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Sunday, March 13, 2005

Orthodox Clergy and Beards


An Orthodox priest

Why do Orthodox clergy wear beards? Is this compulsory or a matter of choice? Does it vary from one jurisdiction to another?

4 comments:

Aristibule said...

A local council in the East directed Byzantine clergy and monastics to wear beards. I believe it is a continuation of the Semitic custom (ie, Hebrew/Israelite) while the Western allowed for the Roman custom of shaving (as do the laity in the Roman East). In Russia the local custom was that even the laymen have beards. Why? One is that the body not be 'mutilated', secondly that a man not appear effeminate, and thirdly that a priest or monk is iconic of Christ, and Christ had a beard (at least during the last part of his Earthly ministry - we know when depicted as a youth, child, or infant, then he is without beard.)

So - rather than 'compulsory', I think it would be better to say that it is 'normative' in following that canon. Shaved Byzantine clergy are only normal in North America, which has some negative cultural baggage attached to beards at the moment (us younger generations are over that, I think.) Outside of OCA, the Antiochian and Greek Archdioceses in the USA, I doubt one would see many shaven faces (though I've seen a few shaven ROCOR clergy.) Even many Western Rite Orthodox (particularly of the English or American use) have trimmed beards, I've even seen some of the Roman/Gregorian use with beards: but just as many shaved.

I think it is the same sort of issue as monastic tonsures: we have various customs according to various local councils in different places (so, long hair in the east, shaved crown in the west, and obsolete uses such as the completely shaved head in the Middle East or the front shaved head after the Insular usage.)

Ille said...

In Transylvania (where I come from) beards are uncommon among Orthodox priests. Even bishops have only trimmed beards.
Another difference from other regions would be that Orthodox priests there, wear rather a Western-shaped cassock, than those large Oriental {Greek) robes
worn elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

I must admit, the long and shaggy beard is a bit off-putting for an uninformed Westerner like myself. Trimmed beards are much nicer. Isn't it strange how few men have beards... Rowan Williams' is a tad too long for me, but at least it's neat and tidy.

Constantine Argiris said...

Actually, Orthodox priests do not shave their beards because Orthodox Christianity teaches us that vanity and the desire for physical perfection is a temptation by the devil designed to turn us away from God. Orthodox Christianity is a faith that is almost like a discipline and requires a strong devotion to the spiritual rather than physical. It is out of humility that Orthodox priests wear their hair and beards long.