Sunday, April 5, 2009

Letter 1

With my new resolve to talk more about Orthodoxy on my blog I am going to post a reply I made to a friend of mine in a letter regarding a question she encountered about women in the priesthood, and why Orthodoxy doesn't allow it.

My husband has been too busy preparing for the first bishop's visit we've had in almost six years to proof this, but I wanted to post it anyway. I'm sure I'll hear from him if I'm wrong.

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Dear A.

I could research this point, but I imagine you would rather hear from a reformed feminist than a theologian. If that’s the case, here’s my perspective.

I grew up in the Catholic Church in the 70s when the feminist movement was activating itself inside the church. Even the Catholic parish I attended was inarguably modern. It had a rock band choir, weird modern Christian art, as well as women reading in the services, passing out communion, and also acting as altar girls. The latter role wasn’t allowed in the Roman Church till the 90s, but this parish promoted it in the 70s.

While I was told in my Sunday school to memorize this or that point of theology, I remember learning that the Bible didn’t really mean what it said; miracles were easily explained through science; and the Church lacked an enlightened perspective, sensitive to the needs of people, especially women.

I could go through the history that got me to the point at which I realized the whole movement was more patronizing than empowering, but I won’t.

St John Chrysostom says that the priesthood excludes most men and all women. This is to say that the Church doesn’t cavalierly ordain anyone who feels called to lead, or who has a special charism about their ability to sing, preach, or teach in the Church. There is much more to it—and, as many hagiographies tell us, very little of what the Church wants and needs has to do with a man’s
desire to become a priest.

When I chose to become Orthodox, it was to embrace a theology, a worldview, and a state of soul that made me aspire to be worthy of it. I didn’t convert hoping that it would do something to become worthy of making my precious self show up on Sundays.

Seriously, if a woman wants to be a priest, there are plenty of churches that will let her. In fact, there are probably more churches that will let her lead their services than there are not.

With regard to your friend’s point, you answered correctly, I believe. It is about choosing to be a part of a church that requires certain things of you. If you choose to become Orthodox, this is the way things are. If you grow up as an Orthodox Christian, you know this is the way things are. No one is forcing you to stay if you’re ticked off you can’t be a priest.

There are a kazillion points you could make to a feminist. About the veneration of the Theotokos: how she is more prominent than any man other than Christ Himself in the Church. That she “pondered these things in her heart” and didn’t picket to be included among the apostles.

Even among the saints, women saints are venerated equally with men, and perhaps even more so because, being the weaker sex, we aren’t expected to be valiant in battle or courageous under extreme circumstances. When, as numerous women saints and martyrs in the history of the Church have done, we show not only piety and humility in our lives, but courage in the face of adversity and martyrdom, we prove ourselves to be worthy to be called saints and "the pillars of the Church."

Anyway, this is where I am coming from. I’d be happy to continue this conversation if you need clarification. I’m sure Fr Mark would have plenty to add, since he was the one who converted me from feminism. Although, I have to say my conversion wasn’t that difficult, since he was a handsome conservative I knew I wouldn’t be able to flip over to my point of view if I wanted him to marry me.

Let me know how your conversation goes.

All the best,
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