Female Priests - Printable Version
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Female Priests - trespaser5 - 11-04-2010
Just a quick question, is there any reason beyond the fact that Paul mentions it in the epistles that women cannot be priests. I would suspect that one of the church fathers would have commented on this, I usually find their reasoning pretty sound. I have heard that it is possible in Eastern Orthodox tradition for women to be Deacons or Deaconesses is this possible within the Oriental tradition ?
- John Charmley - 11-04-2010
Yes, women can be, and some nuns are, deaconesses.
Christ chose men only to be His Apostles. He could have chosen women, He did not. We cannot say why this was, but we have not the power to contradict His example. The Fathers do not even consider the idea that women can be priests; it was unthinkable.
Indeed, until secular society in the West adopted the entirely righteous cause of women's rights, not much was heard of it in the Church. The argument that the Holy Spirit is trying to push us towards women priests would be more convincing were it not cast in the language of late twentieth century feminism.
The Eastern Orthodox and the Catholic Churchs take the same view as we do.
It is, of course, not about equality, it is about obedience. After all, not all men can be priests, and not all priests can be bishops; the Orthodox tradition is that only monks can be bishops, which means no married bishops.
Hope that helps, at least until we get a better answer
- trespaser5 - 14-04-2010
No it's a good answer but it does seem to be that the answer is 'because it's always been like that'. I accept that only monks can be bishops, I can also understand why that is a good idea however I find women to be brilliant speakers and leaders and can't see why it is a bad idea. I suppose it stands out because everything else about orthodox christianity seems to have such a good reason behind it.
- admin - 14-04-2010
I'm about to head out. It's my 21st Wedding Anniversary - do pray for Janet and I.
About this topic. It seems to me that Orthodoxy asks us to look beyond abilities to vocation. There are many people who have become priests and bishops over the centuries because they have great talents in terms of organisational ability, public speaking, leadership etc etc, but they make poor priests because they do not have the spiritual grace which is required.
On the other hand there are priests and bishops who shrink from public attention, do not speak impressively, even stumble over the liturgy, but whose words are filled with light and life, whose prayers being miracles, and who spend their days bearing their flock in intercessory prayer.
For myself I have had to learn that God does not need my skills and abilities, such as they are. Indeed unlike others who may be fooled by my public persona, he knows who I really am. Yet he still chooses to use me - not when I decide to do His work for Him, but when I realise that I can do nothing at all, nor even make a beginning, without receiving everything from Him.
What does this have to do with women priests? Well, it seems to me, and this is not any attempt at a definite answer, just a rough idea where I am thinking at present, that the priesthood is a matter of male vocation, and not female vocation. And that natural ability is not the deciding factor. Indeed most males, even those with great natural skills and abilities, will not be priests, and are not called to this vocation. And there are those who have this vocation and fail to fulfill it, and there are those who have the vocation and fulfill it properly - such as Abba Seraphim and Father Simon in our own community.
Being a priest is not a matter of being a manager, or holding a management position in the Church. Indeed my own Father Michael, who is a good example of a true priest and spiritual father, left all the organising to Subdeacon Michael and I. This is as it should be. There is plenty of scope for natural skills and ability to be used in the Church but these are not the same as the vocation to the priesthood. Indeed the priesthood is a very narrow calling, and one of the chief ends of the particular priesthood is to enable and facilitate the priesthood of all believers.
So I am not sure at all that there is a male priesthood because there always has been. Rather I do think that I tend to think that there is a vocation to the priesthood which is given to a few men, just as their are vocations to other forms of ministry and service, and that these vocations are not the same as skill and ability, and indeed that sometimes skills and abilities stand in the way of finding vocation and calling.
- John Charmley - 14-04-2010
A happy anniversary to both of you and best wishes
I think we have to distinguish between the talents we all have in one way and another, and the priesthood.
Priests do precisely one thing the rest of us cannot. In theory there is no reason why women cannot have the same call as some men have; indeed, the best of the Anglican arguments is based on just that view. If the argument were purely about vocation, then women priests would follow naturally from it.
Yet, for those of us who take the view that Christ founded a Church and set up those who would hold priestly office, the fact He chose men for this role when He could just as easily have chosen men and women, remains the key point.
Women, like men who cannot be priests or who have no call to be, can perform many tasks, and if we think that the unique function of the priest is the only task worth doing, we miss the point of being parts of the body of Christ.
- admin - 15-04-2010
I am not sure I agree that women, or most men, have a vocation to the priesthood in the sense I mean. I think I have used words ambiguously. I do not mean, for instance, that they have an interest in being a priest, or think that they wish to serve God in the Church in some way, or have reflected seriously on their skills and abilities and see a fit with the priesthood.
I suppose I mean by vocation something other than a personal desire to do something. It seems to me that within Orthodoxy the vocation to the priesthood and episcopate is something which one rather shrinks from. It is more like the experience of Moses, or Jonah even. It is not, as far as I can see, a subjective desire to become a priest, rather it is almost an unwanted necessity to follow that path.
My rambling and incoherent thoughts seem to lead me to be thinking at present:
i. Some men are ordained to the priesthood inappropriately because they either do not have a vocation (by which I mean a direct call and insistent call of God), or worse because they desire the priesthood for even laudable reasons but not because they have been called to it.
ii. All those men who are ordained to the priesthood as a result of a true calling of God must still grow in the grace of the priesthood, and it is all of grace and nothing at all of human skill and ability. God could and can use anyone to organise and manage the affairs of the congregation - that is a diaconal calling (which also requires a true vocation) - organising and managing is not what the priesthood is about.
iii. Those women who believe they have a vocation to the priesthood are mistaken. Some/many do think it is a matter of organising and leadership and that they are being excluded from organising and managing. But there are men who share the same view. They are also mistaken. It seems to be the same argument for women bishops, that it is not fair otherwise. But a bishop should not be an organiser or senior manager either. It is relatively easy to find people with skills to organise something, it is much harder to find the man who will shepherd and father the spiritual flock of Christ. To INSIST that we have a vocation seems to me to show that we do not have a vocation.
iv. The difference in true vocation is found in Genesis, not in the Gospels. 'Male and female he created them', seems to me to be a very important passage. What does THAT mean. Does it only mean that there are physical gender differences? Growing up in a family with boys and girls, and being married to a wife, and having worked with men and women, I would not want to say that the differences are only to do with gender physiology. Men and women ARE different.
v. If men and women ARE different then it is still proper to ask what roles and responsibilities are open to members of either sex. It is proper for the clergy to be reflective about the experience of life in the Church, and especially in OUR Church for women. It is proper for women to be involved in the organisation and management of the Church. But, I am growing committed to the view that the priesthood is a minority male vocation - because maleness is not the same as femaleness. And just as a man who is not a priest must not sit in Church saying 'I could do that better', so a woman must not. Indeed I know from my own experience that any sense of being passed over or left out is a temptation, and is self-pity. In fact none of us deserve to be used by God for anything at all. We are all sinful, weak, passion-dominated and deserving of judgement. Therefore, it seems to me, from my own experience, that when I think I should be doing something rather than someone else, I am most clearly manifesting why I should not be doing it at all.
This isn't coherent, but I am trying to express the view that we do not only have male priests because Christ only chose male Apostles, but because there is an ontological distinction between male and female, and the priesthood is a ministry which God reserves to a few males. Just as when Adam and Eve fell there were different judgements upon both. There is a distinction in being and not only in bodily form.
That is, in a rambling manner, where my own thoughts are at present.
- Fr Gregory - 15-04-2010
I seem to be type-cast as an agent provocateur so let me continue in that role on this topic.
I have never read or heard a sound theological argument as to why women cannot be ordained to the Priesthood. I have heard pseudo-scriptural arguments, quasi-biological arguments, arguments from Tradition, arguments based in culture, hysterically misogynist arguments....never a serious argument founded in Orthodox theology.
I accept the Tradition of the Orthodox Church that women cannot be ordained, but I would very much like to see a sound theological argument in support of that Tradition. This would be very useful when talking with exceptionally well-educated Orthodox (not to mention Roman Catholic and Anglican) women.
The argument from Genesis is truly embarrassing. It was used in the 19th century to oppose pain relief in childbirth (not to mention to support slavery and racism towards those condemned to be ?hewers of wood and drawers of water?).
There is a potent and (to me, at least) offensive misogyny in much of Orthodoxy ? no less than that found in the lunatic extremes of fundamentalist Protestantism, the dubious fringes of Anglo-Catholicism or the rabid clericalism of Roman Catholicism.
That something is ?Traditional? may or not mean it is right. Slavery was traditional, and, indeed, is entirely justifiable from Scripture. My local schismatic Greek Orthodox Church proves (?) its traditionalist credentials by refusing to allow electric light, since that was not (obviously!) traditional.
I would welcome comments!
- admin - 15-04-2010
Dear Father Gregory,
I am not sure why using the argument from Genesis would be embarassing. Surely we are made male and female, and surely the differences between the genders are rooted in our creation and not merely in culture.
I never suggested anything about pain in childbirth, but it does seem to me that the Genesis account roots our differences in God's purposes and not in human social constructs. The fact is that women are birth-givers, mothers, and nurturers in their own nature. This is different from the nature and responsibilities of of men. These are God given and God purposed differences.
There may well be men who are bad examples of men, and women who are good examples of men. But that does not diminish the differences according to nature of men and women.
A particular woman may be a better priest than a particular man, but that does not mean that women should be priests, or that the bad priest should ever have been made one.
I am not convinced that intelligence, theological ability, or education are any requirement for the priesthood. I am not saying that priests should be stupid, but the priesthood is not about organising or even leading, it is about pastoring and about spiritual fatherhood. Many priests may be poor priests, many priests should perhaps not have been ordained, but that does not seem to me to require that we compare people based on natural abilities.
I have lived with a woman for 21 years, observed my mother before that, and have spent the last 19 years with boy and girl children. It is my experience that there is a difference in nature between them as regards gender. And I find that in the beginning of the Scriptures. I am not sure why using the passage from Genesis is embarrasing? To whom?
In the beginning God made them male and female.
- Fr Gregory - 15-04-2010
Fine. But what does that mean?
God made them male and female - there are (or may be differences). And the theological reason why women cannot be ordained is.......
I note that the traditional "male and female" are different arguments always (surprisingly!) attribute negative and subserviant qualities to women and positive qualities to men. Women are "nurturing", men are "decision makers"? Perhaps that was God's intention. In which case let's declare it.
I do not argue (essentially from psychological and sociological and linguistic research, with all of which I am familiar) that there may not be gender differences.
But there are also differences between men.
What is the theological reason why women cannot be ordained? Or, if we are to be technical, what is it in the ontological nature of women that makes them deficient such they cannot receive Ordination? Let's leave aside the "equal but different" arguments (that had a good run in the argument for slavery). What is the "defect" that enables inadequate, incompetent men to be ordained that prevents competent, holy, highly educated women from being ordained?
- John Charmley - 15-04-2010
My reason for resting the argument (such as it is) where I did is that as far as I can see it is the only one in town.
God certainly made them male and female, but there is nothing in Genesis which says that women can't be priests. I used to hear the old Anglo-Catholic line about the priest being in propria persona for Our Lord, which meant the priest had to be a man; I wasn't convinced when I was an Anglo-Catholic, and am not now.
It seems to me that the only defence that is not open to a charge of misogyny is the one I used - Our Lord had no female Apostles. How convincing it is is another matter - but it seems to be the only one - for whatever it is worth.
female priests - kirk yacoub - 17-04-2010
Three points: It is tradition, and important to bear in mind, that the priest performing the service becomes an embodiment of Christ. This was brought home powerfully to me during one Liturgy a couple of years ago when the officiating Bishop emerged from a cloud of incense bearing the chalice, reminding me of Christ on that first Easter morning emerging from the gloom of death.
Secondly, pagan religions had their priestesses to perform what are for us sexually immoral acts, and priestesses are always linked with lascivious practices. This is not to say that women Christians would suddenly become transformed into harlots if they were made priests, but such an expectation lies deep in human consciousness.
Thirdly, if ever a woman deserved the highest rank in the Church, then she was Mary, the Virgin Mother of God, but she had no title, remained most definitely in the background, to such an extent that there is very little of her mentioned in the New Testament.
I present these things to be pondered on and not to cause any fierce polemic.
- Antony-Paul - 17-04-2010
Reading throuth this thread it occurred to me to ask how long have we had the debate within the Church. I cannot recall it being discussed in my youth. Women's religious ministry was well defined within the concept of the nun who emulated Saint Mary. If I am correct this whole can of worms dates from the days of womens liberation when the ladies (often with justification) complained about inequality of (inter alia) opportunity, although this was originally in secular life of course.
The extension of the equality argument into the Church has always seemed to me rather to miss the point. In general life terms there is no question in my mind that there is, or should be, complete equality in social and economic matters, whether we are speaking of women, men, race or even creed. However, the ordained ministry within the Church is not in this bracket at all. It was established by God, for His purposes and according to His rules, not ours. It is simply not up to mankind to try to contradict Him - we do so at our peril.
More helpful would be a deeper appreciation of the nature of ministry for each of us, and his thread has identified examples of this.
Another aspect of ministry would seem to be the concept of temporary, or short-term, vocations. From personal experience, it is clear that God can ask us to do things for a limited time, before moving us on to the next task. Perhaps a simple example might be the change that occurs once we retire and the children have left home. We are free from parental responsibilities and may well be asked to undertake other work for the Kingdom. We are not necessarily restricted to one vocation for life (other than our calling to work for God, of course), and indeed this is also true for ordained ministers. The work of the Bishop represents a change from the work of the Priest, God requiring an alteration when the priest becomes the Bishop. A change occurs when the Priest leaves the parish and becomes the theological intellectual in a college. Similarly, when accepting the Orthodox way after perhaps a lifetime elsewhere is also a change of vocation - God has a new job for the candidate.
How and why God calls women to serve Him is just as much a mystery as how and why He calls men. What He requires us to do is a decision only He can make. There are things that are clearly restricted to ladies, and it seems to me they should (and I am sure they do) rejoice in their especial gifts as women. What a privilege it must be to bring a child into the world for God - something no man could understand.
Ordination is essentially for the purpose of conducting the Sacred Mysteries. All the other jobs we thrust upon our ministers can and should be done by others. Social, administrative and managerial tasks can well be done by women as well as men. They can be theologians, teachers, canon lawyers, in fact anything except ordained ministers.
The decision to use men only for this task is God's, and God's alone, and those who are unhappy with this must reflect on who is in charge of this process. It is not for us to speculate upon His reasons, but to accept in holy humility that that is the way He wants things to be done.
- John Charmley - 17-04-2010
You hit so many nails on the head in your last post that they should all be well embedded.
The argument that the Spirit is guiding us towards womens' ordination would be a great deal more persuasive if the tones were not those of a secular agenda. I agree entirely that importing that language about that sort of equality into the Church is to miss almost as many points as possible.
But it is easy for men to talk this way. One of my female students, an Anglican, was one of the first young women to become a priest in that Church, and she certainly felt a strong sense of being called to serve in that particular way; knowing her well, it was impossible not to be moved by the seriousness with which she approached this; it has been equally impossible not to admire the way she has served in the ministry these last fifteen years or so.
I don't draw any conclusions from that experience, save that it made me think.
Our Lord called only men to be Apostles; I don't know why, nor do I need to know why. All I need to do is to be obedient. But beyond that, I can't see an argument.
There is, of course, the ecumenical angle. The Eastern Orthodox and the RCC hold the same view on the priesthood as we do, so there seems to me to be an onus on those who disagree to explain why a majority of the world's Christians are wrong. Of course the Church is not a democracy, and just because a majority do something that does not mean it is right; but it is another reason to pause before going along with what is, at the moment, essentially a secular argument.
- Antony-Paul - 17-04-2010
I have to agree that, as you say, it is easy for us to make these comments because we are men. I feel quite sad about it. I am very conscious of what marvellous pastors many women have become in the CoE. However, this does not mean that they could not be good pastors without ordination, or without the authority to act as priest during their Communion service. (I distinguish between pastor and priest in this matter.)
But I return to the point that you too have made, that the rules are God's, not ours. No matter how much we may sympathise with women on this issue we are only viewing it from the human male perspective, and must simply trust God to know what He is doing. If there are those who find such an approach sexist, I'm sorry, but I don't feel up to arguing with God!
- John Charmley - 17-04-2010
You put it perfectly.
This is something we do not have the power to change. Of course one knows the counter-arguments, and in fairness they are powerful ones. But they are the arguments of man telling God what He should have done.
It is we who need transforming into the image of God; not the other way around.