Another One Bites the Dust: Orthodox Priest Defrocked for Declaring God Our Mother and Father Is Love by Carol P. Christ


While trying to find a topic for today’s blog, I came across a facebook post from July 10 by former Orthodox priest Christoforos Schuff in which he announced:

After reaffirming my beliefs on gender, sexuality, faith and the Church…and sharing my declaration of faith with His Eminence Jean, Archbishop of the Rue Daru Exarchate of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, I was asked kindly and respectfully to remove my cassock and cross. It is finished…with love, peace and mutual respect. May the Divine enlighten our minds and hearts!

Schuff posted the letter to the Archbishop that resulted in his defrocking:

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I had been briefly introduced to (then) Father Schuff in Skala Sikamina in the island of Lesbos at the height of the refugee crisis a few years ago.  Well over six feet tall and with blond hair, Christoforos Schuff, whom I learned was born in California and makes his home in Norway, certainly did not look like a typical Greek Orthodox priest. I had no idea that he held a radical feminist, ecological, and pro-gay and lesbian theology that would lead to his expulsion from the priesthood.

Before turning in his cassock and cross, Christoforos Schuff made this statement:

While Schuff’s view that the Divine Power is love might seem unremarkable and certainly laudable, his “theological errors” according to the Church are fourfold. First, he dares to call God “Our Mother”; second, he calls for the equality of women and gays and lesbians in the church; third, in speaking of Divinity as Mother Earth and the connection of human and other beings in the web of life, he challenges the hierarchical system in which “God” (and priests who are his emissaries) rules over “man” and “man” rules over woman and nature. Finally, he fails to affirm salvation only through Jesus Christ.

The expulsion of Christoforos Schuff from the Orthodox priesthood was not reported in the press as far as I can tell, and it may seem like a non-issue. Yet, it is important to recall that the question of women’s equality and women’s ordination have scarcely been raised in the Orthodox Church. The village women I know accept their secondary status in the Church hierarchy without question, while addressing their prayers to the Panagia, whom they view as the female face of God. I suspect many of them would not even know why Schuff’s credo is considered unorthodox.

At the same time these women insist on baptism of their children and grandchildren in the church, offering their naked babies over to bearded black-garbed men who, without concern for the loud screams of the babies, dunk them three times under water and then hold them up so that everyone can see their nakedness. With their silence women uphold the power of the priesthood and the church hierarchy, including the power of the Church to traumatize babies.

A friend of mine told me recently that after the ceremony marking 40 days after her father’s death was completed, the local priest took the opportunity to deliver his opinion that homosexual marriage is an abomination in the eyes of God. The reason for this outburst was, no doubt, the public celebration of a gay civil union that had occurred in the village a few days earlier. My friend said that her friends were outraged by the priest’s behavior. However, their outrage did not lead them to ask radical questions about the power of a Church that has used and continues to use its institutional power against women’s and gay rights.

Unlike my friends who may laugh among themselves at “stupid” and “silly” priests from time to time, Schuff made his views pubic and refused to rescind them when asked to declare his beliefs to his Archbishop. Yes, he is only one priest, and a rather eccentric one at that. On the other hand, who knows how many other priests and laypersons are afraid to speak out, knowing that it is unlikely that anyone will come to their defense. This is business as usual in hierarchical power systems.

Father Schuff put his radical theology into practice during the refugee crisis in Lesbos.

(The more than one hour long video in which Schuff discussed his faith and his work with the refugees was removed from youtube on July 17, possibly at the behest of someone in the Orthodox hierarchy. Here is a brief version of what he said: ‘We have the same God’: A priest helps Syrian refugees.)

Shame on the Church!

* * *

 Carol’s photo by Michael Honegger

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Carol’s new book written with Judith Plaskow, is  Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology.

FAR Press recently released A Serpentine Path: Mysteries of the Goddess.

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Categories: Activism, Christianity, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, Gender and Sexuality, General

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11 replies

  1. Why is it that we are always returning to the women who SUPPORT this system of inequality and submit themselves and their children to rule by the “king” whoever he is??? Why? In my opinion because most women are unwilling or unable to stand up to the men who control their lives, fathers, brother, sons, priests – take your pick. As a woman who had struggled to hold her own ground all her life, I have certainly been in this category – BUT – I have never given up, and today unless I am traumatized by an incident (after which I lose myself to the collective and have to clean up after temporary self betrayal) I experience a profound sense of self respect and accomplishment over my hard one freedom from Tyranny by Man.

    Never mind that it has taken 72 years to do this…

    Women are under so much pressure from family, community, church ( male domination) politics that it is a wonder that any of us survive let alone make the choice to step out on our own… And even then we are choosing a life that includes being cast as the outsider or scapegoat.

    It never ends.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. “I had no idea that Father Schuff held a radical feminist, ecological, and pro-gay and lesbian theology that would lead to his expulsion from the priesthood.”

    Father Schuff also says: “I believe in the divine, our mother and father.” And what a beautiful thought that is too — thanks for sharing Father Schuff with us, Carol.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Good for ex-Father Schuff for declaring a Mother God, or at least a god that’s both father and mother. I hope he lives happily ever after. Where is he going to live?

    I remember listening to NPR in 1993 when Matthew Fox was defrocked by the Dominicans for “working with a witch” (Starhawk) and inventing Creation Spirituality. I was in my car and pulled into a parking lot to listen to the whole story about him.

    Now I’m thinking maybe Christophoros can make friends with Matthew and they can do some good work together.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Wow, Christophoros Schuff sure has guts! Good for him for standing up for what he believes in and thank you, Carol, for telling us about him. It is too bad that he was defrocked, but not surprising since the church is so fearful of women and the LGBT community. I wish him well.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. As someone who would be technically considered Greek Orthodox, I say GOOD for our brother Christophoros. If he’s working with refugees, recognizes a feminine element in the divine, affirms a love of creation, and has been tossed out by the patriarchal power structure, he’s my kind of guy.

    I finally left “Orthodoxy” over seemingly smaller things — although the gulf between theology and action were also too great, but that’s another discussion — which built up, and up, and up: women should wear skirts to church. Women should not receive communion if they were menstruating. Women should not cross their legs… what one writer called “a martyrdom of pinpricks,” always directed at women, with the excuse that well, after all, there was the Panaghia… whose status as Christ-bearer was a not-so-gentle kick upstairs for Her and for the rest of us.

    There can be, in my opinion, no rebirth, no reconstituting of society or of ourselves until women refuse to suffer, for whatever reason, the abuses of the male power structure. What terrifies the patriarchs and, I suppose, scares us, is our power.

    Like Christophoros, who seems truly to understand what his name means, we need not to submit, not to normalize, not to consent. Like him, we need to be explicit in stating what we think. And like him, we need to resist, even if it means being thrown out or walking away.

    Thank you, Carol, for this particularly stimulating and encouraging piece.

    And forgive me for ranting on. I claim my power as a crone as an excuse!

    Liked by 1 person

    • The prohibition on women wearing slacks is rarely enforced in Greece these days. Moreover, though women are also not supposed to come into the church without their arms covered, many brides now wear strapless (and of course sleeveless) bridal gowns. When I asked about this, a friend responded that the priests are more interested in the money they get for performing weddings than in enforcing dress codes.

      I was shocked to learn that women who are menstruating are not allowed to touch icons and that baby girls are not taken behind the icon screen to be “offered to God” while boys are.

      Like

      • The church I was associated with frowned on short skirts, pants, etc. But money always greases the wheels, doesn’t it? 👎🏼

        And oh, yes, that blood thing: reminiscent of politics here in the beautiful U.S., isn’t it? Not just for churches suffering from that old “curse of Eve” thing, either.

        Like

  6. Thank you, Carol, for letting us know about an outspoken priest who was trying to reform his Orthodox Christianity. And thank you for letting us know the specific forms that patriarchy takes in Orthodox theology.

    It takes guts to speak truth to power. I don’t blame the women who kowtow to the authorities in their lives. They’ve lived in patriarchal water all their lives and nobody has come along to “color it,” so they can see it as anything but normal. It’s just the milieu they’ve spent all their time in. They can’t imagine anything else. But if enough of those authorities start to speak out, like Christophorus Schuff, then we’ll see those women begin to see the light. So bravo, Christophorus!

    Like

  7. Thanks for your blog, Carol, though I’m not surprised that Father Schuff was excommunicated for FULLY embracing the God of Love, regardless of specific “nots” or “lesser-thans”. How brave & honest of him.

    Shame on the church, indeed! How long? How long?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Bravo Father Schuff – it takes courage to stand out and stand up for our autonomy, for love, for a just world. Thanks for sharing

    Like

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