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 like shooting guns (and 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 often tease that in Texas all we guys of my generation were raised to think we were John Wayne… or Steve McQueen. 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. 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. In churches there should be a balance of men and women but these days we 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. One thing that I have done in the past was organize a men’s movie night out where we would go see something that our lovely wives wouldn’t care to see. I saw Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down in just such a church group. There is a lot more that we could do through the establishment of a men’s group in the parish where we could take on some rather more dangerous and real needs of ministry together.
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; it is a mission into danger where we will find confrontation. We must stand firm for the Gospel which has been preached for 2,000 years and never dilute or negotiate its theological and moral mind. Orthodoxy is for Christian warriors. Warriors have always been disciplined, ready for battle, focused, and courageous. They stand for truth and are willing to die for others. There is a hardness to warriors, and there is the same things when it comes to Orthodox men. That is not to say that they don’t love, but that one of the principle ways in which they love is their willingness to die for the sake of someone else.
Even our worship requires physical effort and self-discipline because we bow down before the Almighty God who is glorious in his majesty. Our legs become weary and our feet a little sore because we stand through most all of our services, much like a warrior on parade. Our worship is serious and demanding, but it is also very deeply planted in our hearts. No, this sort of Christianity is not for sissies. It is for men as God has made us.
This may well make many people uncomfortable. It doesn’t really bother me. It is more important that men come to see that they are called to be part of this mission work on the dangerous frontier, and to engage as men. To paraphrase Shakespeare’s words: Men who shirk this shall hold their manhood cheap. Gentlemen, stand upright and let us go forth in the name of Christ our God to slay the dragons that lurk beyond our doors.
Fr. John Guy Winfrey is an archpriest in the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, serving the parish of St. George Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.