On the Tonsure of Muscovite Priests in the 17th Century

Archdeacon Paul of Aleppo 1627-1669

On the second and third day of the festival, our Lord the Patriarch said mass in the upper church, after they had lighted up the stove from the preceding evening, and ordained Priests and Deacons: for when the report spread over the country, that the Patriarch of Antioch was conferring the sacerdotal dignity, persons began to flock to him from every hollow vale, bringing presents of fish, butter, honey, etc., accompanied with… petitions, praying that he would grant them this favor. These new Priests used very much to excite our admiration; for without a moment’s delay, they clothed themselves in the sacerdotal dress, which is a cloth cassock with a broad-laced collar, and, shaving a large circle on the top of the head, plaited the hair over their foreheads., and drew it behind their ears, as the women do. The only part of their hair which they shave, is on the crown of the head; the rest they allow to grow: and by this slight change they appeared, suddenly, as though they were Priests of many years standing: for the Muscovites are exceedingly quick in their apprehension of any thing that is taught them. (Excerpt From: Paul, of Aleppo, Archdeacon, fl. 1654-1666. “The Travels of Macarius : Patriarch of Antioch.” iBooks)


  1. Hieromonk Enoch says:

    It interesting on many fronts. The Patriarch Macarius also, according to his account in this place (as well as in the same book by Archdeacon Paul), ordained multiple priests and deacons at the same Divine Liturgy.

    “On the second and third day of the festival, our Lord the Patriarch said mass in the upper church, after they had lighted up the stove from the preceding evening, and ordained Priests and Deacons”

    as it says.

    And on pg. 341 here it says:
    “On the second Sunday of Advent, our Lord the Patriarch again performed Mass, and ordained priests and daecons, in the upper church; where they had heated the stove since the night before, on account of the severity of the cold which now came on.”


    Perhaps they felt a Patriarch could do this on a special occasion or such?

    In Christ,

    Fr. Enoch

  2. Hieromonk Enoch,

    Christ is risen!

    Your comments are always insightful and therefore, much appreciated. Perhaps there was an influence from the West, or oikonomia was exercised to allow for multiple ordinations from a visiting Patriarch. I found this particular practice noteworthy because even the Old Ritualists don’t keep it. Plus, Russia seems to be a missing link between the ancient tonsure and the long hair that Russian priests traditionally wear presently. What say ye?

    in ICXC,

  3. Hieromonk Enoch says:


    Vere Surrexit!

    In looking at the first instance, it, to be honest doesn’t necessarily have to be a violation of the custom. I believe the custom for some centuries, at least, has been that a bishop should not ordain two priests, or two deacon, i.e, two persons of the same order to the next order, at the same Liturgy. I am happy to be corrected, but, I don’t think it was a bishop couldn’t ordain a priest at the same Liturgy, and then a deacon at the same one. If it says the Patriarch celebrated Liturgy on two separate days, you could, conceivable have him make a priest and deacon at one, and a ‘priest and deacon the next, with it still being true that he ‘ordained priests and deacons’.

    However, the second reference on pg. 341 is much less ambiguous and indicates it was all done on the same day.

    Again, it is revealing, at least from what is written, that then largely pre-Nikonian Russians didn’t get all upset if they thought this was unacceptable, or at least couldn’t be done on some occasions (though, weren’t there some canons from a Russian council in the late 1500s against this?). If it was Latin influence, it was certainly something no one seemed to have a big deal with, at least, not with the circumstances. The question, I suppose, would be also ‘how’ it was all done, as much as ‘it was’ done.

    Yes, the ancient tonsure. The Synod of Trullo speaks of ‘monks who go about with long hair’, etc, or a ‘growth of hair on their heads’. How connected is the above Russian practice of keeping their tonsure (the ‘gumetzo’ or something I think it was called???) and the early images you see of St. Sava


    As well as early icons which depict St. Gregory Palamas with the circular tonsure still kept:


    In Christ,

    Fr. Enoch

  4. Hieromonk Enoch says:
  5. I would like to know when the Greeks and Russians discontinued this ancient practice and why?

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