Some of you may already know me from my posts over at Holy Protection but for those who don’t, I’m Gregg. I’m a 23-year-old from St. Louis, Missouri and have been part of the Eastern Orthodox Church since birth! I was the church poster boy when I was young. I served in the altar from the age of seven and thanks to being homeschooled attended weekday services regularly. At Sunday school and at Christian education at an Eastern Orthodox summer camp I was the guy who knew everything. Some years I wouldn’t answer questions just to avoid being a know-it-all! From the outside things looked pretty good. I had a family who loved me, I was highly involved in Church life and when I was 15 became one of my church’s main chanters, I attended various Orthodox educational opportunities, spent several summers at an Orthodox summer camp, and attended several Orthodox programs/conferences across the country. I didn’t cuss, I didn’t listen to music with curse words, I didn’t drink, I didn’t smoke, and I’d never had sex. I looked pretty good to almost anybody, but I knew that something deep inside of me was off, very off.
I’m attracted to guys, and good Christian boys like me weren’t supposed to do that! Instead of being drawn to girls, wanting to spend time with them, curious about their bodies, desiring their attention, I felt that way towards other guys. As the rest of my peers matured and developed an interest in women I was developing an interest in other men. This was something that terrified me because only “those” people felt this way. “Those” people for me were the gays talked about on the radio, the men and women of the pride parades, the men who existed only in my fantasies and on the Internet. For years I wrestled with this dichotomy in silence and it became oppressive. I constantly weighed who I could safely tell, and who I felt would never accept me if they knew my secret. I was always aware of conversations about homosexuality and logged how each friend spoke about gay people or gay marriage. It was suffocating me and it had to end.
I was fifteen when I first confessed my interest in other guys to a priest at an Orthodox summer camp. Fr. M. reminded me that I was not my sin and left me with a hug that I will remember forever. I remember practically skipping back to my cabin after my confession, basking in the lightness honesty afforded me. This did not last long, and shortly after I returned home the weight of my oppressive secret returned. It was only at camp each summer after that first confession that I found some relief in the moment of intimacy and openness with whatever priest God provided that year. I could never confess my same-sex attractions to my priest back home. I remember the priest from the parish I grew up in regularly bragging about the kinds of penances he could enforce upon his confessors. If for even one Sunday I wasn’t allowed to take communion because my priest found out I was gay my cover would be blown and questions would be asked. After all, I was the perfect church kid so what possible reason could I have had to be denied the sacraments.
In twin bursts of boldness I sent emails to two friends – one who lived nearby and one who was halfway across the country – and confessed what I was wrestling with. In both instances I received no memorable feedback, but thankfully the relationships continued as they were. It was years later when we ever discussed my homosexuality again. It wasn’t until freshman year of college that I found the courage, brought on by sheer desperation, to confess to a friend from my protestant small group. Finally, I had found someone who knew and who understood! We continued to interact regularly growing closer as friends. It wasn’t until after sharing with my roommate my second year that things really started changing. By this point I would say that I “struggled with same-sex attractions,” or “SSA.” My roommate offered support and even though he didn’t really understand he offered loyalty and his friendship. After that I knew I at least had a safe place… I’d be ok. This gave me the confidence to finally tell my parents.
Thanksgiving break of my sophomore year I told my parents that I struggled with same-sex attraction. The one thing I asked them – other than that they support me on my journey – was that they wouldn’t let my confession change our relationship. I made it clear that I already had accountability and friends who I could talk with so my parents did not need to try to fill that void. Over the last three and a half years they have done exactly that and so much more. The greatest blessing in my life is seeing how they have grown with me and flexed with me as I’ve changed language and welcomed gay friends of all different backgrounds into our house. It’s a freeing thing to watch Modern Family with my mom and not have to worry about what she might be thinking about me.
Honesty and disclosure are like a river, you start small and slowly you grow. As you gain momentum barriers that once seemed insurmountable slowly get swept away in the current. Being known by your friends and escaping the suffocating cage of silence only gets better. For me, I gained momentum in my honesty and by the end of my senior year almost all of my friends and close family knew about my homosexual orientation. I no longer have to hide the books I read and the blogs I browse out of fear of discovery. I am able to ask questions and to discuss difficult subjects openly with my friends and parents and seek their wisdom and their counsel. Shortly after coming out to that first friend in college, I shared my struggle in confession with my new priest. He has been a helpful and faithful means of God’s grace in my life. Confession is no longer a terrifying prospect and has become what it is supposed to be, a vessel of God’s grace. Our relationship isn’t perfect and our personality’s differ substantially but I am thankful for the role he plays in my life. Honesty before friends and family and most importantly honesty before God slowly can restore oxygen after suffering from intense introspection.
Many things have changed since I first began offering my sexuality to Christ. I now am comfortable using different identity labels depending on the context ranging from gay to same-sex attracted. Gay, once a label of otherness has become a way of expressing commonality with an incredible group of people who share similar experiences. I have never wavered in my strong affirmation of the Church’s traditional understanding of sexuality. Marriage, between a man and a woman, is the reserved context for sexual intimacy as understood by the Church. There is sacrifice and there is beauty in the Christian life. The Gospel has never hesitated to demand even our very lives. So, for me, surrendering… isn’t too absurd. My growing appreciation for celibacy and the role that friendships centered on Christ play in easing the burden of singleness gives me hope for a faithful future.
Dozens of brothers and a few sisters have blessed my life as witnesses to the many ways people respond to Christ in their sexuality as well as the scars left by the shards of this broken world. Some of them live according to the same traditional understanding as I do, whether through celibacy or in a mixed-orientation marriage, while others have chosen to pursue Christ-centered gay relationships. These friends have taught me many things and have been a support for me through thick and thin even despite our differences or their pasts. Being in close friendship even with strong disagreement as well as seeing the deep wounds and pain common in our lives is something I plan to write in the future about in detail.
I am still in transition. The lessons learned and experiences gained are still fresh and the ink is still drying. I do not want to convey that I’ve got everything figured out or have all of the answers. I’m very blessed but I still have bad days and difficult seasons of life. The challenge of singleness is real but manageable. I pray that this blog helps expand and humanize the discussion of homosexuality in the Orthodox Church as well as the broader Christian community. I am living in the tension of a culture that is unfriendly to the life I pursue. This is a daily challenge but I have learned from my few years and hope to pass along some of those lessons. If you are not familiar with my other writings feel free to check out some of my other posts over at Holy Protection! I pray Eleison Blog will develop as a resource to help educate and support those wrestling with their Orthodox faith and their experiences as a sexual minority; clergy, friends and families seeking to better understand this difficult subject also will find it helpful. Thanks for reading and I look forward to interacting with many of you!