The Orthodoxy of the Beard

The Orthodoxy of the Beard

The ‘trends’ and ‘fads’ of a society are a constant ebb and flow.

For a certain part of my lifetime, beards were widely seen as an adornment fit only for the homeless, the unkempt, or the unsuccessful. In a previous generation, they were associated with being a rebel or societal outcast. In the days of Thomas Cranmer, the beard was a visible sign of the English emancipation from the Roman church. And at present, the beard is apparently being glorified by a popular television show about ducks, while also receiving the praise of so-called ‘hipsters.’

As when Heraclitus once pondered a river, the only constant is change.

But in the eastern sees throughout Church history, the beard has remained a steadfast feature of praiseworthy males—just as with Judaism before it. In fact, a number of Church fathers, writers, and even councils make references to beards and their significance.

One of the most common references is to the beard of Aaron and the scriptural connection to priestly ordination (being anointed with oil, as in the mystery of chrismation; cf. Ps. 132:2 LXX). Wearing a beard was a sort of imitation and participation in the priesthood of Aaron. For example, in the Paradise of Palladius we read:

And we saw another blessed man whose name was John, and he was an Abba of the monks in the city of Dikapolis; and grace clung to him even as unto Abraham, and his beard flowed down like that of Aaron.

Beyond a connection with the priesthood, St. Augustine says that “by the beard, strength is signified” (On the Psalms, 34). Lactantius claims that the beard shows “the beauty of manliness and strength” (On the Workmanship of God, 7), along with showing a key—albeit obvious—distinction between males and females. Dionysius writes that beards are “a seemly ornament for the philosopher,” having them to also be a sign of wisdom.

If beards are truly a sign of strength, dignity, and wisdom, then the shaving or mutilation of one’s beard should have contrary or opposite significance. And this is precisely what we also find in the writings of the fathers and other ancient literature.

For example, the Testament of Abraham tells us that Adam’s lament over the punishment of sinners in the afterlife is met with the tearing of hairs from the sides of his beard. The extreme asceticism of certain desert fathers is set forth as a reason for the inability of some to grow their beards to a respectable length. On the other hand, St. Cyprian of Carthage tells us that lapsed Christian men are wont to ‘style’ or remove their beards altogether, which to him demonstrates a lack of contrition for sin (Treatise 3, ‘On the Lapsed’; cf. Lev. 19:27).

For Orthodox clergy today, one’s facial hair—or lack thereof—is ultimately a decision left to their bishop or holy synod. While we have a plethora of citations, references, and even ecclesiastical canons on this matter, there have been times where certain clergy have made the decision to go clean shaven (for various reasons).

In a culture that is so frequently dictated by ‘trends’ and ‘fads’—and where men and women are more-and-more being forced to subsume into one, indistinguishable, de-personalized entity—I personally think it’s a wise and praiseworthy thing for males to uphold the esteemed, bearded tradition. If it’s good enough for Jesus and the Forerunner John, it’s good enough for me.

40 Days Blog

G. V. Martini

About G. V. Martini

G. V. Martini works as a senior product manager for a software company and is a subdeacon in the Orthodox Church. He and his family attends St. Innocent Antiochian Orthodox Church in Everson, Washington.

Church History


  1. Great post Gabe,

    You certainly haven’t lost your touch. The removal of a man’s beard signifies shame and calamity in Holy Scripture:

    2 Sam. 10:4-5 So Hanun took David’s servants and shaved off half the beard of each and cut off their garments in the middle, at their hips, and sent them away. When it was told David, he sent to meet them, for the men were greatly ashamed. And the king said, “Remain at Jericho until your beards have grown and then return.”

    Isa. 50:6 I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting.

    Henry Chadwick offers some historical context on the subject as well…
    Jerome’s attack on Jovinian, a monk and priest, declared that the only difference between Jovinian and a goat was that he shaved off his beard. This is the earliest evidence for the custom with western clergy. (East and West: The Making of a Rift in the Church From Apostolic Times Until the Council of Florence pp. 11-12)

    St. Kosmas the Aitolos: “I beg you, my fellow Christians, say three times for all those who let their beards grow: ‘May God forgive and have mercy upon them.”‘

    Let Your nobility also ask for forgiveness. And may God enlighten you to let go of your sins as you let your beard grow – You, young men, honor those with beards. And if there is a man of thirty with a beard and one of fifty, or sixty, or a hundred who shaves, place the one with the beard above the one who shaves, in church as well as at the table. On the other hand, I don’t say that a beard will get you to heaven… (Apostle of the Poor)

    1. No problem. I think if you setup a Disqus profile, you can use your pic, or if you login with your WordPress account, or if you use Facebook/Twitter, as well. I tried to give people options with this new commenting system. 🙂

        1. Did you sign in via WordPress? I’m still figuring out how this new system will work. I think it’s better, but I hope everyone likes it.

  2. But what about certain poor Native Americans or East Asians, like my father-in-law, who are completely unable to grow a beard of any sort? 🙂

Comments are closed.