As the cliché goes, what do you give the man who has everything?
This question is pressing, because my fellow Russian Orthodox parishioners and I are getting ready for our September trip to Istanbul. There we’ll enjoy an audience with His All Holiness, Bartholomew I, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome, and Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Church. Bartholomew is primus inter pares in Eastern Orthodoxy and the spiritual leader of a global flock 300 million strong. What gift could this lion of the Church possibly want that my fellow Hoosiers and I could give him?
One member of my parish, Lyuba, suggests presenting His All Holiness with organic honey from her own hives, which she maintains on her property down the highway from our own Benedict Option homestead. Yet another, Desmond, suggests a woodcut of our own little Orthodox church here in Indiana; Desmond, a widower and recovering methamphetamine addict, turns out to have a real facility for the printmaker’s craft (O, the mysteries of God’s grace!). And Brother Aiden suggests presenting His All Holiness with a loose-leaf binder full of the choicest printed-out blog posts of those twin learned geniuses of contemporary paleoconservatism: that chubby virtuoso of passive aggression, Michael Brendan Dougherty; and the great White Old American paleocon intellectual flagbearer, the distinguished Russian Orthodox theologian and Slavic linguist Dr. Daniel Larison (who will soon move to New Haven to take up his distinguished chair at Yale).
My own preference is to honor His All Holiness with a new pair of sandals. Well-crafted sandals are never redundant. They’re something that a gentleman always needs, and wants, more of; their proliferation in a man’s closet is always a happy accident; a well-rounded collection of sandals, with pairs appropriate for each of the duties that a man might fulfill during a single revolution of the earth around the sun, from husbandry to scholarship to worship of the Almighty, is to many of us the very emblem of a properly sacramental life.
The challenge will be (in addition to finding out the great man’s shoe size) finding a sandal that’s sufficiently ecumenical, so to speak. The aggressively Hebraic branding of these sandals aside, they are of a shape that, in my experience, flatters the arch. These, too, are handsome, but the price point might be excessive for the members of our religious community. This model might do, but there’s an effeminacy to this design – which is no mean feat (if you’ll pardon my pun) to pull off given the basic masculinity of the sandal in general, with its connotations of the rough and ready male company of our Savior’s Apostles, the classic Hollywood gladiator movie, and the Spartan barrack.
On the other hand, this pair offers admirable ankle support, useful in stabilizing the body during ritual circumambulations of the altar, as well as during episodes of that wonderful “horseplay” with the altar boys for which the Greek Church is justly famous.
As the American herds observed the gluttonous rites of that jingo/Zionist Walpurgisnacht we call “Independence Day,” I was happily shut away with my computer, browsing for the right footwear for a man of God.