Christianity cannot oppress people. If any church, doctrine, or custom oppresses, discriminates, or coerces, then it is in error. Christianity is a religion of liberation in Christ, and this involves repentance and a belief in the Gospels. Another word for this process is submission. That is to say, the believer submits his or her mind and heart to Jesus Christ, to His teachings as recorded in the Bible, and to the leadership of appropriate authority (such as the desert fathers and mothers, the early Church fathers, the elders). The purpose of legitimate authority is to love the sinner, to teach truth, and to guide individuals and communities on their spiritual journey.
The word submission has been misunderstood and abused in many churches and by many authorities. This is an especially sensitive issue when discussing the relationship between men and women. All Christians, men and women, are to submit to the commandments of God–the most comprehensive commandment being to love one another. Unless the individual submits to, obeys, follows, and imitates Christ, then there is no basis for a Christian lifestyle. Moreover, submission to Christ is a voluntary decision: nobody can force Christianity on you.
The topic of proper clothing for Christian women, whether at home or in church, and including the headcovering or veil, is intricately woven into the fabric of God’s creation and the Christian lifestyle; the relationship dynamics among Christ, man, and woman; and national or local heritage and customs.
Various scholars and writers have done research in this area and have formed different conclusions. This complicates the quest for truth. Even among scholars who can read the original Greek texts, there is sometimes disagreement over the correct translation of essential words. Additionally, some scholars do not compare and contrast English versions of the Bible, but rely on one or two versions which they prefer. No matter what conclusion is reached, each scholar is able to give very convincing arguments for his view. What can the average Christian do?
After gathering my research material, I decided to write this paper as a matter of exploration, logical thought, and possible interpretations and conclusions. In order to maintain cohesion, however, I decided to emphasize St. John Chrysostom as a recognized theologian in the West and East. Since I lack knowledge of Greek, and since I am on a personal quest and not writing a thesis, I felt a need to anchor myself in the thought of one early Church father. Although this choice weighted my paper in a certain direction, I have also shared my personal concerns. Anyone who would like to test a different direction is welcomed to access my bibliography—I used online sources specifically so that the reader could check my references and agree or disagree with my assemblage.
It is not my purpose to pass judgment on anyone: not on women who wear fashionable clothing or on women who wear plain clothing. This paper is not focused on right and wrong, or on establishing a universal dress code for all Christian women. This paper is focused on learning about woman as created by God and her place in the church, particularly regarding submission, modesty, and the veil or headcovering. Let us attempt to walk a few miles in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul and St. John Chrysostom.