Thursday, 13 December 2012

Orthodox perspective on the Ordination of Women

In recent decades, some Protestant denominations have undergone heavy fighting over the question of whether women should be ordained. A woman holding a worship service or preaching was once so rare that the 18th century English author, Samuel Johnson, could say: “a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.”

This controversy hasn't gained a high profile in the Orthodox Church, probably due to our way of approaching such issues: if the early church was in agreement on a matter, if that consensus continued unbroken over the centuries, then that seems to be the Holy Spirit’s leading. Jesus said, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13). It’s not always easy to discern a clear consensus, but there’s no problem here. For 20 centuries, the Orthodox Church has not ordained women priests.

That doesn't mean there weren't women preachers, though. I've preached at worship services in Orthodox churches, myself.

If that sounds like an inconsistency, it’s because we understand the purpose of ordination differently than many Protestants do. For us, it has to do primarily with setting someone aside to be a minister of the sacraments. Non-sacramental ministry, such as preaching, is open to non-ordained people, as long as they are continuing in the faith and worship of the Orthodox Church, and in obedience to a spiritual father or confessor.

And when answering questions about the Church’s practice, instead of searching the records for resolutions that were passed at conventions, we look at what the Church has actually done. So if the question is, Can a woman be a missionary evangelist, and preach the gospel in foreign lands? We can say yes, because we see the example of St. Nina of Georgia. She was just a young girl, 14 years old, when she was abducted and carried as a slave into the nation of Georgia. But there she had an opportunity to speak to the Queen about saving faith, and then the king, and eventually the whole nation was baptized. So, yes, a woman can preach, and prepare people for baptism (St. Nina brought in a priest to accompany her to actually perform the baptisms), and pave the way for churches to be founded.

Many questions about women’s ministries can be answered that way, by looking at what Orthodox women have actually done. Can a woman be a theologian and liturgist? Yes, there’s St. Cassiane. Can she be an apologist and debater, presenting the Christian faith against opponents? Yes, St. Catherine, St. Perpetua, and others were brilliant debaters.

Here’s a toughie: can a woman exercise authority over both men and women, and rule an entire nation? Can a woman call a council that establishes church doctrine? Yes, we honor the valiant accomplishments of Empress St. Theodora. And there are many women who are called “Equal to the Apostles,” including St. Mary Magdalene, St. Helen, and St. Junia.

In the Orthodox church, women have exercised a vast range of ministries. A glance through history shows that an Orthodox woman can be a healer, a missionary, a preacher, a teacher, an evangelist, a spiritual mother, a church-planter, a miracle-worker, an iconographer, a hymnographer, a pastoral counselor, a debater, a writer of prayers and theology, a martyr, or a fool-for-Christ—and she doesn't need to get a clerical collar first.

I don’t mind, then, if Protestant denominations want to ordain women. Many times, this just means allowing Protestant women to do things that Orthodox women have always done. In our church, holy women do virtually everything men do, except stand at the altar. That leaves them rest of the world, which is where most of God’s work gets done.

Extract from:  Women's Ordination By Frederica Matthewes-Green (see here for full article) 

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