Muscular Orthodoxy

It was a lazy Saturday afternoon, and I was cruising the TV stations. Back in those days, we didn’thave many channels, but we had just gotten the new sports channel, so as I passed by, I noticed that they were showing a Mr. Universe contest.I had never seen one, so I thought I would check it out.As the different competitors came on stage, off-camera, a reporter and a former Mr. Universe described the strengths and weaknesses of each contestant. When they came to a break in the action, the reporter asked about the training schedule. The former Mr. Universe replied that about 6 months before a major competition, a contestant will begin to lift weights for muscle definition. Within two months of the competition, the contestant will average 6 hours a day lifting weights. (Six hours? Did I hear that right?) Then the reporter wanted to know about eating habits. Again, Mr. Universe gave some startling information. Within three months of the main event, the contestant will switch to all protein, and then within about 90 days before the competition, he will be down to 400 calories a day so that there will little or no water weight or puffiness to obscure muscle definition.(Let’s review:400 calories a day plus 6 hours of weight lifting equals…well, in my opinion, a rather unnatural and grotesque body.)

The information startled me as a lay on the couch drinking my RC Cola and eating a Moon Pie. But as I got to thinking about it, the dedication and sacrifice that it took tobuild such a physical appearance was astounding. But what did their dedication and sacrifice accomplish? I can only thinkof one or two bodybuilders. Can youname any?So, what do they get for all that effort?Not much fame, but maybe there’s a lot of money in it. Few get to be the governor of California. Someone raised the question, “Is a body builder physically fit?” Well, they look fit, but then some of them die from heart attacks or they damage something internal because of their poor diets. Then there is the issue of steroids, but I won’t get into that.

Let me shift gears for a minute. I once heard a sermon on 1st Corinthians 6:9 and the speaker was talking about the word“malakoi*.” The root of the word meant “soft”. Jesus used the word when he spoke of those who dressed in soft clothing. In the King James version,the word is translated as “effeminate.”(The Fathers would also use words like thelubrios )The speaker went on to say that St. Paul did not mean that we should think that the traits and virtues of women are bad, but that basically St.Paul was saying, “Don’t be so soft! Don’t be such a wimp!”

Muscular Orthodoxy. I wonder what it would look like? I imagine that it’s something like this:

St. Paul: “..in labors, abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in peril of my own countrymen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness…”(2 Corinthians 11:23ff) Now that’s a muscular Christian!

Now let’s compare. Me: “No, I can’t get to church tonight. Why? It’s raining, the wind is blowing, it gets dark early, its cold, there might be an early snow, its hot, the air conditioner make break down, the grass might get too high, the flowers will die, the cat will starve,I’ll be late for dinner, hardly anyone else will be there, the service is too long…”(a few selections from Fr. John’s book “Personal Excuses and Justifications”) Clearly, I am “at ease in Zion” and spiritually speaking, I still drinking an RC and eating a Moon Pie.

I’m such a wimp! Governor Arnold used the phrase “girly man” and a lot of people didn’t like it. I think St. Paul might look at me and say “malakoi”-softee! I need some muscle. I need to toughen up. Exercise. I definitely need exerciseif I’m going to be a muscularOrthodox Christian. What’s recommended? Well, there’s that low calorie business that the Orthodox call the Fast.Then there’s calisthenics: standing in church, prostrations, bows, and crossing yourself. What could I do for weight lifting? We have the “heavy-weights”, i.e., the Fathers and the Bible. If I actually read them, I bet I would get quite muscular.I can get rid of a lot of weight by going to confession. Serving the needs of others builds muscle. Why, I even have a personal trainer, my priest!Body building takes concentration and for this effort and I have prayer and a prayer rope. All and all, this is sounding very promising. No wonder they call monastics “athletes?”

I must remember that I have been baptized into the Body, so I am not alone in this. My church should be muscular too. What have I done lately to strengthen the Body of Christ?Have I strengthened weak knees and helped someone to stand. Have I fed anyone’s soul with the muscle-building protein of love, compassion, forgiveness, truth, and understanding? Have I “spotted” for any of my brothers and sisters as they try to lift their weights?Have I improved anyone’s cardio-vascular conditioning by speaking words of encouragement and hope, or do I knock the wind out of them with words of doubt and a poor attitude?It seems clear to me that if you and I aren’t Body builders, personally and collectively, we may forever be wimpsso that those who need us and who need the Church, may only see “malakoi.” (Church studies have shown again and again that in American Christianity, the top issues affecting regular church attendance and church growth are available parking and locality-how far people have to drive. Wow! Now that’s muscular Christianity!)

The world needs to see a muscular Orthodoxy where faith, hope, humility, love, service and sacrifice have made the arms and legs and minds and hearts Orthodox Christians strong and muscular in the Lord. They have seen it in the past; will they ever see it today? There isn’t much time to prepare because the main event is already here. We may be ridiculed as we walk around the stage because we have little muscle to flex.Hang on! With training, we will soon be flexing our muscles. Mr. Universe? Indeed!

* Note to students and scholars:I realize that the word “malakoi” has been used in a variety of ways, many of which are pejorative, and that some translations use the word to express moral depravity. For this article,I choose to stay with the root meaning of softness as did the translators of the KJV.

2 Responses to “Muscular Orthodoxy”

  1. nichole3 Says:

    Thank you for challenging all of us Orthodox Christians.

    Blessings,
    Nichole

  2. Theophan Says:

    “The information startled me as a lay on the couch drinking my RC Cola and eating a Moon Pie…”

    Well, I don’t drink RC and never really liked Moon Pies, but even so, when I read that line it was painful, like an arrow just found its mark — you GOT me! Yeah, way too pervasively I’m a spiritual wimp, and I’m grateful as always for your thoughtful, if not always comfortable, words. Thanks for all your thought and work on behalf of us all.

    In Christ,

    Theophan

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