There are some people who want to enter the clergy to wear impressive vestments. It is an honor to wear the Sticharion and Orarion as well as the inner and outer cassock as a deacon. But the item I most wanted to wear was the skufi. This head gear is worn by deacons and priest in the Greek and Serbian jurisdictions. Back in late 1980’s, it wasn’t uncommon to see Afrocentric minded blacks sporting them as a similar hat was a part of traditional West African dress. No doubt, it can be found in the Middle East as well. Two of my good friends, Fathers Justin Matthews and Turbo Qualls of St. Mary of Egypt in Kansas City wear them. I like to wear my black, gold cross embroidered skufi to the grocery store after church to let people see that I practice a different type of Christianity from western Protestantism.
In my daily reading of the lives of the saints in the Prologue of Orhid, I have been challenged to think twice as I wear this head gear. During the Turkish occupation of Serbia, Abbot Paisius and Deacon Habakkuk of the Travana Monestary were impaled on stakes in Belgrade. As he carried the instrument of torture, the deacon sang en route to death. His mother saw him on the way and pleaded that he would save his life by converting to Islam. Habakkuk’s reply was amazing: “My mother, I thank you for your milk. But, for your counsel I thank you not. A Serb is Christ’s; he rejoices in Death.”
I don’t know if this martyred deacon wore a skufi similarly embroidered as mine. But, there is no doubt that Habakkuk had a sense of courage and faith that I don’t think I have come close to matching. Sure, I had gone through my own set of trials and tribulations converting from being a Baptist pastor to an Orthodox layman. Picturing what driving a stake through a human being is and that he and others could have avoided such a gruesome death teaches me that what I wear is not a matter of style. The skufi, as well as my vestments, is a declaration that I will adhere to the Orthodox faith no matter what the world will inflict on me. My calling is for a life long commitment to the kingdom to come, not to put on a show for this temporal nation. Indeed, I must rejoice when condemned.
My skufi sits on a make-shift hat rack (old TV “rabbit ear” antenna) beside my Liturgickon at my living room prayer corner. Before wearing, it is to be surrounded by prayer and attentiveness. Not only my hair, by my mind should be clean every Sunday morning as it is a part of my diaconate wardrobe. Habakkuk, and other martyred saints, have given me a Christian model to aim for. If tested, I pray that I will pass. If I fail, that my repentance will be true and tearful.