Since yesterday The Pappas Post’s article, “The Greek Orthodox Church Has a Prayer for Name Changes Following Gender Reassignment Surgery,” has been causing some excitement among Orthodox Facebook users, especially those inclined to welcome such news. One sympathetic sharer of the article introduced it with the famous maxim: Lex orandi, lex credendi est.
As is often the case in the media, Gregory Pappas’ sensationalistic headline serves unfortunately to obscure the facts contained in the article itself.
The prayer in question is the composition of a single hierarch, Metropolitan Timothy (Matthaiakes) of New Ionia and Philadelphia, for inclusion in a euchologion (service book) authored or authorized by himself. In no sense can it be construed as the lex orandi of the Church of Greece, much less of the whole Orthodox Church.
Those who have read my article on being the father of a transgender son know my views on the need for the Orthodox Church to develop a more pastorally responsive approach to the complex question of transgender identity. Those who know me personally—and have spoken with me at length—see for themselves the extreme caution that I bring to the table with respect not only to transgender concerns, but also to the no less complex question of sexual orientation. We need to get these things right on all counts: theologically, spiritually, and pastorally. Mr. Pappas’ headline undermines the necessarily cautious approach of pastors and theologians striving to articulate a more holistic theology of sexuality and gender which turns no one away who yearns for Christ and for the Church’s life of grace.
The Orthodox mother of two transgender children wrote to me tonight:
The fact that a single bishop is willing to accept a name change actually did my heart good. Even knowing that it isn’t lex orandi. So I am taking comfort where I can find it.
I beg you to hear the maternal anguish and near hopelessness in her voice, and to let your hearts be softened. For parents like her and me, these questions of life and death possess a painful immediacy, as we wonder from day to day if our children will make it to another nightfall alive and well.
As concerns Metropolitan Timothy’s prayer, neither must we make too much of it—as if it somehow expressed the Church’s lex orandi already—nor must we glibly dismiss its witness as an “oddity,” as one bishop on Facebook did earlier today. To do theology requires of us enormous interior struggle, prayer, sweat, tears, our very blood.
See the sequel to this article here for additional information and evaluation.
Giacomo Sanfilippo is a PhD student in Theological Studies at Trinity College in the University of Toronto and an editor at Orthodoxy in Dialogue. He also volunteers with child cancer patients and their families.