THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN THE CHURCH

by Metropolitan Seraphim of Johannesburg and Pretoria

 

"What is the role of women, today, in our Orthodox Church"

First and foremost, women must accept Christ as their own Lord and Savior. Women who acknowledges Christ, through baptism, accept the mandate of Christ's love. She partakes in the Liturgical Life of the church. Though Holy Communion our Lord enters the soul of a woman and she becomes part of Him. She is instructed to listen to Holy Scriptures and to apply their Teachings in her daily life. She must become the light of the world, enlightening those allowed her, through good example, in the Christian way of life. She devotes her self out of love, to the service of Christ in all aspects of her personal, family and community life. Most of all, she puts on her love for Christ through her fellow man, and brings to God all those within her own family. Her first priority is to fulfil God's Divine Within her own family, her husband and her children. This then widens to the extended family: to her neighbour, to her parish community and then to the whole world. A Christian woman is today?s society, whether she works outside the home or not, is instrumental in nurturing her children. Even if she is not yet married, or has not chosen the way, a woman often serves in the society in the capacity of helping others, as a teacher, as a nurse, as doctor, as a wife, as a mother. As a wife, she cares for her husband and her children. She brings a reality of church into her home and guides her home to the church. Within her heart she understands the meaning.

 

"The family which prays together, stays together"

An Orthodox Christian woman through faith, finds strength to that for which the Lord has chosen her. She uses the Sacramental Life of the church to strengthen her family's faith in the Risen Lord and to practice His Commandments. She understands the necessity for Christ to be within her life, and within the life of her family and generally in all the community, large and small. Life in Orthodox Church is not a simple matter of just attending Sunday Services: and an Orthodox woman is not just someone to prepare the coffee for those who have attended the service. Orthodoxy is not wearing a big cross, nor making the elegant gesture of the sign of the

Holy Cross. Orthodoxy is not raising money for some purpose in life. These things may be an indicator of something; an act of love and piety, but without Christ love and teachings, they remain fruitless. During the times of Persecution of the Church, women proved to be true heroes of the Christian Faith. They were the silent and secret defenders of the Church. They proclaimed loudly the true faith in God confessing their faith in Christ before emperors, Kings rulers and Judges. It was women who guarded the churches and the Sacred Relics of our Faith. Putting their own lives in danger, they moved the Holy of Holies to safety, when under threat. They taught the Christians faith to their children, ever when it was dangerous to do so. This special strength which women have is the gift from Lord our God. It is a special grace granted to them by the Holy Spirit to enable them to preserve the faith.

My beloved children, As Your spiritual Father I call upon you all to be strong in your Orthodox faith. Study Orthodoxy deeply, so that you know, teach and defend it all times. Fill yourselves with the knowledge of our Orthodox faith based on Holy Scriptures and Holy Tradition. Learn the Traditions of Orthodoxy, so that you may keep it unsoiled and unfilled as many holy women in the past have preserved it, for those who will follow. Fill yourselves with wisdom of God and practice Christ?s teaching. Love him and show compassion towards your neighbour. You have an important role in the Church, to pass down this Orthodox Faith to the next generation and that which will follow.

The gift of faith which you hold, is different from those of others. An Orthodox woman has the gifts of cherishing and maintaining a special precious jewels; our Orthodox Faith. Her role is not simply to sweep floors or wash windows, or bake prosphora, but to keep the attitude and the idea of Orthodoxy alive in her family and within society. Even when there is an absence of interest for Orthodoxy, women hold aloft the Spirituality of Orthodoxy. Let the Lord God bless all women and continue to strengthen them in their faith and life let the Holy Theotokos protect and instruct all women to follow Her example in life. Let the Ever Virgin Mary be the protectress of our Orthodox Faith.

In recent times, there has been much discussion concerning the role and place of women within society as well as the Church. Indeed a significant amount of criticism has been leveled against Christians by certain sectors of the Feminist movement, which claim that Christianity represses rather than liberates women. In short, the same voices accuse Christianity of being an agent of oppression and enslavement rather one of liberation and honour for women. From a historical point of view however, the opposite is the case. Let us briefly consider how Christianity acts as a force of liberation, appreciation and empowerment for women. Let us look at situation and circumstances of prior to the coming of Christianity into the world and then appreciate how revolutionary has been the historical impact of Christianity on the role and status of women. Only then, when seen in its proper historical context can one appreciate and understand how important Christianity has been in elevating the status of women. I will choose some examples from pre-Christian history. Pre-Christian society, by and large, considered women as an inferior being. In a sense she was an adequate human. It was claimed that by their very nature women did cot possess moral courage and endurance- two of the most respected virtues of ancient society. Women were viewed as natural cowards. Indeed most branches of philosophy went a step further and made that women did not possess the faculty of logic- they were by nature irrational, unreasonable and illogical. In short they too emotional! Consequently women, with rare exceptions did not receive the advantage of education and were not received into philosophical circles. Certainly they did not have any political power. Roman society, which admired courage, considered women as lacking this virtue. Consequently a women could not bring military strength. Consequent as elsewhere in the ancient world women were regarded as inferior humans.

Early Jewish society ascribed to women a deceiving and evil nature. Thus claims were made that woman were responsible for the fall of man. Consequently she was considered a natural liar and an agent of the devil. For that reason a woman was denied a right to testify in court since her word could not be trusted. Within this historical context the advent of Christianity proved to be a revolution for the cause and understanding of women as intelligent, courageous and virtuous- in effect Christianity empowered women in an unprecedented manner. Within the pages of the Gospels the female followers of Jesus are often described as courageous while the male disciples are depicted as cowardly. For instance while St. Peter denied Christ out of fear, while all other male disciples except St. John field during the crucifixion several women stood at the feet of the cross without fear. Likewise when men were locked indoors for fear of the Jews the women went out to anoint the body of Jesus.

"But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother?s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene." (St. John 19:28). On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews Jesus came and stood behind them … (St. John 20:19). Again within the pages of the Gospel, women are considered as honest. Trustworthy and reliable faithful witnesses. Indeed the first persons to receive the news of the Resurrection of Christ and commissioned to relay to men the most important message in the annuals of history-were women (St. Mark 16). And he said to them, "Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here; see the place where they laid him. But go tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Gaulle; there you will see him; as he told you" … (St. Mark 16:6-7). Within Gospels women are also described as intelligent and possessing acute intellectual curiosity. Thus when the Archangels announce the future birth of the Messiah, within the lucan account, she naturally engages him in conversation and seeks to understand the precise nature of this announcement.

However when St. Paul announces in his letter to the Galatians, that there is neither male or female but both are considered equal in Christ's redemptive work, this represents from a historical perspective the most radical statement made on the status of women up to that point in the history of ideas. The message of Christianity claims that both men and women are empowered; saved and sanctified by Christ in an equal manner. In the final analysis Christianity claims both man and women equally receive the gifts and virtues bestowed by the Holy Spirit. Gender does not disqualify a Christian from the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Today women make enormous and significant contributions to human societies. Their nurturing rule role within the family as grandmothers, wives, mothers and daughters provide a stabilizing influence upon the structure of the family. Their contribution to social activities is also most important. Women are now familiar and indispensable aspect of the work force. Indeed as Christians, women provide the church irreplaceable assistance.

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