Holy Mothers of Orthodoxy

by

Eva Catafygiotu Topping


At Forty Days - A Postscript

A reader of my article "At Forty Days" which appeared in The Greek Star, has written that my facts were personal opinions. To further clarify my statements, I would like to review and explain some of the undeniable facts.

1. IT IS A FACT that our church considers menstruating women and women after giving birth as physically "unclean" and ritually "impure," denying them participation in the liturgical life of the church during these periods. That this practice derived from Leviticus 12:1-5 does not justify its continuation. This ancient Old Testament taboo, based on ignorance and fear of the life-giving process that occurs in the female body, does not belong to the church founded by Christ. It is a fact that Christ himself rejected this Levitical blood taboo, as is recorded in the Gospel story of the "woman with the issue of blood"; (Matthew 9:20-22, Mark 5:25-29, Luke 8:43-48.). Therefore to continue this practice is to reject the teachings and practice of the church's Founder.

2. IT IS A FACT that the writers of the New Testament nowhere mention that the early church "reserved the priesthood for males." Rather, these writers reveal that in the "earliest church" women and men alike shared equally the most important ministries, the apostolate, diaconate and the prophetic calling. The Holy Spirit called the earliest Christians without regard to gender. Nothing in the Gospels or Epistles indicates that the roles of women apostles, deacons and prophets differed from or were subordinate to the men apostles, deacons and prophets.

3. IT IS A FACT that Christ's first apostles were women, the faithful Myrophoroi. Unlike the 11 male disciples who fled and hid themselves, the women disciples followed Christ all they way to the cross and to the tomb. Thus women are the first witnesses of the Resurrection, the first to say Christos Anesti, the first to be commissioned by the Risen Lord to announce to the world the joyful paschal kergyma, Christ's victory over death. To restrict the apostolate to the 12 men apostles is to destroy the Scriptural record. Moreover, Paul, the most important of all the apostles, was not one of the 12. And women were also included in the apostolic company.

4. IT IS A FACT that women have "second class" status in our church. "It is a reality established by the church fathers, a reality experienced by Orthodox women. St. Cyril of Alexandria, Orthodoxy's prestigious dogmatic theologian, stated the principle of women's subordinate position in honest plain language:"men must always rule and women must everywhere in everything remain in second class (en deftera taxei)." For more than a thousand years this principle has prevailed. This ruling and its application is neither anyone's "personal opinion" nor the product of the "minds of a few Christians who want change for the sake of change." It is a fact of women's historical experience in the church as well as in society.

5. IT IS INDEED A FACT that the church honors the Theotokos. No one denies this. The image of the Theotokos dominates the sacred space around the altar. But this high honor of the Mother of God has not brought honor to her daughters. The sacred space in which the Theotokos appears is reserved for men only. Women are excluded from it simply because they are women. If this is not discrimination, then what is it?

As a Greek Orthodox woman, a traditionalist who values Orthodox spirituality, Orthodox teachings of sacrificial love, Orthodox belief in the intrinsic worth of each human being, I have reason to hope that our church will reconsider its theology of woman; that our church will someday accord equality to women, who together with their brothers are created in the divine image and likeness (Genesis 1:27) and that our church will fulfill the promise that in the body of Christ racial, social and sexual differences do not matter (Galatians 3:27-28). In the words of St. Paul, "what matters is faith that makes its power felt through love" (Galatians 5:6). That being so, women should have equal access to all the ministries of the church, to its rich liturgical life.


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