NOTE: Pilgrims to Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries will no doubt have noticed the absence of mirrors in the rooms and bathrooms, or if there are mirrors, they are covered with an adhesive so that one cannot see their reflection. The monastics also do not have mirrors in their rooms or bathrooms and technically are not allowed to own mirrors. In the cases where mirrors already existed on bathroom cabinets, they are covered with an adhesive. Monastics that have been caught with a peeled corner on their mirrors (usually during surprise cell checks) are given large canonas as a penance. Monastics who like to look at their reflection find various means in which to do this (reflections on window panes, or metal surfaces, mirrors on cars, etc.). Some monastics who own their own luggage have suitcases or bags that have mirrors attached on the inner flaps. Where there is a will there is a way. Many of the superiors use mirrors with the pretext that they have to deal with the lay people and need to look presentable. The following article is taken from A Handbook of Spiritual Counsel, pp. 92-93:
Since we are talking about the eyes, let me add something here about an irrational passion and vain preoccupation which certain effeminate people have in decorating their homes with large and luxurious mirrors. They wish in this manner to bring gladness to their eyes, which raises up in their heart the always sought after passion. And they do this vain thing as if it were not enough for them to simply enjoy the pleasure which nature and God’s providence has established to console the eyes through so many beautiful sights; they need to add for themselves this technical pleasure. I beseech you, dear friend, to avoid such vanity and condemnable pleasure. Have nothing to do with such mirrors. And if you happen to have them, please have them taken away as altogether improper for the Christian way of life. The use of such mirrors not only brings about many condemnable extremes, but also causes many individuals to fall into improper and ridiculous self-eroticisms that have become proverbial from ancient times. Thus historians can rightly condemn that emancipated slave who sought many pleasures and indulgences to please his eyes and who covered with many luxurious mirrors all the walls of his house in order to see in them himself and all his shameful deeds.
Narcissus, who saw himself in the clear water of the spring, fell in love with himself, becoming both lover and beloved in himself. Deceived by his eyes, he thought his own face to be that of another. This is not so amazing, for Narcissus was beautiful and he was attracted to this beautiful idol. There is another more monstrous example in the deformed and disgusting old woman with rotten teeth named Ache, who often looked into the mirror to see her deformed and shriveled face, and who imagined herself to be not merely an idea but a goddess of beauty. She so loved herself that she became both an idol unto herself and a worshipper of herself. She became so enamored of her idol and so deranged of mind that she would embrace it jealously without having any such compassion. Such are some of the ridiculous and irrational results of the extreme and thoughtless use of mirrors.1
But what will you say to all of this? If you do not permit me to look upon the faces of men and women, if you do not permit me to look into mirrors, what have I left to console and please my eyes with? Dear friend, you have many things worthy of observation to bring joy to your eyes. Look upon there at the suspended, sapphire-like, and most pleasant face of the most expansive heavens that are a throne and a visible mirror of the invisible God. Look at the most bright and golden sun, the center of the planets, the king of stars, the sleepless eye and the unwaning taper of the world. Look also at the luminous and silvery moon with its monthly phases. Look at the harmonious dances of the night lights and sparkling stars. Look also down here below at the majestic mountains and the flower-decorated fields, the green and verdant valleys, the cool meadows and gardens, the many-colored herbs, the azure and peaceful surface of the sea reflecting the rays of the sun. All these are objects to see and mirrors which do not merely console and please the eyes, but which actually nourish them most sumptuously. All of the innumerable beauties of nature are most pleasing and marvelous to behold. If you need to add to these natural beauties some more technical ones, then look at the holy icons, at the harmony and symmetry of the sacred churches; look at the beauty of the sacred monuments. Hold all of these as a consolation to your eyes. But when you look upon these remember to rise up to a vision of the Creator who so wisely created them and beautified them.2
- Plato used to say that one should look into a mirror only when he happens to be angry. By seeing the wrath in his face, the disorderly movements of his hands, and the unnatural motion of his body, he may be put to shame by himself and despise this irrational and maniac passion.
- From among the ancient philosophers Anaxagoras had observed the beauty and orderly movement of the heavenly bodies and when asked for what reason he had been born, he answered that he had been born in order to look upon the sky. When deprived of his possessions and criticized for allowing others to take his goods, he said that he had a fatherland in heaven, pointing to the sky with his finger. Anaxagoras was indeed the first among the ancient philosophers who knew the real cause of the heavens and the rest of creation, namely, the divine mind. Aristotle (Metaphysics a, b,) knew about the Creator of heaven by observing the beauty of heaven, and would have loved to say the words of our David about the heavens: “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Ps. 19:1). From among our contemporaries there was once a certain God-fearing man who was walking in the spring among the valleys and meadows. Seeing the different and multicolored flowers upon them as another heaven with stars, he began to strike at them with his staff and to say: “Do not shout so loud!” He of course was meditating upon the great voice each flower raised up to heaven to proclaim through its beauty how much more beautiful is their Creator (In Procopius, vol. 1).