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Monday, March 22, 2010

Where Are All The Clerics?

I was on one of my many trips to Walmart this week and I had an epiphany. Although I have lived in the Nashville, TN. area, specifically Franklin/Brentwood, just south of Nashville, for over four years, I have rarely seen anyone in clerics. In the four years that I have lived here, I have seen only one person, an Anglican Bishop, wearing clerics in public, and that was at an invitational event. My wife says she spotted the local Catholic priest wearing clerics, but he was on the sidewalk in front of his church. I did see two of my former Antiochian priests wearing clerics at a church luncheon at a hotel, but even they, when out and about as citizens, do not always wear their clerics. The one time I met with my former priest in a coffee shop, he wore black jeans and a black tea-shirt, although he was headed directly for a hospital visit from there.

This area of Tennessee is very "spiritual", with many churches of many types. We even have one of the most prolific anti-trinitarian pseudo-Christan cults firmly rooted here. It is a very politically conservative community, both fiscally and socially. The prevailing attitude is the Protestant idea that everybody is right and nobody is wrong, we are all Christians with some measure of the truth, so we can all just get along. I am wondering, however, with the entrenched protestantism, especially evangelical protestantism, (Musician Michael W. Smith has a church here) and the strength of the Church of Christ, if somehow the Catholics and the Orthodox  have decided to remain in the shadows. If this is the case, I can have no part of it.

I have seen what seems to be a compromise toward the shadows even in the Genuine Orthodox Churches. Some priests, who must be bi-vocational, use the excuse of their job to trim their beard or not wear one at all, when the Church and Canons are specific as to their appearance and Federal Law protects their rights of grooming for religious purposes. In these matters they say the Bishop has given economy for their job, when, in reality, it is their own fear of lack or fear of persecution that dictates their decision.

I have heard criticism directed toward laymen who dress in black and grow their bears according to the tradition of the Church. "What are they trying to be?" "They are trying to appears as monks when they are not." To the contrary: Perhaps they are correctly following the piety laid out in the Canons and the critics' own failure to do so is highlighted when this is observed.

I am not a priest, deacon or a tonsured reader, yet I have an uncut beard for the sake of my pursuit of piety. I do not wear clerics but I do go out in public. I am the delight of every child at Christmas time. I get a lot of free smiles and little fingers pointing my way. Many people strike up conversations, open doors for me, and the few in this area who are aware of Orthodoxy are drawn like a b-line to me. I met a very kind Coptic man the other day, a researcher at a medical facility. He could not pass me without showing his respect and talking with me. The only negative reaction I have experienced was having my way literally blocked by a black Muslim man as I tried to enter his open air shop at the local farmers market (God bless him).

I am wondering what the cleric-wearing men in this area are afraid of. Why do we not see clerics being worn here? Why do we not see cassocks worn in public? Why are they just relegated to services? Is this not a compromise in an effort to fit in? Isn't the desire to fit in to the culture, at the expense of age-old traditions, the bane of the Church? You can be sure the Muslims don't give a damn what others think. You can bet they don't give a damn about fitting in to this culture in the manner of their religious dress. I see them everywhere here. The Sikhs are here in full dress as well. Where are the Orthodox? Where is the concern over this matter? For instance, which of you readers are more disturbed with the fact that I have just used the word "damn" twice in this post,  than you are concerned with the fact that our conduct may be evidence that we are becoming ashamed of the gospel of Christ and of his Church?

10 comments:

  1. I have sympathy with what you say but I am aware of my hypocrisy in publicly agreeing with you. When I was ordained a reader, I was instructed to never appear among the faithful without my cassock. It was part of my canonical obedience to my bishop and the canonical and liturgical norms of the Church, and I had pledged that obedience before my fellow parishioners. (Only once did I break this and that was when we were renovating and cleaning the derelict church that we have since taken over. I do not have much money and at the time could not have afforded a new cassock had I damaged the old one.)

    So I wear my cassock when going to and from church, or pilgrimages, or church meetings, or anywhere where I am likely to appear among the faithful. This means that I encounter people on the street. At first, I felt awkward but now I don't even think about looking different until somebody else points it out. I am dark-skinned and bearded, so people often assume that I am Asian, (or "Middle-Eastern", as I believe the term is in American - I think you say "Asian" where we would say "Oriental"). Add the cassock, and people asusme I am Muslim, which means some unsavoury things are often said to me in quite forceful ways. Sometimes Muslim men think I am Muslim, and when I explain that I am Christian, they think I am an apostate from Islam who has converted to Christianity, so they become hostile. Yet, when I fear for my safety, I think of the Confessors and Martyrs and their far worse struggles for the Faith, and how insignifcant my little discomfort is.

    Sometimes, people stop in the street or on the train and have a brief exchange with me, asking what I am. When I tell them, some smile politely and move on while others ask questions, and then I have an opportunity to share something of the Faith with them. Who knows? It might be the only opportunity for Christian interaction some of these people may have. I don't know what effect I may have. I don't pretend to be any great evangelist or even a holy person worthy of attracting others to Christ, but I do know that if I looked like everybody else, those conversations would not have happened at all, and those people would have walked straight past me in the street, and who knows what could have been lost?

    So when I hear clergy claim that they do not appear in public as clergy because they just want to be "one of the people", it never sounds honest to me - after all, everybody already knows that clergy are people, so I don't know who they are trying to convince. I rather suspect that they simply wish to hide what they are in order to avoid the confrontation with the world. Perhaps I myself am guilty of this. I only wear my cassock when on church business. I stopped wearing my hair and beard long when I ceased preparing for the monastic oblature. Perhaps I, too, should examine my own conscience and think of what it is that I I am hiding from. I pray that, whatever the answer, I am given the grace to be honest about it.

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  2. What a wonderful and honest personal assessment. Thank you for sharing it. May God grant you his mercy as you seek to do his will. Pray for me a sinner.

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  3. Thank you, Nathan.

    Be assured of my prayers as I request yours. I am sure that you are looking forward to your priestly visit in a couple of week's time. It must be a stuggle to go for so long without the mysteries.

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  4. Thank you Michael. I have just had the joy of watching your ordination video on your blog. I commend you to all readers as one having experiential authority to speak on matters of clerics. The newly ordained sub-deacon, Michael lives and serves in Great Brittan where, due to the religious cultural mix, the persecution he potentially faces is much more pronounced than what one might expect to endure in the Southern States of America.

    Visit Michael's BLOG:

    http://morespaciousthantheheavens.blogspot.com/

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  5. Thank you, Nathan, for your kind words and for the link to my blog. I don't know that I have very much worthwhile to say.

    Things are vast and varied here. Manchester and its suburbs have a large Muslim population. Where I live had race riots five or so years ago which constantly made the national news. (This was before I moved here). Things seem much better now than they were but it varies from place to place. I used to work in Chester, a city about 40 miles away, which is called a city only because it is an olr Roman city and has a cathedral. Otherwise, it is really a small town, whose population is predominantly white, middle class. There, I would get strange looks and would always be self-conscious. In the suburb of Manchester where I live, I receive no odd looks because people assume I am Muslim but it can lead to the sort of confrontation I mentioned earlier.

    Most places are fine and perfectly harmless. It's just a case of being aware of the surroundings, walking with confidence, while trying to balance that with the degree of humility to deal with whatever comes our way. In my experience, once we, as clergy, laymen, or whatever, simply become comfortable with our appearance and not self-conscious, it becomes easier.

    I admire you for your faithfulness to the discipline you have adopted. I look at my proposed rule for my oblature and realise just how little of it I actually live by these days. [i](sigh)[/i]

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  6. Dear Nathan,

    I was reading your latest post regarding the wearing of clerical garments for the public and the opposition received on your part by Muslims for maintaining a Christian witness. It is very disturbing to see that Christians in this day and age are ashamed of Christ and love the world more than they love Christ our God. There is this very disturbing phenomena prevalent amongst professing Christians that the Church must be "relevant" to the world and therefore must imitate all the fashions, mannerisms and behaviour patterns of the world, even though it means sinning against the Holy Scripture. Such is the trend especially of Protestantism and also to a lesser extent the Latins/Roman Catholicism. Unfortunately, Eastern Orthodox are not exempt from this evil mindset and trend either. Whilst maintaining an outward appearance of Orthodoxy in ritual, many Orthodox are not even God-fearing or Christ-minded in their lives. It is such people that bring Orthodox Christianity into disrepute since they are Pharisees at best or Saducees and hypocrites at worst. You have professing Orthodox supporting ecumenism, homosexuality, abortion and other evils that the Holy Scripture clearly denounces. You also have on the other extreme Orthodox who are so obsessed with minor details of canons and outward practices to the total neglect of Holy Scripture and doctrine. Both are disreputable to the Holy Katholic Church and may we be purged of both.

    The solution for this is clearly contained in Holy Scripture where we are told to not be conformed to the world but instead offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God (Romans 12:1, 2), to love not the world for he that loveth the world has not the love of the Father (I John 2:15-17) and also that he that is a friend of the world is an enemy of God (James 4:1-4). We are also told by Christ our God in John 15 that the world will hate us because we do not belong to it. As ones who seek citizenship in heaven (Philippians 3), let us seek to love Christ our God more than the ever-changing world that belongs to the sway of the Devil and will be destroyed with him too.

    Yours in Christ,

    Timothy Kwoh

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  7. Anonymous8:18 PM

    hmmm.... I don't wear a collar, although I've considered it, although it might be a bit of identity confusion for this ana-baptist with a slight pentecostal twist.... although might look good on my Harley.

    and btw, I don't give a damn that you said damn...twice!!!


    pstrmike
    peace

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  8. PstrMike, My Protestant, future Orthodox, friend...Just try wearing clerics for a week or two, ride your Harley and see the doors of ministry open that you didn't push or pull. When that happens, you can chalk up another reason the original Church is the place to be...Peace back at ya.

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  9. Anonymous4:04 PM

    Nathan..... LOL!!!!

    is that prophecy? ;)

    and I would have to agree, doors would open with as much as me touching them.......

    btw, absolutely love the beard!! if you have any more information as to the reason behind it, feel free to send me a link
    mikgol@bendbroadband.com

    blessings,
    pstrmike

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  10. Anonymous1:12 PM

    Hi All,
    I spent time at a monastery and the nuns, who of course where their monastic apparel everywhere, also complained of being taken for Muslims. Their bishops told them to wear pectoral crosses, and that solved the problem for them beautifully.

    In Christ,
    Mary

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