Tag Archives: Personhood

Meeting Michelle: Pastoral and Theological Reflections on a Transgender Inmate

by Fr. Richard René

This essay is part of a series stemming from the ongoing research project “Contemporary Eastern Orthodox Identity and the Challenges of Pluralism and Sexual Diversity in a Secular Age,” which is a joint venture by scholars from Fordham University’s Orthodox Christian Studies Center and the University of Exeter, funded by the British Council, Friends of the British Council, and the Henry Luce Foundation as part of the British Council’s “Bridging Voices” programme. In August 2019, 55 scholars gathered for an international conference at St Stephen’s House, Oxford. These essays are summaries of presentations given in preparation for the conference and during it. They together reflect the genuine diversity of opinion that was represented at the conference and testify to the need for further reflection and dialogue on these complex and controversial topics.

In 2016, the maximum-security prison where I was working as a chaplain received a transgender inmate named Michelle, who is serving a life sentence for rape and murder in his late teens, when he identified as “Michael.”

Not surprisingly, Michelle’s arrival had a significant impact on the institutional staff. Many felt helpless and uncertain as to how to engage with her on any level. Others simply viewed her as a “piece of garbage,” the personification of evil and degeneracy. As an Orthodox priest serving in this secular context, I was not immune to the challenge that her presence posed. For instance, policy prohibited me from refusing to use her chosen name and gender pronouns. Beyond wanting to keep my job, I complied for two reasons. First, I could not engage with her pastorally if I could not speak to her, and she would not speak with me unless I addressed her by the name she had chosen.

More than that, though, I have called this person Michelle and used feminine pronouns (even in this context) because I believe there is something essentially mysterious about her identity, which may well be tied to transgenderism. Continue reading

Taking off the Mask: Love, Truth, and Communion

by Aristotle Papanikolaou

When we first meet someone, we do not immediately expose to them our deepest secrets, the events in our lives that we are most afraid to reveal, which could include our own actions, something that has been done to us, or something that has happened to which we are indirectly related. We would not reveal to them certain truths, such as if we had killed someone in a car accident, regardless of who was at fault; or if we had been raped; or if we had an alcoholic uncle.  Although we may reveal some truthful aspects of our lives, such as our names, where we live, or where we work, for the most part we are always presenting ourselves to strangers, to our family members, to our friends, and even to our self, with masks on. The mask protects us from the penetrating objectifying gaze of the other; it keeps the other from knowing who we are; it allows us to control the image that we hope to project onto the world, and to ourselves.

In the fallen world, life is one big masquerade party where we parade ourselves in “garments of skin.” And, yet, the mask cannot always protect us from the projections that others place upon us, or that we place on ourselves. Continue reading

Can Orthodox Support Human Rights? The Divine Image, the Person, and Human Rights

by Paul Ladouceur  |  ελληνικά

Patristic anthropology, the theology of the human person and human rights are intimately related. Recognition of the close relationships among these three areas is essential to the elaboration of a sound Orthodox theology concerning the nature and status of human existence in the face of secularism, technology, violence and other challenges to what it means to be human.

The reflections of the ancient Fathers about what it means to be human in the light of divine revelation though Jesus Christ still shine as beacons illuminating dark shadows in modern thought and life. The Fathers meditated in particular on the significance of the two terms used in Genesis concerning the creation of humanity, “image” and “likeness” (Gn 1:26). For the Fathers, the divine image in humans was inherent in human nature and could not be totally erased or destroyed, however much it may be obscured by personal evil. The Fathers saw the likeness, on the other hand, as characteristics to be acquired, the purpose or “program” of human existence, the movement towards union with God, typified in the word theosis. The patristic distinction between image and likeness is as relevant today as it was in their time.

Continue Reading…

Person, Nature, and Personhood Theology

by Doru Costache

For contemporary Orthodox theology, irrespective of the terms used throughout the centuries, ecclesial anthropology focuses on the mystery of personhood. This amounts to saying that Orthodox anthropology, with its markedly spiritual and/or ascetic dimension, is person-centered and not nature-centered. Building on the distinction without division between person and nature, this focus shows a certain preference in the representation of an otherwise complex reality. The sphere of personhood is likewise prominent in the Orthodox representation of the Holy Trinity and Christ. Personhood theology is therefore at the heart of contemporary Orthodox theology. In all three cases, traditional ideas and concepts are currently given personalist, existential, and phenomenological connotations. In so doing, personhood theology does more than to undertake a work of conceptual translation; it circumscribes the mysteries of the faith from viewpoints specific to the Orthodox experience in contemporary world. Given recent commotions about these developments, a question must be asked: cui bono? For what purpose? Continue Reading…