“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female,
for you are all one in Christ Jesus” Galatians 3:28
I deliberately thought up the title of this reflection with the intent of enticing you to read this blog post. After the greeting, praying, and breaking bread with our new bishop, Bishop Benedict, I overheard commentary about a derogatory remark, made by a priest no less, that this was just a parade of “hats and beards.” The tone was to demean those considered different simply because of external features. There are undeniably deeper reasons for this negative projection upon the hat wearing bearded ones, I am sure. But, for the sake of spiritual clarity let’s look how sinful and pathologically dangerous such projections can be.
The word xenos (from the Greek) means “stranger, alien, and foreigner.” The term xenophobia is defined as the fear of foreigners. Contrary to the passage from Galatians cited above which proclaims Christ’s teaching that there is no difference, we unconsciously perpetuate the categorization of people in terms of difference. In this case, hats and beards.
In a world where beards and manbuns are in vogue, you would think that a monkish hipster aesthetic would be cool and acceptable. But the visibly different becomes the reason for participating in the sin of stereotyping and constructing “otherness.” Of course, some would say that this is ‘much ado about nothing.” It could well be. However, I don’t think so.
Monks live on the periphery, on the outskirts, in the desert. Their beards, hats, and robes are a symbolic reminder that when we project strangeness on them, and that in doing so we are avoiding the truth about ourselves. Indeed, we are the xenoi, we are the ones who have created the barriers of difference and alienation. We are the strangers to a cosmology which embraces every being.
The heightened discourse on “those criminal others” and the need to build walls to keep them out is rooted in a fantasy of fear. When hard working people from other places, other spaces, and other races do our “dirty” work so that we avoid blackening our hands are conveniently subjected to every form of humiliation imaginable it is within the parameters of the law. Expel, deport, criminalize, and push away the different, the others.
Not too long ago, our parents emigrated to this country. There was also a perception of difference, and the demeaning label of “DP” (displaced person). Our collective historical memory should awaken us to the struggles of emigrants in the coal mines of Pennsylvania, in the plains of Western Canada, and in factories that were everywhere. Speaking a “foreign language,” eating strange foods and going to churches where images are worshipped fueled discrimination. Let’s not forget that Greeks, Italians, and others were deemed inferior and separate in the America due to skin color. Archbishop Iakovos marched with Dr. Martin Luther King in recognition of the injustices endured by African-Americans, Jews, and his own Greek faithful.
Let us not forget that those bearded men with hats who are strangers to this strange world as pillars of light in a place of deep darkness. And remember when we project negative thoughts upon them, they are praying for our health and salvation.
Happy Fourth of July. Let us attain spiritual freedom.