See also the more recent A Priest Forever?
This may be the most painful thing I ever write for public consumption. I proceed with the consent and encouragment of my cherished co-editor, Andrea Jarmai.
Understandably I feel a combination of awkwardness in publishing this article on what is not my personal blog, and resentment that certain of my Fathers, brothers, and sisters in the Orthodox Church choose to make sport of sufferings that have nearly crushed me to death beneath their weight many times over. I am alive today only because God, His Mother, and all His saints and angels in heaven love me so much in my abject unworthiness—whether some of you do or not. As recently as this past May and June some of you on Facebook and in various other places on the Orthonet had me contemplating suicide once again, because your trash talk following the appearance of “Conjugal Friendship” sank to such astounding depths. You know who you are. You should be ashamed of yourselves.
Some of you have taken juvenile delight in “divulging” my identity as Peter J. SanFilippo. Seriously, if I had wanted to hide behind a pseudonym I would have been a little more clever than to take the first name on my birth certificate and to start using the correct historical spelling of our family name. I would also have been slightly more clever than to publish my Peter SanFilippo academic email address at the end of “Conjugal Friendship.”
I could have published my theological writings under the name Ihor Romaniuk, a pseudonym I created when I was younger, and no one would have been the wiser. In fact I considered it, but courage demanded that I publish under my own name and suffer the consequences. Thanks to some of you, the consequences have been many, and severe. Do you serve God by making a man want to take his own life?
After “Peter J. SanFilippo” my Fathers, brothers, and sisters in the Orthodox Church then usually add, with almost visible glee in their typed words, that defrocked priest and publicly known practicing homosexual. I am reduced to nothing more than a scarlet letter—or rather, an alphabet soup of scarlet letters, to be sewn on all my shirts and sweaters:
Nothing more need be said, indeed can be said, about me. That’s all there is to know about me, after all.
The public record—scattered across several states and provinces in two countries—shows that I was married in 1981, had five children with my wife between 1982 and 1995, was ordained in 1988, became separated from my wife and was suspended from the priesthood in 1995, was divorced in 1999, and was deposed from the priesthood in 2002.
But if you claim to know why we separated and divorced, why I was suspended and deposed, you are wrong, or delusional, or lying. It’s as simple as that. If you welcome someone else’s trash talk about me, and believe it, you are participating in his or her sin. How many times have we recited the prayer of St. Ephraim in our lifetime, and still we thrive on gossip?
Those who inexplicably find my life so fascinating—or have none of their own, perhaps—and are particularly resourceful on Google, have found a blog post of mine that was reposted on some discussion board in 2008. In the bio it says that I had been in a same-sex relationship for a year and a half. That places the original post—on my own long defunct blog—in November or December 2003, for that relationship began in June 2002 after my deposal from the priesthood. For the record, it ended in May 2005. I have not been in a relationship with anyone of any gender since 2005. I have not engaged in casual sex with anyone of any gender since my brief atheist stage, which ended in 2012.
But never mind: a single father of five, grandfather of almost two, friend of the homeless and the hungry, volunteer with child cancer patients and their grief-stricken parents, consoler of those who reach out to him privately because the institutional church despises them, a man forever at the brink of feeling overcome by the endless sorrows of his long life, has become that publicly known practicing homosexual, and must remain ever so.
Finally, any priest who reads “Conjugal Friendship” and accuses me of portraying Pavel Florensky and his beloved Sergei Troitsky as sodomites frankly needs to examine his own pornographic preoccupation with anal sex.
When my colleagues in theological studies from other Christian traditions ask me somewhat naively about my “spiritual life,” I tell them that I commit sins every day, all day long.
Yet St. Paul, that former murderer of the Church, promises us that “where sin increases, there grace abounds all the more.” Perhaps—but only through the mercy of God even towards the likes of me—perhaps in some mysterious way known only to Him, the sins of my life have provided the soil for some little bit of divine grace to take root, grow, and show forth feebly through my impoverished theological reflections.
Of course, that is for the Church to judge in due time. It can only happen, though, when my Fathers, brothers, and sisters renounce their voyeuristic obsession with my past and present life—such as they imagine it to have been and to be—and examine the things that I write on their own merits.
Pray for me, the sinner, and forgive me.