Among my earliest childhood memories of my father’s voice: Sissy. Pansy. You throw a ball like a girl. There’s goddamn Suzie, reading her books again.
When tormenting me into being a more adequate boy didn’t work, my father sometimes tried beating me into it. (That finally stopped when I was 14 and sent him flying backward across the room. The verbal assaults continued right into my 50s.)
When he died seven years ago, I didn’t shed a single tear. Through the Orthodox discipline of prayer for the dead and the grace of God, I have slowly come to love him as deeply as I do my mother, over whom I have shed oceans of tears since she was taken from me forty years ago.
This July I turn 63. Yet the wound that my father inflicted on me, over and over again, never fully heals. (Incidentally, I still can’t throw a ball right. I still spend most of my time reading and writing.)
Occasionally something will happen that reopens the wound afresh. A few years ago, I learned that “sissy” meant faggot in my father’s generation. Really? My father was calling me a faggot when I was 5, 6, 7?
Just two days ago, I learned from another “father” (one and the same pictured above in a publicly accessible photograph) that sissies don’t belong in the Orthodox Church. On an Ancient Faith Ministries blog subtitled The Light of Christ to the Ends of the Earth, this Orthodox archpriest honoured the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple in 2016 by posting an article illustrated with a photograph of Steve McQueen on a motorcycle: “Gentlemen: Orthodox Christianity Is Not for Sissies.” Someone posted the link on Facebook the day before yesterday, and it passed through my news feed. Of course I had to read it.
I lay awake all the rest of that night, reduced once again to a 6-year old boy curled up under his quilt, wondering why my father despised me so much.
By morning this old sissy, pansy, book-reading Suzie had gone from hurt little boy back to empowered grown man again. Hence, this 2-part article.
The archpriest writes:
I had a woman parishioner tease me that sometimes I make her feel a little uncomfortable. A couple of the things she mentioned that contributed to her minor anxiety were that I…have built my own AR15, I love a good dark beer or a straight up whiskey, and I love and support our military. Then she chuckled. But she has a point. I’m all man.
I’m all man? What man confident in his masculinity talks like that? None that I’ve ever met. But I digress.
As I’ve considered this exchange a little more it has reinforced one of the perceived problems of much of American Christianity; it’s been feminized to death.
Don’t get me wrong, I love women. I especially love my wife.
I love women? What priest talks like that?
But, I don’t work very well in heavily estrogen laden gatherings and I don’t think that most men are entirely comfortable in such a gathering either. …[W]e need to focus more on developing spaces for men in churches. Notice I didn’t say a “safe space”, men don’t care for a safe space. Some of the things that I would love to do is have a guys day for guns and grills. We could all go to the range and shoot and then grill whatever meat we each wanted to consume.
By this point I wasn’t sure if the author was a parish priest or the local Rod & Gun Club president.
But beyond these sorts of fun events and services, it’s important for men to know that Orthodox Christianity isn’t for sissies. I am fully aware that some may object to the way I have phrased that statement, but that’s okay. The Faith is not about a knitting circle….
You get the idea. ♫♬ Every man wants to be a macho man…at the YMCA or in the Navy. ♬♫ (Take your pick!)
The day after this article, the same archpriest selected a photograph of a
Brokeback Mountain hunk Marlboro man to illustrate his “Examples of Manliness.” One example that he offered was his own 15- or 16-year old son, who punched a boy in the face and knocked him down the stairs.
That same day he also published “Men’s Groups and Ministries,” illustrated with two dandies in tuxedos. In this article he quotes…Jesus Christ? Nope. One of the Fathers? Nope. From the life of a saint? Nope. He quotes John Wayne—thrice married, a “mean drunk” by noon when filming, involved in several high-profile affairs. Then he talks about starting men’s groups in parishes, and the sorts of things that Orthodox John Wayne-wannabes could do together:
I love a good cook out and that could figure into the meetings. It could include going on a quasi-regular basis to a local microbrewery (of which we are very blessed here in Grand Rapids, Michigan). Maybe an annual trip to a baseball game, a quarterly trip to the gun range, a camping trip…the possibilities boggle the imagination.
(I can’t imagine John Wayne getting off his horse and gushing, “The possibilities boggle the imagination.” But I digress again.)
As for ministry that they could do together,
…[men] should not be collecting clothes for young kids…[nor] necessarily creating a soup kitchen…. It needs to be more, dare I say it, manly.
This is all for now. Part Two of my article will follow within the next day or so. The purpose of Part One has been to establish the context for a more theological reflection on what it means to be male in the image and likeness, not of a buckaroo, but of Christ.
For now I leave my readers with a short quote from my recent article on marriage:
Divine grace does not emasculate men; quite the contrary, it redeems and transfigures their fallen, sinful, belligerent masculinity according to the likeness of the deified masculinity of the incarnate Son of God.
See Part Two here.
Addendum: Father John fell asleep in the Lord on May 26, 2020. May his memory be eternal. Christ is risen.
Giacomo Sanfilippo is a PhD student in Theological Studies at Trinity College in the University of Toronto and an editor at Orthodoxy in Dialogue.