Friday, October 29, 2010

Mantilla Musings: A Cross Post from my Other Blog.

I was at my sewing machine this evening, putting some lace edging onto a lace triangle I'd cut out (not a hard job) to finish off a prayer veil, and while I was sewing I got to thinking....

I've been pondering writing a post on this blog about how the meaning of women's veiling is different for Orthodox Christian women than it is for...oh, say....Mennonite women. I can say that, because once upon a time I was Mennonite. Now I am Orthodox. I liked covering then, but it came with a great deal of "baggage".

Instead of being called a prayer veil, often a woman's covering was referred to in Mennonite circles as a "headship covering" and it specifically symbolized a woman's place under the authority of her husband or father. Very patriocentric and very hierarchical.

In Orthodoxy, I don't find such a meaning attached to wearing a prayer veil, or prayer covering, at all.

When something is covered, it is done so because it is a holy thing. I'm thinking of the coverings that are draped over the Holy Gifts when they are brought out during the Great Entrance. (See photo above. Notice what the priest is holding: A covered chalice.) I'm thinking of the Holy of Holies, in the Old Testament. I'm ALWAYS thinking of the Theotokos (that's Mary, the Mother of God, for any readers who may not be familiar with the Greek word. It literally means God-bearer.) when I think of head coverings, for some reason. And I'm thinking of the angels. St. Paul writes that women are to veil "because of the angels." I'm not all the way sure what that means, fully, but we do know that when we enter the Divine Liturgy, we are joining the heavenly hosts in their continuous worship. Interesting side note: In Orthodox Iconography, women saints are ALWAYS depicted with a veil on their head. Angels have what might be misinterpreted by some as a "woman's hairstyle" with what looks like a head band. But angels are NEVER depicted in a feminine way, but rather as warriors.)

In a world that treats women pornographically, it is quite a bold statement to put on a prayer veil. It is a radical thing to cover up that which is uncovered and reduced to a sex object by the world. Covering is giving a woman honor, when the uncovering of women is all around us. (Seen any billboards or commercials lately? I rest my case.) It is precisely because women are sexualized by the world that they are veiled in Church. It is a radical thing, and an elevating thing to take a woman and say: "She should be veiled." Especially in the context of a religion that veils it's holy mysteries.

Now, I'm not saying that this means that women are somehow better than men, or above men. Not at all. St. Paul balances it out: Woman is for the man, man comes out of's a balance. And because of the Incarnation of Christ, and Mary's "Yes" to God we can boldly say that God also came out of a woman when He took on human flesh to save us from sin and death. We women are icons, in a way. Icons in the midst of the Church composed of male and female persons of what it means to be the Bride of Christ, who is Himself the Church's bridegroom. In our veiling, we have something spiritual to show.

It's a mystery.

photo credit here.

Original blog post: Here.


elizabeth said...

Alana, that is such a beautiful post. Thank you. I resonate with this and agree.

Once a very pious woman asked me if I knew why I covered my head and told me it was for and to honour and love the Theotokos... so it is a long tradition linking us to her, as you have felt...

margaret said...

It makes sense. If headcovering was directly connected to husband/headship it would confine the practice very much to the ancient world where there were hardly any women not under the authority of some male relative. For it to apply in other societies it must be anchored elsewhere. I am particularly fond of the angelic connection myself. For a laugh... many years ago a well-meaning lady in an evangelical church (might have been Open Brethren) told me that as I didn't have a husband of my own I could consider myself under the collective authority of everyonelse's whilst in church. Yes. Right. :)

Teena Blackburn said...

Very nice. I was so grateful when I became Orthodox and could cover without anyone thinking I'm weird. :)

Veiled Glory said...

I think certain virgins are depicted as uncovered. Thinking of Myrrh bearers icon?

Anyhow - great post. :-)

Alana said...

I gave away my particular copy of a myrrh-bearer icon...but your point being that in depictions of situations (Bible stories or perhaps a saint's martyrdom) then yes, the women might be portrayed "as is"...but in the formal portrait type of icons they are covered. I've even seen and icon of Czar Nicholas and his family who were martyred in the Russian Revolution and the women were depicted in "full hijab" to borrow that term. Iconography is not always meant to be "realistic" in an earthly sense, but rather to point to the heavenly truth. And now I'll have to go ponder on THAT as it relates to this topic, for a while.