Bless Your Heart — Smallah, Smallah, Smallah!

In the past, some have asked for podcast scripts. Due to our Diocesan Parish Life Conference, this week’s podcast is an encore presentation from the archives; here it is, at least the majority of it, in written form.

For the full audio version, click HERE

The question is often asked: “How do we bring Americans to Orthodoxy?” America is a big and complex country made up mostly of people who came from somewhere else. And this query is compounded if you mix in the cultural peculiarities of The South. Now, when I say The South, I am referring to that region formerly referred to as the Confederacy. And, for reality’s sake, one must admit that Florida’s been annexed by New York, portions of Virginia resemble Washington, DC, and Texas is, let’s be really real, a country unto itself.

Nonetheless, the question arises: “Orthodoxy in the South?” To illustrate, let’s run through a Top Ten List:


Number 10) At Pentecost, your church is decorated with Kudzu.

Number 9) You spell “feast” with only three letters: B B Q.

Number 8) You say “Father,” “Barsonuphios,” and “Monastery” without any pronouncing an “r.”

Number 7) You drive 3 hours to an Orthodox Church. But, could hop, on one foot, with your eyes closed (and a rock in your shoe), to the nearest Baptist Church.

Number 6) Your services are all in English — at least that’s what YOU call it.

Number 5) There are women in your church known as: Photini Beth, Thecla Beth, and Elizabeth Beth.

Number 4) There are men going by: Athanasius Lee, Euphrosynos Lee, and Vasiliy Lee.

Number 3) You got white folks, black folks — even Democrats — in your parish, but no Russians, Serbians, Arabs or Greeks.

Number 2) You know someone who knows someone who knows someone with a velvet picture of Elvis celebrating the Last Supper.

AND … the number one sign that you are an Orthodox Southerner:

You think grits are too good to be considered fasting!

But, in all honesty, though there are cultural differences within this ethnic soup we call Orthodoxy, we’re not as different as it appears. We just use different words to say similar things. For example, in The South we say: “Bless Your Heart.” Someone once said: “A true Southerner knows you don’t scream obscenities at little old ladies who drive 30 MPH on the freeway; you just say, ‘Bless her heart’ and go your own way.”

Then again, by adding that Southern phrase – “Bless your heart” – you can say pretty much anything you want. “Oh, look at her, she’s put on so much weight. Bless her heart.” “He is so lazy, bless his heart.” “And, Ugly! Bless his heart.” Well, you get the picture.

Which brings me to the Evil Eye. The belief in the Evil Eye is common to most Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern countries, regardless of education, religion and urban/rural context. In Lebanon it is part and parcel of everyday life, and one wouldn’t buy a car without buying a protection along with it.

The Eye is cast by a person, most often involuntarily and unconsciously, through envy or jealousy. So, for instance, a Middle-Eastern lady sees a cute little girl and gushes: “She’s so cute! Ohh. Smallah, smallah, smallah!” First glimpse of that newborn baby? “Smallah, smallah, smallah!” The bride in her bridal gown? “Smallah, smallah, smallah!” The groom in his ill-fitting tux … “Bless his heart.”

Smallah – which means “In the name of God” – is a beautiful habit to protect against the sin of envy. “Bless your heart” is a quirky little prayer, of sorts, to soften hard reality.

In other words, to avoid casting the Eye, people always add “Smallah” (“In the name of God”) when they are complimenting someone on their children or possessions. When someone showers one with compliments, he may jokingly say “Stop or you’ll hit me with the Eye!” A consequence of this belief is that Lebanese are accustomed not to speak of projects that aren’t securely founded yet, lest they be affected.

No different in The South; for instance: “Hush your mouth.” My mom would often say this to me whenever I spoke of some horrible worry or the potential for future disaster: “Hush your mouth, son.” (As if my saying it might just make it happen.)

My point is, dig deeply enough and we’re all the same; the same struggles, the same joys, the same sorrows. The same need. We need salvation. And to achieve that salvation we not only need God, we also need each other. We need the Church. And the Church is made up of nothing but sinners – no matter your ethnicity, no matter your language, social status, or particular illness.

Our Lord said, “Go, make disciples of ALL nations …” Nushkra Allah (Thanks be to God) this is happening – even in Texas, Florida, Virginia and The South. It is no longer foreign – Orthodoxy. Rather, by God’s grace and the patient endurance of those who came before us, the Ancient Faith, once lived primarily by Russians, Serbians, Arabs and Greeks is being joyfully embraced by Rednecks, Plowjocks, and City Folk; not only in the Bible Belt but in the Heartland, the Great Lakes, the Northwest & the Sandwich Islands. Smallah, Smallah, Smallah.

Malo-po-malo (Russian: little by little), by God’s grace, we toil in this vineyard. “Baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit …” and, our Lord continues, “I am with you always … even to the close of the age.”

How do we bring Americans to Orthodoxy? It takes time. It takes patience. It takes perseverance. It takes love, forgiveness and understanding. We all need each other, struggling together within the Church.

I once heard a pal relate his getting a speeding ticket whereupon he asked the officer: “Say, you see all these cars speeding past; out of all these, why me?” The patrolman looked at him and smiled; he said, “Did you ever go fishing?” And before my friend could answer, he continued: “Did you ever catch them all?”

The same held true even for our Lord and the Apostles. Alas, not everyone – Bless Their Hearts – will come Home to the True Faith. As they say in The South, “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.” Inchallah (Arabic for “good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise”), malo-po-malo, we’ll make it. Nonetheless, as St John Chrysostom was wont to say, and this works well in any language: “Glory to God for all things.”

Image Source (Daffy Duck doing the evil eye).

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