Voices from Russia

Monday, 14 December 2009

Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev Defended Women Who Come to Church in Trousers

Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev of Volokolamsk (1966- ), the head of the MP Department for External Church Relations

Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev of Volokolamsk, the head of the MP Department for External Church Relations, urged parishioners to take a more tolerant attitude concerning the clothing worn by fellow worshippers. Speaking on the air during a segment of The Church and World (Церковь и мир: Tserkov i Mir) broadcast by the Vesti (News) network, Vladyki Hilarion pointed up with regret to cases of young people in informal clothing and girls in trousers that came to church in order to “find understanding and compassion, but, instead of that, they encountered abuse and swearing”. Furthermore, he went on to say, “We must fight this disease”, the official website of the DECR reported on Monday. Archbishop Hilarion noted that, in both Russia and the West, pantsuits for women have been around for more than 80 years, so, it’s an absurdity to say that trousers are purely an article of male apparel. “The Lord looks at the heart of man, not at his clothes”, he emphasised.

He also addressed the topic of clergy education; encouraging priests to follow the official position of the Church closely, as set out in its documents, in their pastoral activity. “Every priest should know the official teachings of the Church. Unfortunately, we still find priests who are either insufficiently educated or who knowingly put their opinions above the whole Church”, Vladyki Hilarion acknowledged. In his opinion, such people should “complete their education in the seminaries or work on themselves”.

14 December 2009



Editor’s Note:

The issue of proper clothing at services sometimes takes a larger role than it should. My view is simple; we should be more concerned about the immodesty of clothing rather than its particular style. That is to say, a woman wearing trousers and a buttoned-up blouse is much more modest than one wearing a mid-thigh minidress with a plunging neckline. Anyone of good sense would agree with me, I am sure. In any case, immodesty proceeds from the interior to the exterior, not the other way around (in fact, I would say that there is more than one immodest person flitting about in a monastic riassa… looks DO deceive).

As for myself, when I go to the liturgy to pray, I don’t dress to show off. Normally, I choose a frock or skirt that is at least knee-length and I always wear a hat. There are “scarf people” and “hat people”… I’m of the latter camp; my preference is for a béret, as it doesn’t hinder the proper veneration of icons, block people’s vision, et al. It also very easy to tuck a béret into one’s handbag, so, one is prepared to enter a church at any time.

By the way, it’s not our place to hector other people at the services. I’m there to pray to Almighty God, not to look at everyone else. It’s not for me to lecture others on proper attire… the Church has not given me the warrant to pastor. I’d say that we should inspect those who make such loud complaints closely… all too often they are gossips, ignorant louts, or the self-righteous. Be especially leery if the comment issues forth from a baby konvertsy of less than seven years’ standing… they haven’t learnt “a cat sat on a mat” and they’re condemning others! Lordy!

If the Church tells us that we must lovingly tolerate those Orthodox who mistakenly use the papist calendar for the fixed feasts in the hopes of bringing them back to proper Orthodox practise, then, it’s easy to accept a gal in slacks. Don’t forget that St Paul was more concerned about whether a woman’s head was covered at prayer… he said nothing about the rest of her attire (except, of course, that it be modest goes without saying). Let’s show a sense of proportion.

A word or two concerning Hilarion Alfeyev is in order. There is much made of him in pseudo-intellectual circles, as he echoes their prejudices, preconceptions, and small-mindedness in so many ways. Priests are not independent actors… a friend of mine in the MP who is a canonist told me that, and it “sounds right”. Bishops make priests… not the other way around. Priests are the servants of the bishops and follow their orders. These so-called “pastoral documents” have their place, but, if a priest has a question on how to proceed, if the situation is in any way murky, he should consult his bishop. Then, he is on solid ground.

“Education” is far overrated; in my observation, too much of it leads to overweening pride and self-absorption. Don’t forget that HA is a leader of a faction, often, he does NOT speak for the Church; he only speaks for his clique (in fact, he is not as close a confidant to KMG as Fr Vsevolod Chaplin is, and Fr Vsevolod is much more adept in navigating the central apparat… HA merely looks nicer). In the above, when he spoke on dress in Church, he echoed the Mind of the Church; when he spoke on clergy education, he gave his personal opinion. One should attend to the former with some care; one must take the latter with a large block of salt in HA’s case. Caveat lector.



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