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The role of women in the Eastern Orthodox Church (Part 2)

17 Φεβρουαρίου 2010

Continued from Part 1

Divine priesthood is a “functional imaging of the divine priesthood of God the Father through Jesus Christ” (Voulgaris 1996 : 35). It can thus only be imaged by man who is connected to the imaging of divine fatherhood. A woman’s role differs in that she images functionally the role of the Paraclete who is the assistant of Jesus Christ in His work in the Ekklesia. Both men and women are considered in Orthodoxy, to be harmonious and mature persons with a sense of great personal responsibility. Each of the sexes has a deep gnosis or knowledge of their total dependence on the Triune Godhead for their salvation by the Grace of God the Father. Holy Scripture teaches us that Salvation is the task of the entire Triune Godhead. The Father wills that certain things happen. The Son fulfills the will of the Father and the will is then perfected in each individual believer by the Paraclete. This is the foundation upon which the teachings of the early Church was based concerning priesthood as a specifically masculine function. Men and women thus have distinct roles and functions within the Church. There is expected to be synergy in what men and women do in the Church in the same way that Jesus Christ and the Paraclete co-operate.

In analyzing this typological reference, it becomes clear that the Theotokos (Mother of God), because of her total commitment to God becomes the cause of the salvation of mankind. It was through the Theotokos that the Paraclete was able to creatively incarnate the Son of God. The Theotokos, of all the people ever born is the person closest to God as she became the Mother of the Incarnate Saviour of mankind. Jesus was able to become the “first” Adam again, and also the “last” Adam and thus made the salvation of mankind possible. Mary was thus “the Mother of all creation”, a “second Eve who repaired the fault of the first woman”(Zernov 1947 : 60). Her special function in relation to the work of the Paraclete proved that she was indeed kecharitomeni (the most gifted of women) (Voulgaris 1996 : 34-36). The fact that the Theotokos was not a priestess shows that even if women are not ordained as priestesses this by no means suggests any sexism or chauvinism, neither are they to be construed as having lesser dignity than men.

Both the Church and the Virgin Mary the Theotokos receive the Paraclete whose energeia (energy) is able to bring forth Jesus Christ. In the same way, believers are born into the Ekklesia as a revitalized and saved community. The typology of women is thus pneumatocentric as it is they who receive distinct gifts from the Paraclete. Men on the other hand have a Christocentric typology. It is men who receive the three offices of Jesus Christ including priesthood. Women on the other hand have a function corresponding to the Paraclete. Neither man or woman however lose their consubstantiality as equal “images” of the Triune Godhead. Where women are thus accepted as priests, there is a reversal of the roles and functions taking place in which Pneumatology and Christology are altered .

Women were therefore only invested with the duty of diakonissa or deaconess as an innovation in caring for other women who were infirmed or to assist in the baptizing of women in the Ekklesia. Even this was not without some measure of difficulty for example a woman who was recently widowed had to be dokimazein or placed on probation before been appointed as a deaconess. By the third century widows became an order of the Ekklesia and became part and parcel of the hierarchy of the Church. The Church Father Origen, stated in his commentary on Romans 16 : 1 that: “with the authority of the Apostle that even women” are made deaconesses ( PG 14, 1278 A-C).

The Didascalia Apostolorum which was written in Syria in the first half of the first century as an Apostolic Constitution (Bartlet 1917 : 301-303) emphazised that the office of deaconess was a valuable position to have in assisting male priests. This Didascalia also suggested that there should be an “order of widows” (ibid 314). Widows had to spend their time praying for those who gave charity for the church (ibid 337). By the fourth century women deaconesses could welcome other women at the doors of the church but they were by no means part of the clergy. By the start of the fifth century women were ordained as deaconesses but only if they were virgins or widowed of one husband and at least forty years of age. Deaconesses were not allowed to marry if they were widows. John Chrysostom believed that certain women had ton to axioma tes diakonias echouson “dignity of the diaconate” (PG 62, 553 , Homily 1 Timothy).

Orthodox theologians concentrate on 1 Corinthians 11: 2-16, where Paul warns women against teaching in the Ekklesia during worship because woman is created in man’s image and not in God’s image. This reasoning is flawed as there is an ontological unity between male and female and Jesus and His Ekklesia that cannot be accepted if one believes that man and woman were created in different “images”. In any event, it is only Paul who re-iterates what is stated in Genesis 1 : 26-27 i.e. God “from the beginning made them male and female”.

to be continued…