This brief op-ed appeared yesterday on the Kyiv Post website.
On January 6, Father Mark Hodges of the Moscow Patriarchate’s daughter church, the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), traveled from his home in Ohio to Washington DC to participate in Donald Trump’s conspiracy theory-driven Stop the Steal rally, where the then-President had promised his supporters “a wild ride” in their efforts to overturn a democratic election by any means possible. The highly combustible, seditionist rhetoric that morning—by the President, his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and his son Donald Jr.—erupted in a violent insurrection against the United States government which left five dead, including a Capitol police officer bludgeoned to death by a rioter wielding a fire extinguisher.
Hodges showed up at the rally in his cassock and pectoral cross, purposively identifiable as an Orthodox priest and a representative of the Orthodox Church. Were it not for a concerned reader of Orthodoxy in Dialogue, the blog that I founded in August 2017, no one but Hodges’ Facebook followers would have known of his activities in Washington on that deadly day. Instead, our publication of our reader’s open letter to Hodges’ diocesan bishop, followed by his open appeal to Hodges himself, has gotten Hodges suspended from all priestly functions for three months. He faces the possibility of permanent defrocking. Archbishop Paul Gassios, to his credit, acted swiftly.
The story wound its way quickly from Orthodoxy in Dialogue to numerous smaller online newspapers, and finally to Newsweek, Fox News, the Daily Beast, The Hill, and the UK’s UNILAD as of this writing. The Newsweek report links directly to Orthodoxy in Dialogue.
LGBTQ Orthodox Christians might be forgiven for feeling a bit of schadenfreude at this turn of events. In addition to conspiracy theories and Trumpist ideology—including a call to join the “Second American Revolution” in Washington on January 6—Hodges’ Facebook page and largely inactive Twitter account contain a steady diet of homophobic and transphobic content. In a delicious twist of irony, his suspension followed immediately upon this Facebook conversation between him and his admirer, Father Seraphim Holland of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR), in which Holland calls for my excommunication and Hodges deflects from his activities at the Stop the Steal rally to a screed on my “unrepentant homosexuality,” “sodomy,” and “gay lifestyle”—my personal life a topic about which he knows nothing at all.
The proper relationship of the institutional Orthodox Church and individual Orthodox clergymen with the world’s political processes remains an unanswered, and perhaps unanswerable, question from the time of Constantine to the present. (See my A new political theology for 21st-century Ukrainian Orthodoxy of April 2019 on these pages.) Yet Hodges’ activities plainly violate the letter and spirit of the OCA’s published guidelines for its clergy: “Clergy should refrain from making political statements, joining political groups, or ‘becoming fans’ of particular political candidates or political causes on social network sites.”
See the Mark Hodges: The Scandal section in our Archives 2020-21.
Giacomo Sanfilippo is a PhD candidate in Theological Studies at Trinity College in the University of Toronto and founding editor at Orthodoxy in Dialogue. See his Doctoral Thesis Proposal: “Conjugal Friendship and the Sacrament of Love: Father Pavel Florensky’s Orthodox Theology of Same-Sex Love” and follow him on Twitter @GiacoSanfilippo.