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Question 39.

Father your blessing!
With regards to the G.O.A. of America, I have seen many things connected to this Archdiocese that are quite unique/unfamiliar. The trends amongst the clergy are different to those typical of Greek clergy (in Greece and the diaspora). Also, the churches look different in many ways: very simple (if any) templons; the use of musical instruments and of male/female choirs (singing in a non-Byzantine way). In other words, the Greek Church established in the U.S.A. seems extremely westernized and I cannot understand why. Are any of these things a breach of Canon Law? Why are they permitted and are unique only to the G.O.A. of America?

With respect

Evangelos

 

Answer to Question 39.

Dear Evangelos,
By trends of the clergy I presume you mean that many of the GOA clergy are clean shaven. For the majority of the Orthodox World a beard is a recognizable sign of a Priest which is deep rooted in Orthodox tradition. Priests with beards go as far back as the time of Moses when God commanded him to tell the priests (the sons of Aaron) not to shave or cut the beard of their chins (Lev. 21:5). In general this applies to all men for God created man with a beard to distinguish him from a woman. Although we are no longer under Mosaic Law, priests continue to wear beards since the Law was observed by both the Lord and the Apostles. A canon (96) from the Sixth Ecumenical Council concerning hair says that: ďThose who have put on Christ through baptism have solemnly promised to emulate and imitate the manner of life He led in the flesh.Ē Since a priest represents an image of Christ he should resemble him in outward appearance with both beard and long hair. Much of the Priestís outward appearance is influenced by monastic traditions. In older times monks were not allowed to have long hair and many kept their head shaven on the top similar to the style of the Western Benedictine monks, but under the influence of hermits who paid no attention to their outward appearance and let their hair grow, the tonsure was abandoned and long hair became the normal for both monks and Priests.
In the west priests began to shave their beards towards the end of the eighth century when Charlemagne (wanting to imitate pagan classical Rome) ordered Western clergy to shave regularly. During the Roman Empire, it was the custom for men to shave and being unshaven meant that you were a barbarian. The order to shave was not immediately accepted by all the western clergy, but many began to trim their beards quite closely thus avoiding being clean shaven which seemed more effeminate. In the 11th century Pope Gregory VII, tried to enforce shaving and by the sixteenth century beardlessness for Roman Catholic clergy was enforced by further canons which have since been dropped by the Second Vatican Council.
But that is the Roman Catholic Church; what about the new trend among the Orthodox clergy? Trimmed beards and short hair seems to have become fashionable from after the First World War. Priests justify this change by saying that the long hair and beards can appear unsightly and with trimmed beards they make themselves more approachable to the people. Other reasons among educated Priests is that long beards make them look like uneducated peasant Priests of that their wives demand that they tidy themselves up. In the west Orthodox Priests were more justified in cutting their hair and trimming their beards because many had to work fulltime in secular jobs where a trimmed appearance was required by their employer. In America this was taken to the extremes and Priest began to completely shave their beards. They believe that living in a modern world requires a modern outlook and because they live in societies with other Christian denominations, they have been influenced by Ecumenism and have adapted their appearance to be in line with the clergy of other denominations. Thus not only have the beards disappeared but also the rason which in public has been replaced by the suit and dog-collar. Of course it is not the rason that makes the Priest and neither does a priest with a long beard mean that he is a better priest that one without, but we should not be ashamed to walk in public in our traditional clerical dress and appearance. It is what makes an Orthodox Priest stand out and be recognizable. A Priest being clean shaven and wearing an Anglican suit and dog-collar can be recognized as a priest but not Orthodox. There are many arguments for long hair and beards supported by Holy Scripture, tradition and the Canons, but there are also many arguments in favour of new trends. The final word should rest with the Metropolitan of each territory and the Synod. If the Metropolitan insisted that a beard was an essential requirement for ordination into the Orthodox priesthood, Iím sure that all his priests would wear a beard. In America it is fast becoming acceptable for Priest to be clean shaven, but in Orthodox countries like Greece and Cyprus, a Priest without a beard would not be taken seriously or respected.
Letís now see the other parts of your question.
Orthodox Churches look different from one country to the next; e.g. the Churches of Orthodox Russia may have domes but they look nothing like the dome churches of Greece and Cyprus. Thus there is no fixed canon saying how a church should look. In England most of the Orthodox Churches are old Anglican Churches that were bought by the Orthodox Church after they came into disuse by the Anglican Church. None of these have a dome and in fact have the traditional Church steeple and belfry of Western churches. When the Orthodox Church in London put forth plans to a local authority to build a traditional Orthodox Church with a dome it was rejected with the excuse that it would not fit in with the rest of the environment. When the same authority was presented with plans for a great domed Muslim mosque all the permits were issued without any problems or arguments that it was not in the traditional style of the surrounding environment. Iím sure that in America the Orthodox Church must have had similar problems especially in the big cities. But the outward appearance of churches is not a matter of faith; what is important is that there is a building dedicated to God where the Orthodox faithful can come together to celebrate the Divine Liturgy. This applies for the inside dťcor as well. Many communities do not have enough money to pay the Priest a salary let alone to pay for extravagant furnishings. But even in Orthodox countries, for many centuries they didnít have the beautifully carved and tall Iconostasis that we have now become accustomed to. Originally the Sanctuary might have been separated from the nave by portable Icon stands, but for many centuries the separation was made by a very low screen which allowed the priest to be seen. The Iconostasis like everything else developed and grew until it finally became a dividing wall separating the Sanctuary from the Nave. There is nothing unorthodox with having a simple screen made up of portable Icon stands and in some ways it is an advantage because it allows the faithful to have a better view of what takes place within the Sanctuary.

As for musical instruments in Church this is clearly an influence from western churches. Instrumental music was a part of the Jewish temple and pagan rituals and from the beginning instruments were considered inappropriate and out of character with the pure, solemn and spiritual faith of the New Church. The human voice is considered the best musical instrument to offer God our devotion because it is natural whereas material instruments are artificial and in general evoke pleasure and arouse emotions without spiritual value which are inappropriate for the purpose of prayer. The Church also adopted a chant that, whether just a single chanter or a choir, the voice offered is of one accord without the four-voiced harmonies of secular choirs. This reflects that our faith is of one accord and of one voice without confusion. The modern choirs of the GOA are attempts to westernise even the musical traditions of the Church to bring them in line with western ideas. They feel that musical instruments and harmony voices are more attractive to westerners, which at the final analysis means that Church singing is no longer pure and spiritual but becomes a stage for a musical show. All that remains is for the audience to applaud their efforts. There are no direct canons forbidding the use of musical instruments except canon 75 of the Quinisext Council which forbids anything that is unbecoming and improper to church psalmody, but tradition and the fathers of the Church clearly forbid the use of musical instruments on the ground that they are artificial and theatrical.

With love in Christ
Fr. Christopher