Headscarves in the Orthodox Church: Holy Tradition and Practice vs. Modern Feelings

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The modern Western world seems to be one of the few places where the wearing of a headscarf in a sacred temple is a matter of widespread contention. Perhaps this is to be expected, since we live in a society that is distinct from almost any other, and based entirely on individualism.

The basis of everything in the Orthodox Church is Holy Tradition—as Saint Vincent of Lerins has stated, “in the Catholic Church (i.e. the Universal Church—the Orthodox Church) itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all”. Holy Tradition includes the combined inheritance of the Holy Scriptures, the Church Fathers, the Holy Services, and the hymnody of the Church, across the centuries and from every place, taken together.

To make the mistake that the Orthodox Church is a battle over Biblical quotes, or improved enlightenment over time is to reduced Christ’s Church to simply another flavor of Protestantism with more accurate creeds and councils. Holy Tradition—and the whole package it contains—makes up the Orthodox Faith.

By extension, the other familiar maxim also holds, lex orandi, lex credendi (originally from St. Prosper of Aquitaine)—the law of worship both reflects and determines what is believed.

Taken together, what reasons does the Holy Tradition of the Orthodox Church give for women wearing a headscarf?

• For the sake of the angels (1 Cor 11:10). Saint John Chrysostom tells us the headcovering induces the woman to humility, and to preserve her virtue, tying in the wearing of the veil to the virtue of chastity—not something left to “personal choice” (c.f. Homilies on the Epistles of Saint Paul to the Corinthians);

• Saint Paul tells us this is the universal practice of the Church for women to pray with their heads covered, and that if any man seem to be contentious (i.e. if anyone wants to argue about this question), we have no such custom (i.e. to argue about the matter), neither the churches of God. (1 Cor 11:16).

• As a show of reverence in a consecrated place—i.e. a consecrated temple;   

• As a show of reverence before the holy relics of the saints, whose holy remains are sanctified by the grace of God, and which often work miracles;

• As a show of reverence before the Ark, which rests at all times upon the Holy Table in every temple, and contains the reserve Holy Mysteries;

• As a show of reverence before the Holy Chalice, when partaking of the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ;

• In emulation of the Mother of God, whose holy example is given to the faithful through countless icons in every temple, including those which are miracle-working and myrrh-streaming;                

• In emulation of the holy example of the women saints of every century and nation, who provide for the Orthodox faithful trustworthy images of the way to live out the teachings of the Bible in practice;

• In emulation of the universal practice of the Church which—with few exceptions (including the secular, post-Christian West)—observe modesty in all holy places. This is standard across Christian cultures, from the Holy Land to the Slavic world, from Africa to Scandinavia, from Southeast Asia to the Near East, at least until the post-Renaissance era.

• To affirm the distinction between male and female from the time of Creation (Gen. 5:2), against which modern ideologues, secularists and activists bristle.

Those who would try to have the Church conform to modern, secular agendas from outside the Church will obviously disagree with the standards set out in the points above.           

The topic of head coverings may be avoided by many parish priests, often because the historical, patristic, traditional practice could lead to conflict and pushback from modern-minded people in a given parish. Much more, such a practice would offend the position of ideological feminists, who see their political worldview as somehow interchangeable with the historical, patristic, traditional practice of the Church, and would not be happy to be told otherwise.

In the modern West, the freedoms we enjoy extend to the personal freedoms we exercise within the Orthodox Church, as far as they do not violate the limits of pastoral authority. One can certainly exercise the prerogative to argue in favour of the freedom from wearing the veil in an Orthodox temple: indeed, people argue for all sorts of things in the name of modern liberties.

What one cannot do is argue that women going without a headscarf in an Orthodox temple is somehow in keeping with the Holy Tradition of the Orthodox Church, or that the practice is in any way representative of any major time or place in the Orthodox Church outside the secular, post-Christian West.

Far from being representative of the pious practice of Orthodox Christian women, the absence of the head covering in an Orthodox Church is an outlier from the teaching or practice of the Church Fathers. It is an anomaly from Church practice in virtually any other century or place. It forgets the inherited practice as if modernity alone sets the standard for Orthodoxy. It represents a regretful disregard for the presence of holy things within the temple of God, as if the secular world has engulfed the consecrated walls of God’s Church.

It should therefore be no surprise that the practice of women wearing headscarves in the holy temple should be called into question in the modern West, of all times and places—since it is only in the modern West that the specters of forgetfulness, impiety, and secularism cast their long shadows across the face of our churches.

See also
Headscarves, Modesty, and Scolding Modern Orthodox Women Headscarves, Modesty, and Scolding Modern Orthodox Women
Fr. Lawrence Farley
Headscarves, Modesty, and Scolding Modern Orthodox Women Headscarves, Modesty, and Scolding Modern Orthodox Women
Fr. Lawrence Farley
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.
Parents, begin with yourselves! Parents, begin with yourselves!
Evgenia Novoseltseva, Irina Kalenova
Parents, begin with yourselves! Parents, begin with yourselves!
Psychologist Irina Kalenova on why children leave the Church and how to avoid it
Alas, a picture known by many: while a child is yet young he goes to church joyfully, but as he gets older this joy fades away and parents have to persuade their child to receive Communion, to fast, and even just to come to the services. Then as a teenager he even begins to bring home anti-religious propaganda, and the excruciating question “how did this happen?” gives the parents no rest. Why do children, growing up, leave the Church? Who’s to blame? How can we avoid the de-Churchification of teenagers?
Orthodox Christian Women Vs. Muslim Women Orthodox Christian Women Vs. Muslim Women
In the religious traditions of Orthodox Christianity and Islam, women’s roles have been widely contested. There are a variety of differences between the two religion’s theological and practical requirements for female believers, but there is also a great deal of commonality between the roles and customs that Muslim and Orthodox Christian women uphold. By examining the particularities of each religion’s teachings about women, it will be easy to draw stronger distinctions and parallels between the two.
Comments
Alexander Leitner9/20/2022 5:59 pm
@Stephen: I do not understand what that post means? Do you want to compare an extreme ascetic to all other women? To show us thatvitbis good to be naked? She was not naked! She was covered by the grace of God. Her skin was like that of an elephant as one Geromtissa wrote. Also in the Greek Orthodox Church women had covered hair. At old photos, paintings you can see the pious women with covered hair. Like it is still in Greek Old Calendar Churches. Also it is an apostolic Tradition that men and women are seperated in the Holy Temple. Women have to stand on the left side and men on the right side. In every Serbian Orthodox Church this Tradition is kept.
damjan9/17/2022 9:08 pm
Whenever I enter the two Russian churches in Rome I am so happy to see little girls in church wearing headscarfs along with all other women. How appropriate it is to do this in Rome where Saint Paul lived and was martyred.
Mary9/11/2022 10:35 am
Where do Greek or Antiochian Orthodox women wear scarves?
Anne9/7/2022 4:20 pm
For a woman, the wearing of a headscarf in Church is simply an obedience to God; and for me personally, that obedience goes hand in hand with love for God.
Panagiotis9/7/2022 1:47 am
God Bless you Father Korz. Once again you speak the truth. As the old saying goes: You Father are worthy to "Hold The Cloth"! At the time of our God Jesus Christ, ALL of the women had their heads covered, not only in the temple, but EVERYWHERE they were in the public. Our Lord Jesus Christ approved of this, because if he did not then he would have objected to it, since it was so prevalent everywhere. If any liberal can find anywhere in the New Testament where Jesus spoke out against women covering their heads, then please let me know. I will be waiting........ Some women do not want to cover their heads in Orthodox Churches because they have been brainwashed by the no good feminists. This is the truth my friends. But there are also many pious virtuous ladies who do not wear head covers because that new behavior now predominates in their local Orthodox Church. These pious ladies should set an example and start wearing head covers in the Church, and then the others will follow. We must maintain and return to our centuries old Orthodox consevative Traditions, and we must reject no good liberalism! ..... When ALL people are in Orthodox Church they should be in fear of God..... Also it astonishes me some of the young girls who are dressed inappropriately in the churches. What is the matter with their fathers? Have their fathers been so demasculized that they are now pathetic sissies?...... ... Men should also have their best suits on in Orthodox Church. If they cannot afford suits, then wear the best clothes that they have. If people do not want to dress appropriately, then they should consider joining a weak protestant sect where they can beat on drums and play guitars, while the so-called Pastor talks about butterflies and caterpillars........ Also, it is the duty of Orthodox Priests to tell ALL of their parishioners to dress appropriately while they are in God's House, which is the Orthodox Church. If an Orthodox Priest is too timid to tell his parishioners the truth, then maybe he may want to look in the mirror, and determine whether he is an Orthodox Priest or not? If he is the former, then please do the right thing. If he is the latter, then maybe he should consider joining a protestant sect where he can watch his new parishioners dress like pathetic clowns and dance in the pews, while the other parishioners are playing guitars and beating on drums... . Glory be to our True God Jesus Christ!.... Just my humble opinion.
Stephen9/7/2022 12:22 am
From the life of St. Mary of Egypt: Then she turned to Zosima and said: "Why did you wish, Abba Zosima, to see a sinful woman? What do you wish to hear or learn from me, you who have not shrunk from such great struggles?" Zosima threw himself on the ground and asked for her blessing. She likewise bowed down before him. And thus they lay on the ground prostrate asking for each other's blessing. And one word alone could be heard from both: "Bless me!" After a long while the woman said to Zosima: "Abba Zosima, it is you who must give blessing and pray. You are dignified by the order of priesthood and for may years you have been standing before the holy altar and offering the sacrifice of the Divine Mysteries." This flung Zosima into even greater terror. At length with tears he said to her: "O mother, filled with the spirit, by your mode of life it is evident that you live with God and have died to the world. The Grace granted to you is apparent -- for you have called me by name and recognized that I am a priest, though you have never seen me before. Grace is recognized not by one's orders, but by gifts of the Spirit, so give me your blessing for God's sake, for I need your prayers." Then giving way before the wish of the elder the woman said: "Blessed is God Who cares for the salvation of men and their souls." Zosima answered: "Amen." And both rose to their feet. Then the woman asked the elder: "Why have you come, man of God, to me who am so sinful? Why do you wish to see a woman naked an devoid of every virtue? Though I know one thing -- the Grace of the Holy Spirit has brought you to render me a service in time. Tell me, father, how are the Christian peoples living? And the kings? How is the Church guided?" Zosima said: "By your prayers, mother, Christ has granted lasting peace to all. But fulfill the unworthy petition of an old man and pray for the whole world and for me who am a sinner, so that my wanderings in the desert may not be fruitless." She answered: "You who are a priest, Abba Zosima, it is you who must pray for me and for all -- for this is your calling. But as we must all be obedient, I will gladly do what you ask." And with these words she turned to the East, and raising her eyes to heaven and stretching out her hands, she began to pray in a whisper.
Michelle9/6/2022 8:42 pm
While much can be said about the above article, including the assumption that the church has never changed (without regard to the traditions of the consecration of deaconesses, men being required to cut their hair as per St Paul, the financial support of widows by the church, etc.), that secularism / godlessness is new or unique, that the West "is based entirely on individualism", that 3rd wave "feminism" invalidates the reality of the equality of women and their ability to fully participate in the public sphere -- it is true that headscarves are indeed a beautiful tradition. Many of us gladly accept this pious practice of humility. When women are fully supported by men, there will be no competition with men. When women have modern examples of female leaders, heroes, and saints whom we can aspire to be, we will no longer imitate men. Thank you for your prayers.
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