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On the Christian Life

Contemporary Problems: Tattoos & Piercings

July 2015


"What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's."
1 Corinthians 6:19-20

When God became incarnate, He united our humanity to Himself and sanctified our nature. We who have been baptized in Christ have put on Christ and thereby we have become members of Christ. Since this is so, it has consequences in how we conduct ourselves and what choices we make in regard to our bodies. This is the second installment of a series of articles under this heading, each discussing certain aspects of what the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit means to us.

I was asked whether Orthodox Christians should get tattoos. Our bodies are not our own to mark up, nor are we a canvas to decorate. As our Lord made us, so should we be. Since our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, we would no more disfigure it with tattoos than vandalize a church with spray paint.

In the history of the Christian Church, there has never been an acceptance of tattooing. A tattoo has historically been the mark of a slave, or of a devotee of non-Christian, pagan cults. This practice was also not unknown in the Old Testament times, where it is written in the Law of Moses, Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD (Leviticus 19:28). Some may argue that that was the Old Law, but the Christian Church has observed this prohibition since antiquity. Our bodies are holy, and as the Scripture says, Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy (1 Peter 1:16, see also Leviticus 11:44-45).

We might ask why anyone would get a tattoo or a piercing. The usual reasons are to stand out, to shock, or to decorate. None of these reasons are compatible with the Christian life, and do not work towards our salvation.

If an Orthodox Christian willfully insists on a tattoo or piercing, he should know that this may subject him to penances or suspension from Communion. This includes even tattoos of the Cross or of other Christian symbols.

But what about those who already have a tattoo or piercing, and obtained them in ignorance or in youthful foolishness? This is mostly a pastoral matter; we certainly do not reject these people, but embrace them as brothers and sisters once they choose to lead a Christian life. A piercing usually disappears after some time when it is not used, leaving only a small scar. A tattoo can be removed, but this is usually difficult. If this is at all possible, it should be undone.

For more information, consult the following online article:

  • Protocol 11-12, by Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver (Greek Archdiocese)

Fr George Lardas

Founded in 1929, St. Nicholas Church in Stratford, CT, is a parish of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR). Read more...

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