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A New Question? from, Order of Creation/Order of Redemption

A New Question?

from Order of Creation/Order of Redemption
by Michael Azkoul, publ. Orthodox Research Institute, 2007, pp. 1-7.

Republished on our website with permission of the author.

There are many factors that explain the development and promotion of the idea of women in the priesthood. There has been no more effective instrument in the furtherance of it than the World Council of Churches (WCC). Its guidelines on “the question of women” were composed at the Amsterdam Assembly of 1948. Its first pronouncement on the subject was not so innocuous as it seemed — “The Church consists of both men and women, and both have the same degree of personal worth, even if this fact is often disregarded in practice.”(1) The reference of the Assembly to “the personal worth of women” signifies much more than “personal worth,” but like “equality” is a code-word for the elimination of all male privileges and patriarchy or, what is the same thing, the eradication of biblical anthropology; and, therefore, the complete transformation of Christianity, as it has hitherto been known.

Two bodies within the WCC most interested in women’s ordination are the Commission of Faith and Order and (as it is presently called) “The Department on the Cooperation of Men and Women in Church, Family and Society.” The latter was especially active in the pursuit of this woman’s cause. In response to the Uppsala Assembly (1968), the Department convoked several meetings to discuss the question of women in the priesthood. In 1974, a conference was held in Berlin that undertook to study “Sexism in the 70s.” Emphasis was placed on changing “masculine structures” in society. “Sexism” was defined as “any kind of subordination or devaluation of a person or group solely on the basis of sex,” Any form of social precedence for males — abusive or not—connected with the subordination of women was described by many of the conferees as “heresy,” even something “demonic.”(2)

In 1976, the WCC also sponsored the first international conference of Orthodox women, at the Agapia Monastery (near Bucharest, Rumania). Curiously no women were invited to the Anglican-Orthodox Joint Doctrinal Commission held in Athens, July of 1978. The ordination of women was firmly rejected at both meetings. The Anglican bishop had proposed that both Anglican and Orthodox women should be invited, but the late Greek Orthodox Archbishop Athenagoras (Kokkinakis) of Great Britain and Thyateira overruled him. With a sharp rebuke, he also rejected any notion of female priests, saying that it is “a contemporary fashion, which overthrows the evangelic order and the experience of the Church.”(3)

During the Rhodes Consultation (1988), the question of women’s ordination was finally debated. Generally, for Orthodox theologians with a Western back­ground, it was a crucial problem. They had, however, serious reservations about overturning a two thousand-year tradition. Rhodes concluded that “the con­sciousness of the Church from the very beginning excluded women from participation in the special priesthood [as opposed to ’the priesthood of believers’], on the basis of the example of the Lord and the Apostles, Tradition and practice, in the light of Paul’s teaching concerning the relationship between men and women in the new reality in Christ.”(4) Of course, not everyone agreed with this conclusion by reason of the modern conception of male-female equality, and on the basis of what so many have called “the silence of tradition” on this question.

Under the auspices of the WCC, other meetings were held in Crete (1990), Damascus (1996), Istanbul (1997), all treating the subject of woman’s place in the Church. Patriarch Ignatius IV of Antioch addressed the meeting, asserting that “Christianity is an Eastern reality” which includes “our non-Chalcedonian Orthodox sister churches.” In his remarks to the Istanbul assembly, Patriarch Bartholomew emphasized that “women are able and should be invited to offer guidance to the Church on issues that specifically concern them.”(5) No doubt the women in attendance were pleased with the attitude of the Patriarch, but they were conscious that neither he nor the vast majority of Orthodox leaders had yet begun to formulate the issue. They were not given hope that “one day soon” Orthodox women would be wearing the philoneon.

In American Orthodoxy, there is also division over the idea of ordaining women to the priesthood. There is no better illustration of this than Women and the Priesthood, edited by the retired Dean of St. Vladimir’s Russian Orthodox Seminary, Fr. Thomas Hopko, first printed in 1983 and updated in 1999. In the chapter “The Debate Continues—1998,” Fr. Thomas says that the advocates of woman’s ordination claim to “defend their views as the result of their studies of the Church Fathers.”(6) He disputes them, but seems unaware that the Fathers to which they referred are the Cappadocians who are “the true founders of the doctrine of humankind in Orthodox theology” Along with St. Maximus the Confessor, they ostensibly teach there is an “ontological unity of mankind beyond the distinction between men and women, according to the order of creation.”(7)

Straining to find an anthropology in the history of the Church to accommodate their feminist ideology, Orthodox egalitarians have in fact set the Fathers against Tradition with a new anthropology. In part, they hoped to counter “the iconic argument” for the exclusively male priesthood. They reasoned that gender is irrelevant to the office of priest. Men and women share the same nature, a common humanity, that is, both are the “icons” (Grk.) or “images” (Lat.) of God. But the “image of God” in the individual is not the same “image” or “icon” of Christ related to the occupant of the priesthood. For one thing, the “image of God” to which Moses refers in Genesis is a phrase used metaphorically to describe man’s spiritual dimension. It is not relevant to the argument of sex and the priesthood, for which reason the Fathers maintain that the priest is the “image” of the theandric Christ.(8)

To what depth Orthodox feminists have carried their analysis of Christian anthropology, one cannot always ascertain. In every case, however, they have categorically rejected, under any circumstances, the notion of the “subordination” of women to men. For them, “subordination”—tantamount to an admission of her inferiority—is unthinkable. It apparently has not occurred to them to distinguish between human nature and its functions. It is not a distinction they will draw so long as it involves the distribution of power in the favor of the male. Some of the radical feminists have allegorically converted the Christ into something mythical; hence, to consider Jesus as both male and female, that is, as androgynous, the Romantic “Primal Man” or, what the Jewish Kabbalah calls, Adam Kadmon—part male and part female. But Jesus is a historical figure. His Incarnation is historical fact. That the Word was incarnate as a male (theandros), and not as a woman, is sufficient proof of “whose hands and tongue” God wanted to offer “the sacrifice of praise” to Him at the altar. His intent is even clearer when we consider that the bishop is “the living icon of Christ” (St. Ignatius of Antioch). He is male, because the Incarnate Lord was male.


1. Quoted in Manfred Hauke, Women in the Priesthood: A Systematic Analysis in the Light of the Order of Creation and Redemption. Trans. by D. Kipp. San Francisco, 1988, p. 51.

2. Ibid., p, 52. See Pauline Webb, “Address at the Public Meeting on Sexism in the 70s,” Ecumenical Woman’s Congress, Ed. by E. Moltmann-Wendel. Berlin, 1975.

3. Loc. Cit.

4. “The Place of Women in the Orthodox Church and the Question of the Ordination of Women,” Inter-Orthodox Theological Consultation. Ecumenical Patriarchate.9 Dec 1988, pp. 2-3.

5. At the Damascus meeting, the Orthodox and the non-Chalcedonians agreed that male and female babies would be “churched” alike; and women would not be deprived of Holy Communion during their menstrual period. They were not required to cover their heads during worship. No canonical reason was given for the abolition of these practices (Orthodox Women Speak..., pp. 7-19).

6. Women in the Priesthood..., p. 254,

7. Behr-Sigel, The Ordination of Women..., p. 2.

8. The “priest” or “presbyter” acts for the bishop. He re-presents the bishop to his flocks. He is, so to speak, the icon or image of the image of his Incarnate Prototype. Worthy of note is the distinction between a) the human being as created in “the image” [eikon] of God; b) the bishop as “the image of Christ”; and c) the icon as sacred art. Men and women were fashioned in “the image and likeness of God” the Son, He Who is d) ”the express Image” of God the Father (Heb. 1:3). That relationship between those two Persons of the Trinity is not the same as the relationship between God the Son and the humanity made in His Image. Neither is the relationship between the icon and its prototype the same as the other two distinctions. The “image of God” in man has an entirely noetic or spiritual connotation. God the Son or the Logos is “the express Image” of the Father, something we barely understand; and are only indirectly related to a) or c). Icons or artistic images can only depict what has been seen, while the reverence shown them passes to their prototypes or individuals that were at one time historical persons.

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