In English

Orthodox women today (3)

20 Μαρτίου 2010

Orthodox women today (3)

Not surprisingly, the position of women in the Orthodox Church today reflects both

sides of this history—that which would abase them along with that which

affirms their dignity.

On the one hand, it cannot be denied that there are parishes in which women are

permitted to do only those tasks which the men consider “women’s work” and

therefore “beneath” them—cleaning the church, taking care of the children,

baking the prosphora.

In fact, of course, these traditionally femaletasks are just as honorable and just as essential to the life of the Church as any of the more public or glamorous tasks

which these men reserve to themselves;nevertheless, they do not exhaust the spectrum of women’s gifts and thereforeshould not circumscribe their contribution.

 On the other hand, there are many parishes in which women serve in every capacity

except those of the ordained clergy—as chanters, readers, choir directors; as

teachers, administrators, parish council members; as helpers to the clergy in

all sorts of works of mercy.

While 0rthodox practice in some places reflects the overmasculinization of our culture

as a whole, the solution to this problem is not to be found in feminism, even of

the so-called “Christian” variety. The fundamental error of feminism is the

same as that of the male-dominated culture that feminism is reacting against:

the error of believing that masculine qualities, such as leadership, physical

strength, analytical thinking, and strict justice, are inherently superior to

feminine qualities, such as nurturing, gentleness, intuition, and mercy. Instead

of striving to win men’s respect for feminine qualities, feminists tried to

empower women by transforming them into imitation men.

“Christian” feminism, while less vehement in some respects than the secular variety, still

attempts to raise the position of women in the Church by placing them in roles

traditionally reserved for men, such as the priesthood, instead of by exhorting

the Church to accept and honor women in the ministries for which they are

naturally and/or spiritually gifted. The masculinization of women which

inevitably results from this mistaken approach is one of many reasons that the

Orthodox Church has steadfastly maintained its traditional stance against the

female priesthood and the “feminization” of God.

In spite of those weaknesses which characterize every human institution, the

Orthodox Church still provides, in her Tradition and very often in practice, the

strongest witness to be found in the mod­ern world to the godly model of woman­hood

that we have been trying to define. We as Orthodox women have the responsibility

to help restore our society to balance by living out those godly feminine

qualities which have often gotten short shrift, both in the world and in the



 What, then, are some of these godly feminine qualities we need to cultivate? It is

impossible to give an exhaustive list, but here are several that seem especially


 1) The greatest of these is love. Of course, all Christians are called to

love; but women have a special gift for loving. We should love, first of all,

those closest to us—our families or those who are like a family to us. But we

should not stop there; our love should reach out to our neighborhood, our

parish, our commu­nity, our world. The love demanded of us is not just a

sentimental good feeling toward other people. We’re talking about sacrificial

love—love in action—love that puts our own interests second to those of

the beloved. It’s not an easy task.

2) We should give ourselves in joyful service. Again, all Christians are

called to serve; but it seems to come more naturally to women. Our service

should follow our love, starting at home and spreading outward, always guided by

God’s will for our individual lives.

Our service should also follow our individual gifts. If you can’t bake a fluffy

pastry to save your life, go ahead and say no when the festival committee asks

you to make baklava. But if, on the other hand, you have artistic talent,

perhaps you should study iconography or illustrate lives of saints for children.

Don’t let your gifts go to waste. If you don’t know what your gifts are, or

can’t think of a way to use them for God, talk to your husband or priest or to

an older, wiser woman you know. They may know you better than you know yourself.

3) The essence of womanhood is motherhood. Not all women are called to be

physical mothers, but all are called to be spiritual mothers, guiding and nurturing

and teaching others to follow Christ. Those who work in the world should seek

vocations that allow these qualities their full expression, rather than trying

to com­pete in the dog-eat-dog business world of men.

Those of us who are mothers in the physical sense must take this responsibility very

seriously. The world would have us believe that mothering is just one aspect of

life, that it can be done quite adequately in the few hours a day we have left

over from our careers or other activi­ties we have chosen to “fulfill

ourselves.” But we mothers really, in our heart of hearts, know better. We

know that children are a sacred trust; they need and deserve the very best we

have to give. If we cannot pass on our faith to them through our example of

devoted love and service, how can the Church survive? And how can we stand

before God and claim to have accomplished anything of any value in this


 4) Women have a unique capacity to respond to God with all our hearts and

souls. This is the essence of spirituality, and it comes more easily to women

than to men, because responsiveness characterizes our human relationships as

well as our relationship to God. Men, being called to leadership in the human

realm, often find it more difficult to surrender that role and to meet their

Creator in humility. We women can set an example in simple, faithful piety that

is ultimately more influential in the life of the Church than the most inspired

teaching or the most glori­ous martyrdom.

5) Our proper response to God is to strive for holiness. Only by pursuing

holiness will we become capable of all that is required of us. Only by deepening

our relationship with God can we come to understand, accept, and live the life

He has designed for us. Only through loving, trusting obedience to God can we

find our true calling, as women and as human beings. Only so can we begin to

fulfill the vocation bequeathed to us by Mary of giving birth to Christ in other

people. This is our proper contribution to the salvation of the world.