Today should have been a happy day for me. The weekend started quietly in Pittsburgh, spending some quality time with my mom, talking, eating out and attending church with my entire family on Sunday at Holy Trinity— the parish community I was born and raised in, where my brother was married and where my father was buried. It was the place I spent most of my childhood and young adult life, before I left for Chicago.
At the end of church services, I greeted the parish priest whom I’ve known since the day he arrived just over twenty years ago when I was still living in Pittsburgh and we spent a few minutes catching up. It’s been a while since I’ve been home and since I’ve moved to Chicago, I haven’t been a part of the day to day life of the community.
What started as a conversation about life ended in one of the biggest shocks of my life and one that even as I type on my keyboard, am having a hard time overcoming.
He awkwardly informed me that if and when I would ever approach the chalice at his church— at the church I was born and raised in— he would not be able to offer me Holy Communion because of a “directive” that was given by his Metropolitan— Metropolitan Savas, the ranking hierarch of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Pittsburgh— that prohibits people living “a homosexual lifestyle” to receive Holy Communion.
He reiterated to me that this wasn’t something that he had decided and that he would hate to have to choose between “a brother” (me) and “his Metropolitan’s orders” (his boss) if I would ever approach the chalice to receive Holy Communion.
I walked away from Fr. John, shocked, stunned.
Shocked first at him— for even putting me in such an awkward position to “pre-warn” me that I should never approach the chalice in his church, but also shocked that when posed with such a “tough choice” he could not discern between right and wrong, between love and intolerance, between being spineless and having a conscience. I was immediately reminded of the Gospel that we hear on Holy Monday during Holy Week.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you cleanse the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of extortion and rapacity. You blind Pharisee! first cleanse the inside of the cup and of the plate, that the outside also may be clean.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.”
I don’t know Metropolitan Savas personally, and I haven’t seen any directives barring homosexuals from receiving Holy Communion in the Greek Orthodox Church that Fr. John was referring to so I can’t comment on him, or his directives. And I reiterate that Fr. John didn’t deny me from taking communion— he only warned me that he wouldn’t ever want to be in a position to have to deny me communion in his church— in my church.
I can say, however, from what I do know about the Greek Orthodox Christian faith that Holy Communion is a gift— a gift that Jesus offers and it is not Metropolitan Savas’ or Fr. John’s to deny. I also know that Jesus himself offered communion to Judas, the man he knew would eventually betray him.
But they are denying people this gift, with this directive— this medieval witch hunt— and this will be their burden to carry. They must look at themselves in the mirror every day, after all, knowing that their church of love, compassion, support and comfort has turned its back on someone at a time in his life that all he needs is exactly that— from the very institution that purports— falsely— to profess all of these ideals.
I can also say that there are adulterers, criminals— and yes, even homosexuals— who not only receive Holy Communion regularly, but who prepare it and offer it to their faithful every Sunday.
Today ended up being a sad day— as it marks the last day I will ever visit Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church again, and a day— thanks to Metropolitan Savas’ directive and Fr. John’s “pre-warning” that I am even questioning the very foundation of this institution of love and compassion that they call their church. They can count their converts as successes but they should also count those that they have turned away. They can add me to that list.
I am realizing more and more— after involvement and service of my entire life at the local, metropolis and national church levels— that I was raised in a church of hypocrisy— where people can hide behind donations and robes— and live lives contrary to the very commandments of the faith— yet the church will welcome them praise them, elevate them to high positions, name them Archons, honor them at banquets and offer them positions of prominence on councils and committees.