Women cover their head during worship. Men do not cover, then why do bishops cover their head?

Published by Jacob P Varghese on

St Paul write to the Corinthians in 1 Cor. 11: 4-6, that women should cover their head during prayer and worship and men should not cover their head. A question asked was why do our bishops cover their head.

Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonours his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head. (1 Cor. 11: 4-6 cf),

Christian priest hood has taken lot of vestments from Aaronic Priesthood of the Old Testament and Jewish priests. Wearing the skull caps has its origin in the ancient Jewish practice, that men covered their heads during prayers, which is still observed by Jewish men. The Jewish priests and rabbis during the period of the Old Testament covered their heads not only during prayers, religious services, and even public appearances. (This applies for men in the middle east) The black skull cap became a common headwear for Christian clergy probably as a continuation of the Jewish priestly practice, even after the separation of the Church from Judaism.

This embroidered large hood (HEAD COVER (MASNAFTO) is a monastic veil that signifies the crown of thorns worn by the Lord, with thirteen crosses or the SHEELAMUDI, tells the glorious presence of God and a reminder that they are Lord’s shepherd.

When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai, his face was radiant and the people could not look at his face, so he covered his face with a veil, thus signifying that veil. For this symbolic reason, bishops put on the Sheelamudi, in Holy Qurbana, whenever they face the congregation.

This also reminds the cloth with which the Lord’s head was bound for his burial. The tradition is that St. Peter used to wear that cloth taken from the Lord’s tomb on his head during prayers. This later became a custom in the Church for the Bishop/Episcopa to wear such a kind of head cover when they officiate.

So the reason for Bishops covering their head, is a part of the sacred Tradition our Church and for the reasons mentioned above.

The other part, the tradition has been for women and girls to veil their heads during worship, whether at Church for the Divine Liturgy, or at home for family prayer time. There were head coverings for woman mentioned in the Old Testament (Num. 5: 18; Gen. 24: 64-65; Susanna/Daniel 13:31-33). Women covered their head in the New Testament time too. According to the early Church, head coverings were seen in icons, paintings, in the sculptures on the tomb of women. Even Blessed Virgin Mary the Mother of God, the most blessed woman in the entire universe is shown in icons wearing a head covering. Can you think of a better role-model for women? 

The tabernacle is veiled. Altars are veiled. The Sanctuary is veiled. The Holy Vessels are veiled. Moses veiled his face after he had seen God. A veiled woman shows reverence for God, symbolizing the veiled bride of the Church, but also honors herself as a woman before God. St John Chrysostom said, that it was the Apostle’s Teaching (2nd Century) to bid the women cover their head, with a opaque veil, because of the presence of angels. This book instructs catechumens that all women should have their heads covered with opaque cloth. So does, Church father Origen order the women to cover their head, because of angels. St. Cyril of Alexandria, commenting on First Corinthians says: “The angels find it extremely hard to bear if this law that women cover their heads is disregarded.” 

In many Oriental Orthodox Churches, just inside the front door of the Church, a basket of head coverings is kept, just in case a woman forgets hers at home and needs to borrow one for the day. Icons and painting of the early Church also depicts that women covered their head.

Head coverings show love and consideration for our brothers. Men, who come to Church may get distracted, as attention may get diverted and hence find it difficult to focus in worship, because of the flowing hair locks of  women By veiling a woman display her modesty, and remove an unnecessary distraction.  


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