This homily was preached by Subdeacon Jeremy Conrad on Sunday, May 10, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.
Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Our God is One.
I’m going to go ahead and allow the girls and the women to stay in here, but this is a message predominantly to men. It will definitely have a lot of key points for women as well.
In the Epistle I read just a few minutes ago, the Apostle James says, “Wherefore my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:19-21).
So what is a man?
A few weeks ago, probably two or three months ago, I was having a conversation with Hunter at [a] shop there in North City. I was explaining to him the difference between a “guy” and a “man.” He said he wanted to be a guy. He said he is a guy.
I said I am not. I said, “I am male, but I’m not a guy.” I said, “I am a man.” And I explained to him the difference between the two.
According to the media and the things that are portrayed to us in our culture, a guy might be someone like Rocky [Balboa]. He’s a boxer. He’s a fighter, the ultimate fighting champion. He’s ripped with muscles, and he fights a lot. Or it might be like the Arnold Schwarzenegger character in the Terminator. [He’s an] action-adventure hero, and he can basically do just about anything – leap over tall buildings, you know, that kind of thing. He can do anything, and he can’t really get hurt.
You might have a man who’s really into sports. Maybe he plays golf. Maybe he plays football. Maybe he’s just watching it, and he’s the greatest fan of the Milwaukee Brewers or the. . . I don’t even know, other games, the Dallas Cowboys, things that people play. I don’t know. He’s their greatest fan.
Sometimes they put a man up as a tool man, Tim the Tool Man Taylor, and he grunts. That might be the portrayal of a man. Sometimes it’s combinations of all these. Sometimes it’s a hunter – a man who’s out gathering food for his family; and he has his gun or his bow and arrow, and he’s out hunting in his camouflage. I’ve heard, “If it’s brown, it’s down.” I’ve heard sayings like that. That’s a very [grunts] manly thing, according to our culture.
Some people put a man out as a partier. He’s a person who’s out with the guys. Maybe he’s got his bowling league that he goes to. [He is portrayed with] his red Solo cup in his hand. He’s a beer-drinking, burping kind of a man, scratching and all that. That’s a man, right? That’s what our culture portrays a man as.
Some of us say this new word I have recently heard called metrosexual. This is a man who is very prim and proper. He’s sculpted. He sculpts his chest hair. He sculpts his facial hair. He has his hair just in place. He even gets manicures. He has his nice car, his manicured suit, and he is out on the town to look his best.
We have farmers.
We have coal miners. We have construction workers – all those hard-working men.
We have girl-chasers. We have playboys and people who have lots of girls always on their arms.
We have the difference here being machismo versus masculinity. Machismo says, “I don’t wear pink.” Machismo says, “[Grunt] This is a man. I drink a beer. Come on, wife.” That’s machismo. Masculinity is something very different.
Our culture also portrays men often in sitcoms and things as the stupid dolt. His wife is dominant. He has no leadership. He’s an idiot.
What’s not included in any of our culture’s representations of masculinity or manhood is religion, Church, holy husbandry, or faithful fatherhood. Most of the time, our culture holds that in low regard while holding all these other things in high regard. Then is it any wonder why we have no men in our culture who are masculine, who will stand up and fight against things that . . .
Maybe [there is] sin in their family.
Maybe they need to protect their family.
Maybe there [are] a lot of things that men need to stand up for, and they’re not doing it, because the culture has given them these other images, these other icons to follow instead of the icons that we want to venerate and want to follow.
According to the Church, and according to the Bible, being a man is a battle. A man is a saint in the making, and there’s nothing more difficult in this life than actually becoming a saint or raising a saint.
There’s nothing more rewarding than being the leader in your home and bringing your wife and children to sainthood along with you.
[A man] doesn’t watch while his wife sits and talks to the serpent like Adam did – a poor example of what a husband should do. Instead . . .
I am not in contact with this man anymore, but I had a friend who used to play professional baseball. He was in Virginia. I don’t remember his name right now. [He was a] tall, muscled, bearded man who had been a professional baseball player. Apparently he was . . .
. . . But very muscular.
I remember, one time we were at their church. Their family was coming forward to take Eucharist, and he had several children and his wife. They came forward. They all went to the altar rail to receive Communion, and he stood behind them. I don’t think he had his hands on his hips, but it was kind of like, “I’m standing behind my family, bringing my family to the altar rail to receive Communion.” And he didn’t move from there until every one of his family [members] had Communion, and then, when they stood up, he knelt down, and he got Communion.
I remember thinking,
“This man is bringing his family. They’re not following him. He’s not following them. It’s not like that. He brought them, and he placed them in front of the altar, and they took Communion together.”
And he’s a quiet man. I mean, he’ll get in your face if he needs to, but he’s a quiet man. Yet that, to me, when I looked at him, I thought, “That is a man.”
The spiritual life is a bigger battle than any movie could portray. That spiritual battle is bigger and has bigger and [fiercer] monsters than any computer graphic artist could ever imagine. There is more combat, more struggle, more hardship, and more adventure in this life of a Christian man than any box office hit could ever put out. It requires more blood, more sweat, more tears, more perseverance and more courage than any superhero could ever muster.
When I was a child, there was a song we used to sing: “Oh be careful little eyes what you see.” Do you remember this song? Have any of you heard this? Then it would go to, “Oh be careful little hands what you touch,” I think. Then, “Oh be careful little feet where you go. Oh be careful little ears what you hear. Oh be careful little mouth what you say. For the Father up above is looking down in love. Be careful little eyes what you see.”
This battle that we are in is on a lot of fronts. It’s a battle for our eyes, for our ears, for our mouth[s], for our hands, and four our souls.
THE BATTLE FOR THE MOUTH
Again, the Apostle James tells us today, “Men, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear and slow to speak.” So let’s talk first about the battle for the mouth, for the tongue.
A few months ago, I did a homily on St. Benedict and silence and the importance of silence in the life of a Christian. Proverbs tells us, “Where words are many, sin is not absent” [cf. Proverbs 10:19]. We are, then, to be practicing silence:
Silence in our speech for sure. That’s obvious.
Silence in our postings on Facebook.
Silence in giving your opinion when it’s not asked.
Silence in joking.
Silence in texting.
Silence doesn’t mean simply not talking either. There are a lot of shy people who will not speak, but they are not practicing silence; they’re practicing fear. That is not manly. The “silent treatment” is also not practicing silence. It’s practicing passive-aggressive anger. That is not manly.
Silence also means listening. James says, “Be swift to hear, slow to speak which leads you to be slow to anger” [cf. James 1:19]. I’ve heard it said, “You have two ears and one mouth. You should use them accordingly.” Listen twice as much as you speak.
Silence means being slow to anger.
James says, “The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God” [James 1:20]. If speaking quickly and listening, taking a long time to listen, doing it in the opposite way, brings about anger, and anger and wrath “worketh not the righteousness of God,” then maybe we should back that up and do the opposite and be slow to speak, swift to hear, and slow to anger so that we don’t have those outbursts of wrath, so that we do exemplify the righteousness of God.
It’s very import, also, to realize that silence doesn’t mean a lack of “nothing.” You replace it with something else. Silence – you replace your talking, the noise that you make with prayer. Prayer is manly.
I sent a link to Father Joseph this morning because I was looking this up. There is a website you might be interested to find. It is called “Cordbands.” They’re manly rosaries. They’re rosaries and prayer ropes made out of paracord that they use in the military. There are beads, but they’re masculine looking. They’re tough looking. That way, if you do have a problem with machismo a little bit, and you don’t want to carry a little dainty rosary, get a Cordband, get a manly rosary, and pray that rosary, because the rosary itself is powerful! The prayers that are behind that rosary are powerful.
That’s where you’re going to find your battle. You’re going to be able to fight in this battle when you’re doing your prayers. So don’t replace silence with nothing. Replace it with prayers. Replace it with manly prayers to our Mother Mary and to the saints.
It is masculine and manly to practice silence, to be the strong, silent, praying type.
THE BATTLE FOR THE EYES AND HANDS
Deuteronomy 6:4-9 has one of the most important commands in Scripture in it. God told Israel,
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” [NKJV].
I was also looking this morning, and I found that you can buy these little boxes with headbands on them, and the box opens up. You’re supposed to write Scripture verses on these papers, and put them in a box, and close it up, and then wear it on your forehead right between your eyes so that you can bind them as a frontlet between your eyes.
They sell these. Okay? They also sell similar things that wrap around your wrist so that it hangs on your hand. That way you’ve obeyed Scripture, right? You’ve bound it as a sign on your hand as a frontlet between your eyes.
What does this mean though for us? I’m not saying that’s bad to do. The frontlets between your eyes, meaning that your eyes are the window to the soul, and if you practice these commandments and remember that you have to keep them always before you – because that is the guard to getting in to you – you’ll realize that what He’s saying is, “Everything that you think about and let enter your mind: Remember this verse. And everything that you do with your hands, remember this verse.” As you rise up, as you lie down, as you go throughout the day, whatever you think, whatever you do, remember these verses. Remember these commands.
So, with regard to the Apostle James in our reading for today, Saint Bede the Venerable says this:
Filthiness [when James mentions the word filthiness] refers primarily to external things which corrupt our hands, whereas naughtiness [the superfluity of naughtiness that he mentions] refers primarily to internal things which corrupt our souls, [and] both [of these] must be overcome if we are to do good.”
We have to protect our eyes and our hands.
CUSTODY OF THE FINGERS
Every time we do a Mass, Father Joseph and every priest who is doing the Eucharist, doing the Mass today – there is a period at which he stops using his fingers. You may see it. You may not.
But you’ll notice: It is in your book, in the book that you have there. When he begins to start doing the Canon of the Mass, and he’s starting to say, “In the night in which He was betrayed;” once he begins to touch the bread, he says, “This is My body,” and he places it onto the altar.
[From this point on], no longer can Father Joseph open these fingers except to touch the Eucharist, except to touch the bread, the Body at this point until, at the end, when his hands are washed in the Chalice afterward.
This is called “custody of the fingers,” and it happens every time we do a Mass. Notice today. You’ll see whatever he’s doing. . . I’m turning pages for him, because it’s difficult for him to turn pages like this. Father Michael’s learned to do it. He does it with these [other] two fingers sometimes.
Notice: Father Joseph has his fingers in custody, and he is not allowed to open them except to touch the Body of Christ until he washes his hands.
A COVENANT WITH MY EYES
In Matins, we read from Job. And in Job 31, Job says, “I have made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman” [cf. Job 31:1]. A covenant with my eyes.
Jesus says that if we have looked lustfully upon a woman that we have committed adultery in our heart [cf. Matthew 5:28].
The eyes are the windows to the soul and the primary source of the soul’s corruption. So, just like Father Joseph has custody of the fingers, we have to have custody of our eyes.
I read a book a few years ago called “Every Man’s Battle,” and the term they used was “bouncing your eyes.” Immediately, when you see something, you look away. Bounce them as if it’s something hot, and it burns your eyes. Look away. Look away. Bounce your eyes.
Have custody of your eyes when you walk through that line at the grocery store and those magazines are right there in front of you, right next to the bubble gum and candy bars. Bounce your eyes from movies and TV shows. Turn it off. Change the channel. You know what? Stop following that show. If there’s a television show that you follow religiously, but every few minutes or every episode, there’s something in there that is immoral or impure, don’t just change the channel for that minute, stop following the show! Bounce your eyes. Have custody of them.
Bounce your eyes away from immodestly dressed or even modestly dressed but physically tempting women. Bounce them from her body and look at her face. It’s easier to respect a woman’s dignity by looking at her face than looking at her body. And remember that she is an icon of Christ and a daughter of Mary, and when you look at her in a way that she should not be looked at – with impurity – it not only hurts you, but it’s damaging to her.
Avoid the places where you have difficulty. Don’t go to that beach. Don’t go to that swimming pool. Don’t go to that holiday world water park. If that’s where you have trouble, don’t go there.
The battle for the eyes is a very, very tough one, but we are not victims. We are men! We are strong, and we are relentless. And we fast, and we pray. And we need to build those battlements and defend them. It is very masculine; it is very manly to keep your eyes faithful to God and to your wife.
BUILDING THE BATTLEMENTS
He says, “You shall bind them as a sign onto your hand and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.” And the battle for our hands includes everything that we do as well. Everything that we talk about, everything that we plan, everywhere we go, and everything that we do – this should be a sign upon our hand. I’m not saying that we can’t like to play sports. I have no problem with people who want to play golf, who like to have a game of pick-up basketball. I have no problem with that.
I have no problem with men who like tools, and who build things, and who create with their hands. I have no problem with hunting even for fun, for trophies, or for food for your family. Obviously we have no problem with farming or mining or things like that.
But that’s not what defines us! That is the arena in which our manliness, our masculinity is played out. That doesn’t define us for our masculinity. James says to put away all filthiness. Angry slaps, punching the wall, immoral sexual conduct with your hands, filthy gestures, video game thumb (Have you ever heard of that? People have carpal tunnel from typing. You can get the same thing from video games!). Do not tear down. You help others fix up and build up.
And men: Teach your sons to do the same thing. Women: Teach your sons to do the same thing. You have to ready them for battle. We are replacing these things that are evil, that are wicked, that are filthy, that are naughty with prayer and fasting. Instead, kiss your wife; hug your children, gesture with the sign of the Cross. Build up and don’t tear down.
And let the world know:
“I am a man. I have custody of my eyes. I have control of my hands. I have put away all filthiness. I have put away all naughtiness and wickedness. I am strong enough to have clean language. I am manly enough to pray and cross myself even in public. I am a warrior in the greatest battle that has ever been fought. I am a man, and I will lead my family to sainthood even if it kills me.”
In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Our God is One.
NOTES AND REFERENCES
 Bray, Gerald, and Thomas C. General Editor. Oden. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (N.T. XI). Downers Grove, ILL.: InterVarsity Press, 2000.
 Arterburn, Stephen, Fred Stoeker, and Mike Yorkey. Every Man’s Battle: Winning the War on Sexual Temptation: One Victory at a Time. Colorado Springs, CO: WaterBrook Press, 2000.
This homily was preached by Subdeacon Jeremy Conrad on Sunday, May 10, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.
Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services. Dormition Text Services offers full-service secretarial support, including transcription and publishing services, to Orthodox clergy and parish communities.