The Orthodox faith teaches that as souls before God women and men stand equal. Women are not “second class citizens” in the Kingdom of God. They can and should take an active role in the life of the Church; indeed the Church’s life would be immeasurably impoverished without their contribution. We do not however, confuse equality before God with ‘equality’ or sameness of earthly roles. We believe in the headship of the male and accept the traditional teaching of the Church that reserves the Priesthood to men. Let’s learn some more about what Juliana Schmemann has to say about Orthodox women in the Church.
How can Orthodox women respond to Christ today?
We are Orthodox, we are women, and we belong to the world of today — not yesterday, not tomorrow. We are to be helped and guided by the accumulated wisdom of that tradition, but still be fully a part of the world today.
Equality a false ideal
The Church rejects the man’s self-sufficiency, strength, self-assurance, and says to the man “strength (of Christ) is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). The Church also rejects the woman’s fight for equality and anger at lack of recognition.
The human being as the image and likeness of God is the man and the woman. This is the way the man and the woman were created — the original beauty of their creation.
This dualism of man and woman is not rooted in comparison or equality. Equality is an invention of our time, not a true Godlike idea. The principles of comparison are anti-Christian, false, and demonic. Any comparison leads to the experience and the knowledge of inequality and therefore to envy, protest, anger, rebellion and division. Equality is affirmed as the annihilation of distinctions, and since distinctions do exist, it leads to a fight against distinctions, to forced egalitarianism, and what is worse to the negation of the very essence of life. This is the work of the devil. (The essence of life is the distinction between men and women.)
Love is unity between those who are different. In unity, the distinction between male and female is not discarded, but becomes life, creativity, and community. This is the essence of the family.
Our contemporary culture resists the family, turns away from it, and eventually destroys it, because the family uncovers the falseness of this kind of equality. Nothing destroys love as quickly as insistence on equality. Our culture replaces love with fighting, because this culture imposes on us equality as the ultimate goal.
Responding to Christ in Freedom
How are Orthodox women to respond to Christ today? A general answer would be: follow the gospel, pray, do unto others what you would want others to do to you — that is the road to sainthood.
Women are also called to think, to learn, to know, to move — to be alive, to be free. Free to love and follow Christ. Free from the clichés of what a woman should become. Free from fear of giving in to humility, free from concepts that having a vision for serving others and serving Christ might compromise our rights and resort to weakness. Free to adhere to the Spirit in figuring out our response, our role and our choices.
A woman’s role in the Church, place in the Church, response to Christ, must be determined by and for each individual woman, without stereotypes, free to be whatever the Lord has created her to be. Not comparing, not seeking for herself but giving of herself. To each her own. There are millions of things to do, according to one’s talents. Talents must be given back to the Lord, multiplied tenfold. Talents may involve sharing in the needs of others through teaching, caring, counselling, writing, evangelising, and caring for family or children or the sick also beautifying her environment. Or a woman might have the talent of Mary of Bethany — the talent of sitting at Christ’s feet and listening to His word. The ability to accept grief and suffering is also a gift.
The woman is the one who has the tools to celebrate. We celebrate the feasts, Pascha, special days, Sundays when we take part in the banquet of immortality. Her particular role is to transform the ordinary, to recreate to inspire gratitude for the creation. This is total, joyful living.
Our mission as women is to bring whatever talents are ours to serve rather than to be served. We should avoid the politics of hate and comparison but instead, propagate a set of values based on freedom from prejudices and total gratitude and celebration of the beauty of creation. Our response to Christ should be one of trust, to say to Christ: “Here I am. I cannot, but you can help me.”
The role model we have, as women, in the Theotokos is important, e.g. the sanctity of motherhood and the humble, submissive attitude to God, etc.
Note: When considering the headship of man, in marriage, it is important to remember that this is intended to be in the context of sacrificial love on the part of the husband (Ephesians 5).
Extracts from article by Juliana Schmemann, How can Orthodox women respond to Christ today?