When documentary maker and activist Nik Jovčić-Sas agreed to undergo an exorcism to purge the “demons” that made him gay, he took a step into the unknown. All he knew about the ritual, carried out in a remote monastery in the mountains of Moldova, was that it involved a knife.
Paraded in front of a congregation by the monks, he found himself locked into an “occult pantomime” — with the clerics demanding money for their services. “Many within the crowd seemed to be there for morbid amusement,” he told The Calvert Journal. “[It was] like a bizarre religious freak show.”
Growing up in a British-Serbian family in the UK, Jovčić-Sas found himself struggling to reconcile his queer identity with his Orthodox upbringing.
“I first realised I was gay the same year as the first Belgrade Pride,” Jovčić-Sas says. “Watching the torrent of hate speech that poured from the Orthodox clergy against the LGBT community, I became convinced I was sick and I was going to hell. It affected me so badly by the age of 14 I was struggling with self-harm and suicidal thoughts.”
Eventually the documentary maker discovered queer-affirming theologians who helped him reconcile his sexual orientation with Christian scripture. He went on to create his own YouTube channel, Orthodox Provocateur, to tell other LGBTQ believers that they also didn’t have to choose between faith and falling in love.
“In the first 24 hours my vlog went live, I received numerous comments saying that I should be killed,” says Jovčić-Sas. “Despite the seemingly endless hate, I have also received so many beautiful and touching messages from young LGBT Orthodox Christians from Russia to the US, thanking me for my work. That honestly makes it all worth it.”
By travelling to Moldova and undergoing the exorcism himself, Jovčić-Sas hoped to draw attention to the plight of LGBTQ people in the region — as well as the clerics using the ceremonies as a way to make a profit.
“Orthodox Christianity has seen a growth in popularity in the past 20 years, but unfortunately this resurgence is often more grounded in cheap ritualism and nationalist politics than genuine faith or devotion to Christ,” he says. “The increase of exorcisms in eastern Europe is a symptom of that. What makes me most upset is the way that these rituals prey on some of the most vulnerable people in our communities. These exorcisms need to be a thing of the past — they have no place in the modern world.”
To see more of Jovčić-Sas’s work, visit the Orthodox Provocateur YouTube channel by clicking here.