Monks Not to Wear Long Hair (St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite)

NOTE: In Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries, the monks and nuns follow the tradition of not cutting one’s head or facial hair. For the nuns, this also includes no shaving of armpits, legs, or facial hair (if one happens to grow a moustache, or mole hairs, etc). Any personal grooming of this sort is considered a form of vanity and unmonastic. The earlier monastic traditions of cut or cropped hair are considered anachronistic and antiquated and are no longer in use in the Orthodox monastic traditions. In the Greek tradition, the monastics put their hair in a pony tail and curl it under their skoufa. In some of the other ethnicities, the hair is not put into a pony tail. The following article is taken from The Rudder, pp. 725-726, 825:

In Orthodoxy, there is always economia and exceptions to the rule (Sts. Onuphrius & Peter of Mt. Athos)
In Orthodoxy, there is always economia and exceptions to the rule (Sts. Onuphrius & Peter of Mt. Athos)

CANON XLII OF THE 6TH ECUMENICAL COUNCIL

As touching so-called hermits, who dressed in black and with a growth of hair on their head go about the cities and associate with laymen and women, and insult their own profession, we decree, if they choose to tonsure their hair and adopt the habit of other Monks, that they be installed in a Monastery and be enrolled with their brethren there. But if they do not prefer to do so, they must be driven out of the cities altogether and be forced to dwell in deserts, from which they formed the name they have applied to themselves.

St. David of Thessaloniki. Dendrites and Stylites usually didn't cut their hair.
St. David of Thessaloniki. Dendrites and Stylites usually didn’t cut their hair.

INTERPRETATION

Because of the fact that of old many deceivers of the people calling themselves hermits, wearing black and growing hair on their head, roamed round cities, mixing with men and women, and discrediting their monastic profession, the present Canon decrees that if such men are willing to cut off their hair, like the rest of monks who live in monasteries,49 and to be settled down in a Monastery, well and good; but if they are unwilling, let them be driven out of the cities entirely, and let them go and dwell in the deserts, from which they falsely, and not truly and truthfully, came to call themselves “hermits.” (The word hermit is derived from the Greek word for desert eremia, whence the Greek word in question is eremites, meaning “(a monk) inhabiting the desert or wilderness.”)

 St Gregory the Great with ancient monastic haircut.
St Gregory the Great with ancient monastic haircut.
  1. Note from the present Canon that monks living in monasteries and coenobitic communities must cut their hair symmetrically; for it appears that monks affect a symmetrical haircut both from this Canon and from the discourse of Athanasios the Great concerning virginity*, and also from the first sermon on Peace by St. Gregory the Theologian**, and from many historical narratives of Lausaicus***. Since the present time is (considered to be) a time of mourning among monks, according to divine Chrysostom (Homily on the Gospel of St. Matthew No. 56) and John of the Ladder. God, by the way, says through Isaias that shaving the head is a sign of mourning and weeping and of beating the breast (Isaias 22:12). And if, as St. Paul says, any man in general is ugly when he has hair (and see the Footnote to Canon XCVI of the present Synod), how much more ugly monks are who grow hair! But if all monks in general ought to cut their hair symmetrically, how much more ought young monks living in monasteries or cells, and deacons, to cut their hair! For such persons scandalize others with their beardless face as much as they do with their long combed hair. Against these incongruities those living in cities, and especially those living in the imperial capital city ought to be on their guard at all times.
Monk receiving tonsure.
Monk receiving tonsure.

* In the11th chapter of Discourse on Virginity, St. Athanasios writes: “The hairs on your head [should be] cut all around and your little headband should be woolen, with the head bound tight and the hood and cape without fringe.”

** In Oration 6 (First Oration of Peace): On the occasion of the reconciliation of the monks after his silence, St. Gregory writes: “…as well as these beautiful tokens and prefigurements of the life in God: silent heralds, hair dirty and unwashed; feet bare in imitation of the Apostles; a body dead to sin; hair properly cropped…”

*** In the Life of St. Isidora the Simple, who lived at the convent of Tabennisi, it states: “She tied a rag around her head—although all the others had their hair short and wore cowls.” This and other stories in the Gerontikon illustrate that the monastics of old generally cut or cropped their hair.

**** A letter from 710 AD, written by an abbot named Ceolfrid, to Nechtan, the king of the Picts in England, explains the tradition and significance of the tonsure:

“But we are not shaven in the form of a crown solely because Peter was shorn in this way, but because Peter was shorn in this way in memory of our Lord’s Passion. Therefore we who desire to be saved by Christ’s Passion like Peter wear this sign of the Passion on the crown of the head, which is the highest part of the body. … Similarly, those who have taken monastic vows or are in Holy Orders should bind themselves to stricter self-discipline for our Lord’s sake, and wear their heads tonsured in the form of the crown of thorns which Christ wore on His head in His Passion, so that He might bear the thorns and briars of our sins and thus bear them away from us. In this way their own appearance will be a reminder to them to be willing and ready to suffer ridicule and disgrace for His sake, and a sign that they are always hoping to receive ‘the crown of everlasting life which the Lord hath promised to those that love Him’, and in order to win this crown regard both adversity and prosperity as of equal insignificance.” Quoted by St. Bede, History of the English Church and People, 5.21.

 Elder Joachim of St. Anne's Skete

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