.  Intellectually, I know I’m in no danger, but my flight or fight reflex gets triggered anyway.  I suppose the next question is, why cannot I learn the responses, join the singing, approach the priest for a blessing if I cannot actually take the wafer, pretend to belong.  Since I don’t believe and do respect religion, I shouldn’t feel uncomfortable pretending, should I?

But I do, I feel desperately uncomfortable.  I feel that by pretending to take part in a ceremony that is, to many people, more important than life, I will somehow diminish it.  I cannot ask the priest for a blessing precisely because it is meaningless to me, but profoundly meaningful to him, and as he assumes I’m one of the faithful, he expects me to cherish it too.  But I don’t, I can’t, not in the way he expects.  I am glad he wishes me well, but the true significance of the act, as experienced by a theist, is lost on me. I feel like an imposter, a sham. So I am trapped, unable to make the responses, and so doomed to remain alienated.

But there might be a solution.  Part of the pressure to conform comes from other people not knowing I’m an atheist.  If they know, it’s not a sham any more.  I’m not lying to them, and not pretending, and if they choose to offer their blessing to someone they know doesn’t believe, that changes the whole nature of the transaction.  A priest who knowingly blesses an atheist has made an informed decision, and I can accept the gift without concern; I might still be a bit weirded out (I don’t GET blessings) but I wouldn’t feel as though I had transgressed.  If there were some way to be openly atheist in a setting where everyone assumes one is religious, then I would take it.  It’s part of the reason I understand gays who broadcast their gender identity; so long as people assume that a homosexual person is straight, they’re still kinda closeted, and have to continually brace themselves against the shock of being outed again and again.

-Your Blogmaster, the Righteous Pagan

Published in: on July 19, 2010 at 11:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Gender, Priesthood, and the Church

I’m sure we all remember last October, when the Church welcomed traditionalist Anglicans into the Roman Catholic fold. Perhaps you had a reaction similar to mine:  “Yay!  Anglican-use parishes!  Wait…we’re acting as a refuge for ‘Anglicans uncomfortable with their church’s acceptance of female priests and openly gay bishops?'” [1] Do we need more people like that?  We want people to convert, not because they’ve come to terms with say, the authority of the Pope, or, more importantly—for some Anglicans—transubstantiation, but because of problems with the sexual orientation and gender of those performing the sacraments?

There are those who would argue that the disagreement over the gender/orientation of those performing the sacraments is deeply theological, and not to be taken lightly.  I am not convinced, however, that some are changing their faith due to deep theological convictions.  The conservatively minded sometimes employ theology to justify the disgust they feel at GLBTQ folks or their desire to keep the status quo (as do we all, from time to time).

On the other hand, perhaps I am convinced that these Anglicans have no good reason to leave because I, myself am not particularly moved by arguments as to why women can’t be priests.  Both sides toss well-worn premises around with unfortunate predictability:[2]

Anti:  We can’t have female priests, Christ chose 12 men, and only men even though He had female disciples.

Pro:  This doesn’t tell us anything about his feelings about a female priesthood, He was merely adhering to the social norms of the times.

Anti:  Christ was the Son of God, he can do anything.  If He wanted to make women priests, He would have.  He didn’t.  Clearly, He didn’t want women to be priests.

Pro:  He also didn’t choose Asian, Innuit, or African priests, does that mean that he clearly only wanted people from his portion of the world to be priests?   Furthermore, as an observant Jew, Christ kept kosher, surely that means He wanted us to keep kosher?

And so forth, with variations and discussions about social norms, Christ’s desire to ignore/embrace them in the service of His church, the innate fitness of women for the priesthood, etc.  Arguments frequently descend to people finding parts of the New Testament where Christ is doing something not in current Church teaching and asking why if this has been dispensed with, why not the prohibition on women priests?

On the other hand, we have the more allegorical argument that Church is Mother, and the priest, as Alter Christus, marries the Church, serving as Father to his spiritual children.  As someone deeply interested in allegory, I would probably find this image more convincing, were it not for my gender and orientation convictions.  Not only do I have no problem with the image of a woman marrying a woman, but I also have no difficulty with the idea that a woman can act as a father/fatherly/fathering figure.  Aside from the biological fact that only women can bear children, I don’t see gender as a defining characteristic for the roles of mother- and fatherhood.

On the other hand, being a true believer in my Church, I’m not ready to just start ordaining women without official sanction, as these people have.

Women ordaining women

If anything, I worry that they make the case for woman priests look bad, as, while they claim to be working within the Church, they are actually making a new Church hierarchy for themselves.   While sympathetic with their cause, I am not so sympathetic with their means.

This week, as I’m sure many of you know, the Vatican issued its revised internal laws for the discipline of pedophilic priests.  (The text of the document itself is to be found here).  Article five of that document reads as follows:

Art. 5

The more grave delict of the attempted sacred ordination of a woman is  also reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith:

1° With due regard for can. 1378 of the Code of Canon Law, both the one who attempts to confer sacred ordination on a woman, and she who attempts to receive sacred ordination, incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See.

2° If the one attempting to confer sacred ordination, or the woman who attempts to receive sacred ordination, is a member of the Christian faithful subject to the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, with due regard for can. 1443 of that Code, he or she is to be punished by major excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See.

3° If the guilty party is a cleric he may be punished by dismissal or deposition.

The Times suggests that,

“The decision to link the issues appears to reflect the determination of embattled Vatican leaders to resist any suggestion that pedophilia within the priesthood can be addressed by ending the celibacy requirement or by allowing women to become priests.”

On one hand, I’m not entirely sure the analysis is correct.  The document does contain, not merely the rules for dealing with abuse of minors, but also other kinds of abuses associated with sacraments (see, for example, Article 3, which deals with sacrilegious acts against the Eucharist.)  The inclusion of a discussion about female priests takes place in the context of sacramental abuses, not specifically  in a discussion about pedophilic priests.  On the other hand, there is no mention (that I can find, perhaps your eyes are sharper, dear readers) of what action may be taken against priests who attempt to marry, or those who attempt to ordain an already married man, which would also be an abuse of Holy Orders.[3] Thus, only the ordination of women is put on par (in terms of sinfulness) with desecration of the Blessed Sacrament, and abuse of children.  This feels pointed and unwarranted, and I am deeply disturbed that the Vatican seems bent on providing more fodder for those who would portray it as a hidebound misogynistic club of old men.

In Corde Mariae,

Eiluned


[1] Of course, the NYT may overstate what the Vatican  actually said, but the point is still worth observing.

[2] Clearly, I am simplifying the arguments on both sides.

[3] I refer, of course, to cases in which the men in question are Roman Catholic, not converts from other traditions.

Published in: on July 18, 2010 at 3:25 pm  Comments (5)  
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The “Sebastian-Sodomite Complex”

In his column over at The Huffington Post, “The Real Reason Why So Many Gay Men Are Single,” Mike Alvear, co-host of HBO’s The Sex Inspectors, complains:

Like a lot of gay men, I seem to be stuck doing guys I don’t want to date, and dating guys I don’t want to do.

… [A]s much as I liked [one guy] sexually, I didn’t feel any other connection.  And thus, I was hurled into the basic gay dating dilemma: Do you have sex with someone you’re physically but not emotionally attracted to?  The answer, of course, is yes.  Oh, God, yes….  He eventually broke it off, as he should have.  I wasn’t the bad guy but I wasn’t doing him any good either.

… Then there’s the other side: the guys you want to date but not do.  They’re the worst.  Because they make you realize what a nutcase you are.  Like this guy, “Ted.”  I loved everything about him except his body.  I tried to do the chick thing—you know, have sex with a guy even though you’re not physically attracted to them because they’re kind and smart and loving and that’s what you want in a man so what’s a few minutes of Ugh-ness.  Well, it didn’t take….  I guess that’s the main difference between men and women.  For men, intimacy is a consequence of sex; for women it’s a pre-requisite….  Too bad we can’t call up biological electricians and have them re-wire us.

This pessimistic assessment of male sexuality—“men are beasts,” and men who do with men are the worst beasts of all—is striking, especially insofar as it is made not by a religious conservative critic of homosexuality, but by a prominent member of the liberal entertainment industry.   I do not know whether Alvear’s generalization is in fact justified, or whether, if justified, it may or may not have some basis in evolutionary biology.  But Alvear’s perception does correspond to something real enough in modern gay mentality. 

I call it the “Sebastian-sodomite complex.”  That is, our version of the infamous “Madonna-whore complex.”  S. Sebastian as lofty an ideal as the Mother of God; sodomite as ugly a word as whore.  The pessimistic thesis: love and sex do not, and perhaps cannot, go together.

“Saint Sebastians”: Partisans of Love Without Sex

One approach to Orthodoxy: Fr. Seraphim Rose

Positioned at one extreme—a more-distant extreme than anything Alvear probably imagines—is the closeted, self-hating ascetic.  His is a rôle I know well, because I used to play it.  One summer I lived in an Orthodox monastery; I read the works of the ex-gay, and apocalyptically unbalanced, holy man, Fr. Seraphim Rose; and in confession I scrupulously revealed the slightest fault, including wet dreams.  Back at Catholic Georgetown, meanwhile, I got it into my head to perform, under cover of night, an ascetic feat straight out of the Italian Counter-Reformation: the self-abasement of the strascino, the trailing of one’s tongue along the church floor, right up to the altar.  I even worked for a fairly viciously anti-gay evangelical think tank and lobby group.  And all of this I did for the love of God and man, or rather for what I imagined such love to be.  I was an extreme partisan of love without sex.

Strange as this may seem both to self-accepting gays and to secular liberals, there are quite a few gay people out there who do the things I did, and who do far worse.  Fr. Seraphim Rose is but one, particularly alarming example.  But any observer who spends much time hanging out in any of the hierarchical churches will recognize the type, from the man in red Prada shoes on down.  Such people are all Saint Sebastians—men hypnotized by the concept of the beautiful martyrdom, their skin bristling with arrows, their mentalities eager to suppose, as Eve Tushnet describes them very compassionately, that “[t]he sacrifices you want to make aren’t always the sacrifices God wants” (my emphases).

A “reasonable and bloodless” asceticism, by contrast, is not self-hating, or necessarily closeted.  Quite the contrary.  When I finally found a priest who did not think that my homosexuality was necessarily any more sinful than someone else’s heterosexuality, it required humility from me—an actual sacrifice of some of my own self-regard—to perform the first penance he gave me, the regular recitation of Psalm 22, with its appallingly self-affirmative language: “The Lord ruleth me: and I shall want nothing….  He hath brought me up, on the water of refreshment: He hath converted my soul….  Thou hast anointed my head with oil; and my chalice which inebriateth me, how goodly is it!”

“Sodomites”: Partisans of Sex Without Love

A second approach to Orthodoxy: Michael Pihach

Positioned at the opposite extreme are the subjects of Alvear’s column.  These are the Anthony Blanches of the world.  As Alvear sums their decision-making up: “Oh, God, yes.”

Like lots of people, I can’t find it within myself to dislike the Anthony Blanches.  They are pretty.  They are charming.  One makes allowances for them all the time.  Some part of my unpurged psyche is probably a little envious of them.  And what young gay male wouldn’t be just a little envious, say, of Toronto’s gay Ukrainian journalist, Michael Pihach, who seems to be everywhere described as “delicious”?

Yet, the position of sex without love is poisonous.  Many people survive, and some (in cases of true monastic calling) flourish, in love without sex; but no one, in the end, survives sex without love, not with one’s personal integrity and educability intact, anyway.  Sex is, for most humans, a need; lust, on the other hand, is a brutal demon, irrespective of the gender of one’s sexual-object choice.  It demands to be fought with some courage, by the young most of all, and for the sake of their own integrity and education.  As Posner flatly states at the end of Allan Bennett’s History Boys: he does not touch the boys in his charge, which is “always a struggle.  But maybe that’s why I’m a good teacher.”

A Middle Way?

Pace Mike Alvear, I would like to think, more optimistically, that a middle way is indeed possible, that love and sex can go together, even for gay men. 

What I have termed the “Sebastian-sodomite complex” is no less powerful a stereotype than the Madonna-whore, and it will not die out from historically Christian cultures any more quickly than will the Madonna-whore.  But let’s at least think it is possible both to date and to do the same guy, and him only—and stop (in this instance) accusing our biology, or our social arrangements, when we really ought to be accusing our own ethical and aesthetic choices.

vozradujemsja

Victor de Villa Lapidis

Published in: on July 16, 2010 at 1:17 pm  Comments (16)  
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Talking “Ism”s, Post-Pride

Two news stories out of the Russian church, of ambivalent significance, bookended this year’s Pride marching season.

At the end of June, Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, met with Patriarch Cyril in Moscow.  Good news: the patriarchate under Cyril is not going to walk away from ecumenical dialogue with the other Anglican and Protestant bodies which comprise the WCC.  Bad news: the condition of such continued participation in ecumenical dialogue is the official silence of the WCC on homosexuality and female ordination.   

And about a month earlier the Libreria Editrice Vaticana published at Rome an Italian translation of Patriarch Cyril’s politico-theological writings.  Good news: the Russian church, maybe for the first time since the misfortunate metropolitan of Kiev who signed on the dotted line at Florence-Ferrara in 1438-39, has a serious philo-Catholic for its primate.  Bad news: his proposed Roman-Muscovite alliance for the “re-evangelization of Europe” centers on public opposition to homosexuality and abortion.

Chiesa quotes the patriarch as writing:

Both of the questions [i.e., homosexuality and female ordination] confirm, among other things, the thesis about the liberal nature of Protestantism, as previously defined.  It is absolutely evident that the introduction of female priesthood and the admission of homosexuality have taken place under the influence of a certain liberal vision of human rights: a vision in which these rights are radically opposed to sacred tradition.  And a certain part of Protestantism has resolved the question in favor of this conception of human rights, ignoring the clear norm of faith in the tradition.

The question whether or not Protestantism may be, in its essence, a religious manifestation of “liberalism,” is a long geschichte.  But the question I would like to ask, is why does opposition to “liberalism”—opposition to liberalism having just been defined by the patriarch as support for sacred tradition—necessarily entail opposition to homosexuality, or to female ordination?  The Orthodox churches, just for example, have been ordaining women to the diaconate, time out of mind; and when S. Paul commends to the church of Rome the deaconess Phoebe, and also greets his co-adjutors Prisca and Aquila (Rom. xvi, 1-4), he surely has no notion of United Nations (or WCC) statements on human rights.

Conservatism, Healthy and Unhealthy

We have characterized this blog as “conservative,” meaning that we support sacred tradition.  And yet what His Holiness Patriarch Cyril finds to be “absolutely evident” and “clear” in the tradition, we do not. 

A.I. Solzhenitsyn, certainly the twentieth-century Orthodox public intellectual best known in the West, made the following observation about the underlying harmony of the principles of continuity (read: a rightly-ordered conservatism) and of change (read: a rightly-ordered liberalism).  The context is a discussion of literature at the National Arts Club of New York in 1993, but what he says here of literature and the fine arts, comparatively true, is perhaps superlatively true of religion and philosophy: 

The divine plan is such that there is no limit to the appearance of new and dazzling creative talents, none of whom, however, negate in any way the works of their outstanding predecessors, even though they may be five hundred or two thousand years removed.  The unending quest for what is new and fresh is ever close to us, but this does not deprive our grateful memory of all that came before.  No new work of art comes into existence (whether consciously or unconsciously) without an organic link to what was created earlier.  But it is equally true that a healthy conservatism must be flexible both in terms of creation and perception, remaining equally sensitive to the old and to the new, to venerable and worthy traditions, and to the freedom to explore, without which no future can ever be born. [1]  

There exists in Orthodox ascetic theory, on the other hand, a diagnosis for the vice or passion which may be associated with an unhealthy conservatism.  Its defining characteristics are a sad complacency; insensibility of the need for continual striving; lack of pleasure in life or vocation.  Pseudo-conservative traditionalism—as distinguished from authentic conservative tradition—is, looked at supernaturally, only so much acedia.

Fortunately, since humans are still humans, and still bear the image of God (the Fall notwithstanding), “[t]he unending quest for what is new and fresh is ever close to us.”

vozradujemsja

Victor de Villa Lapidis


[1] “Playing upon the Strings of Emptiness,” The Solzhenitsyn Reader: New and Essential Writings, 1947-2005, ed. Edward E. Ericson, Jr., and Daniel J. Mahoney (Wilmington, Delaware: ISI Books, 2006), pp. 585-86.

Published in: on July 12, 2010 at 9:25 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Solidarity with Eastern Europe’s Pride

For this year’s 30th-annual Pride Parade in Toronto, an estimated 1.3 million people turned out.

In Minsk, Belarus, this year, 25 people turned out.  

They were attacked and arrested, reports Nikolai Alekseev.  In Moscow, where Pride Marches have been banned repeatedly, Mayor Luzhkov calls such events “satanic”; and as in Minsk and Moscow, so too in Vilnius.  Mike Gogulski calls attention to the situation in Slovakia, where the objectives of Bratislava’s first-ever Pride March have been characterized by the current parliamentary opposition leader as “tyrannical.”

Such manifestations of undisguised hatred cast what we do in Toronto in a different light.  Where freedom of expression may be taken for granted, Pride Parades in the West often showcase the saddest, and most stereotypical, parts of “gay culture” (or at least gay male culture). 

Real life, however, isn’t about being young and beautiful forever, or about identity politics.  To the extent that the public celebration of “gay culture” becomes associated with superficial beauty and self-regard (not to mention with easy-access porn and narcotics), the clerical criticism of Pride, such as Bishop Alfeyev’s, becomes sadly intelligible.

Intelligible—but not correct.

The Alternative 

More correct is the approach adopted this year at Chicago’s Pride Parade by The Marin Foundation.  Their representatives went clad in black and carrying signs saying “I’m Sorry”—apologizing for Christians’ frequent persecution of queers. 

For may it not be the case that all those glittered and feathered Magdalenes are nearer, and dearer, to the One whom the archpriests and their accomplices deprived of all form and beauty?

“This life has been given you for repentance,” says S. Isaac the Syrian.  Can we try to imagine the effect of Bishop Alfeyev leading an Orthodox contingent at a Pride Parade, carrying a sign saying, “I’m Sorry”?

vozradujemsja

Victor de Villa Lapidis

Published in: on July 7, 2010 at 10:27 am  Leave a Comment  
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Some thoughts on Pride 2010

Yesterday, I attended the Pride March.  I admit to having been a bit apprehensive about the going.  I’d never been to one before, and from stories that I heard, I expected it to be a bit outside my comfort zone, and was somewhat afraid of seeing a display of homosexuality rather like the one appearing in this satirical article by The Onion.  However, I was pleasantly surprised, for the most part.  Sure, there were about 20 men near the front of the parade, completely nude.  Sure, the Leather Daddys and the BDSM groups made their appearance (more about on the morality and ethics of BDSM in a later (hopefully soon!) post).  But the march was not a warlike assault battering the gates of a hostile and morally superior world; for the most part it was a boisterous show of solidarity, welcomed by cheering supporters all along the parade route.  If there were anti-gay protesters, to my surprise, I didn’t see them.  For the most part, no matter what your orientation or conviction—homo- or heterosexual (or even asexual!), religious or atheistic—you could cheer and feel support for someone in the parade.  It almost felt mainstream:  the Anglicans, Heterosexuals for Same Sex Marriage, even (which shocked me the most) the School Board had a float.  Even more charming was the large group from PFLAG marching with signs such as “I’m proud of my trans son.”  In the Village, one almost had the illusion that Pride is completely mainstream, as even hardware stores demonstrated their support:

Dudley Hardware, Church Street

(Of course, if it were really mainstream, they wouldn’t have to show support, it would just be part of the culture, and we wouldn’t need a Pride Parade, but baby steps…)

That being said, a few things did bother me, most especially the level of other major political issues that people tried to address in the parade.  Sure, everyone has politics, but I feel that a march affirming the existence of and need for GLBTQ rights is not the place to air feelings about Israel, or plug your candidacy for Mayor, because, as the buttons distributed by the Ryerson Student Union remind us, “My Pride is a March not a Parade.”  Pride should not be a place where those with the most amount of money and/ or supporters have the best floats, flashiest costumes, and loudest voices.  It’s a march to remind people that 40 years ago, such an open display of queerness would have been unthinkable, and that in some parts of the world, it still is.  It’s a place to marvel and celebrate how far we’ve come, and remind people of the work still to be done.

But we have come far.  I stood next to an older Filipina, in her 60s.  She wore a conservative long jean dress, with a long sleeved jean jacket, decorated here and there with embroidered flowers.  She could have been any one of the women I meet at church, or even my own mother.  But on her jean hat was a wreath of rainbow flowers, around her neck, rainbow beads.  She cheered as loudly as any of the young short haired dykes, and the boys in heels and eyeliner.   She cheered in joy and solidarity.

Pride 2010

In Corde Mariae,

Eiluned

Published in: on July 5, 2010 at 10:54 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Great Refusal

On June 13 the Roman Catholic archbishop of Toronto, Thomas Collins, spoke to the young adults group at S. Michael’s Cathedral on the topic of “Homosexuality and the Catholic Church.”

Of the many things said, one basic issue must be addressed.  Despite the presence of the word “homosexuality” in the talk’s title, Archbishop Collins was at pains to prefer other, more elliptical expressions, “same-sex attraction” being only the most concise.  An identical tendency is at work amongst the Orthodox; Fr. Thomas Hopko, dean emeritus of S. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, has written a primer on Christian Faith and Same-Sex Attraction, wherein he explains:

I use the expression “same-sex attraction” in my reflections because I find the term “homosexuality,” except in its most general usage, unhelpful.  It seems more accurate and useful to speak of persons with same-sex feelings and desires that have a wide variety of causes, forms, and expressions. [1]

This is true enough. 

It is also beside the point. 

The fact is that some people are predominantly or exclusively able to make love only to other members of their own gender.  To refuse to reckon with this fact, or to reckon with its moral weight—which is what Archbishop Collins and Fr. Hopko seem to me to do, when they decline even to use the word “homosexual”—renders suspect everything else one may or may not say.  (This is particularly unfortunate in the case of Fr. Hopko, who, though hostile in the final analysis, nevertheless shows more evidence of having listened to homosexuals with some care, than Orthodox clerics or writers usually show.)  But hearing an obviously ideological formula such as “same-sex attraction,” one is driven to suspect that those who insist upon it do so, not because they are especially attuned to the diversity and ambiguity of sexual experience, but primarily because they are afraid.  They are afraid of the consequences for their theology of conceding that humans may be homosexual by nature.

In the concluding chapter of his book The Mystery of Christ, “Glorify God in Your Body,” Fr. John Behr, the current dean at S. Vladimir’s, makes the following useful remark:

Those who refuse to accept that they are what God created them to be—“humans capable of passions”—wanting instead to be as they imagine God to be, betray, on the one hand, an ignorance of the divine economy, … and, on the other hand, a lack of confidence in their Creator.[2]

With apologies to Fr. Behr for quoting him somewhat out of context: when we as Christians refuse to acknowledge homosexuals as “homosexual,” we betray, on the one hand, an ignorance of the divine economy, and, on the other, a lack of confidence in our Creator.

A Second View

A friend who has worked with the Ukrainian Catholic Redemptorists in Winnipeg and with the SS. John the Compassionate & Silouan the Athonite Mission here in Toronto, has published his own reflection on Archbishop Collins’ talk.

I take exception to just one argument that he makes, namely, that the historical source of contemporary Christians’ many ills is to be found in the legacy of “the state under Constantine.”  Such an argument, understandable in the historical context of American Christianity, has very little to do with the actual history of the Constantinian church.  Moreover such arguments threaten to reinforce the opinion, held by many traditionalists, that any wish to interpret the Church’s moral teachings anew amounts to “irresponsible theological liberalism,” when such is not the case.

Perhaps what we require from the hierarchy today, is a more vigorous “Constantinianism”—meaning a more deferent, and less sectarian mentality?

vozradujemsja

Victor de Villa Lapidis


[1] Thomas Hopko, Christian Faith and Same-Sex Attraction (Ben Lomond, California: Conciliar Press, 2006), p. 17.

[2] John Behr, The Mystery of Christ: Life in Death (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2006), p. 167.

Published in: on July 5, 2010 at 9:21 pm  Comments (2)  
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Roman Catholic and Queer: An Epistle of Introduction on the Feast of the Most Precious Blood of Our Lord

(My introduction is not as detailed as Victor de Villa Lapidis’ but may it serve as a brief window into who I am, and why I care about this blog.)

J.M.J.

July 1st, 2010:  Feast of The Most Precious Blood of Our Lord

(General Roman Calendar of 1962)

For some, the realization of their homosexuality is a major and even traumatic event, one that influences every aspect of not only how they understand the world, but more importantly, how they understand themselves.  This was not my experience.  I had always been aware of my attraction to my own sex, yet I had never put it together with affirmations like “I am queer/lesbian/bisexual/gay.”  Women were intelligent, interesting, and obviously more aesthetically pleasing than men, surely other women saw it that way? It wasn’t until a series of long discussions with a very good, sensible, and open minded friend (you may know him as the blog administrator!) that I began to put my attraction to my sex in this context.  Even then, I felt uncomfortable making the affirmation “I am gay.”  My gay friends had always presented this as a life-altering realization, one which made them feel ostracized; they had become an “other.”  I did not feel other.  I did not feel assailed from all sides.  My friends were still my friends, my significant other, my significant other, and my religion was still my religion.  Sure, I disagreed when people made comments about homosexuality being “disordered,” but I had always found that assertion theologically and intellectually problematic, even before I began identifying as gay.  I still believed that the Host I received on Sundays was the Body and Blood of Our Lord, still followed the commandments and precepts of the Church, still prayed the Rosary, examined my conscience, and went to Confession.  I was still me, I still believed the same things, even if the affirmation I made about my sexual orientation was different.

Why am I here, writing this, you may ask, if my own realization of my Queerness did not majorly affect my devotion to my religion, or my understanding of myself as a Roman Catholic? Recently, I was out with a bunch of friends, and an acquaintance asked whether I could help them show some out-of-towners around on the coming weekend which happened to be Pride:  “You know, all those gays will be running around town, kind of scary.”  I was shocked by how angry the statement made me.  My reaction was no longer one of intellectual detachment, “Well, you think homosexuality is a disease, I disagree with you entirely.”  This was personal; an assumption had just been made, not only that I would agree with the statement, but also that I was not one of “those gays”.  I had just been made other.

This small event encapsulates a series of encounters I have had over recent years.  While I know several other young LGBTQ Catholics, I have been increasingly troubled about the lack of dialogue and support there is not only within the Church hierarchy, but among young Catholics themselves.  We are told by some, that we can be cured, by some that we must subsume our desires; we are “othered” by many.  If people mention us, it is only in a context like the one above.  I would like to encourage you, dear reader, not to assume that just because someone is a devout Catholic, they’re not Queer.

In Corde Mariae,

Eiluned[1]


[1] I realize that some may be curious about my nom de plume; it is inspired by a character briefly mentioned in a Dorothy L. Sayers’ novel, Eiluned Price, who lives with her “close friend” Sylvia Marriot.  While they are never explicitly identified as lesbians, there are one or two hints that certainly suggest so.

Published in: on July 2, 2010 at 3:56 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Russian Orthodox and Queer: A Testimonial in the Form of a Letter on the Feast of the Apostles, 29 June 2010

A prominent faculty member at S. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York, a friend of friends, and a colleague of the Oxford don who taught me my Byzantine church history, once asked me: When would I be coming to S. Vlad’s, not as an occasional visitor, but as a student, in order to study for the priesthood?

We were standing in S. Paul’s (Roman Catholic) Basilica in Toronto, and had finished listening to a performance, by the S. Michael’s Choir School, of Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev’s sublime Matthew Passion.  Alfeyev, at that time still the Russian church’s bishop in Vienna, and a brief candidate for the metropolitan primacy of the Orthodox Church in America, doubles as a classical composer of considerable sensitivity; his Matthew Passion, musically inspired of course by Bach, is inspired liturgically by the service of the Twelve Passion Gospels on the eve of Good Friday, perhaps my very favorite of all the Church’s liturgies.

I chose not to answer the question I had just been asked, partly from fear, mostly from the sense that answering would have been futile.  But if I had answered honestly, I would have said: When you are willing to see me, and not the ghost (capable at least of masquerading as straight) for which I am commonly mistaken.

Approximately a year and a half earlier, a gay seminarian from S. Vladimir’s, Eric Kokosinski Iliff, had committed suicide.  Sadly I never did make his acquaintance, though I might have.  This death, extremely traumatic for Vlad’s, seems, alarmingly, to have met only silence in the Orthodox Church in America as a whole.  But Julia at Flakedoves reports this very interesting anecdote, from his funeral:

A member of [his] parish told another interesting story about Eric.  She said that she and he had worked together at painting the rooms in the fellowship hall (where we were gathered), and at one point before they began painting a room he took his brush and painted a large cross on the wall.  He let it dry a little and then they eventually painted over it in the same color.  At first you could still see where it was underneath, but it gradually faded and blended in.  She said to him, “Oh, the cross is gone.”  And he replied, “That’s the point: you can’t see it, but it’s still there.”

That apophthegm, it seems to me, is worthy of inclusion in some future American Patericon.

Christians, especially Christians of orthodox and catholic profession, who also take a humane interest in gay issues despite the official hostility of the hierarchy, enjoy few resources.  In the Eastern churches in particular silence dominates, where there ought to be public conversation; I know more than one priest who, on point of pseudo-pastoral principle, refuses to discuss homosexuality in any context at all, other than that of confession (of sins).  Therefore there is real need for a forum such as this.  But I would first like to say something about my own individual history as a part of wider queer history, so that readers may understand my own motives.

The Meaning of Love

My freshman year at Georgetown, I read a little book, The Meaning of Love, by the late nineteenth-century Russian Orthodox philosopher V.S. Soloviev.  (Little known outside of specialist circles, Soloviev’s “skill in the technique of integrating all partial truths in one vision”—just to quote von Balthasar—“makes him perhaps second only to Thomas Aquinas as the greatest artist of order and organization in the history of thought.” [1])  Thinking back, however, on my seventeen-year-old, Russian Orthodox, freshman gay self, at the time of its own “first encounter” with Soloviev—unconvincingly closeted, as it was, behind fat-frame clear-plastic spectacles; gripping a maroon Washington-Post purse from the early ‘80’s, when my mother was working for Kay Graham—it seems only natural that I began crushing on Soloviev from the first page.  The young Soloviev, too, gave his satchel a name: “Gregory.”  His pencil was an “Andrew.”  In a manner suggestive of Dante and Beatrice, Soloviev fell in love at the age of nine, with a girl of his parish seen at Divine Liturgy on the feast-day of the Assumption; whom in consequence he afterwards associated with his vision of the Mother of God.  Reading about this first stirring of love and jealousy recalled to me my own first romantic attachment, likewise pre-erotic and to a female, a sort of queer inverse of the more-familiar schoolboy bromance.  Later, Soloviev the man proved to be unfortunate in matters of love, as he loved an older woman, coincidentally married, and unavailable to him.  He remained a lay celibate.  Despite, or perhaps because of, his aristocratic and intellectual upbringing, he was rarely found with excess money on his person; he habitually gave it all away, to friends as well as to strangers. [2] Of course I loved him.

So, again quite naturally, I wrote a bad freshman paper about him, and about his book with the then-irresistible title, The Meaning of Love.  Looking now at what I wrote in that paper, I find that I did manage to pick out from amongst Soloviev’s arguments the following hypothesis, though I cannot clearly imagine the impression it made on me then.  It does strike me now, as it must originally have struck me, that in his discussion of “psychopathia sexualis,” Soloviev omits to mention sodomy alongside the other perversions which he does name (fetishism, necrophilia, prostitution, sex addiction).  And if his discussion of love does consistently presume conventional male-female pairings, he also specifically rejects procreation as a norm of sexual ethics.   On the contrary:

…  the unrepressed conscience and the un-calloused aesthetic sense condemn every sexual attitude based on the separation and isolation of the lower animal sphere of the human essence from the higher.  And outside of this principle, it is impossible to find any firm criterion for a distinction between what is normal and what is abnormal in the sexual realm. [3] (my emphasis)

Human, erotic love, Soloviev argues, whether it be expressed in the sexual act or not (stated explicitly), or whether it be of a male for a female or of a male for another male (subtly implied), is ultimately intelligible only in the light of divine love—of which our human, erotic love is the principal type in the realm of experience available to us.  The human, erotic sacrifice of self to other, is, in the language of the Orthodox marriage ceremony, a martyrial sacrifice “crowned with glory and honor”; and it is the subject of the Bible’s profoundest mystical doctrine, as taught in Jacob’s love for Rachel in Genesis, in Christ’s love for the Church in Ephesians, and throughout the Canticle of Canticles and the other Wisdom literature.

As a straight friend once put this argument to me, more simply, approximately three years after I first encountered it: “the ancient Greeks, if they weren’t right, at least weren’t wrong.”  We were, appropriately, drunk, and sitting in the North Quad of Pembroke College, Oxford—the spirit of Metropolitan Kallistos perchance protecting us.

Sin Clamoring Unto Heaven

I grew up an ordinary Orthodox boy, no more subject to Satanic deception, one supposes, than the next.  I was baptized and chrismated at the canonical age of six weeks, in an ordinary community of the Russian Orthodox – Greek Catholic diaspora, in Cleveland, Ohio.  (So ordinary a community, in fact, and so assimilated to mainstream American culture, that before having gained his notoriety Elvis Presley once performed in the old parish hall, with Fr. Prislopsky’s blessing, in 1955.)

In contrast to Soloviev’s merciful attitude toward the range and scope of human love, I had many years before that found the following word written in the pages of the Duchnovitch prayer-book (from which I learned my Orthodoxy), listed under the heading of “the four sins clamoring unto heaven”: sodomy.  Second after willful murder, and before the oppression of orphans and widows and depriving a laborer of his just wages.  No discussion was necessary to show me in my adolescence that my desire was monstrously “wrong”—its wrongness having been merely obvious—and indeed there was none.  On the other hand, right-wing politics were much-discussed.  For twelve years an angry, graffitied block of Berlin Wall stared down at me from its perch on my parents’ desk, and thus imbued with the holy faith of anti-communism, I joined the Republican party.

A long time was required for me, therefore, to admit that “the Greeks weren’t wrong.”

And all that long while the same prayer-book pled, in Fr. Duchnovitch’s Slavonic:

Joanna Apostola i Lazarja druha Tvojeho pače vsich vozl’ubil jesi! prosti i mni milostive Hospodne druha mojeho bol’še pol’ubiti

“John the Apostle and Lazarus, Thy friend, Thou hast loved above all others; grant unto me, mercifully O Lord, that I may love more my friend”

Queering Russian Orthodoxy

What finally tipped the balance in my own mind was not so much the ubiquity of same-sex coupling in the “Book of Nature,” now recognized by biologists and psychologists (though that certainly contributed).  Rather the decisive factor was the slowly-dawning consciousness that Christian tradition owes so much of its proper richness precisely to its so-called sodomites—to concrete, historical persons of living Christian faith, who just so happened to be homosexual or gender-queer.  That is partly why, maybe, Soloviev could recognize, in his thirteenth Sunday Letter on “The Question of Women’s Rights,” that compulsory celibacy is no less a demon than free love. [4] Indeed the entire Russian Religious Renaissance (a movement analogous to, and perhaps ultimately much more significant than, the Oxford Movement in England), was queer, empurpled from top to bottom by homoerotic and homosocial sentiments.

Nikolai Gogol (d. 1852), Russia’s first great novelist, a pious Orthodox Christian, and a formative influence on Dostoevsky, was a repressed homosexual; he succumbed finally to depression, and was buried, face down, at the Danilov Monastery.  Ignatius Brianchaninov (d. 1867), bishop of the Caucasus and the Black Sea, the author of two popular treatises on prayer and the ascetic life, and a saint canonized in 1988, sublimated his own authentic sexuality in the aesthetic consolations of beautiful liturgical worship.  The radical tsarist and polemicist K.N. Leontiev (d. 1891), who at the end of his life received tonsure as a monk at the Holy Trinity & S. Sergius Monastery, was semi-openly bisexual.  The composer Tchaikovsky (d. 1893), who wrote admirable music for the Divine Liturgy and Vespers and various hymns, was homosexual.   Soloviev (d. 1900), Dostoevsky’s chief disciple and “the Orthodox Aquinas,” elevated androgyny, and the cultivation of androgyny, to an aesthetic, ethical, and mystical principle of the highest order.  P.A. Florenksy (d. 1937), the last and most fascinating figure of the Russian Religious Renaissance, a priest, and a martyr of Stalin’s purges, wrote with “a decided homophilic, if not homoerotic, tinge….  Florensky’s … is the first Christian theology to place same-sex relationship at the center of its vision.” [5]

Is it really probable that all these men, the Russian church’s faithful sons, were abominations in God’s sight?

The Rock of Faith

I have taken the pseudonym, which is also a nom de guerre, and hopefully a nom de paix, Victor de Villa Lapidis.  The villa lapidis, or “house of rock”—or Petri villa—is the Latin name of a fourteenth-century village in the Carpathian Mountains, in the old county Szepes of the Kingdom of Hungary, in what is present-day northeastern Slovakia.  The inhabitants were Orthodox Slavs, Byzantine-rite “Carpatho-Russians” who had been driven west and south across the mountains by the Mongol invasions of the thirteenth century.  In the local Slavic languages the place is called Kamjonka or Kamienka, kamen being the Slavic root-word for “rock.”  The village’s patrons, naturally, are SS. Peter and Paul, and it was there, under the patronage of the Princes of the Apostles, that four of my great-grandparents were born, reared, and catechized.  So it is fitting that on this, the apostles’ feast-day, I remember them, and in a fashion connected with the cause of the Church, against which (we are promised) not even the gates of Hades shall prevail.

S. Leo the Great, pope of Rome, and author of the Tomus accepted in the Orthodox churches as one of the universal Church’s instruments of infallibility, preaches in his Sermon 82, on the Apostles’ Feast, June 29:

To this city [Rome] then, most blessed Apostle Peter, you dost not fear to come, and … entered this forest of roaring beasts, this deep, stormy ocean with greater boldness than when you walked upon the sea.  And you who had been frightened by the high priest’s maid in the house of Caiaphas, had no fear of Rome the mistress of the world.  Was there any less power in Claudius, any less cruelty in Nero than in the judgment of Pilate … ?  So then it was the force of love that conquered the reasons for fear: and you did not think those to be feared whom you had undertaken to love.

For those of us who are queer, who are self-accepting, and who continue to profess the dogmas of the apostolic faith unaltered and undivided: we have undertaken to love, and to attempt to rationally persuade, our persecutors, wherever they may be found, both in the ecclesiastical hierarchy and in those countries (not excluding the United States) which have yet to be improved by humane legislation concerning the status of homosexuals.   And as Leo reminds us this day, in imitation of the rock of faith, we need not fear.

If Christ raised Lazarus his friend, may he not raise us also, modern Lazaruses?  And will not this, the faith of the apostles, be proclaimed to the ends of the earth?

S prazdnikom!  Happy feast!

vozradujemsja

Victor de Villa Lapidis


[1] Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics, trans. Andrew Louth et. al., vol. 3 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), p. 284.

 

[2] For appreciative introductions to Soloviev’s life and thought, see N.O. Lossky, The History of Russian Philosophy (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1952), pp. 81-133, and von Balthasar, Glory, vol. 3, pp. 279-352.

[3] The Heart of Reality: Essays on Beauty, Love, and Ethics by V.S. Soloviev, trans. Vladimir Wozniuk (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003), p. 112.

[4] Politics, Law, Morality: Essays by V.S. Soloviev, trans. Vladimir Wozniuk (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), p. 98.

[5] Richard F. Gustafson, “Introduction,” The Pillar and Ground of the Truth: An Essay in Orthodox Theodicy in Twelve Letters, trans. Boris Jakim (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), p. xx.  From what I can tell, little work has been done on Russian queer history, and very little indeed from an Orthodox Christian perspective.  But for a sense of what work has been done, see also: Simon Karlinsky, The Sexual Labyrinth of Nikolai Gogol (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1976); Olga Matich, “Androgyny and the Russian Silver Age,” Pacific Coast Philology 14 (1979): pp. 42-50; Evgenii Bershtein, “The Russian Myth of Oscar Wilde,” Self and Story in Russian History, ed. Laura Engelstein and Stephanie Sandler (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2000), pp. 168-88; and Rebecca Friedman, “Romantic Friendship in the Nicholaevan University,” Russian Review 62, no. 2 (2003): pp. 262-80.

Published in: on July 2, 2010 at 3:39 pm  Comments (2)  
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