Friday, November 7, 2008

Christian Men in Hats?

The Gadfly blogger posts on November 6, 2008, "Right Message, Wrong Backing", concerning the reason why men are asked to remove their head coverings during a chapel service.

Malone University [Ohio] has mandatory Chapels. That is to say, there are gatherings twice a week in a room that used to be a sanctuary in a building that used to be a church where we go to sing Contemporary Christian Music and/or listen to speakers with varying degrees of spirituality and sports metaphor in their content, and we are expected to go to twenty of these throughout the semester.

Chapel has always requested that we remove our hats, hoods, and other head coverings while in Chapel. I have no issue with this. They also ask that we have our cell phones set to silent. This is no issue, either. Both are signs of respect, and I do my best to give respect where it is due.

Last school year, I noticed that the overhead displays asking us to remove our hats weren't just asking for their removal. They were asking us to remove our hats as Moses removed his shoes before the Lord (a reference to Exodus 3:5).
Therein lies the problem, says this young man. How is this verse a reason for removing a hat in worship? And isn't there a more appropriate Scripture? Reading the whole essay at the title link above, and notice his concluding remarks:

I make no judgments about Women who do not cover their heads while praying. It could well have been contextual. The references to the created order clearly require some sort of separation or distinction, though. The options are: in the context in which Paul wrote, the specific sign that was necessary was Women covering their heads and Men having their heads uncovered, but those specifics are no longer necessary, OR Paul was writing for all time and Women ought always have their heads covered, men, uncovered. I personally feel convicted by this passage of scripture, and so I always remove my hat to pray, even if I am only praying for a few seconds.

My response to the claim that we are neither Man nor Woman in Christ is simple: this is true. Neither sex nor gender has any bearing on our salvation. However, it is ignorant to think that this means we are no longer distinct. Just as Christ's sacrifice did not physically remove differentiations between Man and Woman, it has not changed the way in which we relate to the world either. Eve was a helper to Adam. A "helper" is not one who does the same exact thing as the one they help. Neither is the helper a slave or even a servant. A helper fulfills a role separate from but not inferior to the one being helped. And there is nothing to suggest the removal of this distinction, especially in light of the many New Testament references to the differing roles of Men and Women.

Malone is right to tell us to remove our hats (at least, the men). I respect their rules. However, to use the example of Moses and not Paul disrespects the passage in Exodus for using it to support what it was not intended to, the passage in First Corinthians for not using it to support the very thing it was explicitly written about, and us as students for not considering us smart enough to notice or respectful enough to follow the rules for their own sake.

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And if you are considering Christian men in head coverings during worship and are wondering about why some men in the clergy do wear caps while they serve the church, when you have the time, please read the "St. Mary the Protectress" blog, November 6, 2008: "Phiro d’Kohnutho - THE FRUIT OF PRIESTHOOD - The Skull Cap of the Syrian Priesthood", an essay by Kuriakos Tharakan Thottupuram, Ph.D., D.D., including history and information on the Jewish tradition, as well as of the early Orthodox and Roman traditions. [Since I wonder about these things myself and had always read the passage in 1 Corinthians the way the young man above read it, I did find a few answers. It has to do with working in the traditions and understandings of the Jewish ways and the culture of the Roman Empire. If I am reading this right. what do you think?]

On many occasions I was asked about the significance of the skull cap worn by the priests of the Syrian Church, both in the Middle East and in India. Recently there were some inquiries about it by our readers. Hence we are trying to educate our readers about the relevance of skull caps worn by our clergy.

In the Syrian Church this skull cap is called Elbishto d’Kurobo, the cap for offering the sacrifice, and it is also called Phiro d’Kohnutho, the Fruit of Priesthood (one may find different spellings for these terms in other publications).

Clergy of other churches also wear the same or similar caps or skull caps during their liturgical functions. But all these practices share the same traditions.

. . .

We have already explained that the Jewish priests and rabbis had been covering their heads during prayers and religious services. Christian priests and bishops also followed the same custom, because they considered themselves to be the ministers of a perfected Judaism, not as a separate religion. It was the same tradition of Jewish priests that the early Christian priests and bishops accepted when they celebrated the Eucharist, which is the mystical Paschal sacrifice of the New Covenant. Thus the black skull cap became a common headwear for Christian clergy as a continuation of the Jewish priestly practice. The Christian clergy continued this practice even after the separation of the Church from Judaism.

. . .

In the Syrian Church the bishops and chorepiscopi take off their linen/velvet crown (bathrashil) or black biretta (miter) when they sing the prayers of Eucharistic consecration, when they read the Gospels, and when the Eucharistic elements are exposed. The skull cap for the Syrians is a symbol and the fruit of priesthood and it symbolizes the crown of Jesus while He was offering the eternal sacrifice; and hence it will remain on the head of the priest even during the most important moments of the liturgical services. On the other hand, crowns and birettas are objects signifying authority, and therefore are to be taken of when the Sovereign of the universe is present sacramentally or through the Word of God in the Gospels. Moreover, it is logical to think that priests are slaves before the King of kings, and have to cover their heads before their Master like the Roman slaves did.
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