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The Male Priesthood from 'Order of Creation/Order of Redemption' by Michael Azkoul

The Male Priesthood

from Order of Creation/Order of Redemption
by Michael Azkoul, publ. Orthodox Research Institute, 2007, pp. 37-41.

Republished on our website with permission of the author.

Hopefully the reader is beginning to suspect that women are forbidden the priesthood for reasons other than those propounded by its advocates. With regard to the place of women in the Church, the Orthodox Tradition does not need to justify itself, as Madam Behr-Sigel demands. The cry of "outmoded taboos," "misogynic stereotypes," "the stagnation of theological thought," "discrimination" and "patriarchy"(30) is a form of tactical intimidation. If we may use some of it ourselves, the demand for the ordination of women is an act of apostasy, not "a creative development of the living tradition of the Church."(31) The priesthood is male for the arguments already made, and others yet to be provided.

We need to recall that the Lord made no woman an Apostle.(32) To no woman did He say "He who hears me, hears you." To no woman did He promise to ratify in heaven what she had bound or loosed on earth. To no woman did He give the apostolic commission — "Go ye therefore and teach all nations..." (Matt. 28:19). No woman succeeded the Apostles as bishops of the Church. To no woman did He commend His flock. He gave permission to no woman to baptize or to preside at the Eucharist. In fact, no woman was present at the Mystical Supper. Save for the Theotokos, there is no evidence of any woman present at Pentecost. Although women have always had many ministries in the Church, not for two thousand years has she included women in the priestly hierarchy.

Until just a few generations ago, it was universally assumed throughout the Orthodox world that the example of the Lord in choosing only men to be His Apostles, the emphatic language of St. Paul in prohibiting women to preach or teach the Church, constituted overwhelming proof against their female ordination.

 This practice is unequivocally affirmed in the writings of the holy Fathers. Sacred custom and canons reinforced the prohibition with collateral arguments. For example, St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain insists not only that women must remain silent, that is, neither to teach, nor speak in the congregation,(34) but they must not chant in the divine Services, whether in a female choir or with men. And, of course, they are to stand apart from men. Under these conditions alone, it would be impossible for women to be priests.

The same is true for the order of deaconess, which seems to have replaced the order of widows (presbytides) who did very much the same kind of ministry. If not virgins they were without spouse, at least 40 years old.(35) There is some dispute among Orthodox scholars whether they were "appointed" or "ordained."(36)

According to the Apostolic Constitutions(37) they were appointed. St. Hippolytus of Rome says they were "appointed" not "ordained" because the Deaconess did not offer the oblation (prosphora), nor celebrate the Liturgy.(38) They were reckoned among chanters, readers and sub-deacons, each with their own function.(39) Although St. John Chrysostom considered the "female deacons" to be deacons, he understood that position to have its peculiar duties and not an order within the priestly hierarchy. Others vigorously maintained that under no condition, may the deaconess be equated with the male deacon and, under no circumstance, was she to insinuate herself into sacerdotal functions.

Let us be clear on this matter. If the feminist argument is to prevail, that women have, on the basis of male manipulation of revelation, been kept from their rightful place in the leadership of the Church, then, it is futile to appeal to the "patriarchal" Scriptures, the Fathers, canons and customs in order to refute it. If a male-dominated Church has presumed deliberately to deny competent and pious women a place in the sacerdotal ministry in contradiction to the express command of the Lord and the Apostles, then nothing her Fathers, Councils and hierarchy in general is worthy of trust. If, on the basis of male pride, the Church has developed a false anthropology along with an erroneous conception of "the order of nature" and "the order of redemption," Orthodoxy is guilty of fraud and deceit and may not be viewed as representing Christ.

But if we are not so cynical, if we have not caught the virus of post-modernism; and if we confess the Orthodox Faith as the historical Agent of the Holy Spirit, the Ark of salvation, then we are assured that the absence of women from the leadership of the Church is part of "the Faith once delivered to the saints''(Jude 3). We must necessarily hold, therefore, that only a man may represent Christ, as only a woman may represent the Church, a parallel anticipated by Adam and Eve, the masculine Yahweh and the female Israel. Truly, a woman priest would "turn everything upside down" (panta ano kai kato ginetai), to borrow a phrase from St. John Chrysostom.


30. Behr-Sigel, E. & Ware, K., The Ordination of Women in the Orthodox Church. Geneva, 2000, p. 1.

31. Ibid., p35.

32. The title "equal to the Apostles" later bestowed by the Church on Sts, Mary Magdalene, Helen, Nina, Olga were honorific. They were in fact neither Apostles nor priests.

33. The Protestant theologian, P. K. Jewett, holds that the Scriptures do not deny women the priesthood. "Tradition," he thinks, is the source of this discrimination. "Thus the Church has construed the data of revelation in a manner that limited woman's place in the family of God" (The Ordination of Women, p. 100). Employing language so appealing to the post-modern mind, Jewett describes the task of the "Church" as "transformation and renewal," instead of clinging to an old and irrelevant ecclesiology which bases the occupation of the priesthood on the "masculinity" of God (l.c.).

34. The Rudder. Trans. by D. Cummings. Chicago, 1957, pp. 373-374. St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain cites Lev. 20:18-20 & Ezek, 18:6 on the matter of menstruation; and also, St. Nicephorus of Constantinople, St. Basil the Great, St. Timothy of Alexandria, St. John the Faster, Novel 17 of Leo the Wise.

35. Quinisext, canon 14.

36. Among many others, J.Karmiris (The Place and Deaconate of Women in the Orthodox Church. Athens, 1978) believes the ministry of the deaconess is "a clearly auxiliary institution in the work of the Church. In every instance, in the ancient Church women did not in fact exercise purely priestly functions" (pp. 47-49). Evangelos Theodorou ('Cheirotonia' or 'Cherothesia' of the Deaconess? Athens, 1954) that in the early Church the "ordination of the deaconess" was performed in the same way as the ordination of the deacon, with a few notable exceptions (pp. 60-63). Both agree that she could not preside at the Eucharist.

37. VIII, 17, 1125 NPNF.

38. Ap. Trad., 11; Chadwick trans.

39. Ap. Can. VIII, 28, 1128.

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