The other day, someone asked me if it was sinful to have tattoos or piercings. At first, I didn't know what to say. But then, I started to think of what St. Paul once wrote:
"All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything." (1 Cor. 6:12)
Now, it depends on who you ask: some Orthodox Christians will say that tattoos and piercings are sinful, and others will say they are not. In my eyes (and this is just my opinion, not official Orthodox doctrine), I think it's best to go back to what St. Paul said.
Just because something is "lawful" (in other words, technically speaking, "not sinful,") that doesn't mean that it is profitable/useful for us. Yeah, I can go get a tattoo, and probably not worry too much about it, but I'd have to ask myself, "why?"
What would the tattoo do for me? Is it just something that I'm getting to show off to my friends? If so, than you may have a problem with pride and vanity, and you'd be better off not getting the ink.
Am I getting the tattoo to feel like I'm part of something? People in the military often get tattoos that represent their branch of service. They do this to identify themselves with their comrades. But as a Christian, your strongest identity is shown in your relationship with Christ and other Christians by way of baptism. When you are baptized, you put on Christ. You are identified with Christ. You bear His name. You die with Him. You rise with Him. What stronger identity can one have? A tattoo just wouldn't do it justice.
What about tattoos of Christian symbols? Like a cross, for example? Let me first ask you this: Before you tattoo that cross on your shoulder, is it engraved in your heart first? If not, then you're just a poser. This is even true of people who wear a big golden "bling" cross, and live an un-Christian life. "Tattoo" the cross in your heart through prayer, fasting, and repentance, and you won't have to wonder if you should put it on your skin.
This same reasoning can be used when discussing things like alcohol and smoking (that include arghilees.) Just because something is technically "not sinful" doesn't mean that it is useful. Alcohol, for example, can be fine in moderation. But if you let it get out of bounds, it begins to control you. You are "mastered" by it, instead of you being its master. Same for smoking - nothing good comes of it but lung disease, bad breath, rotten teeth, and other bodily damage.
Here's what can happen to your mouth if you smoke:
Bottom line: Just because a tattoo, smoking, drinking, etc... is not exactly sinful, that doesn't mean it is profitable for you. In most cases, it probably isn't. Don't let yourself be mastered by the desires of the flesh. Your body is fine as God gave it to you. There's no need to alter and change what God created; your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. Don't defile it with things that have the potential to harm body and soul.
In the end, it's just not worth it.
* photos of tattoos from http://www.ratemyink.com/
* mouth cancer photo is in the public domain.