Sunday, November 25, 2012

So why Don’t You (Orthodox) Ordain Women?

Within the Anglican Communion, there are two groups that pretty much oppose the ordination of women and the consecration of women as bishops. They are the Anglo-Catholics, who say this does not accord with Tradition, and the more evangelical wing, who say it does not accord with Scripture. So why do we Orthodox not ordain women? Is it for the Anglo-Catholic reason? Not really, although they are of course right. Is it for the evangelical reason? Not really, although yes, they too are right.

In Orthodox Christianity, there are many functions of a priest that a woman could do as well as a man and perhaps better. But one function, a principle one, is something she cannot do at all, and that is to serve, for liturgical purposes, as the icon of Christ. In our worship services, the priest ministers side-by-side with Christ, making visible to the congregation what Christ is doing invisibly. I suppose it’s a little like a sign-language interpreter standing alongside the news anchor for the benefit of the deaf. In Holy Communion, for example, it is Christ Who is feeding His people with His own Being but the priest distributes the Body and Blood. In Holy Baptism, only Christ can wash away your sins and incorporate you into His Body but the priest immerses you three times. In Confession, Christ Who forgives and absolves, but the priest prays over the penitent. And so on. The priest’s function is not to represent Christ as though He were absent, nor yet to “channel” Christ, but nevertheless, definitely to portray Him, to show forth visually the invisible Mystery.

And for whatever reason, whether we like it or not, the Word of God came into the world in male flesh. (We do not know why, but no, we do not blasphemously imagine this was male chauvinism in God, nor even a nod to it from Him to humor the sin.) The Lord did not appear on earth as a female, nor as androgynous, nor as a hermaphrodite, but as a man. It takes a man to iconize him.

But, but, but – you object – isn’t it much more important how a person’s soul looks than how his body does? Of course it is. But the fact that Thing One is much more important doesn’t make Thing Two unimportant. For liturgical purposes, a male is needed to be the living icon of Christ, just as in your parish Christmas pageant, a female is needed to portray the Virgin Mary.

And that’s it. There are other reasons, such as keeping to Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition, but this is the basic reason, the reason it's in Scripture and Tradition in the first place. It has nothing to do with superior and inferior status; but with different functions, different service, carried out by people who are all equals. It has nothing to do with who gets to lead, because it is clearly understood that Christ is always the Leader. It has nothing to do with power, because the Church operates not by command and control, but by Love. It has nothing to do with male chauvinism. In fact, I can testify that I have encountered far, far less male chauvinism inside the Orthodox Church than outside it and I’m actually not sure whether I’ve ever experienced it within the Church. I don’t mean there’s no such thing as an Orthodox Christian who is sexist; there’s bound to be; but I do mean sexism is an unOrthodox and unchristian thing. Orthodox Christianity provides neither encouragement nor haven nor pretext for it. After all, the person we revere and venerate the next most, after Jesus Christ, is His Mother.

Some posts on related issues from this blog you may like to check out are one on the priesthood in Orthodoxy and another on authority.


CJ said...

Thanks for the insightful post. I read it after I saw your response on Josephus' blog.