It isn’t Jewelry

Although they are sold in the jewelry department in almost every department store, they aren’t jewelry, at least they shouldn’t be. Today I’m talking about wearing your prayer rope and your cross in public. As an Orthodox Christian, we are invited to not hide our faith, but does that mean we should wear our cross and prayer rope in such a way that others see them, and ask about them?

I received a question over the weekend inspired by last week’s theme of going public with our faith. I’m expanding the question for the benefit of our Daily Lenten Journey readers, and for others who wonder about the same issues. Here’s the full question:

Your recent Lenten messages on Be Transfigured got me thinking. Would it be a good idea to wear a prayer rope publicly just as a sign of Orthodoxy in the world and to remind oneself of the important things? It seems like it might be pharisaical in some ways, but I remember one time in Bible Study you were telling us how you wear your cassock when you’re out and about because it makes it harder to sin, and I thought that wearing a prayer rope regularly during lent might have the same effect.

The reader does well to be skeptical about wearing a prayer rope in public. I have seen MANY such wrists walking around in public touting many prayer ropes in different colors and styles. Sometimes, it seems, these prayer ropes are used as accessories rather than prayer. Wearing a cross in public comes with the same risk. As a disclaimer, as a priest I obviously walk around very publicly wearing my cross and cassock (anderi in Greek) but I’m expected as a priest to live a more public life as my presence in the public square is intended to call others to Christ. However, in other countries such as Turkey, clergy are forbidden from wearing clergy attire in public, I suspect to avoid such witness for Christ.

Where does that leave us in 2021 America? While there is a growing animosity toward the Christian “movement” in America, we are not Turkey. We are still free to express our Christian faith publicly, but I always urge people to ask themselves, “WHY am I being so public?” That question was the purpose of last week’s theme, so I will not revisit the answer. You know in your heart why you do what you do. I do, however, wish to offer a concrete answer to the specific question I received.

This week keep your prayer rope in your pocket easily accessible. If you find yourself often reaching into your pocket to use it in prayer, you most likely will not have a problem wearing in publicly. If, however, you find yourself not using it, then keep it in your pocket to avoid the public confusion. Imagine if you were to wear it in public, and have to explain that it is for prayer when someone asks, but in fact you haven’t even used it for prayer, your hypocrisy will also be visible.

Remember, as Christ said, “A city on a hill cannot be hidden.” (Matthew 5.14) In this example, your wrist is your will, and either your prayer or your hypocrisy will not be hidden. One will draw others to Christ, while the other will chase them away. Keep this in mind. In the first centuries of the Church, when it was illegal to express the Faith, we prayed and worshipped in private. It was our love and changed lives that drew others to Christ, and not our jewelry.


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