Almond Joy Orthodoxy








Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t!

“He is mad…” John 10.20  “We are fools…” I Corinthians 4:10

People tell me that they have a hard time crossing themselves in public or even praying over a meal. Strangers will stare and sometimes shake their heads or even laugh while making comments to their friends. It is difficult because it seems that our society is bent on removing all references to God from the public realm. Being Orthodox today can make you feel like a “fish out of water.”

You should be with me on a Friday night when I walk into Wal-mart. Being a Russian priest, I am dressed in my black prodrasnik , ryassa and skufia (long robes with big sleeves and a black hat).With my long white hair and white beard, I am quite a sight. People have never seen anything like me.The reaction can go something like this: “Hey, Bubba, take a look at that! Is that a woman? Of course, if I have a chance to talk to them, I try to make them feel more at ease with humor. Lifting up my cross, I tell them that I am a “cross dresser.” That usually breaks the ice.

We might as well face that fact that if we try to live the Orthodox life, people will think we are foolish or crazy. Yet, what is better – to be a fool or to be crazy?

In his book, Hesychia and Theology , His Grace, Hierotheos, Metropolitan of Nafpaktos, writes “According to the patristic meaning of the word, everyone is a psychopath, that is to say, his soul is sick….For the psychiatrist, the psychopath means…he is suffering from a psychosis: a schizophrenic. From the Orthodox standpoint, however, it is someone who has not undergone purification of the passions or attained illumination…” (pg.26) You see, we are all “crazy.”

Given the dreams and ambitions of this life, what would you think of a person who would describe his life in this way and says that he is committed to it: “I am hungry and thirsty and I have bad clothes. I have no home to live in and people assault me. I do manual labor all the time, but people call me names. I try to be nice to people, but they curse at me.People think I am trash, and they treat me like crap.” Anyone in his right mind would never intentionally embrace such a life. He must be mad, indeed. Maybe with some career training or crisis intervention, he could take on a different career path. The world is full of possibilities for a man with ambition and intelligence. Why should anyone intentionally live such a life unless they are mad or foolish?

The man who said this is St. Paul. I’m glad that he didn’t take on a new career path. His job description was “fool for Christ”, and he took it on gladly because he knew it was better to be a fool than to be a psychopath, for only a fool can reach those who are sick in soul.

One of my favorite movies is “Quo Vadis.” Towards the end, they take St. Peter to Vatican Hill to crucify him. He demands that they crucify him upside down because he is not worthy to be crucified as the Lord was crucified. After he has been nailed to the cross, they put the crucifix in the ground upside down. St. Peter remarks that now he can see the world as it really is. It might do most of us a lot of good to go out on the porch and stand on our heads. Then maybe we could see the world as it truly is and understand the depth of its madness.

If we practice piety in public, we feel foolish. Wanting to be respectable and fit in, we are loathe to practice piety where others will see us and criticize us. I once heard Fr. Daniel Byantoro, an Orthodox priest from Indonesia, say that the conversation between Muslims might go something like this:“Muhammad, do Christians pray?” “I don’t know, Kareem, I’ve never seen them pray. Have you?” “Mohammad, do Christians fast?” “I don’t know, Kareem, I’ve never seen them fast. Have you?” “I wonder, Mohammad, if they believe in God at all.” “Kareem, there is no way to tell.”

Now, it is against the law to try to convert Muslims to Christianity, but Fr. Daniel says that they are beginning to have greater success. How is this possible? Well, each day Fr. Daniel goes into the bell tower and calls the Christians to come and pray the Hours.The Muslims are amazed. Then when they come to visit, they are shocked. “You prostrate! Allah be praised. Your women cover their heads and are modest. Allah be praised. You fast…what….180 days of the year? Impossible! That is more than we do.” By the practice of piety, the power of the Faith is made real to them.

Why do I wear my robe in public? Well, of course, I am required to do so, but I’ve actually made converts that way. Sitting in a MacDonald’s or walking in a Home Depot, people will ask me who I am and why do I dress this way. Entering into a conversation, I always invite them to Church. Sometimes, they end up becoming members. I’ll be honest -sometimes I feel foolish out in the world in my priestly ensemble. Yet, I know that there is no way to live the faith in this culture and not be considered foolish by family, friends, and co-workers. Soon, we will approach Nativity and the world will “prepare” by throwing parties. They will think we are fools for not joining in and we will feel foolish for not doing so.

Its Almond Joy Orthodoxy: sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t. I know that it is a balance because the Lord told us to pray in our closets and do our good work in secret. Yet, He also said that we should let our lights shine before men so that they could see our good works, and glorify God. Somewhere, between those two commands, we can find our Orthodox lifestyle, a life of piety.

Still, when it’s all said and done, it’s better to be fool than a psychopath!

20 Responses to “Almond Joy Orthodoxy”

  1. Elizabeth Says:

    Amen, amen amen, Father !

  2. Paul Says:

    Thank you father. Why do we go to church every week? Because we forget in 7 days what were were taught 8 days before. Even Mounds has coco’nut’ in it.

  3. Leanne Says:

    Great post, Father! 🙂

  4. John Gibson Says:

    Amen Father. Amen… We are called to be light and salt in this world..

  5. Seraphim Says:

    It’s nice to see another blog Fr. This was a much needed kick in the pants.

  6. Anna Furry Says:

    This is wonderful Fr. John, thank you! Such an encouragement!

  7. Seraphima Says:

    You should come here to Kodiak, AK where most of the Natives are Orthodox (at least nominally). All priests and my students are required to wear their podrozniks in public…but it has its perks — like getting in free to the movie theater!

  8. Elissa Bjeletich Says:

    Funny, I was just speaking with someone about how the church calendar and the cycle of fasting and feasting “sanctifies time”, allows us to really commit our daily rhythm to Christ — and here is your post today! What a beautiful post and what nourishing food for thought! Thank you!

  9. Amy Bazuzi Says:

    Thank you, Father, for re-inspiring me to do ALL our Lord calls us to do.

  10. Michael Says:

    Thank you for the inspiring post Father. There are times that I still feel a bit self conscious saying prayers or crossing myself in public but I’m getting to the point where I don’t give a *#@% what other people think. We have to remember that just being Christian is crazy to most people, we truly do need to be fools for Christ.

  11. Andrew Salvia Says:

    Excellent article Fr. John! Just what I needed!

  12. thegeekywife Says:

    Fr. John,
    Thanks so much for this post! Like others have said: just what I needed to hear! 🙂 I will bookmark it for future reference.

  13. Nick Says:


  14. Father Nectarios Says:

    After meeting you in person, I can hear you speaking these words and you really have a gift from God for hitting the nail on the Head!
    Kronya Polat Father! Many Years! God Bless from the Holy Royal Martyrs Skete in Kissimmee.

  15. Mary LeBrecht Says:

    Fr. I teach singing at my Orthodox Church Sunday School. I like- I’m in right out right up right down right happy all the time Cause Jesus Christ came in he cleansed my heart from sin etc. Yes it’s from my old religon. So we all nuts and blessed.

  16. Seraphim Says:

    Sometimes technology can lead us to sin. Other times technology can show us a glimpse of the path on which we are to be. Lately (for quite some time) I have been struggling in my faith, having lost my way and become absorbed into the world. Then Google Reader added a new feature that recommends blogs. In two days I have read more about my faith and have been touched more deeply than in two years.
    What is fascinating is that I have no other Orthodox blogs in my Reader (all work-related technology blogs). Surely Google used some other criteria to figure out I was interested in Orthodox information, but I was still shocked and happily surprised to read and be inspired.

    I am obtaining increasing consolation from what Jesus said, “If the world hates you remember that it hated me before it hated you.” St. John 15:18.

  17. Father Francis+ Says:

    I’m an Anglo-Catholic priest, now in Portugal but previously in South Carolina– which like rural Virginia is Baptist country. When a colleague and I stopped for dinner at a rather nice restaurant in Mount Pleasant, SC in our cassocks and birettas (Western Rite for prodnrasnik and skufia), we had to wait to be seated, and were delighted to hear a five year old “whisper” to his mother in a voice that could be heard in the next county: “Look, Mom! Ninjas!!!”.

  18. Mary Says:

    Ninjas, ha!

    Recently I was in my campus garden plot and could hear joyous singing and clapping from a minimum of 20 people in the campus building nearby. After a while, I realized that Ramadan ended that day, and the Muslims on campus were celebrating. Can you imagine what it would be like if we all went through the streets of North America yelling Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen! on Pascha? What more joyous day is there than that one to proclaim Christ’s resurrection to the heavens!!

    No one looks at the South American Roman Catholics oddly for crossing themselves whenever they hear bad news, see something disturbing, pass a funeral home, etc. No one would think twice about the Muslims students singing at the top of their voices. Why not , because they’re foreigners. Aren’t Christians always foreigners in a strange land?

    I say sing hymns loudly while walking around in the grocery store or taking a walk. Cross ourselves generously just to please Christ, our saint friends, and the Theotokos. Father, do you think if we remembered God more often throughout the day, that crossing ourselves in public would just be the continuation of a prayer?

    Even before I became truly interested in Orthodoxy, the sight of a Coptic priest sitting in the neighborhood Starbucks in his cross and priestly attire made a big impression on me inspiring mad respect for him. I’ve since met him, and he’s such a humble priest,but without the skufia, etc., I wouldn’t have been faced with the reminder of a commitment to Christ, he would have simply been a simple, humble man sitting in Starbucks.I was inspired to talk with him and ask him to pray for me. (He pulled out a notebook with a list of similar requests!) Father, good for you for always wearing your skufia.

  19. office Cleaning Leads Says:

    After meeting you in person, I can hear you speaking these words and you really have a gift from God for hitting the nail on the Head!
    Kronya Polat Father! Many Years! God Bless from the Holy Royal Martyrs Skete in Kissimmee.

  20. frjohn Says:

    Father Francis,

    What a hoot! Portugal? Wonderful. I hope we meet someday.

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