Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Orthodox Christian Modesty

In our faith we take humility very seriously. One of our most common prayers is "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner." We praise the thief on the cross for his confession of faith and the publican who beat his breast and asked for God's mercy. We revere monastics, who give up everything to follow Christ and even more so, saints, who gave everything, even their own lives, for Christ's sake.

Our worship of God is solemn, to say the least. It is generally understood that there is to be no talking during the liturgy, that our every movement should be done with reverence and that our minds and hearts should be turned toward God especially at this time. Orthodox Christians will not even cross their legs in church, so as not to look casual and relaxed when they are supposed to be giving God their full attention.

All of this mindfulness is part of maintaining a modest and humble attitude. The Orthodox Christian faith teaches that in order to worship God, we must first put aside our earthly cares, vanity and pride. It is good to see Christian believers worshiping God reverently and also treating those who are worshiping with them reverently. I believe this type of humility reflects the love of God in Christ and the teachings of the Holy Scriptures.

A challenge we face is that our modern culture, especially in the west, is highly irreverent, overly casual and does not value meekness or humility.  Consequently, there is a lot of pressure, overt and otherwise, to conform to what is socially "normal." This affects us on many levels, but I would like to focus on how it affects the way we choose to dress and carry ourselves.

We can easily forget that certain clothing, although socially acceptable, is not appropriate for Christians to wear. And Christians really need to be careful not to compromise their morals for the sake of dressing fashionably, especially when they are choosing what to wear to church.

I have found that it is generally agreed upon by Orthodox Christians that wearing shorts to church is unacceptable. You just never see it. Therefore, even on the hottest days, the men in church will be wearing long pants. Now, we women have an advantage in that we can wear dresses and skirts.  The sad thing I see all too often is that women are not being mindful of the length of their skirts and honestly...they'd be better to just wear shorts in that case!

I know it's not the 1800's anymore and no one expects a woman to cover herself from the top of her neck to the tips of her toes.  Nonetheless, I think it is more than reasonable to expect a skirt to show no more than a woman's knee.  Ladies, I'll be blunt: we don't want to see your thighs in church. It's distracting for everyone. It's just as distracting as if a man were to show up in shorts and a tank top.

I've written about modesty before, and I wish to openly address this issue again. I beg you, Orthodox Christians that as you are being mindful of your life, to pray and fast and give alms, be mindful about letting the clothing you wear reflect a humble heart. Do it out of your personal desire to honour God, as well as out of respect for those around you.

© Photo: Borja Santos - http://www.rnw.nl/africa


  1. It is generally understood that there is to be no talking during the liturgy, ....

    Tell that to every Greek Orthodox church I have attended all of my life. ;)

    I put in a winking smiley face, so you know I'm being a bit jocular, but talking quietly in church, except during certain portions of the Liturgy, has been broadly acceptable in most of my experience (for all of my life), and I say this as someone who, for instance, sat for years next to an old woman who was intensely religious and raised by a monk (her uncle) in Greece: she often leaned over and whispered this or that to me. Often, I'll grant, something about the service, but she was as God-fearing as they come, and she chatted me up many a time.

    But I get away with myself. Chattering more noisily or at inopportune times can be an issue, and I surely don't disagree with you on the matter of reverence in this and other areas. The young and middle-aged folk in city churches I know do not all dress as they should--and, what's far more distressing, a good many parents leave their kids at church but do not attend themselves. I've noticed also, though (and this is just my experience, of course) that in the countryside here in Ohio, in parishes where the clergy and laity are more converts (as opposed to the immigrant and lifelong Orthodox I know far better in the city), these details of modesty and liturgical rigor are observed more closely. I don't take those facts (country and converts) to be mere coincidences. Also worth noting one of those country churches was part of a monastery, and no doubt that was significant in that instance.

    It has always been discomforting to be, say, sitting in the hall after services with some fellow parishioners and see one of their 13-year-old daughters, dressed like she's ready to hit the night clubs, come strolling along. Well, at least one can say the parent was in church too in such a case, rather than just having dropped the scantily clad kid off. I think a great many people don't take church overall (as well as certain of these "particulars") very seriously unless someone is being born, getting married, or on the brink of death, and that's no merely contemporary issue.

  2. P.S.: lengthy, rambling, and generally useless comments happen, when it's late and I'm not quite ready for bed. Ελέησόν με, τον αμαρτωλόν.

  3. no no, rambling is much appreciated! I agree with you that appropriate whispering is acceptable, but it should not distract from the liturgy. I have to whisper to my children frequently, for example, but this is mainly to tell them what's happening, or correct their behaviour.

  4. Thank you for your gracious reply. After I posted, I thought I'd been a bit of a blowhard. Why, perhaps even a windbag! You have eased my distress. :)