Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Why Beards?

Q & A with Fr Job, installment VII:
Question: Why are Orthodox priests required to wear beards? Is there something about this in the Bible?

Answer: The practice of Orthodox priests to wear a beard goes back to Old Testament tradition. In the Bible there is this definition: And the Lord said unto Moses, Speak unto the priests the sons of Aaron, and say unto them... They shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard (Lev. 21:1,5). It was forbidden not only to shave, but even to cut the beard, inasmuch as was this was the custom in pagan mourning rides.
The above photograph is of the Elder Joachim of St. Anna's Skete. Here is an account concerning the length of his beard, taken from the book Contemporary Ascetics of Mount Athos by Archimandrite Cherubim:
We must not omit saying a few words about Fr. Joachim’s rare and exceptional beard.

When he lived in America, he observed with sorrow the modernist spirit which had begun to affect even ecclesiastical matters. He saw [Orthodox] priests who thought they could function better in society if they departed from Orthodox tradition. In that worldly atmosphere, Fr. Joachim behaved courageously. He couldn’t stand to see Orthodox priests taking off their precious rason or cutting their hair and beard. It is worth noting that before being tonsured, he made the following prayer to the Mother of God:

“Most Holy Theotokos, when I become a priest, please give me long hair and beard, so that I will look like the priests in my country.“

The Mother of God did not deny him his supplication, but fulfilled his desire abundantly. As we stated earlier, the Americans wondered at his imposing appearance and his long, full beard. When he finally journeyed to Mount Athos, an astonishing thing happened. His beard grew and lengthened all the way down to his legs – a phenomenon very rare even in his fatherland. We attributed this to the prayer he made (to look like a priest) to the Mother of God. In order to move freely and restrain the remarks of others, he was forced to carry his beard in a sack tied around his neck.

In his latter years, the fathers asked him to be photographed with his priestly vestments and beard. At first he wouldn’t do it, but after being asked a second time by the fathers, he gave in. The photograph was saved, and can be seen at the end of the text.

14 comments:

Papa John said...

Dear Father,

XB!

There is a happy little typo near the beginning of your post: priests do "bear" the burdens of their flock, but I do not think that is what Fr Job means. ;>)

Enjoying your posts, as always.

fj in gb

Anonymous said...

I am not sure that I understand. Are we still required to fulfill the law? and if with beards, why not with other things such as ritual purity (now spiritual purity)and circumcision (spiritual circumcision)? Why only selective things from the OT? and not others? Thanks in advance for your patience and understanding.

Stephen

Felix Culpa said...

Fr Job's point is not so much that we need to continue to fulfill the Law, but rather that a symbolic foreshadowing of our present practice can be seen in the Old Testament.

Suzi said...

Someone asked this question of +SERAPHIM (Storheim) (OCA) and his answer was that:
1. God gives men facial hair, which must mean that He wishes men to have facial hair, so who are we to shave it off?
2. Clergy beards are also a sign of continuity with our Jewish spiritual predecessors.

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