"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Monday, September 7, 2020

Ordaining Women in the Orthodox Church

I was born into the Anglican Church of Canada just a few short years before it decided to proceed with the ordination of women. By the time I was growing up in the 1980s, a few ordinations had happened but women clergy were still vanishingly rare in my experience, and I remained very ambivalent about the issue. It was nothing to do with women, gender, or sex, for my grandmother was an Anglican lay reader who led summer services when our rector was on holiday and I always assisted her with delight; and I had plenty of hugely competent and adored female teachers (far more than the shabby and sometimes terrifying male teachers, at least one of whom, I discovered a few years ago, was jailed for abusing students not long after I had him); and my psychoanalyst was a wonderful woman I still think of almost daily. Instead, I kept asking myself: what does this decision to proceed with ordaining women do to Anglicanism's claim to being a part of the Church catholic if it proceeds with a practice the other two "branches"--Orthodoxy and Catholicism--cannot countenance?

The Catholic Church has tried to obliterate the discussion since the early 1990s when the late Pope John Paul II tried to order everyone to stop talking about it, which of course is the surest and most reliable technique for achieving the very opposite of what you ostensibly desire.

Orthodoxy has never been so heavy-handed, but it lacks nothing of the conservatism of Catholicism on this issue even if some of its more prominent hierarchs and spokesmen (!) have rather wanly suggested that the question remains open in Orthodoxy.

Some of those prominent leaders are featured in this new collection, which Carrie Frederick Frost (whom I interviewed here about her fascinating book) drew to my attention last week: Women and Ordination in the Orthodox Church: Explorations in Theology and Practice, eds. Gabrielle Thomas and Elena Narinskaya  (Wipf and Stock, 2020), 232pp.

The publisher tells us this:
This book—a collaborative, international initiative, involving academic theologians and practitioners—invites the reader into a conversation about the ordination of women in the Orthodox Church. It explores questions relating to the significance of being human, Eve’s curse, sexed bodies, the place of Mary, the nature of priesthood, the role of the deacon, and the task of being a priest in the twenty-first century. The reflections move across three main areas of discussion: issues of theological anthropology, particular questions pertaining to the priesthood and the diaconate, and contemporary practices. In each area the implications for ordaining women in the Orthodox Church today are explored.

We are also given the list of contributors and following endorsements:

Fr. John Behr
Dr Spyridoula Athanasopoulou-Kypriou
Dr. Dionysios Skliris
Fr. Andrew Louth
Dr Mary Cunningham
Met Kallistos Ware
Rev Dr Sarah Hinlicky Wilson
Dr Kyriaki Karidoyanes FitzGerald
Dr Carrie Frederick Frost
Dr Paul Ladouceur
Luis Josué Salés

“Some traditions are old because they are truly valuable, while some are valued only because they are old. The exclusion of women from the priesthood is a practice for which the theological arguments are notoriously weak—to the point of fatuity in many cases—but Orthodoxy’s veneration of the past has usually made it impossible to undertake a serious reconsideration of the issue. A book like this, encompassing essays by such eminent scholars, has long been desperately needed.”

—David Bentley Hart, author of That All Shall Be Saved

“This collection of essays represents by far the most thorough engagement within Orthodox theology with the question of women’s ordination. With contributions from some of the most recognizable scholars of Orthodox Christianity, this volume advances the discussion in such a way that the idea of women deacons—or even priests and bishops—within the Orthodox church cannot be so easily ignored or dismissed as being in contradiction with the Tradition.”

—Aristotle Papanikolaou, Archbishop Demetrios Chair in Orthodox Theology and Culture, Fordham University, and co-founding Director of Orthodox Christian Studies Center

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