It’s hard to break through the intellectual barriers that envelop the mind like a steel casket when the language of the moral tradition is mixed into the politics of personal identity. It causes all sorts of confusion because what used to be wrong sounds like it is right, and what used to be right sounds like it is wrong. Sin is righteousness and righteousness is sin.
Homosexual behavior is a sin. Even Gregory Pappas, the author of this present controversy agrees that this is Church teaching (albeit the Church is wrong). Pappas certainly isn’t reticent about his homosexual lifestyle so when he went back to his hometown parish, the rector, Fr. John Touloumes, met privately with him and instructed him to refrain from communion (there’s open speculation that Pappas “married” another man). According to Pappas, Touloumes told him that Metropolitan Savas Zembillas had issued a directive that the priests cannot give communion to unrepentant sinners.
Pappas, a skilled entrepreneur in public relations, didn’t take the news well and did what all PR flacks do: he went public. He posted his outrage on his Facebook page and two articles on his news blog (the Pappas Post, here and here). Like so many of his poorly catechized generation, he went after the priest.
This is all old news by now. What is disturbing are the likely repercussions.
Challenging the priest by calling in lay authorities (or the bishop) is a very common tactic, especially in the parishes of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese (GOA) where many leaders think no differently about Church affairs than any unchurched secularist. This deep confusion about how to live as an Orthodox Christian is often fostered by the bishops themselves, who give the decided appearance of being more Greek than Orthodox.
The response to Pappas’ challenge was predictable. Instead of dealing with the substance of Pappas’ challenge, the Metropolitan of Pittsburgh side-stepped it, using pseudo-Solomonic clerverness to avoid making any resolute and instructive decision.
Pappas’ screed enlisted many ideas and a chief one was that homosexual behavior should be normalized in the Church. This is a dangerous idea but Savas never addressed it. All things being equal, Savas’ reticence made it appear that Pappas’ PR blitz won the day — and it did, especially with the hierarchy, who now have to play by Pappas’ new paradigm. Certainly the more secularized among the GOA membership believe that Touloumes’ stand against homosexual behavior was trumped by Savas’ implicit confirmation that Pappas was wronged. Touloumes is the real sinner in the eyes of the poorly catechized. He was left holding the bag.
The blow-back has been strong. Like the Duck Dynasty uproar last December, the homosexual juggernaut may be pushed back on its heels. Because of the rarefied circles in which Pappas travels, he no doubt thought that once he had his way with the hierarchy, that would be the end of that. What he didn’t realize is that the Church is not Hollywood and resistance will arise, especially with the freedom of the internet. Moreover, the average Christian has seen what thirty years of feminism and homosexualization can do to a religious body.
Pappas initiated the fight when he came out of the traces with both guns blazing. He, and one suspects most other gay activists, did not expect to be challenged with such ferocity. They’ve been coddled for too long by the academic, journalistic, and political elite. Just because the Metropolitan caved doesn’t mean that the people are willing to roll over and play dead. And let’s be honest, the GOA hierarchy has long accommodated the elite, abrogating the authority of the Gospel for greetings in the marketplace.
The failure ultimately lies with Savas and by extension the entire Synod of the GOA. To be sure, Savas is not known for decisiveness; he does he does like making unpopular decisions. Given his liberal moral positions, he may not even believe that homosexual behavior is a sin. We don’t really know because he never really says. All we can glean from Pappas’ broadside and Zembillas’ acquiescence is that as long as somebody is enthusiastic about their ethnicity and has years of service to the Church, then the Eucharist becomes an entitlement.
Yet, who can really blame Pappas for his ignorance? For almost three decades the GOA has been served a confused stew of “Hellenism and Orthodoxy” where Hellenism resides alongside Orthodoxy as if both were parallel but distinct historical streams. This is a historical error of the first order (Hellenism was baptized into Orthodox Christianity by the Cappadocian Fathers thereby merging the two), that results in either term meaning anything a person wants them to mean.
Usually the terms boil down to the simplest expressions of ethnic identity (baklava, ouzo, and an occasional “Christos Anesti!” or two). This reduction is good for fundraising but it does violence to history and erodes Orthodox self-identity.
No reasonable person would dispute the great contributions of the Greeks to Western Civilization. The problem however is not the ethnic pride, but that the Orthodox faith is subsumed by it. That is what leads Pappas (as well as his supporters) to reason as he does:
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.
How do we explain the ignorance behind these reactions except that Pappas has no clue about why the moral teachings of the Church are what they are?
Filling a Vacuum
A bishop’s first commission is to rightly divide the word of Truth. When Savas abandoned the pulpit he gave it to Pappas who then sermonized about the real nature of Orthodox morality and Church order to the rest of us:
Yes, Fr John Touloumes was within the canonical order to deny me Holy Communion in his parish. Yes, according to Orthodox Christian canons, homosexuality is a sin. . .But so is seeing a Jewish doctor for treatment. And also, anyone who has masturbated or has had an involuntary nocturnal emission, or a woman who is menstruating is also breaking canon law by approaching the chalice.
And this is why this is a judgment issue, or more so a lack of judgment issue. Because “selective morality” subject to what we personally believe to be right or wrong, is wrong— especially in America in 2014. This is called prejudice and it is deep rooted inside a person.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cumin…!
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you cleanse the outside of the cup and of the plate…
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful…”
Needless to say these sentiments draw deep from the well of secularized culture and conflate the language of the moral tradition with the politics of personal identity. This imbroglio required clear language from a bishop of the Church but we heard precious little apart from the words of another bishop, Pappas’ “spiritual father,” who had already approved him taking communion.
Meanwhile the secularization and increasing homosexualization of the GOA continues unabated.
*Savaonarolla, a play on the name Savonarola, was the title of Metropolitan Savas’ first blog, a paean to Progressive optimism and other misguided sentiments. “Americans did a good thing yesterday [when they elected Barack Obama], an inspired thing. They didn’t voice their opinion, they shouted it. A new day has dawned, a day that the Lord has most emphatically made. Are you as delighted as I am? Send up thanks to the Lord our God!”