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Priestly garments: Spiritual essence and how Men of God perceive them

By Chris Irekamba and Isaac Taiwo   |   19 February 2017   |   4:11 am

The use of cassocks by the clergy, as official robes, can be traced to the time of Moses and Aaron in the Old Testament. Though the type worn by high priests in those Biblical days are quite different from what today’s clergy don. It is easy to identify the minister of God by the robe he wears, which automatically confers some sort of respect and authority. In the past, it was only the orthodox priests that used to put these robes on, but now, Pentecostal pastors are also going for them. But is there really any connection between the robes and the spiritual standing of a priest? Does the hood make the monk? Do the robes have any spiritual import? What is the essence of these robes? CHRIS IREKAMBA and ISAAC TAIWO report

• ‘The Cassock Can Help A Cleric To Behave In A More Mature Way’
• ‘Pentecostals Agree With Our Dignified Mode Of Dressing In The Presence Of God, Some Of Them Started Buying Into The Idea’
• ‘Pentecostals Did Not Have Any Formal Way Of Dressing, But They Love To Dress In The English Way’

Omonokhua

‘What Makes A Cleric Is Not What He Wears, But The Contents Of His Character’
(Fr. Prof. Cornelius Afebu Omonokhua, Director, Mission/Dialogue of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Abuja and Consultor of the Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims (C.R.R.M), Vatican City)
In the first place, a dress is designed to cover nakedness. For professional reasons, people in the same institution or organisation may decide to dress in a uniform pattern. Hence, you have school uniform and military uniform, among others. Such professionals as medical doctors, nurses and lawyers are identified through their uniforms.

In the Catholic Church, we have the Priests Religious and Diocesan Priests. The diocesan priest wears a cassock that is either pure white or milk in colour. In Rome, only the Pope wears white cassock, while the bishops and priests wear only black cassock.

Generally, the Bishops may wear red cassock for ceremonies. Another clerical wear is the collar that could be short sleeve or long sleeve. Generally, Catholic clerical cassock is long sleeve.

The Religious wears habit.

Each Religious Congregation, whether male or female, has different styles of habit. With the habit, you can identify the Religious Order or Congregation a Religious belong to.

For instance, the Dominicans, Franciscans, Augustinians, Salesians, Jesuits, Benedictines and Oblates, among others, have different types of habits. This also applies to the Women Religious.

That habit does not make the monk. In other words, what makes a cleric is not what he wears, but the contents of his character. It is not the cassock that makes a cleric holy and it does not give magical or spiritual power. The vocation of the priest/pastor is in the heart. This is expressed in his personal relationship with God and the people he serves.

However, the cassock can help a cleric behave in a more matured way, because with the vocation that makes him wear the cassock, he ceases to be a private person. By ordination, the priest belongs to the public, and is no longer his own. Therefore, the cleric is bound to respect the cassock that makes him different from other professionals.

‘Cassock Is An Official Dress With No String Attached To It’
(Rev. Gilbert Awajimijan, Assemblies of God Church, Port Harcourt)
Wearing of cassock is meant to be for clergy identification. It is supposed to be a kind of official dress without any string attached to it. It is equally the right of anyone to put on any dress for identification, which include Pentecostal pastors, who may choose to put on the cassock.

However, it has been discovered that some people now put on cassock as a matter of materialism, while some have made it a sort of competition.

This makes people not to see those indulging in this habit as men of God. They are rather seen as the ‘clergy’ that want to be seen as Pharisees of old, thereby making mockery of the entire motive.

The issue then is that, if we truly know who we are, as Christians and children of the Most High, we would not put on any dress with ulterior motive. I believe we can wear a dress or cassock without sinning.

Whatever we put on, we must have the fear of God at the back of our mind, because He expects that anything we put on should glorify Him.

Our cassock should be an identity of a clergy and not to show off or to give a contrary impression.

The clergy should know, just like the other members of the church that anything we do with an ulterior motive attracts judgment and punishment from God.

Whatever we are doing, we must be conscious of God’s knowing our intention and wherever we go, we must have it at the back of our mind that only God should be seen and honoured.

It is an error to do things to attract attention to ourselves. We should equally remember that the Bible says that ‘out of the abundant of our heart, the mouth speaketh’ and whatever we put on can only point to what we have in our heart, and if this is to glorify self and attract attention, we have missed the point; we have derailed.

Okpala

‘We Adopted The Idea From High Priests In The Old Testament’
(Rt. Rev. Godwin Okpala, Bishop of Nnewi, Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion)
The issue of wearing cassock for ministration in Anglican Church emanated from the scriptures without any special spiritual attachment.

Anglican Church adopted the idea from the High Priest’s mode of dressing and other officiating priests in the Old Testament.

Aaron, who was the High Priest, was to put on a kind of dress, as ordered by God in the course of his service in the tabernacle.

The Priests that were to accompany him in the service were also mandated to wear their robes.

This was to distinguish them from other members in the congregation and it could be more than that, as the Lord, Who demanded that they should appear before Him in priestly dressing knew the reason.

Aaron’s dress was particularly designed in a special way that whenever he went into the tabernacle to minister, especially the Holy of Holies, he was representing the children of Israel and could atone for their sins.

We fully believe the fact that Jesus, as the High Priest, has entered into the Holy of Holies and had offered Himself as sacrifice for our sins. But it should be remembered that Aaron’s dress was not just for ministering, but was also for beauty. God accepts being worshipped in a dignified manner.

Therefore, we have the basis for wearing cassock in the scriptures and I want to believe that because the Pentecostals agree with our dignified mode of dressing in the presence of God, some of them started buying into the idea.

The place of holiness cannot be compromised. The garment does not automatically make anyone to be holy. It is, therefore, expected that anyone serving the Lord in any capacity should be holy, because there is a limit to which God would look at the outward appearance of a clergy.

No matter how beautifully dressed in a cassock, if the clergy wearing it is secretly committing sin and engaging in any unholy practice not known to man, God, Whose standard is holiness, would not only reject the clergy, but also disdain his service. God is a holy God, Whose standard cannot be compromised with dressing. He cannot be bought over with neat appearance.
The two priests, the children of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, when they appeared before God with strange fire, fire came out from God’s presence and consumed them, despite the fact that they were putting on their priestly garments. God is no respecter of anyone wearing cassock and habouring secret sins.

Ibironke

‘Cassock Is Not Better Than Agbada’
(Pastor Israel Olufemi Alaba Ibironke, General Overseer of The Assembly of Faithfuls Church, Worldwide)
Any tailor that knows about it can design it, but basically they are made by those who are trained for sewing cassock and ministers’ dress. A lot of tailors are doing it here in Nigeria. The one that I have was sown here in Nigeria. Cassock is not better than agbada and there is nothing special about it. Whether you wear a cassock or not, will not take you to paradise. God is not after what you wear, but what’s in your heart.

If you like, you can decorate your car with 77 Crosses, it won’t move God one bit. All you need to do is to dress moderately and properly.

There is no particular dress that is meant for any church or the other. Pentecostals did not have any formal way of dressing, but they love to dress in the English way. They wear what they know is good. I don’t think they are copying any church in their dressing.

Even Jesus Christ did not tell any particular church that this is the dress they should wear. Rather, the churches choose what they wear by themselves. There is a saying that ‘the way you dress is the way you will be addressed.’ As children of God, our dress must be neat and not flamboyant. It is essential that we are moderate in anything we do. In fact, Jesus talked about dressing moderately. For instance, some people wear jackets without tie, which I cannot do. If you want to dress in a particular fashion, it is advisable you do it very well. If I want to wear a suit, I do so completely.

For example, the way professionals dress to office differs from one to the other. What the Pentecostals stand for is to dress well and moderately, too.

Joel Olasunkanmi Iyiola

‘There Is No Spiritual Connotation, Except For Identity And Service’
(Apostle Joel Olasunkanmi Iyiola, General Overseer, Bible-based Church, Ibadan)
Initially, it had to do with the denomination. In the Anglican Church, one cannot minister unless with the official robe or cassock. A bishop puts on a Bishop’s robe, while a lay-reader is expected to put on his own relevant robe.

However, in the Baptist Church, there is no special dress, but just suit. It can be traced to the Bible. There was a priesthood dress for Aaron, the high Priest, while the Levites also had their own robe. It should be noted that none of the churches wearing cassock or robe could put on the type of cassock in the Bible, which were in layers. To some extent, the Anglicans and Catholics have their traditional robes, while Pentecostals are known for their simple suits, except that these days, some of the clergy are veering into wearing of cassock.

I want to say that there is no spiritual connotation to the wearing of cassock, except for identity and service.


We are just following the Old Testament pattern, but no one can completely put on the type of robe that Aaron and other priests wore then. For example, there were bells at the helm of the robe of Aaron, which would signify to the people that he was still alive anytime he entered into the place of Holy of Holies. There was also a rope on his legs to draw him out, in case there was an infringement on his part, which led to his death inside the holy of holies. Apparently, all these are not being observed these days.

What God actually demands these days is holiness. And if one clothes himself with the best cassock and he commits sin or lives a sinful life, his service would not be acceptable to God. If one, however, ministers in simple dress and remains holy, his service would be honoured by God.

Pentecostals put on suits for smartness. It is known that if one puts on big and flamboyant dress, the dressing could turn out to be a disturbance in the course of carrying out his duty in the church. There is no spirituality attached to the wearing of cassock.




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