Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Women in the Church

I really don't want to get into a long discussion or discourse on the exclusion of women from the priesthood. Many of my Christian, non-Orthodox friends and family will insist that women not being allowed to serve as priest is contrary to the Gospel of Christ and only proves that the Church wants to subject women as second-class citizens. I could argue this until the Second Coming but unsuccessfully since I find that arguing with the other side only entrenches each side in their own arguments from which they cannot and/or do not want to extricate themselves.

However, I will say this: To say that anyone can be a priest is to demean the priesthood. The priesthood is Christ's, not ours, not then, not now. There are plenty of divorced men who are holy, yet they cannot be ordained. There are many who have come to the faith late in life who have lived lives of outstanding holiness but cannot be ordained. They may become saints, no doubt, but not priests. I do not, nor will I ever support a change.

Reading the synaxrion for the day about St. Eleutherios, I found that, like many saints to serve the church in times of adversity, he had a mother who guided him in the faith. Her name was Anthia and she shared in the martyrdom of her son, beheaded while lamenting her just slain son. How many great saints would the Great Church of Christ be deprived of without these great mothers? I can think of several off of the top of head.

The Blessed Augustine (commemorated June 15) was a Manichaean for much of his teenage and early adult life. His mother, Monica, though somewhat dotal towards his worldy pursuits as a teacher of rhetoric as well as his devotion to his mistress who gave birth to his only son, Adeodatus (Given from God), nevertheless relentlessly kept urging, gently and forcibly, her son to adopt the Christian faith, which he eventually did in 387 A.D. when he was baptized by St. Ambrose, the bishop of Milan. Monica's faith in Christ and her desire that her son be saved reaped dividends. Augustine is regarded rightly as the greatest doctor of the Latin church (though many of his doctrines and statements are clearly not held by the consensus patruum) and his influence is still felt to this day. Monica's efforts should not be overlooked.

The mother of St. Basil the Great, one of the Cappadocian fathers, St. Emmelia, was responsible for teaching all her children the faith. Five of them are venerated as saints on the church calendar. It was because of her zeal for the Lord that her children became as great defenders of the church.

The list goes on and on. Even in our churches today, it is the women in the parish, the ya-yas and matushkas who not only teach the children in church school, but who also keep them in line during the services, teaching them to be reverent in the house of God. It was the women who kept the faith alive in the Orthodox countries, overrun by the communists who did all that they possibly could to suppress the Church. Priests and monks were often infiltrated by the KGB and many of them turned against the church and the faithful for perks from the communists. But the mothers were able to operate under the ever watchful eye of the atheist government and instill the faith in children. And so it goes on today.

I would say that the faith is celebrated by the priests, but that the faith is preserved and protected by the women. These women do not get the thanks that they truly deserve. Though St. John Chrysostom tells us that, after the incarnation of Christ, the priesthood is the greatest gift of God to man, these women are a daily gift which we often take for granted.

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