A Different Kind of Bling

I’m not a famous person. So it was pretty funny when we left the restaurant after dinner with Bishop Anthony and some of our parishioners the other night and a couple came up to us and asked if they could take their picture with us. Being a kind and accommodating man, Bishop Anthony said we would be happy to. In the course of taking the picture we learned that this couple, out celebrating their anniversary, saw the bishop’s engolpion (the icon a bishop wears around his neck) and my pectoral cross and didn’t ask to take their picture with us because we were clergy. Instead, they thought that they were getting a picture with some famous rappers. I assured them that our “bling” notwithstanding, we were clergy and not rappers.

It was as funny a moment as you would imagine, but I think it was also a telling moment. Wearing jewelry is nothing new. Some of the most ancient artifacts of our long and distant human history are items people wore to decorate themselves. And like our ancestors before us we all want to look good by adorning ourselves with nice clothing and jewelry to make a better impression on others. To the extent that we do that in moderation, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, but let’s face it: it’s hard to want to simply look presentable and stop before we move into wanting to be noticed for how good we look.

But clergy clothing is interesting. We clergy are clothed in black, reminding us of our sinfulness and mortality; certainly not the earthly glory of a rap star. Even when we do “dress up” and put on our liturgical vestments, the glory we invite is not for ourselves but for the King of King, in whose court we vest in preparation to be in His presence.

And the jewelry clergy wear—our “bling”—also serves to invite people to take their attention and move it to offer glory to God.  Some rappers might say they wear large crosses to bring glory to God, but when I hear much of the lyrics of their music, it makes me wonder. Seeing a cross should bring us into a remembrance of the sacrificial love of God as shown in Christ’s suffering on the Cross and hopefully remind and inspire us to walk that same path of selfless love. Seeing the icon of Christ, the Theotokos or one of the Saints on the bishop’s engolpion reminds us of what our own humanity is supposed to look like.

So we’re sorry to disappoint you, good people, we’re not rappers. But all of us can take page from the “fashion book” of clergy attire, and be reminded of what really fulfills us. It’s not how many compliments we get on a new purse or a custom suit. God clothes all of humanity with His own glory and invites us to the blessings we receive when we offer our glory and honor to Him, and not ourselves.