Dr. Petros Vassiliadis, professor emeritus of theology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, has graciously brought the present article to our attention. Entitled “Περί ‘αλλαγής φύλου’ και η ιστορία και χρήση μιας σχετικής ευχής,” it appeared on Sunday, October 22 on Father Timothy’s Αγιοκέρι (Agiokeri) blog. We publish it as a sequel to our “Greek Prayer for Transgender Name Change” and “Intersex vs. Transgender.”
In sharing Father Timothy’s article we are not arguing for the now discredited and largely discontinued practice of surgical modification for intersex newborns. As Dr. Vassiliadis aptly notes in the discussion in Orthodoxy in Dialogue’s Facebook group, “The crucial point of that historical event, I think, is not so much the correctness of the surgical intervention, but the readiness of the Church to meet without any prejudice, and in cooperation with both theology and science, the pastoral needs of the time with loving Christian concern. Much more progressive an attitude than nowadays.” More than fifty years later one cannot but wonder at the Church’s intransigent resistance to scientific and social advances in our understanding of human sexuality, sexual orientation, gender and transgender identity, etc.
The issue of gender change, or rather, of gender correction, was experienced jointly for the first time by the [Greek] Church and the [Greek] State in 1963, when corrective medical intervention was offered to a person with an intersex condition for the first time, and the Ministry of Interior sought the advice of the Church as to the identity of the person. The Metropolitan of Paramythia, Titus (Matthaiakes), handled the matter with his Synod, which sought and received the advice of Amilka Aleivatos, Professor of Canon Law, and Georgios Merikas, Director of the Pathology Clinic at Evangelismos Hospital. Both agreed that only with the intervention of science would this person be able to live a normal life, and that this had already been done; and so all that remained was the matter of renaming the person. They also agreed that the Church, with love and affection, should take special pastoral care of this person and any others who appeared in the future; and that the Church accepted that, when these circumstances arose, there was the need for a special blessing for renaming the person since the person was already baptized.
The void which existed in the Church’s euchologions was addressed by the wise and scholarly Metropolitan Timothy (Matthaiakes), then of Maroneia and later of New Ionia, who drew up a special blessing for this situation.
The Effective Use of The Special Blessing
In the rare cases of children born with ambiguous genitalia, either with incomplete genitalia or both types of genitalia, doctors undertake hormone tests to determine the predominant sex. The child undergoes hormone therapy to strengthen the prevailing sex and undergoes surgery in order to restore the appearance and function of the genitals. The Church takes special care in these extremely difficult and extremely rare situations, hoping to act in an appropriate and uniform manner, for the well-being of the whole person and of the medical situation. In such cases where baptism and chrismation have already taken place, the Church proceeds with the Special Blessing for a New Name, if necessary. This is specifically what this blessing covers, and NOT cases in which mature individuals choose to change their natural sex. As we read in the study which appears on the official website of the Church of Greece entitled, “Contemporary Gospel Needs for the Consequence of the Health and Illness of the Faithful,” by then Archimandrite and now Metropolitan of Ketrros, Katerini, and Platamonus, Georgios Chrysostomos (Eugenopoulos), who is Assistant Professor of the Higher Ecclesiastical Academy of Thessaloniki, this blessing only concerns infants who have been treated for an intersex condition. Specifically it states, “In this section it is necessary to mention the Blessing for a New Name upon Change of Gender by Metropolitan Timothy Matthaiakes. This blessing does not contain a request for health, but concerns the link between health and illness. Specifically, it concerns the health of an infant after it has recovered from a sexual complication. With medical advances, sexual ambiguity in newborn babies can be corrected. The blessing is only used when the infant is already named. Organic sex change or the correction of sexual characteristics is done exclusively through medical means so that it becomes necessary to change the child’s name. This blessing is used only in this particular case.”
Representative Extract from the Prayer after Organic Sex Change
“And send down upon him (her), having fallen into natural sexual mutation, Thy grace from heaven, for the transformation of the biological form is a miraculous work of Thy right hand and of Thine unfailing will.”
Katherine Kelaidis holds a PhD in Classics from the University of London. She is a resident scholar at the National Hellenic Museum in Chicago, and a writer and historian whose work focuses on early Medieval Christianity and contemporary Orthodox identity in non-traditionally Orthodox countries. She has also written for Salon, Ms. Magazine, and The New Republic.