|A New Question||1|
|The Holy Fathers||19|
|The "Masculinity" of God||23|
|The Male Christ||31|
|The Male Priesthood||37|
|One in Christ||43|
|The Created Order||51|
|Christ and the Church||61|
|Hierarchy of the Cosmos||67|
|Handmaid of the Lord||71|
|About the Author||101|
Fr. Michael Azkoul's new book is characterized by the same clarity and traditional outlook as his other books. It provides a sustained argument for and coherent presentation of the Orthodox view on the modern issue of the ordination of women to the priesthood andother related topics. Its contribution lies in voicing once again what the vast majority of the Orthodox Christians believe, which, sometimes, seems neglected or even obscure, because of the aggressive opposition of a tiny but vocal minority. Many of the authors basic arguments remind us of those expounded at the Inter-Orthodox Symposium of Rhodes, Greece, which was organized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1988 and dealt with "The Place of the Woman in the Orthodox Church and the Question of the Ordination of Women." The volume on that Symposium (Tertios Publications, Katerini, Greece 1992) "showed beyond doubt," as its editor stated, "that the Orthodox Tradition leaves no room for the ordination of women to the priesthood." Fr. Azkoul's present volume draws the same conclusion but, being the work of a single author, provides a more focused and consistent reasoning for the Orthodox position and supplies meaningful answers to objections raised by opponents or revisionists. As such, it clarifies many aspects of the issues discussed and provokes a more meaningful and balanced discussion.
Protopresbyter George Dion. Dragas
For the Orthodox Research Institute
An idea growing in popularity among some Orthodox over the last few decades has been the admission of women to the sacerdotal priesthood. The sourcefor this idea is not the Scriptures, the Fathers, the Councils of the Church, but comes to us from the world, specifically the feminist movement. It has implications for the secularization of the Church. On one level, advocates view the ordination of women as something owed the female sex, a sign of the Church's repentance, so to speak, atonement for the centuries of female stereotyping and powerlessness, that is to say, denying her the right to creatively express her ingenuity, to exercise her freedom and to exhibit her dedication.
Not unaware of the objections in holy Tradition to the ordination of women to the presbytery (and consecration to the episcopacy), the strategy of its proponents is to declare this innovation an "open question." It is, in fact, not a subject to be debated. The theological and ecclesial facts need only to be reviewed to make the point. We turn in a moment for an understanding of those facts to the only authorities (criteria) available to us - the Scriptures, the Fathers and the Canons. They have unalterably defined the place of women in the Church from the beginning.
Female aspirations to the priesthood are not something new. It has antecedents that reach through the Middle Ages to the time of the Apostles. The occasion for St. Paul's comment on the subject was the threat to the Church from heresies. Early heretics, such as the Gnostics, Montanists and Priscillianists, had "ordained" priestesses. But women in the priestly office was naturally part of their religion. In the Orthodox Church, however, women had no access to the priesthood, and her members were aware that their absence from its ranks was natural and necessary to her life. The Church understood priesthood to be a call from God, not the result of "cultural structures" or "political ideology" which unfairly favored men. Likewise, "the subordination of women" (which does not constitute inferiority) to the male was recognized as intrinsic to "the order of creation" and "the order of redemption" or "salvation."
With this doctrine we might expect that the history of women in the so-called "undivided Church" had been a showcase of contentment. It was not. There were instances of Christian women who, indifferent to the ecclesial and canonical restrictions, invaded the sanctuary. In his letter to St. Cyprian of Carthage, St. Firmilian of Cassarea (d. 268) mentioned a woman who presumed to consecrate the elements and perform the Eucharist with no regard to the norms of the Church.(1) In 494, Pope Gelasius declared, "We have noted with vexation that contempt for divine truths has reached such a level that even women, it is reported, serve at the holy altars. Everything that is entrusted exclusively to men is performed by the sex that has no right to do so."(2) Two centuries later, the Saxon King, Louis the Pious (778-840), complained that "in some provinces, contrary to divine law and canonical prescription, women are entering the sanctuary. They handle sacred vessels without fear, passing out clerical vestments to the priests, and even distributing the Body and Blood of the Lord (and other indecent things) to the people... It is astonishing that this practice, forbidden by the Christian religion, should have crept in anywhere... undoubtedly through the negligence of some bishop."(3)
Despite the inexplicable behavior of these females, the admission of women to the priesthood has never been a theological problem in the Orthodox Church; it has never been a "real cause," as Fr. Alexander Schmemann once observed. In part, Orthodox women have understood the reason for their exclusion. Also, they were never without their own ministries, for example, the presbytides or "elderly women"(4) who, like the deaconesses that later replaced them, humbly served the Church. They were usually widows, who interceded with the priest and bishop on behalf of women, helped the clergy with their baptism, prayed with them, nursed the sick and dealt with women's personal problems.
The deaconess (not a female deacon) was counted with the lower orders, the sub-deacon, readers, chanters, sextons, and doorkeepers. Unfortunately, in the sixth century, the Emperor Justinian uncanonically made 40 deaconesses part of the 425 "clergy" that served Hagia Sophia. They entered the sanctuary and, other than preaching or communing the people, performed the duties of a deacon, according to the "Rite of the Byzantine Deaconess." This episode was an aberration in the life of the Church, rewarded finally by the virtual negation of this woman's ministry. This order enjoys a certain revival today.
Unsatisfied with this "empowerment," contemporary Orthodox feminists have scrutinized every aspect of holy Tradition to find historical support for their "cause"; but not without first "changing the rules of the game." Influenced by Western secular thought, they presume to offer a new understanding of the Church's Tradition and, necessarily, her Scriptures. The very concept of Tradition (which includes the Fathers), they insist, must be reexamined to determine "what Tradition is and what it is not. Obedience to Tradition must not be seen as a kind of dead fundamentalism. It does not mean that nothing can ever be done for the first time. Holy Tradition, rightly understood, is dynamic, not static and inert"(5) With just these few words, the entire ecclesial and social legacy of the Orthodox Faith is thrown into doubt.
The issue is further exacerbated by the contemporary religious that is to say, ecumenical climate. With special regard to the Scriptures, the Coptic feminist, Marie Assad, insists that the Scriptures especially must be read "in the context of the present, always conscious of the difference between the cultural and historical setting of the past and present. Women in particular have an active role to play in re-reading Scripture accoring to our new awareness of ourselves and our role in society."(6) There is nothing unexpected in her remarks, but we have a right to ask if Ms.Assad speaks for all non-Chalcedonian or Oriental Orthodox (or any other religious denomination); and whether she is aware that her demands for "updating" would necessarily involve a conflation of Tradition with modern secular ideology, and it would be this unlawful synthesis that would account for the admission of women to the priesthood.
From an Orthodox point of view, is there not something objectionable in any "cause," however popular, whose fundamental principles are drawn not from Tradition but from external sources, especially when that Tradition a priori forbids the mongrelization of its divine purpose? Does it not appear that the desire of feminists for the priesthood is not motivated by saving faith, so willing are they to subordinate the Tradition of the Church to their worldly goals. Then, too, we have every reason to believe that they are rumaging through that Tradition to find support of that "cause," not in order to discover whether or not it is God-pleasing.
In that case, we need to ask a few more questions: are Orthodox feminists willing to submit their arguments to the same analysis to which they have subjected the historical practices of their Church? Might they not discover that they have incorporated into their thinking another brand of stereotyping and discrimination? Do they have any suspicion that their opinions are destined to revision, if not obsolescence in the grand scheme of the cosmic process; and, ironically, by the same forces of history that they imagine will inevitably disenfranchise the traditional ways of the Church? In truth, they have lost sight of the Christian imperative that the Holy Spirit preserves and protects the teachings of the Church. Their duty as daughters (and sons), is to humbly accept, defend and assimilate the Faith. We have yet to discover in them a fear of transgressing "the ancient landmarks the fathers have errected(Prov. 23:28 LXX).
The Orthodox partisans of women in the priesthood view their "bold initiative" as a new enlightenment. The late Elizabeth Behr-Sigel (often called "the grandmother of Western Orthodoxy"), Kyriaki Kridoyanes Fitzgerald, Nonna Vera Harrison, Susan Ashbrook Harvey, Leonine B. Liveris, Eva Catafygiotou-Topping, etc., argue that their efforts have not the intention of overthrowing Tradition but giving to it a "new perspective," a claim they have evidenced in literary vehicles, such as the feminist-ecumenist journals, Massachusetts' own St. Nina Quarterly and Australia's Mary/Martha. They have been encouraged by the support of the Patriarchs of Constantinople and Antioch who have arranged conferenceswith no little help from the WCCby means of which the proponents of woman's ordination are given the opportunity to publicly ventilate their frustration.
Contrary to the thinking of these "Westernizers,"(7) the place of women in the Church, to repeat, has been permanently settled by the Apostles and, therefore, cannot be altered; at least, not in the Orthodoxy in which I was nurtured. Indeed, a male priesthood has been the uninterrupted Judeo-Christian practice for six millennia. One cannot but grieve the attitude of feminists, such as L.B. Leveris, who, because she conceives the "mistreatment" of women as "androcentric prejudices," urges Orthodox women "to break the silence imposed on them not by the genuine tradition of the Church, but by social custom and convention."(8) Hers is a proud and futile protestation.
Let us be clear on this matter: the Church has never denied women admission to the priesthood, because the "gift" (charisma) was never offered to them by Christ, Put in other words, the female has never been deprived of the office, because she was never eligible for it. The "equality" of the sexes (in the modern sense) has never been part of the Church's thinking about the priesthood. Her world-view has always been hierarchical. As C.S. Lewis said, "I do not remember the text in Scripture, nor the Fathers...which asserts it."(9) To be sure, men and women share the "image of God" and, therefore, have a common humanity; but "the primacy of honor" belongs to the male both in the "order of creation" and the "order of redemption." The first, belonging to the Genesis account, ordains the relationship between the male for whom the female was made as a help-mate. The "order of redemption" is prefigured in the covenant between Yahweh and old Israel, and realized in the union of Christ and the Church. His death on the Cross, among other things, is the act of sacrificial love of the male Redeemer for His female Companion. The Eucharist, of course, is their wedding banquet.(10)
1. Ep. Cyp. LXXV, 10 NPNF. Most of the quotations from the Fathers are taken from The Ante-Nicene Fathers and Nicene-Post (ANF, NPNF), The Fathers of the Church (FOC), Ancient Christian Writers (ACW) translations. Otherwise, they are translated from the J. P. Migne collection: the Greek Fathers (PG), the Latin Fathers (PL); also from Sacrorum conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio (J. D. Mansi, Paris, 1901-1927.).
2. Ep. IX, 26 PL 59 55.
3. Mansi [vol. XVI], 565.
4. Laodicea, Can. 11.
5. Bishop Kallistos (Ware), "Man, Woman and the Priesthood of Christ," in Women and the Priesthood. Ed. by T. Hopko. Crest-wood (NY), 1999, p. 157. In the 1983 edition, His Grace wrote, "Those... who ordain women as minister... are not however creating priests, but dispensing with the priesthood altogether" (p. 27). In his interview with Teva Regule for St. Nina Quarterly (11 June 1997), he not only calls for women "as teachers in the pastoral ministry of the Church," but also they will become deaconesses, readers, chanters and acolytes. He questions the authority of the Ecumenical Council to restrict the place of women in the Church. He thinks women should be permitted to enter the sanctuary. He concludes the interview with the remarkable statement that Christ's maleness is of little relevance to the concept of the Christian priesthood.
6. "Defining Ourselves as Orthodox Women," in Orthodox Women Speak: Discerning the Signs of the Times. Ed. by K. K. Fitzgerald. Geneva. 1999, p. 157.
7. Madame Behr-Sigel thinks that a "Westernized" Orthodoxy would be more congenial to the idea of the ordination of women to the sacerdotal priesthood. She is under the mistaken impression that the "mind" of "the Eastern Church" ought to be stretched (The Ordination of Women in the Orthodox Church. Geneva, 2000, p. 5).
8. Orthodox Women as Writers,Orthodox Women Speak..., p. 129.
9. "Priestess in the Church?" God in the Dock. Grand Rapids (MI), 2002, p. 238.
10 See J. Danielou, The Bible and the Liturgy. Notre Dame, 1956, pp. 215-221.
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