I’m So Vain

  In the Handmaiden Magazine of Winter 1997, there was an article by Father Lawrence Farley called “‘Judge for Yourselves’: Women and the Veil.” I read it ages ago and don’t have a copy of it to refer to right now, so I can’t give you an accurate synopsis. But basically, Fr. Farley seems to have been advocating the wearing of the veil as a way of affirming a woman’s dignity and worth. He envisions it as one element in a possible Orthodox counter-culture.

Anyway, I have in front of me an interesting letter that appeared in response to that article from an anonymous priest in Connecticut. Here it is, in its entirety (Handmaiden Magazine, if reprinting this is troublesome, let me know!):

Dear Editor,

I wish to commend Fr. Lawrence Farley & Elisabet the authors of articles on the Orthodox practice of covering one’s head during worship. The small offerings which we make are a continuous sign of our love for God. I was quite surprised by the editorial letters you received. Wearing a head covering is still practiced in most “Orthodox” countries and in many traditional “Catholic” countries.

I am not a chauvinist. I am a husband, a father, and an Orthodox priest who found himself put into a quite similar situation. I recently decided to become one of those “lnog-haired, pony-tailed men” as was stated in a recent editorial letter. I also found interesting reactions from clergy and laity alike. You see, I used to be the G.Q. priest — toned, tanned, and trim. I wish I had a camera to catalogue the reactions I’ve gotten.

The reasons for growing my hair and beard are my own. Spiritually, it was my offering of humility to God — from one who is vain and prideful. No matter, it still proves a point. There are much deeper spiritual problems within “American” Orthodoxy.

I commend you. Learn from the past — look to the Holy Spirit which guides your heart and continue to discover the rich, pious traditions which still exist in Orthodoxy. Shame on those who would tell you otherwise.

This gets to the crux of what appeals to me about the headcovering issue. Most American Orthodox priests, as I understand it, refrain from advocating full-time headcovering or even requiring headcovering during services, feeling that female headcovering was a practice of the past, a cultural thing rather than a biblically mandated thing. And I’m good with that. Though I respect my Protestant sisters who interpret I Corinthians 11:2-16 as instruction to refrain from cutting their hair or to cover it full-time, I’m with our priests on this one. I’m not convinced.

However, just because covering your head isn’t mandatory doesn’t mean it’s not a good thing. Another letter to the editor in the Summer ’97 issue of Handmaiden (this from Donna Farley in British Columbia) extols the use of a headcovering in church as a way to resist the temptation of vanity. If wearing a headcovering humbles you or tempers your vanity or reminds you to think of God, all of those seem to me to be very, very good things.

(the turban shown on mannequins is a Topsy Turbans available from Intimate Image)

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2 thoughts on “I’m So Vain

  1. Kristin – so glad you’re posting on this topic. I’ve been wearing something on my head to church for about 4 yrs now. Usually it’s a black mantilla, sometimes a scarf or another type of veil. I am the only one in my church who does this, and I get many weird look, but I feel naked without it. For me, it’s a reverent thing to do. I am in the presence of Christ in the Divine Service!

  2. I met a woman at a Orthodox women’s retreat this weekend (at my church: http://www.stjohngoc.org)who had a great snoodish covering. She covers full-time and believes herself to be one of the few Orthodox women in the U.S. who do so. If other Orthodox full-time coverers stumble across this, let us know you’re out there?

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