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Why Do Russian Seminarians Wear Black Robes?

In case you haven't noticed yet, Orthodox Christians aren't particularly worried about looking 'weird'

Originally appeared at: Father John Blogspot

Editor's note: Students in Orthodox Theological schools, called Seminaries, are called commonly called Seminarians. In the Russian Church Outside of Russia (as well as in many other Orthodox churches), seminarians are required to wear the cassock, which is a long black robe that is worn by all members of the clergy in the Russian Church. They wear this cassock to church and to their academic classes. This tradition is an outward sign of humility and obedience to the abbot of the monastery where the seminary is located, as Fr. John Whiteford explains. 


Question: "Why do seminarians wear the cassock?"

Seminaries are a relatively recent thing in Church history. The first seminaries were established in the wake of the Roman Catholic Counter-Reformation in the 16th century, and were only later adopted as a model by both Orthodox and Protestants. 

The first Orthodox Seminary was the Kiev Theological Academy, which was founded in 1615, on the grounds of the Theophany Monastery.

Perhaps because of this historical connection of Orthodox seminaries with monasteries the practice is for Orthodox Seminarians to wear a cassock and a monastic belt, just as would a novice monastic.

Bishop Tikhon of the Orthodox Church of America (OCA) gives each new student the blessing to wear the cassock as an outward sign of humilty and the Lord's protection

The Holy Trinity Seminary Student Handbook says the following about the wearing of a cassock by seminarians: 

"Being a theological school, Holy Trinity Orthodox Seminary is guided in its activities by canon law. In accordance with the canons and decisions of the Orthodox Church, all inhabitants of the monastery are obligated to be in obedience to the Abbot.
Students enter the theological seminary wearing cassocks and belts like novices in the monastery but with a specially modified regime. Therefore they are obliged to submit to the seminary and monastery authorities according to the dictates of their consciences and Christian obedience which call for humility and respect for spiritual superiors.
Students must be clearly aware of these things and must consider beforehand whether they are really inspired by an Orthodox Christian attitude, and whether it makes sense for them to study in the Seminary under such conditions."

Most seminaries are still connected with monasteries, and participation in the liturgical life of the monastery is one of the more important aspects of an Orthodox seminary education.

Bishop Irenei (Steenberg) had the following observations regarding the traditions of wearing a cassock (podryasnik) and an outer cassock (ryasa), in a discussion on his Monachos.net website:

"The normal custom vis-a-vis cassocks varies between the Byzantine and Russian traditions.
In general terms, and largely common to both traditions, the inner cassock (in Russian the подрясник) is to be worn by all persons in tonsure - that is, by all those of the higher orders of the clergy (bishops, priests, deacons), all those of the lesser orders (subdeacons and readers), as well as by monastics, and often (though not always) by seminarians.
It is fundamentally a sign both of the obedience of the tonsure (in the cases of all but seminarians), and of self-effacement. In proper terms, no person in any of these categories should be in the church without being attired properly in the подрясник.