Long haired priests

I hesitated writing about this, as it concerns something so trifling as not to merit much attention. Some people do ask the question, as attested by my stats page – Are priests allowed to have long hair? I suppose I can say something as I am a priest and have long hair. Obviously, canon law makes no mention.

It is customary for monks to have shaved heads or tonsures, with or without a crown effect. Eastern Orthodox and Uniate monks following the Byzantine Rite have long hair and beards. But that is a question of custom and traditions.

Apart from that, it is simply a question of conventions and fashions in the western world. Fifty years ago, long hair on a man signified his anti-establishment position, and nowadays, it is quite common even among men working in companies and the world of politics. Short hair came in at around the end of the nineteenth century and became de rigueur from the first world war to the 1960’s. It has been revived in fashions over the past twenty years in the form of military style haircuts. There was a time in my life when I cut mine very short in a crew cut.

In France, long hair on a man tends to have associations with a left-wing ideology or alternative living whilst very short hair is often associated with political conservatism or authoritarian ideas. It seems to be more or less that over most of Europe. I don’t know about Eastern Europe. The USA has its conservative and democratic tendencies, though I am told that there are southern red-necks with long hair and beards. Distinctions do get quite blurred at times. On priests, there is a definite notion of short hair being associated with authoritarian and nationalistic ideas. American Evangelicals are generally insistent that men must show the conservative image of the family man in a suit and with short hair – something like the 1950’s fashion.

In France, we have the hangovers from the 1960’s like Fr Guy Gilbert, who also wears biker clothes and whose vocation is specially towards the pastoral care of recovering drug addicts and wayward young men. There are a few others from that generation. I was born in the late “baby boomer” era and was less affected by the 1960’s “cultural revolution” than my brother. Nevertheless, I was a child throughout the 1960’s and was influenced to an extent, especially around 1971. I belong to a conservative Church, in which quite a few of our priests have beards (eg. Bishop Damien Mead, Fr Robert Hart, Canon Don Walker, etc.). One thing I find in the ACC is a spirit of tolerance in matters outside doctrine and morals that is more difficult to come by in the traditionalist RC world. It is very appropriate when on duty as a priest and in a cassock (clerical suit) to be tidily turned out – and so I tie my hair up in a simple ponytail like gentlemen did a couple of hundred years ago.

Those who are against priests or any men growing their hair from a Christian point of view generally go by I Corinthians xi.14:

Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?

The context of this epistle seems to be more a question of men imitating women or going around in “drag” as we would say nowadays. Most long-haired men I know or correspond with are entirely masculine, and some are interested in motorcycles, sports and keeping fit. Most men on the homosexual scene have short hair, even those who are “camp”. Perhaps in first-century Greece, long hair on a man meant that he was being effeminate. Not in our time. I am certainly not interested in all the paraphernalia of feminine life I see in our bathroom (and my wife is much simpler than many other women) like hair dye, various styling and “brushing” devices, creams, cosmetics and oils and then their clothes and hygiene devices. It is a question of balance and being reasonable. St Paul simply meant that there should be a reasonable distinction and role play between men and women. We should not forget that the custom in the Eastern Orthodox Church is for priests to have long hair and beards, but they remain masculine.

There is a lot of rubbish going around about some people affirming their identity by clothing fashions, hair and being of one kind of “sexual orientation” or another. Some say they were “born longhairs”. We are only long-hairs if our hair is long. We have our sensitivities and temperaments. I am drawn to the Romantic world view and tend to see myself as transcending time and fashions. Perhaps I might be blamed for “playing God”, but such is not my intention. Other men are free to do what they want, even shave their heads if they want. We need to find our patria within ourselves and in what is real. That can be the secret garden that no one else can violate or it can be partly manifested by what we do in life. It is not easy in a world that is governed by fashion and conformity. Long hair on men, presently, is neither fashionable nor unfashionable. We live in a free world.

I have come to see my priestly vocation in a different way. I live in the wrong place to have a normal parish ministry as a priest of the ACC. I have been into these questions before. Life is life, and all I can do is to be ready for any good work, or to follow God’s will as, when and if it manifests itself in some recognisable way. One lesson I have learned is that a priest has to be himself and not seek to please others. Seek first the Kingdom of Heaven, and everything else will be added. How? It takes a lifetime to find out!

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5 Responses to Long haired priests

  1. Dale says:

    On questions of hair, I remain completely uninterested. My son has very long hair, and I could care less. But there is one corrected that perhaps can be made. In the Eastern Orthodox world long hair, with beards on clergy is not universal at all. It is thus the Russian and Greek world, and especially amongst their few converts who love foreign ethnic stuff; but in Romania the parish priests are almost universally clean shaven with short hair and only monastic clergy are long-haired and bearded.

    • This is something I imagine. I have also seen (or seen photos of) clean shaven and short-haired Orthodox priests in the west. I agree that it’s not something worth bothering about much. Western Catholic priests and other guys do as they like in this matter, and just have to deal with flak from their Bishop or other clergy. Some are more tolerant than others.

  2. Dale says:

    “One thing I find in the ACC is a spirit of tolerance in matters outside doctrine and morals that is more difficult to come by in the traditionalist RC world”; Father, I think that this was always the strength of Anglo-Catholicism. It upheld traditional Catholic doctrine and worship within a real sense of toleration. The clerical eccentrics that at one time populated Anglo-Catholicism would have been virtually impossible within Roman Catholicism. What is strange is that the more theologically and liturgically liberal establishment Anglicanism becomes one finds that it also becomes increasingly intolerant of anyone who disagrees with the party line.

  3. James Morgan says:

    In my rather conservative OCA parish in Washington state, we have a number of clergy, some retired and former military. Three of the priests have either rudimentary or no beards. Same with our two deacons. Many of the laymen have beards, short or long by they preference. No mention of beards in sermons for the past 20some years I’ve been there. And we are multi-ethnic: 3 or 4 black families, some hispanic, arabic from Beit Jalla, Russian, Ukranian, and a number of people from California even (myself included!) Oh yes, the gospel is always explicated in the homily.

    We even might have some gay people but I don’t know since that is not an issue.

    Good safe place to pray and sing.

    Dale might even like it even if we are Byzantine of the Russian variant…Try it some time!

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