Orthodox Worship



Dear Father,
      What is the proper attire for going to Church?

     When I was given a list of about 20 topics to choose from, the one on proper attire in church stood out, as this has been of recent interest at St. Joseph's. This topic overlaps with the appearance of the clergy and with deportment in church in general. 

    When catechumens are being instructed in the Faith, they are told (at least by me), to begin fasting a little at a time. For example, for the first Lent, abstain from meat alone. For the second Lent, from meat and dairy, etc.. We do not hit them with everything at once! The spiritual father will discern if they can do more. Above all, we must refrain from judging others. It is wonderful to be zealous for the Faith  -  but there is also a "zeal without knowledge" (Rom. 10:12). This is a temptation for some of us. 

    Not many months ago, a young woman came to the church for the first time. At the petition, "Catechumens, depart, all catechumens depart", a well meaning but misguided person told the young woman she should leave the service. She did so, and she never came back! This injunction is for the formal catechumens who have expressed a desire to be baptized, not for the person who comes off the street! 


    Is it appropriate for us, before we welcome someone to our church, to make a comment on how they are to be dressed? How about waiting until after the service, getting them a cup of coffee, and after  a warm welcome saying: "It is our custom for women to wear skirts or dresses in church, but, of course, you didn't know". Save such comments for after the service, do not interrupt the worship for the visitor (or yourself) by making a comment during the worship. 

    As with fasting, (and any discipline), one must work slowly, perhaps for months, in living up to the standards of the Church. Women should not wear make-up or adorn themselves with jewelry. According to the Holy Canons, these things distort the image of God which is meant to shine through us. By using extraordinary means to make our bodies attractive, we only enhance our egos. One can being slowly, removing some make-up and jewelry, and avoid excessive grooming. These rules apply equally to men as well as women. 

    According to St. Paul, women should cover their heads. Men should wear their best clothes to church. The church is not a dance hall, but the palace of a King. While it is not necessary to wear a ties, jeans and running shoes are inappropriate. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. If I have to choose between coming to church in my work clothes, or not coming at all, I should, or course, come to church.  
    "Women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with sobriety,
    not with braided hair, or gold, or costly array." (1 Tim. 2:9)
    "Every woman that prayeth with her head uncovered
    dishonoreth her head." (1 Cor. 11:10)
    It was becoming to a woman at the time this was written, to have a covered head, and not common for a Christian woman to pray without a head covering. That was seen to make her like the pagan priestesses who prayed bareheaded. She is even to be an example for the angels.    


    Priests and other Orthodox clergymen are unjustified in cutting their hair in the modern style, considered to be a desecration of the head that led to Samson's loss of strength and power. Of course, if the clergy have secular employment that requires shortened hair, they may tie their hair back. With regard to shaving, the Old Testament, the Church Fathers, ahd the Holy Canons forbid a clergyman to cut his beard. The priest should be an icon of Christ, of the Prophets, and of the Fathers to his people. This is why he wears a robe, long hair and a beard. 

Photios Kontoglou says:

    "With reverence, contrition, and love, men and women of God bow and Kiss the hand of bearded clergy, and make their cross before, and kiss the icons of the bearded God-Man, the bearded Prophets, Apostles, Saints and other holy persons."
    As long as we never forget, as Shakespeare says somewhere:  "The habit maketh not the monk." It is only an external of something far greater. 


    Children are the future of the Church. The 'New Calendarists' are frantic about the decrease in church attendance among the young. It is not difficult to explain this. Pews, relaxed fasts, and self indulgence have taken their toll. A comfortable religion breeds comfortable people, comfortable people eventually find the discomforts and trials of a real faith too difficult. 

    As our convert Orthodox in North America now try to raise a generation of "cradle" Orthodox themselves, they should learn from the mistakes of the 'New Calendarists'. From a young age, children should be taught to stand still in church, to fast, and to be at services even though they miss social events. They should be taught faith that costs, that is demanding. Unless something is costly to us, it will not be held precious by us. Children will come to value their faith. Churches in which children leave the Liturgy for 'Sunday School' or, in which children are allowed to run wild during services do not have a future, and should be concerned about their survival. 


    When we go to church, we enter into a bigger community and a larger family that the one at home. In our churches, we do not only not have ' family pews', (which I remember from my childhood), we have no pews at all. We do  not stand together as families in church, leaving those who have no families even more isolated and alone. In the context of the church, we are all one family, all brothers and sisters in the Faith. Further, when in church we look forward to the life of the age to come, to the Resurrection, wherein "they neither marry, nor are given in marriage," (Matt. 22:30), according to the word of the Saviour Himself. 

    So, standing apart, on opposite sides of the church, is an expression of that hope, and a looking forward to the life of the Age to come, which we reiterate in the last phrase of the Nicene Creed. For these reasons, men stand on the right side of the church, and women on the left. It is not, as I have heard it explained, so that men can look at the Saviour's icon, and women can look at that of the Theotokos!


    We should know that the Church has a reason and an order for everything, whether it is immediately apparent to us or not. Nothing in church is done without a reason. If we do not understand it, we should seek to educate ourselves. That is the purpose of these few words. 

"Pride does not permit a man to accept the teaching handed down by Tradition."
(St. Ephraim the Syrian)

Answer provided by
Father David Belden