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There has recently been much debate within the Greek Orthodox Church inside Greece about clerical dress. Finally, its Archbishop and Synod have decided to keep the present dress of its clergy. This includes a black undercassock, a black overcassock (riassa) with very wide sleeves, a 'chimney-pot' style hat and tied-back long hair and a beard, which is usually untrimmed.

Under the secular influence of the Non-Orthodox Western world, those of a modernist way of thought consider this style of dress impractical and out of touch with reality. Although we in no way agree with those modernists who would like to do away with clerical dress altogether, certain points must be conceded.

First of all, in the Greek Orthodox Church outside Greece and Cyprus, clergy, bishops included, have largely abandoned the Greek form of clerical dress. There, for example, virtually the only Greek Orthodox clergy who wear the chimney-pot hat are convert clergy, usually ex-Anglicans and ex-Catholics, who seem to like this. Indeed, among native Greek Orthodox clergy outside Greece and Cyprus, bishops included, very unclerical forms of dress seem to prevail. Thus many of them never wear any form of head covering, never wear an overcassock, and virtually all of them cut their hair and beard - some in fact are completely beardless and most wear the dog-collar, so beloved of Non-Orthodox clergy. Indeed, photographs of even Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, show him in Non-Orthodox clerical dress and in dog-collar, as he attends functions in Canada and elsewhere outside his home-territory in Turkey.

Secondly, the Orthodox clergy of other local Orthodox Churches generally wear a more practical and comfortable form of dress than the Greek Church. Thus, clergy of the Serbian Orthodox Church hardly ever wear an overcassock. Clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church wear an overcassock with less broad sleeves and in fact many of them only rarely wear an overcassock at all. The chimney-pot hat is generally not worn or else has a shorter and less imposing form than in Greece and Cyprus. In the Russian Church undercassocks are of any colour, often not black. Orthodox clergy outside Greece going about secular tasks, such as family shopping, playing with their children, painting or gardening, generally wear secular clothes. (Indeed even monks in Orthodox monasteries, however traditional, have always tended to wear only shortened undercassocks and a flat soft cap for such tasks).

Thirdly, many Orthodox clergy outside Eastern Europe and the Middle East are forced into taking on secular jobs in order to survive, since their bishops and parishes are unable to pay them a penny. (Indeed we know of parishes where it is the priest in secular employment who pays for virtually everything, from bricks to Communion wine, from icons to electricity bills, and then loans money, if he has any left, to hard-up parishioners). Such clergy are quite unable to wear clerical clothing for most of the day. Their employers do not allow this and they also request clergy to trim both hair and beard, which they have to do they are obliged to obey the employer in order to ensure the survival of both family and church. There is nothing extraordinary about this, it was the way of life of the Apostles, notably the Apostle Paul the tent-maker (Acts 18,3).

It must be admitted that of all the local Orthodox Churches it is only the Churches of Greece and Cyprus that are still official State Churches with clerical employees. It seems to us that only this can explain the somewhat imposing and rigid form of clerical dress in those countries. Orthodox clergy working in other countries have generally assumed a more modest clerical dress. It may well be that this is the future in Greece and Cyprus too.

However, we sincerely hope that the clergy of those countries will never fall into the extremes of Greek Orthodox living outside them, where, it would seem, by reaction, anything goes. The fact is that, whatever the impracticalities of present Greek Orthodox clerical dress, especially in very hot or windy weather, nobody can take seriously so-called Orthodox clergy who do not dress as Orthodox clergy at all. The very minimum must be a beard and an undercassock.. Unsurprisingly, those who are unbearded and wear uncomfortable black suits and the appallingly-named dog-collar, are generally not taken seriously, either by Orthodox laity or the Non-Orthodox world.

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