Friday, March 13, 2009

Eric Iliff - Memory Eternal

Today is the second anniversary of the falling asleep in the Lord of Eric Iliff, a student at SVS. I'm not sure exactly why he has had so much of an impact on me, but he has. This event clearly has cast a shadow on the Seminary, and it's evident in the feelings of at least some students here. I remember in March 2007, when I was a catechumen and thinking that SVS might be in the future when I read about this online. Eric took his life after much anguish. Surely, there is much to the story, and much that I do not know. Also, there are things that have changed in the Seminary in the past few years. Some students openly blame the institution for how this was handled. There are other administrative issues than this one, but the bitterness left over is palpable.

I do believe that part of the problem that led to Eric's death is how the the Church deals with the issue of sexuality, and in particular, homosexuality. I really believe that silence = death, and when you have an evil cycle of silence, blackmail, and lack of genuine Christian love, how can Christ be present? I should probably use another post to talk about this topic, and I could speak more from a personal perspective, but I believe that Eric's death and this issue are related. When I have seen people leave the Church and lose their faith over this issue, how can it not even be talked about openly? What I do know is that (John 8:32) "The truth shall set you free." I also know that fear and worry is incompatible with Christianity, and I pray that I can stop feeling both. May God have mercy on all of us. As for Eric, may his memory be eternal.

"I'm just a regular guy who gets caught a little too much in his own head. I need other people to get me out of there. I believe there is a God and I'm just trying, not very successfully most of the time, to figure out what he wants me to do from one second to the next. I don't fit most categories on most levels, but I'm okay with that. I think we live in an amazing world and there's so much beauty in it if we're just willing to see it. I like to just walk or drive and astound myself by the fact that I'm conscious at all. Life is a precious gift. I just have to remember that..."

-Eric Iliff


Anonymous John said...

Dear A.J.,

Thank you for your kind post remembering Eric. You say many true things that bear pondering. You may or may not be aware that on the same day Monica and I wrote a guest "tribute" post on:

It is not pleasant reading, but is certainly our perspective on this tragedy. Thank you for not forgetting our son.

sincerely in Christ,

John Iliff
Bloomington, Il
(Eric's dad)

5:48 AM  
Blogger Aaron Joshua Oliver said...

Mr. Iliff,

Thank you for your comment, and for that tribute post. I appreciate your perspective and courage through such a difficult time. I hope in my post that I did not minimize Eric's experience of clergy sexual abuse by my discussion of sexual orientation. The two issues shouldn't be spoken of as being the same, and both a violation of vows and re-victimization, consisting of cover-up, speculation and gossip, should be roundly condemned. I hope a wider discussion can be opened up about both. In Christ,


6:42 PM  
Blogger Maggie's Farm said...

If any old priest put his hands on you I would get my .357 Magnum back from Eric and blow his head off!!!

2:19 PM  
Blogger J. Loxley said...

Great post, brother.

May Eric's memory be eternal!

2:05 PM  
Anonymous Pseudo-Denys said...

Thanks for this memorial, Aaron. You hit it right on the head: there is something seriously wrong with the way that the Church deals, and has dealt for some time, with the issue of homosexuality.

Mr and Mrs Iliff, God bless you! You raised a wonderful son! I was at SVS when Eric was, and I can testify to the fact that Eric was a beautiful person. It's one of the great tragedies of my life that I wasn't able to help him in some way.

May his memory be eternal!

9:52 PM  
Blogger JN1034 said...

(A belated) thank you for this post. Eric's memory is, indeed, eternal.

7:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I just came across your blog and I find it very compelling. I am an American Orthodox Christian ("cradle" if you believe that term, though true Orthodox are converts every day) and an active duty member of the US military for more than 10 years now. I have also struggled with same-sex attraction ever since the teenage years.

My take on why the Orthodox churches do not address the issue of homosexuality is that they don't know how and are scared. Like much of the laity, I think the clergy and bishops are afraid and don't know what to do. Sadly, we generally just defer to the American protestant view that same-sex attraction is horrendously awful, "the one thing unforgivable," and go with that. Never mind greed, pride, lust of power, killing -- in many American Christians' views (including Orthodox, in my opinion), the impression they give is that homosexuality is much worse.

Father Alexander Schmemann summed it up best I think when he wrote that in most modern Christians' viewpoint, there is "good sex" (heterosexual sex) and "bad sex" (homosexual sex). This, however, is not the true Christian point of view at all -- we are dealing with a fallen humanity. But how many Orthodox parents (or clergy?) consider it expected or normal when their 21-year-old (unmarried) son has sex with his girlfriend, yet would shudder if they found out he was doing the same with a fellow member of his football team whom he cared about deeply? "Good sex" is ok, "bad sex" is not.

Eric Iliff's situation is horrendous and awful, and I am embarrassed to be a member of the OCA when I read about it. It looks like the administration dealt with it much in the same way they initially dealt with the financial and admin problems made public over the past few years -- by covering their own butts. They can have a beautiful hierarchical divine liturgy, but why can't our church leaders behave like Christians?

I hope that Orthodox church leaders begin to deal with homosexuality different than they have in the past, though honestly I am not optimistic. I think it will be more pushing it under the rug and vilifying those who experience same-sex attraction as perverse, bizarre, and abnormal.

May Eric's memory be eternal! I am happy that his priest gave him a full Orthodox funeral.

-Your Brother in Christ

9:06 PM  
Blogger Aaron Joshua Oliver said...


Thank you so much for your comment, and please forgive me for my late reply. I have been thinking about it for awhile though. I don't meet many people who are Orthodox, gay (struggle with ssa), and in the military =). I agree that there is so much fear surrounding the issue that any honest and healing dialogue seems to be either stifled, or hidden behind coarse rhetoric that is smack of political slogans like "gay lifestyle," or theology or beliefs that really aren't Orthodox. I also hear that double standard that you mention all the time.

There is a lot of healing that has had to go on in the OCA, including the Eric Iliff situation. The sense of openness and change and lucidity that the OCA has undergone should also pervade the homosexuality situation as well. The best way, in my opinion, for this to happen is for those who experience same sex attraction to be open and honest about their struggles, even if it means ridicule and slander. Silence and fear are just as incompatible with Christianity as sexual relations outside marriage.

3:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hm hm.. that's interessting but frankly i have a hard time visualizing it... wonder what others have to say..

2:52 PM  
Blogger Aaron Joshua Oliver said...


Thank you for your comment, although I am wondering what you are having trouble "visualizing."


4:22 PM  

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