Why do Orthodox Christian Women Have to Cover Their Hair at Monasteries?

Orthodox Christianity 101
By Orthodoxy Christianity 101
March 26, 2024

Ever visited an Orthodox Christian monastery and noticed women covering their hair? Have you ever wondered why this tradition exists? Dive into this exploration of the practice’s roots and its significance today.

Historical Context

Origin of the Tradition

Hair covering for women isn’t unique to the Orthodox Christian tradition. From ancient civilizations to various religions, hair covering has been a prevalent practice. In early Christian communities, it became a symbol of modesty and piety.

References in Early Church Writings

Early church writings and the teachings of the Apostolic Fathers often emphasized the virtues of modesty. This underlined the importance of covering hair, especially within religious contexts.

Biblical Basis

The Apostle Paul’s Perspective

One can’t delve into this topic without referencing 1 Corinthians 11, where Paul discusses the importance of women covering their heads during prayer. He implies it’s a sign of respect, drawing on the hierarchy of God, Christ, man, and woman.

Cultural Context of Biblical Times

Understanding the Bible requires considering the cultural norms of the time. In the early Christian era, a woman’s uncovered hair was often associated with seduction. Thus, covering was a sign of chastity and piety.

Symbolism and Significance

Modesty and Humility

In many religions, including Orthodox Christianity, modesty isn’t just about attire but also about attitude. Covering the hair is a symbolic act of humbling oneself before God.

Spiritual Dedication

Covering one’s hair can also be seen as a tangible commitment to one’s faith. It symbolizes dedication and a deep spiritual connection.

Modern-Day Interpretations

Changing Views on the Tradition

As with many traditions, perspectives on hair covering have evolved. Some view it as outdated, while others see it as an essential link to their spiritual heritage.

Influence of Feminism and Modernity

Today’s feminist movements often question traditional practices. However, many Orthodox women argue that covering their hair is a personal choice, deeply rooted in faith and not enforced patriarchy.

Differences Across Cultures

Practices in Various Orthodox Communities

While the essence remains consistent, the exact practice of covering hair varies. From the style of head coverings to the contexts in which it’s essential, differences abound.

Regional Variations

For instance, in Russian Orthodox communities, headscarves might be more prevalent, while in Greek Orthodox settings, hats or veils might be common.

At the Monastery

The Role of Monasteries in Upholding Traditions

Monasteries often serve as the bastions of tradition. The serene and sacred atmosphere of these places calls for an added layer of reverence, reflected in attire and conduct.

A Sacred Space: Symbolic Actions and Attire

In a monastery, every act, from prayer to attire, becomes symbolic. Covering the hair is not just tradition — it’s an embodiment of spiritual dedication.

Challenges and Criticisms

Addressing Misconceptions

Many misconstrue the act as oppressive. However, understanding its spiritual and cultural significance dispels this notion.

Women’s Perspective on the Practice

Many women find empowerment in the act. It’s a personal statement of faith, a badge of honor worn with pride.

Benefits and Positive Aspects

Sense of Unity and Community

Participating in shared practices fosters a sense of belonging and community, strengthening the bond between believers.

Spiritual Growth and Connection

For many, the simple act of covering their hair deepens their spiritual connection, serving as a constant reminder of their faith.


Like the intricate patterns on a headscarf, the reasons Orthodox Christian women cover their hair are woven from threads of history, spirituality, and personal choice. Far from being a mere tradition, it’s an act deeply rooted in faith, symbolism, and community.

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