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For 2000 years in the Orthodox Church, women of all ages would veil their hair during worship, whether at liturgy or at home during family prayer time. It is a practice that was “ought to be, not should be” practiced by all women. Nowadays, this custom has become less and less observed – except by older women in rural Eastern European communities or strict Russian parishes or when you go to the monastery. However, as Orthodox Christians, there ought to be no exceptions especially when you are in a faith that is helping you to achieve salvation.
In the Orthodox church, simply going to church and/or promising God or your priest large monetary donations guarantees salvation. It takes a more personal effort and struggle.
Headcoverings are not only worn by Muslim women. Headcoverings are not a sign of inferiority towards men. Headcoverings are also not a sign of superiority towards other women. Headcoverings, worn by Orthodox and Muslim women, are done so out of a spiritual freedom and individual choice with the exception of Muslim women in Saudia Arabia who are required to wear hijabs by law. You may have also heard how Orthodox Christian women wear headcoverings because it’s a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.
Growing up in my faith, I never wore a headscarf nor was it enforced in church. I still saw a few women, mostly older women, wearing them in various colors and styles to darker colors for Lent and brighter colors after Pascha and Pentecost to just wearing a small cap to cover the top of their hair. I never wore one at one point because I felt like I didn’t feel anymore pious wearing a headscarf than not wearing one. Plus, the moment I started wearing one, I attracted attention anyway and was told that “I didn’t have to wear this anymore.” These are not truths but common interactions, feelings and experiences I found today.
I noticed that those who did wear them were exceptionally devout to the Orthodox faith and seemed like very peaceful people. Once I started dating My Orthodox Gentleman (my fiancé, who will be known as My Orthodox Gentleman, or MOG for short, to protect his name and privacy) , we attended more services together and made more visits to the monastery. This was when I also revisited the thought of headscarves and whether I should start wearing one. Once I became closer to prayer and my spiritual life that I feel more connected in an indescribable but wonderful way with Jesus, Theotokos, the angels and the saints. To my honest opinion, I don’t feel it is necessary to wear a headscarf outside of church or sometimes even to Vespers. I will, however, wear one on Sunday mornings to Liturgy. Headcoverings have their rich, respective place in both the Old and New Testament which I am also going to share with you in this post.
Headcoverings in the Old Testament
We can reflect on Rebekah’s approach to modesty and respect to her husband Isaac in the Old Testament regarding headcoverings:
Then Rebekah lifted her eyes, and when she saw Isaac she dismounted from her camel; for she had said to the servant, “Who is this man walking in the field to meet us?”The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took a veil and covered herself.
Rebekah’s godly discretion and respect towards her husband is a model for women today. She chose not to flaunt her beauty. Rather, she veiled herself, creating an allure through modesty.
Headcoverings in the New Testament
It was St.Paul’s teachings that given us some reason for the practice. By wearing a headcovering, it’s been said in Scripture that the angels are with us when we pray and when we worship. Back then, if it was in Scripture, it was good enough for all women to follow in obedience.
Men, on the other hand, are not required to cover their heads – but to remove hats and caps while in prayer and worship.
A man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. (1 Corinthians 11:7)
The woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. (1 Corinthians 11:10)
Headcoverings in Orthodox Icons
Although we never worship Icons, they are a visual guide to our faith. Orthodox Icons are silent teachers about the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and about the lives of many other Christians who have gone before us. You will also notice that almost every woman saint, especially Mary, is wearing a headcovering. Orthodox women can look up to these women saints as role models.
Headcoverings for Today and Tomorrow
We still wear headcoverings today in obedience to God’s command for Scripture, and out of respect for the holy tradition of the Orthodox Church. They are worn during worship and family and personal time.
As women, we are called to live godly. Godly women come to church to focus on worship, not to draw attention to themselves or for others to draw attention to them. When a woman wears a headcovering, this temptation is removed. She can focus on prayer, instead of her new hairstyle. Putting on a headscarf saves the amount of time that it takes to style your hair which can be saved for after liturgy.