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40 years later, is it time to reconsider the religious habit?


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I read in the book about a remarkable woman, Gerontissa (Elder or Mother) Gavrielia (1897-1992), a Greek Orthodox nun the following about the monastic habit, from her words:

“Since I was given a habit I stopped telling people about God much because now my habit is speaking. If someone in a habit passed by your house – it is God who is speaking. You are thinking “Here came a priest, nun, a monk”. And there is already no need in preaching or hard attempts to convince. If my example speaks about something to you then it will enter into your soul and there is no need to say anything”.

That was my translation. I also remember, that the same Mother said “What did change with a habit? I received great freedom in being anonymous. “Some nun said… some nun did…”.

I think a habit gives not only that kind of freedom but also another one, of not thinking of what to wear. It is also a reminder to a nun of who she is and to others. Finally, it invites people to talk to her about God or about their lives, their problems (it is common in Orthodoxy). In our tradition, habit is also a symbol of total renunciation of oneself, being not of this world.

I also can imagine that a traditional habit of different Orders, in the Catholic Church, should be dear as a particular kind of “a uniform” with a distinct meaning being attached (at least it is so for me, re: the brown scapular that given to men bas a sign of belonging to Carmel).

Eastern Orthodox do not have an option of wearing or not wearing the habit. It is simply something to treasure.

PS Just in case - Gerontissa Gavrielia was not "rigid" or whatever. She became a nun later in a life, in her late fifties I think. Until then she was working as physiotherapist in India without charging money, only for food. That was her way of practicing total reliance on God and doing His will. He has lives in leprosarium, hospitals, in the poor house of Hindu, in ashrams etc. Her attitude and ways are anything but "rigid".

42 minutes ago, M. Therese said:

I completely agree. All clerics and religious should wear a habit of some kind. They live a different life and that should be reflected in their garb.

I am glad to read this. I like the term "of some kind". There is no reason why heavy and huge habits cannot be adjusted to the needs but still have its distinctive features which allow to recognize the order.

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On 4/4/2016 at 1:25 PM, BarbaraTherese said:

I used to wear a cross on a leather thong around my neck, but soon after I first met my SD, he commented that I looked like a nun and so I removed that cross and have never worn it again since.  I am not a nun and have no desire whatsoever to appear to be one in some way.  Nevertheless, I wish I could hit upon something that would not upset anyone and would state without words that I am a Catholic Christian.  I now wear a small cross on a silver chain ............ problem is that a cross on a chain has become in secular society an item of jewellery full stop.

What is "leather thong"? I googled it and it looks like a "leather string". I do not think it is "nun-like", in fact I wear my cross on a leather string because it is practical. It is harder to break than a chain and, in fact, this was a typical way to wear a cross in Old Russia, for a practical treason since many Russians would also wear "obrazok" i.e. an icon on it. A chain was considered to be "vanity". So here we are, there are thousands of opinions, often contrary.

Here, for example - obviously not an advertisement, just to see what those things look like https://gajtan.ru/

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8 hours ago, M. Therese said:

I completely agree. All clerics and religious should wear a habit of some kind. They live a different life and that should be reflected in their garb.

I find it interesting that many communities would rather die out completely than admit that discarding their habits and communal life was a huge mistake. Perhaps in God's mercy and understanding their charism is coming to and end. I have full confidence that these communities apostolates and charisms will be sought by newer more traditional founders. There are so many new communities that it's hard to keep up with them all, thanks be to God!

Well, regarding the fact that the Jesuits and many younger congregations in their spirit chose to inculturate themselves very succesfully not only, but also by wearing what honorable men wore whereever they were - I don't think every priest or religious needs a distinct habit. 

In my area Sisters wearing veils often get mistaken for muslim women, so imho whatever religious persons wear should help people identify who they are, and if a religious habit doesn't reach this goal, than they should think about something else. 

Or as a benedictine superior [Fr. Bernhard of St.Anselmo in Rome] puts it: "It's not the habit that makes the monk, but the monk who lives the habit." 

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This is only a question, not a criticism. Though I do like distinctive clothing for religious, whether one chooses to wear this or not is based on varied reasons, and I respect whichever choice one makes.

Since I've participated on this forum, I've seen references to communities (some apparently of very recent foundation) which have adopted habits similar to those I remember from my childhood (pre-Vatican II.) One community, with which I was acquainted during the 1980s, has changed their simple, modified habit to floor-length with a cape. 

Is there a particular reason why communities are adopting, or returning to wearing, the 'old habit'? 

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Nuns/sisters and brothers absolutely need to wear habits! I won't consider any community that does not wear a habit. Religious are supposed to be witnesses. We are also supposed to witness, but nuns/brothers live a different kind of life than we do.

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13 hours ago, M. Therese said:

I completely agree. All clerics and religious should wear a habit of some kind. They live a different life and that should be reflected in their garb.

I find it interesting that many communities would rather die out completely than admit that discarding their habits and communal life was a huge mistake. Perhaps in God's mercy and understanding their charism is coming to and end. I have full confidence that these communities apostolates and charisms will be sought by newer more traditional founders. There are so many new communities that it's hard to keep up with them all, thanks be to God!

Can you let adult human beings decide for themselves what to wear? And if you believe that communities "die" because of what they do or do not wear, you are putting superficials ahead of essentials. Wearing distinctive dress is not a "charism." It is an incidental. And some communities have never worn distinctive garb. 

23 minutes ago, futuresister said:

Nuns/sisters and brothers absolutely need to wear habits! I won't consider any community that does not wear a habit. Religious are supposed to be witnesses. We are also supposed to witness, but nuns/brothers live a different kind of life than we do.

You have every right to make this decision as to where *you* might or might not discern. But you do not have the authority to declare what *all* religious "absolutely need" to do. Give the communities and their members credit for having gone through the serious discernment necessary to come to such a choice.

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Call me silly, but I personally believe it's not the "clothes that make the woman", rather its the way one lives one life --- whether in RL or the secular state.

The condition of one's heart dictates one's behavior and "witness" rather than if if one wears a veil, has a modified habit, pre-Vatican II habit, or no habit at all.

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13 hours ago, Francis Clare said:

Call me silly, but I personally believe it's not the "clothes that make the woman", rather its the way one lives one life --- whether in RL or the secular state.

The condition of one's heart dictates one's behavior and "witness" rather than if if one wears a veil, has a modified habit, pre-Vatican II habit, or no habit at all.

I don't disagree that what matters is how we live our lives, but sometimes I think about why we have a physical nature at all, and how it's so much connected to our interior and our souls... it makes me think that the exterior is like an expression of the interior.. a nun is still a nun if she doesn't have a habit, but it's a strong witness if she does. Also, I find that exterior signs can be very helpful.. for instance, I wear a crucifix. I don't stop being a Catholic when I take it off, but wearing it puts me in a certain frame of mind, so to speak. I've never worn a habit, but I can imagine it having a strong psychological effect on a person to put it on, and of course it's more than that, because it's a blessed object as well :) 

Edited by adoro.te.devote
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Agree with  you there. A lot of them don't advertise. Forgot why i was on the website of the Archdiocese of Newark,NJ. Anyhow they had listed a community named  Sisters of Peace Pentecost. I looked them up and found the website for their retreat house. From the postings and that, I got the sisters were actually korean, and had been around for a very long time. Didn't know they existed.

 New ones spring up and others disappear. That includes some traditional communities which have only a few sisters.Understand the Sisters of St.Joan of Arc  aren't accepting new candidates for example.

As far as habits go, I'm old fashioned and like seeing sisters in some form of religious dress, even if it's just a simple dress and veil, nothing fancy. When I see sisters in secular dress like myself,  that just feels weird. I thought one was supposed to  vow poverty to be as the apostles were. Dressing like any  lay woman costs money,and i don't know seems odd.

As far as the poster who has the muslim friend who wears the tradtional head ware, i can understand  why she feels the way she does when she sees sisters in habits of some kind. She wears hers for religious reasons to show her love of islam her faith.When she see the sisters, she doesn't feel alone. Even though they don't share the same faith, she can relate to their dedication to God and can admire that. 

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7 hours ago, HollyDolly said:

When she see the sisters, she doesn't feel alone.

A good point. I also have felt not alone when I saw a priest or a nun or a monk is the street on on a plain or just anywhere. It is not just my feeling, many people, even not practicing Christians, express a similar feeling. It is like a reminder of "something more" and a sense of belonging, someone to turn to. Also, people know that a priest or a monastic are for God and being such are supposed to be open to people's needs so one can talk to them - and even if they do not have such a need there is sense of that possibility, of something being open.

Edited by Anastasia
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