Headscarves, Modesty, and Scolding Modern Orthodox Women

In a thoughtful piece entitled, “Headscarves, Modesty, and Modern Orthodoxy” published in Public Orthodoxy, Katherine Kelaidis has some valuable things to say about women wearing headscarves in the modern West. In this piece she offers a much-needed and valuable historical insight that women like her grandmother wore a headscarf in Greece but upon coming to America discarded this practice in order to more easily assimilate into the culture of her newly-chosen home. In Kelaidis’ words, “My grandmother stopped covering her hair because of the pressures of xenophobia and assimilation, along with a desire to create a more liberated space for women within her own culture.” She goes on to note that modern Orthodox women, since the late 1990s, often cover their hair with headscarves as a choice even when they are not in church. She views these women’s choices against the background of her own family’s experience and says that when these women “take up the veil with complete disregard for the stories and lives of the women I have so loved, I cannot help but feel some anger.” For her the modern choice of some Orthodox women to veil themselves constitutes an ungrateful rejection of the sacrifices made by these immigrant women of a previous generation. Kelaidis is angry and feels “incredibly frustrated” that they “make these choices without having to give a second thought to women like my grandmother. Women whose lives they carelessly overlook at every turn. Women whose ability as mothers and Christians they tacitly scorn. Women whose trials and triumphs, they do not know and do not care to learn”.

I am not one who insists that Orthodox women must veil themselves, either in church or when out in public. At our own little St. Herman’s in Langley, B.C., some of our women wear headscarves and some do not. It is entirely up to the choice of the women themselves. I will not here rehearse the argument and counter-argument from St. Paul’s counsel in 1 Corinthians 11. Anyone wanting to know how I interpret that famous passage is welcome to buy my commentary and read it for themselves. But in defence of women who do choose to veil themselves in church, I would like to offer the following.

All of the women I know personally who veil themselves in church do not intend thereby to make a statement about women like Kelaidis’ grandmother, one way or the other. They are grateful, I suspect, to have the choice about whether or not to veil themselves, and they make their choice. My guess is that they would feel that a requirement that they not wear a veil would be as unacceptable as one that required them to wear a veil, but it is for them to answer such questions, not me. What is more certain is that their choice is not based on the cultural battles of two or more generations ago, but on the cultural battles of the present.

At St. Herman’s we have a number of different kinds of people, both North American converts and ethnic cradle. The Russian, Romanian, and Greek women all veil themselves (if memory serves; it is not important enough for anyone to keep score), as well as do some, but not all, of our convert women. If asked why they do it, I suspect the former would say they never thought about it much, but that was how they were raised. The latter would say that they chose to do it after giving it some thought. There are, in fact, at least two good reasons for that choice, neither of them having to do with anyone’s grandmother.

The first reason is as a way of showing respect for the sanctity of the building into which they are entering. (Please note: I am not suggesting that women who do not use the veil thereby do not show enough respect.) Those who wear a veil in church often do not wear the veil outside in public, so that dressing differently is their way of acknowledging that the nave of the church is a different kind of space than that of the mall or the street. It is precisely because the veil is not worn in public that it can therefore function as a sign of respect in the church building. It is the vestment equivalent of signing yourself with the Cross when you enter a holy place. This is why, I suspect, Orthodox women wear the veil in church in Russia—as a sign of respect. But I have never been to Russia, and can only guess about what happens there. What is more certain is that this is what motivates the Russian women at St. Herman’s when their wear their veils.

Given this component of respect for spacial sanctity, the use of the veil by convert women also serves to unite them to the Orthodox women of other countries such as Russia, Romania, and Greece. The converts are happy to learn from their cradle sisters, and do not always (in Kelaidis’ words) “make a social media post about the lack of ‘zeal’ among the cradle Orthodox”. The converts were happy to learn a lot about Orthodoxy from those who came before them and who live elsewhere in the world—including the use of the veil when in church.

Secondly, these women’s use of the veil serves to differentiate them from the secular world around them. In the days of Kelaidis’ grandmother, the goal was to assimilate to avoid the dangers of xenophobia. In today’s world, the goal is different—it is to avoid assimilation with the godless and insane society around us and (in the timeless words of St. Peter) to “save ourselves from this crooked generation” (Acts 2:40). From her words one might imagine that Kelaidis was stuck in the past, facing the challenges of yester-year when the assimilation of immigrants was the pressing need. But now, and at least since the late 1990s (when she said the headscarf appeared in her world), the challenge for Orthodox women is to build a healthy counter-culture in which to live and raise their children. If they choose to make the wearing of a veil when in church one component of that counter-culture, who is Kelaidis or anyone else (including me) to say otherwise? The words “a woman’s choice” can and have been horribly misused, but surely here is one instance where a woman’s choice ought to be respected.

Kelaidis is quite right about one thing: “modesty is not a line you draw on your knee [i.e. a dress’ hemline], but a line you draw on your heart”. Women can be modest and pious without wearing a veil in church, as many women at my own little church can attest. But a veil is now not only—or even primarily—a tool for modesty, Kelaidis’ assertion that “Modesty was always the goal of the veil” notwithstanding. Now it is a choice that some women make to express their respect for a sacred space and their desire to be different from the secular world around them. Of course women can do this without wearing a veil. But some women choose to do this through the wearing of a veil. And surely they should be allowed to do this without being blamed or scolded in the pages of Public Orthodoxy?

I cannot help but wondering if the main target and source of anger in Kelaidis’ piece is not the presence of the veil among Orthodox convert women, but the fact that these convert women choose to wear the veil as an expression of their choice to be counter-cultural and to reject the secularism around them—a secularism that Public Orthodoxy seems to so often embrace. The goal is still assimilation to contemporary culture, even now that our culture has become diseased.

 

 

 

44 comments:

  1. That last paragraph. Very yes. Public Orthodoxy and Orthodoxy in Dialogue are both essentially secularism in Orthodox drag (and not even very good drag at that).

    1. I used to think that Public Orthodoxy has “an agenda”, an intent to reform, in that they are trying to move Orthodoxy into a modern, secular reconciliation. I am now coming to the conclusion that they are themselves (the $supporters$, the principles, the editors, the writers) wholly secularized and they are simply speaking out, as it were, from a worldview that is unconscious and unexamined. To have an agenda, to be a reformer you have to have some idea of where the institution/culture is at, and where you want it to go (even if your knowledge is very imperfect). Public Orthodoxy is already ‘there’ squarely on secularized, and like a child they speak out crying “what’s wrong with you people! Don’t you know better! Why are you hurting me?!”

  2. Live and let live!
    Feminists often claim that they know what other women are thinking when they do not conform to the theories of feminists in the secular world. They look down on these poor excuses for females .
    How could they be so arrogant? Women are as as varied as the other sex ( or gender) in opinions on just about everything. There is no ‘female ‘opinion or attitude.
    Live and let live!

  3. Veils, hats, and mantillas (those things that look like doilies) were worn by American born Roman Catholic women in church up through the 1960’s and even into the 70’s. And men wore suits with neckties. I remember it, and have family photos to prove it. Here in Pennsylvania, the same was true of Orthodox, Greek Catholic, and Protestant church goers. And I’m talking about factory workers, farmers, and coal miners.

    1. Yes, as a child of the 50s and 60s I can attest that when my mother went to church she always wore a hat, though she never did at other times. And I was always forced to wear those little suits with the (horrid) false neckties.

    2. I was told several years ago, that the reason for the headcoverings for women, was so that men would not be distracted during the Liturgy. That makes sense to me the same as short skirts and revealing tops. Any comment?
      God bless!

      1. Margaret: I believe that both men and women should dress modestly, but I don’t believe that women without veils are thereby immodest. If a man find himself sexually distracted by a woman’s unveiled hair, he has problems that should be addressed apart from the use/ non-use of the veil.

        1. Chrysostom advocates exactly the view expressed by Margaret with respect to the separation of genders during the services,m. He brings up Christ’s warning in the Gospel concerning adultery commites by lust of the heart. It seems that we are very far removed from the early Church’s standard and conviction in this regard.

  4. As a convert who covers her head, I appreciate this post! I by no means judge anyone who doesn’t cover their head for church; I assume they are holier than I am 🙂
    But from childhood I have been aching for forms of modesty and piety and in the Protestant milieu in which I grew up a head scarf would simply not be an option. When I became orthodox and I realized that by bowing before entering the nave of the church and by covering my head I could physically prepare myself for church, I was delighted. I am thankful to be in the church, where modesty is valued and not ONLY as a line in the heart.

  5. A very thoughtful piece, Fr Lawrence. Scolding generally, although not always, appears to be about the person doing the scolding, and less about the practice(s) in question. Otherwise it would be gentle teaching and not judging. Thanks.

  6. Fr. Lawrence,

    You suggest that when women wear headscarves in church it is because they are acknowledging that they are entering holy space, a space distinct from the street or the mall.

    Is there some appropriate item of clothing by which men can express a similar acknowledgment? Was there traditional Orthodox dress for men in church? (Many decades ago in an “evangelical” church one of the old men told my then-girlfriend to tell me that I should be wearing a white shirt to church instead of the pastel green one I had worn a few times.)

    Although some of the women members of our church wear headscarves (some regularly, some only occasionally), and we do have a bag of scarves by the door for the use of women who choose to wear one but came without one, we do not seem to have any kind of dress code for the men (other than the clergy, of course).

    1. I am not aware of any cultural component about what men can wear that can serve as a masculine equivalent to the feminine veil. Dress codes/ what constitutes modesty seem to vary a great deal from place to place. On the Canadian west coast, attire is much more informal than back east, so I would invoke the “when in Rome/ the west coast” principle regarding dress code. Of greater importance is how we behave after crossing the threshold into the nave–i.e. speaking only when necessary outside the service and with subdued voices, making the Sign of the Cross at the usual places in the Liturgy, etc. Admittedly it can be challenging when juggling babies or toddlers, but one should make one’s best attempt–and make sure not to leave all the baby-wrangling to the mother!

    2. Removing a headcovering (praying with one’s head uncovered) is the corollary practice for men. Back when everyone wore hats, this would have been much more noticeable.

  7. The original article addresses the subject of head covering from a strictly ethnic vantage point limited to that of Greek Americans.

    The author presumes incorrectly that the modern Orthodox Christian woman who chooses to cover does so while being completely ignorant of the struggles that the women a generation or two prior faced for head-covering. Note – she’s not talking about women who feared for their lives under Turkish occupation or those living under communist rule and threat (women who had to hide the fact of their Christianity just to survive) – she’s describing women in Colorado!

    I’ve sat with women from Armenia, Romania, Russia, and Ukraine. I’ve listened to stories Greek women share. I’ve heard heartbreaking stores of war, of threat of death, loss of loved ones and of complete loss of freedom. She’s describing stories of merely being culturally inconvenienced in America. Big difference.

    She harshly judges those of us who cover stating that we reduce head-covering to that of wearing an “exotic costume”. While she claims that we minimize her ancestors (which I do not, nor do the women I know who cover), she completely minimizes us and judges us. She attempts to make us into a two-dimensional joke.

    The author completely side-steps the Biblical / Apostolic mandate for a woman to cover when she prays, when she prophesies and for the sake of the angels.

    If you remove the subject of head covering from historic and Biblical Christianity, perhaps you can make a case for the wearing a scarf as being that of adopting an exotic costume, but that is not what I do. I cover with the words of St. Paul ringing in my ears. I don’t do it for ethnic cultural reasons; I do it for Christian reasons. I cover my head because I need obedience, I need God’s governmental order, and I need reminders of Who God is and who I am. I do it because my Bible says to “for the sake of the angels”.

    1. Dear Deborah,

      You put it very well. As a convert of 11 years, just a few months ago I started wearing a headscarf to the Liturgy. I had simply felt an urging from God. I prayed about it and pondered it for a while, and then decided to start covering my head simply out of obedience and love for my Father in heaven.

  8. The perspective of live and let live is totally inconsistent with the patristic view of head coverings, which was very outspoken and strict. According to many many Fathers, not wearing one is a serious sin. Were they all wrong?

    Also – it would be very helpful indeed if the Church would teach about modesty as a virtue generally, even apart from head coverings. I think part of the covering controversy is that it seems totally arbitrary – why wear a head covering in Church, but not out (the perspective on head coverings somehow being a psychological marker for entering a holy space, while nice, has not been the explanation for the behavior for most of Christian history). For example – if it’s not modest to enter Church without a covering, then why is it modest to to be uncovered at work or at the mall? Or vice versa- if it’s not immodest to have hair uncovered when out, then why is it not immodest in Church?

    If it’s not a modesty issue, then basically all the Church Fathers were wrong. If they were right, then we should understand why, and not treat it as an optional nice Churchy thing.

    1. No, the Fathers were not wrong, but they were speaking from within the culture of their time. The principles guiding St. Paul/ the Fathers are timeless, but their application depends upon the culture of the time. A woman without a veil would have been immodest in the “mall” in St. Paul’s time, but not in ours, and it is to the prevailing cultural standards of modesty which we must conform. What is immodest in one culture is not necessarily immodest in another.

      1. That doesn’t seem to be the perspective of the Fathers. They weren’t pressing their congregations to conform to the standards of modesty that were current in their culture; Rather, their perspective seems to be the opposite – that there is in fact a standard of modesty ordained by God, and that they were choosing their culture’s standard instead.

        1. Additionally, head covering is mentioned in the Fathers as a “law” for Christians in its own right, which finds its authoritative nature in its Divine legislator.

        2. It is true that the Fathers urged the people to dress modestly rather than immodestly, since many of the people did choose immodest dress. But the fact remains that what people consider modest or immodest varies according to culture. Thus Chrysostom on a passage in 1 Timothy: “Paul requires that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with self-effacement and sobriety…such attire as cover them completely and decently, no with superfluous ornaments”. But in Chrysostom’s sermon on this 1 Corinthians 11 passage about the veil itself I cannot find any reference to modesty. He spends all his time talking about the veil as a symbol of wifely submission and good order. For example he writes, “Being covered is a mark of subjection and authority”. Modesty seems not to enter the discussion here at all.

          1. I’m not sure that modesty is totally disconnected from those other virtues, but in other writing the covering is connected w modesty.

            Also, the fact that the headcovering in that setting is not connected to modesty does not mean that th Fathers assume a culturally relativistic view of modesty, as though it the manifestation of the virtue has no objective Standard.

            One thing is certain, though, which is that for the many Fathers that do comment on the verse, the covering is non-negotiable and grounded in Divine law.

          2. Yes, but their point about divine law is that God commands that women dress and comport themselves in such a way as to show they are in proper submission to their husbands. How that looks can differ from culture to culture. Obviously modesty is not totally disconnected from the other virtues, since no virtue is hermetically sealed from the other virtues. But all virtues are culturally expressed, and this expression can differ to some degree over time and place. The non-negotiable is proper submission, not its cultural expression.

  9. To accept a live and let live position on coverings, we need to say that the Parristic view towards the Scriptures is fundamentally flawed. The motivation for headcovering for nearly all Christian history is that it was considered a commandment of Scripture.

    If that commandment is just a live and let live deal, then why isn’t that true of the rest of the commandments? Which is probably the starting point for much of the thought at Public Orthodoxy.

  10. No, I’m speaking specifically of head covering, not submission. See for example St Basil’s On Christian Ethics. It is the external act, not merely the attitude, which is considered a commandment.

    1. But that is only because the attitude was then expressed in the external act. The latter has no value apart from the former.

    1. Just one last reply to this over-long thread, which has already veered somewhat from the original topic addressed in the blog piece. St. Basil gave no explanation for covering one’s head because such an explanation was unnecessary within that culture. All the utterances of the Fathers presuppose the cultural norms in which they were written. One cannot legitimately extrapolate from that what they would say given a different cultural norm. It is somewhat like the canons: they are applicable now to the extent that the cultures in which they were originally framed coincide with ours. Thus, for example, the canon forbidding resort to a Jewish physician presupposes a different kind of medicine than the one we now have. The abiding authority of that canon lies in the underlying principle it is based on, not its ancient application.

  11. One final request : would you be willing to point readers to explanations of the famous headcovering instruction that explains the underlying principle you are speaking of?

    Thanks very much.

    1. At the risk of self-promotion, one might start with my own commentary. But all my commentaries are for a general audience. One can find more details in the pages of the Cultural Background Study Bible. A detailed online source can be found at: http://www.bible-researcher.com/headcoverings.html which also links to the author’s essay on Headcovering Customs in the Ancient World (at:http://www.bible-researcher.com/headcoverings3.html ). While I do not agree with all the author’s conclusions, there is a wealth of detail presented and access to ancient images and citations from the Fathers.

  12. At the risk of flogging a dead topic: I appreciate Alex and Fr Lawrence’s discussion about what is culturally appropriate vs what is a command of God. It makes me wonder though, what do you do when your culture’s concept of modesty is just totally off base? What most high school girls consider to be modest would be quite scandalous in any other age. I know because I was among their number. I no longer think postmodern modesty standards have much bearing on what Christians should consider modest. If we look at the iconography, it definitely tells us a different story about feminine modesty than what we see every day on the street. And iconography is from all ages of the church, not from a specific time or culture. I don’t claim to be perfectly icon modest all the time, and I certainly don’t want to judge anybody, but I think the argument of conforming to current cultural standards is not valid given our current cultural debauchery😮

    1. A very good point! I think that just as parents must raise their children to be counter-cultural in their understanding of sexuality, gender, the sanctity of unborn life, etc., so they must raise them with different standards of modesty. It is hard, because then they almost certainly will not “fit in”. The task is therefore to show the children how they must “fit in” with a Christian counter-culture, and not with the prevailing secular culture. The real question must be: Who are my people, with whom I must fit in? Those in the Church, or those in the World?

      1. I don’t understand your perspective. The very statement that we must raise our kids with a different standard of modesty implies that there is an objective standard.

        1. Modesty of dress, as all parents know, exists on a sliding scale, with some forms of dress clearly modest, other forms clearly immodest, and some things more or less in between. In our current North American culture, most parents would not insist that the hem-lines of dresses reach to the ankles, but they would insist that there not be too much cleavage shown and that dresses be long enough so that bending over not does reveal underwear. Surely none of this is hard to understand?

          1. “I don’t understand your perspective. The very statement that we must raise our kids with a different standard of modesty implies that there is an objective standard.”

            Alex,

            What Father Lawrence is driving at I think is that there is to be a synergy between the heart and the ‘standard’. It can not be a mere “objective standard” because the Law is not enough (See Romans, ch. 7-8 in particular). If all Scripture and the Fathers are doing is explicating the Law (i.e. “objective standards”) then Christ came and died in vain because the Law is all we need for our salvation. There is no ‘Divine Law of Modesty’ because the Kingdom does not needs such a thing, and neither do we (again, see Romans ch. 7), or rather such a thing is not enough thus Christ came to us in a *personal* manner

            The reconciliation and practical application of the Law of God with our sinful/fallen selves , what St. Paul calls the “law of our members” (in Romans) is difficult and yes, “relative” in that it depends on persons and their particular circumstances, historical and cultural time and place, etc. We are created in His Image, which means our will’s are truly free. There will be free choice in the Eschaton (see St. Maximus the Confessor) and not a crude external alignment with an “objective standard” that is merely the Law objectified, calcified, made unliving and external like a statue is an “objective standard” of a living being.

      2. Thanks, Father. This is exactly the line along which I am thinking, because as a young-ish woman in the church I am liable to be an example to younger girls, not to mention that I am raising daughters myself. I want to give my daughters something beautiful to love in the way they dress, and not just a more modest/boring version of what the world wears. I am becoming well aware that raising my kid orthodox is going to make them look like major weirdos in the world, and at some point that will be hard for them (and me). I guess the upshot of all this is please pray for me as I seek to lead my children to holiness!

  13. I grew up in the Orthodox Church and when I was a child women who were married (only those who were married) wore a hat to Church.They also wore dresses or suits with gloves and they dressed this way whenever they went to a “formal situation.” So did all women in society at that time. Young girls and unmarried women did not cover their hair. My Mom was first generation American. Women also sat on the left side of the church and men and families (if they chose to sit together, many did not) sat on the right side of the Church. I remember being at Seminary (in the mid 1970’s) and no one covered their head. I didn’t marry until my mid 30’s and thus did not cover my hair. Modesty is in one’s speech, clothing (no plunging necklines, and when going to a “male monastery” one abides by their dress code–arms covered, head covered, etc. As far as men yes, there is a dress code — no shorts, long slacks, long sleeve shirt. In the ancient days (when the Apostles walk the earth, and new Christians, only “loose living women–prostitutes did not have their hair covered. Also women of the Roman Empire wore very high elaborate hair styles and thus covering the hair was considered to be non-distracting. I wore a turban, wig, scarf when I lost all my hair due to chemotherapy. That is the only time I covered my head. My bald head would definitely have been a distraction. Many cradle Orthodox Women do not cover their head, their modesty is shown throughout their living their faith in this world. And a sidenote my Mom did cover her hair with a hat until she could no longer find hats in the store. She wasn’t “taught the reason why women covered their hair in Church.” It was just done. Her sister, always covered her hair in Church even when hats were no longer available–; but she didn’t look like she was a Muslim, or just off the boat. Her other sister, just simply stop covering her hair when hats couldn’t be purchased (all are deceased and were children of immigrants and today if alive would be over 100 years old). There is this “unspoken thing coming from converts of today; we converts know more about Orthodox and do Orthodoxy right and you cradles do not. That is the real issue. My husband (who wasn’t my husband at the time) was received into Orthodoxy in 1980, and people think he is a cradle Orthodox. The converts of the previous generations weren’t’ so arrogant, but were happy to be Orthodox and not “the super, dooper, Orthodox.” Just humble, and thankful to have found the Church.

    1. “We converts know more about Orthodox and do Orthodoxy right, and you cradles do not.” Well, at the risk of being thought nasty, sometimes that’s the truth. I go to church with many pious cradles who are an example to me of fidelity. I also go to church with lax, ignorant, cradles, who seem to think they will inherit the Kingdom because grandmother was faithful. Sometimes converts (we’re all really converts, even cradles) are overly zealous, and think they will go to Heaven because they KNOW things, because they read more books. Which is not true. BUT, it is important to read, to be educated, to understand your faith, and then to practice it. Adult converts often are well educated in the faith, and take it seriously, precisely because they came in as adults. I go to church with a nice Arab man who has been Orthodox all his life. He told me once he doesn’t fast, and he doesn’t know church teachings on the matter. Why doesn’t he? He’s literate. If I can pick up a book, why can’t he? Cradles can rightly criticize adult converts, but it can go both ways. The church does not belong to those baptized in infancy. They aren’t doing a favor by “letting” adult converts in. The church belongs to Christ, who calls everyone, without exception. to it. Being baptized in infancy loses a lot of its advantage if one does little or nothing with what one is given. And if adult converts need to remember they aren’t God’s gift to the church because they have book knowledge, those baptized in infancy need to remember that just because grandma did it, or thought it, doesn’t mean that was Orthodoxy. Converts shouldn’t be smug. Cradles shouldn’t be defensive. It is possible that BOTH sides can learn something from one another.

  14. I thought the original article was hilarious!

    Ms. Kelaidis might be surprise to learn that there are thousands of women who cover by choice for a myriad of reasons not even remotely connected with Orthodoxy or even modesty, for that matter.

    She should take a look at some of the head wrapping groups on the internet and Facebook. Thousands of us cover for all sorts of reasons: spiritual, religious, medical, psychological and a score of others.

    We all agree, though, that covering makes us feel beautiful and grounded. We cover because we love it. We cover because it gives us dignity. We cover because it’s a way to reclaim our right to privacy. Some even cover just for fun and fashion!

    Ms. Kelaidis really needs to get out more and leave those of us who chose to wrap for whatever reason, alone.

    And yes, I am Orthodox, but I began covering 3 years before I converted, because all my hair started to fall out. It’s quite insulting to be told that my head wraps are a “costume.” I’m sure that the women who wrap and are undergoing chemotherapy or who have alopecia would feel the same.

  15. Father, bless.

    I was with you until the last clause of your last sentence, “now that our culture has become diseased.” I respectfully disagree with the implication that American culture has ever been anything else. Our culture certainly looked healthy in the ’50’s and ’60’s, when I was a child, but I was seeing things as a child whose experiences were lovingly limited and restricted by caring and protective parents. That culture does not look as free of disease today as it did back then.

  16. I recently saw a remark by a Roman Catholic encouraging other Catholics to wear a veil as a sign of respect for the Real Presence of Christ in the eucharist. Would this also be a way we Orthodox could look at the issue, or not?

    1. The Orthodox, though believing in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, do not have the same liturgical attitudes. Thus an Orthodox woman would wear a veil in church even at a non-eucharistic service such as Vespers or in a chapel where the Eucharistic Gifts were not present in the Tabernacle. It is the sanctity of the space which is the issue, not the Eucharistic Presence in the Reserved Gifts.

  17. Thanks for this interesting post. I have not worn any head covering for a while because I find it distracting from prayer (always falls off at inopportune moments, makes my body overheat in warmer weather) and also because I am not in a parish where that is the norm, except for some cradle Orthodox from the old country. I had wondered if on a deeper mystical level it might symbolize something of the difference between Christ and the Church that men traditionally took off their hats whereas women covered their heads in church:, i.e., Christ is the manifestation of Godhead (God’s glory) on earth, while our deification (glory) as church is still mostly hidden in this life. I am thinking of the Apostle Paul’s allusion to long hair as a natural covering being a woman’s “glory” and yet a “dishonor” for a man to grow his hair long. Showing exact prescriptions for cutting vs. not cutting hair (related to veiling) cannot be absolute even when there are appeals to “nature” is evident in comparing a verse like 1 Cor. 11:14 with Acts 18:18 where St. Paul apparently allowed his hair to grow as per the Nazarite vow for a season without dishonor, and that Christian monastics (men and women) do not traditionally cut their hair after monastic tonsure. In any case, I don’t think it is appropriate to elevate form (letter of the law, veiling) to the level of substance (spiritual meaning, submission to God’s authority) in the strict manner that some seem to want to do inasmuch as (and as you have acknowledged) cultural norms and forms do change, and there are other canons we cannot apply because the cultural context is also obsolete.

    The contentions in the article that sparked this post I just find ridiculous and off the mark.

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