A PRIEST FOREVER? REFLECTIONS ON A BITTERSWEET ANNIVERSARY by Giacomo Sanfilippo

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Grant, O Lord, that I write from a place of inner peace.

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I learned many years ago that I have no control over what people say and think about me. Like a man standing at the edge of a field consumed by wildfire, I watched in despair and powerlessness to do anything to stop it. The field that was destroyed was my life and reputation.

The inferno sprang up from a highly combustible mixture of lies, half-truths, whispered innuendos, wordless sniffles and raised eyebrows, outright fabrications.

Now, it’s magnified all the more by advances in social media unimaginable a short generation ago.

Then and now, those who conspired to pour the kerosene, light the match, fan the flames, are my own brothers and sisters in the Orthodox Church. Never outside of the Church have I been treated as I am inside the Church. The most peaceful period of my adult life covered the four years recently—from 2008 to 2012—when my faith had collapsed so completely that I called myself an atheist.

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Today is the 30th anniversary of my ordination to the holy priesthood. On May 21, 1988—the Feast of SS. Constantine and Helen—I was almost 33 years old. I set out that morning for the short stroll across St. Vladimir’s Seminary campus from my family’s apartment to the chapel. In the cool morning air my lips whispered of their own accord, “Thirty-three. The age of the crucifixion. I go to be crucified with Christ.” Yet little could I guess the agony that my unworthy share in His priesthood would eventually bring down upon my head. Thirty years later, and sixteen years after my deposal for reasons entirely unclear, it never leaves me. Read More


FROM THE KYIV POST Ukrainian Voices from Abroad: Giacomo Sanfilippo’s Advice for Zelenskiy

Editor’s Note [at the Kyiv Post]: As Ukraine gets set to inaugurate its sixth president on May 20, the Kyiv Post is asking Ukrainians and those with Ukrainian ancestry who live abroad to send in their pictures (horizontal mug shots, please) with answers to the following three questions for publication. Please keep responses brief — no more than 200 words for each answer or 600 words in all. Include contact details for verification as well as full name, occupation and country of residence. A selection of respondents will be published periodically before Volodymyr Zelenskiy is sworn in as president. Send responses/photos with the subject header “Ukrainian Voices From Abroad” to Kyiv Post chief editor Brian Bonner at bonner@kyivpost.com.

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Giacomo Sanfilippo

As I noted previously on these pages, the remarkable fact that three-fourths of a predominantly Orthodox Christian nation should cast its vote for a Jewish candidate over against an Orthodox incumbent serves as a clarion call—in a very positive way—for the newly organized Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) to adopt a more appropriate paradigm for church-state relations than the imperialist model inherited from centuries of Russian occupation. My advice to the OCU has been to work with government toward creating a more just society where all citizens and visitors feel welcome, regardless of religious affiliation, ethnic origin, language of preference, socioeconomic status, political persuasion, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc.

My advice to Zelenskiy is to respect and work with the deep religiosity of the vast majority of his constituency, not only Orthodox but also Jewish, Muslim, Greek-Catholic, Roman Catholic, Armenian Apostolic, and Protestant—all of the faith communities represented by the All Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (AUCCRO). Take the initiative to meet and enter into sustained dialogue with them, not only one on one with the individual religious bodies but with the AUCCRO as a group. Enlist them as allies in the pursuit of social justice and the common good for all Ukrainians. Assure them that their support for liberalizations in the social sphere will not infringe on their doctrines and practices within their own communities of faith. Read More


ORTHODOXY, SEXUALITY, AND GENDER IN UKRAINE by Giacomo Sanfilippo

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Kyiv Pride. June 2016. (Radio Free Europe)

On May 14 UNIAN reported that Ukraine ranks 35th out of 49 European countries on an index of LGBTQ rights and protections. The methodology for creating this ranking is described at ILGA Europe, while the full list of countries and rankings is found on its Rainbow Europe page. Rainbow Europe is funded by the European Union.

With the refreshing exception of Greece—which fares at #14 even better than such countries as Germany, Ireland, and Iceland, and where the Pew Research Center reports among Orthodox Christians an unexpectedly high rate of acceptance of homosexuality in general and same-sex marriage in particular—majoritarian Orthodox countries fall predictably low on the list. Yet Montenegro at #22 and Georgia at #24 score higher than Switzerland at #27 and Italy at #34. Russia lands with a thud fourth from the bottom at #46, surprising no one. Only Armenia, Turkey, and Azerbaijan score worse. Read More


HOW DID WE GET HERE? THE STORY OF THE MOVEMENT FOR AUTOCEPHALY IN UKRAINIAN ORTHODOXY by Deacon Nicholas Denysenko

In 2018-19, Ukraine made the news again when President Petro Poroshenko announced that Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople would grant a tomos of autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. Poroshenko’s prediction came true, and the events of autocephaly introduced the world to a deep and embittered battle for authority and power over Ukraine’s Orthodox Church. As religious experts hastened to describe the geopolitical implications of autocephaly and theologians interpreted the scene as a battle between Constantinople and Moscow, numerous questions surfaced. Who has the authority to grant autocephaly in the Orthodox Church? Do Orthodox Ukrainians want to be separated from Moscow because of the war in Donbas? Why are the Orthodox churches in Ukraine divided, and who is to blame for the schism? Are radical Ukrainian nationalists responsible for the autocephaly movement?

My book, The Orthodox Church in Ukraine: A Century of Separation, presents and analyzes the complex history of the autocephalous movement in Ukraine from 1917 to 2016.  Based on extensive archival research, my study examines the dynamics of church and state that complicate attempts to restore an authentic Ukrainian religious identity in the contemporary Orthodox Churches. An enhanced understanding of these separate identities and how they were forged could prove to be an important tool for resolving contemporary religious differences and revising ecclesial policies. Read More


TIME TO DEPOSE THE “PATRIARCH” by Giacomo Sanfilippo

http://photo.unian.netIn The patriarch has no clothes on January 26, I laid out for the readers of the Kyiv Post [and for the readers of Orthodoxy in Dialogue here] the ecclesiastical irregularities of allowing 90-year old egomaniac and former KGB agent Filaret Denysenko to retain the title of “Patriarch” and the silly hat that goes with it in the Russian (not Ukrainian) tradition. To restate the obvious, there has never existed—at any time in the history of the Orthodox Church—a canonically recognized “Kyiv Patriarchate” or “Patriarch of Kyiv.” In granting autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) on January 5-6, 2019, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople expressly designated the Ukrainian Church by its historical status as a “metropolitanate,” and its primate by the historical title of “Metropolitan of Kyiv.” Denysenko’s patriarchal fantasies remain unrecognized by anyone anywhere in the Orthodox Church outside of his diminishing circle of sycophants.

The OCU has itself to blame for this mess. Not only did they permit Denysenko to retain the title of “Patriarch,” but made him a full member of the Holy Synod and ruling bishop of the Diocese of Kyiv—thus ensuring that he continue to be called not only Patriarch, but Patriarch of Kyiv. In this fanciful capacity he continues to function as senior to Metropolitan Epiphanius, the rightful highest ranking bishop of the OCU. It was Denysenko who first congratulated President-elect Zelensky on behalf of the Ukrainian Church following last month’s runoff election. Indeed Denysenko seems to ignore Metropolitan Epiphanius’ existence entirely. Read More


EDITORIAL: ORTHODOX POPERY COMES TO AMERICA? or TIME FOR A GREEK ORTHODOX REVOLT IN AMERICA?

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Archbishop Elpidophoros (Lambriniadis) of America
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America of the Ecumenical Patriarchate

Here at Orthodoxy in Dialogue our freedom from oversight by any ecclesiastical or academic authority allows us to say the hard things that we feel need to be said and to ask the hard questions that we feel need to be asked. While this is bound at every step of the way to offend someone somewhere—whether hierarchy, clergy, monastics, or laity—giving offense never motivates our activity. Our sole purpose has ever been to contribute in what small ways we can to unfettered dialogue within the entire Body of the Orthodox Church, in a forum where there are no forbidden topics and no forbidden opinions.  

Early in the day yesterday, May 11, we noticed an enormous and seemingly unaccountable upsurge of readers of The Ecumenical Patriarch: First without Equals, a 2014 article by then Metropolitan Elpidophoros (Lambriniadis) of Bursa, reprinted by Orthodoxy in Dialogue in January 2019. By the end of the day the number of readers had increased by a full 50% over the previous three and a half months.  Read More


PASTORAL PRACTICE IN THE 21st CENTURY: SOME THOUGHTS ON PREMARITAL COUNSELING by Giacomo Sanfilippo

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The Orthodox Church in North America lags decades behind other faith communities in creating structured programs of preparation for couples planning to marry. From the time of my own marriage in 1981 to my studies at St. Vladimir’s Seminary from 1986 to 1989, and then my active years as a priest from 1988 to 1995, I was neither offered—as half of a couple engaged to be married—nor made aware of—as a seminarian and parish priest—any Orthodox resources equivalent to the Catholic Church’s Pre-Cana programs. To the best of my knowledge these programs date back to the 1960s. Now in the digital age Catholic marriage preparation can even be completed through online programs approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Read More


CONJUGAL FRIENDSHIP: TWO YEARS LATER by Giacomo Sanfilippo

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SS. Theodore of Tyre and Theodore Stratelates. 14th century. Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Zrze, Macedonia.

One of the more useful insights of postmodernism, so self-evident that it hardly needs to be said, is that reframing one’s fundamental question will produce a different answer. To the question, “Can two persons of the same gender ‘have sex’ with each other?” we hear from Holy Tradition a resounding no. Yet if we ask, “Can two persons of the same gender form a bond in which ‘the two become one?’” the scales begin to fall from our eyes. Holy Tradition possesses in germinal form everything necessary to articulate, thoughtfully and cautiously, an Orthodox theology and spirituality of what we now call same-sex love, adequate to the pastoral needs of the 21st century and fully consistent with the ascetical ethos of Orthodox life for all. Read More