As I write this the Pittsburgh Steelers are in the first quarter of their playoff game with the Baltimore Ravens. The chicken wings are in the oven. The fireplace is sizzling. And Pittsburgh fans are watching for what amazing thing Troy Polamalu will do next.
I covered plenty of big Steelers games during my years as a TV news anchor in Pittsburgh, but I never met Polamalu. I saw him once or twice at a church we both used to attend. He is well known for his spiritual devotion. His discipleship path over the years led him to Orthodox Christianity.
I confess to using the headline to draw interest to this story, but there is a great deal to contemplate in a recent profile of Polamalu and his wife by Ann Rodgers, a perceptive religion reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
He and Theodora converted to Orthodoxy about five years ago. His background was Catholic and Protestant, hers Muslim and Protestant. They were Christians in search of a deeper, more consistent experience of God.
“Orthodoxy is like an abyss of beauty that’s just endless,” he said. “I have read the Bible many times. But after fasting, and being baptized Orthodox, it’s like reading a whole new Bible. You see the depth behind the words so much more clearly.”
Rodgers explores some of the differences in fasting practices among denominations, including the distinctions between the Greek Orthodox and Slavic traditions:
Mr. Polamalu is of Samoan heritage, and belongs to the Greek church, but fasts like a Russian.
His consists of a “fast from dairy, from meat and from oil for 40 days — as well as from sex,” he said. “It’s to prepare you for the birth of Christ, of God incarnate.”
Fasting doesn’t affect his football fitness, he said. “When you fast, you can eat extremely healthy by eating a lot of light food, like fruits and vegetables.”
There are other aspects to fasting.
“Maybe not watching as much TV, or not getting caught up in idle talk or different things, in order to keep you spiritually healthy,” he said.
The most important Orthodox fast is Great Lent, for 50 days before Easter.
When he has kept longer fasts “I have never felt more spiritually strong,” he said. Referring to great theologians of the early church, he said, “The church fathers have said that when you eat gluttonously or you eat a lot of meat, your passions get stronger, so your inclination toward sinning becomes stronger. … [Fasting] really does soften your passions. It gives you spiritual insight.”
Polamalu’s discussion of the relationship between faith and emotion is very much worth reading. Find it here.