Hermits and Hair

hair hermit
The monastic tradition has long included rules regarding beards and hair. In the West, most Monks have been clean shaven in modern times and insofar as there were rules regarding hair, they tended to prescribe some form of tonsure – that is, a specific form of hair-cutting rather than uncut hair. In the East, Monks traditional kept both their beards and the hair uncut and in many Orthodox churches this was a strict prescription.
hair monk
Hermits who were not monks have tended to keep both beards and hair uncut, although there have been and are exceptions. This has been based less on any specific prescription relating to hair rather than

• following the tradition and practice of the earliest Hermits;
• as a sign of lack of interest in or concern about physical appearance;
• to minimise the need to pay attention to personal adornment through regular shaving and/or hair cutting;
• as a reaction against worldly fashion (although this has raised some concerns at times when beards and/or long hair were the height of popular fashion!).

hair russian
There have, however, been strong arguments that not cutting the hair or shaving the beard have a specific religious importance:

“Orthodox Christian piety begins in the Holy Tradition of the Old Testament. Our relationship to the Lord God, holiness, worship, and morality was formed in the ancient times of the Bible. At the time of the foundation of the priesthood the Lord gave the following commandments to the priests during periods of mourning, And ye shall not shave your head for the dead [a pagan practice] with a baldness on the top; and they shall not shave their beard… (Lev. 21:5), and to all men in general, Ye shall not make a round cutting of the hair of your head, nor disfigure your beard (Lev. 19:27). The significance of these commandments is to illustrate that the clergy are to devote themselves completely to serving the Lord. Laymen as well are called to a similar service though without the priestly functions. This out ward appearance as a commandment was repeated in the law given to the Nazarene, a razor shall not come upon his head, until the days be fulfilled which he vowed to the Lord: he shall be holy, cherishing the long hair of the head all the days of his vow to the Lord… (Numbers 6:5-6).

The significance of the Nazarene vow was a sign of God’s power resting on the person who made it. To cut off the hair meant to cut off God’s power as in the example of Samson (see Judges 16:17-19)….

The Apostle Paul himself wore his hair long as we can conclude from the following passage where it is mentioned that “head bands,” [Webmaster note: he then cites the Slavonic word using a special font. Consult the original article if needed.], and “towels” touched to his body were placed on the sick to heal them. The “head bands” indicate the length of his hair (in accordance with pious custom) which had to be tied back in order to keep it in place (cf. Acts 19:12). The historian Egezit writes that the Apostle James, the head of the church in Jerusalem, never cut his hair (Christian Reading, Feb. 1898, p.142, [in Russian]).

If the pious practice among clergy and laity in the Christian community was to follow the example of the Old Testament, how then are we to understand the words of Saint Paul to the Corinthians cited earlier (I Cor. 11:14)? Saint Paul in the cited passage is addressing men and woman who are praying (cf. I Cor. 11:3-4). His words in the above passages, as well as in other passages concerning head coverings (cf. I Cor. 11: 4-7), are directed to laymen, not clergy. In other passages Saint Paul makes an obvious distinction between the clerical and lay rank (cf. I Cor. 4:1, I Tim. 4:6, Col. 1:7, and others). He did not oppose the Old Testament ordinance in regard to hair and beards since, as we have noted above, he himself observed it, as did Our Lord Himself, Who is depicted on all occasions with long hair and beard as the Great High Priest of the new Christian priest hood.

In our passage noted previously, Both not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? (I Cor. 11:14) Saint Paul uses the Greek word for “hair.” This particular word for hair designates hair as an a ornament (the notion of length being only secondary and suggested), differing from [Gr.] thrix (the anatomical or physical term for hair). [1] Saint Paul’s selection of words emphasizes his criticism of laymen wearing their hair in a stylized fashion, which was contrary to pious Jewish and Christian love of modesty. We note the same approach to hair as that of Saint Paul in the 96th canon of the Sixth Ecumenical Council where it states: “Those therefore who adorn and arrange their hair to the detriment of those who see them, that is by cunningly devised intertwinings, and by this means put a bait in the way of unstable souls.””
beards coptic
Coptic Priests and Monks are required to maintain a beard, but generally visible long hair is no considered appropriate. Because a Monk’s hair cannot be seen, being covered by the monastic cowl (kalanzoa), it is usually kept uncut, but a non-monastic Priest, while having a beard, will usually have his hair normally cut. A famous exception is Pope Kyrilos VI (1902 –1971) who served as Patriarch of Alexandria from 1959 to 1971 and who was seen with his head uncovered, and both his hair and his beard of great length.
kyrillos hair
“Tonsure refers to the practice of cutting or shaving some or all of the hair on the scalp, as a sign of religious devotion or humility. The term originates from the Latin word tonsūra (to clip, or cut) and referred to a specific practice in medieval Catholicism, abandoned by papal order in 1972.
tonsure 1
There were three forms of tonsure known in the 7th and 8th centuries:

• The Oriental, which claimed the authority of Saint Paul the Apostle (Acts 18:18) and consisted of shaving the whole head. This was observed in the Eastern churches, including the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Eastern Catholic Churches. Hence Theodore of Tarsus, who had acquired his learning in Byzantine Asia Minor and bore this tonsure, had to allow his hair to grow for four months before he could be tonsured after the Roman fashion, and then ordained Archbishop of Canterbury by Pope Vitalian in 668.
• The Celtic, the exact shape of which is unclear from the sources, but in some way involved shaving the head from ear to ear. The shape may have been semicircular, arcing forward from a line between the ears, but another popular suggestion, less borne out in the sources, proposes that the entire forehead was shaved back to the ears. More recently a triangular shape, with one point at the front of the head going back to a line between the ears, has been suggested. The Celtic tonsure was worn in Ireland and Great Britain and was connected to the distinct set of practices known as Celtic Christianity. It was despised by those affiliated with the later Roman custom, who considered it unorthodox and associated it with Simon Magus. However, there is no evidence to connect Simon Magus and this tradition. All that can be said is that the very earliest Christians in the British Isles followed this more ancient tradition, which the later Roman tradition opposed. Many adherents to the Celtic tradition continued to maintain the old way well into the 8th and 9th centuries. Some sources have also suggested links between this tonsure and that worn by druids in the Pre-Roman Iron Age.
• The Roman: this consisted of shaving only the top of the head, so as to allow the hair to grow in the form of a crown. This is claimed to have originated with Saint Peter, and is the practice of the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church.”
tonsure 2
For the history of the beard in Christianity, see http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02362a.htm
For various religious traditions requiring the beard, see http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/06/us/06beliefs.html?_r=0 and for an interesting article with the fascinating title, “The Theology of the Beard”: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/the-theology-of-beards/


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