Or at least, it's supposed to.
Orthodox Christianity does. In fact, holy Orthodoxy is the only lifestyle I know of that does not make a good breeding ground for feminism. The Orthodox Christian lifestyle, supported by the Orthodox Christian understanding of gender roles, makes any struggle for equality for women unnecessary, superfluous, moot, a non-issue. It does this by taking away all our complaints, or rather, by not having a framework such as gives rise to women’s grievances in the first place.
This will be surprising, probably, to some outsiders looking in and seeing such things as that women not only aren’t ordained; they aren’t even allowed in the altar area, behind the icon screen. But it’s true. What from the outside may look like misogyny or bias or inequality or unfairness does not stem from anything like that. It’s all based upon something else altogether, and it’s that something else, found as far as I can see only in Orthodoxy, that enables Orthodox women to give up (or never take up) feminism.
This point has been driven home to me by a recent spate of discussion in various non-Orthodox religious blogs of women’s ordination, women’s place in the Church, and women’s place in general. I find myself not disagreeing with these bloggers’ conclusions – please note, not with their conclusions! – but with their premise.
This is because what I notice they all have in common is, well, that Platonic - Augustinian concept of the God of Order, displacing the apostolic God Who is Love. For these bloggers, women’s place is ultimately founded upon “the order of creation”. In this order, so it is thought, there are diverse ranks and statuses and degrees of authority. This created order is also thought to be patriarchal. Women are thought to occupy a lower rung than men, to hold an inferior status; and this difference is what gives men authority over them. In other words, it is maleness in and of itself that gives men authority over women; and conversely, it is femaleness in and of itself that makes women subject to men.
Men, here’s a bulletin for you: this teaching actually foments feminism! Women are going to rebel against it - because it isn’t true. And women know it. A woman who has a modicum of self-knowledge knows she, too, is the bearer of God’s Image; that it takes both sexes to constitute that Image; that when He created human beings in His image, “male and female He created them.” A woman knows a man is not necessarily any better, or any worse, than she is. A Christian woman knows her body can be fully as much a temple of the Holy Spirit as a man’s. She isn’t fooled by any male delusions of being superior by reason of gender. She may pretend differently; she may even regard it has her duty to submit to this scheme and struggle against the innate knowledge of her equality; but her heart will always know better. She will either squelch her heart and her personhood or she will rebel. And most women, eventually, will opt for the latter.
But what do the holy apostles teach us? Let’s examine St. Paul’s exhortations to wives and husbands for an instructive example. These are read at every Orthodox wedding, and are found in Ephesians, Chapter 5. The chapter begins, “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.” The whole chapter is about how to walk in love. The end of the chapter applies this walking in love to marriage:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
Now the part about husbands loving their wives “just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for her” is no mere postscript. It is the context and necessary condition for the wife’s willing submission to her husband. The husband is to give himself, sacrifice himself entirely for his wife, as Christ sacrificed Himself for the Church, giving His all, holding nothing back. A husband is to cherish and nourish his wife as his own flesh. Now if my husband loves me as Christ does (!!!), then my relationship to him will be as my relationship to Christ is. Not only will such self-sacrificial love leave me in awe, deeply honoring, loving, and respecting him, freely and gladly serving him; but I will also know and feel I can safely leave myself in his care. If, on the other hand, the husband is not Christ to his wife, then the relationship is already dysfunctional whether the wife submits to him or not; either course she chooses will be distorted, will be destructive.
In other words, in Christianity, love is the basis for all authority, as it also is for everything else. Love is the basis for a husband’s authority. The authority of priests is also rooted in love; a priest will find he is followed in direct proportion to his love for his flock.
In Orthodoxy, love, for the sake of good order, distributes different functions to each gender, in accordance with the natural inclinations or abilities of each. Thus, child nurture, for example, is primarily a woman's job. Protecting the family is primarily a man's job. Being a living icon of Christ to a parish, an icon both inwardly and outwardly (both being important) is something only a man can do. The roles of men and women are different because men and women are; but there is no difference in how much each is valued, no difference in rank or status based upon gender as such. Women are definitely different, and vive la difference! but we are not thought inferior in any way. That's what St. Paul means when he says that in Christ "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28) And of course the most important function of all, in church, is receiving the Body and Blood of the Lord, and this function is not gender-determined at all.
Moreover, it isn't only women, in Christianity, who are called upon to submit. For love's sake, we are all supposed to submit ourselves to one another. "Yes, all [of you] be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble." (I Peter 5:5)
When you meet someone you can sense is ready to die for you and ready even to live for you, who has given up everything for love of you (because that is the way to love God!), your heart leaps to his service. You instinctively want to fall at his (or her!) feet. You feel highly honored if you are able to do anything for such a person, even if it is only to fetch him or her a Kleenex. You feel ashamed if you have to be asked twice. You feel ashamed you didn’t see the need for a tissue before you were asked. You weep for joy in the presence of such a person. You serve him with all your heart, with gladness, with thanksgiving, with joy.
“Rebellion” – against what?
P.S.) I've found a podcast that says all this far more eloquently than I can. It is entitled, "O Lord, Crown Them With Glory And Honour" and dated Wednesday, June 18, 2008. You can safely skip the first third of the talk, though, which isn't pertinent. (Move the progress indicator to just below the "J" of "June".)