The Archbishop of America’s questionable participation in a baptism on the Athens Riviera last month created quite a furor. The issue had nothing to do with the children, but rather, their parents – a homosexual couple. The Archbishop’s withholding of this information related to the high-profile event drew the ire of the local Metropolitan, and ultimately, the Church of Greece officially protested to the Ecumenical Patriarchate over his actions.
Aside from the ecclesiastical ramifications, the issue is also becoming political, with the New York-based branch of Greece’s main opposition SYRIZA party seizing the opportunity to promote their positions on rightsism by issuing a statement supporting Archbishop Elpidophoros and accusing all those opposing him of living… in the “Dark Ages.” The issue also trended on social media.
It goes without saying that every child is entitled to be baptized into the Orthodox Christian faith – even if their parents are heterodox, so long as their godparents fulfill the requirements outlined by the Church and undertake the spiritual rearing of their godchild.
Nevertheless, the Orthodox Church has a clear position regarding homosexuality. This position is rooted in express references found in the Holy Scriptures – both the Old and New Testament. What exactly are the opponents of these positions suggesting; that the Bible be rewritten?
In fact, over the years, various circles that have at times be “offended” by references contained in the Scriptures have proposed just that! Besides, there are plenty of translations out there that alter the content of the Scriptures as they please. However, all of this is clearly outside of the Orthodox tradition and has found Hellenism staunchly opposed to changes imposed to serve other agendas.
Even if the Church were to exercise ‘economy’ – grant a dispensation – and overlook the sexual preferences of interested parties, or other life choices that are clearly at odds with its ethos, this would have to be examined on a case-by-case basis depending on the intentions of those involved. In this case, the impression given by the Chicago socialites did not appear to be that they merely wanted to baptize the children in their ancestral homeland, but that they wanted to turn the sacrament into a social event, through which they could also make a political statement. And that’s where the Archbishop should have treaded more carefully.
The Church has a particular ethos and expresses it through symbolism. The famous author Alexandros Papadiamantis writes that “the Church possesses symbolism and symbolism speaks louder than rhetoric.” For example, although the Church provides for a second or third wedding, the celebration of the rite changes, so that it may discreetly state its position regarding relationships as a “feat” and signify divorce as a last resort.
The Church places boundaries and limitations on certain things to manifest its ethos. It does not send anyone away, but likewise, it does not cease to call upon all to repent, and to delineate, in its own unique way, the road upon which it chooses to lead its children. It retreats to the point that it considers acceptable, without negating itself, which would in turn leave it helpless to aid its children in the event that the road they chose, outside of its guidelines, leads them to a dead end.
Archbishop Elpidophoros’ decision to participate in this baptism/social event runs contrary to precisely this symbolism and constitutes a mistake. In doing so, he appears to be placing his own prerogative, or perhaps the prerogative of his (very wealthy) friends above the outlook of ecclesiastical tradition. And this is quite inconsistent for someone who places such great emphasis on the rubrics of the Mother Church in Constantinople and has tried to impose them right down to the slightest detail from the first moment of his ascent to the Archbishopric of America.
The second and equally important objection regarding his presence at this baptism does not involve the sexual preference of the parents, so much as it does their financial status. Let’s be honest, a poor gay couple lacking social and economic standing would never have a chance of getting a prelate of the Archbishop’s status to come baptize their child – especially amidst all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the sacrament. Sadly, SYRIZA’s New York branch chose to turn a blind eye to this reality. In their haste to proclaim the Archbishop of America a poster boy for rightsism, they are ignoring the real inequality here – the economic one!
In the past, the Church has used the very same symbolism to combat financial inequality by limiting the number of Divine Liturgies a single priest can celebrate daily to one, to avoid dividing the congregation into rich and poor parishioners. The common cup used for Holy Communion also reinforces the idea of equality for all who partake in it; something which unfortunately is being challenged through the introduction of the novel practice of distributing Holy Communion using multiple spoons in the United States during the pandemic (and which unfortunately is continued even today in some parishes, despite a synodical decision to the contrary).
It’s understandable that the Archbishop’s media team is trying to spin the negative fallout from his participation in a baptism that should have been celebrated quietly and discreetly, away from public limelight, because it has to do with innocent children and not the egos or political views of their guardians and extended family; however, their actions are to no avail and are only making matters worse. A recent article penned by an advisor to the Archbishop appearing in RNS, containing strong criticism against the Church of Greece, is sure to add more fuel to the fire and threaten relations between Constantinople and Athens.
It’s evident that in the case of this baptism, there is a double standard at play that has a lot more to do with money than it does ideology. That’s why both the statement issued by SYRIZA and the recent article in RNS isn’t helping the Church or the Diaspora. In fact, if anything, it’s reactionary. If SYRIZA is truly interested in church affairs and does not wish to remove itself due to some of its members’ well-known anticlericalism, along with the dogmatic left’s poor understanding of the Orthodox Church leading many of them to lump it together with Western Christian denominations, let it at least try to show some respect and not hijack the Church to opportunistically promote its party platform. Otherwise, it comes out looking foolish and negates itself, carrying on about rights and the “Dark Ages,” while ignoring the elephant in the room – money; lots of it!
Unless, despite its identification as a leftist party, it has a penchant for capitalist pockets… Of course, in today’s era, everything is allowed. If that’s what turns them on…
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