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?