Ordination of Women
Traditionally, women have been ordained to the diaconate but not to the priesthood or episcopacy in the Orthodox Church. The order of deaconess existed in the Church, in some areas surviving through the eleventh-century. There is dispute over whether the deaconesses were considered female deacons, or if they were a separate order fulfilling separate duties. Contemporary scholarship, while not settling the full-range of functions of the female deacon, believes the female deacon to have been ordained in the altar immediately after the male deacons, and receiving communion in the altar with the rest of the clergy. It is also clear they provided services to women in situations inappropriate for male clergy.
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. Further, Orthodox theology of the priesthood emphasizes the character of the priest, not his sex, and understands the priest as representing the people to God rather than representing Christ or the Father to the people. An emphasis on the priest as 'in persona christi' is more characteristic of Catholic theology.
- 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 October 2004, a statement was issued by the 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.
- The Ordination of Women in the Orthodox Church by Elisabeth Behr-Sigel & Metropolitan Kallistos Ware of Diokleia, WCC Publications, Geneva
- 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)
- Newness of Spirit: The Ordination of Men and Women by Maria Gwyn McDowell (previously published as a response to Fr. John Morris in Word Magazine (May 2004) of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese)
- Homosexuality, The Ordination of Women by HH Pope Shenouda III
- Women's Ordination by Frederica Mathewes-Green