THE ORDINATION OF WOMEN WHY WE HAVE ELECTED THIS PATH
The problems which seem to confront the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church today revolving around the issue of the ordination of women to major holy orders are, to say the least, complex and laden with emotion, fueled with misunderstanding, confusion and some of the greatest theological concerns of our present day.
It is not our purpose to attempt to persuade anyone over this issue, but instead to as clearly as possible, state our own reasons for opening the doors to our Orthodox Catholic women, who are called to serve our Lord, Savior and God Jesus Christ in the holy orders of Deacon and Priest. This has been an agonizing process for our branch of the Church. One that has been debated, prayed over and now acted upon by this small branch of the Church Catholic, Orthodox and Apostolic Church.
We of The Evangelical Orthodox Catholic Church in America, feel obligated to share not only the prompting and guidance of the Most Holy Spirit of God, but the reasons that prompted us to yield to the Holy Spirit and to ordain our Orthodox Catholic women who are called, prepared theologically to serve, and who have responded to the call of God within themselves to serve Him within the ministry of the Church.
It is our most sincere desire to share and bring together both the reasoning and thinking of both the Eastern and Western Church AND the reasons which have prompted us to act on this issue.
First, we came to the unalterable conclusion and feel prone to point out that nowhere do the Gospels record Jesus as teaching that women cannot be ordained priests. Indeed, the Gospels are silent on whether Jesus ever said anything at all about this issue.
In 2 Corinthians 3: 3-4, we read:
"You are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the Living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts. Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Who has qualified us to be ministers of a 'New Covenant,' not in a written code, but in the Spirit; for the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life."It is upon this basis of Scriptural equality, that we Baptize men and women equally, children, male and female equally. We Chrismate/Confirm men and women, children, male and female equally. We declare the holiness and sanctity of male and female unions within Marriage as an equal partnership before and in the sight of God. We Anoint with Holy Unction males and females equally, and the Church grants Absolution within the Sacrament of Confession equally. The question of equality is really not the issue within the Ordination of women to the priesthood. We most certainly found ourselves in agreement with that.
First, please be assured that the issue of the Ordination of women has nothing to do with the equality of Men and Women. May we please close this chapter in our efforts to understand the Ordination of women? To argue that women are inferior to men is blatantly unscriptural. May we refer you to Genesis 1:27, Matthew 19:4, Mark 10:6, Galatians 3:28, and last but not least, 1 Peter 3:7 (i.e. Both are joint heirs of the grace of life.)
No where does the Bible relegate women to second-class status or make men superior and women inferior. To say otherwise is to misrepresent biblical teaching and to affront the loving character of the God who created Eve to be Adam's help mate for him, a partner fitting and suitable to him. Ellen White is very unequivocal when she states:
"That question has already been settled, long ago. Yet how indeed paradoxical, that we then say to our sisters in the Faith, who are saved with us, Baptized with us, Chrismated/Confirmed with us and who receive the actual Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, with us -- who are indeed equal with us in Salvation, as we stand together in God's Church and in the Kingdom, that they -- our sisters -- are somehow unfit because of gender to serve and minister at God's Holy Altar. If they are incomplete by gender, then, they must also be incomplete because of gender for the other Sacraments as well."
The ministerial priest, as priest, possesses no identity of his own: his priesthood exists solely in order to make Jesus Christ present... The bishop or priest therefore is an imitator, image or sign of Christ, the one mediator and high priest. In short, the ministerial priest is an icon....The next step in Eastern Orthodox thinking is then to recognize that maleness is essential to make the representation a faithful one. The one God of both creation and revelation revealed Himself primarily and essentially in a masculine way. This is the biblical and liturgical mode of expression, which cannot be altered or abandoned without changing, and ultimately destroying revelation itself. After all, the Son of God (masculine!), became flesh as Jesus Christ (masculine again!). The sacramental priest is not the image of God or divinity in general, not of the Trinity or the Holy Spirit, but of the Word Incarnate in his specifically masculine being and activity. This image can only be actualized and effected by certain male members of the Church, who are called and equipped for this ministry.
What should and needs to be very much questioned in this position, of course, is the contention that Christ's "maleness" is an essential part of his incarnation or priestly role.
The priest represents Christ because he represents the Church. There is no moment when the priest represents Christ apart from the Church. Since on the level of sign the representation of Christ is grounded in representation of the Church it would seem that a woman could perform the priestly role of representing Christ as well as a man.
Further, the ordained person represents the Jesus Christ of the baptismal mystery in whom male and female, Jew and Greek, slave and free, share a single identity. Just as the symbol of bread and wine is free of sexual connotations and so is able to embrace the wide family of men and women around one table, so should the symbolic representation of Jesus Christ the priest reach out to include men and women.
Gilbert Ostdiek deals the death blow to the male image argument by deftly pointing out that all the Sacraments are the saving actions of Jesus Christ. The priestly minister of every sacrament takes the place of Christ and dispenses the saving power in His name.
If we then keep in mind the theological traditions which admit valid administration of baptism and marriage by women, we have already implicitly admitted that women do and can represent Christ.In recent times, the subject of men and women within the Sacramental life of the Church has been addressed by such men as The Very Reverend Thomas Hopko, Dean of St. Valadimir's Seminary, has stated that:
The priesthood is not a "vicarious representation of the Christ who is in Heaven". It is not God's gift of power to "men" to exercise Christ's prerogatives in His absence.It is important for us, that we present the apostolic priesthood of our Lord Jesus Christ as a Priesthood of Presentation, and never Representation, in terms of its primary essence or focus.
According to Orthodox Apostolic understanding, the priest is not another Christ. The priest is only the instrument that mediates the personal and invisible Presence of our Lord Jesus Christ. Saint John Chrysostom stressed in his writings that within the Divine Liturgy and the priesthood -- that it is indeed our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit who act and transform. That being so, the priest then mediates the action of Christ not by masculinity or femininity, but by pronouncing the very words of the Savior and our God, over the Holy Gifts and then invoking the Holy Spirit to confirm, transform and convey (i.e. Transmutation) the actual and real presence of God in our midst. To bring to reality, the actual Body and Blood of our Lord, Savior and God Jesus Christ.
The theologian Nicholas Cabasilas says of this thing called Tradition that the priest recounts the story of the Last Supper and by repeating these words, prays and applies the very words of the only-begotten Son our Savior to the offered gifts. In this action, the priest thus becomes the very spokesman for the eternal Word. The priests lend their voices to the Word. Needless to say, that a voice can be masculine or feminine.
The Church celebrates the Holy Eucharist believing that our Lord Jesus Christ is both Living and Present through the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that was, has been, and is sent to confirm all things. It is our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is our High Priest who both offers and is offered. Within Orthodox Apostolic Christian understanding, the ordained priest does not produce the Lord's Real Presence. Priests are rather ordained to this service, sent in the apostolic succession of the first Apostles to witness to this "Divine Presence" brought about by the actions of the Holy Spirit.
Within the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom it says that a priest but loans their tongues and their hands, to the Lord, for the purpose of celebrating the Divine Eucharistic Liturgy, and not only to the Liturgy itself, but also His Church which is called the temple of the Holy Spirit. It must be asked then, that if this is the essence of the Church's Faith as witnessed to by the words of the Holy Liturgy, that with this understanding and awareness, can gender really be the issue?
Within the Holy Eucharistic Liturgy, as performed by the ordained priesthood of the Church, it is the Holy Spirit of God that we invoke to confirm God's Real Presence in our midst. It is the action and confirmation of The Holy Spirit, (i.e. the Epiklesis) that brings about this Sacred and Holy Change in the elements of the Bread and Wine within the Eucharistic Liturgy that changes these very elements into the actual Body and Blood of our Lord, Savior and God Jesus Christ.
Therefore Priests lend their words, their mouths and their hands to Present His Holy Mystery and yes, they also represent (small "r") Jesus the Christ who is our High Priest. But let us also remember that each priest must represent the Perfect Christ, (i.e. Anthropos) for our Lord Jesus Christ is also God manifested in the flesh, therefore to represent the Christ we cannot separate male from female.
The Church must return and bring itself back to the remembrance that Christ is the total and perfect Man/perfect God (Anthropos) Who contains and reveals the totality of the human being, both male and female, and not just a male or virile side only. We must always focus on the understanding, that what He, Jesus, did not assume, He did not Save.
It is important for us to remember also that there are many things within both the Eastern Church and the Western Church that have been done with the guidance of the Most Holy Spirit of God, which Jesus did not do. No, where do we remember Jesus teaching us that we had to use vestments, incense, chanting, music, one certain liturgy, or one certain language in which to worship our God, etc. Likewise there were many things that Jesus did do, which the Church has not done, also.
It is important to remember that Jesus was a Jew, and that He observed all the Jewish rites, customs, festivals and laws. Many people do not know that in the early Church, there was a very strong opinion and conviction, including we might add Saint Peter, that all followers of Jesus should therefore imitate at least the main features of Jesus' Jewish observances. They felt that doing so was intended by the Lord Himself.
What we also note, is that Jesus' selection of only men as the Twelve Apostles, which under that theory would say that only men could be become Bishops. Note that Jesus does not say anything about why the Twelve were all men. They were, in fact all Jews, as well. Further, as far as we know, there were not any Gentiles present at the Last Supper.
One has to ask therefore, should the Church have only followed this directive? Has the Church in all her great wisdom, both Eastern and Western Bishops from the very first, errored then by ordaining Gentiles to the Deaconate and the Priesthood? We think not. If that is the case, how does one draw the conclusion that choosing men was theologically significant and representative of our Lord's teaching, but only choosing Jews was not? (Let us also remember that there were lots of Gentiles around Jesus that He could have picked from during that time.)
Here again, my brothers and sisters, How can we conclude that Jesus' choice of males only for membership in the Twelve was the norm to be followed, but that His choice to observe the Jewish laws, customs and worship was not? One has to ask therefore, where the teaching and behavior of Jesus does not bar or expressly forbid women, there can be no essential bar to permitting them either, from the point of view of what Jesus taught.
It has been the thinking of the Church, both East and West, in following Holy Tradition, that the Twelve Apostles were indeed precursors of the Bishops of the Church. That being the case, as I think most of us would agree, then what of the other disciples that Jesus called? The Scriptures record that there were men, including women, that were called by Jesus to be His disciples.
Are we to draw then, that these indeed were precursors of the presbyterial/priestly
order? Remember? We are told that 72 were sent out to preach -- we are
not told that they were all men. Sacred Holy Orders were some time in being
firmly established and universally recognized within the Church. Jesus left
us no firm teachings about men versus women in His ministry, other then that
-- He called both to be His disciples.
It is all very well to defend women and all that, but would a woman priest be really compatible with Christ's priesthood? After all, Christ was a man. When the priest says Mass, he is, so to say, the image of Christ within the community. Could you imagine a woman standing at the altar would remind you of Christ in the way a man can do so? Certainly, some women may like to think of themselves as priests. Ordaining women might give a great uplift to them and might make the Church more popular in contemporary society. But are we allowed to sacrifice the sign value of the priesthood to such human considerations? I feel that the Church should not compromise Christ's priesthood, even if it may hurt some people.The above sentiments are also expressed in other Roman documents though phrased in less colloquial terms. They force us to consider Christ's priesthood itself.
Would it suffer from representation by a woman?In the words of the Roman documents:
Is a man, because he is a man, by nature more suited to exercise a priestly function in the person of Christ?
Is the male character an intrinsic element in Christ's priesthood?
In human beings the difference of sex exercises an important influence, much deeper than, for example, ethnic differences; the latter do not affect the human person as intimately as the difference of sex -- We can never ignore the fact that Christ is a man. And therefore, unless one is to disregard the importance of this symbolism for the economy of Revelation... his role (this is the original meaning of the word persona) must be taken by a man.
The call to ministry is ultimately not from a Church official but from the Lord himself. The Church officials must, of course, discern in faith whether the Lord is actually calling an individual or not, but the call and the commission is in the last analysis from the Lord.
In today's world, it would seem, the Lord might indeed be calling a woman to priestly ordination. In other words, if the call is not directly from the bishop or some other Church official, but from the Lord himself, and even the commissioning is from the Sacrament, not from delegation, and therefore, again, from the Lord himself, then great care must be exercised by all Church officials in their discernment of Christ's call and commissioning. This is not to downplay the role of the Church in the selection and ordination of ministers but it is rather a caution, based on the very theology of Vatican II, not to absolutize historical data.
It is important to know that Apostle in its New Testament usage meant one who was a "commissioned messenger." St. Paul was not one of the twelve, yet he clearly was an apostle, as was Barnabas. Romans 16 refers to a woman apostle, Junias. The twelve selected by Jesus are a prophetic sign of the new Israel, and are a clear reference to the twelve tribes from the twelve sons of Jacob in the Old Testament. There is no evidence that these twelve were the only ones present at the Last Supper. It is not unlikely that several of the women who had followed Jesus from Galilee were also present at the Last Supper, when Jesus asked His friends to celebrate His memory in the breaking of the Bread.
It was and is our considered view that Scripture does not allow us to infer that the difference of sex plays a part in Christ's priesthood. Christ replaced a priesthood based on sacrality by a priesthood based on grace. It would be illogical to imply that discriminations wiped out by baptism should be revived in the sacramental priesthood. If every Christian radiates our Lord Jesus Christ through his life, there seems to be no reason why every Christian could not be commissioned to represent him at the Eucharist. The sacramental sign of the priesthood is the human personality of the ordained priest, whether man or woman. Sacred Scripture itself does not explicitly teach that women can be ordained. But it does seem a logical inference from the nature of Christ's priesthood, that women could and should partake in the sacramental priesthood.
To understand the full implications of Jesus' attitude in this matter, we should recall that the Old Testament priesthood rested on a philosophy that distinguished between the sacred and the profane. Some everyday realities, such as houses, cattle, eating and sleeping, doing business, and so on, were ordinary or "profane." God was not really directly present in these realities. Other realities of our world however were considered to have been penetrated with God's presence and to have become "sacred" on that account. This is the origin of sacred times (the Sabbath and feast days), sacred places (mainly the Temple), sacred objects (e.g. vessels used for worship) and sacred persons (priests) consecrated to God. The Old Testament priest was separated from other men on the same basis as the Sabbath was considered holier than the Monday, or the Temple was a more sacred place than the Pool of Bethzatha. The priest was the embodiment of a divine presence in a profane world.
Instead of substituting new holy realities for the old ones, our Lord Jesus Christ went further. He radically abrogated the distinction itself between the sacred and the profane. This may seem startling to some Christians who unconsciously continue to think along Old Testament lines. They may imagine the New Testament to be an updated version of the Old. They think our churches have taken the place of the Temple at Jerusalem, that our Sunday replaces the Sabbath, that our sacred vessels continue the Temple furniture and that the New Testament priest is a polished version of the Old Testament one.
The cause of this misunderstanding is partly due to developments within the Church in the course of her history, partly in deference towards the human necessity of having quasi sacred realities like churches as part of an established religion. But basically the clinging to sacred realities is a regression and contrary to the teaching of the New Testament.
God's Word links both sexes when speaking of divine resemblance: God created man in the image of himself; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them (Gen 2, 27). And St Paul says that all, men and women, have put on Christ. (Gal 2, 27). He speaks of all Christians when he says, We, with our unveiled faces reflecting like mirrors the brightness of the Lord, all grow brighter and brighter as we are turned into the image that we reflect; this is the work of the Lord who is Spirit (2 Cor 3, 18).
As to the symbolism of God in the Old Testament and of Christ in the New, as Bridegroom etc., such symbolism belongs basically to the Jewish context. It cannot be shown to be essential to the priesthood of Christ. What is more, Scripture itself transcends male symbolism in more than one case. The Bible stresses that there are feminine aspects to God's compassion. God's everlasting fidelity is compared to the never forgetting love of a mother for her children (Is 49, 15). Christ is spoken of as being tender (Heb 5, 2) and anxious as a hen wanting to protect her chickens (Mt 23, 37). Even Paul speaks of himself as a mother (I Thes 2, 7; Gal 4, 19).
By stressing the male sex as such an essential characteristic of the priesthood, are we not under valuing the priesthood of Christ? What are the features described by Scripture itself as pre-eminent in signifying Christ's presence? If we go by the qualifications seen in Jesus, the high priest, we find the following to be of paramount importance in his priesthood:
Christ exercised his priesthood by offering himself on Calvary and by preaching. To continue these two ministries, every disciple has to carry His cross (Mt 6, 24); each of his followers has to bear witness to him even unto persecution and death (Mt 10, 16-22). All Christians therefore participate in the royal priesthood of Christ (1 Pet 2, 5-9). All can be called priests to his God and Father (Rev 1, 6), priests of God and of Christ (Rev 20, 6). All together they constitute a kingdom and priesthood to our God (Rev 5, 10).
This common priesthood is given through the sacrament of baptism. We should note that this baptism is exactly the same for every single person. There is absolutely no difference in the baptism conferred on women. St. Paul affirms that the baptism of Christ transcends and obliterates whatever social differences exist among mankind. It is through faith that all of you are God's children in union with Christ Jesus. For all who are baptized into the union of Christ have taken upon themselves the qualities of Christ himself. So there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles, between slaves and free men, between men and women... You are all one in union with Christ Jesus (Gal 3, 26-28).
The ordination to the sacramental priesthood is an extension of the basic
sacrificial and prophetic sharing that has already been given in baptism.
Although the ministerial priesthood adds a new function to the powers received
in baptism, and is thus substantially more than baptism, it is at the same
time intrinsically related to it. Such considerations do not directly prove
that women could be ordained priests. They demonstrate, however, that Scripture
itself lays stress on values such as sympathy, service and love rather than
on accidentals like being a man, even on the level of the sacramental sign.
Would we not be nearer to Christ's mind when we stipulate that a woman filled
with the spirit of Christ's pastoral love is a more fitting image of his
presence than a man who were to lack such love.
It has been the thinking of the Church, both East and West, in following Holy Tradition, that the Twelve Apostles were indeed precursors of the Bishops of the Church. That being the case, as I think most of us would agree, then what of the other disciples that Jesus called? The Scriptures record that there were men, including women, which were called by Jesus to be His disciples.
Are we to draw then, that these indeed were precursors of the presbyterial/priestly order? Remember? We are told that 72 were sent out to preach -- we are not told that they were all men. Sacred Holy Orders were some time in being firmly established and universally recognized within the Church. Jesus left us no firm teachings about men versus women in His ministry, other then that -- He called both to be His disciples.
Divine tradition comes from God, either through the written word of the Sacred Holy Scriptures or through the oral teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, or His Apostles. Because it is revealed by God, Divine tradition may not be altered by man. Divine/Sacred tradition is the tradition which comes form the ancient Church of Apostolic times. In the second to the fourth century, this was called The Apostolic Tradition. It is important for us to know the differences between these two very important parts of Tradition. Divine tradition of the Sacred Scriptures continuing the teachings of our Lord, our Savior and our God, Jesus Christ contains His unchanging message and it is carried down to us through Divine Tradition through the Apostolic Traditions of the Church.
Ecclesiastical Tradition or custom, on the other hand, originates with the Church's pastoral and disciplinary authority and may change. A prime example of this would be celebrating the Holy and Divine Eucharistic Liturgy in the language of the people, as we do today. When our Lord celebrated the Last Supper, which was in Hebrew, He did not say, for instance, that it had to be in Hebrew in future generations or that it had to be in Greek or in Latin or Slavonic. That is left to the pastoral and disciplinary authority of the Church to develop and employ as the need develops within the age, time, and circumstance in which the Church fins itself.
Why is it important then, that we know the difference between these two definitions of traditions? It is important because those on both sides of the issue of the ordination of women to the priesthood, use the word tradition, but not always in the correct context of the appropriate meaning. Somehow Divine and/or Ecclesiastical is left off, either appropriately or inappropriately as the case may be.
To say that Tradition is frozen, that it can never be changed is to exclude the very living and breathing essence of the Most Holy Spirit of God. We have to remember that Tradition, while inwardly changeless (for God does not change), is constantly assuming new forms, which supplement, add to or complete the old forms without superseding them. The great Russian theologian Vladimir Lossky says that tradition does not impose on human consciousness formal guarantees of the truths of faith, but gives access to the discovery of their evidence.
Tradition is far more than a set of abstract propositions -- it is a life, a personal encounter with our Lord Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit. It lives within the Church. It is not cast in stone, within the Church. It is not a dead acceptance of the past, but a living discovery of the Holy Spirit within the Present.
Many appeal to the seven great Ecumenical Councils within the Church, yet once again forgetting that when something was not a question, something was not debated, prayed over and confirmation sought from the Holy Spirit, cannot be used as positive proof that women are not to be ordained. In the Council of Carthage in the year 257 -- very early on in the Church, one of the statements that continue to live on for us today is:
The Lord Jesus Christ said, I AM THE TRUTH. He did not say, I AM CUSTOM. It is absolutely essential to question the past.It is our feeling that the Church must always be willing to challenge the "ecclesiastical traditions" or customs from the past. For unlike the Divine Traditions as in the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, the Ecclesiastical Traditions need to reflect the needs and situations confronting the Church in the day and age in which it finds itself at work in the Vineyard of the Lord Jesus Christ within the traditions of the Apostolic following.
It is also important to remember that not everything from the past is of equal value, nor is everything received from the past necessarily true. Fidelity to the past must always be viewed with a creative fidelity. We can never allow ourselves to be satisfied with the often tempting theology of repetition, for repetition sake, which in action is parrot-like, tends to repeat accepted formulae without striving to understand what lies behind them.
Perhaps it may be said of the Church, that it must finally rise with our Lord Jesus Christ to find itself transfigured above and beyond the physical manifestations of the world, and through Faith reach beyond the mere understanding of the physical, into the Mystical, into the spiritual understanding of our Lord Jesus Christ's message. For it is within that life giving, life saving Message of our Lord, that Divine tradition needs to be our goal, that which we are willing to lay down our very life -- to proclaim, in order to extend the Kingdom of God.
Whether or not the Church will and can surrender to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and have another truly Ecumenical Council only time and the action of the Most Holy Spirit of God Himself will determine for us. For it is He, who has been sent to confirm all things for us. We cannot however, afford to abandon the Holy Spirit and His guidance, simply to hold onto ill defined traditions from the past, without knowing what it is, that we are holding onto, and why.
Until the Church is one again in physical structure, there will be many
answers to the issue we have addressed above. For us, the answer was, and
is, found in opening the Holy Orders of Deacon and Priest to women, while
at the same time awaiting the action of a new Ecumenical Council and retaining
and maintaining a Traditional male Episcopate - as the icon of Christ.
For where the bishop is, there is the church. We should note further that
we do not find ourselves opposed to the episcopate being opened to women,
but will not do so in this jurisdiction until such time as a Synod of Bishops
so agree together - in whom we find a strong and lasting witness to the unchanging
Orthodox and Catholic faith as taught by the Church Fathers who have gone
before us. And in whom we may share the confirmation of the Most Holy
Spirit of God and His council and all agree together that this to shall be
Again, it has not been our goal to change anyone's mind on the difficult and often misunderstood subject of the ordination of women, but indeed only to explain our own thinking and reasoning in having opened this door to our own faithful and called women.
The blessings of God [+] the Father, God [+] the Son, God [+] the Holy Spirit be upon us all both now and always and even unto ages of ages. AMEN....
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