from Order of Creation/Order of Redemption
Michael Azkoul, publ. Orthodox Research Institute, 2007, pp. 79-86.
Republished on our website with permission of the author.
Orthodoxy is a hierarchical world-view. She conceives reality as stepsa ladder that ascends to God. As we saw in St. Pauls first letter to the Church at Corinth, the man occupies the higher rung relative to the woman. He was formed first, from the virgin soil of the earth. She was made from the man and for the man, even as the Church was made from and for Christ. Some modern writers have concluded that a higher station for the man implies his superiority to the woman. Judging from what the Fathers say, in matters of piety, women have often proven themselves to be the greater. O nature of woman overcoming man in the common struggle for salvation, writes St. Gregory the Theologian, and demonstrating that the distinction between male and female is one of body, not of soul. (84) In the end, it is holiness or the lack of it that is the source of power in the Church.
Womans quest for equality by the acquisition of rank (i.e., power) in the Church manifests the popular secular mentality. I refer specifically to the democratic ideal that expects never to find in a crowd one head above the other. To be sure, All men/women are created equal, if we define equal to mean the same human nature, both sexes stamped with the divine Image; now, however, if we understand equality as identity in ability, intelligence or beauty or strength, and, indeed, not in function. It is also true that God placed the man at the apex of the physical creation, and that patriarchy or the leadership of men is the natural order. Not entirely incidental is the fact that anthropologists have discovered that patriarchy is allied with the development of monotheism. (85) If this is true, then it is not improbable that polytheism (or religious pluralism) is related to democracy.
According to the democratic notion of equality, one individual has the same rights as any other. None need argue with that sentiment, but human and civil rights are not ideas relevant to the Churchs conception of the priesthood. Incidentally, not every historian or philosopher has agreed on the positive merit and desirability of equal rights, especially when it rests on the shifting sands of positive law, which itself is constantly shaken by the capricious winds of representative government. That aside, we need to understand that democracy and hierarchy involve antithetical world-views. The one vision will necessarily depict the place of women in the Church and the world differently. Democratic egalitarianism rejects the very notion of gender subordination as intolerable to its very understanding of human society and its institutions. To anyone having adopted this mentality, it is no surprise that they have serious objections to the Churchs exclusion of women from her priesthood. Orthodoxy, on the other hand, must consider the democratic idealhence, womans ordination to her priesthoodas rebellion against both the order of creation and the order of redemption.
Furthermore, we see precisely what this means when the demand for equality or, in other terms liberation implies compromise with or rejection of womans historic role, that is, wife and mother. I assume that Orthodox women would not go so far, and if they chose to work outside the home, would pursue activities, jobs and professions consistent with the Christian piety. If they adopt the dominant idea of womanhood found in democratic societies, it will not be easy for them to acquire sanctity. For that reason, must we be disconcerted at the prospect of Orthodox women in military combat, FBI agents or movie actresses? This kind of freedom if it does not diminish those characteristics which have historically denned her those virtues that have made her the civilizer it will produce in her a pride that leads not only to the degradation of her femininity, but will have sorry consequences for the Church, the family and society. Unfortunately, there are too many Orthodox women often with the support of the male leadership in their churches who have adopted the thinking of K. Stendahl (former Dean of Harvard Seminary), If emancipation (of women) is right, then, there is no valid biblical reason not to ordain women. Ordination cannot be treated as a special problem, since there is no indication that the New Testament sees it as such (86) To take his advice would not only signal the overthrow of Orthodox hierarchism, but ensure the conformity of the Church to the world.
I have no doubt that if advocates of womans ordination succeed, they will use their version of church history to determine what kind of religion Orthodoxy was. They will use their revision of traditional theology to settle what kind of Church she will become especially in a milieu where relativism and subjectivism dictate the attitude of men and women toward religion. To begin, Orthodox theologians have even now felt the need to justify the ordination of women to the priesthood (and eventually the episcopate). They will leave to future generations a pattern and method for any further modifications of the Orthodox Faith. For intellectual purposes, they will adopt some form of doctrinal development. Has not Madam Elizabeth Behr-Sigel already endorsed this conception of Tradition with a rhetorical question of her own? The ordination of women, she asks, is it an act of apostasy or a creative development of the living tradition of the Church? (87)
Their reinterpretation of that Tradition has begun already with a defilement of the Church Fathers. They have ceased to be the arbiters of belief and unbelief for a growing number of the Faithful. Orthodox feminists deny their teachings to be final. There are some areas of anthropology that the Fathers have not explored sufficiently, states N.V. Harrison; and here it will perhaps prove appropriate for the Church to add to their thought, though not to distort or undermine the crucial affirmations on which they are agreed. (88) She chooses carefully her words, so as not to appear shrewish or disloyal. Moreover, to substantiate their speculations, they turn not to all the Fathers, but to some whom they have decided gives their cause a religious credibility. As already mentioned, they have perversely anointed the Cappadocian Fathers as their champions. They find comfort for their ambition in what they have written concerning the Image of God.(89)
No Orthodox will dispute the common humanity of men and women. We need to add, however, that the woman was born from the man, not because he is superior, but because God chose Adam as the source of unity. The woman is the mother of all the living, but she originated with the man. All things proceed from unity, St. Cyprian wrote somewhere, even as the Son and the Spirit issue from the Father, the arche of the Trinity. Christ is the single source (kephale) of the new humanity. Put another way, it is a false argument that women have been deprived of the priesthood because men would not share with them the control of Church and society. Neither may we believe that too many people for too long have secretly believed that men have surreptitiously taught that the female was given a different stamp of Gods Image than themselves;(90) so that he only bears the icon of the Christ and, therefore, he alone is eligible for the priesthood.
The objection is altogether contrived. There is no Father or Council or Patriarch that declared men and women differ in their spiritual natures. Feminists or egalitarians seemed to have unconsciously equated the image of God with the image of Christ. Men and women are the imago Dei, eikon ton Theou, but only the man is the image of Christ, imago Christi, eikon ton Christou. St. Theodore the Studite (759-826) calls Christ the archetype (archetypou) of the bishop (or priest, the image of the image ) who is icon of Christ (eikon tou Theou) and an imitation of Christ (mimema Christou).(91) So it is that only men can be priests.
Reading the books of Orthodox feminists or egalitarians (call them what you will), they are not zealous for Orthodoxy.(92) It is evident that they do not believe that the Orthodox Church is the Catholic Church. I have a suspicion that they do not have a traditional ecclesiology, and that in fact they look beyond her precincts for an understanding of the Church. It might be beneficial for all to hear once more the words of St. Cyril of Jerusalem. The Church, he says, teaches universally and completely one and all the doctrines which ought to come to mens knowledge concerning things both visible and invisible, heavenly and earthly... She brings unto godliness all mankind... and because she universally treats and heals the every class of sins, which are committed by soul or body, and possesses in herself every form of virtue which is named, both the deeds and words, and in every kind of spiritual gift
84. Ora. XVIII, 8 PG 35 993D-994A.
85. It is a tragic accident of history that this advance occurred in a social setting and under circumstances which strengthened and affirmed patriarchy, writers Greta Lerner. Here is the historic moment of the death of the Mother-Goddess and her replacement by God-the-Father and the metaphorical Mother under patriarchy (The Creation of Patriarchy. Oxford, 1986, p. 198). I mention this because there are not a few Orthodox feminists who mock St. Epiphanius when he affiliated female aspirations to the priesthood with the ancient cult of goddesses. Also, among these women is a profound resentment of men. To their marrow, they hate patriarchy. They are dedicated to the struggle against patriarchal values. They want to join civil society in the mutual liberation from the shackles of patriarchy that has ruled the world and our religious life for far too long. We need to help free our gospel teaching from the cultural influences that have shrouded its true message: one gospel that frees us all, men and women, and makes us precious and equal in the sight of God. They have been frustrated in Orthodoxy by this emphasis on obedience and submission (presumably to men). Part of the task is to overcome apathy and obedient submission to teachings that alienate and subordinate us (Marie Assad, Defining Ourselves as Orthodox Women, pp. 156-157).
86. Translated by Antonio de Nicolas, The World & I: A Chronicle New York (Oct. 1986, p. 355).
87. The Bible and the Role of Women. Philadelphia, 1966, p. 4.
88. The Ordination of Women in the Orthodox Church p. 35.
89. Behr-Sigel,p. 36.
90. St. Gregory of Nyssa was right that the divine Image does not admit a distinction between male and female. The body alone distinguishes them (De Hom. Opf., XVI PG 44 181C). But we cannot infer from this fact that Adam was androgynous, as radical feminists teach. Nor are we to adopt Platos dualism. Body and soul are intertwined, a mutual penetration which allows these two human dimensions to affect one another directly. Therefore, the body as well as the soul defines the sexes.
91. Ref. Iconom., 4 PG 99 439CD; cf. Ep. 1, 11 PG 99 945D.
92. My ecumenical contacts, confesses Teny Perri-Simoman in a revealing statement, have helped me to understand my own roots better; and they have made me more tolerant toward others points of view (Orthodox Women in Ecumenical Dialogue, Orthodox Speak Women Speak..., p.150).
93. Catech. XVIII, 23 PG 33 10944D-1045A.
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