Women’s Ministry

As is my usual crazy self, I’m reading 6 books at the same time. It keeps my mind stimulated! Heeheehee! Though sometimes I forget where I read something that keeps the little grey cells active and questioning. Anyway, last night’s bedtime reading was from “Women and the Priesthood” edited by Thomas Hopko, 1999. While this book is a reprint of the same book from 15 years ago, containing essays contributing to the on-going discussion of the potential of women in the priesthood, I particularly appreciated this section in the essay by Fr. Hopko:

The fatherhood, headship and husbandhood which belongs to believing men in Christ and the Church cannot be exercised by women, and cannot be exercised without them. As there is no man without woman, no head without body, no bridegroom without bride, no husband without wife, and even no Christ without Church, so there is no presbyter/bishop without his churchly community, and no exercise of the episcopal and presbyteral ministry by believing men without the collaboration of faithful women.

Consecrated women are essential to the ordained ministry of the presbyter/bishop who must have the qualifications mentioned above. Without holy women in his life, no man can properly fulfill the conditions for Episcopal or presbyteral service. The presbyter/bishop needs the inspiration, empowerment, encouragement and comfort of believing women. Men called to this ministry are normally inspired for this service by their mothers; those who are not are the exception. Married priests who perform their functions well normally have excellent wives; those who do not are the exception. Celibate priests and all of the bishops who have fruitful and healthy ministries normally enjoy the close cooperation of holy women, often widows or monastics; those who do not are the exception. As man is not without woman in the Lord, or woman without man, so bishops and priests cannot be without women as their mother’s, wives, sisters, daughters, friends, intercessors and co-workers in the Lord for the fruitful exercise of their ministry.

Too often I hear the argument from women that they are called to the priesthood or to ordination and that if they cannot follow through with that calling then what are they to do? What is their ministry? Where do they fit in the ministries of the Church? What they cannot understand is the integral contribution we women make to the functioning of the Church and Her priests purely through our ministry of prayer, support, teaching, cleaning, being Mom’s, being wives, being leaders in those areas. That is our ministry. A high and difficult one it is.

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11 thoughts on “Women’s Ministry

  1. Great comments all. The one that struck the biggest chord with me was the point about creeping liberalism in the Orthodox Church. I personally fear it because I saw what it did to the Catholic Church, and I fear that demolition all over again. Those who say “It will never happen to Orthodoxy” are perhaps unaware that such a scenario was not even on the Catholic radar scope, 50 years ago.

    As for women’s roles in the Church — essentially, there are two things a priest can do that no one else can do: Recite the Prayer at the Epiclesis, and offer absolution of sins. So why would a woman be so desperate to do these things, that she would casually overthrow 2,000 years of Holy Tradition? I can think of only one reason: a complete and total misperception of the priesthood as Power. You want Power, become a Protestant minister. Or a Druid priestess. Leave the rest of us to enjoy the lives God gave us.

    How’s that for Testy? 😉

  2. A, I offer you this.

    Vladimir Lossky on ‘Traditionalism’

    ‘…one does not remain in the Tradition by a certain historical inertia, by keeping, as a “tradition received from the Fathers” all that which, by force of habit, flatters a certain devout sensibility. On the contrary, it is by substituting this sort of “tradition” for the Tradition of the Holy Spirit living in the Church that one runs the most risk of finding oneself finally outside the Body of Christ. It must not be thought that the conservative attitude alone is salutary, nor that heretics are always “innovators.” If the Church, after having established the canon of Scripture, preserves it in the Tradition, this preservation is not static and inert, but dynamic and conscious—in the Holy Spirit, who purifies anew “the words of the Lord… words that are pure, silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times” (Ps. 12:6). If that were lacking, the Church would have conserved only a dead text, witness of an ended epoch, and not the living and vivifying Word…’.

    (V. Lossky writing on “Tradition and Traditions” in In the Image and Likeness of God, pp. 155-156.)

    And this prayer
    God I offer my self to Thee to do with me and build with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self that I may better do Thy will. Help me to overcome my difficulties that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love and Thy Way of Life. May I do Thy Will Always.

    The third step prayer as preached to my congregration a couple of weeks ago.

  3. P – “Personally to say that I do not minister in what I do in my church and in the world in which I live can be construed as a smack.”

    Who says this?
    And what is a smack?
    I am ignorant of this phrase.

  4. The reason Liberalism creeping into Orthodoxy would break my heart is that it undermines Holy Tradition, and Holy Tradition is the foundation upon which Scriptural interpretation rests. Holy Tradition is the bulwark against scism, which is a breaking of the Church. I love the Orthodox Church and I don’t want to see her broken.

    As Philippa said: people can take the very same verses and “make” them say the opposite of what they have always been taken to say. It was just that issue, after seminary, when I realized I had the “exegetical tools” to make Scripture say whatever I wanted it to say. As if my authority came form this sort of “magic” book that as long as I could present a coherent argument therefrom I would be justified in what I did with it.

    The Apostolic Faith is just that: the Faith given to the Apostles by Christ, and there is continuity there, and a faithfulness and depth there that remains untarnished by the winds of fashion, politics and time.

    Without this continuity, we are adrift.

    In years past and in other parts of the world, men and women were called to a martyr’s death for the sake of their faith in Christ and loyalty to His Church. Perhaps we women who are “called to ministry” in this day and place are being called to a form of martyrdom as well. My will is certainly worth giving up for the sake of the Church. I am finding more freedom and more depth in my role as a woman in the Orthodox Church than I ever did as a protestant seminarian or one who wanted to go into ministry. My goal is no longer ministry, but theosis.

  5. Elizabeth – I didn’t realize that the wife had to sign something, that’s really interesting. My church school class (5-6grades) got into a discussion about divorce and priests this past Spring, and I was told by our priest that *in some cases* men can remain priests after a divorce, but usually only if they were blameless and they have to become monastic afterwards. It’s a case by case thing too.

    Philippa – what a wonderful essay. Coming out of the RCC I remember my priest once saying “Priesthood isn’t about power in Orthodoxy” which totally changed the way I looked at it, and I think is the crux of what Father Thomas’ book is getting at. Maybe?

    Anyway, great discussion!

  6. Karl, thank you for the compliment about the Handmaiden. Actually, I had forgotten about it.

    The point you make about it not being in women’s nature to be a minister is right on. We were not created to be that way. Hopko is very clear on that point, which I thought was well made in his essay.

    Alana, I have the same fear as you do about liberalism creeping in to the Church. Thus why I feel as strongly as I do about a woman being a priest. And if you read Hopko’s book, there are essays written by well thought out women with many advanced degrees who are in great support of women being priest/deacon/bishop. They even take the same passages that are used to point towards the “no” of the issue, and examine them to read “yes” to the issue. That in and of itself is perplexing to me!

    Olympiada, I agree completely that we ought not to criticize women who feel called to “minister” as you put it. Yes I can imagine the pain. But Hopko’s point, as well as mine is that, women CAN “minister” but not be a “priest, etc.” Personally to say that I do not minister in what I do in my church and in the world in which I live can be construed as a smack. I know that is not your intention. Personally I think it is an issue of power with women. They want to be able to handle and be in the same power seats as men, and what some women don’t understand is the amount of power they DO have in the seat in which they were created to sit in.

    Elizabeth, thanks for sharing what you did about what a priest’s wife must sign to accept the role she is called to by virtue of her marriage to her husband. I did not know that. And though being a former Protestant minister’s wife is different, I can very well understand her trepidation – to a certain degree. It ought to be approached with fear and trembling, all the while remembering God gives grace for the task at hand.

  7. Philippa,

    I remember when Fr. Hopko was speaking at our parish on this topic about 5 years ago. He made the simple but profound point that women can’t be priest for the same reason men can’t be mothers: it isn’t in their nature. The priesthood is inherently a *paternal* ministry. He also pointed out that just as not all males are called to father children, not all men are called to be priests. It is a restricted function of the Body of Christ, even among men.

    (By the way: I saw your letter to the editor in the recent edition of “The Handmaiden” Very nice!)

  8. Phillipa
    I agree with your comment to a point. I think we must be careful not to criticize women who feel called to minister and can not. That is a real pain. We must allow our sisters to express their pain. We can not underestimate what a burden it is to be called to minister and not be able to fulfill it.
    I do appreciate you posting from this book. I also borrowed it from my church library and perhaps now I will read it that you have given me a head start.

    Alanna – if I may ask, why would liberalism creeping in to the church break your heart?

  9. As an orthodox woman who holds an M.Div. seminary degree, I could not agree more. There are just some things that a woman cannot be. Father, priest, bishop.

    Thanks for that quote. I’m so scared to delve into the “discussion” for fear that I might find liberalism creeping into the Orthodox Church. That would break my heart.

  10. Hi Philippa… 6 books at a time, eh ? You`re as bad as me !!
    On a sidenote, I was intrigued to find out that when a married man is chosen for ordination, his wife has to SIGN her agreement on an official document, in recognition of the vital role a priest`s wife has to play in the life of the parish.
    If the wife doesn`t sign, there is no ordination, period. This is actually the case at present with one ordinand in the UK, whose wife is so concerned about becoming a Presbytera/Matushka/Khouria that she is currently unwilling to sign the document :-0
    Another thing is that if a married priest`s wife goes off the rails big time, the priest can be actually be defrocked on the basis he can no longer function efectively with his wife……
    Serious stuff indeed, to be a priest`s wife !

  11. I love what GK Chesterton said almost a 100 years ago regarding women who wanted careers as teachers instead of raising their own children: (paraphrase somewhat) “Is it better to teach 20 children one thing or one child everything?”

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