August 19, 2012


Apartheid is the term used to describe the policy of segregation of the non-white population of South Africa before 1994.  It is also used to describe “any system or practice that separates people according to race or caste”. ( There can be no doubt that apartheid, as it was practiced in South Africa, was a violent and terribly inhumane treatment of a majority population by a minority government based solely on race.  However, anytime one set of rules or rights or privileges are applied to one group of people and denied to another based on characteristics beyond their choice – such as the color of their skin, their gender, their age, their disabilities or their sexual orientation – the term apartheid can be used.

In the Orthodox Church there numerous sets of rules, laws, rights and privileges – applied differently to people depending on their gender, marital status, sexual orientation, finances and even their national origin. Want the choir for your church wedding?  Then a donation to the church in the amount of X amount of dollars will be necessary. Want to be a priest?  First issue: are you a man?  Want a third marriage?  Are you able to make a large donation to the archdiocese?  Then that may not be such a problem for the bishop to bless your “next” wedding. Preparing to receive Holy Communion?  Make sure that you will not be menstruating at that time. If you are a very good pastor, maybe you should become a bishop for the Church.  Oh, you are married? Never mind.  And my favorite, which is used at the Seminary of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, Holy Cross School of Theology in Brookline, MA by the students of theology with some frequency when discussing a new student or even a priest – “Is he White?” Meaning, “Yes, he is Orthodox, but is he Greek”?

All of these topics are not new but have been written about, discussed and debated by numerous theologians of the Orthodox Church in our day.  Bishop Kallistos Ware has brought up the question of the ordination of women to the priesthood several times in print and in lectures stating that topic is “still open to debate”. The clergy-laity conference of the Greek Orthodox Church in 1990 recommended that the Church allow married priests to become bishops. Are there many educated priests today that would ask an Orthodox woman in confession, or as she approached the chalice, if she were in her menstrual period and if so, bar her from the mysteries solely for that reason? It is also standard practice in most Orthodox jurisdictions to include a substantial check to the diocese or even bishop from a couple that is seeking the right for a second or third marriage in the Church.  One parish even had a separate chapel built that was used for such marriages. Perhaps it was built so as not to “pollute” or desecrate the main church. Thus the rules and practices are different depending on who you are.  Therefore the following biblical verse is not always applied in the Orthodox Church: “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

The exact same situation exists for gay people in the Orthodox Church.  If you are a gay male, born in a traditional Orthodox country or the son of parents from a traditional Orthodox country and manage to hide your sexual orientation, your natural desires, your love for another man, then you will probably be allowed to follow the set of rules reserved for the first class members of the Church.  No sacrament of the church will be publically denied to you, including, but not limited to, consecration to the episcopacy. However, if you tell the truth about who you really are, how God created you and what natural desires you live, then you will be reduced to following a second set of laws, the law of apartheid. Perhaps the bishops of SCOBA (Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas) said it best in their statement “On the Moral Crisis in the Nation” in 2003.  “…we must stress that persons with a homosexual orientation are to be cared for with the same mercy and love that is bestowed by our Lord Jesus Christ upon all of humanity.” The experiences of many gay Orthodox Christians, within the Church, indicates that this is not usually practiced. Many gay Orthodox Christians would tell you that we are indeed loved by and shown mercy by our Lord, Jesus Christ. It is, however, the earthly rulers of His Church that need to catch up.  

  1. Julie Anon Said,

    If I might offer a small, humble, virtual hug…

  2. andre Said,

    Ahh, Thanks!

  3. Georges Said,

    And, of course, one of those other rules would also be to follow only a version of the Byzantine rite! God forbid you use the Chaldean, or a Western rite of the first millennium, lest to be considered heterodox…

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