Ordination of Women
Feminism in the Orthodox Church is an extremely limited phenomenon, but it does exist. It typically mirrors the feminism found in heterodox Christian confessions, focusing primarily on sush issues as the ordination of women, the gender of Jesus Christ, and gender language pertaining to the Holy Trinity.
Ordination of women
Traditionally, women have never been ordained to clerical offices within the Orthodox Church. The order of deaconess has existed in the Church, though deaconesses have never been considered female deacons, but were rather a separate order fulfilling separate duties.
Nevertheless, the existence of the diaconissate in the Church's history has led some writers to suggest it as a basis for ordination of women to the priesthood:
- I'm puzzled that the ordination of women to the diaconate is even a question. The [female] diaconate is in our history. It is canonically part of our history. The Coptic Church right now is showing how lively and vital that ministry can be. I think the question of the ordination to the priesthood is where I would put my sights. It is, of course, my conviction that there will be no ordination of women to the Orthodox priesthood for the next few hundred years. But it is also my conviction that there someday will be. The reason is not because of women and their place in society but because the priesthood is something to which the Holy Spirit calls the individual, and the Holy Spirit calls whom the Holy Spirit will. We cannot tell the Holy Spirit whom to call. Women are called to the priesthood—we know this, we see this. Women leave churches that don't ordain women if they must have that call fulfilled. Women have always had to respond to the call of the Spirit in ways that can be disturbing to society. The stories of women saints are full of such actions. —Susan Ashbrook Harvey, St. Nina's Quarterly
Advocates for changing this position argue that the essential icon image of Christ is his humanness, not his maleness. God became man to show that both men and women could be saved and return to the divine image within them. Challengers also point out that Christ did not ordain his apostles. This was done at Pentecost by the Holy Spirit. Women were present at the time, and the Holy Spirit continues to descend on male and females alike. The Orthodox Church recognizes a number of women saints as Equal-to-the-Apostles, including the "apostle to the apostles," Mary Magdalene.
- In Orthodoxy the all-male priesthood is not based on the idea that women can't represent Jesus; if replication of the specifics of the Incarnation is the goal, only a first-century Jew could come near that. In Orthodoxy, it's not Jesus, but the Father whom those serving at the altar represent, and whatever else a woman can be (and, in Orthodoxy, she can be anything else: choir director, lector, teacher, head of the parish council) she cannot be a Father. She can be a Mother, of course, and so there is a recognized and honored role for the priest's wife, with a title: Khouria (Arabic), Matushka (Russian), or Presbytera (Greek). —Frederica Mathewes-Green in "Prologue: In the Passenger Seat" from her book Facing East: A Pilgrim's Journey Into the Mysteries of Orthodoxy
Generally, Orthodox parishes do not allow females to serve liturgically in the sanctuary of the church. In the Fall of 2004, the image at right was circulated, depicting a young girl vested in sticharion, appearing to serve in the sanctuary at an OCA parish. Upon the wide distribution of this image, a response was issued from Protopresbyter Robert S. Kondratick, Chancellor of the OCA, forbidding this practice and citing the position of the OCA's Holy Synod.
In March of 2005, the St. Nina's Quarterly website published a response mainly consisting of messages in favor of females serving in the sanctuary, stating that there is "there is no good theological reason for such a practice" (emphasis in original).
- An Interview with Bishop Kallistos Ware (Greek Orthodox) from the St. Nina's Quarterly, Vol. 1, No. 3.
- Concerning Women's Ordination: A Letter to an Episcopal Friend (PDF) by Fr. Alexander Schmemann, previously published in the St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly, Vol. 17, No. 3, 1973, pp. 239-243
- Thoughts on Women's Ordination by Fr. John Morris (previously published in Word Magazine (January, 2004) of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese)
- Homosexuality, The Ordination of Women by HH Pope Shenouda III