"I don't visit you in Manhattan next weekend," Yuri said. "I must go to Russian Orthodox seminary Upstate."
"A seminary? Whatever for?"
"There is a weekend for sveštenik kandidata, guys who want to be priests."
"What?" I repeated, shocked. "You want to be a priest?" He had been out for less than two years. Had he succumbed to religious fundamentalism? Was he trying to turn "ex-gay"?
"No, of course I don't really want to be a priest." Yuri said. "It is to keep...closet. So I don't tell them I am gay, and I can still go to services."
When I met Yuri, I never expected him to be religious. He grew up in the Soviet Union, where religious belief was discouraged. He grew up gay in the Russian Orthodox Church, one of the most brutally homophobic denominations in Christianity. Plus he was a logical, empirical scientist.
But when he was a kid in Volgograd, his grandparents took him to Mass nearly every week. He loved the candles, the incense, the droning liturgy in Old Slavonic, and especially the icons, visual images of the Saints, reaching out to him in friendship and love.
They were fully clothed, not as homoerotic as many artistic depictions of saints in Roman Catholicism, but still, they were an alternative to the "girls! girls! girls!" drone he heard everywhere else.
When he went to graduate school in America, all the way across the ocean, thousands of miles from what he knew, he looked back with nostalgia on those hours in church. Going to church was an anchor, a memory of home.
The only problem: you absolutely, positively had to be closeted in the Russian Orthodox Church. If anyone found out, you would be kicked out the door -- after the screaming.
In Manhattan it was easy. Whenever he visited me for the weekend, he took the subway to the St. Nicholas Cathedral on 97th Street, where he could be anonymous, lost amid the milling crowds.
On Long Island, it was harder. In a tiny congregation Yuri couldn't be anonymous. Teenage girls flirted with him. Middle-aged ladies tried to fix him up with their daughters. Every guy he tried to cruise asked him to evaluate girls. There were constant questions: "Are you married?" "Are you seeing anyone?" "Why not?"
How else could he signal that he was not interested?
Then the idea came: he could say that he wanted to become a priest!
"Sorry, I am considering a priestly vocation. I can't date."
That stopped the fix-ups altogether, and the other guys stopped asking him to rate girls.
Unfortunately, word got around to the parish priest, who started giving him smiles and gifts and hand-on-shoulder talks. and told him about a weekend for postulants (men thinking of the priesthood) at a seminary nearby. And even offered him a ride up with two of the other pre-seminary boys.
There was no getting out of it -- Yuri was going to go on a postulant weekend.
"It might be fun," I said. "I remember back when I was a Nazarene, they dragged us to pre-college weekends at Olivet. Since everyone assumed that no Christian could be gay, I could cruise openly. And I got some nice bulge sightings."
It was a four-hour drive to the seminary. They arrived in time for a communal dinner, students and monks together, in the Refectory. Then a service called the Compline, and into their dormitory for "study and contemplation."
The dormitory rooms were huge, twelve seminarians on narrow beds with desks between them, with a little tv lounge and a bathroom and shower room off to the side.
They walked naked to the shower. There was a lot of towel-snapping, butt grabbing, and leering, but no fondling.
Lights out at 10:00 pm, and the dorm room got quiet.
Then the stirring began. After awhile, a guy stood and walked across the cold stone floor, presumably to the bathroom.
But he hadn't turned the light on, and there was no water was running.
Yuri got up and followed. The seminarian was in one of the toilet stalls, with the door open.
His Bratwurst+ fully aroused, waiting.
Yuri followed him in, closed the door, knelt, and went down on him.
He finished quickly without a word or even a moan. Then they both stood and returned to their beds.
He estimated that seven of the twelve guys went "to the bathroom that night" for oral sex, some more than once, while he and two other guys volunteered to be the bottoms.
They got up at 5 am and dressed. Of course, no one acknowledge what had happened last night.
The Divine Liturgy was at 6:00 am, followed by breakfast and chores. There was a candle factory, a printshop, a museum, and a bookstore.
Saturday afternoon they had off. Some of the seminarians took Yuri down to Cooperstown, about 20 miles away, to see the Baseball Hall of Fame.
He carefully introduced gay topics.
Saying "Look -- that guy is hot, isn't he?" got only cold stares.
Asking "What do you do when one of your friends tells you that he is gay?" got a savage response: "Don't talk to him! Don't associate with him! He is possessed by a demon!"
They were back by dinner at 7:00, Compline at 8:00, and more study and contemplation.
Again, no one acknowledged what happened last night. They had breakfast and studied until the Divine Liturgy began at 9:00 am. Then, after lunch, they drove back to Long Island.
"Sounds like a fun weekend," I said. "More action than you'd get in the Village."
"Yes, sure," Yuri said. "But it made me sad. Everything was closed, closet. The guys pretend it doesn't happen the next day, and they say homophobic things. Not open. And...the worst of everything... it was sex only. Nothing warm, nothing happy, just trying to get it over."
He moved across the couch and knelt over me. "We will kiss now."
See also: Sausage Sighting of a Baptist Boy