Russian Church Calls for Dress Code

H/T: The Christian Science Monitor (here)

Russian Orthodox Church calls for dress code, says miniskirts cause ‘madness’

A top official of the increasingly powerful Russian Orthodox Church has triggered a storm of outrage by calling for a “national dress code” that would force women to dress modestly in public and require businesses to throw out “indecently” clad customers.Women, said Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, can’t be trusted to clothe themselves properly.

“It is wrong to think that women should decide themselves what they can wear in public places or at work,” he said Tuesday. “If a woman dresses like a prostitute, her colleagues must have the right to tell her that.”

“Moreover,” Archpriest Chaplin added, “if a woman dresses and acts indecently, this is a direct route to unhappiness, one-night stands, brief marriages followed by rat-like divorces, ruined lives of children, and madness.”

Signal of church’s political ambitions

Critics say the proposal signals the growing political ambition of the Russian Orthodox Church, which has lately enjoyed great success in forcing the Kremlin to hand back hundreds of churches and monasteries, along with thousands of religious artifacts, that had formerly belonged to state museums.

The church has also weighed in on artistic matters. It has publicly backed a series of lawsuits against Moscow’s Sakharov Museum, which it accused of displaying “blasphemous” work in two separate art exhibits over recent years.

Last year a Moscow court imposed stiff fines on two former gallery curators found guilty in a church-instigated case of “inciting hatred” against Christians for exhibiting unconventional images of Jesus.

Chaplin’s proposed dress code has received applause from some conservative quarters. Russia’s Association of Islamic Heritage this week expressed its support for Chaplin’s call for “creation of a national dress code,” which might involve compelling women to wear headscarves, a rule already in force in Orthodox churches and church-run orphanages. Muslims make up about 20 percent of Russia’s population.

Dress code proposal is ‘absurd’

Chaplin’s remarks came in a letter published this week by the independent Interfax-Religion agency, the church’s chief liaison with secular society. While his proposed dress code would also apply to men who go into public wearing T-shirts, shorts, or track suits, the letter was most likely to rankle Russian women, who are famous for their love of shocking colors, generous makeup, and daring fashions.

“Archpriest Chaplin’s comments sound absurd,” says Irina Shcherbakova, head of youth programs for Memorial, Russia’s largest human rights organization. “Instead of dealing with real social issues – such as the rise of ethnic hatred – and teaching tolerance, they busy themselves with this nonsense. Most women will ignore this but, especially since Islamic religious authorities are in support, it does threaten a serious attack on women’s rights.”

Chaplin’s letter was an apparent attempt to clarify an incendiary statement he made last month blaming rape victims for inciting their attackers with provocative dress and behavior, which had prompted an open letter of protest (read letter in Russian) signed by more than 1,000 people demanding an apology.

“If she is wearing a miniskirt, it is provocative,” he said last month. “If she is drunk at the same time, then she is even more provocative, and if she herself is actively seeking contact with people, then she is mistaken to be surprised when that contact ends in rape.”

Unlikely to gain traction

Chaplin’s remarks have not generated the groundswell of public fury that would erupt in a Western country, but that doesn’t mean it’s likely to gain much public traction either, says Masha Lipman, editor of the Moscow Carnegie Center’s Pro et Contra journal.

“The average Russian woman will just shrug this off and regard it as having nothing to do with her life,” she says. “In post-Soviet times the church has enjoyed much more success at winning concessions from the state than it has in winning souls…. Polls show that the majority of Russians respect the church as a traditional institution but not as a moral authority over their lives.”

Though Russians have for centuries been told what to do and how to behave by clerical and state authorities, Ms. Lipman argues that those days are past.

“One big difference between today’s Russia and the USSR is that, though the state is politically authoritarian, it no longer attempts to interfere in peoples’ private lives,” and it’s not likely to empower the church to do so either, she says.

“People have grown used to [personal freedom],” she says, “and it’s inconceivable that today’s young people would listen to anybody trying to tell them how to dress.”

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11 thoughts on “Russian Church Calls for Dress Code

  1. Subdeacon David, I appreciate your comments. Should you come back here, I invite you to read a short post I wrote at my blog, titled ‘Beauty’ which touches on these subjects in a non-confrontational way.
    http://cost-of-discipleship.blogspot.com/2010/11/beauty.html

    It is all really about love. Whose love is in our hearts, whether we are women or men, laity or clergy, and what or whom do we love?

    I lift my eyes to You,
    to You who have Your home in heaven,
    eyes like the eyes of slaves
    fixed on their master’s hand;
    like the eyes of a slave girl
    fixed on the hands of her mistress,
    so our eyes are fixed on Yahweh our God,
    for Him to take pity on us.
    (Psalm 123, Jerusalem Bible)

  2. Dressing appropriately in church is very important – women should cover their hair, and not wear trousers. Outside church Orthodox women in particular have a moral obligation to modesty. For most covered hair is going too far, but it surely is an ideal.

    Most modern women won’t be told what to wear. The Church should not relax ethical standards and values because the world is hell bent on self-destruction.

  3. Wow! Yes, thank you, Matthew, that makes a world of difference! It ought to be a cautionary note to consider our sources carefully before making judgments (especially if they come from mainstream media). Also, if something is reported from within the Church, and we have a question about it, it is always good to try to follow up directly in person with original sources to clarify. Too often, I am tempted to rush to judgment based on what is often little more than hearsay.

  4. The Church has the right and the responsibility to provide guidelines for personal dress and grooming outside the temple enclosure—remember, I said, guidelines—because that is entirely scriptural, and it does not have to become a legalism: it is simply pious good sense. Isn’t Christianity the way of salvation both in this world and in the next? So, we shouldn’t be shocked or offended if any church provides such guidelines. This is not a step in the direction of shariah law.
    As for personal dress and grooming inside the temple enclosure, that is, inside worship, inside the church buildings and environment, in visits to monasteries, etc., the Church has every right and responsibility to lay down not mere guidelines, but rules. Sorry, I really do believe that.
    I am a Greek Orthodox in America, and so I belong to one of the most liberal, if not THE most liberal Orthodox Church in the world, and I still feel this way. The way both women and men dress during services is often very careless and even seductive. Well, no matter. People do reap what they sow, just as is hinted at by the ROC pronouncements.
    ‘Rules are for slaves and for riff-raff’ paraphrasing the Alexandrian philosopher Hypatia in the film “Agora”, and in real world terms, rules really are there to mentor immature Christians (no matter what age they are) into a place of maturity and self-control, self-mastery.
    The Greek Church in America is being recklessly hopeful that we are all already so mature that dress codes in ordinary church environments are not necessary, but no monastery is going to allow that, Greek or otherwise. They know better.
    A Christian, especially an Orthodox Christian, shows obedience to Christ by obedience to the Church as an institution. Yes, the Church has sometimes overstepped its authority in some areas, but dress code is not one of them, and we can thank the Lord that He has still preserved our ancient Commonwealth wherever it has spread in the ways of piety and peace.

  5. Actually, I have read several arcticles on interfax-religion about the proposed dress-code. No matter how distorted the translations may have been, the simple fact that the ROC is suggesting/thinking about a dresscode is in my opinion allready a step too far.

  6. This is bordering on lunacy!

    When will church authorities learn that people must follow the way of Christ because their hearts are called to follow the way of Christ and not because they are threatened with criminal prosecution if they choose to do otherwise? How many times, in how many cultures, touching on how many issues, have various church – Orthodox and otherwise – made this mistake? I have lost count.

    Just because something may be sinful, it does not necessarily follow that it should automatically be criminal because of that fact, (of course, some things are both, and ought to be). Dressing modestly so as not to excite the passions in oneself and in others is indeed an Orthodox virtue but it should stem from a heart brimming with love and humility, and not from fear of transgressing some law. The Church’s job is to convert the hearts of the people to cause them to want to live in keeping with the Christian Way – that is our task and our challenge as Orthodox Christians, to bring people into the saving light of the life in Christ. Trying to encourage the government to legislate to force people to live in a Christian manner will yield very different fruit: one of resentment towards the Church and, if successful, a slavish, legalistic following of rules for the rules’ sake, and not the true conversion of heart that is necessary for salvation.

  7. The Russian Orthodox Church has a lot of nerve calling on women to abide by a dress code, not only with respect to the church but throughout Russian society.

    Moreover, this kind of “ultimatum” is a violation of a woman’s privacy, and women will continue to wear whatever they want.

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