Why I Choose to Wear a Headcovering in my Orthodox Christian Church

Almost three years ago, I started attending the Orthodox Christian Church as an inquirer and then a catechumen.  I really wanted to wear a headcovering to church but felt a bit of trepidation at the time since many at my church did not wear one.  At that time, I stumbled across an article on OrthodoxInfo that reinforced my sentiment (http://orthodoxinfo.com/praxis/headcoverings.aspx) and provided me with more courage to wear one to church. I thought that it might be helpful at this time for me to share my own reasons for wearing a headcovering for anyone else in the same situation.  Because the reasons are varied and not all related, I thought it would be best to put in list form.  Also, please note that when I speak of headcovering, I am not talking about a full body covering or something that covers the face, but a scarf or such draped over the head, etc.  Also, please note that I am not a theologian or an expert on this topic.  (The scripture where this topic is mentioned in The Bible is 1 Corinthians 11: 2 -16).

Why I Choose to Wear a Headcovering in Church

1)   When I was a young girl and wanted to play dress up and be a princess, gypsy, little red riding hood, or any other fanciful thing,  I would drape a blanket over my head.  How wonderful it was when I learned that yes, Christians (the first Christian women!) wore headcoverings and the Orthodox Church still has that tradition today!   I no longer had to look at the beautiful religious costumes of those from other traditions such as Islam and Hindu with a bit of envy…my own tradition included a beautiful headcovering!  While some women in the American culture associate the headcovering only with Islam, it interesting to note that Christianity started 600 years prior to Islam.  We believe that the law of God is written on mens’ hearts (Romans 2: 14-15), so I don’t think its a coincidence that many cultures have a headcovering for women, especially for times of ceremony.

2) Even in the Hollywood media, the headcovering is sometimes used and to me seems to convey strength and femininity.  Media figures such as Grace Kelly and Jackie Kennedy Onassis can often be seen photographed with headcoverings.

3)  Arwen in Lord of the Rings sometimes wears a headcovering and headpiece!  In the film, the headcovering seems to be a costuming prop that supports her courageous journey.  As an Orthodox Christian, I have joined a royal priesthood of believers and the headcovering feels like a feminine symbol of that royal priesthood that accompanies me on my spiritual journey.  (1 Peter 2:9-10: But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.)

4)  I love to sing, but I find myself not wanting to sing in church without a headcovering or I do so very, very quietly.

5) In my three year journey into learning about Orthodox Christianity (I was baptized just over two years ago), I have come to love our God of beauty and order and the headcovering seems to be part of his beauty and order.

6)  I have a son but he does not pull my headcovering off in church generally (only a few times).   For the most part, my nearly one year old son chews and plays with the ends of my scarf while it stays on my head.  It is also a bit helpful when he is teething during church!

7)  I am actually not totally sure how much the headcovering itself has to do with submission to men in the Orthodox tradition as in traditions like Amish and Anabaptist, but I am completely fine with that aspect nonetheless.  I grew up in a confusing dysfunctional home and instead of developing a hatred towards men, or thinking that I don’t need them, I developed a clear sense of the importance of good men and good male leaders.

8) About the time I started wearing the headcovering, I had just had an opportunity to see Hawaii’s Holy Myrrh Streaming Icon (http://orthodoxhawaii.org/icons.html).  After witnessing this miracle of this icon of the Theotokos and Christ, I really felt strongly that I wanted to wear a headcovering in church.  Also, I first saw the icon in a Serbian Orthodox Church where over half of the women had beautiful headcoverings.  I recently saw the icon for a second time and now, three years later, I am writing this post.

9) Also at this time, I was going through a difficult personal time and I liked the extra reminder that Christ was over me and that even if I felt abandoned by certain family members, I had the Kingdom of Heaven as family.  I know I can just think this encouragement in my head, but having learned of sacramental theology, I now appreciate the physical reminders and actions that I can take to help learn these things in a deeper way.  Also from my Protestant days, I was familiar with the song “His banner over me is love” (Song of Solomon 2:4: “He has brought me to his banquet hall, And his banner over me is love”) and so wearing the headcovering, similar to a banner, is another reminder to me of God’s love and that I am not alone.

10)  Prior to the 1950s or so, a large number of Christian women from all Christendom (Orthodox, Protestant, and Catholic) wore headcoverings to church.  Since the start of feminism in the 50s or so and the sexual revolution in the 60s much has changed for the worse when in comes to traditional morality and traditional family structure…so I trust more what women did before all that happened.

11)  If a woman’s headcovering is only her hair, then why do most all of the icons of women Saints in the church, aside from St. Mary of Egypt depict them with headcoverings?

12)  The Bible says that women are to wear the headcovering on “account of the angels.”  I love the fact that there are angels among us and in Divine Liturgy with us though we cannot see them.  For some reason I don’t know, they want women to wear headcoverings.  Several Saints of the first centuries speak of the importance of wearing a headcovering:

St. John Chrysostom said, “The angels are present here. Open the eyes of faith and look upon this sight. For if the very air is filled with angels, how much more so the Church! …Hear the Apostle teaching this, when he bids the women to cover their heads with a veil because of the presence of the angels.”

St. Cyril of Alexandria, commenting on I Corinthians, wrote: The angels find it extremely hard to bear if this law [that women cover their heads] is disregarded.”

I love that there is a Kingdom of Heaven of which I have a small part and part of that is to wear my headcovering.  The bishops have their special vestments, the priest wears his vestments, the deacons have their liturgical clothes, the altar servers have theirs, so actually having something special to put on  in church also feels like I am a participating in the liturgical dress as well.

13)  In The Bible, miracles and healings occur at times after people complete a simple physical task such as putting mud on their eyes, going into a pool, picking up a mat, and walking around a building playing musical instruments (Battle of Jericho).  Because of that, I don’t view wearing the headcovering as something trivial and believe that its possible for this action to aid in my soul’s healing in some way.

So I have come to the conclusion of my list of reasons though I am sure there are more!