Troy Polamalu’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Interview

Elenie from Orthodox Christian Education sent me the link to this awesome interview with Troy Polamalu. I’m really going to start keeping tabs on him and his journey in Orthodoxy!

Orthodox glad to claim Polamalu as one of their own

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Most NFL fans are familiar with the sight of Steelers safety Troy Polamalu crossing himself during games, but one subset of fans is gleefully aware that he crosses himself from right to left, rather than left to right.

“Each time there is an important play, he makes his cross the Orthodox way. Nobody else does this, and it is a beautiful thing,” said Metropolitan Maximos, of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Pittsburgh, who officiated at the wedding of Troy and Theodora Polamalu four years ago.

Mr. Polamalu, an ethnic Samoan, long has had a strong Christian faith, but was non-denominational until he joined his wife’s Greek Orthodox church. The metropolitan is quick to note that Orthodox enthusiasm for Mr. Polamalu isn’t intended to denigrate any other branch of Christianity.

“I’m very proud of him. But, to be honest, I don’t care if his background is Roman Catholic or Greek Orthodox or any of the Protestant communities, as long as the guy is a faithful person. And Polamalu is that, and his wife is as well,” he said.

When football doesn’t allow the Polamalus to worship together on Sundays, they make weekday visits to the Monastery of the Nativity of the Mother of God in Saxonburg. Their infant son was baptized there. But the nuns won’t be watching him play in the Super Bowl, Metropolitan Maximos said, because they don’t watch anything on television that isn’t religious. **EDITOR’S NOTE: Most monastics don’t own televisions and therefore do not watch anything at all, religious or otherwise.

Orthodoxy and Catholicism — which split in 1054 over issues of church authority — have a different ethos. The monks of Saint Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, the Catholic monastery on the college campus where the Steelers practice, are unabashed fans. One monk, now deceased, went into earlier playoffs with a gold “7” on his black habit and called himself “Big Ben-edictine.”

Saint Vincent Archabbot Douglas Nowicki said Mr. Polamalu prays in their basilica during training camp and is close to the monks.

“He’s Orthodox, but I think he embodies that spirit of selflessness and humility, and is so well-grounded in who he is, that people of every faith relate to him. There is something deeply spiritual about him that all of us experience in being with him,” he said.

But for the Orthodox, he’s something special, said Damian George, the youth director at St. George Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral in Oakland.

When teens attend national Orthodox conferences, “the kids from Pittsburgh kind of brag about Troy, not only that he’s a Steeler, but that he’s Orthodox. And even the kids from Philly and New York get excited about it. He gives them a good role model because he’s able to play at a high level and keep his faith at an equally high level,” he said.

Orthodoxy has no tradition of celebrities who testify to their faith, said the Rev. Thomas Soroka, pastor of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, McKees Rocks. There are lists of celebrities who have belonged to the church, including Tina Fey and Tom Hanks. But none are considered exemplars of Orthodox spirituality. Current online discussions of an Orthodox celebrity that don’t involve Mr. Polamalu tend to bewail the conduct of Rod Blagojevich, who was removed as Illinois governor last week after a four-day impeachment trial.

“A lot of times when people are Orthodox, it’s more of an ethnic or cultural thing. Troy stands above that by being a practicing, committed Orthodox Christian,” Father Soroka said.

“Orthodoxy is quite sober. It’s not flashy or attractive to those who are looking for stardom. It’s much more introspective, and I think Troy embodies that.”

But it helps that Mr. Polamalu is cool and handsome, with Samoan warrior hair that hasn’t been cut in seven years. His plays appear to defy the laws of physics.

“Being faithful and devout isn’t always cool. So it’s great when you can point to Troy Polamalu and say, ‘Look, faith isn’t stupid. It’s something really special,’ ” said James Purdie, 26, a subdeacon at St. George Cathedral.

“Seeing him crossing himself after a play, or praying on the sidelines, it’s a way of witnessing that your faith can be incorporated into your everyday life.”

Mr. Purdie saw the Polamalus at a lecture at Duquesne University by Orthodox theologian Bishop Kallistos Ware.

“A lot of the younger folks went up to him afterward and were asking him questions — theological questions as well as football questions. His answers showed that he was knowledgeable in his faith. And it was nice to see his humility. He was very approachable,” Mr. Purdie said.

One Orthodox leader who does not tell stories about the Polamalus is their pastor, the Rev. John Touloumes at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, North Side. He wants to respect the family’s privacy. But he will say that Mr. Polamalu has steeped himself in the Orthodox faith.

“Troy has received the faith with great dedication and great enthusiasm in his personal life. He does share it on the field with others when he believes it is his calling to do that. And he shows it through his life, through his humility and his good works,” he said.

“He has a particular love for the younger people and they have responded very warmly to his gentle personality, his athletic talents and his deep faith.”

The Rev. Patrick Carpenter, pastor of St. Mary’s Orthodox Church, South Side, joined a Troy Polamalu fan group on Facebook and took part in its “Steelers prayer wave.” But he won’t pray for a Steelers win.

“We don’t pray for victories. We don’t pray for defeats. We pray for the safety of the team.”

Of course, Mr. Polamalu is the safety of the team.

Click here for the original link to this interview on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Comments

  1. One of the kids at church brought this article to our attention – what a great person! What a true example of an Orthodox Christian.

  2. Syliva, I loved the addition of the editor’s note! I didn’t see it in the original and wasn’t very pleased at the suggestion that monastics watch TV.

  3. Konstantina-No I wasn’t very happy about that either. I actually wasn’t happy with most of the Metropolitan’s comments. The whole reason Troy has been such an example to our youth is exactly because he’s a faithful *Orthodox* Christian. {heavy sigh} I’ve been to many monasteries and none of them have televisions so I’m not sure where that comment came from. I was however very pleased with the comments of the priests and others in the second half of the interview.

  4. My family has also jumped on the Polamalu fan wagon after we discovered his devoutness. It helps that he is an amazing player!! As far as the Metropolitan’s comments, I have come to realize that the comments of anyone…especially a representative of a traditional religion…and most of all, someone like a bishop…are almost always misquotes. When our new Met. was enthroned a few years ago, he was quoted as saying a few things that were fairly scandalous to the faithful. Many judged him based on that. Shortly thereafter we discovered that in reality he had said something very different and entirely not scandalous.

  5. One thing I don’t quite understand is “until he joined his wife’s Greek Orthodox church.” According to their parish’s monthly bulletin (PDF, p. 4), they were baptized on the same day. This doesn’t seem to match up with the idea that he became Orthodox because she was already Orthodox … but how cool is it that they were baptized on the same day?

  6. Annemarie-Yes I agree that comments certainly can get misquoted. I grew up under this Metropolitan’s guidance and am certainly not criticizing him {just his quotes}. I am also a little defensive when it comes to the monastic communities due to heat they’ve taken for no real reasons in the past. :)Magda-Hmm…that is strange. I always assumed she was always Orthodox too. But that certainly is awesome that they were baptized together! what a blessing!

  7. Magda-I meant I always thought she was Orthodox before, not too. As in before they met. :) It’s been a long day, lol…

  8. Check out this new Christian band that just released their first album. From what I heard on the samples site, they sound really good.Introducing the new Christian National Anthem: Guns & Jesus.http://ccrg.info/cas.htm

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