I went to a church where you sat a lot, essentially standing up only for arrival and departure. Therefore the care of the derriere was an important survival technique. One could start a serious discussion about the theological ramifications of padded vs unpadded pews and older ladies quietly slipped a small pillow into church that remained in their pew as a sign of respect even when they weren’t there.
Imagine then my arrival in Orthodoxy where people can spend a large part of the service either standing or preparing to stand. Having spent years on my backside I was now an upright person and I soon began to participate in on of the great unspoken endeavors of Orthodoxy, the search for the perfect liturgy shoe.
Now some people solve the problem all together by simply not wearing shoes. These people are mostly choir members who in the sanctuary of a loft feel free to kick off the decorative but wholly impractical heels and such for the comfort of stocking, or bare, feet.
Others, though, may spend years working through one pair of shoes or another to find the right combination of style and comfort that makes the perfect liturgy shoe. For ladies this basically means flats. Yes, there are a few diehards who insist on wearing heels, even spikey ones, for the whole service and offer up their pain as a kind of asceticism. But eventually flats will prevail.
The struggle, of course, is to find flats that are simultaneously sexy, pious, and practical. This isn’t so much a challenge for the older women whose feet have instructed them in the right path but a horrible dilemma for younger women who still have the vigor required to squish their toes together and wish to make a fashion statement. Time is what makes the difference. Time standing. Time holding squirmy kids. Time to understand that your boss may be merciless with a dress code but God isn’t and He’s also not nearly impressed by shoes as you.
Now Priests have a different struggle. First we sure hope that none of them are wearing heels either during liturgy or in the privacy of their own home. Second the choice of a liturgy shoe means finding a shoe that is comfortable for standing, dressy, but not so fancy as to make the parishioners feel like you’re dipping into the collection plate.
My preference is Rockport, comfortable, understated, and with a certain kind of earthy panache that says humble yet smart. Sandals, especially in the winter, are also good because they shout out “I’ve been to Mount Athos!” A few scuff marks tell the people that you’ve been busy and leave the high tech running shoes at home, except perhaps for a church picnic where the kids can see them. By the way, the rule doesn’t apply to Deacons since the Church doesn’t give them a salary they are allowed to have fancy shoes.
For younger men the task is to find something that looks good with altar boy vestments. Tennis shoes, or “kicks” as I guess they call them now, are the perfect statement of non-comformity and individualism, just like every other boy in church. A trendy leather pair, however, says “They may have forced me to wear this altar boy stuff but the shoes peeking out from under let’s you know that I’m on top of things, until they change, and my inner rapper is still alive.”
It’s easiest, of course, for older men. If you’re over 60 you may have one pair of shoes you’ve worn to Church for 20 years and if at first they needed, say, a year or two to stop hurting they now have been pounded into submission and flow effortlessly with you. You can polish them if you want, but nobody cares. Sadly for the most part people just stopped seeing you somewhere around the arrival of your AARP card so go with it and dress how you want, especially if its polyester.
Ah, but when you have found the perfect shoe what a remarkable thing it is. There are closets full of perfectly good but discarded shoes that did not pass the liturgy muster. Yet when you discover that one pair you cherish them, set them aside, and maybe leave them in the original box so you can know the name and style to repurchase when they wear out.
Rest assured, though, they will not be at the store and you’ll have to start all over again.