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:
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!
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Carol’s photo by Michael Honegger
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