“Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” reads Christ’s eighth beatitude in the Gospel of Matthew. It is perhaps the beatitude most often viewed as a remnant of the ancient world among modern Americans, as persecution of the faithful has been remarkably absent in this country. Every now and then, though, a news story reminds us Christ’s proclamation is just as important as ever.
One such episode occurred this week in the reliably virtue-touting sports world. The National Hockey League’s Philadelphia Flyers franchise trotted out time-tested corporate symbolism for its “LGBTQ+ Pride Night.” The festivities included rainbow-accented warmup jerseys and sticks, all of which were to be auctioned for the benefit of unspecified DEI charities. It’s all so predictable that it would have passed without notice, except for one thing: Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov committed the ultimate heresy by choosing not to participate.
Citing his Russian Orthodox faith and his decision “to stay true to myself and my religion,” Provorov made a bold stand. It was, at its heart, an act of submission, which is “obedience to God in the innermost depths of man in his mind and in his will.” A Russian national, Provorov has lived in the United States long enough to know he would face severe criticism for his decision. Unlike his countryman Alex Ovechkin, he might be an expendable player in the eyes of his employer. The league undoubtedly will subject him to reeducation. He will be booed at every game.
Fueling these reactions is the very opposite of submission, the religion of self-worship. Consider the vacuous responses of those treated to a platform on the matter.
Canadian hockey commentator Pierre LeBrun arrogantly chastised, “Don’t hide behind religion.” Of course, hiding is precisely what Provorov chose not to do, and his religion won’t earn him any societal popularity, even if he somehow were using it for the ulterior motive LeBrun implies.
Philadelphia Inquirer Columnist Marcus Hayes invented the narrative that, “if you wear your homophobia like a Pride flag, you earn [Flyers coach John] Tortorella’s respect.” Furthermore, he asserted, “Provorov refused to warm up … because he does not support the right of LGBTQ+ people to even exist.”
Set aside the complete lack of evidence-based argumentation for a moment and the fact that a simple internet search would have clarified the actual Orthodox teaching on these matters. Public voices like this are so confident their understanding of truth is correct that they militantly dehumanize anyone who doesn’t share it. It is religious zeal in the name of anti-religion and intolerance in the name of tolerance.
Perhaps even more instructive are the next-day press statements curated for publication in major outlets. In its follow-up story posted among the homepage headlines, ESPN turned to Kurt Weaver, COO of a “social activism partner” known as You Can Play. The article quoted him six separate times while follow-up quotes from Provorov’s camp or Orthodox authorities were nowhere to be found. Despite the likelihood that a corporate lawyer carefully reviewed Weaver’s statements before publication, they are shocking in their conceit.
Generously offering to provide education sessions for the Flyers and even “for the individual players on a one-on-one basis,” he proclaimed, “A lot of times it’s just that they’ve never had proximity to someone in their life who’s been out. Just to meet somebody who’s another human being goes a long way.” In other words, Provorov’s faith is irrelevant, and he simply hasn’t surrounded himself with the right people, the ones who would endow him with the correct social views.
Later in the article, Weaver asks, “At what point does a decision like this that a player wants to make cross over into basically not showing up for your job?” The requirement to participate in a corporate virtue parade has now ostensibly become part of the job description for a hockey player, something that obviously has no logical or legal basis.
Weaver continued, “Players who do this sort of thing have a very short perspective on what it means. For me, religion is about charity and inclusion.” Thus, an executive from an obscure activist nonprofit assumes the authority to call a man’s religious views short-sighted and prescribe what religion should mean. This is peak self-importance.
It is a self-importance that contrasts so starkly with Provorov’s trusting faith. His stance on this matter is decidedly harmful to his earthly best interests. Only through faith in the God far greater than himself can such a decision make sense.
Twenty players on each team dress in NHL games. Only one had the courage to make such a stand, but what a blessing that there is still at least one.
Ivan Provorov, thank you for your brave and faithful witness. Despite the vocal criticism you will endure, you have gained countless admirers. More importantly, you have never had so many people praying for you.