Beef Have Women Theologians with Divine Order?
Orthodox Theologies of Women and Ordained Ministry
my husband and I, after a long struggle within the Anglican Communion,
were in the process of becoming Orthodox, we were struck and comforted
by our priest’s fundamental catechetical premise: “In the
Church, we believe that which has been revealed to us.” With
equal assurance, he taught that the Faith undoubtedly goes through changes
and development in many areas but divine revelation is the same yesterday,
today, and forever. You are free to disagree – even to disbelieve
– yet, he maintained (as I believe does the Church) that some matters
are settled and not up for negotiation. Thus it is that I do not
believe women were, are, or ever shall be, called by the Church to the
ordained priesthood. I believe this order to be God-ordained and
neither a punishment for my sex, nor a glorification of my husband’s.
purpose in this review is not to sway another’s opinion on women’s
ordination; most are content and firm in their present position.
I also do not cover the topic of the female deaconate, being content,
myself, that some things are allowed by the Holy Spirit to die out.
I do hope, however, that Dr Valerie Karras’s argument for women priests
sways no one toward acceptance of the novelty; up against the weight
of Revelation and Tradition, her premise, though intriguing, is lacking.
Furthermore, I am surprised and disappointed that St Vladimir’s Seminary
believed Karras’s piece worthy of publication in Thinking Through
FaithNew Perspectives from Orthodox Christian Scholars (Aristotle Papanikolaou and Elizabeth H. Prodromou, eds; St Vladimir’s Seminary Press: Crestwood, NY, 2008).
In all charity and due respectnew perspectives, indeedshame
old saying came to mind while reading Karras’s article, and I paraphrase:
“She who defines the terms wins the argument.” From
the first time she used it, I knew that Karras’s term “women’s
liturgical participation” was going to be key to her argument.
When you are no longer talking about order, as in holy orders
and ordination, but about liturgical participation, the rules
of engagement have changed. In fact, while making counter-argument
notes in the book’s side margin, over and over again, I wrote order
and revelation. (Granted, there are a few places where
I wrote OK as well as OMG!)
times Dr Karras lets others do the heavy lifting when it comes to weighty
controversy. For example, she quotes Elisabeth Behr-Sigel as part
of the forward:
Orthodox woman who is competent to do so can occupy a New Testament
teaching post in a prestigious theological faculty such as that of Thessalonica.
She is, however, not permitted to read the Gospel in the worship of
the people of God. An Orthodox theological conference declares
unanimously that ‘any act denying dignity to the human person, any
discrimination between men and women based on sex is a sin’.
But, following a custom that has progressively been established in the
Orthodox Church, women remain barred from the altar” (p.114).
However, the embedded quote
was taken from the same Inter-Orthodox Theological Symposium held in
Rhodes, Greece from October 30 to November 7, 1988, which stated:
might be expected, much attention was paid by the symposium to express
the view that the Orthodox Church could not envision the possibility
of the ordination of women as presbyters or bishops. According to the
official "Conclusions" of the consultation, this position
was not the result of cultural and social factors, but rather is reflective
of the church's understanding of Christ and of the reality of men and
Karras tempts one to leaping
jumps of justification with insufficiently referenced words such as
the United States, at least three priests, one in the Greek Orthodox
Archdiocese and two others in the Orthodox Church in America, were prohibited
in the past several years by their diocesan bishop and their Synod of
Bishops, respectively, from continuing to include girls among their
parish’s acolytes. The hierarchs’ rationales ranged from fear
of negative reactions from traditionalist elements within the church,
in the former instance, to an argument, in the latter, that female acolytes
were contrary to tradition because only men have served within the altar
(which is historically untrue)” (p.115).
With regard to the above quote,
Karras offers the following footnote:
respect to the contention that ‘only males are to be admitted to service
within the holy altar,’ this is patently untrue, whether one considers
the ordination of female deacons at the altar in the Byzantine Church,
the regular acolyte activities of nuns in monastic churches, or the
informal functions of older women maintaining the sanctuary in Greek
parish churches or assisting in the vesting of the clergy in the altar
areas of the great cathedrals of Russia” (pp.115-116).
far as I know, at least as I was taught, no one should go into the holy
place (the altar) without a blessing. There are, as Karras noted,
instances where females are blessed to go behind the iconostasis.
It is interesting to note, however, that she places no proscriptions
on those who do so (e.g., post-menopause), but that would, no doubt,
lead her back toward the so-called traditionalist elements.
Why on earth do Russian clergy need women’s help vesting in cathedrals?
That one seems completely out of left field. As the befuddled,
such as my sixteen year old son, are known to say, “I got nuthin.”
In this case, I’ll believe it when I see it.
though, since when is “traditionalist elements within the church”
a questionable position? In my experience, a stance against such
would seem a slope worthy of avoidance. (In other words, sans
the traction of tradition, you may slide.) May God bless the hierarchs
who prohibited these innovative priests from such “untraditional
then sets up her foundational paradigm with this introduction:
both proponents and opponents of restricting women’s liturgical participation
rarely explain their argument’s underlying theological anthropology
Now, substitute the word
Tradition or Revelation for “restricting women’s liturgical
participation” and you’d have a different problem. That is,
both Tradition and Revelation imply God’s guidance and order (assuming,
as one ought, there is such a thing). Whereas “restricting women’s
liturgical participation” sounds like a rights issue.
Better yet, substitute women’s ordination to the priesthood
for “restricting women’s liturgical participation” and you’d
have a more honest quandary. She continues:
more rarely do they recognize where their particular anthropological
view fits with the broader ‘timeline’ of salvation history – in
other words, where it lies in the progress of human history from creation
to the eschaton (the ultimate end). While most of the Fathers
do not articulate their views in the type of clearly organized fashion
we use today, most of them do – implicitly, at least – develop their
theological anthropology in the context of a timeline of human development.
This timeline contains several stages:
I – God’s eternal plan for humanity before creation (ahistorical
II – God’s creation of humanity and its existence in paradise (prelapsarian
humanity), which need not be understood literally;*
III – humanity on earth, after the fall and the expulsion from paradise
but before Christ (postlapsarian humanity BC);
IV – humanity on earth, after Christ’s incarnation, death and resurrection
(postlapsarian humanity AD); and
V – humanity in its resurrected state, after Christ’s second coming
(eschatological humanity). [pp.122-123]
I guess if one views holy orders
within the Church as the culmination of human development, then this
5-stage structure has a future. But, it has no past (at least
within the Church) when it comes to women’s ordination to the priesthood.
Karras’s anthropological paradigm, rather than reflecting Tradition,
displays a form of ecclesiastical evolution.
practicethe lex orandi (rule of worship)is, or should
be, related to the lex credendi (rule of faith). This dictum,
however, is not always true, particularly where liturgical traditions
are based on social, cultural, and other non- theological factors.*
But, the assumption that it is operative with respect to women’s
liturgical participation has thus led many Orthodox both in writings
and at various theological dialogues to assert unequivocally that the
Church’s theology does not support the ordination of women
to the priesthood” (p.126).
See the asterisk marking the
sentence (above)? That sentence was, to me, the
assumption! Divine order is based on social, cultural, and other
non-theological factors? Our Lord was [sic] truly God and
truly man – but with certain limitations? The mind boggles.
(Besides, it is a fact that female priests were a reality in Old Testament
and New Testament times – just not within the revealed faith of Judeo-Christianity.)
giant leaps of logic, after mentioning women preachers in the ancient
Church and virgins and deacons [i.e., deaconesses] chanting in the Byzantine
era, Karras says:
those who would restrict women from liturgical activities outside of
those of the laity as a whole believe that they are being traditional
and Orthodox by excluding women from contemporary participations in
liturgical activities in which, historically, they have participated”
Here, in a footnote, she cites
Acts 21:9 and 1 Corinthians 11:5. She also states: “and
as commented on by early church fathers such as St John Chrysostom”
Acts 21: 7-9:
When we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais;
and we greeted the brethren and stayed with them for one day. On the
morrow we departed and came to Caesarea; and we entered the house of
Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him.
And he had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied (emphasis on
Acts 21:9, mine).
1 Cor. 11:5:
… but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled dishonors
her headit is the same as if her head were shaven.
I’ve poked around enough
in the writings of St John Chrysostom to know that, though he may have
mentioned women preachers, he never advocated the ordination of women
to the priesthood. Given the veiling portion of the Corinthians
passage and the context of the one from Acts, I will let them stand
is male domination of woman considered ‘God-ordained’ by persons
who have no theological opposition to receiving treatment for cancer
or using machinery to avoid manual labor?” (p.143)
Male domination? Now
there’s a defining term! Within our struggles with the consequences
of The Fall we are to find a back-handed argument for women’s ordination?
It’s interesting that Karras’s paradigm is all about anthropology
as opposed to Divine Order and Revelation as perfected in Christ.
Order, as I believe St Paul would agree, works both ways, male and female.
It is not, however, about male domination.
Karras includes a curious footnote to her 5-stage anthropological paradigm:
is beyond the scope of this article to discuss the question of whether
or not one understands the creation account(s) in Genesis in a literal
manner. Certainly, the Greek Fathers were generally unconcerned
with a literal approach to understanding the significance of Genesis,
and most modern Orthodox theologians do not view evolutionary theory
as being incompatible with the belief that God is the ultimate Creator.
This means that what is important are the theological concepts of humanity’s
movement away from God, God’s movement toward humanity, and humanity’s
responsive return back toward God, but one need not believe that the
discussion of Adam and Eve in paradise refers to an actual time and
place on earth” (p.123).
readers are told that their belief (e.g., literal or allegorical) in
the story of The Fall is inconsequential to the scope of this article
and then to base one’s entire argument on a paradigm of prelapsarian,
postlapsarian, and eschatological humanityseems to suggest that
interpreting the story the old way is not required but please, whatever
you believe, apply the modern virtue of [obvious] eschatological egalitarianism
to it. (In this understanding of the story, Eve = good; New Eve
though not surprising, is Karras’s disdain for Motherhood. Why
is it that one of God’s greatest gifts, one which is only available
to women, is so suppressed and diminished by those aspiring to spiritual
“fatherhood”? For instance:
“This emphasis on gifts,
functions, and roles as gender-defined is particularly troublesome when
the function and behavior of one womanthe Theotokosis extrapolated
to all women. That the Theotokos was not one of the Twelve does
not mean that no woman could ever be an apostle. In fact, the Apostle
Paul ranks Junia as an apostle in Rom 16.7 …” (p.150).
It’s obligatory for Dr Karras
to bring this up, yet providential that I’d just read an article in
Touchstone magazine dealing with the subject of Junia and her inclusion
in the “women’s right to ordination” agenda:
who, believing her to be an apostle, are concerned to maximize the status
of Junia, appear to be on the horns of a dilemma. Either
they can make her out to be a leading apostle in a maximal sense
of that word, together with Peter, James, John and Paulin which
case they have a major problem explaining her almost- invisibility in
the records; or they can assign to her an apostleship in a
minimal sense of that term, perhaps like that of Epaphroditus in
Philippians 2:25in which case, they have not proved anything that
will be of much use to them in their sociocultural agenda” (Touch,
Junia is needed to validate the ‘leadership roles’ of such women
as these, then good luck to her. But there are no reasons for
seeing Junia and her status as having any relevance to the question
of admission of women to the presbyteral or Episcopal priesthood of
the ancient churches, in which the sacerdos images the Father
and the Bridegroom of his church. Whether it has or has not had
any bearing upon the admission of women to the non-sacerdotal ministries
of the Reformation tradition, I would not presume to discuss” (Touch,
Hunwicke, former Head of Theology at Lancing College in England, now
Senior Research Fellow at Pusey House, Oxford; http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=21-08- 022-f
(viewed - 11/6/08).]
Back to Karras and the Theotokos:
Theotokos is unique, and her role in the economy of salvation was and
is unique. To lump all women into the same category, that is,
to assume that all women must act and serve as Christian women in the
same manner as the Virgin Marysomething that is never done with
Christian men vis-à-vis Christ or any particular male saintis to
ignore the Church’s tradition of canonizing women whose activities
and charisms were diverse and to objectify the Theotokos, simultaneously
depersonalizing all other women” (p.151).
Granted. But there is
no tradition of canonizing women who were ordained to the sacred priesthood.
Besides, who are these people that lump all women into the “same category”?
Her own words, later in the sentence, show that the Church has, through
the ages, recognized and honored various activities and charisms of
all Her saintsfemale and maleall of which are called to emulate
the Mother of God!
Church’s message is clear: the Theotokos is venerated not just
because she is Jesus’ mother, but because she was attentive to God,
which made her appropriate to become God’s chosen vessel” (p.151).
fled such language in my previous life, I cringe when I hear of the
Mother of God referred to solely as “God’s chosen vessel.”
She is the Bride of God Unwedded. She was chosen precisely for
her faithfulness (i.e., chastity, fidelity). She is the Mother
of all Christians and a “role model” for all her children, male
and female. She symbolizes the Church which, though an able vessel,
is the very Body of Christ.
Karras, “order” seems to be synonymous with “domination”
“The postlapsarian BC
model (Stage 3) is biblically grounded in the list of negative consequences
of the fall given in Gen. 3:16-19, and is usually used to support male
domination over women in the church and family life and significant
limitations on women’s liturgical participation … It is strongly
inegalitarian and ignores the importance of Christ’s incarnation,
death, and resurrection on women’s liturgical life as members of the
faith community. Essentially, it makes our fallen condition and
specifically our fallen condition from before Christ,
normative for the Church. As such, it is insupportable theologically”
I have no idea how one can
counter such an asinine argument. The Fall of Man is negative
by our own free will and action, yet the consequences of the Fall
may be for our salvation. Again, who supports “male domination”?
Karras’s arguments seem to go against the very witness of Scripture
and the experience, not to mention Tradition, of the Church. All
I can do is reread the above quote over and over again and keep coming
to the same conclusion: We disagree on what we believe.
on, after giving examples of participants in the various “stages”
she has devised, Karras says:
course, not everyone fits neatly into just one of these three models:
for example, there are many nuns who are living a virtually eschatological
life already, but who nevertheless believe it proper to submit themselves
to certain gender-based restrictions because they are still women in
a fallen world” (p.154).
In the book’s margin I wrote:
OMG! Order! But, it is at the end of her piece that
Dr Karras, in my opinion, steps completely out of revealed order and
tradition (forgive the long quote):
is no valid theological reason not to ordain women to the priesthood
if we truly operate from an eschatological normative anthropology.
Thus, the Logos’ incarnation as a male human beingwhich has been
seen as significant by many of those who oppose the ordination of women
to the priesthood, particularly in the Roman Catholic Churchis irrelevant
in terms of an eschatologically oriented anthropology. The argument
that Christ’s maleness requires the priest’s maleness in order for
the priest to be appropriately “christic” in his iconic function
is illegitimate since (1) the priest liturgically images the Church
(which is symbolically female) more than he does Christ (for example
during the anaphora, culminating in the consecration of the bread
and wine, he speaks on behalf of the Church); and (2) even more importantly,
given Orthodoxy’s incarnational soteriology, any theological argument
based on the significance of the maleness of Christ has disastrous consequences
for Orthodox soteriology with respect to women. After all, if,
as St Gregory the Theologian opined, “that which is no assumed is
not healed” (referring to Christ’s taking on of our fallen, mortal
human nature in order to restore it), how can female humanity be saved
if Christ’s maleness so differentiates him from female humanity that
a woman cannot become an icon of him?” (pp.155-156)
Okay, here’s what I wrote
in the margin: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Again, I’m speechless.
Therefore, I shall let the same Inter-Orthodox Theological Symposium
(Rhodes, 1988) cited earlier speak for me:
men and women equally share in bearing the "image of God,"
the distinction which allows a few men and no women to be ordained through
cheirotonia to this "special priesthood" is a result of the
"order of nature." This understanding flows from the deeper
understanding of the relation of men and women in the plan of salvation
in Christ. This understanding is not viewed "in any case ... as
a diminution of the role of women in the Church" (III: 8). Women
are of equal honor with men." "As such, women in the Church
assume their own rules for the restoration of the distorted image of
God, which are a consequence of sin" (III: 8).
Of course, Karras sees things
we really want to advocate for the normative value of a negative consequence
of the fall, especially at the same time that we try to alleviate or
mitigate the other negative consequences enumerated in Gen 3:16-19 (disease,
toilsome work, pain in childbirth, and even death)? (p. 157)
NO! She didn’t!
All of these consequences have been alleviated, mitigateddestroyed
in the God-Man, Christ. Our chore is not to do away with these
things on earth, but to struggle well with and against them to attain
the kingdom of heaven.
how can she build her salvo upon a story that she’s already informed
us need not be understood literally. Perhaps she assumes that
those who do understand The Fall, as recounted in the book of Genesis,
in a more “literal” sense (i.e., as received and experienced by
the Church) are the very ones who need swayed on the issue of women’s
ordination? For, as that same catechizing priest taught me years
ago: “Where you start determines where you end up.”
end with another female writer, Frederica Mathewes-Green, who comes
at the issue from a totally different angle:
we can't understand sex in the instinctive, body-deep ways our ancestors
did, it's natural that we won't understand sex differences. We don't
see any more how savory and good these differences are. While you could
sort humans in many ways-by height or shoe size or age-the all-time
favorite is by sex. We just get a kick out of gender differences, even
though most of the human body plan is shared by men and women alike.
It's the distinctives that we highlight: women's clothes suggest an
hourglass figure no matter what shape the lady inside, while men's jackets
are enhanced by brawny padded shoulders. After a birth the first thing
we want to know is "Boy or girl?," and lumpy, indistinguishable
newborns are stuffed into baseball costumes or palest pink. We pass
along gender-based jokes, because clumsy stereotypes point toward something
that fascinates and delights us. The difference between the sexes is
the most cheerful and exhilarating thing we know: it's where babies
come from. The difference between the sexes is how we partner with God
in the creation of life.
we can't understand the difference between male and female, we sure
what previous generations knew about the value of an all-male priesthood.
I can only hope that some future generation will regain the peace and
clarity we've lost, and be able once again recognize and enunciate this mystery.”
While I lack the sharpened
tools of theological verbiage to counter Dr Karras’s arguments in
a scholastically convincing way, I am convinced that we not only do
not believe the same things, but that her agenda relies on reaching
outside of Revelation and Tradition. I also find it ironic (and
unfortunate in a “broad-brush” sense) that comparing her arguments
to St Paul’s, with regard to the role of women, I am ever more convicted
by St Paul’s. Some women should just keep quiet. I know such
a viewpoint differs from that of Dr Valerie Karras. But, then
again, really, I’m fine with that. As a woman in the world seeking
to bear fruits worthy of the eschaton – even the kingdom of heaven
– I’d rather err on the side of the Church “against which there
is no law.”
Wife, mother, woman;