CONCERNING THE TRADITION OF LONG HAIR AND BEARDS FOR PRIESTS

Anyone looking at photographs and portraits of clergy in Greece, Russia, Georgia, Rumania, Turkey, Libanon, Palestine and other Orthodox countries taken in the early twentieth century will notice that almost without exception both the monastic and married clergy, priests and deacons, wore untrimmed beards and hair.


Only after the First World War do we observe a new, modernistic look, cropped hair and beardless clergy, protestant (or actual secular) attire with ”dog” collars. This “fashion”, (initially caused by hostility toward clerics from communists ,polish nationalists ,atheists and Turkish freemasons and initially practized by the clergy of the so called “Living Church” sect in Soviet Russia ) has been continued among some of our clergy, and even spreads in our own days. If one were to investigate this phenomenon in terms of a single clergyman whose life spanned the greater part of our century one would probably notice his style modernize from the first photographs up through the last.



There are two definitely invaluable reasons given as an explanation for this change: it is

said, "One must conform with fashion, we cannot look like peasants!" Or even more absurd, "My wife will not allow it!". Such reasoning is the "dogmatic" line of modernists who either desire to imitate contemporary fashion (if beards are "in," they wear beards, if beards are "out," they shave), or ecumenically minded, not wanting to offend clergy in denominations outside the Orthodox Church or just by simple ignorance. The other reason is based on a misunderstood passage of Holy Scripture where Saint Paul states, Both not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? (I Cor. 11:14) In answer to the first justification, Orthodox tradition directly condemns and contradicts Modernism and Ecumenism. It is necessary however to deal in more detail with the argument that bases its premise on Holy Scripture.

Orthodox Christian piety begins in the Holy Tradition of the Old Testament and passes trough the New Testament in to the history of the Church. Our relationship to the Lord God, holiness, worship, and morality was formed already in the ancient times of the Bible. At the time of the foundation of the priesthood the Lord gave the following commandments to the priests during periods of mourning, “And ye shall not shave your head for the dead [a pagan practice] with a baldness on the top; and they shall not shave their beard... (Lev. 21: 5), and to all men in general, Ye shall not make a round cutting of the hair of your head, nor disfigure your beard (Lev. 19:27). The significance of these commandments is to illustrate that the clergy are to devote themselves completely to serving the Lord. That is why the rules of the church apply especially to clergy that do not need a secular job in order to support their family and themselves. Laymen as well are called to a similar service though without the priestly functions. This outward appearance as a commandment was repeated in the law given to the Nazarene, a razor shall not come upon his head, until the days be fulfilled which he vowed to the Lord: he shall be holy, cherishing the long hair of the head all the days of his vow to the Lord... (Numbers 6:5-6).


The significance of the Nazarene vow was a sign of God's power resting on the person who made it. To cut off the hair meant to cut off God's power as in the example of Samson (see Judges 16:17-19). The strength of these pious observances, transmitted to the New Testament Church, were observed without question till our present times of willfulness and the apostasy resulting from it.

Why, one might ask, do those Orthodox clergymen, while rejecting the above pious ordinances about hair, continue to observe the custom of granting various head coverings to clergy, a practice which also has its roots in the ancient ordinances of the Old Testament (cf. Ex. 24:4-6) and the tradition of the early Church (see Eusebius and Epiphanius of Cyprus concerning the miters worn by the Apostles John and James)? The answer only can be willfulness solely based on wits.


The Apostle Paul himself wore his hair long as we can conclude from the following passage where it is mentioned that "head bands," in Slavonic, and "towels" touched to his body were placed on the sick to heal them. The "head bands" indicate the length of his hair (in accordance with pious custom for those that dedicated themselves wholeheartedly to the Lord) which had to be tied back in order to keep it in place (cf. Acts 19:12). The historian Egezit writes that the Apostle James, the head of the church in Jerusalem, never cut his hair (Christian Reading, Feb. 1898, p.142, [in Russian]). The rediscovering of the Holy Shroud in Edessa, on which the impression of the entire body of Our Lord became visible, confirms that Our Lord and Redeemer had long hairs and a long beard. It was after this discovery that Eastern Roman law granted the privilege to the Clergy and the Emperor and his Servants to wear long hair. The emperor as an anointed Icon of Christ in representing Him as the Ruler of “The Kingdom” , the clergy as anointed Icons of Christ representing Him as the “Saviour of souls”.

If the pious practice among clergy and laity in the Christian community was to follow the example of the Old Testament, how then are we to understand the words of Saint Paul to the Corinthians cited earlier (I Cor. 11:14)? Saint Paul in the cited passage is addressing men and woman who are praying (cf. I Cor. 11:3-4). His words in the above passages, as well as in other passages concerning head coverings (cf. I Cor. 11: 4-7), are directed to laymen, not clergy. In other passages Saint Paul makes an obvious distinction between the clerical and lay rank (cf. I Cor. 4:1, I Tim. 4:6, Col. 1:7, and others). He did not oppose the Old Testament ordinance in regard to hair and beards since, as we have noted above, he himself observed it, as did Our Lord Himself , Who is depicted on all occasions with long hair and beard as the Great High Priest of the new Christian priesthood. The fact that the length of the beard variates because of the personal interpretation of painters and the time they live in does not change the principle. In Orthodoxy the canon protects the basic outline of how Our Saviour should be represented.

In our passage noted previously, Both not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? (I Cor. 11:14) Saint Paul uses the Greek word for "hair." This particular word for hair designates hair as an a ornament (the notion of length being only secondary and suggested), differing from the anatomical or physical term for hair. Saint Paul's selection of words emphasizes his criticism of laymen wearing their hair in a stylized fashion, which was contrary to pious Jewish and Christian love of modesty. We note the same approach to hair as that

of Saint Paul in the 96th canon of the Sixth Ecumenical Council where it states: "Those therefore who adorn and arrange their hair to the detriment of those who see them, that is by cunningly devised intertwinings, and by this means put a bait in the way of unstable souls".

The Western Roman and secular/pagan tradition of cutting hair and beard (now Roman Catholic) was also practiced for some centuries for the simple reason that the prototype for all icons of Christ, the burial Shroud of Our Lord, was hidden during those centuries in the wall of the city of Edessa. Although very few icons survived the period of iconoclastic rule, we still can find some representations were Christ was depicted as a roman beardless youngster. The Church corrected this misrepresentation consequently in the succeeding centuries.

In another source, The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, we read the following concerning the Old Testament practice: "To an extent, hair style was a matter of fashion, at least among the upper classes, who were particularly open to foreign [pagan] influence. Nevertheless, long hair appears to have been the rule among the Hebrews (cf. Ezek. 8:3), both men and women" (cf. Cant 4:1; 7:5). Thus we observe that cropped or stylized hair and baldly shaven faces was the fashion among the pagans and not acceptable, especially among the Christian clergy from most ancient times up to our contemporary break with Holy Tradition. It is interesting to note that the fashion of cropped or stylized hair and shaved faces found its way into the Roman Catholic and Protestant worlds, for reasons noted before. So important had this pagan custom become for Roman clergy by the 11th Century that it was listed among the reasons for the Anathema pronounced by Cardinal Humbert on July 15, 1054 against Patriarch Michael in Constantinople which precipitated the Western Church's final falling away from the Orthodox Church: "While wearing beards and long hair you [Eastern Orthodox] reject the bond of brotherhood with the Roman clergy, since they shave and cut their hair."

Saint Nikolai (Velimirovic) an Serbian Orthodox Bishop and close friend of Saint Ioan

(Maximovitch) (consequently bishop of Shanghai, Brussels and San Francisco) , gave a priest an answer that stresses another aspect of clergy-apparel and external aspect


You, reverend father NN, uttered the opinion that the clerical dress, beard and hair are trivialities. You are surprised that our hierarchy occupy themselves with these, in your opinion, trivial matters. Further you stress the importance of the introduction of reforms touching the outward appearance and behavior of priests. How these trivialities concord with the importance of reforms? Every friend of the Church should ask himself : why the officers of the earthly king and his government officials do not oppose to their uniforms , why the border-police and the custom-

officers to not protest, neither the military, the nurses and doctors, the conductors and controlling officers in public transport?

They wear their prescribed clothing obviously without complaints and they behave themselves as may be expected of them by law and common sense. How come that only some :”officers “ of the Heavenly King are hindered or embarrassed by their uniform and by the expectance of exemplary behavior as the Church and it's flock may expect from them (ed. as written on the backside of every Russian priest-cross)?

Considering the faithful, they may expect from their priests to be dressed in clerical robe with beard and long hair, all other argumentation become superfluous. For the faithful it is unpleasant to see their “father” in a business-suit ,shortly cut hair and shaven! Alone for this reason any kind of reform in these matters needs urgently to be stopped for they scandalize the faithful.

The criterion in this matter is composed by the perception of the faithful flock ,living in the tradition of the Church, and by it's opinion and not by the taste of any individual priest. Besides if a beard and long hair does not bother poets, politicians, judges , artists and even the leaders of political parties, why should they bother the priest of Christ, the spiritual fathers and pastors of the flock of Christ?

Blessed Hieronymus wrote, with a certain measure of irony, about the priests in his time , being preoccupied by their physical appearance :” I am somewhat embarrassed to tell, but there are people seeking the honor and position of priests or deacons with the aim of being able to converse freely with other women. They are mainly concerned with their dress and hair behaving like newly-wed, wearing costly rings with precious stones and walking barely touching the earth , carefully not to stain their clothes.

In the old times the beard was the outward mark of philosophers , but due to the growing number of charlatans Caesar issued an Ukase that all of them had to be shaven. Epictetus, a great philosopher in that time answered upon hearing about this Ukase: “ Caesar may cut my head but never my beard”. Behold which importance he gave to the outward sign of his calling.

It is all trivialities , you say. Yes trivialities without doubt. In comparison with the spirit and mind of the Christian his clothing and beard are not the essentials. But our whole life consists out of the trivial and the essential. Our faith is so weak and precious that trivialities may harm or support it. The reasonable and faithful flock may expect that the pastors amongst them are visible as such in their outward appearance. Why opposing this?

The roman catholic missionaries in China, having studied the (Chinese) mind to whom they announce their message, are not embarrassed by wearing a long plait (braid), long Chinese kaftans and wide trousers under them. Why you Christ-loving priests oppose yourselves against the outward likeness of Christ ,teaching as such the faithful in your example and in your wording causing “for the sake of trivialities” doubts, weakening by this the essential in spiritual growth and life.

(ed: The mentality, accused by saint Nikolai, developed itself since then only worse, and became accepted by those faithfull toward whom these priests transferred their mentality, insights and spirituality. From “trivialities” the matter started to affect the lives of the flock feeling justified in their particular aggorniamento (compromises with the world) by the example and mind-set of their pastors. After the fall of communism this started also to affect the Russian Orthodox Church )

Adapted from the text of Igumen Luke Footnotes:

1) Joseph Thayer D. D., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 354. 2) A. C. Myers ed., The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, p.455 3) The Rudder, tranS. D. Cummings, p.403.

4) N. N. Voekov, The Church, Russia, and Rome, (in Russian), p. 98.


Среди священнослужителей, которые помогали Патриарху Кириллу проводить 15 сентября литургию, стоял человек очень похожий на депутата Луганского областного совета. Никаких сведений о том, имеет ли Гончаров священный сан, не было. Однако именно он в одежде священника находился на богослужении в числе священнослужителей, окружавших Патриарха РПЦ.

            St. Petersburg All clerical Diocesan Football-club , Whats-up man!


Cостав сборной Санкт-Петербургской епархии по футболу:

1. Клирик Спасо-Пребраженского собора протоиерей Михаил Стрельников, 1972.

2. Ключарь Николо-Богоявленского собора иерей Андрей Грозовский, 1982.

3. Настоятель храма святого мученика Иоанна Воина в поселке Верево иерей Глеб Грозовский.

4. Настоятель храма святых жен-мироносиц иерей Георгий Христич, 1982.

5. Клирик храма святителя Николая Чудотворца на Большеохтинском кладбище протодиакон Максим Симонов, 1978.

6. Клирик храма святого великомученика Георгия Победоносца в Купчино диакон Тимофей Ивашкин, 1982.

7. Руководитель молодежного клуба "Встреча" при храме Успения Божией Матери на Малой Охте, чтец Евгений Зинченко, 1986.

8. Псаломщик собора святой великомученицы Екатерины в Царском Селе Александр Метелица, 1979.

9. Генеральный директор компании RI Construction Engineering, менеджер команды Руслан Цупка, 1974.



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