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.
Elizabeth Markovich says
I have looked around many times in our church, happy to see the large proportion of men attending, as well as many young people. Hey older ladies are important too (I am one now) and in some ways grandmas are the backbone of the parish. Men have a rightful leadership role, increasingly rare in our society.
David E. Rockett says
Also need that occasional jab in the ribs to “manup and keep the Fast”. [kinda wish he’d left out that part ’bout grilling good meat!] 😉
Michael Bauman says
Not to be picky, but I thought Orthodox priests were not allowed guns or to use them. I ask because a priest friend of mine who had been both military and a police officer told me he had to give up his guns before being ordained. He is also the son of a priest.
Richard Mohr says
Re the movies that the men’s group went to see – how many of the men were veterans?
I am a veteran. The older I get, the less I want to see war movies. I was never in combat during my two years in Vietnam but I did hear rockets and mortar rounds now and then. I just don’t want to go see a war movie. Maybe some people can go see the huge American cemetery near the D-Day landing beaches. That’s pretty sobering.
I don’t especially want to shoot firearms, either. Is there something else that men can do and feel like men? Chop down trees? Build a house?
Fr. John says
The canons are silent on clergy and weapons (only that they are forbidden from serving in the army as a soldier AND serving as a priest). Not sure who told him he had to give up his guns, but they are projecting secular ideology onto him. Most bishops I think do not want priests in jobs where they MUST bear arms (police officers who must carry as a part of their job, etc.), but as in all things, the bishop decides things.
Fr. John says
Richard, try not to project too much on to the author. He is explaining his own experience, not what he’s telling everyone to do.
Of course, cutting wood, building houses, and more are excellent examples of such activity, but even those are scarcely available to men today. Be creative – it’s easy!
Michael Bauman says
Fr. John it may have been specific to his spiritual needs but was communicated to me as general requirement. Thank you for the clarification.
Coming from Roman Catholicism to Orthodoxy this has been a breath of fresh air as a man
Morgan Harris says
I am Roman Catholic and have considered what the differences might be between RC and Orthodoxy. I must admit I am disheartened that some men feel that RC is too feminized for them to feel comfortable, while Orthodoxy allows them to shoot guns and do other manly things such as that. Perhaps some people are not comfortable with the veneration of the Holy Mother, the role of Mary Magdalene and the general effort to include all people, races and orientations. If that doesn’t appeal to you, I get that. But I on the other hand fail to see how shooting guns (and presumably hunting God’s creatures) is in any way “Orthodox”. I feel sad by this article – the implication that there is only one way to be a man and too much feminine stuff doesn’t belong in the church. For people who are struggling to find a way back to the Church (any church) after a long absence, why does the conversation need to be about macho vs. wimpy?.
Alvin Savage says
I am attracted to the O.C. , BECAUSE it is NOT comfortable ! I found Protestantism more like a social club and I found “” worship “” by the clock, ( this at THIS time; that at THIS time; ON THE DOT ! ) VERY disturbing ! Stand for something when there are VERY nice seats( not chairs, not pews ) available ?, ” it’s 11:58, and Preacher is STILL talking !. After all these years I’ve found that if your faith doesn’t require exertion on your part one way or another; what’s it worth? No effort; No reward. I liken it to working hard all day; then standing back when it’s all over and feeling satisfied with a job well done. To me; it is the LIVING of the Orthodox faith that sustains my belief in it…., not always easy or comfortable or convenient; but ALWAYS worth the effort…
d. moses says
The header over this comments box says, “Speak Your Mind,” so I’m going to offer a challenge to the ideas in this post.
I can’t accept the view that John Wayne (nor McQueen) is an admirable figure of manliness. Every John Wayne character that I can think of has been a selfish, murderous, childish tyrant. He never needed humility because the worlds of his movies were biased toward his point of view. On the whole, he was never held accountable for his atrocious actions. While he blazed a trail of dead Native Americans through the country (in his movies), true saints and men were serving the native population (St. Herman, St. Innocent, etc.). They seem to exist on opposite poles in almost every way.
I’ve heard that JW is just a symbol of what men should be like – his attitude and intentions. But when his attitude resists compassion or correction, and his intentions result in slaughter, they must be examined and criticized.
To say that Orthodoxy isn’t for “sissies”, coupled with the descriptions of manliness in this post, implies that manliness is a trait based in physicality, and carries with it certain signifiers – such as a fondness for battle, conflict, violence or the tools of violence.
Orthodoxy is not for cowards, certainly; but it’s also not for-power mongers.
Our conflict is not with flesh and blood, but within ourselves, against the principalities and powers that are invisible.
I offer that the type of masculinity presented by John Wayne (et. al.) is a principality we must resist.
Were the warrior saints eager to fight, or reluctant but obedient to their stations? Did they actively seek physical battle, or did they merely respond when needed?
Am I misinterpreting what is being said/implied in this post? If so, forgive me. Please help me understand.
But I have found in Orthodoxy a haven from the violent, self-will-imposing brutishness that drips from the pores of the idealized American male.
Fr. John says
I do think you are misinterpreting what was said in this article, and I think you are mischaracterizing the masculinity presented by John Wayne. By that logic, we should no longer venerate most of our warrior saints.
Fr. John says
“Macho” is a counterfeit masculinity – it’s weakness overcompensating. Anyone should be able to see that – but we have blurred so many lines about what is manly or feminine that it is no longer clear. Men aren’t just women with a Y chromosome. Men are men, and the things which women don’t always find fun or useful to do. All of western Christianity has been seriously feminized, but Orthodoxy has not – and we venerate the Theotokos FAR more than any Catholic church, have always considered Mary Magdalene the Equal-to-the-Apostles. Plus, we aren’t trying to ‘include’ everyone – we are converting the world and taking in those who are converted.
People struggling to find their way back to the Church don’t need half measures, they need the fullness of Truth about Christ, about man, about His Church. You don’t have to agree with Fr. John’s writings, but he’s not wrong. Orthodoxy is hard, and compared to what passes for ‘church’ today, it’s positively harsh – but that’s more of a statement about non-Orthodox things than about Orthodoxy.