Saturday, June 14, 2014

Denied Communion Because You're Gay? How About a Different Angle of Examination

There is no shortage, either in the news media or in blogosphere, of stories of someone (mainly a Roman Catholic) who is denied communion for certain reasons, mainly by holding or supporting politically contrary views to established Roman Catholic dogma with regards to e.g. gay marriage and gay rights, abortion.  Generally, this information comes out in the form of an editorial of some supposedly "devout, super-Catholic who has gone to mass an overwhelming 8 times" [/sarcasm] who openly disagrees with his/her Church's teachings but feels that because he/she is a "good person" the Eucharist should not be denied him. Well, this same phenomenon has now happened to the Orthodox Communion.

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. 


  1. What recourse do you have if a priest becomes verbally abusive in the confessional or if you believe that he is applying a personal bias or double standard? What do you do if you are trying to make an earnest confession, and the priest tells you it's not valid and won't offer absolution? Thanks.

  2. To answer your question, there is no "appeal" to what goes on in the confessional. Your question's premise assumes that the Confession is built upon the same legal precepts as that of Roman Catholicism. Penance is given, but only for very grave sins must the penance be exacted then absolution given and allowance of the Eucharist.First off, there is no reason to assume (and it's really in bad taste to first off assume) that the priest was acting in bad faith. Just because he can't and shouldn't give out his "version" does not mean that we should start speculating that this priest is somehow in the wrong. The lack of humility from Mr. Pappas shows that he will only abide by decision he agrees with forgetting willfully and deliberately that it is the priest, the greatest gift from God after the Incarnation, who is responsible (as I wrote about above) for the faithful distribution of the Body and Blood of our Lord and God and Saviour. You don't treat the priest as if you were a kid going to another parent because the first one said you couldn't watch TV. The Church doesn't work that way. We are called to be obedient children of the Church and that means even enduring punishment for something we may not deserve. If you're going to reduce the confessional to a system of fair play, then how is any growth in the Christ like life going to happen. Christ didn't complain on his way to the Cross that it wasn't fair that he be tortured and killed but He did anyway. And Mr. Pappas is saying that it's not fair that he be "denied" the Eucharist as if it were his in the first place.

    Are their bad priests who abuse the confessional? Absolutely. it should be noted that not all priests are given the authority to hear confessions. There are some who lack the spiritual temperament for it. I would like to think that such priests are eventually found out by their Bishop and changes made. But, the Church is not perfect; it's administered here by sinners and has been since the beginning. So, to answer your question, there is no recourse for Mr. Pappas but to abide by his priest's counsel, to do penance and be readmitted to the Body of Christ. It would be in extraordinary breach of the Mystery (i.e. Sacrament) of Confession to go to another priest's church and receive communion there. A priest's counsel at Confession extends to the person; it does not end when the penitent goes to another church in another city. For instance, there is a monastery in Arizona, St. Anthony's. It is an Athonite monastery founded by Fr. Ephraim from Mt. Athos. I don't have time go get into Athonite spirituality and discipline, but, trust me on this, they are very strict. I have known of some Orthodox who have gone to St. Anthony's, made confession to the confessor there only to be given a penance that lasted years. That means that even upon returning home to their Church, they should not receive the Eucharist. Now, it's understandable that the monks there live by such an ascetic discipline. But, for those of us who are not ascetics, the standards cannot be as easily lived by. Our Bishop has counseled us NOT to go to St. Anthony's for this very reason, but he says that if you do go and this happens, you were warned. It's easy to condemn this as some sort of old world or antiquated manner of preparing for the Eucharist, but all the Mysteries (i.e. Sacraments) are given to us for the dieing of self as we take up our Cross to live the Christ like life. Complaining that it's not fair does not and will not help someone along to theosis. Mr. Pappas' own recourse of writing a WaPo editorial certainly does him no credit.

    Sorry for the long reply. I just want to make sure that this is fully understood.

  3. No need to apologize; I appreciate the long reply because I'm really trying to understand this well. Your answer makes sense. The penitent first has to consider the possibilities that 1) the priest isn't actually in error, and 2) whether the dispute is actually worth time out of your life absent the grace and protection of the Sacraments. If being right or even hurt becomes more important than being good, you're in the danger zone.

    Homosexuality and homosexual unions are often viewed negatively or positively in society today, but they are probably not what God views as important in the grand scheme. My feeling is that they are the fruit of a deeper codependency, such that even if a gay person abstain from sex his entire life, he still hasn't broached why he thinks his fulfillment or happiness is in another human being, be it man or woman. Add to this that the current gay rights movement has expressly placed itself in opposition to the Church, and this facilitates the scenario I've described: a penitent who self-identifies as gay is told by his priest that his confession could be of no purpose and is denied absolution. This is why organizations like Courage Apostolate that minister to gay Catholics, encourage them to abandon the LGBTQ labels - because embracing such an identity can put one in peril of his soul.

    You wrote, "Enough has been said about whether homosexuality per se is sinful". In my experience, this is not true at all. There is a conspicuous dearth of material on the topic of homosexuality in Catholic teaching. I was wondering if you could offer any good sources from Orthodoxy on the subject??? Please and thank you.

    1. Trish, I think enough has been said about homosexuality and its sinfulness if acted upon. I really don't see how much further you can go. There will be those who say that science still hasn't answered the fundamental questions about whether, for example, homosexual inclinations are chosen or can be rehabilitated. The Church does not wait for science simply because science cannot answer why questions. It can answer how questions and those answers are indeed important. But science cannot be the construct by which morality in society is determined. That's precisely why we have law and religion. As far as material from the Orthodox perspective, I have none to recommend at this time, but I'll see what I can find for you.