Are You Called?: Brief Thoughts on Women's Ordination
I have never posted much on the issue of women's ordination. Certainly not for a lack of interest in the issue. It is a phenomenon that touches the lives of many in western Christendom and, in a way, is one of the primary outcomes of post-Scholastic, post-Enlightenment philosophy and theology.
It has been said before that every age has its own "schismatic issue." The 3rd and 4th centuries had the Arians; the 5th and 6th, the Monophysites; the 7th and 8th, the Iconoclasts; the 13th, 14th, and 15th, the Anti-Hesychists.
I am convinced that our age (20th and 21st centuries) will be the noted for its abundance of "sexuality and gender" heresies. The chief of these is, IMHO, the rise of women's ordination to the priesthood.
There is a plethera of good info (on both sides!) on this issue. A well constructed piece was published in the April 2003 issue of First Things. The following quote is from a short symposium in that issue "Ordaining Women: Two Views" (pg 36-37). The author of this quote is Jennifer Ferrara, former Lutheran pastor now Catholic laywoman:
"As a Roman Catholic laywoman, my life as a woman, wife, and mother has taken on a new sense of definition. For the first time, I am trying to listen to what the Church has to say about who I am rather than expecting the Church to conform to what I think it should be. In general, modern women and men chafe against revealed authority because they expect the outer life of institutions to be rendered serviceable to the psychological inner life of individuals. Therefore, if a women want to be priests and claim to feel pain because they are not priests, it automatically follows that they should be priests.
Yet nuns and other women who insist that they have a call to the priesthood and use their pain as evidence for an authentic interior call from God are, in fact, using the protean politics of pain and not Catholic theology to explain their experiences. If they truly wish to empty themselves and renounce their own will for the sake of God and Church, they will find innumerable opportunities for service, though perhaps not the sort of self-gratification they seek."
Ms. Ferrara states it bluntly: Those women who "feel a calling" to the priesthood can't be called by the same God as the one she worships, based on the teachings, witness, and life of the Roman Catholic Church. In this regard they have severed themselves from the teaching of the Church in such a radical way as to have changed the essential anthropological (and therefore Christological) teachings of classical Christianity in regards to the priesthood that have existed in the Church for 2000 years.
Those who wish to insist on having women priests/pastors are more than welcome to do so. In some ways, it does not contradict their own teachings. Many of them do and will serve their congregations well, in many respects. I know several women pastors and at times have been edified by some of their teaching. However, based on the historic teachings and interpretations of the Church, they should not call themselves orthodox (little "o") Christians!
The best answer to this issue I ever heard was when Fr. Thomas Hopko (former dean of St. Vladimir's Seminary) was here in Portland a few years back, giving a Lenten retreat on "Gender, Sexuality, and the Church." During the Q&A session a very passionate person asked him for a more concrete answer to why a woman could not be a priest in the Orthodox Church. He looked at the person (who obviously had not listened much during the talk!) and said something like this:
"It all comes down to this: Women, by nature, can not be priests because that is the way God made them. The priesthood is a *paternal ministry* and, as such, can never be accomplished by a woman. She will never be a spiritual father, not because she is not a saint, not because she lacks the fruits of the Spirit, and not even because she couldn't physically perform the duties. What she lacks is both the physical and (more importantly) spiritual ability of being a FATHER. A female priest, by definition, is not a Christian priest."
But, does this mean women have no place of authority in the Church?
Of course they do! This is why, in Orthodoxy, we speak of having Spiritual Fathers *and* Spiritual Mothers. Men and women, while equal in nature, are not equal in function. Both sexes (notice I did not use the word 'gender') bring unique gifts and abilities to the Church. The great spiritual Mothers of the Church participate and build up the Church. Their prayers, lives, and saintliness have been, in many ages, the bedrock of the Church. (Russian Orthodoxy would most likely have been totally wiped out by the Communists if it were not for the faith and courage of the Russian women). And of course, the greatest saint who ever lived was a woman: The Theotokos. A holy abbess or babushka is much better for one seeking the spiritual life than a high ranking but morally corrupt Archbishop. However, the fact is only the bishop (and his priests) can serve at the altar.
However, the nature of the priesthood can not be looked at through the postmodern lens of "power" or "authority" before there arises great misunderstandings. These concepts should *not* be the philosophical starting point of a discussion on the priesthood. When they become the foundatinal points, it proves how vast the theological gulf is between the two parties.
St. John Chrysostom used to say that anyone who seeks out the office of the priest should never be ordained because the desire for the priesthood shows a lack of humility, reference, awe, and dread at the added responsibility and accountability a man takes on when becoming a priest. Anyone who fully understood what was involved with the priestly ministry, both in this life and in the age to come, would never desire the priesthood! A man *may* have a calling or vocation to the priesthood: But, IMHO, only the truly humble man who runs away from seeking ordination should have this calling actualized! As the famous proverb says, "The road to hell is paved with the skulls of priests..."