ORTHODOX PROVOCATEUR: I WILL NOT BE SILENCED by Nik Jovčić-Sas

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Nik Jovčić-Sas at the Merlinka LGBT Film Festival, Belgrade December 2017

There are people who want you to stop reading right now.

My name is Nik and I run a video blog called Orthodox Provocateur, a platform dedicated to Orthodox Christianity and LGBTQ+ rights in Eastern Europe. It started as a Facebook vlog. 

As we speak, there’s a coordinated attempt to silence me, and so I thought I’d tell you a little bit about my work and how you can help me. 

The idea for this vlog was born from my own experience: I grew up in a Serbian family in a very rural part of the UK in the 1990s. We were virtually the only immigrants in our small town, and it’s something we were reminded of constantly. People would shout at us in the street, we would regularly receive threatening letters telling us to go back to our own country, and our home was even fire-bombed.

In the face of such relentless hate, my family’s culture and Orthodox Christian faith was a huge source of strength. Regardless of how much pressure there was on us to assimilate, we celebrated our traditions with pride and shared them with those who would join us. That defiance, grounded in the historic continuity of our Serbian Orthodox identity, gave me hope that we could overcome any adversity as a family—but an event transpired that brought all of that into question.

When I was 11 years old, Belgrade had its first Pride march. The event was a disaster: shortly after it started it was attacked by thousands of “Orthodox Christian” hooligans screaming Смрт Педерема! Smrt Pederema! Death to Faggots! When I watched the footage, the sight of priests and monks among the attackers, giving blessings and joining in with their vile chants and slurs, particularly shook me. That was because I had just started to realise that I wasn’t straight.

I learned from that experience that my attraction to the same gender meant I was sick, I was going to hell, and that I had no place in my family’s faith and culture. It led me down a very dark path. By the age of 14 I was already struggling with thoughts of self-harm and suicide.

I lived with bad mental health for many years, but my life changed when I came across the work of John Boswell. It opened my eyes to the fact that the debate about the place of the LGBTQ+ community in the Church was far from simple, and it taught me that I could be both gay and Orthodox. This gave me a passion to want to study my faith and create a platform that made queer-affirming theology accessible to younger audiences, so that no kid would have to go through what I went through—or worse—again.

The idea for creating a video blog came about during my final year at King’s College London—but I had no training in filming or editing, no camera equipment, and no idea how I would broach a topic so vast and controversial. I started to think that it was going to be impossible. But some years after leaving London, while I was working as a street musician in Bath, I met a Moldovan trumpet player who is studying for the priesthood at the Chișinău Academy of Orthodox Theology, Ion Andronache.

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Ion Andronache and Nik Jovčić-Sas (FĂRĂ FRICĂ, Without Fear)

We had known of each other for a couple of years, but we had barely spoken—until one day when his trumpet was stolen, and in the process of my helping him get it back, we shared a few pints and had a conversation about our faith. To both our surprise, we had a shared passion to create a more tolerant Orthodox Church, particularly toward the LGBTQ+ community. In that conversation, he told me that in a week’s time he was going back to Moldova to march in his country’s Pride festival. It seemed like the perfect thing for me to film, so I asked him if I could come with him. Before I knew it, I was in Chișinău, filming the first series of Orthodox Provocateur.

I had virtually no money, I filmed everything on beaten up iPhones, I slept on Ion’s sofa for five nights, staying with his wife Alina and their children—but in that time I filmed some incredible footage. I returned to the UK and began the process of editing. In that time, Ion was inspired to start his own video blog called Ortodoxia, which has made him well known in his country.

After a couple of months I was ready to publish my first video, and I was excited. I also knew that I was going to receive a lot of hate, but there is a difference between knowing, and then reading the first comment saying that you should be killed…and the second…and the third….

With each video I saw a slew of violent, homophobic, and antisemitic comments. It didn’t bother me too much, because I knew that if there were people who would leave those kinds of comments watching my content, there were also people who needed these queer-affirming Orthodox Christian messages the most. Sure enough, I started to receive emails of thanks and support from LGBTQ+ Orthodox Christians in Serbia, Belgium, Russia, Georgia, America, and beyond. It might not have been glamorous, but I was living my dream of lifting the burden of hatred from others that had almost crushed me when I was so young.

Last week I returned from filming the second series of Orthodox Provocateur in Ukraine. As I prepared myself to start the process all over again, I noticed something weird had occurred with my Facebook. I was told that my account had been deactivated for three days for violating Facebook’s community guidelines. I had no idea what I could have done—until I realised that one of my most popular videos had been deleted as spam. 

When my vlog first lauched, I noticed that my page was circulating around far-right, ultra-conservative Orthodox Facebook groups, where admins were telling their members to report my content as spam in hopes that it would be removed. They had not succeeded then, but while I was in Ukraine, I did an interview with an LGBTQ+ affirming bishop named Volodymyr Vilde. I knew that a photograph of him, Ion, and me had been circulating again in a similar fashion. This time they had succeeded in striking a blow against my project—by having my Facebook vlog shut down.

But I’m determined not to let them win. This is where I need your help.

To stop this problem in future I have decided to move Orthodox Provocateur over from Facebook to YouTube. It would mean the absolute world to me if you could go and subscribe to my channel. That might not sound like much, but by doing so and not allowing these bigots to silence my work, you may help get a message to someone who needs it very badly.

There are a lot of people who don’t want you to read my story—but now that you have, please help me to help those who are suffering at the hands of certain kinds of Orthodox Christians and the institutional Orthodox church.

Click here to subscribe to Nik’s YouTube channel.

Nik Jovčić-Sas holds a BA in Theology from King’s College London. He is a Serbian Orthodox LGBTQ+ activist and musician living in South West England. His work focuses on the intersections between Christianity, traditional culture, and queer identities in Eastern Europe. He contributed a chapter entitled “The Tradition of Homophobia: Responses to Same-Sex Relationships in Serbian Orthodoxy from the Nineteenth Century to the Present Day” in New Approaches in History and Theology to Same-Sex Love and Desire, scheduled for release in March 2018. 

With the publication of this article Orthodoxy in Dialogue recognizes the need for a complementary two-pronged approach to questions of sexual and gender diversity in human life: the theological effort to understand its place in the divine image and likeness, and the activist effort to ensure that all of God’s children enjoy the safety to thrive in private and public life. Even Father Thomas Hopko of thrice-blessed memory favoured legal status for same-sex couples and their children.