UNANSWERED LETTER TO AN OCA BISHOP (or, Where Are the Pastors?) by Giacomo Sanfilippo


Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America

On July 4 one of Orthodoxy in Dialogue’s readers reached out to me for pastoral support. Let’s call him “John.” I share the following publicly with his permission in the hope that it may help others.

John is a cradle Orthodox, middle-aged, married, and the father of children. Prior to marriage, he had only been intimate with men. His priest convinced him to give up men and marry a woman. Five years into marriage, he began to see men intermittently behind his wife’s back. He continues to do this to the present time.

Over the course of several emails in one day, in which I asked questions to get a better sense of the situation but said nothing judgmental, it became clear to me—and was no surprise to me—that John sought emotional fulfilment more than sexual gratification in the arms of men.

When I finally felt in a position to offer some sort of guidance, this is what I wrote:

Thank you for your openness with me. I’m humbled by the trust you have placed in me.

If you love your wife despite the challenges (every marriage has them), and you consider your children to be your life, it seems to me that you have a decision to make, and that there’s only one possible decision. I know it’s not easy, especially when your attraction to men is not only physical but also (perhaps mainly) emotional. Yet we are told to love our wives as Christ loved the Church, which means loving her to the point of sacrificing yourself for her. In your case, she’s not only your wife, but your children’s mother, so that by loving her you also love them. I wonder if you’ve seen my little St. Paul on Marriage.

Would it be possible to have a special friend with whom you engaged in no sexual intimacy, and whom you could bring openly into your family circle? It seems to me that secret friends are never a good idea for a married person, even if you try to keep the friendship chaste. If your wife and kids know and like your friend, then you can do things with him from time to time (nonsexual, of course) without feeling guilty, as if you were sneaking around.

I hope you “hear” that I’m not scolding or moralizing, much less judging, but encouraging you as one brother another to pursue the path to repentance and spiritual wholeness.

What are your thoughts on what I’ve said?

With your permission, I can write to the OCA bishop of your area and ask him to introduce me (by email) to a priest who might be able to work with you. Would you like me to do that?

In his reply, John expressed his willingness to see a priest. Immediately I emailed the OCA bishop of the area where John resides:

Master, bless. Christ is in our midst.

You may have seen my appeal yesterday at Orthodoxy in Dialogue for priests who feel spiritually, pastorally, and emotionally equipped to minister to LGBTQI individuals.

This morning an Orthodox man has reached out to me who resides in your diocese but attends church in a jurisdiction other than the OCA. He’s married, has kids, and meets with men intermittently for sexual and emotional intimacy. I’m conducting an email conversation with him to get a better sense of his situation, but would like to refer him to a priest because he obviously needs sacramental confession. If you have read and understood anything I have written on sexuality and gender, you know that I am not looking to promote immorality or promiscuity. (See, for instance, my Two Letters to a Struggling Monk.)

He doesn’t feel that he can open up to his parish priest. He has given me permission to write to you.

Is there a priest in your diocese who has the pastoral patience and gentleness to accompany our brother on his path to repentance without having a fit over his sexual orientation per se? If so, would you be so kind as to introduce me to him via three-way email?

Relying on your archpastoral prayers,

Giacomo Sanfilippo

Seven days later, the bishop has not responded, and our brother seems to be sliding into despondency.

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