“Orthodox Arguments Against the Ordination of Women as Priests”, Women and the Priesthood, ed. Fr. Thomas Hopko, 165-187
Nonna Verna Harrison takes a look at three different arguments espoused by Orthodox theologians against women’s ordination, “[t]hey are (1) the argument from tradition, (2) arguments about women’s ‘nature’, and (3) the argument from the iconic character of the priesthood” (166). In her view, “(1) and (3) have validity when rightly understood, but argument (2) is much more problematic” (166). For many, appeals to Tradition on this issue can seem authoritative and they make God sound like a dictator (166-167). But this is a misunderstanding of Tradition. Tradition is much more than an authoritative structure, Tradition is “a communion of love and prayer which extends throughout time and space, across all boundaries of history and culture and into eternity” (167). “In this communion of worship, the Church’s liturgical life has a privileged place” (168). It is “these liturgical forms [that] are inspired by the Holy Spirit…that…make God’s Kingdom present among us” (168). And this is why the argument from Tradition carries much weight. Because the all-male priesthood is central to the liturgical format of the Church.
She goes in the next segment to reject the arguments put forward by Orthodox theologians that women and men have different roles yet women are subject to men. “Genesis 3:16 represents the wife’s subjection to her husband as a consequence of the fall, not of the creation itself” (170). “The attempt to base women’s non-ordination to the priesthood on a universal subordination of women to men or a global designation of some human tasks as masculine and others as feminine thus has far-reaching, and in my view devastating, social implications which would affect all women and men, not only those interested in ordained ministry” (172).
She then looks at three ways the church fathers understood Galatians 3:28. “The…Fathers characteristically linked this verse with the statement about the image of God in Genesis 1:26-27” (175). “St. Basil the Great speaks of the unity and likeness of the baptized, who share in the image of Christ as members of his body, as outshining their human differences of ethnicity, class and gender, just as in the emperor’s portrait the face’s beauty renders the artist’s material inconspicuous, whether it is wood or gold” (175). In other words, all members of the Church complete each other to form the one body of Christ. “The second patristic interpretation…found in St. Clement of Alexandria and St. Maximus…is understood to mean…limitations grounded in culturally based gender stereotypes must be surpassed” (175-176). “The third interpretation…occurs in St. John Chrysostom’s Twentieth Homily on Ephesians…[and] concerns…unity and wholeness but specifically within marriage, where husband and wife are called to come together by transcending their limitations and differences so as to live as one flesh and one spirit in Christ” (176). Note, “the ideal is a whole and abundant human life, not the kind of ‘androgyny’ feared by some that would reduce all human persons to a least common denominator, some kind of bland neuter condition” (177). “As they grow in holiness, they become more fully human, not less so, and they certainly do not give up whatever is good in their masculinity or feminity” (178). Again, this is not an issue that O rthodoxy has explored fully and perhaps needs to develop more (179).
Sometimes, the iconic argument on the priest can be found a bit weak. “Christ was male, therefore, the priest is male”. Christ was also Jewish. So why should his maleness be the reason beyond the icons? Harrison sets out to explain different meanings of icons proposed by St. John of Damascus. It is clear, that Christ’s maleness in his human nature has minimal to do with why the priest is a male. But nevertheless, “[t]he priest’s maleness has…has allegorical, not literal meaning, and its iconic character functions in a very specific setting defined by all the other facets of liturgical activity that surround it” (183). Maleness and femaleness drop away, true, “[y]et this enables them to be transformed and given a new meaning on the allegorical level” (184). “Thus the imagery of all human persons as female, as brides in relation to Christ the bridegroom, expresses the root of what we are and is not at all arbitrary” (184). “In the Liturgy, the priest serves as the divine bridegroom who comes to meet his bride” (185). “The symbolism of the Church as bride encountering Christ is also part of a larger whole. We must not forget that the Church is also the body of Christ, a manifestation of his own presence and self-manifestation. Hence its character is in a way allegorically male as well as female. Perhaps the priest’s maleness is an expression of the Church as body in this sense.” (186-187)