FOR ORTHODOX CLERGY
In issue no. 6 of The Russian Pastor, an article by Archpriest Boris Kizenko,
"Do not associate yourself with this age," was printed. There he touched upon
the question of whether or not priests should wear their cassocks or riasa. I
would like to share a few thoughts on this matter.
Very often in the sphere of Church laws and traditions we, for one reason or
another, allow ourselves to compromise these laws. In our society today, the
reasons and circumstances for such compromises can seem very justifiable.
However, the danger lies in the fact that any compromise can become habitual,
and the compromised behavior then becomes the norm, giving rise to further
compromises and a general degradation of standards. Fr. Boris very aptly
describes this progression in his article. At a time when we are perhaps at risk
of completely losing the ideal in the realm of priestly attire, it is fitting to
review the Church rules and directives concerning the attire of a priest, as
well as look at some examples from contemporary life which shed light on this
The 27th Canon of the 6th Ecumenical Council states: "None who is
counted with the clergy should dress inappropriately, when in the city, nor when
traveling. Each should use the attire which was appointed for clergy members. If
someone breaks this rule, may he be deprived of serving for one week.
Here everything is clear. If you do not wish to
wear a priest's clothing, do not dare to stand before the altar of God.
2) The great interpreter of Church Canons, Balsamon, in his interpretation of
the 14th canon of the 7th Ecumenical Council, which speaks of the ordination of
readers, notes: "He who has put on black attire with the purpose of entering the
clergy, cannot remove it, for he has stated his intent of serving God and
therefore cannot break his promise to God and ridicule this holy image, as other
If constant wearing of "black attire" is expected
of the first rank of the priesthood,the reader, then all the more does it
refer to those who are fully in the rank of the priesthood.
3) In the questioning period of the candidate before the ordination, the
candidate to the priesthood, in the presence of his spiritual father makes the
following promise: "I promise to wear the clothing appropriate to my priestly
rank, not to cut my hair nor my beard... for through such unseemly behavior I
risk belittling my rank and tempting believers" (Promise #5).
It is important to note here that,
in confirmation of his promise the candidate kisses the Gospel and the Cross
and signs his name.
4) The 16th rule for the priests of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad says:
"A priest, who is fully supported by his parish, and is given the opportunity
not to work at a secular job, should have the appearance of an Orthodox priest,
that is, should have long hair, a beard, a riasa, wear a cross of a proper
style, and not one he has thought of himself and in his external appearance
fully exemplify a true pastor."
We must remember that if the
Church canons and laws were not important, the Church would not have written
The Matushka of one priest, who serves in one large American city, where
pagan and Satanic cults are rampant, told me of this incident: Batiushka always
wore either his cassock or riasa with his cross. After his arrival in the city,
he grew accustomed to the fact that, when walking along a street, or in stores,
some people reacted to him with hatred. Some even hissed at him openly as they
walked by, others would actually spit at him. All this Batiushka interpreted as
attacks of servants of Satan, upon a priest of Christ. Once it happened that he
and Matushka were walking along the sidewalk in the main business district of
the city. Suddenly, a woman who looked like a witch jumped out in front of him.
She started to scream at him with a frightening voice of a sickly cat, and
gestured threateningly with her arms, as if she wanted to scratch out his eyes.
Then she immediately disappeared into the crowd. The priest and his wife made
the sign of the cross and continued on their way, having grown accustomed to
such occurrences. But then Matushka realized something. This time, for some
reason, Batiushka was in secular attire. Nothing in his external appearance
showed that he was an Orthodox priest. Even his long hair and beard were nothing
exceptional in contemporary circumstances.
It is clear that a priest in a
spiritual plane is always a priest, even when he is not dressed properly. The
evil powers feel this and most probably are pleased with our "compromises".
A certain priest decided to have a photograph of himself made. He put on his
coat and hat. For some reason he was embarrassed to be photographed with a cross
on. He took the cross off and put it into his left coat pocket. The photograph
was taken, developed and printed. To the amazement of both the photographer and
the priest, on the photograph there was a huge ray (by shadows one can see that
this ray is not from the sun), which pointed to the pocket, where the hidden
cross lay. Batiushka asked to have this published after his death.
In a small parish of the Russian Church Abroad, because of the size of the
congregation, the rector holds a secular job. He works as a nurse in a local
hospital. I was certain that he removes his cassock when he goes to work.
However to my surprise, I discovered that this Batiushka works in his
cassock, putting a lab coat on top of it. This is regarded with respect by both
medical personnel and the patients. Often many patients even request that the
"priest-nurse" take care of them.
Concerned about the question, "should and can a priest possible always wear a
cassock?", I began asking the grown children of elderly or deceased pastors,
whether or not their fathers always wore a cassock. Almost everyone has answered
in the affirmative, recalling that they rarely saw their father-priest without a
cassock. There are even cases where the children said that they never saw their
father without a cassock. This means that the requirement of the Church is
possible to fulfill with God's help. One only needs to try.
Traditional appearance of an Orthodox Priest the attire and grooming which he
should maintain at all times, both in public and private is a matter of
canonical regulation. The Sacred Canons of the Church reflect the proper
functioning and life of the Body of Christ; they are not simply laws and rules,
but guides to the life in Christ and patterns by which to accommodate the action
of the Holy Spirit to our daily activities. They are inspired and binding on all
who live in spiritual sobriety and uprightness. And though they are enforced by
men one of the clear duties of the clergy, and especially the Bishops, is, in
fact, to uphold canonical order, they are nonetheless Divinely inspired. The
Sacred Canons are also an integral part of Holy Tradition, which, together with
Scripture, forms the ground of administrative authority on which our Faith is
The inner and outer cassocks traditionally worn by Orthodox clergy are, to
the pious, objects of tremendous respect and veneration. Anyone who considers
them "weird" is unenlightened. Nor does anything appointed by the Church,
enveloped as it is in Grace, impede our witness as Orthodox Christians.
Ignorance or simple bigotry account for instances in
which clergymen are ridiculed for dressing in a traditional manner, and the
treatment for ignorance and bigotry is not the abandonment of our customs, but,
once again, the enlightenment of those who ridicule us. Moreover, our
traditional Orthodox clerical dress witnesses openly to the Grace of the
Priesthood. Many times our own clergy, who maintain such dress, encounter young
children who, yet untainted by the vanity of the world, will turn to their
parents and remark, "Look, its Jesus."
Such incidents speak for themselves and attest to the importance and nature
of Orthodox Priestly attire. The idea that the traditional dress of an Orthodox
Priest has it roots in Turkish vesture whether secular or religious is a
contrived piece of historical fantasy that has often been used to justify
contemporary innovations in clerical garb.
Under the Turkish yoke, certain changes in cut and style can be observed in
monastic and Priestly dress, but these are insignificant. Our clerical styles
predate the Moslem yoke, and indeed it was from the Desert Fathers, who
inhabited many of the areas where Islam first flourished, that the Islamic
clergy took many of their customs from the robes that they wear to the minarets
(which are modeled on the structures in which the ancient Stylites lived and
prayed, that is, "pillars" with a small cubicle on top).
The round white collar, bib, and business suit which you call "Roman
Catholic" clerical dress is neither Roman Catholic in origin nor much more than
normal street garb with a special collar. Papist priests, like Orthodox clergy,
dressed in cassocks and special headgear well into this century. Only in the
last few decades have they adopted what is actually Protestant clerical clothing
or simply street clothes.
As for the issue of deposition, let us note, first, that Orthodox clergy
have, indeed, been suspended and even deposed for abandoning traditional
clerical dress. St. Evalalios, a predecessor of St. Basil the Great in the See
of Cappadocia, deposed his own son for abandoning traditional Priestly garments
for "unsuitable" attire.