My Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
January begins the New Year and with it, as with any New Year, it is tempting to redefine ourselves. This is sometimes a good thing. Often we seek to eat healthier, live healthier and be kinder to our fellow man.
But I think we need to take a look at this idea of “defining” ourselves a little deeper. In this current age of identity politics where everything is called into question, this endeavor becomes even more difficult. We are often told in thrilling movies and coming-of-age stories not to let anyone define us, that we must map our own destinies, show the world who we really are. This message is inspiring, but who are we really?
Do you know? Did you know when you were 5? Did you know when you were 10, 15, 25, 30? Do you know now?
I know for myself that my entire worldview shifted drastically no less than three times in my life. I am sure you know what I mean. A moment where everything you thought you knew about the world, yourself, and God shifted radically.
Sociologists would suggests this points to the relative nature of reality. What is real and what isn’t largely depends on you and your interpretation of what is presented to you. This is why we hear terms such as “fluid” within identity politics, because it can be ever changing. When it comes down to it, there is no truth, only opinions, and in so doing we become little gods.
However, Jesus Christ is the Truth, the Way, and the Life (John 14:6). There is truth, and there is reality. Indeed, the very nature of identity was the forefront of the first six Ecumenical Councils, as they answered a very powerful question: Who and What is Jesus Christ.
They were not seeking to answer this in a philosophical allegory. They wanted to present the naked reality in much the same way that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ did on Mt. Tabor when he revealed Himself to His disciples as truly God. This isn’t ambiguous and is answered within the Creed, within the way we perform our Cross, and in the way we interact with Christ Himself.
As Orthodox Christians, we would not argue with Identity Politics in that we want freedom, if not fluidity. God created us to be free, so that we could be whatever we want. . . But let me ask you again this very thing: Are you free?
What does it mean to be free? Does it mean being able to claim any gender, dye my hair or body any color, choose whoever and whatever I want to love?
No, my beloved brothers and sisters in Christ. That isn’t freedom. It’s slavery.
The young might ask me why as these concepts are what are pushed today. Every perversion under the sun is allowable so long as the individuals are consenting. To speak against this would label us as bigots, “haters” and any other not-so-nice terms used today. But it is slavery.
It is slavery to our passions. It is a grand lie put forward by the evil one to lure us away. Not about the Will of God, but my will. Whatever makes me feel good, or valued or real.
And the deviations aren’t the devil’s most powerful tool today. No, no. His tool is that we as a society want children as young as four or five to be allowed to make these choices and “explore” these deviations for themselves.
I asked prior if you knew who you were when you were five. I think we can all agree that at any given time in our lives, we thought we knew that answer, but very often we look back and say, “I was wrong” or “I didn’t know what I was talking about” or “I was so foolish.”
The big decisions of sexuality, gender identity, abortions, coloring our hair to vibrant showy colors, getting piercings all over, or tattoos are each items that require careful reflection and even adults will engage in these and sometimes regret. To push these choices on children, when the repercussions of these actions are so far reaching, is beyond foolish.
We need to look to why our children are doing these things. Is it because that is the child’s identity? No, that child doesn’t know who he or she really is. Aristotle posited that we are not adults until we finish learning. (He believed that was 19-25). Our brains continue to develop through childhood and often are not ready for some of the more heavy ideas.
But that’s only the surface. The reality is that the child, whether he or she knows it, is not trying to rebel, but discover who he or she is. In much the same way that a baby bounces around a crib until he discovers his limitations, children will bounce, but they need those boundaries to keep them safe.
We need only look to FaceBook, our phones, and social media in general to see people filling their lives with “self.” It’s all about me. And the sad thing is that this does not lead to happiness. Quite the opposite. We see young adults scrounging for “like” or “comments” or anything to validate them. They do this in life with the hair colors excessive piercings, extreme body art or many other deviations. They want to be noticed. They want to matter. They want to have relevance and if being “different” accomplishes that, then that is the route they take.
Instead of immediately acquiescing to our children when they come to us with these things, and instead of immediately shouting “no” to our children, we should ask and see where this desire is coming from. Is it coming from a deeper desire for connection? Is it a sin the child is wrestling with? Most times, our children are seeking directions from us on what is proper identity.
And they are extremely observant. They see hypocrisy and flee.
Therefore, we must be authentic beings ourselves. We must show our children our Christian identity and help them come to the understanding of their faith.
Earlier I asked if we are free. Choosing between doing good (what our parents want) and doing evil (listening to our desires) is not free. If all I can choose is a or b then I am not free. I want to be able to choose c. Following after Christ will not make us slaves, but rather lead us to true freedom. To be free as Christ is free.
So, if you are asking if tattoos, or body art, or piercings, or dying our hair wild colors is sinful, the better question to ask would be “why do I want this?” If it is to draw attention to me, then it is sinful because it is about “self.”
Once we figure out the “Why” we do things, the better we are able to follow after the Good.
I remain your servant in Christ,
Fr. Dimitri Tobias, Proistamenos