The Christology of Feminism

I have stumbled across the conversation in the blogsphere about a recent publication from St. Vlad’s, Thinking Through Faith. The book is a collection of essays by various Orthodox scholars, of which I have read none to date. The one that has been making a stink is the one by Valerrie Karras regarding women’s ordination. Since I am familiar with the position and the author and so far I haven’t seen an adequate diagnosis and response, I am offering my comments to help clarify the issues.

Before we get to the main event, there are a few things to tidy up. Currently, most serious advocates of women’s ordination have conceded that there is no significant evidence of women in the priesthood, at least not to be derived form liturgical sources. Karras herself pretty much said as much in a publication in a theological journal last year. (The reference escapes me at present.) The argument is now following the practice of the Episcopalians in the 1970’s by introducing female deacons and then later by extension, the priesthood. In this discussion there is a constant terminological confusion and question begging with use of the terms, deaconesses and female deacons. Conceptually the two are not necessarily identical as well as being historically controversial as to whether there ever were any of the latter. There is plenty of evidence of deaconesses and sufficient evidence for them in the NT itself. I have no qualms about having deaconesses in the church. Canonically, deaconesses had distinct requirements and duties and so were not the female equivalent of deacons. From my reading, this has been adequately handled by the German Catholic theologian, Gerhard Muller in his Priesthood and Diaconate.

Next, Karras asks

“Why 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)

The argument here seems to be something like the following. Women and men do not differ qua women and qua men with respect to such and so ability. Therefore they are the same with respect to said abilities. If there is no difference between them with respect to those abilities, then there isn’t any difference with respect priestly abilities. Therefore women should be permitted to be priests. If those who oppose women’s ordination were consistent, then they would oppose female physicians, but they don’t so that they are involved in a performative contradiction. I think a problematic assumption is that the ability to say words, cut bread, etc. is what characterizes the priesthood. The essence of the priesthood though, it seems to me, is not defined by function and for a number of good reasons. First, because Christ is not defined by function. Chalcedonian Christology is not per say functional. Second, If the priesthood were defined functionally, we would not be justified in restricting access to it in other ways, namely age.  Can you imagine a 16year old priest? Why not a ten year old? Is ageism any less a sin than sexism? Why is it, for example that people in fact do have a problem visiting a 16 year old doctor? There have been doctors of such and so age and even if there haven’t been, I see no reason why there can’t be some prodigy of modern medicine. More directly, Karras assumes that men and women are both equally potentially priests qua men and women, but isn’t this the point at issue? So her interrogative is question begging. That’s the long answer. The short answer I suppose is better. When Christ is enhypostatically united to carpentry, I will limit my employment of carpenters to males.

Christ is not a female and I suspect Karras or other advocates of women’s ordination would have a hard time giving a reason why he wasn’t or why Christ might just as well have been a woman. I know how I would answer that question given my adherence to the teaching of the dreaded Saint Paul, who views the head of every woman as man, the head of every man as Christ and the head of Christ as God. (I Cor 11:13). And of course, the head of Christ being the Father poses no problems since an eternal subjection of the Son to the Father doesn’t imply a subordination and inequality between them. The Father as the source of the Son doesn’t imply that the Son is heteroousia or homoiousia. Likewise, the head of every woman as man doesn’t imply that women are of an inferior essence as men-strictly speaking, being in subjection to is not tantamount to being subordinate to. The Father is eternally greater than the Son, but he is not eternally better than the Son. Subjection isn’t “domination” then on pain of affirming a plurality of Lords in the Trinity.

Another point that needs to be tidied up is the talk of “gender.” Gender roughly put is supposed to be distinct from sex in the following way. Gender is what you psychologically take yourself to be. It is what is “between the ears.” Where as sex is what your are biologically-it is what is “between your legs.” This supposes that sexuality and human nature are to be defined in terms of function, which incidentally helps to underwrite the legitimization of abortion. Why Karras thinks she is entitled to assume and take contemporary anthropology as the criteria for Orthodoxy theology is not addressed. Needless to say, I reject this way of understanding human sexuality and human nature. It posits sexuality primarily and most importantly as a non-teleological employment of the body. And since it is non-teleological, any employment is just as legitimate as any other. It underwrites the fundamentally Gnostic belief that you are not your body and so what one does with the body doesn’t really matter. This is why the Gnostics favored women’s ordination. Or more precisely, they favored having a lottery of who was going to act in what capacity for that service, giving leading roles even to children. Why after all discriminate based on age if you are not going to discriminate based on sex? Why not then go further than Karras argues and open the priesthood to all? You can see why this decoupling of sex from the persn consequently, legitimized (sexual) sin, the personal employment of human nature in opposition to its divine logos or telos.  Heterosexuality is not just one of many different gender preferences, and certainly one isn’t conceived with a “preference” either, despite anecdotal psychological evidence to the contrary. (Have these people never read Freud?) To bring this around again, the traditional position for reserving the priesthood to males doesn’t turn on “gender defined” roles, but on sex. You are your sex, no matter what psychological dysfunction you happen to suffer from. Christ doesn’t take upon himself a “gender.” This is why Karras is anachronistic and mistaken when she writes,

“This emphasis on gifts, functions, and roles as gender-defined is particularly troublesome when the function and behavior of one woman — the Theotokos — is 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).

“The 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 Mary — something that is never done with Christian men vis-à-vis Christ or any particular male saint — is 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).

As for the “apostle” Junia, I simply direct the reader to the recent Touchstone article. As for the rest here, I ask my readers  first to draw on their experience. I have visited a number of churches in my time, great and vast as it is. Some of those churches, Coptic, Russian and some Greek, separate women and men. The men stand on one side and the women on the other. When I saw Pope Shenouda consecrate a Coptic parish in the early 90’s, this is the way it was. (If you haven’t had this experience, too bad for you.) Now, there is something to this, it accentuates the differences between men and women and you can just “get it” when you see it-this is even more true when women wear the appropriate “head gear.”  There is something to this that people who scream about “gender equality” just don’t and can’t get. That said, on an intuitive level, Karras’ argument above can be seen to be run across the grain.

On a principled basis, it is wrong since the traditional position doesn’t move in a reductionistic fashion with respect to the Theotokos and women, any more than it does with men and Christ. To hold the Theotokos as a paragon for women hardly objectifies women. To the contrary, to limit the Theotokos as a paragon for women in the way Karras does cuts off the Theotokos from women per since it implies that being the God bearer is only accidentally related to being a woman, and something here seems wrong. The corollary of, why couldn’t Christ be a woman now arises in the form of, why the Theotokos couldn’t be a man? If after all sex is accidental to the task and the model, why not? If the role is entirely personal and not natural, why not? Here we are back to glossing things entirely in terms of use or function. (Let the reader see the Nominalism.) Furthermore, the traditional position doesn’t depersonalize women since it doesn’t reduce how distinct female persons act out the Marian disposition. A diversity of activities of women saints is not incompatible with and does not imply that the distinct personal embodiment of the Marian disposition is reduced to one simple activity. Saying I should be conformed to the Christ doesn’t imply that I do exactly and only the unique acts that Christ did on earth in the way he did them.

What has gone before is mostly a side issue. Attacking the traditional argument head on, Karras writes,

“(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)

The argument running around now that Karras deploys is that one can’t model the male exclusivity of the priesthood on the incarnation since this would imply that women are not human since Christ is only male. I think this is argument suffers from confusion and a number of mistakes. First, think about the implications of the argument. It implies, not only that women can be priests, but that anyone and anything can be a priest since Christ redeems all of creation in the Incarnation. This may be an acceptable conclusion for some wacked out Franciscans, but it is a clear reductio for reasonable persons. Further it also implies that Christ was either androgynous or that Christ did not enhypostatically unite his male sex to him. So we end up with a sexualized Nestorianism. How appropriate for the twenty first century-identity heterodoxy.  Christ is divided via sex. There is the male Christ and then there is the divine/generically human Christ, with the first only being of accidental importance and relation to the second. And what constitutes this non-sexualized generic humanity is left unexplained by advocates of women’s ordination.

On the contrary, given that Christ doesn’t drop any body parts at the Ascension, he is still man and in fact he is the everlasting man, like it not. (Ephesians (1:3, 10) In the immortal words of the Mormon leader Joseph Smith, “if you don’t like it, you’re just going to have to lump it.” Since Christ’s male sex is everlasting and it is enhypostatically united to him, the only way it seems to me to affirm the full humanity of women is to affirm a rather shocking theological course. We need to adhere to Genesis in its talk of woman having her source in man or as the dreaded Saint Paul says, the head of every woman is man. Christ assumes what is common to both and specific to one sex, which is to deny that Christ is androgynous while affirming that women too are redeemed in Christ’s taking up of human nature into his divine person. And this implies that women can “image” Christ, though in distinct ways, appropriate to her sex, but not with respect to the priesthood. The priesthood is relative to the divine person of Christ into which he brings his sex.

On an experiential level, most if not all of the advocates of women’s ordination in the Orthodox church to my knowledge have no first hand experience of it. They have never been in a body to see how it works out and what implications, both theoretical and practical it may have.  We do have a number of examples among the Lutherans, Presbyterians and Anglicans. My own experience is being raised with it in the Episcopal Church, which in my judgment was a theological/spiritual disaster. They have never been in a body where once they have broken down the wall and marker of tradition, theology becomes a free for all to the point that the former tradition becomes proscribed, and the evolution moves past heterodoxy to quackadoxy-cue Matthew Fox with his “Rave masses.” Those bodies that have gone the way of ordaining women are ever sliding towards the way of extinction. The proof is in the pudding.

With respect to tradition, I’d advance the line of the Anglican scholar Felix Cirlot, that the burden of proof rests solely on the innovators. The Church consequently requires no explicit argument for her practices in the face of challenges. That is part of the point of tradition. The religion of tradition isn’t the religion of reason in the following sense. The dogmas of the Church are not the products of syllogisms, the result of contemplating the nature of existential quantifiers or how to cash out the nature modality in S5. Tradition is the master of reason and not the other way around. Christianity is not a religion of reason in that sense. Consequently, it doesn’t matter if the traditional position lacks a clear argument. It doesn’t need one. If we have always done it “that way” then that is sufficient. If one doesn’t agree, well there are already plenty of other bodies that ordain women and advocates are certainly free to join them. I’d strongly recommend that advocates of women’s ordination actually go and spend a year or so in such bodies. But I doubt they will.

51 Responses to The Christology of Feminism

  1. markos says:


    this is Markos struggling in Anglicansim you wrote me please contact me again i need to talk to you my email is

  2. colinclout12 says:

    This one is on the comments:

    I think that our human notions of maleness and feminity are nonsense. “Male” does not mean manly, feminine does not mean tender. “Male” means fatherly and husbandly, “female” means motherly and wifely. Or more accurately, “male” means “like Christ” “female” (or “feminine”) means “like the Theotokos” or “like the Church.”

    So the question isn’t really how do women aquire virtue, and is that different from how men do, but, when women acheive theosis, do they leave mother-hood behind.

    The answer, of course, is “no, rather for a woman theosis precisely is motherhood, the motherhood of the Theotokos.”

    But we are then still left with the question of how that motherhood comes from being “male like” (“Christ like”). The answer, I believe, is that “Christ like” does not mean “male like” but also “bride and mother like” for Christ is His Body, the Church.

  3. colinclout12 says:

    This post isn’t on the comments, but on the original post.

    And let me say up front that I’m against woman’s ordination. It’s a novelty.

    That said, I’m not entirely sure that you capture the whole picture in I Corinthians 11, and I think the oversight is perhaps important. Namely, I think you miss I Corinthians 11:11-12 “Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.”

    As I take it, St. Paul is saying here, “though the Old Eve is in the image of the Old Adam and is from him, yet in Christ, the New Adam, Christ, is from the New Eve, the Theotokos, and is in her image. Though still the New Eve, the Church, is in the image of the New Adam, Christ, and is from Him. As the woman is of the man, even so is the man by the woman.”

    This is an important point because it may not be quite sufficient for establishing the full humanity of women to say that women are from men and are in his image. The Man is from a woman, and is, by the Spirit, in her image.

    Moreover, it isn’t quite true that Christ doesn’t have a feminine body. Yes, Christ is the everlasting man. But His body (and note the gender of that pronoun) is Feminine. Christ has not only a husband’s body, but also a wive’s.

    So just as a man is capable of imaging Christ, the Everlasting Husband, so too a woman is capable of imaging Christ, the Everlasting Bride.

    In short, I think the full humanity of women is established by Christ’s assumption of femininity in the Church. And that feminity is not simply from the male, but also gives life to the male, as the Theotokos did to Christ.

    Because of that, I think we should establish the fact that priesthood is exclusively male in the fact that though Christ has ascended to the Father, the Church has not as yet.

  4. Symeon says:

    Darin: Nicaea was schismatic? What?

  5. Darin,

    If you wish to make an argument, then please do so, but tossing out insults is not conducive to a fruitful conversation or a manifestation of humility. You are free to disagree, strongly in fact and to point out where you think authors or commenters are in error. If you think what I have written is schismatic, I’d need to see form you what you mean by that term and then how what I wrote fits into it. It is irnonic that I took myself to be simply defending the tradition and teaching of the church over against innovation, which seems to be just the opposite of being schismatic.

  6. James says:

    An OO theologian I hapenned to read says
    “the sacramental presence of Christ in the Bishop, Presbyter and Deacon, cannot be exhaustively explained in terms of their functions alone. Their very person, body and mind, soul and spirit, is consecrated to be that presence. There is thus no “retirement” possible. One continues to be that presence so long as one lives. The person of the Bishop, Priest and Deacon is consecrated; not just their function. This is a major point of disagreement between the older traditions and the new rational-functional approach of much modern theology”

    and further ” the Sacramental Presence is not a gift of the spirit for the individual bishop, presbyter or deacon, but something given for the Church, for its oikodone or upbuilding. Hence the Sacramental Presence becomes inauthentic when its integral relation to the whole community is broken. It is only in communion with the priesthood of the whole Church and on its foundation that the Sacramental Presence lives ”

    & “a sacramental Presence, separated from Him of whom it is the presence, loses its authenticity. It is only in sacramental union with Christ that the sacramental presence lives. In this way it is different from sign or symbol”

    Does this not coupled with what you have said , pretty much demolish the arguments of these new theologians.


  7. Darin says:

    This thread is more schismatic than Nicea, circa 325 A.D.

    The one thing most needful, most Orthodox, yet grievously lacking among our men today….quick to profess with the lip, but not the heart….is: humility

    Philippians 2:1-8
    1 Cor. 13:2
    Matt. 25:40

  8. It is interesting regarding the angels. I believe that when we see angels, or speak of God as a person, then it is always as males. This is not because they are physically male as a human man is but because man (in the male sense) is the image and glory of God and angels are also sons of God. When there are visions or names of angels, they need to be in an engendered human image, only man is created in the image of God, otherwise they would not be “incarnate” because that is how we are seen/are here. The female image is not appropriate because it is the glory of man and neither God nor the angels are not made in man’s image. Also, the image of God includes that of governing and since the fall women have not been permitted to govern, at least not men. and so the female form is again not appropriate for God nor the angels as persons. I think that an exception is if one is specifically pointing out an attribute or act of God that is best described with a feminine form such as a mother hen gathering her chicks.

  9. NeoChalcedonian says:

    (1) If “sex” indicates a physical form/property, are all angels then, by extension, sexless? (Satan, the Archangel Michael, etc.)

    (2) I need to hear more on the meaning of Chalcedonian’s Christology’s “non-functionality.”

    (3) Is God’s title of “Father” at all related to “maleness?”

  10. Steve says:

    Several female saints are “equal to the apostles”, and so had an apostolic ministry. But that does not mean that they had to be deacons (or priests, or bishops).

  11. s-p says:

    Fr. Maximos and Andrea,
    It is interesting that the Fathers say that Adam was fashioned after Christ and not Christ after Adam. ISTM then that “maleness” transcends “male/female” gender distinctions as expressed in concrete persons if both genders are recapitulated in Christ’s “maleness” and human nature. If the first Eve was fe-male, then obviously there is something within the “maleness” of Christ as God in whose image all human beings are fashioned that is inclusive of “fe-male” persons. So, yes we can begin with Christ, but perhaps have to rethink our definitions of what defines “maleness” in the Godhead.
    Just thinking out loud.

  12. Cyril says:

    Many aspects of this discussion, for those of your registered, are being treated at the Orthodox Forum (yahoo group) under the thread “Sex and marriage”.


  13. Fr. Maximus says:

    Andrea and S-P,

    Those are beautiful thoughts. The best men I have known (mostly, but not entirely monastics) were “in touch with their feminine side” – not that they were at all effeminate, but that they had the tenderness and outpouring love we associate more with women. In this they are true images of Christ, who possesses all virtues in perfection. So, divorced from sexual acts or desires, and conjoined to the virtues characteristic of women, what does it mean to be a man?


    I assume you are saying (in “starting from Christ”) that Christ did not become incarnate as male because Adam was male, but rather He created Adam male because Christ is male. But then why is Christ male in the first place? If it is because the male subsumes the female but not vice versa, so the restoration of our nature could only be accomplished if Christ is male, then why does the male have this priority? If it is thus purely because Christ is male and thus make maleness the fountainhead, this seems rather circular.

  14. Andrea Elizabeth says:

    “It is also hard to get gender out of the way regarding the means of salvation when our identity, which is influenced by society, is so tied up in it.”

    I feel I need to clarify this a bit. What I drew from s-p’s post is that the means of salvation and Christian attributes are the same for men and women. The fact that Christ is male and also the means of our salvation is still a noteworthy distinction and has something to say about order and hierarchy. I think this is the nature of the subject/subordinate question? I got a little confused with Perry’s and Symeon’s dialogue in that it seems to me they are both saying that the Father and the Son are equal, but that the source of eternal divine essence is the Father, which Perry is saying makes Him greater in originality, but equal in essence?

  15. Andrea Elizabeth says:

    S-p, I think you are helping me know what I mean. 🙂

    “The female human person is healed in the same way a male human person is healed, by being united to the person of Christ who has restored our nature to its original glory in His person.”

    Healing words indeed.

    “It seems that the particularity of Christ being male is essential to the fact of the truth of His incarnation as truly a human person and not a hybrid asexual or duosexual being.”

    Perhaps I anthropomorphize God’s maleness too much. Isn’t part of the problem with the feminists who have changed the pronouns in the Bible that they feel left out when God is described with male pronouns? It is easy to make the mistake of making God in man’s image instead of understanding it, as if we could, the other way around. It is also hard to get gender out of the way regarding the means of salvation when our identity, which is influenced by society, is so tied up in it. Orthodox look to the early Church to know the correct roles people are supposed to play, and I ‘m glad that we seem to have somewhat of a consensus (sorry Fr. Patrick) that women’s roles/activities can be pretty broad.

    I believe you have rightly prioritized person -> activity -> nature/essence in your description above. I think gender is under person, though I got a little confused about it again since this was discussed a few months ago. A male or female person determines human nature and that is why we all fell with Adam and Eve. What one person does affects us all. Christ corrected human nature by His sinless life, and we must also struggle to do the same in Him.

  16. s-p says:

    Andrea, May I take a stab at your questions? By “feminine side” you seem to be speaking of “feminine characteristics” such as compassion, gentleness, caring etc.
    Of course you are not speaking of biological characteristics, so I assume the former is what you are meaning. When Christ took on “human nature”, human nature is healed…human nature does not have “gender” but is expressed by human beings with gender. So ISTM (I’m open to correction by those much smarter than me on this one), that Christ did not come to heal “maleness and femaleness” or characteristics of male/femaleness which is part of the particularity of personhood, but our “nature” by becoming a human person. No human person can be BOTH male and female, hence Christ would have had to be two separate human persons to be both properly. The female human person is healed in the same way a male human person is healed, by being united to the person of Christ who has restored our nature to its original glory in His person. It seems that the particularity of Christ being male is essential to the fact of the truth of His incarnation as truly a human person and not a hybrid asexual or duosexual being.

  17. Visibilium says:

    My casual perusal of Church history causes me to conclude that a lot of the heresies that have afflicted the Church grew legs solely owing to certain clerics’ support. The female ordination heresy is no exception. I don’t see the Sunday faithful clamoring for this nonsense.

    The Orthodox Church is conciliar, and its magisterium, if I may use the term popularized by an alternative religion, consists in the whole Church, lay and clergy. For a while the conciliarity was embodied in the relationship of Church and State in which the secular ruler represented the laity.

    It’s time for the laity to take the bull by the horns and to make it clear to certain Bishops that the only open question around here pertains to their being permitted to continue in their current “career choice”.

  18. Gina,

    I do not believe Christ is feminine or effeminate, but if I may submit some thoughts,

    If that which is not assumed is not healed, then how can a woman be fully healed and in Christ if femininity is completely other than He? I also believe a woman can be an icon of Christ, and not just of a man.

    In the marriage bond, it is sometimes said that the man and woman are two halves coming together to make a whole. Wouldn’t that whole be a picture of Christ? We may say that Christ and His Church are the two halves, but there cannot be any deficiency in Christ, and I have heard many Orthodox say that the Church is Christ, it is His Body, so how can the feminine be foreign to Him?

    One example that seems to me how this may work: Again I think of mature monks, like St. Silouan. He often referred to his soul as she, but perhaps this is in a creaturely way to the Creator – linking Christ’s creaturely humanity here doesn’t seem to fit so I’ll move on. Still, the peace and gentleness of many of the hermit monks seems, not effeminate, they are a picture of masculinity to me in their rugged, craggy faces that live in such harsh conditions. But to be complete and lacking in nothing. A wife would be redundant somehow. So to me they are in touch with their feminine side. And this is brought about through union with Christ, and prayer to His Mother, to whom they are most exemplarily devoted. She is the prime example of how to be a single natured human Christian to all of us, male and female. But a monk looks different than a nun, so that brings us Symeon’s quote above, ‘Maleness and femaleness are found only in forms of bodies”. Our resurrected bodies will retain this to some extent. But I think it is more than skin deep.

    Back to monks and nuns, women are the weaker sex and usually live in more comfortable, less austere surroundings, and many monks will look after women’s monasteries as did St. Seraphim and St. Nectarios. Christ did not have any of woman’s physical or emotional (hormonal/cyclical) weakness, and He does not need a woman to complete Him. His masculinity is in a kenotic/giving sense. But He receives from and submits to the Father, so that seems relatable to women’s relationship with men. Not that men do not likewise submit to Christ. This weakness of women may be similar to creation’s weakness in relation to the Creator and Sustainer of all things. He is our strength. But since creation sprang forth from Him, in some ways creation is not other than Him. This is why creation is good.

    Which brings me to my last thought, I think there is a Jewish belief that creation can be because God separated Himself from it somewhat. Sort of like how a cloud forms when the warm air is contracted by cold air. The water used to be part of the air, but became manifest through a change in conditions. A baby in it’s mothers womb has indistinguishable parts until halfway through the pregnancy… So I guess I’m saying that women are clouds. That’s not helpful to our cause is it. But I wonder if it is in some way a picture of woman being drawn from man. Christ being male puts Him on that side of being human, but His divinity – perhaps it has room for a feminine side.

  19. Symeon says:

    Here is a passage from Fr. Azkoul’s book (pg. 33) that speaks to the issue of “sexualized Nestorianism: “Acording to St. Gregory the Theologian (329-390), Christ was completely male. ‘He was male because He offered Himself for Adam; or rather the Stronger of the strong when the first man had fallen under sin. There is in him nothing feminine, nothing unmanly. He burst from the bonds of the Virgin Mother’s womb with much power, and a male was brought forth by the prophetess, as Isaiah declares “the good tidings.” Later, St. Theodore the Studite (795-826) will say, ‘Maleness and femaleness are found only in the forms of bodies, since none of the difference which characterize the sexes can be recognized in bodiless beings. Therefore, if Christ were uncircumscribable, as they are, He would also be without sexuality. But he was male, as Isaiah said.'”

  20. Symeon says:

    Hmm, my first post is still awaiting moderation, so I hope this one gets through.

    “The NT usage is ho theos for the Father and theos usually for the Son. So I think that Zizioulas is correct. The Father generates the Son and not the divine essence. And nothing in Gregory I saw cuts against that so far as I can tell.”

    I don’t disagree that “The Father generates the Son and not the divine essence. ” I absolutely affirm the Monarchy. But from that it does not follow that the “one God” is the Father only. St. Gregory’s quote of course doesn’t contradict the Monarchy, but it contradicts the notion that Zizioulas cited him for: that the “one God” is the Father. St. Gregory is pretty explicit that the three persons are the “one God” due to their shared nature. And again, as St. John of Damascus writes (De Fide III.V): “For although each has an independent existence, that is to say, is a perfect subsistence and has an individuality of its own, that is, has a special mode of existence, yet they are one in essence and in the natural properties, and in being inseparable and indivisible from the Father’s subsistence, and they both are and are said to be one God.”

    “As to the distinction between subject and subordinate, the idea is this. With the latter there is an inequality of essence and the former there is not. This was a problem the Arians faced. There were three ways to distinguish along platonic lines. Two things are opposite but equally opposed, one is superior in power and the other lesser, or the one absorbs the other.”

    So you are positing role subordination, as I thought.

    “Further, Scripture says that the Father is in fact greater than the Son. (John 14:28, 10:29) Some (Ambrose as you noted) thought of this as speaking of the incarnation, but others clearly did not. And I think the latter comports better with the biblical language. Take Epehesians 1:17 for example. That doesn’t seem to be speaking of the Incarnation. John 1:18 also comes to mind.”

    St. Athanasius, who interpreted the passage to refer to the Son’s generation, says that the Father is “‘greater,’ not indeed in greatness, nor in time, but because of His generation from the Father Himself, nay, in saying ‘greater ‘He again shows that He is proper to His essence.” There is no idea here that the Father has a greater role of authority than the Son, like men over women. The greater is “not indeed in greatness,” but only insofar as it refers to the generation; role subjection can’t be drawn from this. Likewise, that the Father is the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, does not imply that he has a headship over him in authority.

    “Also, the councils speak of the two wills in a relation of one subject to the other but also maintain their own spheres of operation without a subordinating relation, one of one will determining the other. The Father and Son are equal as to essence but the Father is greater than all since he eternally generates the Son and sends the Spirit.”

    The human will is subject to the Divine will. The human will submits without force to the Divine will; the Divine will does not determine it.

    “Further, to reject the line I lay out here, I think lends support for the filioque. So hows that for an ad Hitlerum?!”

    But of course, the reductio ad Hitlerum is a logical fallacy. Just because the Filioquists agree that the one essence is the one God, it doesn’t mean that it is unorthodox. Likewise, the Arians confess that the Father is creator of the universe and the Nestorians confess two natures. Neither of those are wrong in and of themselves.

    God bless.

  21. Gina says:

    Why must Christ have a feminine “side”?

  22. Perry,


    I think Fr. Maximus has a point, though I diverge slightly.

    First, I think Adam was different before Eve was taken out of him. He seems to still have been a he, but perhaps a he with a feminine side. Also I think that many of the Genesis references to man mean mankind, of which women are a part. So when Eve came to being, mankind was then divided into male and female.

    Therefore if Christ is the second Adam, then he could also have regained/recapitulated a feminine side so that women can now not feel like aliens and other. But still he is a he, and the Theotokos is a she, so distinctions are maintained. Even in the eschaton, but I think it will be a more angelic state since a lot of earthly distinctions regard procreation and drive wont be an issue then. I picture mature male and female monastics as being as masculine and feminine looking as they should be. but are like-minded, peaceful and joyful around each other. And also free to express and act on their respective hypostatic strengths in a relaxed, loving way.

    Re: WO, we have to respect that Christ is male but perhaps it is helpful to know that he can fully understand and relate to women. I don’t know if there’s an essence differentiation though in his humanity. If we say that women are just as much a part of mankind as men are, that puts some equality in the mix, but Adam and Christ being male, although enhanced, they are the source and the telos… then it seems that women are missing something, but women are supposed to be the mysterious ones…

    If women are missing a masculine side, then perhaps women get to determine what a masculine side is in that if a woman can do it, then it’s not masculine. What can a man do that a woman can’t? The answer seems to be as small as the distinction between the Father and the Son, be the father (though in the famous Biblical piece by Handel, One of Christ’s names is Everlasting Father, regarding mankind I suppose). The Priesthood must have something to do with that.

    And as far as woman coming out of man, Cain came out of Eve, so he was different than Adam, and thus had certain anatomical differences too like a belly button and maybe some other things besides. I don’t know what other effects being born of woman would have. Also, Christ with His feminine side brought forth life, and was Adam’s father and mother, in a sense.

    There’s a hymn that talks about Adam being born without a mother and Christ being born without a father. The Incarnation evens things out.

  23. ochlophobist says:


    “…will commit you to saying that sex is deficient or evil, a rather odd conclusion for a feminist to advocate…”

    It is odd, but it is also the conclusion advocated by most feminist theories of the past 100 years. Writers from Chesterton to Patrick Henry Reardon have responded to the irony to be found in this.

    I was as pleased as I am able to get concerning such things to see that the The First European Catholic-Orthodox Forum`s statement on the family has language in it directed at the influence of feminist and queer theory upon the common rhetoric of the polis – “There is an attempt to change language and introduce ambiguity into international documents under the ideological introduction of the gender theory” – and so forth. The document (see ) has some flaws, and tends towards RC language in some areas that makes me a wee bit uncomfortable, and is a little more committeespeak than one would wish for, but it also holds the basic Orthodox line and confronts some of those very things with regard to which WO advocates are, in my mind, accomodationists.

    Also – from the point of view of the demographics of Orthodox in the West, I wonder if WO advocates get much of their momentum, and some of their financing (SVS books like the one addressed here often enough get underwritten by those with agendas), from the influx of persons coming into Orthodoxy from the Oldline Prot denominations. You once told me that you thought that those coming into Orthodoxy from ECUSA in the last few years are a whole different animal than those who came in 20 years ago (the recent converts from ECUSA could not stomach Gene, but they lived for years with WO and with John Shelby Spong), and you wondered what influence they might have on American Orthodox culture. Some of these folks bring with them a de facto adherence to branch theory, and, at very least, a soft view of WO. They had to go somewhere, and they chose Orthodoxy because they liked this and that better than RCism or the Continuum. Now they take the this and that of Gregory of Nyssa’s passages on sex and soteriology, and the antinomianism they read into certain elders, and their somewhat anachronistic reading of Bulgakov and Sherrard, and like to have “thoughtful, open” conversations about WO and other such topics, all using Orthodox nomenclature and supposed Orthodox theoretical constructs. And then this gets labeled as Orthodoxy engaging the modern world and modern questions. To return to this question from the point of view of culture, I have to chuckle about all of this. Karras (who is sincerely liked by those who know her and disagree with her – Fr. Oliver has nothing but kind things to say about the woman, though his position on this matter is as yours), God bless her, is something of the exception that proves the rule. When I think of cultures not really inclined towards feminism, the Greeks are high on the list. Right up there with Russians, Serbs, Georgians, and so forth. Sure, you can go to Romania and find a few bishops who will echo Met. Kallistos and claim that WO is an open issue, but try introducing a female priest to the village parish there. There is the threat of the Americanization of Everywhere through mass media, but we have some time, I think. And so long as there is such a thing as Greek culture, Russian culture, Serb culture, and the like, the Orthodox in the West who wish to “engage modernity” will be doing nothing more than releasing gas. Not that a local culture should confine the Church, so to speak, but as you have made fairly clear, this is a closed issue theologically, it is only open to those who would subject theology to contemporary culture, in this case to the contemporary culture of the West’s middle classes, as traditional and normative Russian, Greek, Serb, Georgian, and other cultures in which Orthodoxy is found in numbers are not as interested in the issue.

  24. Here are my collective comments, individuated by author.

    Fr. Patrick,

    It is true that the canons restrict the performance of baptism in the way you outline. But my point was that this is in line with what is appropriate, rather than picking out what is essential. Laymen baptized long before the canon was introduced, just as single bishops ordained other bishops before the rubric of three bishops was introduced. There is nothing essentially wrong with a layman baptizing, it is just not appropriate given other considerations, which motivate canon law.

    Also, I am wondering how the canons would apply to a layman like St. Maximus since he seemed to teach publically and privately.


    I certainly believe the biblical witness that there were female prophets but a prophet and a priest aren’t the same. There aren’t any biblical priestesses in the OT, at least not for Yaweh anyhow.

    As for “shooing” I am not angry. I can certainly handle people who disagree with me. I am not suggesting that we are in substantive disagreement so relax.


    The NT usage is ho theos for the Father and theos usually for the Son. So I think that Zizioulas is correct. The Father generates the Son and not the divine essence. And nothing in Gregory I saw cuts against that so far as I can tell.

    As to the distinction between subject and subordinate, the idea is this. With the latter there is an inequality of essence and the former there is not. This was a problem the Arians faced. There were three ways to distinguish along platonic lines. Two things are opposite but equally opposed, one is superior in power and the other lesser, or the one absorbs the other.

    Further, Scripture says that the Father is in fact greater than the Son. (John 14:28, 10:29) Some (Ambrose as you noted) thought of this as speaking of the incarnation, but others clearly did not. And I think the latter comports better with the biblical language. Take Epehesians 1:17 for example. That doesn’t seem to be speaking of the Incarnation. John 1:18 also comes to mind. Also, the councils speak of the two wills in a relation of one subject to the other but also maintain their own spheres of operation without a subordinating relation, one of one will determining the other. The Father and Son are equal as to essence but the Father is greater than all since he eternally generates the Son and sends the Spirit. Jesus speaks this way, not just of his relation to the Father in reference to the Incarnation, but when he speaks of prior to it as well. This is why I think the line used by Ambrose and others with fine is not adequate. Hypostatic difference would only imply inequality I essence and hypostasis were identical, but they aren’t. So the Son being eternally subject to the Father qua hypostasis doesn’t imply that he is any less deity. Further, to reject the line I lay out here, I think lends support for the filioque. So hows that for an ad Hitlerum?!


    I agree. By the same token women have handed over much of their power over men without a fight, which amazes me. When I taught, I would have to explain to the young women that if they all banded together, they could have men at their beck and call. But dressing in such a way that leaves nothing to the imagination and following the line of “if I don’t sleep with him, he’ll leave me” they give the men all the power. There was a reason men used to have to make a pledge and get down on one knee. Other than depriving men of sex, how else do you suppose you are doing to get them to kneel? It was like a bolt of lightning to them. Men think of sex, a lot. Like all the time, even good men think of sex often, even when they try not to. To digress, it amazes me that people just fall for the line that homosexuals are born that way (of which there is no scientific proof of a causal relation) or that they have these desires that God won’t take away or whatever. Uhm, like what? I can just pray and God takes away my rather natural desire to copulate with a good number of women? Why does their desire get a pass and mine doesn’t? This is why I think one of the greatests hedges to this kind of stuff in the Church is to actually ENFORCE some church discipline regarding divorce. We’ve made marriage and divorce too easy.


    I am with you on the head covering, sista. I think in church it has significant power. It is not a hill I am as yet prepared to die on, but I favor them. The big line now is using the patristic line that what is not healed is not assumed and using that to pummel opponents of WO. There was an article in First Things on WO a while back and this was the tack taken there was well. I have simply turned it around, Christologically speaking. Either you have to say that Christ takes up some androgynous humanity that exists apart from any hypostatic instantiation and our sex is left unredeemed or you have to say that Christ was also female. The latter is absurd and the former will commit you to saying that sex is deficient or evil, a rather odd conclusion for a feminist to advocate. In any case, their thinking seems to me to lead to a kind of Nestorianism. They charge, rather unimaginatively, that we can’t preserve Chalcedonian Christology by opposing WO, I have simply turned it around. If people wish to be Christological heretics in order to carry water for WO, fine, but that is something I knew already, all errors in theology are fundamentally Christological errors somewhere down the line.


    First, sure, why not? You have plenty OT propehtesses and some in the NT, but you have no women priests in either. The office of prophet isn’t “sexed” in that sense. The same I think could be said for rulers.

    Second, surely they are and this is part of Galatians, since the being one in Christ is in reference to baptism, not the ministerial priesthood. If it did, Paul never would have said what he did regarding women teaching since they could have been Apostles. Are all apostles?


    Could you refer me to the passage where Maximus teaches an undifferentiated human at creation? I am not convinced that he takes that line over from Gregory. Thunberg on the contrary says that Maximus teaches not that the sexual distinctions will be overcome, contra the Origenists, but that the *opposition* between the sexes will be overcome. You can have distinction without opposition, which is a key part of Maximus’ over all theology. I’d be surprised if he were inconsistent with it here, since this was a point of condemnation of Origenism and a main hedge against Monothelitism. In fact, if it weren’t so, his entire case against Monothelitism would fall apart.

    If this wasn’t so, Christ would not be male in heaven, but he is. Karras’ takes the previous line, which is why she argues that partaking of the heavenly life now entitles women to be priests, because sex is not essential to their person. I have argued just the contrary, that in a real sense you are your body and that the opposing line is Platonic, Origenistic and Gnostic. Since Christ’s sex is maintained in heaven the more platonic take of the Origenists is wrong. Further, I think what Maximus means with respect to Christ and reproduction is that he already partakes of the heavenly life. It is not that he “can’t” in terms of not being male or lacking the male “equipment. It is for the same reasoning I think that the Theotokos didn’t engage in sexual relations with Saint Joseph. In anycase, it is better to work from Christ in particular and then apply what we know there to Adam, rather than vice versa.

  25. Fr. Maximus says:

    St. Maximus, following Gregory of Nyssa, affirms that the original man was created neither male nor female, but that the division was introduced afterwards, in view of the fall. I understand this to mean that the first man was indeed Adam, and that when he was divided to make male and female, the hypostasis of Adam became male. St. Maximus also affirms that in the resurrection, the division between male and female will be overcome. Certainly he means that the opposition between the two will cease; but if in fact Adam was created sexless then he would also be referring to a cessation of male and female on a physical level. This would imply that Christ will cease to be male. But why has He not already, seeing as He is the first-fruits? If in heaven they neither marry nor are given in marriage, and the division of the sexes exists solely for the purpose of reproduction, there would seem to be no need for a distinction between the sexes in heaven.

    There seem to be certain virtues which are particularly characteristic of each sex, such they they compliment each other. Why is this so, and would the cessation of sexual distinction in heaven undermine the particular gifts characteristic of each? One could reply that the fragmentation of the human person at the fall affected men and women differently, so that each were left with a greater susceptibility to certain passions, and differing levels of ability in various areas. Nevertheless, the complimentarity of the sexes argues for design (from God) rather than chaos (from the fall.)

    If St. Maximus is right, the female is not derived from the male qua male, but from the male qua first-fashioned. If the relationship of female to male is like that of the Son to the Father, the subordination of the former is with respect to origin. St. Maximus also states that Christ could not have reproduced. This means either that He physically could not or that He could never have chosen to so do, just as He never could have chosen to sin. If the purpose of maleness is for reproduction, and Christ could not have reproduced, why is Christ male? I think it can only relate to origin. If the female is from the male, or better, from the first-fashioned, Christ comes as the new firstfashioned; that is, as the second Adam. In coming as the second Adam, He recapitulates women as well as men.

  26. MG says:


    Two questions:

    First, would it be correct to speak of Christ being enhypostatically united to the office of prophet?

    Second, are women part of the universal priesthood, even if they can’t be part of the ministerial priesthood?

  27. Gina says:

    Spot on. I have tried to explain to women when discussing this issue that in saying Christ’s maleness was incidental to His role as Savior, they are gutting their own salvation. On these issues so many people have closed their ears, however, that they can’t even hear. You start talking about Nestorianism and egalitarianism being the death of Christian anthropology and they go back to the same cul-de-sacs: Roles, authority, capability, fairness, roles, authority, gifts, justice. Gah! The idea that someone publishing under Orthodox rubric is making the same argument makes me ill. We’ll all be hearing this one article cited for years and years.

    As I commented on Och’s blog, the American Orthodox should never have abandoned headcovering. The arguments made for this are the very same. It was a dress rehearsal for Karras and Co. to step in and point out other decrepit traditions we are hanging on to.

    The Copts have always maintained deaconesses, but they function much like the holy widows St. Paul mentions- charitable works and prayer. They are not altar servants.

    Incidentally someone mentioned the menstrual ban- if it came about in the 11th or 12th century, then it came about also independently among the OO. The fact that it’s present in both EO and OO suggests antiquity to me.

  28. s-p says:

    Visibilium… now you’ve gone to meddling. 🙂

  29. Visibilium says:

    St. Paul’s discussion of male and female roles appears to articulate a fiduciary standard for men’s dealings with women. That’s a great benchmark, and let’s examine our progress in attaining this high standard. The plain fact is that men, in too many cases, have failed miserably in their stewardship of women’s interests. In using the Theotokos as a guide in caring for women, men would go a long way in disarming the female ordination fruitcakes.

  30. Symeon says:

    While I am certainly in sympathy with the thrust of this piece, that is, against WO, I have issues with one argument you use here.

    “I know how I would answer that question given my adherence to the teaching of the dreaded Saint Paul, who views the head of every woman as man, the head of every man as Christ and the head of Christ as God. (I Cor 11:13). And of course, the head of Christ being the Father poses no problems since an eternal subjection of the Son to the Father doesn’t imply a subordination and inequality between them. The Father as the source of the Son doesn’t imply that the Son is heteroousia or homoiousia. Likewise, the head of every woman as man doesn’t imply that women are of an inferior essence as men-strictly speaking, being in subjection to is not tantamount to being subordinate to. The Father is eternally greater than the Son, but he is not eternally better than the Son. Subjection isn’t “domination” then on pain of affirming a plurality of Lords in the Trinity.”

    I’m not sure what distinction there is to be drawn between “subject” and “subordinate.” What kind of thing are you saying? Is it that the Father has a position of authority in relation to the Son? The fact that the Father is the cause of the Son’s hypostasis does not make him “greater” in authority. Let’s see how St. Ambrose interprets this passage:

    “Let God, then, be the Head of Christ, with regard to the conditions of Manhood. Observe that the Scripture says not that the Father is the Head of Christ; but that God is the Head of Christ, because the Godhead, as the creating power, is the Head of the being created. And well said [the Apostle] “the Head of Christ is God;” to bring before our thoughts both the Godhead of Christ and His flesh, implying, that is to say, the Incarnation in the mention of the name of Christ, and, in that of the name of God, oneness of Godhead and grandeur of sovereignty.
    But the saying, that in respect of the Incarnation God is the Head of Christ, leads on to the principle that Christ, as Incarnate, is the Head of man, as the Apostle has clearly expressed in another passage, where he says: “Since man is the head of woman, even as Christ is the Head of the Church;” whilst in the words following he has added: “Who gave Himself for her.” After His Incarnation, then, is Christ the head of man, for His self-surrender issued from His Incarnation.”

    So the Godhead is the “head” of the manhood of Christ, not the Father. And this headship of the Godhead in the person of Christ is what makes him the Head of man.

    A digression: I have noticed many who rightly extol the Monarchy of the Father take this into inappropriate directions. For instance, Zizioulas insists that “The “one God” is the Father, and not the one substance, as Augustine and medieval Scholasticism would say.” He cites St. Gregory the Theologian’s Oration 42.15 to support this statement. But look at what St. Gregory actually says: “Briefly to run over its details: That which is without beginning, and is the beginning, and is with the beginning, is one God” and “Now, the name of that which has no beginning is the Father, and of the Beginning the Son, and of that which is with the Beginning, the Holy Ghost, and the three have one Nature— God.” So all three persons are the “one God” and this is because “the three have one Nature— God.” I have no idea why Zizioulas feels that professing monotheism and the Monarchy of the Father necessitates also applying “one God” to the Father alone.

    Back to the subject of WO, Fr. Azkoul, who I am not a big fan of, wrote a decent book on this subject, “Order of Creation/Order of Redemption.” It takes a very traditional perspective on the issue (ignoring the attack on St. Augustine in one of his footnotes; Fr. Azkoul can not write a book without working in an attack on Augustine somewhere). Recommended overall.

  31. s-p says:

    Fr. Patrick and JtTH,
    Father bless, JtTH pray for me. 🙂
    It is interesting that my former protestant denomination held much the same views of women’s roles in the assembly as Fr. Patrick outlines. The strictest congregations did not allow women to teach boy’s in Sunday school after age 12 (or 7 in some cases).
    Anyway, I agree with JtTH that the role of laity in “private” relationships is shadowy in some cases (especially in “spiritual relationships”). It seems if one just keeps “the proceedure” and stay in obedience to a spiritual director most ego driven “new theological perspective” ditches will be avoided. (Most…not all). Thanks, Fr. Patrick.
    Blessed Nativity.

  32. Whoah. I am sooooo toast. I mean I asked (and received) permission… but also make no pretense to teaching (have disclaimer to same effect) but if the artillery’s STILL loaded and ready to shoot… I am so dead.

    I guess one might posit that there is certainly a difference between learning mode and the pretense of teaching… but that the form can appear similar… as when teachers question and students write essays or speak out in class. Even TA’s correct papers, teach, and run labs in colleges… which sort of sounds like deacons?

    But what I find a little confusing here is that I wonder whether this suggests that the ONLY spiritual advisors one may have would be clerical… something I have read over and over and over… that the Church does not teach. And yes… there are plenty of misconceptions which these may be… that take on a life of their onw. But, wouldnt’t this be one-on-one or “private” I guess… but then the line between private and public becomes confused or at least a lot grayer… unless that, too is covered in the canons? And not having this circumstance, I am not sure I understand how it works… and whether the lay advisor makes no pretense to the sacramental role of confession or not (my assumption). Then is it not possible that shift of confession from public to private… didn’t just happen to preserve order, but by virtue of this shift, the role of the layity behaves differently? and certain functions that would have had to accrue to an overworked priesthood become spread/shared? And when do we cross that line ?

    In terms of the topic here differentiating between “profession” and “sacramental office”… in my own field,.. there are differences that are quite similar: we have managers that don’t deal with people… and “counsellors” that do. Both appear to do the same thing to the public, but the latter act as stewards, while the former act principally for their own interests as if general partners and their clients are limited partners. Not suprisingly… the penetration of feminism… has been largely very, very minimal… and yet most (surviving) clients are women.

    Add also that I have been to completely different sorts of conferences: there are those where the press is invited, the speakers receive honorariums, and the presentations are very polished. These are typically costly affairs. Then there is the other sorts… where it is mostly academics presenting unfinished “working” papers to each other… and input, criticims, and give-and-take are much more free flowing. These are cheap, and much more insightful. The attendees… well… they also tend to be opinion leaders… whereas the other groups are “decision makers”. Both teach perhaps… but one is “public” and the other… well, at least informal if not “private”.

    I would suppose there is a line between formal and informal in this vein that accompanies the sense of public and private. Of course in my line of work, we always allow that the difference between the full-timers – the so-called professionals… is not that they are better, more learned, or experts… but that everyday involvement allows that we can more readily identify our mistakes… catch ourselves and correct them. Familiarity leads to learning, and on to “training”. Artists and musicians are sometimes even gifted enough to hide them as “flourishes”…. but they also speak of the decay in quality from “private practive” to “public performance” as significant… and why there is no such thing as a private christian? Fact is, experience with the daily errors whittles aways one’s pride to the point where we try not to be frozen by “mistake”… a problem more typical for interloping do-it-yourselfers …. but that’s only really true if the pro’s manage to stay humble enough not to listen to any of the “satisfied” customers and get fat heaed. 🙂

    As to the whole of WO… I don’t see a whole lot of demand here in Orthodoxy… but I live in a bubble and as a convert remain overwhelmed by the whole to the point where I’m satisfied to take instruction… it’s a relief and why I’m here.. Maybe the demand is there… and I’m just still focused on retuning my attenna.

  33. s-p,

    I agree with your interpretation to a large extent. I think that the interesting parts of the Canon include the mention of “publicly” teaching, which supports what I said earlier about the distinction between public and private. This Canon does not prevent a layman, or woman, teaching in private. Also, the association of grace with teaching and hence the Mystery and iconic understanding of the function and that it is not one based only on learning otherwise it would said one may not teach until one has been sufficiently taught.

    While this Canon does not forbid laymen teaching in private, in public I believe that those who receive the grace to teach are those in the Priesthood because they receive the grave in ordination and it is classically part of their ministry. A layman does not have this grace because since the early Church this grace has tended to be formalised in ordination. Nevertheless, the Canon, as you say, is focused on self-appointed teaching and there is perhaps room for publicly teaching with the blessing of an appropriate Pastor, although again if this is to be a regular function then I would say it would be best for one to also be ordained a Priest and have the proper grace of the ministry.

    Note: because a woman cannot be a Priest then I would say there is very little scope, if any, for her to speak publicly as a teacher; she should be a quiet learner as St Paul says and there is no reason today for this rule to change because it is not about talents, learning or social acceptance but about appropriate grace. Again, she may teach in private such as Priscilla taught Apollos taking him aside, that is in private. Hence, St Macrina being called “the teacher” and Miriam being called a prophetess, these are legitimate ministries of women in private. Miriam was reprimanded severely for assuming a public leadership role of prophecy when speaking against Moses, whereas Aaron suffered lightly for the same thing, but she was blessed taking the women aside “in private”. Neither left written material in their name of their teaching because it was not appropriate to publish it, although some things have been recorded and published by others in a secondary way. Not that this matters because it would add nothing to that of the Fathers, who add nothing, of their own opinion, to the teaching of the Apostles or Christ.

  34. s-p says:

    Hi Father Patrick,
    Father bless. I don’t read the canon as stating a layman CANNOT teach ever, but that one should not be a usurper or self appointed teacher or as the alternate translation might indicate, one who egoistically teaches and causes disputation or faction through uninformed opinions (hence the admonition to be a listener). Anyway, if a layman is deemed to have been a listener and then has a blessing to teach, it seems this “follows the procedure”. I don’t see anything in the passage that suggests teaching is only a clerical/male ministry. However, I do see plenty of examples of people not “following the procedure” around for sure.

  35. JNORM888 says:

    When it comes to advocates of women ordination(as well as other issues), they pretty much learn these ideas from Liberal colleges and universities. Just as in the 16 hundreds when Orthodox Christians were sent to western Europe to learn, they came back with Protestant and Roman Catholic ideas. The samething is happening here.

    I heard these arguments before when I was a Protestant, and I know what happens when a church embraces these things. Alot of people may not know what’s going on, but these advocates can’t fool the converts that already lived through it in Anglican/Episcopal, Lutherian, Prespyterian, Methodist, and Baptists churches.

    We know what they are trying to do……..they ain’t fooling nobody.


  36. s-p,

    To answer your question here is a Canon of interest:

    64. That a layman must not publicly make a speech or teach, thus investing himself with the dignity of a teacher, but, instead, must submit to the ordinance handed down by the Lord, and to open his ear wide to them who have received the grace of teaching ability, and to be taught by them the divine facts thoroughly. For in the one Church God created different members, according to the utterance of the Apostle, in interpreting which St. Gregory the Theologian clearly presents the right procedure in these matters by saying: “Let us have respect for this procedure, brethren, and let us observe it. First, let one man be a listener, as the hearing recipient; another, the tongue; another, a hand; another, something else; let one man teach, and let another man learn; and after short periods, as touching one who learns in a state of obedience, and one who leads the chorus in hilarity, and one who renders service in cheerfulness and willingness, let us not all be a tongue, heeding the most apt saying: “Let us not all be Apostles; let us not all be Prophets; let us not all be Interpreters” (1 Cor. 12:29), and after somewhat: “Why are you making out that you are a shepherd, when you are a sheep? Why are you becoming a head, when you happen to be a foot? Why are you attempting to be a general, when you are placed in the ranks of (ordinary) soldiers? And from another quarter Wisdom bids: “Be not hasty in words; vie not with a rich man when thou art indigent” (Prov. 23:4); nor seek to be wiser than the wise. If anyone be caught disobeying the present Canon, let him be excommunicated for forty days. (Canon 64 of Trullo (or the Fifth-Sixth or Sixth Ecumenical Council))

    The Greek words used translated as ‘make a speech’ seem to mean something literally along the line of: ‘words to stir (or disturb)’ but I am not entirely sure of this. They are also translated elsewhere as ‘dispute’. The rest seems fairly clear.

    It seems to me to answer “yes” to your question.

    Hope this helps.

  37. Greg DeLassus says:

    We need to adhere to Genesis in its talk of woman having her source in man or as the dreaded Saint Paul says, the head of every woman is man.

    I am, of course, in complete agreement with the sentiments expressed in this line. For more on this point, I would refer the reader to Paul Mankowski’s excellent article in Touchstone, Jesus, Son of Humankind?.

  38. Andrea Elizabeth says:

    Fr. Patrick,

    I also agree with you that the women mentioned, along with Deborah in the OT, were exceptions, but there are enough of them to keep the door ajar (except to the Priesthood).

  39. Andrea Elizabeth says:


    I agree with you about WO, so no problem there.

    It is significant that the expression of faith seems to originate with the man. I also believe the women defenders and sharers of the faith were not sharing anything original, but were repeating or explaining what they had been taught. So maybe that can be seen as being under male headship.

    It is interesting that Exodus 15:20 calls Miriam a prophetess. Another example I have recently read about is St. Macrina, whom her brother St. Gregory of Nyssa calls “the teacher”.

    I’m not sure if you cleared up who “someone else” can include, but since you didn’t explicitly tell me to shoo, maybe I’ll comment again about something or to someone here in the future.

    Thanks so much for sharing your helpful knowledge and insights on this site.

  40. s-p says:

    Fr. Patrick,
    Would you consider male and female laymen teaching on the internet (like this blog and hundreds of others) to be out of step with your understanding of the role of clergy/laity?
    (No sarcasm here… its a real question).

  41. Andrea,

    I believe that teaching and practice should be in harmony. Saying this I also believe that teaching takes priority over practice because practice can come up with a number of exceptions either due to necessity, special cases or mistakes. Practice cannot be used to contradict the teaching of the Fathers. It does, however, have an important part to play in interpreting the teaching, although again this is subordinate to the interpretations of the Fathers. For understanding St Paul we first need to read St John Chrysostom. He is wonderful at harmonising Scriptures. Tradition and practice.

    On the point at hand, the distinction between private and public ministry is very important in regard to the historical cases that you mention. Also, another distinction between being active and passive is helpful. Thus, many of the situations of women’s ministry to which you refer can be seen as private situations where men and women are essentially equal in roles. Other cases, where it is clearly public, one can see that the woman’s role in the matter was nearly always passive. St Nina is a wonderful example, she did not set out to be a missionary but her quiet way of life attracted the attention of the Queen of Georgia and she was invited to explain her faith. She did so and with this explanation the Royal family decided to convert and sent for Priests etc to complete the process. This understanding of matters is clearest in the oldest, 8/9th Century, life of St Nina. She deserves the title of Apostle of the Georgians but in no way did she act as if she was an Apostle or Bishop. St Catherine of Sinai is another case on similar lines. There is nothing preventing a woman having great knowledge and being able to speak eloquently in defence of her faith when asked to do so. She should not put herself forward though as having a ministry of a teacher or a public defender of the faith and neither should a layman. This is the role of the Clergy, although in necessity and when pressed laymen and women can act in such a manner. This does not contradict the teaching of St Paul nor does it say that they can have a public ministry as such. The few examples of women and even laymen acting as such confirms this understanding.

    Regarding the role of women in society, when we consider societies that were living in accordance to the teaching of Christ then we find that women did not play a public role of leadership, with rare exceptions, neither were they able to teach as university professors. At most universities the staff in earlier times were also clergy and laymen had little leading place. We now live in a society that is guided by human principles and not God’s and so women are permitted to these various roles. This society is outside the scope of the Church and the Church’s teaching has no direct bearing on it and it would be senseless to try to place on it Christian values when it no longer acknowledges Christ as Lord.

    Regarding baptism. From my study into the matter, only Priests (and Bishops) can baptise in normal circumstances. Laity cannot normally baptise. This is the main reason why baptism outside the Church is rejected because there are no Priests outside the Church. In cases of necessity without a Priest being present then others can baptise. However, for the sake of form then the baptiser should be someone who could be a Priest and this would exclude women. The Apostolic Constitutions forbid women from baptising as do some Canons from Africa in the fourth Century, although these have not been recognised as ecumenical canons but they are still useful indicators of the thinking of the time. The only direct canon on the matter, by one of the Fathers and recognised by the Council at Trullo, states that deacons can baptise in necessity and so can even the father of a child but with no mention of women being able to baptise. There are, I think, some stories of exceptions to this rule and at least one later Saint who seemed to permit midwives to baptise in necessity but overall it seems to me that women may not baptise and if it is permitted at all then it should only be in the case of last resort where there was no-one else and the unbaptised person was at the point of death.

  42. Andrea,

    Women who teach in universities are not teachers of the church and aren’t acting in that capacity so I don’t know why I would have a problem with that. Nor are they acting as the distinct teachers of the christian community, aka the bishop.

    As for terminology, I’d ask you to consider Paul’s teaching that the head of every woman is man. If that is true, then it seems reasonable for a man to speak for the congregation, doesn’t it? So, is it true?

    As for the Magnificat, does it express something distinctive to women or what is appropriate for any believing Jew at the time? Sounds like Miriam’s song when she went before Moses.

    As for your sensing, you and I haven’t had that much interaction.I am perfectly capable of having someone else here to debate me. So I don’t have a clue what the heck you are talking about.

    I have no problem with women doing all of the things you list. Any Christian can baptise. That is hardly news. But of course in that list none of the women are being a Bishop, priest or deacon and that is what is at issue, right?

    Most of the people I have known who favor WO carry it as a burden of justice. They take it to be a moral cause, particularly an extension of the woman’s sufferage. A good number of those women have expressed to me their judgment that they have been cheated by men or are practically speaking, better at being clergy than men. Theyhave something to prove and it shows. Of course this is anecdotal, but it seems to me to be anecdotal far too often. An aquaintence of mine tagged it as the “hunted woman” syndrome.

    My deal is this. It is no great secret what the Orthodox Church is and teaches. If you don’t like it, fine. Go find somewhere else that suits your theological proclevities. God knows there is no shortage of such places. Further I have lived under women clergy. I have seen what the issue did to an entire denomination and tradition. And that isn’t an accident. I’d ask advocates of WO to think about that for a while. As I said, the proof is in the pudding. The Episcopal church just isn’t christian any longer. What makes it Christian? What do you have to believe to be an Episcopalian? I am not talking about nominal members.

    As for me, I have moved enough times. I am not moving again. In the immortal words of Jean-Luc Picard. The line must be drawn here. This far and no further. Or rather in the words of the NRA, you can have my church when you pry it from my cold dead hand.

  43. Perry and Fr. Patrick,

    Do you see the same difficulties with women doctors and teachers of adult males in secular universities and such? I assume you don’t mean women can’t teach juvenile males, but maybe you do.

    I don’t think that I’ve heard before that men can represent women but women can’t represent men. So men can say “we” and include us, but we can’t say “we” and include men? That doesn’t seem right. It does make me wonder if there are any Orthodox female hymnographers though. Don’t men sometimes pray or sing part of Mary’s Magnificat? I think this part includes males as well as females,

    ” And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation.
    He has shown strength with His arm; he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
    He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.
    He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever.”

    I’ve enjoyed my participation on this blog, but have sensed that you all are more comfortable when I am in learning mode and not in discussion or debate mode, which has been a bit stifling. And I’ve considered my more discursive contributions to be testing of my understanding of the material and have expected to be corrected by those more learned in Holy Tradition. Or maybe I’m projecting my insecurities about participation to include the blogosphere when you may think this a more private venue.

    I’m not arguing for the female priesthood by any means, nor even the diaconate. I do like singing in the choir though, which I think Fr. Patrick doesn’t like (women doing so that is). I happen to prefer male readers too, but that may just be a private opinion or perhaps a guided intuition.

    Frederica Mathewes Green, whose teachings don’t seem to get on people’s nerves as bad as some more militant feminist sounding women do, has some good points,

    “… we understand the purpose of ordination differently than many Protestants do. For us, it has to do primarily with setting someone aside to be a minister of the sacraments. Non-sacramental ministry, such as preaching, is open to non-ordained people, as long as they are continuing in the faith and worship of the Orthodox Church, and in obedience to a spiritual father or confessor.

    And when answering questions about the Church’s practice, instead of searching the records for resolutions that were passed at conventions, we look at what the Church has actually done. So if the question is, Can a woman be a missionary evangelist, and preach the gospel in foreign lands? We can say yes, because we see the example of St. Nina of Georgia. She was just a young girl, 14 years old, when she was abducted and carried as a slave into the nation of Georgia. But there she had an opportunity to speak to the Queen about saving faith, and then the king, and eventually the whole nation was baptized. So, yes, a woman can preach, and prepare people for baptism (St. Nina brought in a priest to accompany her to actually perform the baptisms), and pave the way for churches to be founded.

    Many questions about women’s ministries can be answered that way, by looking at what Orthodox women have actually done. Can a woman be a theologian and liturgist? Yes, there’s St. Cassiane. Can she be an apologist and debater, presenting the Christian faith against opponents? Yes, St. Catherine, St. Perpetua, and others were brilliant debaters.

    Here’s a toughie: can a woman exercise authority over both men and women, and rule an entire nation? Can a woman call a council that establishes church doctrine? Yes, we honor the valiant accomplishments of Empress St. Theodora. And there are many women who are called “Equal to the Apostles,” including St. Mary Magdalene, St. Helen, and St. Junia.

    In the Orthodox church, women have exercised a vast range of ministries. A glance through history shows that an Orthodox woman can be a healer, a missionary, a preacher, a teacher, an evangelist, a spiritual mother, a church-planter, a miracle-worker, an iconographer, a hymnographer, a pastoral counselor, a debater, a writer of prayers and theology, a martyr, or a fool-for-Christ—and she doesn’t need to get a clerical collar first. ”

  44. Iohannes says:

    This is a fascinating post. Great comments, too, from Fr Patrick.

    If we are in earnest about following St Paul, what then of women in political leadership? As university professors?

  45. Look at the title of the work published by St Vladimirs Press. New Perspectives from Orthodox Christian Scholars. New perspectives, Orthodox? This seems to me a growing problem in Orthodoxy is that the teaching on the Faith is becoming something of “scholars”, including women, and not of Bishops. It is a growth in new opinions and not the Tradition of the Fathers. It is no longer the Mystery of Christ teaching but of human ideas and opinions. Undoubtedly this will see a rise in innovations and a departure from Tradition and the Faith. What starts contrary to the decrees and the Fathers, especially God inspired St Paul, whose personal opinion can be nearly regarded as that of Christ and trustworthy, can only lead in disaster.

  46. Fr. Patrick,

    If one doesn’t believe that Saint Paul was right about the eschaton, and in fact was pretty much a false prophet, that homosexual behavior is morally acceptable, why should one expect such a person to be concerned about what Saint Paul says about women in church?

  47. Carl,

    I’d have to see the article, but I don’t think that deaconesses were simply the wives of deacons so it wouldn’t matter to me. What would matter is if there was evidence that deaconesses were the femaile equivalent to deacons, and I haven’t seen a good argument proving that. I agree that deaconesses could assist in the teaching and baptism of women and charitable duties. But a deacon does more than that anyhow. Did deaconesses work in the sanctuary, distribute the eucharist at the liturgy in exactly the same capacity? I have read all of the canons from the first 800 years of all the major and many of the minor synods and to date, none of them show this and none of the liturgical texts show a eucharistic equivalence between deacons and deaconesses. In fact, deaconesses are mandated by ecumenical councils to be single or widows and such is not the case for deacons. Nothing in the link you gave shows as much and the authors know it, which is why they are vague on the point. If the data were there it would be very easy to bring it forward. The OPF strikes me as people with politically leftist viewpoints trying to reconcile them with their religious proclevities. That is fine by itself, but i don’t think they can on a variety of moral and theological issues.

    To be frank, female deacons are a stepping stone to the priesthood. That is the way it moved in every other body in which it was implimented and it has been so expressed to me privately by various advocates, regardless of what they say in public. Further, the fact is that Rome and Orthodoxy are the last dominos to fall on this matter. I’d sugest that people are using data from the church’s past to advance their own sociological and political agendas.

  48. P.S. Regarding deaconesses, if one reads the Apostolic Constitutions one can see that they are not deacons in the male sense because they do not exercise the leadership roles of male deacons. They cannot lead the people in prayer etc but remain silent as the other women. They have a function to help with the baptism of women and other such tasks but not a leadership role, especially of men. They fell into disuse because baptising adult converts became rare, although there is no reason not to reinstate them. They could enter the Sanctuary but did not primarily serve there. (I believe that the menstruation argument for them ceasing functioning is a nonsense because it was an issue from very early on and part of understanding why the Virgin Mary needed to leave the Temple when she was about twelve. and clearly considered well before the seventh Century)

  49. What I cannot get is what is why cannot people submit to St Paul. He is absolutely clear that women cannot teach nor have authority over men. This is clearly explained by St John Chrysostom as being in a general sense in public situations which would specifically mean that women cannot be Bishops, Priest or even deacons because this would require them to be able to teach and have authority over men. Case closed but people are disobedient and don’t believe the Scripture, although they use it to there own good when they wish. I still don’t understand why women are even permitted to publish no Church matters, ie make pubic, learned articles etc. They have no authority to do so and for that matter even laymen have no authority to do so either. But then again who cares about authority.

    St John Chrysostom in interpreting St Paul is clear that the image of God refers to governance and hence why this is excluded from woman in 1 Cor 11. Since the fall she is not to lead nor govern men especially in public. She may teach in private, at home, she the actions of St Priscilla regarding Apollos or of the female prophets but not publicly. The distinction between private and public is important and helps to make sense of Scriptural evidence. This is the approach of St John.

    Also, and I believe this is very important is that no man has the authority to teach only Christ can teach. No one is to be called a teacher (Matt 23). The Fathers are called teachers and Fathers because Christ is a mystery teaches in them in synergy. They are teachers because He is the teacher. Reading 1 Corinthians 11 one can see the men are the glory of God and women are the glory of men. I think this is key to the issue. Men have the iconic role to be “Christ” in a pubic sense and teach etc as Him. Women on the other hand have the iconic role of being men that is quietly obeying God and not speaking one’s own opinion; somewhat all the relationship of head to body. In private the equality of man and woman means she can teach etc but not too extensively. See St John Chrysostom again on his interpretation of the Epistle to Titus regarding older women teaching younger women. Strictly the public teaching office is restricted to the Priestly order because this is the complete icon of Christ but in cases of need and as exceptions laymen can teach publicly.

    This understanding of icon is how I believe the issue is to be best understood and can explain a number of issues from a very Orthodox way of thinking.

    Also, I believe it is important to see that man incorporates both man and woman, while woman is in a sense of subset of man, although of equal nature to man. Woman cannot represent both man and woman. Hence we all become the perfect man (male) in Christ not the more abstract human, which means that in the age to come there will be no gender difference in Christ as all will govern with Him. Nevertheless, while we are here on earth the iconic distinction is maintained to remind us to seek God as Father and teacher and not to speak from ourselves but to live in obedience to Him. Hence, the importance of women wearing a head covering at all times, especially when praying and men not covering their heads, with monks an exception due to their explicit commitment to obedience, although unlike nuns they too bare their heads at key moments in prayer.

  50. kepha says:

    It’s so good to see you back online! I thought this site was dead.

  51. Carl says:

    I have read a scholarly article that argued that from the records, it appears that the Hagia Sophia had female deacons (as opposed to deacons-wives) until the 11th or 12th century, when a taboo against approaching the altar while menstruating began. More recently, I read which argues for the restoration of women to the diaconate. It made sense to me. To be sure though, this should only be done if it is made absolutely clear that putting women in the diaconate is NOT the first step to putting them in the priesthood (for all the reasons you mention, plus there’s no history of it). Until everyone is clear that the slope isn’t slippery, there’s no point getting on the slope. But I do think it might someday be possible to restore the female diaconate with enough education about its history. We’ll see.

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