Monday, 16 April 2012

Female Ordination and Orthodox Tradition

In Orthodoxy, following the traditions of the Early Church fathers is just as important as following Scriptural teachings, after all, if you want to get to the spirit of an idea, the earliest understanding of it is most likely to be the least corrupted. So in knowing that the Early Church was willing to ordain people of all races (Christs apostles were not all israelites, yet he Ordained them to lead the Church after his ascendence, and they, through the holy spirit's guidence, did the same after this.) we also know to accept all ethic backgrounds into the clergy as Christ himself, and his apostles did. This was not the case with women, as there are no records of women in the early Church being ordained. therefore following the traditions of the Early church means not ordaining women.

Where does the idea of a male only clergy come from? The idea originated from the bible, and to be precise; Christ himself. The concept of female ordination is an extremely modern one, and is not down to “the male dominated society of the time,” not a sexist idea, and not designed to keep women down.  It is simple down to common sense.
One commonly mentioned factor in this is what the clergy are. The clergy are, in the Orthodox tradition, the image of Christ to the congregation.  This is why the ordination of Clergy is such an important sacrament in tradition. Going by this we need to look at what the image of Christ entails: By accounts of all Old Testament prophecy and the very revelation as recorded in the Gospels, the Christ was male. This means that the image of Christ is also a male image. To many this may also bring up the Question of race, since in the west Christ is a white male. What does this say about the Ethnicity of the "Icon of Christ"?

To answer the question, fortunately the Orthodox Church has not had to deal with this issue due to the large spread of the Church at its founding (Turkey, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Syria, Rome and Greece all being preached to at the time) and there have for the last 1700 years at least been known and universally venerated icons depicting Christ as being from all these places. An Icon of the Theotokos (St. Mary) I have in my house depicts her as Egyptian and is placed next to a Greek Christ Icon. As well as this, an Icon in our Bournemouth Church has Christ as an Ethiopian, as it was written by an Ethiopian Icon writer.

The race of Christ, at least in the Orthodox Church, has never been an issue. This is quite simple as the bible states this, as well as his gender and many details about him in the Gospels and writings of Early Christians (and Greek historians). We know was an israelite (a semite in scientific terms. His apostles themselves were of, and made priests of many from places such as Egypt, Ethiopia and Antioch (Syria), and even St paul is described as being of Egyptian Heritage( Acts 21:38 "Art not thou that Egyptian?") So race is not something to be made a big deal of, as the tradition has not come down through a specific race as a medium.

Race has sometimes been an issue in Western Churches, I have seen too many Americans with "God Loves America" "God Hates Arabs" etc... on their shirts, cars and everywhere else they can fit them to ever disagree with that. But as a white, British Born member of the Orthodox Church of Egypt (The Coptic Church) I cannot see how this could ever touch Orthodoxy, being that I have "Brothers" and "sisters" in Ethiopia, Russia, Egypt, India and most of the Mediterranean since the first centuries of the Church's existance.

This, compared to the female ordination debate is again a simple matter of Tradition. As God chose in Christ a male body to preach to mankind in, then chose male apostles from amongst his male and female followers and then they, the founders of the Church, (the apostles) ordained priests from all over. According to Tradition and Scripture this was all led by the Holy Spirit, (which they were blessed by) yet they were never led to Ordain women as priests, even when preaching in nations where other faiths did (such as the greek islands), so this is what is traditionally the way.

A second reason why in Orthodoxy a female clergy is seen as an impossibility is the very nature of the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church is by all accounts a Church which prides itself on the (As Bishop Kallistos Ware calls it) “unvarying practice of the Church over the past two millennia.” With this in mind, why would a Church which practices the Christianity of the Earliest Christians decide to adopt a modernist, somewhat secular outlook? We have seen the Catholics start this with Vatican II, and the protestant Churches have done this since their creation (The very name “protestant” gives off an image of someone pushing away). The fact remains that in Christianity, modernisation and secularisation are everywhere, but Orthodoxy refuses to be drawn in.

According to Fr Seraphim Rose, a Heiromonk and writer of the Serbian Orthodox Church in America, “Even Heresy has its own ‘spirituality,’ its own characteristic approach to the practical religious life.” In other words, even someone wrong may have answers; this does not mean they are right. In his book Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future” he quotes the philosopher Ivan Kireyevsky, saying “An Orthodoxy Mind stands at the point where all roads cross. He carefully looks down each road and, from his unique vantage point, observes the conditions, dangers, uses, and ultimate destination of each road from a patristic viewpoint.” So in order to obtain a truly Orthodox mind one must take a road which will lead to God, and not to a peace with anything else. Not even comfort within the modern secular world is worth losing that peace with God for. We have seen monastics give up the comforts of the secular world for God, and as Christians are asked to do the same.

This concept has a great influence on the Orthodox mindset, as we are not called to change for the world around us, but to stay strong in God alone.  This is why tradition is so important to the Orthodox Church, for as so many have swayed into heresy and changed to “go with the flow” the Orthodox Church has, without apology, stuck to its guns and refused to fall into the world and all its passions. This also goes for the concept of female Ordination. We see in the Gospels how Christ picked his disciples, the 12 Apostles. Christ, actively chose men as his closest followers, though he did have female followers. These 12 were given the power to trample underfoot the power of the enemy, and understood Christ’s message, spreading it across the world, no other was given the strength to do this. From this tradition we see that Christ could have chosen women to lead his church, but instead chose men, though we do see women the deaconate in the early church.  To the non Orthodox mind this may come as placing women in an inferior, servant position, yet to  Orthodox Church it I simply the way in which God chose to organise his church.

Again to the non-orthodox mind this idea of women as the servants of the Church and men as its head would seen a bit out of touch with “modern feminist thought” but many forget the great female saints and Martyrs such as St Faith, Saint Maria and St Bebaia or even the great desert mothers and famous nuns of the Orthodox tradition whose writings and love of God have been recorded throughout time as great wisdom. Even above these is Gods greatest Human Creation, the Mother of our lord, Saint Mary, the Theotokos, the Mother of God. Many Orthodox prayers are said in her name, she is prayed for in the hours, and revered above all.

In conclusion, the place of women in the Orthodox Church is not a matter of sexism; it is a simple matter of God over man, or tradition over change. There is no “anti women” agenda in the Church as so many seem to think, as Stanley Harakas stated in his The Orthodox Church: 455 Questions and Answers book “it is not accurate to label this tradition as “anti-woman” and to charge the Church’s teaching with anti-feminist. To say this is an unfortunate misunderstanding of the purpose of the church and its primary interests.”  He goes on to explain how though many in the church have spoken out about such things as temptation and targeted women, other women have been praised for their chastity and wisdom, so to say the church is anti women because it is against certain types of behaviour from women is to call it anti-food because of fasting. These concepts are both preposterous and again miss the point. The same goes for  the idea of Sexism due to an all male clergy. If you associate following a tradition without female clergy with being ”anti female” you miss the point of that tradition.

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