Orthodox Women Speak
Subtitle: Discerning the Signs of the Times
edited by Kyriaki Karidoyanes Fitzgerald
co-published by the WCC Publications, Geneva (www.wcc.coe.org), and Holy Cross Orthodox Press, Brookline Mass; ISBN 2-8254-1317-8. Price: $ 15.00, Swiss Fr. 22.50; £ 9.50.
Review for www.womenpriests.org
This book presents the outcome of two international Orthodox womens conferences in 1996 and 1997, convoked to discuss the theme: Discerning the Signs of the Times (Matt. 16:3): Women in the Life of the Orthodox Church. Both conferences, one at Damascus and the other at Istanbul, received official delegations and were held with the full support of the Orthodox hierarchies.
A glance at the table of contents reveals the wide scope of the book. It contains both the official conclusions of the two conferences and the individual papers submitted by the international participants. This is an important publication, also for Christians outside the Orthodox communities who want to understand the true situation of women within those communities.
I believe that, in the context of our website, these issues merit to be highlighted in a special way:
- The ramifications of sexism as a sin were discussed at both conferences. The text from Damascus, for example, states: We note with tremendous sadness, how easy it is for the presence of women to be forgotten.... There are some occasions when the role and presence of women, as well their work, is not always validated for the value it has... Rather, women may be seen by some as more readily dispensable... The Istanbul text takes this a step further to suggest that sexism be taken up programmatically by the church, observing that the church would benefit from theological and soteriological reflection on this issue, especially through the medium of consultations, workshops and informal study.
- Both the Damascus and Istanbul discussions and documents also voiced concern about certain liturgical practices associated with the presentation of infants, particular prayers related to miscarriage, abortion, post-partum mothers, and the assumptions which in some places still prohibit women from receiving communion for biological reasons. These concerns were discussed openly, yet with great sensitivity. The delegates recognized the need to examine more thoughtfully the relationship between theology and praxis. Indeed, a focus on orthopraxia as the theologically correct application of practice, was reflected in the discussions at each conference. The Synod of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch, under the leadership of Patriarch Ignatius IV, immediately responded to these issues, which had also been identified a few weeks earlier by a regional meeting of Orthodox women from the Middle East. The Synod affirmed the God-given value of women in the church and ordered that liturgical texts which imply otherwise be corrected . . . Furthermore, The Holy Synod discussed certain matters which touched the lives of women and decided that women and men should be treated equally concerning their participation in divine services and receiving sacraments. Whatever references are in the liturgical books that women are unclean and tainted should be abolished . . . This necessitates a new look at liturgical texts.
- Both meetings placed a surprisingly strong emphasis on the serious lack of opportunity for women to study Orthodox theology. Noting that in families and schools, women are the primary educators, Istanbul said that theologically-educated women have a particular ministry in teaching our faithful, making Orthodox theological education for women... a priority. Damascus expressed deep disappointment that many women have not had the chance to study theology in a formal setting, which hinders our role and work in the church. The statement added that women should receive both spiritual and financial support to pursue studies in theological education. At both meetings those women present who have pursued formal studies in Orthodox theology were publicly recognized and encouraged.
- There were calls for rejuvenating the diaconate of women at both conferences. The participants at Damascus recognized the ministry of deaconesses as a response to the Holy Spirit for various needs of this present age and recommended that our church leaders discern prayerfully and courageously the presence of the Holy Spirit in those many places where the ministry of ordained deaconesses, as well as other forms of ministry, are needed. The Istanbul delegates stated: Many of us believe the incorporation of deaconesses in the life of the church will help contribute to the atmosphere of love and learning, and to the life of the church.
- The ordination of women as presbyters (priests) and bishops was not brought up at any of the discussions. But even if this is not an issue for many Orthodox women, there was a common appreciation expressed by the delegates that this has become an important ecumenical issue coming from traditions originating in the West. For this reason, the findings of Constantine Yokarinis, a member of the theological faculty of the University of Athens, were included for consideration during one of the panel discussions at the Istanbul meeting (see page of contents) Of their own accord, participants organized extra discussion time in order to consider his research more carefully; and more than a third of the delegates attended this meeting. This may indicate that Orthodox women are comfortable considering and discussing this issue - at least with other Orthodox women - even when they are not themselves proponents of the ordination of women as presbyters and bishops.
Both the official recommendations of the two Conferences and the individual presentations published in Orthodox Women Speak make this book a must for all who want to be up-to-date with what lives among women in the Orthodox Churches!
The book can be ordered from:
World Council of Churches,
150 Route de Ferney,
1211 Geneva 2,
Holy Cross Orthodox Press,
50 Goddard Avenue,
Brookline, MA 02445,
Tel.: +1 - 617 - 731 3500.
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