In an editorial printed by the Washington Post, Gregory Pappas, writes that he was denied communion because he was gay. This, of course, naturally set off a whirlwind of comments, both on the WaPo site and also in the Orthodox blogosphere in general. A rebuttal was posted by famed Orthodox columnist Rod Dreher which also inspired a whirlwind of comments, both in support of Mr. Pappas and in support of Mr. Dreher.
Enough has been said about whether homosexuality per se is sinful and whether that constitutes being barred from the Holy Mysteries or whether only the acting upon homosexual impulses is the criterion for barring someone. Even more has been said about how the Church is supposedly hypocritical because it has changed on other issues, so why not this one? (Small digression: Mr. Pappas says that the Church never allowed divorce. That is patently false. Divorce and remarriage have been consistently allowed by the Church, but one can never marry more than three times in the Church and divorce is always, ALWAYS accompanied by a period of exclusion from the mysteries for repentance. Don't believe me? Read about the Moechian controversy in the eighth century[that's right, 1100 years ago] when the Eastern Roman Emperor, Constantine VI, demanded a fourth marriage!)
The issue that has not been examined or, rather, the person who has not been asked for his position is the priest of the church where Mr. Pappas was supposedly denied his communion. Probably, he's not been asked because of his position and that would undermine the relationship between priest and pentient/layman. Just as likely is that his priest has been asked because he would not want to do anything even hinting of a betrayal of the trust and confidentiality between priest and penitent. (Small digression #2: Interesting how penitnet/layman side of that agreement is always greeted with praise when he breaks the seal, but if a priest does it, he's hounded [and should be, but really this standard needs to go both ways).
What many fail to understand is that it is the priest's job to faithfully distribute the Eucharist to the faithful. That is an immense responsibility. At a priest's ordination, the bishop, who celebrates the Liturgy, gives to the priest-to-be in his hand the entire lamb (i.e. that section of the prosphoron bread which is consecrated specifically for the Body of Christ) and he is told, in no uncertain terms, that he will be held responsible at the Last Judgment before Christ's Dread Throne for the faithful distribution of His Body and Blood. My godfather, who is now a priest, told me about this. He was shaking, literally just remembering that. I'm made of weaker stuff and I know that once the bishop did that same thing for me, I'd give him back the Lamb and say "See ya!" Whoever Mr. Pappas' priest may be and whatever church he serves is irrelevant. Any priest of the Orthodox Church is entrusted with this awesome responsibility. To give to anyone the Eucharist, where there is the slightest bit of doubt that it is given to an unrepentant person, is to blaspheme Christ. Another thing that people who are unfamiliar with the Sacramental Nature of the Church is that the priest does not serve the Eucharist, but serves, in loco Christi, in the place of Christ. Even though we may see a fellow human being in front of the altar, mystically, he becomes Christ, as we mystically become like the Cherubim (as we sing in the Cherubimic Hymn at every Divine Liturgy). It is Christ who feeds us, not a human.
Why is no one talking about this angle? The priest, and by extension, the whole Orthodox Church is made out to be the bad guy and the bad guy cannot be allowed to have his say. We cannot and should not ask the priest about this because that would break the priest and penitent bond of trust. The problem is that many, both Catholics and Orthodox, view the Holy Mysteries (or Sacraments) as something you're entitled to because you're "in" just like you're "in" a country club or other organization. We forget that this is Christ's Body and Blood, not yours, not the priests' and not the Church's (though the latter two are both responsible for safeguarding it undefiled). Is there the possibility that this priest is abusing his responsibility? Absolutely. But, if this were the case, I'm sure there would be other reports. Is there a possibility that the priest is not applying the canons equally? Maybe.
One other thing that troubles me about this whole episode is that Mr. Pappas and his priest must have been in communication before this particular situation happened. It is rare, from my standpoint, that a priest does not give the Eucharist to someone who approaches, but there have been times where I was told by my priest (usually after a confession) to not receive the Eucharist for a period of time. So, when the distribution to the faithful came, I did not even come forth. I must ask whether Mr. Pappas knew about his not being able to receive in advance. If he did, it was WRONG of him to present himself. Of course, to the media and to nominal Christians, such an act would be applauded and encouraged, because there's no way Mr. Pappas could be in the wrong.
I will end by going off on one quote from his editorial:
I’m no activist. I don’t want to have a “big, fat, Greek gay wedding” in my church. I’m not going to march outside the Archdiocese headquarters. I love it the way it has always been—a place of love and compassion, a community of good, hard working people and an institution that realizes that we’re all broken in one way or another, and the church’s sacraments should be celebrated to heal us and make us whole. Because, while I may not be a biblical scholar, I believe I’m a good person; my Church taught me how to treat my fellow human, how to be compassionate and, more importantly, the difference between right and wrong.So, he's not an activist and is not going to protest, but he's going to make sure everyone outside of the Church hears about it via the Washington Post? Yeah, that's not activism at all. I also love how he determines himself to be a "good person" and so therefore he should get whatever he thinks he deserves. There's the crux of the issue. His protest, his editorial, his anger is all rooted in himself, in what he thinks. Even in the Orthodox Church, the rampant individualism courtesy of the Protestant Reformation, has crept in. Everything should be in accordance to what I believe. I am the final arbiter. I get to decide. No, you don't. Christ through His Church does.