In the Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Anglican communities, nuns are women who have taken solemn vows and live cloistered lives, or lives within the confines of a monastery, where they dedicate their lives to God. While different orders of nuns, including non-cloistered nuns known as sisters, have different customs and preferences -- some more strict and some more casual -- many forms of etiquette apply nearly universally.
Always address a nun by prefacing her name with “Sister,” such as “Sister Angela Therese.” When speaking of the superior of a monastery or convent, use the title “Mother Abbess,” “Mother Prioress” or “Mother Superior,” depending on the preference of the order of nuns. If you're unsure which term to use, “Reverend Mother” or “Your Reverence” apply to virtually all sects. In writing, add “The Reverend Mother” to the superior's name. For sisters and superiors, follow the name with the initials of the community she belongs to, such as “O.S.B.” for the Order of St. Benedict.
Signs of Respect
Traditionally, rising when a nun enters the room is considered a sign of respect, as is waiting to be seated until the nun takes her seat. If you're wearing a hat, remove it in the presence of a nun. In the Orthodox tradition, etiquette dictates that you should bow and hold your hands with your palms up, the right hand over the left hand, when receiving a blessing from a superior. You may follow the blessing by kissing the superior's hand.
Keep your conversation at a minimum in the monastery or convent; do not press nuns for conversation, as some nuns may be under vows of silence. Address your questions to the superior whenever possible. Men should never enter the private quarters of nuns, and men and women should both respect the boundaries of any areas in the monastery not open to laypersons. Men cannot typically dine with nuns; if you're a woman dining with nuns, follow the lead of the superior. If you're staying as a guest at a monastery, attend any services expected of you, request a blessing before you leave the grounds and leave your guest quarters just as you found them. In general, treat the monastery with reverence, and make sure your children do the same.
Include the name of her order when formally introducing a nun or superior to others, such as “Sister Angela Therese of the Order of St. Benedict.” In writing, you may abbreviate “Sister” with “Sr.,” “Abbess” with “Ab.” and “Reverend Mother” with “Rev. Mother.” If a nun visits your home, give her the seat of honor at your table. Consider showing your respect for a nun with a simple gift such as fruits, vegetables, candles or flowers.
- Tradition in Action: How to Address Priests and Religious: Titles and Signs of Respect
- Three Hierarchs Church: Etiquette – How to Greet a Monk or Nun, by Protopresbyter Alexander Lebedeff
- Most Holy Theotokos Orthodox Monastery/Irish Orthodox Christian Church: Etiquette
- Orthodox Christian Information Center
- Mario Tama/Getty Images News/Getty Images