Thursday, August 2, 2012

Beard tax and the Orthodox male

Beards are a perennial concern of the Orthodox male. I have a luxuriant, thick beard that draws stares in the swampy heat of Hattiesburg. My grandmother thinks my beard is too long; she prefers late Russian Imperial style beards like those my uncles wear.  A few years ago I showed up wearing a black fedora and my black overcoat, and my grandmother asked be when I became Hasidic.  Context, of course, is everything.

In a sidebar, whenever I told people in the past that I was Orthodox, they would say, "So you're Jewish?"  Now I tell them that I'm an Orthodox Christian, and they say, "So you're Greek?"  This is the number one reason why I pray for an indigenous American Orthodox Church.

Under the laws of Peter the Great, I would have to pay a substantial beard tax. This morning I got a haircut and beard trim, and I feel ten pounds lighter and a few kopecks neater.  Wikipedia explains the beard tax.

For many of us our beards are a great source of pride. This is the emptiest of vanities. Beardiness is not near to holiness. I would do well to remember the words of Mr. Miyagi: "In Okinawa, belt means no need rope to hold up pants."

The hold that a beard has on the Orthodox mindset cannot be overstated.  Even today the Orthodox faithful in America experience this tension.  There are even some jurisdictions that frown on priests having full beards, or wearing traditional cassocks on days when they are not serving Eucharistic services.  It is helpful for me to remember that local practice (not the same thing as economia) permits what appear to be large deviations in certain externals (dress, beardedness, standing or sitting, etc.).  But the fullness of the faith is not supple, and is not subject to local concerns.  It is a bulwark for us to cling to in this world, a defender of the faithful from the temporal storms.

The fullness of the faith, I mean, is the bulwark.  Not the beard.

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