Met. Kallistos Ware on the Ordination of Women in the Orthodox Church

“Man, Woman and the Priesthood of Christ”, Women and the Priesthood, 5-53.

It is a common theme of Met. Kallistos Ware to caution hastiness in the Church on a variety of different issues. He cites Isaiah 28:16 which reads “He who believes will not be in haste”. This anti-hastiness ultimately ends up placing him on a more “conservative” side in this ongoing debate with those opponents of women’s ordination. Met. Ware is in no way seeking to explain a “rational” defense either for or against women’s ordination but rather that we should be exceedingly cautious of declaring a certain position to be infallible just yet.

As Met. Ware goes into his discussion of the question of women’s ordination to the priesthood in the Orthodox Church, he questions as to whether this is an official position held by the Church or should it be an open question. At first, he explains that his initial position was that he “considered the ordination of women priests to be an impossibility” (8). Currently though, for Met. Ware, he is neither convinced of the arguments advanced in favor of women priests nor against women priests. He points to two documents in the Orthodox Church which are against women priests–the declaration at the Anglican-Orthodox Joint Doctrinal Commission held in Athens in 1978 and the Inter-Orthodox Symposium held at Rhodes in Greece during October 30-November 7, 1988. But with respect to both of these, Met. Ware understands both as merely contributing to an ongoing discussion concerning women’s ordination in the Orthodox Church, not as official statements. This is also the position of the Anglican Rite, Roman Catholic Church (Canon 186), the Anglo-Lutheran Catholic Church, and the Anglo-Catholic Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.

Met. Ware introduces us to three key concerns that both sides have to deal with in the discussion on women priests in the Church. That of Tradition and not merely cultural traditions but Holy Tradition (9-10), that of theological anthropology and the “‘sequence’ or ‘order’ of nature (9), and in what sense does the priest become an icon of Christ in the way that a women does not as well as the difference between the ministerial priesthood and the royal priesthood of all believers (9-10). He questions as to “[h]ow much weight, more particularly, are we to ascribe to the silence of Tradition?” (9). My first reaction to such a statement is that we cannot ascribe any such weight to the silence of Tradition. The reason being is because we know that Anabaptists who staunchly reject infant baptism stand outside the Church but nevertheless, there is not one instance forbidding infant baptism in the New Testament which is a key argument carried out by proponents of infant baptism. Nevertheless, Tradition is not “silent” on the issue of women’s ordination (whether or not they should be ordained).

Met. Ware moves on to his next part. This part, he discusses clericalism. It is generally in these arguments where I find many proponents of women’s ordination fail to actually grasp their opponent’s stance on the issue. For those who support women’s ordination, to them, the only place where a woman can actually exercise her gifts of preaching, teaching, etc., are from an ordained status equivalent to a priest and bishop. (I find this argument rather absurd though as for the most part, most of the proponents for women’s ordination are not for changes in doctrine so technically, even an ordained woman would not be able to teach or preach her own theology but whatever, this argument is used ad nauseum, if you don’t agree with it, you’re denying a woman the right to exercise her gifts.) Met. Ware points out that within the early church, there was no such clericalism where a woman was “only” heard if she was in an ordained position (and no such clericalism exists in churches that don’t ordain women either–my own ACA doesn’t ordain women and has the order of deaconesses still in tact where women can teach and prepare people for baptism, the Catholic Church is filled with parishes where women are in high positions of authority (it’s a misunderstanding that the hierarchy of a parish is priest-deacon-advisers, the hierarchy is one of sacramental authority only), and of course the Orthodox Church is the same in this regard). The problem is when you have only the preaching position that can say anything authoritatively about doctrinal manners. Such rampant clericalism actually blossomed from the effects of the Protestant Reformation. This was spawned by Martin Luther, who, in spite of his critics of the ministerial priesthood in favor of the priesthood of all believers, made the minister the only one who could actually interpret the Bible.

SIDE NOTE QUESTION FOR PROTESTANTS*: When you advocate for the priesthood of all believers as a reaction to the sacramental priesthood of Catholic and Orthodox Christians do you understand that they too affirm the priesthood of all the baptized (2 Pet. was a baptismal homily so when he speaks of the royal priesthood here, he is referring to those baptized believers, not to “any believer”)? When you advocate for the priesthood of all believers, can any person claiming to be a believer filled with the Spirit advocate a doctrinal position infallibly so long as it is based on the “Bible alone” (reading it with tradition of course!)? When you advocate for the priesthood of all believers is it really necessary to have pastors telling Christians how the Bible should be interpreted?

SIDE NOTE*: I have been in churches that don’t ordain women and in churches that do ordain women. The two evangelical churches I’ve been in are very open to discussion on different theological issues. BUT…both had significant flaws–only their pastors had the final say on what was “Biblical”. (One evangelical church ordained women, the other did not, but they were both quite clerical.) I’ve been a catechumen in a Ruthenian-Greek Catholic parish before losing my faith and baptized into the Anglican Church in America. Neither ordains women but all honesty, there’s quite a mix of people who contribute to theological discussion. Of course, the priest and the deacon at the Greek Catholic parish are more formally educated but you will find women in all sorts of leadership roles. Women and men participate equally in both churches. Then again, Catholics and the ACA are both conciliar and as such, the doctrine does not belong to even the priest! BACK TO MET. KALLISTOS WARE!

The first point of interest, then, in this piece of evidence from the pre-Nicene era is the size and diversity of the local parish ministry. There is no clericalism, no concentration of responsibility exclusively in the hands of a single, full-time “professional.” More specifically, we see that the local ministry includes women as well as men. The three widows do not just arrange the flowers and prepare the cups of tea, but they constitute a particular ministry or order recognized by the Church; they are more or less equivalent–although not actually given such a title–to the deaconesses me ntioned elsewhere in early Christian sources. While one of the three is entrusted with charitable or social work, the other two have tasks immediately connected with prayer and worship. It is noteworthy that this particular role assigned to them is the ministry of intercession and prophecy. Although it is the calling of every Christian, male as well as female, to pray for others and to listen to God, yet many women by virtue of their gift for direct and intuitive understanding are especially blessed to act as intercessors and prophets. It is no coincidence that the symbolic figure of the Orans on the walls of several Roman catacombs, representing the Christian soul waiting upon the Spirit, should take the form of a woman. (11)

Met. Ware covers numerous positions within the Church that women can hold as of right now. “Women can exercise a ministry of apostolic preaching. Although in the New Testament no women was chosen to be an apostle [one of the Twelve], the Orthodox Church recognizes a number of women as…’equal to the apostles [more like sub-apostles]’ (14). I find that opponents of women’s ordination often have to repeat this more often than they should. Many egalitarians these days seem to suffer a spirit of dishonesty and, being very un-Christian, falsely accuse their brethren of denying women the gift of preaching! These charges though need to be done completely away with by the radical egalitarians though as such gifts have not been denied to women. There is also the position of the priest’s wife who’s primary duty is to assist her husband in his vocation and to be a representative with him (14-15). There is also the position of deaconess that women may fill out. Their primary duty in the past was “to assist at the baptism of grown-up female candidates” (16). Met. Ware takes into account those who disagree with the position that deaconesses were “actually” ordained and those who concur that they were in fact actually ordained in the past. He rejects though the position of the primary in this regard but insists that “[e]ven if deaconesses are regarded as truly ‘ordained,’ it must not be forgotten that there is a clear distinction between the diaconate–whether male or female–and the priesthood….neither female nor male deacons have ever done is to perform the consecration at the eucharist, to bless the people, or to confer absolution” (17). Paul Evdokimov, Thomas Hopko, and The Apostolic Constitutions have all argued that a reason why deaconesses could never become priests is because the deaconess represents the Holy Spirit and the deacon represents Christ, but Met. Ware thinks such argumentation is unconvincing (19). Finally, there is spiritual motherhood (20-24) and, more importantly, “woman is called to be not passive, not subordinate, but resolute and creative, as the Virgin Mary was at the Annunciation” (23).

Now Met. Ware gets into the arguments of Tradition. “Obedience to Tradition must not be seen as a kind of dead fundamentalism. It does not mean that nothing can ever be done for the first time. … It is received and lived by each new generation in its own way, tested and enriched by the fresh experience that the Church is continually gaining.” (25) Of course, many egalitarians would say the same thing and in part, they’d be right. But, nevertheless, we should not assume that we are the “first ones” who have encountered this problem as a Church. The Church has dealt with the problem of women’s ordination in the past before (as we shall see). Tradition is not reactionary but discerns the signs of the times but at the same time, while there is dynamism in Tradition, there is in fact continuity (26). Of course, many Evangelicals within the debate aren’t going to be pleased with too much lenience on extra-Biblical appeals to Tradition and are going to want to just simply tote around the “Biblical authority” argument. The only problem is that there are some very qualified Bible scholars who have come to radically different conclusions on the issue such as John Piper and Wayne Grudem, D.A. Carson, N.T. Wright, and William Webb. The problem I have with such “going back to the Bible like our forefathers did” is that a) our forefathers didn’t have access to the Bible since it was still in the making and b) the Bible can be interpreted to say all sorts of different things that it is actually an unreal approach to use the Bible alone to solve a position. Suffice to say, both sides would like their side to be the “Biblical” position. As Met. Ware notes, “Orthodox opponents of the priesthood of women…acknowledge that we cannot expect the New Testament on its own to resolve the question in a clear and definitive fashion” (27).

With that, Met. Ware goes into three arguments used for those appealing to Tradition. 1) Jesus had only male apostles, 2) the Church, being the pillar and ground of truth (1 Tim. 3:15), is infallible, and 3) admission of women to the priesthood vitally effects our understanding of the priesthood (28-29). Counter-arguments: 1) Jesus also only took circumsized Jews as his apostles. Met. Ware points out though that “the admission of Gentiles to the ministry…was envisaged almost at once…neither the apostles themselves nor their sucessors for nineteen hundred years have admitted women to the priesthood” (29). 2) Did not the Church get slaver wrong? Met. Ware points out that “[t]he distinction between male and female…is part of the order of nature” (30). “As St. Basil remarks, “No one is a slave by nature.” (30) And further, “several Fathers…inveighed vehemently against slavery as an evil…not a single Father ever spoke of the limitation of the priesthood to men as a necessary evil” (30). 3) Tradition’s silence on the issue cannot be appealed to. Met. Ware though points out the responses given by Tertullian, the Apostolic Constitutions, St. Irenaeus to the Gnostic Marcosians, and St. Epiphanius to the Montanists and to the Collyridians (31). I would also include St. John Chrysostom, and Pope Gelasius into this discussion as well. But as can be seen, the Church has definitely reflected on the issue of whether women should be priests or not and historically, the answer has been given that those permitting women to be priests and bishops are heretics. This cannot be set aside easily by the radical egalitarians. Before their position can be implanted into the Church, they need to consider how willing they are to divorce from even one aspect of the Tradition. Of course, most radical egalitarians would not be willing to excommunicate an entire half of the Church or the voices that have spoken for the Church. I would concur that the argument from Tradition on this is the strongest argument that can be given. It doesn’t explain why but then again, I don’t think it necessarily needs to explain the “why”. Dismissing the Tradition though I think is way too hasty a mistake to make for the radical egalitarians though. Incidentally, noting the voice of Tradition in this discussion heavily refutes egalitarian arguments that would insist such positions on women’s ordination of the early church were just simply going with the flow of the cultural traditions at the time. As Met. Ware points out, “it is not correct to state that women were generally excluded from the priesthood in the ancient world” (25). “In limiting the priesthood to men, the early Church–while remaining faithful to its Judaic inheritance–was going directly contrary to the general spirit of surrounding pagan society” (25). This, therefore, also needs to be taken into more responsible account by the egalitarians. I fear that such cultural considerations are often times dismissed by the egalitarians as they carry out their arguments at times.

Met. Ware then investigates from an anthropological basis as to whether there is in existence, such an anthropological basis for excluding the women from the ministerial priesthood. There are two lines of arguments here: 1) Women are morally and spiritually inferior to men. Met. Ware points out though that much of these lines of arguments stem from humanity’s fallenness such as that men are to rule over the women (Gen. 3:16) and Acts 15 technically cancels out Lev. 15:19-30 and the word kephale in 1 Cor. 11:3 can actually mean “source” (35-36). I find some of his reflections on the Trinity though to be questionable but it possibly stems from his Anglican background. For instance, all technicality, the Holy Spirit is not specified as the “third person” (36) in Orthodox theology since the Holy Spirit does not proceed through the Son as it does in Catholic theology and in a sense, they (the Son and the Holy Spirit) would be subordinate in terms of procession but not in divinity. Then again, this is not the Metropolitan’s dissertation on Trinitarian theology either. But correctly, arche would be another word for “source” so technically any one maintaining man as the source of the women would be a patriarchalist. 2) Men and women are equal yet different. Met. Kallistos Ware points out that while he believes “most strongly that maleness and femaleness, as gifts from God, have dimensions that are not only biological but spiritual” (39) but alas, there is not yet an “Orthodox” position on theological anthropology yet either that can relate to the priesthood. I also point out that even N.T. Wright, who is a proponent of women’s ordination in the Anglican Church, would find such distinctions between men and women as correct as well (according to the article I linked to his comments on this, he would be a complementarian and a radical egalitarian). So I’m not even certain how far anthropological arguments against women’s ordination can go.

Finally, Met. Ware discusses the levels of the priesthood within the Orthodox Tradition and as to whether an iconographical argument can be made to support the position of an all-male priesthood. 1) “One, and one alone, is priest: Jesus Christ” (42), 2) “All are priests: by virtue of our creation in God’s image and likeness, and also by virtue of the renewal of that image through baptism and anointing with chrism” (42), 3) “Only some are priests:” (42) set apart by the laying on of hands. Met. Ware reflects on the poor usage of Gal. 3:27-28 of the egalitarians by pointing out that “Paul is thinking here of baptism, not ordination. This text refers to the royal priesthood of the whole people of God, not to the ministerial order.” (43). All Christians image Christ fully when it comes to the second priesthood, the Theotokos would image Christ most fully in this sense as the first. Met. Ware takes a very egalitarian approach to the ministerial priesthood to contend why framing the issue as a justic or rights issue is wrong:

First, the ministry is not to be envisaged in ‘professional’ terms, as a ‘job’ that a woman can carry out as competently as a man, and which she has an equal ‘right’ to perform. Still less is the ministry to be conceived in terms of power and domination, as a ‘privilege’ from which woman is being unjustly excluded. ‘It shall not be so among you’ (Mt 20:26). The Church is not a power structure or a business enterprise, but the Body of Christ; the ministerial priesthood is not a human invention devised for purposes of efficiency, but a gift of God’s grace. Far from being a ‘right’ or ‘privilege,’ the ministry is always a call to service, and this call comes from God. … Any discussion of the ordination of women which poses the question in terms of ‘rights’ distorts the issue from the star, for it presupposes an utterly false notion of priesthood.
Secondly, the ministerial priest is not envisaged in terms of democratic politics, as a kind of deputy merely exercising by delegation the royal priesthood that belongs to the Christian people as a whole. On the contrary, the ministerial priest derives his priesthood not by delegation from the people but immediately from Christ. As Justin Martyr (d. c. 165) affirms, ‘The twelve apostles depend upon the power of Christ the eternal priest,’ and the same is true of their successors the bishops.” (44-45)

Met. Ware points out that in the Byzantine East, just like in the West, the priest does represent Christ as an icon but there is a difference between East and West in that in the East, the priest also images the Church (47). “If men can represent the Church as a Bride, why cannot women represent Christ as Bridegroom?” (51) Of course, I don’t know enough about Byzantine theology on this issue quite yet (regretfully) but I would wonder whether the priest is in persona Christi and in persona Ecclesiae but because this is Latin that Met. Ware is using here, then this would also be maintained in Catholicism and it is for the Angelic Doctor upholds this position, “The priest, in reciting the prayers of the mass, speaks instead of the Church, in whose unity he remains; but in consecrating the sacrament he speaks as in the person of Christ, Whose place he holds by the power of his orders.” (Summa Theologica, Part 3, Q. 82, A. 7) So could not this in persona Ecclesiae be also interpreted as the priest still being a part of the Church and as such, retaining that image as a consequence of his being a part of the Church? And how fully does a priest retain that image of the Church? How fully does he image the Church when speaking to God on its behalf? He cannot maintain its full imaging and I don’t know if that should be interpreted as such here. I still find the argument that he images Christ the bridegroom to be very much convincing but while he does act in persona Ecclesiae, I do not think he does this fully, even in liturgy.

I think though that ultimately, I concur with Met. Ware that the best argument would be to look at this in terms of the Tradition. We should not be too quick, as many Protestants have been, in breaking with the united voice of Tradition on this issue. Of course, some will state that this is not an important issue. And it might not be an important issue. But nevertheless, it might very well be an issue and a woman priest may in fact change the priesthood entirely. The Episcopal Church went south as soon as it started ordaining women. Then again, most Protestants don’t interpret the priesthood in terms of a sacrificial ritualistic service which is the only context in which an all-male priesthood makes sense in. My own church does due to it’s Anglo-Catholic heritage but many Protestants do not. Agreements need to be made on what exactly the priesthood constitutes before discussion can even be made. Obviously, that has not happened yet.

About Emperor Thomas I

Catholic monarch of the New Roman Coalition. Consecrated to the Apostle Thomas, the Holy Martyr Sigismund, and the Holy Martyr Olaf II.
This entry was posted in Anglicanism, Anthropological, Catholicism, Christology, Eastern Christianity, Eastern Rite, Feminism, High Church, History, Religious, Western Rite. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Met. Kallistos Ware on the Ordination of Women in the Orthodox Church

  1. For those interested, the Greek for Jesus’s high priesthood is ἀρχιερέα, the royal priesthood is ἱεράτευμα, and the word Πρεσβυτέρῳ (translated elder), is used in the early Church as the word for “ministerial priest”.

  2. For those more interested in a more thorough discussion of this, I direct them to Theophiletos’s “A Tale of Two Priesthoods”.

  3. Pingback: Women and the Priesthood — ed. Fr. Thomas Hopko | A Place Where I Review Books I Have Read

  4. Jim says:

    Great article!

    I find Met. Kallistos Ware’s approach to be quite refreshing.

    “When you advocate for the priesthood of all believers, can any person claiming to be a believer filled with the Spirit advocate a doctrinal position infallibly so long as it is based on the “Bible alone” (reading it with tradition of course!)? When you advocate for the priesthood of all believers is it really necessary to have pastors telling Christians how the Bible should be interpreted?”

    That is a great way of wording the question. The answer is no, it is not. This is one of the glaring challenges of the protestant church. We can interpret the scriptures any way we see fit, and when our interpretations don’t meet with approval we can simply go find a church where they are approved.

    As a protestant, the one thing that I find so attractive about the Eastern church as well as the Catholic church is that they DO have a standard for interpreting the Scriptures that does not change.

    • I think it’s certainly how many laity understand the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. Ironically, Martin Luther was not a big proponent of such interpretation. He believed strongly that only the Church could give an accurate interpretation of the Bible. Hence, no layman on his own could do so. The interpretation where just about any one can give their interpretation of the Bible originates with the Anabaptists.

  5. Pingback: Radical Egalitarians Shifting Views | Sedevacantist Papal Anglican

  6. Pingback: Radical egalitarians are not liberal | Sedevacantist Papal Anglican

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