It was refreshing to see a post that I stumbled upon on the blog site of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America about people with HIV/AIDS and what I perceived, as a quasi-official response to this crisis— because it still is a crisis, even though we don’t talk about it as much.
Of course, the Archdiocese doesn’t own up to the article— it clearly states before it: “The views expressed in the blog posts are that of the bloggers, and do not reflect the views of the Archdiocese.”
But still, the blogger is Archimandrite Nathanael Symeonides, an Archdiocese staffer who serves as the Director of the Department of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, a pretty important position. And one can be sure that this post was certainly reviewed and approved by the higher ups on E. 79th Street.
The post by Fr. Nathaniel is a breath of fresh air— the first time I’ve seen something come from the Church in more than a decade, addressing a societal issue that has impacted millions.
Way back in 1992 Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos established the Bishop’s Task Force on AIDS in Chicago, the first formal Orthodox Christian response to this pandemic in the western hemisphere and did some amazing work to educate priests and families impacted by the disease, as well as support those afflicted, directly.
Other than the Bishop’s work in Chicago, the Church in America remained largely quiet, leaving the message to a few zealots on blogs here and there to condemn and judge. It was a sort of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” approach on a touchy subject. Or better yet, if we don’t talk about it, it might go away.
It did go away— and so did numerous people I know who were HIV positive or others, gay men and women who grew up in the church, but felt marginalized or ostracized.
Fr. Nathaniel’s article talks about breakthroughs in eradicating this disease, and more importantly, paints a welcoming message— albeit his own and an unofficial one, but from a man of the Church.
“There is no telling what the future holds. We hope and pray that God will inspire the work of researchers so that we may eradicate HIV/AIDS one day. However, until such time, it is important to remember that individuals with the disease continue being images of God. They are not “sick people,” they are not “sinful,” or “abominations.” They are our brothers and sisters, worthy of the same love and mercy that we expect from our Lord. There is no room for judgment or condemnation, otherwise what we risk losing is not just our physical health but also our souls.”
Statistics and realities of life in a melting pot nation like America show that our cultural and religious identity as Greek Orthodox Christians may not survive the next few generations. An earlier story we published cited statistics that 90% of Americans with Greek descent are not in communion with the Greek Orthodox Church.
I wonder if the Church’s “out of touch” attitude to contemporary issues that impact the faithful had anything to do with that. I wonder if this “don’t ask don’t tell” approach to controversial and difficult issues drove many faithful away, to more “welcoming” or “understanding” religious environments.
I don’t know what the cause of this phenomenon is, but this post by Fr. Nathaniel has already helped many of my friends impacted by this disease, understand a bit more what their church (or in most parts, their ex-church) says about them and what they’re going through as people with HIV/AIDS.
Bravo Fr. Nathaniel for this great post.