Conclusions Without the Facts
May 25, 2016
Years ago, after completing my PhD in history, I was asked by the jurisdiction to which I belonged, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, to write a detailed history of the Ukrainian Church in the USA. A significant number of Ukrainians began arriving in the United States and Canada before World War I, many seeking economic advancement and stability in a new world. Several of these were temporary immigrants, fully intending to return to Ukraine to reunite with their families. The First World War changed that narrative for many. Small communities were created in several areas: the mining towns of Pennsylvania, the big cities of New York and Chicago that offered factory employment, as well as the rich farming lands of the Midwest. Naturally many of the first community centers that Ukrainians created in the new world were churches, where they could gather for divine services offered in a language and setting that was familiar and welcoming to them. From these significant numbers a Ukrainian Orthodox diocese was created, with several parishes. This is a fascinating history that demands a thorough and scholarly study.
Archbishop John (Ioan) Theodorovich was sent to shepherd the newly established parishes in Canada and the USA by the Synod of Bishops of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church in Ukraine. To call his diocese vast would be an understatement as it spanned from New York City to the prairie villages of Western Canada. We do know that under his episcopal leadership the archdiocese increased its number of parishes, clergy and faithful. After World War II, and the arrival of numerous Ukrainian immigrants, including several bishops from Ukraine, there was a renewal of those efforts to serve the spiritual, religious and cultural needs of the people. To write such a history is a historians dream. So, what’s the problem? Why is there no definitive, scholarly narrative of the history of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the USA, other than what can easily fit onto a few pamphlets?
When writing a historical narrative, the historian needs sources: records, journals, diaries, minutes from meetings, photographs, newspaper articles, sermons, speeches, and diocesan publications, from the time period; what are commonly referred to as primary sources. While there are a plethora of records for the post WWII period, there is a significant dearth of material for the period from the establishment of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the US in 1924 until the early 1950s. That is a period of 26 years, almost a single generation, without solid and specific evidence of how the diocese was created, how it survived during difficult years and how it prospered. As an illustration of how few records the diocese has of this early period, there are almost no copies of the diocesan newspaper which would have recorded the major events within the life of the church. Thus I was confronted with a major dilemma when asked to write the history of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. How do you write a history without records? The answer for a trained historian is that you do not. And, you certainly do not manufacture the information in order to create a historical narrative. Unfortunately, many in the Church are not so judicious when writing or speaking about things they know little about.
About once a week this website receives an email, from well meaning individuals, proclaiming to understand gay people. They also have the solution necessary to cure us, or tame us or save us, or even convert us to heterosexuality. Frequently quoting selected verses from Scripture or the writings of the Fathers of the Church, some of these even believe they can scare us out of our sexual orientation. In general their conclusions and recommendations seem to boil down to four:
1) When you chose to be gay, you committed a sin against God;
2) You must repent of your choice to become a homosexual;
3) Your only choice is to remain celibate for the rest of your life;
4) With enough prayer and repentance it is possible to revert to a heterosexual life.
Usually the authors of such emails are themselves married heterosexuals, who would declare that they themselves did not choose their sexuality, while enjoying all of the “benefits” of married life. Keep in mind that all of these same individuals, according to the rules of the Church, would be allowed to divorce and re-marry within the Church up to three times. My frequent retort to these individuals is that while Scripture is divinely inspired and many of the Holy Fathers are to be treasured for their sacred words, God has revealed many new things since the Bible was written, specifically in the areas of biology, neuroscience, psychology, physics and numerous other areas of creation. The Church has over the centuries accepted these modern advances. The Church needs to do the same when it comes to LGBT individuals. Certainly the Church needs to preach the mercy of Christ, and a humility in its lack of understanding of the complexity of human sexuality, and its own application of oikonomia when making decisions that affect the lives of its faithful, especially those who have been so vulnerable to exclusion and unnecessary attacks of violence. Many of these well-meaning people are in command of the facts when it comes to their own lives and the laws they choose to acknowledge, but are woefully ignorant about the facts when it comes to LGBT individuals. They construct a narrative, explanations, prescriptions and solutions without the facts.
One email to this website from “Tom” criticized my call for the Church to accept modern studies of science. That person wrote: “Similarly, let’s assume that tomorrow some scientists announce they found a gene, the existence of which might have a correlation with orientation for serial killings, cannibalism or exercising bestiality. You may find it helpful to think whether you would revise your faith so as to accommodate the latest trend about “simple biology”. This person is someone who can in his mind easily equate the love between two men with cannibalism and serial killing, and not miss a beat. Does he lack intelligence, humility, compassion or all of the above? Drawing such outrageous conclusions without all of the facts, and without compassion and mercy, is not only dangerous, it is also deeply offensive, and not only to gay people, but to the God who created us as well as the love we share.
 Many ethnic Ukrainians also joined the Russian Orthodox Greek-Catholic Church (the current Orthodox Church in America), others joined the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, still others joined the Byzantine or Ruthenian Catholic Church as well as other dioceses. The jurisdictional “mess” can be explained with many reasons, one of these being the limited national consciousness of those Ukrainians living under the rule of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
 As one can imagine this history is quite complicated and intricate and replete with various jurisdictional disagreements and growing pains. I have highly oversimplified this history for the sake of this reflection.
 This date is related to the union of two jurisdictions, and the acceptance of Archbishop Mstyslav Skrypnyk into the diocese. Mstyslav was a prolific writer and immediately took it upon himself to increase the media output of the diocese. The preservation of historical artifacts and archival material was another passion of his.
 Also there are no minutes from the numerous diocesan wide assemblies held in the US (Sobors) before 1950.
 A pejorative term for this type of “manufactured” history, is “Soviet history”. For example, the Academy of Sciences in the USSR was famous for crediting Lenin and Stalin with various astronomical discoveries.
 For example, few bishops and priests today would hold parishioners to terms of penance prescribed in the canons during periods of menstruation. Also, one doubts there was much discussion as to whether to include “for those who travel by air” in the prayers of the Church, after the invention of aeronautics.
 Oikonomia is the “managing of the house” or making decisions in the Church which are not specifically addressed in Scripture or the canons of the Church, or more frequently, subverting the law for a “greater good”.