December 28, 2012

Orthodox Answer To a Question About head coverings, veil, 1 Cor 11:2-16 - Answer #1103

Orthodox Answer To a Question About head coverings, veil, 1 Cor 11:2-16 - Answer #1103

My Orthodox Study Bible is silent on the text contained in I Cor 11:2-16 and the thorny question of head covering. Can you help?


This text is indeed perceived as a "hot potato," (which may explain the absence of commentary on it) but it is actually quite straightforward: the universe is by nature and function hierarchical, and this the foundation of order in the universe. The angel are especially aware of this, which is why the liturgy (entrance) talks about "rank and orders of angels and archangels." To imitate Christ is also to recognize and embrace this order.
In the human family, there is a divine taxis or order: the head is the husband, and it is a headship of service, not tyranny.
In 1 Corinthians 11, St Paul teaches that in the church (in the assembly), women should wear on their heads a sign (a head covering) "because of the angels." Here is the full text in the EOB NT:
Be my imitators, even as I imitate Christ.
2Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things, and hold firm to the traditions as I delivered them to you. 3But I desire you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God. 4Every man praying or prophesying with his head covered dishonors his head. 5But every woman praying or prophesying with her head unveiled dishonors her head, and it is as if she were shaved. 6Indeed, if a woman does not wear a head covering,[1] she should be shaved; and if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, then let her be covered. 7Certainly, a man should not have his head covered, because he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. 8Man is not from woman, but woman from man; 9for man was not created for the woman, but woman for the man. 10For this cause, a woman should have [a sign of] authority[2] on her head, because of the angels.
11Nevertheless, in the Lord, a man is not independent from the woman, nor a woman independent from the man. 12For as woman came from man, so a man also comes [to life] through a woman; but all things are from God. 13Judge for yourselves: is it appropriate that a woman pray to God unveiled? 14Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him? 15But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her, because her hair is given to her as a covering. 16But if anyone wishes to dispute these things, we have no other custom[3], and neither do God’s Churches.

[1] Or “is not covered”
[2] Greek evxousi,an
[3] Or “we have no such custom”
The following passage is a very detailled comment by St John Chrysostom (who explains that the veil is not simply the hair but an actually veil) and the whole topic is often mentioned by the pre-Nicene fathers.
Basically, the universal custom in the early Churches was that women should have a head covering in church, and because "praying" can take place anywhere, this practice was generally extended to life in society. The reason was not cultural (Greek environment, etc) as is often claimed to render the text obsolete. Rather, the reference to "because of the angels" places it in the context of the cosmic hierarchy and the use of symbol of harmony. The veil was the sign of acceptance of the divine order that was approved and called for for women.
We can note in passing that men were not supposed to cover their head, with the possible exception of those in priestly ministry (in accordance with the Old Testament pattern), but even clergy today remove their head covering at particular times of worship and prayer. Likewise, it is clear from Scripture and tradition that men should not have long hair, except if there is (with the blessing of the bishop who is the authority) a specific vow of obedience and sacrifice attached to this practice.
The apostolic custom of wearing a head covering has been universal since New Testament times and was only challenged in particular areas, in recent years, for obvious cultural reasons.
It must be granted that this custom (and with it 1 Co 12 which is simply a witness to this often repeated practice) is quite 'outrageaous' by modern Western standards. In practice, in North America, the wearing of a head covering is not mandated or enforced in most parishes, but it is well-known that this is the ancient and universal custom of the holy churches and that one must make a personal (or family-wide decision) regarding these signs of acceptance of the divine order.

Answered on 8/30/2011 by Fr Laurent