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Author Topic: Hygiene  (Read 2033 times) Average Rating: 0
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Elisha
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« on: August 04, 2003, 01:28:28 PM »

I'm curious what you guys feel about hygiene.  I get the vibe that some people don't bother to even brush their teeth before church - thinking that it would violate fasting rules.  I highly doubt that there is any canon against it.  I don't exactly douse myself with cologne, but simple things like brushing your teeth, using deodorant and taking a shower shouldn't be looked upon as being prideful or self-centered.  If anything, I actually find it somewhat offensive if the person smells (breath or body).  Why would I want to hug or stand next to them?  I don't actively avoid people who display such things (I certainly don't take offense if someone tells me my breath stinks or offers me gum), but they are fooling themselves if they think no one notices.  

Also, I've heard people joke about soap being a foreign item to monastics.  Are they trying to say that monastics don't bathe?  Again, their's nothing prideful about practicing normal hygiene.  To not, makes someone look (or maybe smell) like an insincere saducee.

Incidentally, on another (not Orthodox) message board I hang out at, someone started a poll for how women prefer their men (as in smell).  There was a huge plurality (maybe even majority) that said they preferred just a clean soap & water smell (as opposed to ANY cologne - not those who douse themselves).

Comments please?  And please bring up anything I may have missed or that is also appropriate.
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Anastasios
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« Reply #1 on: August 04, 2003, 01:36:34 PM »

Bathing in the ancient world was a social thing that was also affiliated with richness.  Many times it was also a gay thing.  So monks didn't do it--if they needed to be clean they could oftentimes wash one part of their body at a time--the torso, the arms, the legs, the hair, what not.  Other times they just didn't do it.

In modern times and in our society in particular, bathing doesn't equal luxury, it equals a necessity.  it is a turnoff to see and smell a smelly person.  Proper hygiene is a must of our people.

anastasios
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Doubting Thomas
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« Reply #2 on: August 04, 2003, 01:38:47 PM »

I think Proverbs 32:1 said it best when it said:  "Cleanliness is next to godliness".   Grin

At any rate, I agree with you.  Also good hygiene may help prevent the spread of bacteria and the like.
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« Reply #3 on: August 04, 2003, 01:53:32 PM »

I think the whole monastics not bathing thing is a form of asceticism.  It's along the same line of their having no possessions, eating much simpler than most Orthodox Christians, fasting very strictly, not cutting their hair or shaving, etc.  Little in the way of comforts, zero vanity (or anything that can remotely feed vanity.)

I actually read that the blessed Fr.Seraphim (Rose) was known to be very strict in his observance of such traditional forms of monastic piety.  Despite his not bathing, it was remarked that he never smelled foul, and if anything, had a pleasent scent to him.  This is probably along the same lines of how saints bodies do not putrify and stink the way other bodies do as they decompose.

However, for sinners like you and me living in the world, I don't see any good reason for not bathing.  Given what we know now about medicine, hygeine is in fact a form of charity, since it prevents the spread of illness.

Seraphim
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« Reply #4 on: August 04, 2003, 02:09:42 PM »

I think Proverbs 32:1 said it best when it said:  "Cleanliness is next to godliness".   Grin

At any rate, I agree with you.  Also good hygiene may help prevent the spread of bacteria and the like.

Ditto.
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« Reply #5 on: August 04, 2003, 02:15:09 PM »

I think Anastasios hit the nail on the head.  In the early heyday of monasticism, bathing was associated with luxury and often immorality.  These days it is standard operating procedure for nearly everyone.
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Justin Kissel
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« Reply #6 on: August 04, 2003, 02:54:12 PM »

Sigh, how do I speak without sounding offensive here?

When I was considering monasticism, one thing that made it clear to me that I wasn't cut out to be a monastic was the fact that I couldn't picture myself not showering. In other words, If I was a monastic I wouldn't shower. It has nothing to do with culture or custom. It has everything to do with denying the self-will and killing the worldliness inside of you. It has everything to do with dirt and grime and toil and sweat and foul smells and everything else that makes this world horrible to be in. Because those who have the sweet things here get the short end of the stick there, and those who endure the foul things here, come out smelling like a rose there. I shower first because I am so very wordly that I could not do without it. I shower secondly because I am in the world and it would cause unnecessary offense to people if I didn't. If going unnoticed in my daily life is my prime goal, giving off an odor that can be smelled 10 feet away isn't the best way to go about it. For monastics, it is totally different. There's a saying in the Desert Fathers (actually there's a number of Fathers who say a variation of this): a monk should be able to throw his clothes out his door, and three days later they should still be there. Ie. a monks clothes should be so poor and smelly and dirty that no one would want to touch them or take them. Perhaps this is hard for us to understand; certainly it's hard for us to identify with. But then, that probably makes Fr. Seraphim right, the majority of Christians (including Orthodox) really are trapped in a "comfortable" pseudo-Christianity that seeks the things of the world.
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Anastasios
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« Reply #7 on: August 04, 2003, 03:00:12 PM »

Being smelly doesn't make you holy.  Being clean doesn't make you worldly.  It has everything to do with culture.  If a monk drove a car 100 years ago it would be a luxury.  Today we need cars.  If a monk ate a meal cooked in an oven 75 years ago it would be a luxury.  Today everyone has stoves.  It's about being dead to the world for YORUSELF.  But if you are causing scandal you must cease and desist because you are bringing attention to yourself.  Smelling gets attention.  It sounds, as sick as it is, to be an issue of vanity: "If I smell bad that proves I am dead to the world!"  To be dead to the world means dead to the passions.  But to be humble means not to stick out unnecessarily and to be plain.  We also have to think about evangelistic example: smelling bad turns people off.  Our primary responsibility is to bring people into the Church.  if a monk is out in public he can't do that if he turns them all off.

This is an issue of being practical, not "vain."

anastasios

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« Reply #8 on: August 04, 2003, 05:04:51 PM »

It's about being dead to the world for YORUSELF.  But if you are causing scandal you must cease and desist because you are bringing attention to yourself.  Smelling gets attention.  It sounds, as sick as it is, to be an issue of vanity: "If I smell bad that proves I am dead to the world!"  To be dead to the world means dead to the passions.  But to be humble means not to stick out unnecessarily and to be plain.  We also have to think about evangelistic example: smelling bad turns people off.  Our primary responsibility is to bring people into the Church.  if a monk is out in public he can't do that if he turns them all off.

This is an issue of being practical, not "vain."

anastasios

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Ditto.  I wouldn't want to visit a certain monastery (not specifying, just saying) if I couldn't stand to be near the monks (even an elder) because they smelled bad.  As he said, cleanliness part of the evangelistic aspect.
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« Reply #9 on: August 04, 2003, 07:46:01 PM »

Wow! What a topic!

I was around some monks and nuns in Russia, and not one of them smelled bad. They didn't look dirty either, and I think I would have noticed, given that the monks all had very long hair and beards.

I was also around some homeless people in the streets and Metro stops, and many of them were dirty and bad smelling.

For people who have a bath or shower available, why not use it?

It seems to me that asceticism is easily carried to ridiculous extremes.
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« Reply #10 on: August 05, 2003, 05:09:37 AM »

I feel I have to add my two cents here in defence of monastics.

First, no two monks/nuns are the same. They all have different rules to follow which are fine tuned for them by their spiritual guide depending on what they are capable of. This means that some do shower and some don't. A lot of concessions are made for new monks and nuns today because they are simply not prepared for the hardship involved right at the start. People who became monks/nuns during the depression or following one of the wars or simply during a time when living conditions were a lot more simple and basic were already used to such spartan living conditions, not so today.

Second, as my lovely wife pointed out to me, monks and nuns eat no meat and have a much simpler and healthier diet overall. As such their bodies do not produce the same kinds of odours we meat eaters produce.

Thirdly, they do not perspire nearly as much, though this is probably more to do with God's grace than anything. Andonis from mo'nachos.net told me that he was put to work helping in the ekthesi, the monastry shop, bringing boxes of books/icons/incense etc from the storeroom. He was wearing light trousers and a short sleeve shirt and was sweating profusely in the heat. The monks, however, were not even breaking a sweat despite the fact that they were all wearing a lot more including the rasso.

Fourth and most importantly, there is the action of God's grace. Anastasios said that being smelly doesn't make you holy, however I believe the converse is true, being holy makes you smell of sweetness. I don't know quite how to explain it. When a person attains to Christ in this life, the corrupt flesh of this fallen world is transformed by God's grace into something holy and pleasing. Thus instead of fouls smells you have sweet aromas. The bodies of many saints remain incorrupt and at the very least sweet smelling, none of them giving off the usual foul stench of death and decay. I remember reading of Mother Gavrilla, when working in the leper colony cutting the rotten flesh from around the sores of the patients she treated, God blessed her work by transforming the stench into a sweet smell.

In the monastries, they do take asceticism to extremes because they are striving for perfection and they live in an environment which supports this effort. We who live in the world cannot go to the same extremes because we would draw undue attention to ourselves. Even during the strictest of fasts, we should still wash regularly to keep our efforts in secret.

John the unwashed (because the water was cut off this morning due to pipe repairs. No warning either Angry)
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« Reply #11 on: August 05, 2003, 08:57:19 AM »

I wonder, though, at what point asceticisim would be considered too "extreme".  Also would such extreme asceticism be honored by God? (See Colossians 2:20-23, and esp. v.23)  Huh
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prodromos
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« Reply #12 on: August 05, 2003, 10:23:16 AM »

John the Baptist/Forerunner (prodromos) led a pretty extreme ascetic lifestyle. I think it is safe to say that his asceticism was honoured by God. Jesus went into the desert and fasted for 40 days, pretty extreme, though at the end of it He was ministered to by angels.

The whole point of the ascetic life is to subdue the passions and make the flesh subject to the spirit. I really don't think that passage in Colossians has anything to do with asceticism, certainly not as it is found in the monasteries. I don't know if you have read much about Orthodox monasticism, but even if you have a lot of people still don't "get" it and completely misunderstand the monastic struggle. I think you have to see it personally to really appreciate its value.

<edit>
I just wanted to add that Orthodox christians are often among those who don't "get" Orthodox monasticism.
</edit>
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Elisha
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« Reply #13 on: August 05, 2003, 12:14:51 PM »

Yes, podromos, but these (unwashed) folks/saints/monastics are exceptions to the rule.  It almost sounds like you're saying that living the monastic lifestyle (well, in a monastery) will automatically make you holy and not smell.

There's also the issue of bacteria and such in this modern age.  In past ages, healthcare wasn't as good, disease was rampant and the human body was also more accustomed to bacteria and a lack of cleanliness.  Being less hygienically active now would make us sick.  That's why, for example, you are likely to get the runs if you go to Mexico - our body's aren't used to their bacteria.  I was told by a doctor at the university health center (back when I was in college) that there is a 5% of getting the runs for an American (or European) coming here/going there, but it is 40% for an American going to Mexico.
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« Reply #14 on: August 06, 2003, 03:17:52 AM »

Yes, podromos, but these (unwashed) folks/saints/monastics are exceptions to the rule.  It almost sounds like you're saying that living the monastic lifestyle (well, in a monastery) will automatically make you holy and not smell.
That's prodromos Elisha (sigh, this is the cross I have to bear Sad Wink)
If I gave the impression that living the monastic life automatically makes one holy then I apologise for my error. There are plenty of examples of monks who fell into deception and were lost throughout the history of monasticism.
You are of course correct in stating that they are the exception to the rule. I posted mainly to address what I perceived as a misrepresentation of the monastic lifestyle. Sorry if it wasn't addressing your original question.

Quote
There's also the issue of bacteria and such in this modern age.  In past ages, healthcare wasn't as good, disease was rampant and the human body was also more accustomed to bacteria and a lack of cleanliness.  Being less hygienically active now would make us sick.  That's why, for example, you are likely to get the runs if you go to Mexico - our body's aren't used to their bacteria.  I was told by a doctor at the university health center (back when I was in college) that there is a 5% of getting the runs for an American (or European) coming here/going there, but it is 40% for an American going to Mexico.
The above is why we should not be too protective of our children and to permit them to stick various (not necessarily clean) objects in their mouths as it helps to build up their immune system. Their bodies are then much better able to fight disease when they are older.

John (who is smelling much better now that he has had a long, hot shower).
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