Holy Mothers of Orthodoxy


Eva Catafygiotu Topping

In Defense of Certain Parish

In recent months writers of newspaper articles, editorials and episcopal letters have been unfair to the men who oppose the right of women to vote in a certain parish. These men have done nothing wrong. Nor have they violated any tradition, dogma or practice of our Holy Orthodox Church. Since this may sound strange, let me explain briefly.

Our church clings tenaciously and proudly to her venerable traditions, many of which enabled her to survive and indeed to triumph over long centuries of persecution, enslavement and even hostility from the rest of Christendom. Among her traditions there is one concerning the place of women in the church. It is this tradition that is involved in the present sad controversy at this parish. Our priests, theologians and hierarchs identify this particular tradition as one which "is spelled with a capital T." As such, they tell us, it cannot be discussed, much less challenged or changed.

This tradition spelled with a capital "T" is ancient, well-defined and enforced in the praxis of the church. A thousand times it has been proclaimed from pulpits and explained in theological treatises and commentaries written by the greatest preachers and theologians of the Orthodox Church . The magnificent hymns of our liturgy also reflect this tradition.

This tradition spelled with a capital "T" admits no and's, if's and but's. According to it, women are "unclean" during the menstrual period and for forty days after childbirth. Inherited from the Old Testament, this tradition denies all women at all times access to the Altar. For example this explains why there are no altar girls, although surely little girls are as innocent as little boys in the eyes of God. In maintaining this tradition which discriminates against females the church forgets that Christ consistently broke the gender taboos of his culture and faith.

Secondly, this tradition spelled with a capital "T" is based on the prejudiced qualitative premise that woman is first in the order of sin and second in the order of creation. Translated into concrete terms, this means that woman is more sinful than and inferior to man. Consequently, in both church and society she must willingly accept silence, submission and subordination as her proper place. Thus for almost two thousand years the Christian daughters of Eve have been denied equal dignity and full participation in the life of the church.

St. Cyril of Alexandria, a most eloquent and influential Greek father of the church, summed it all up in a nutshell: "in everything the male must rule and everywhere the female must remain in second class." This being the traditional teaching and practice of the church, clearly equality would upset the right order of relationships between female and male and create chaos in the church. The historical record shows that it would be unorthodox for the women of this parish to have the vote. (I am aware of the fact that in all other parishes women do vote.)

Just as clearly, the majority of the men of this parish are right in their opposition to votes for women. It is these men and not their critics and opponents who are loyally defending the tradition spelled with a capital "T." To criticize them is to be very unfair. All they have done is to kill in their parish the dragon known as equality for women.

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