Metropolitan Nathanael (Symeonides) of Chicago

Orthodoxy in Dialogue, and I personally, have been quick to draw global attention to bishops and priests of the Orthodox Church who “teach” and conduct their “ministry” in ways that inflict incalculable harm on Orthodox children, youths, women, and men whose deeply embedded sense of personal identity before God and their fellow human beings falls somewhere along the LGBTQ spectrum.

Too often, this harm includes increasingly unbearable feelings of worthlessness, rejection by God, verbal and physical violence, suicidal ideation, and—as one Orthodox bishop has recently testified on our pages (anonymously, for fear of his own brothers in the episcopate)—a path straight from the confessional to completed suicide.

So it’s not only LGBTQ persons, but also their families, friends, allies, and other loved ones, who are forced by these churchmen to endure unimaginable suffering—and sometimes death.

For our complete catalogue of titles on these matters, please peruse the extensive Sexuality and Gender section in our Archives. Note particularly the titles suggestive of the tragic nexus between religious faith and suicide, as well as the achingly personal testimonies listed in our recent LGBTQI Listening Tour: An Open Letter to Our Bishops in the USA and Canada.

Among our well-known priests who travel the world to annouce to their hearers that I and the editors of Public Orthodoxy and The Wheel should be drowned; or who come to the attention of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch Staff (!) while waxing euphoric about giant phalluses in Pride parades; or who make jokes about LGBTQ suicide (see the 2/9/19 letter to the editors); or who imagine themselves the only foundation of Orthodoxy while equating same-sex orientation with child rape; or whose profound humility compels them to create and maintain their own fan club (!); or “recognized authorities on the impact of ideology and narrative on culture” who find sodomites copulating behind every rock and tree; or who want only manly men, no sissies, in the Orthodox Church; or the bishop who simply can’t be bothered, or the other bishop who can’t be bothered—special pride of honour must go to the Cypriot Metropolitan Neophytos, who attributes the birth of same-sex oriented babies (Born this Way, he says?) to their mothers’ enjoyment of anal sex during pregnancy. (They have to enjoy it.) (Incidentally, Neophytos is now under investigation for hate speech.)

By the same token, Orthodoxy in Dialogue would be remiss if we failed to draw global attention to our bishops and priests who demonstrate extraordinary grace in their theological and pastoral approach to questions of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Here I wish to go on record expressing my tearful gratitude to His Eminence, Metropolitan Nathanael of Chicago of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, for his courage in publicly condemning the “teaching” of Metropolitan Neophytos. Please take a few minutes to read A Letter to the Faithful from His Eminence Metropolitan Nathanael of August 5: here you can see how it appears on the Metropolis of Chicago website, and here you can read it more conveniently as a PDF. If you click on no other links in this article, please don’t bypass these two.

I wish to highlight the following important points from His Eminence’s letter:

  1. Please let me emphasize that what was said [by Metropolitan Neophytos] was both factually and morally wrong and is wholly inconsistent with Church teachings. The Metropolitan of Morphou does not speak the heart and mind of the Orthodox Church on this issue. 
  2. The Metropolitan’s words…incite gossipy people to start salacious rumors about couples with gay children.
  3. First, the Orthodox Church embraces scientific truth and medical knowledge [emphasis mine], and the opinion to which I am responding [on the cause of same-sex orientation] has no basis whatsoever in science or medicine. 
  4. In recognizing the sanctity of a person, the Orthodox Church does not thereby put an imprimatur on everything that person ever said or did. While still in this world, saints make mistakes, both factually and morally. A clear case is seen with Saint Basil the Great in his discourses on the Creation. While he teaches many wonderful things and demonstrates a remarkable grasp of the science of his day, this preeminent Father of the Church gets a few things wrong, as when he says that heavy rains produce frogs and eels by spontaneous generation (Hexaemeron 9.2). […] …[O]ne is not obligated to accept [an] opinion simply because a truly saintly man may have once held such a view. Holy Tradition is the body of faith
    that has been believed by all Orthodox Christians in all places throughout all times. 
  5. I will not, as the spiritual leader of our community, stand idly by when others promote an environment of spiritual abuse. Nor will I allow my clergy to use their positions to spew a perverse interpretation of Orthodoxy that is theologically incorrect and harms people.
  6. I invite any layperson who has been hurt by or exposed to such false ideas through the words or actions of one of our priests, deacons or monastics—or who in any way has been subjected to their unhealthy interest in sexual matters [emphasis mine]—to speak directly with me, your Metropolitan. I stand ready to prevent this from happening again and to apologize for any harm done. I am also eager to do something to remedy that harm here in our Metropolis.
  7. I turn to our youth and young adults and send them the following message: If you know of any young person who has veered away from the Church because of such statements, please communicate to them my apology and appeal in this letter. And even more, if you are that person [emphasis mine], please look past the ignorance and bigotry of the vocal few and return to the embrace and love of the many who value you for yourself, as a child of God and a person of infinite worth.

Metropolitan Nathanael is one of our youngest bishops of any jurisdiction in North America, both in age and tenure in the episcopacy. This is now the third time that we introduce him to our readers. (See Newly Enthroned Metropolitan of Chicago: We Must Join Youth Marching in the Streets and Statement on “Zero Tolerance” Policy on Unlawful Immigration.) Our prayer for His Eminence is that God grant him to be a powerful force for good in the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops, in the American Orthodox Church, and beyond in the Orthodox Church around the world.

May His Eminence’s shining example embolden other Orthodox bishops and priests to come out from the shadows to engage in the theologically and pastorally urgent dialogue around human sexuality and gender in a manner faithful to the spirit of Holy Tradition and adequate to 21st-century science, medicine, social theory, and—perhaps most importantly of all—the lived experience of LGBTQ people.

Orthodoxy in Dialogue, and I personally, stand at the ready to help facilitate this dialogue in whatever humble ways we can.

Εις πολλά έτη, Δέσποτα! Many Years, Master!

Metropolitan Nathanael’s full biography can be read on the website of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. Note especially: “As a parish priest in Manhattan, Metropolitan Nathanael developed a unique urban ministry, Orthodox Professionals in Action (OPA), which provided over 400 young professionals the opportunity to minister to the most vulnerable in society.” You can follow His Eminence on Twitter @MetNathanael.

Giacomo Sanfilippo is an Orthodox Christian, PhD student in Theological Studies at Trinity College in the University of Toronto, founding editor of Orthodoxy in Dialogue, and contributor of religious commentary at the Kyiv Post. He holds a BA in Sexuality Studies (2013) from York University and an MA in Theology (2015) from Regis College/St. Michael’s College, both in Toronto, and is an alumnus (2014) of the Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies at the University of Toronto. His MA thesis, A Bed Undefiled: Foundations for an Orthodox Theology and Spirituality of Same-Sex Love, can be downloaded free of charge. His proposed doctoral dissertation is summarized as Father Pavel Florensky and the Sacrament of Love in the spring/summer 2018 issue of The Wheel, where Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) mentions it favourably in his foreword. Sanfilippo’s Conjugal Friendship at Public Orthodoxy is the most popular article that he has written to date. Earlier in life he completed the course requirements for the MDiv at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, and was a priest from 1988 to 2002. He has five sons and two granddaughters.

A most blessed and joyful Feast of the Holy Transfiguration to all our brothers, sisters, and friends in Christ around the world!
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