The Gynaekeion (Greek: Γυναικωνιτις) was historically the part of the church assigned to women for worshipping.
The separation between the two sexes while worshipping or attending other religious services was adopted from the Jewish synagogue and the practices of other religious groups. This segregation has been thought to be indicative of the place of the woman in Hebrew and Christian theology as being in some way inferior to man on the strength of the Biblical account of creation and the Fall. However, the separate places for men and women in the early Church did not arise from a notion of female inferiority since St. Paul's teaching on the equality of races and the two sexes was one of the more effective foundations on which the Christian Church was founded and grew. The separation of the two sexes in church was rather intended to prevent temptation.
Originally and up to the fourth century, there was no gallery extending on both sides of the church to about the middle of the nave, as it became the practice after the fifth century and as can be seen even now in the great church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. This gallery came to be known as the "Gynaekeion". Before that, women occupied the northern part of the church on the side where the icon of the Virgin Mary is on the iconostasis. In later centuries and under the influence of the religious practices of the Arabs and other eastern religions, the gynaekeion was completely enclosed by what is called "caphasia", screens through which women could view the sanctuary and the solea without being visible from the nave.
In recent years, and though the gynaekeion is still in use in those churches that have it, women may elect to sit in the left wing of the nave. In the United States and within the Greek Church, sitting pews have been introduced and the Western custom of men and women sitting together in church has been adopted in most communities.
- Rev. Dr. Nicon D. Patrinacos (M.A., D.Phil. (Oxon)). A Dictionary of Greek Orthodoxy - Λεξικον Ελληνικης Ορθοδοξιας. Light & Life Publishing, Minnesota, 1984. pp.185-186
- Gynaeceum at Dictionary.com
- Gynaeceum at YourDictionary.com
- "Women's Courtyard" (on the Temple Mount). At Wikipedia.
- Dr. Valerie A. Karras. The Liturgical Functions of Consecrated Women In The Byzantine Church. Theological Studies 66 No 1 Mar 2005, pp.96-116.
- Rev. Dr. Nicon D. Patrinacos (M.A., D.Phil. (Oxon)). A Dictionary of Greek Orthodoxy - Λεξικον Ελληνικης Ορθοδοξιας. Light & Life Publishing, Minnesota, 1984.