Nonna Verna Harrison on the Ordination of Women in the Orthodox Church

“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)

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About newenglandsun

A student. Male. Passionate. Easily offended. Child-like wonderer. Growing in faith, messing up daily.
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29 Responses to Nonna Verna Harrison on the Ordination of Women in the Orthodox Church

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

  2. Ill bet it impressed the hell out of you though. It says nothing using a lot of words.

  3. Why are you, of all people, bothering to moderate comments?

  4. Pingback: Are Churches that Don’t Ordain Women “Outside the Will of God”? | Sedevacantist Papal Anglican

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  7. Jamie Carter says:

    Coming from a Protestant background, I never understood how some churches (Methodists) don’t have a problem with women in leadership and how others (Baptists) are dead set against it. Without tradition or the priesthood (as the priesthood of all believers is the big teaching) that just leaves ideas about women’s nature. But are we really to let 2,000 year old ideas about women decide that they’re second-class status when so much progress has been made toward accepting equality? One of my favorite teachings is that there is a trajectory to Scripture – Jesus set ideas in motion that were supposed to continue to change the world. We put an end to slavery. We decided racism was not okay. But the status of women remains unmoved. It’s hard to see how God transcends gender when He is constantly referred to as a Him so much so that Eve’s femininity is something of an anomale. After all, in the head covering passage it’s: God (doesn’t cover) > Christ (doesn’t cover) > Man (doesn’t cover) > Woman (does cover) it seems like one of these things is not like the others.

    • There are many things of God I don’t understand. I don’t think the point though was Nonna Verna Harrison making a point that women should be forever held as non-priests. In her argument she states it may very well be the Orthodox agree to start ordaining women to all levels. I think the main point is the transcending of gender over-all.

      I do not know why God is only said to be a “him” but do you have a problem with Satan being called a “her”?

      The ancient Church though has always considered racism wrong. This was probably my last post I’d ever done on the issue of women in the priesthood because I realised it was a detriment to the faith to argue nonsensically about it.

      I do not see though how man being called to embrace femininity and become the bride of Christ as much as a woman is an assault to women though.

      • Jamie Carter says:

        As far as I know, Satan’s always been a him. I’ve never heard of him being called a her. In a lot of ways, the church grew out of a lot of evils in this world, but it hasn’t made as much progress for women as it could have. In my faith tradition, it seems they’ve made steps backwards when they decided that a woman’s role had to be that of a wife and mother, there are no alternatives for women who wish to follow God. It’s this one-size fit’s all approach that seems to fail everyone so miserably.

      • God of course has always been called a “him”. So if you are saying that God should be called a “her” in order to be beneficial for women, then should you not also be saying Satan should also be called a “her” as well? Unless you are saying that in man only dwells all evil in which case aren’t you making this a “man” vs. “woman” thing?

        I do not see any reason why we need to make this a man vs. woman thing in the Church for such would be to embrace another evil.

        Is the failure of the Church or the prohibition of the Church to ordain women an “evil”? I don’t know. Is the failure of the Church to ordain those with mental illnesses who cannot handle the call of the priesthood an “evil”? I think if you are going to call the former an evil you need to call the latter an evil and assert the Church also has some sort of malicious warfare going on with the mentally disabled.

        The priest though primarily is there to enable us laity to carry out our missions in this world to minister to others. I do not know where this “urgency” grew out of to ordain or not ordain women which is why I primarily have no opinion to give on this issue.

      • Jamie Carter says:

        When I studied Church history, I learned that there has always been a thread where women were ordained – as far back as Marcion into Catharism, these movements (despite being deemed heretical) were successful beyond measure because they believed that only when ‘all hands on deck’ is everyone working up to their potential. Isn’t that part of the reason why Catholicism had monasteries? Do men have more potential than women?
        I think some people who battle mental illness can definitely handle the priesthood and can be excellent ministers to those who also battle mental illness. I think some women are astounding enough to handle the priesthood and could do a better job of it than some men. I was taught that the best ministers are not ones who are paragons of perfection, but regular people who can relate – isn’t that part of the success of alcoholic’s anonymous? Ministering to each other out of shared experience?
        That’s some of the confusion isn’t it? Is God a him or a her? If God’s a him is Satan a her? If God transends gender then does he care whether or not women or men minister to him? Does the rule that women can’t minister but must wear head covering apply for two thousand years without change – or is there a time where women can minister to God and don’t have to wear head coverings to do it? From an outsider’s perspective, it’s extremely confusing.

      • Marcionism and Catharism had a lot more issues than just that. These were “good god” vs “bad god” groups.

        I don’t think it’s extremely confusing at all. I think it’s that we would rather our way or the high way so to speak. If the priest is not a paragon of perfection then I do not see how he can represent God who is.

        As I said, I’m really not closed to the idea of women priests. Do I see it happening? No. Do I think it needs to happen? No. I think it is more a product of fallen humanness to insist on a specific viewpoint.

      • Jamie Carter says:

        Do you think that if humanity hadn’t fallen that Eve would have been God’s priestess? It’s a curious thing to consider if we imagine a world where Christianity never came into being because Christ was never needed to be born, the church never needed to be founded, and we were all in the Garden of Eden still in a state of perfection. I think women being priests is an eventuality, I’m just not that patient because in the meantime there are many sisters that are every ounce of them priestly and worthy that are denied the right to follow God with all their heart, soul, mind, strength.

      • Which women are being denied the right to follow God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength? Where did Jesus say unless one is ordained they cannot actually do this. Following God with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength is not dependent on one’s ordained status unless one believes (falsely and heretically) that one who is ordained to a priest is more holy.

        I do not think Eve would have been God’s priestess though. I think Adam was created and charged with the first care-taking role and therefore it would have still been men first. One could propose an alternative reality where women were created prior to men.

        Do you think Nonna Verna Harrison considers herself less holy because she does not support women’s ordination to the priesthood? She is the one who put together this argument. I just commented on it.

      • Jamie Carter says:

        The women who feel that God has called them or gifted them to being priests. For them, they don’t have a direct link to God, they have to go through somebody else, first their husband and then their priest.
        The curious thing is that there are two accounts of the creation of humanity, in the first men and women were created at the same time – it doesn’t name names or indicate which one was first. In Genesis 1 – they are both given the same directive. Genesis 2 happens to be out of order. I looked at the teaching that because Adam was created before Eve, all men have headship over women and more specifically, husbands have headship over their wives here: https://holdssway.wordpress.com/2015/12/09/ten-reasons-order/
        I think men and women are equally holy and therefore ought to equally hold holy positions in the church, from janitor to priest, all leadership ought to be reflective of the people they serve. If a church is primarily African American, then it’s priests should include African American. If it’s a congregation with a majority of women, then the majority of priests should be women as well.

      • “The women who feel that God has called them or gifted them to being priests. For them, they don’t have a direct link to God, they have to go through somebody else, first their husband and then their priest.”
        So what they “feel” is now the absolute truth? My own church does not ordain women but no women in my church feel that they need to go through their husbands to get to God. I first saw you over on my godmother’s blog–she does not support the ordination of women either but she does not feel she needs to go through a man to get to God.

        Genesis 1 does not say they were made at the same time though.

        Race is not the same an issue as gender. Take for example England in the 18th century. Slavery in England was in decline due to the fact that English slave-owners were losing court cases against their own African slaves. Patriots at the time of the American Revolution were more likely to be slave-owners than were Loyalists. The reason why court cases were lost was because it was illegal to hold a citizen of the state as your slave. For England, your baptism secured you as a citizen of the state and when it came for these court cases, they didn’t look at the slaves skin colour but their baptisms.

        You seem to blame the church quite a bit for racism. You told me your background was Protestant. Racism is something that has not crept into much of the major congregations that forbid women’s ordination though so I’m not entirely certain how that links to this.

        I read your article and you cite the Message translation as the way 1 Cor. 11 should be read. That is not a direct translation of the Greek though.

      • Jamie Carter says:

        Why shouldn’t it be? Don’t you trust the feel of the keyboard to know that you’ve pressed the key sufficiently? Don’t you trust the feel of the chair, that it is solid? Don’t you trust the sense that that something is missing or something isn’t missing in your life? For too long we trust our ears to listen to songs, we trust our eyes to watch the world around us – but suddenly what we feel counts for nothing in the spiritual realm? In some protestant churches, the ban against women in leadership doesn’t provide a check or balance to the power of the men, who sometimes side with the pedophile over his victim, the abusive husband over his wife, without women to act as a spiritual ezer kednego, many evils remain hidden and many victims are thrown under the bus. Are not the same issues seen in all churches where there aren’t women in leadership? The church I attend now allows women to be pastors and equal to the men, so they can’t get away with nearly as much trouble-making. The same rules that generations of christians used to accept slavery “slaves submit yourselves to your masters” are in the very same page that are used to promote male headship “wives submit yourselves to your husbands” – it’s just that we eventually decided the the former was morally unacceptable while the later was God’s ideal for society until the end of time. Some things never change – and some things do.

      • RE: Slavery (as you keep bringing this up and it is beginning to become rather annoying and stale)
        https://newenglandsun.wordpress.com/2015/01/08/met-kallistos-ware-on-the-ordination-of-women-in-the-orthodox-church/
        Met Ware takes that argument to task and blows it to pieces.

        As for what happens in Protestant Churches–this does not happen in my church so why is this even an argument?

        I’m afraid no meaningful discussion can be had if we aren’t even on the same page. You confuse material feelings with spiritual feelings. Spiritual feelings can easily be warped by demonic forces. But even material feelings can be warped. For instance, some feel no pain and so will keep their hand on a stove for a long time that it will burn them. Their sense of pain is not properly working.

      • Jamie Carter says:

        Of course we’re not on the same page – protestant and orthodox, I don’t think we could be further apart if we tried. The difference is that I’m willing to trust what I feel – if I get a sense that something is wrong, I’m not going to ignore it thinking that emotions are the enemy. I’m going to wonder why I felt something was wrong, figure out the cause, and determine the best course of action to do something about it. For too long, the church has held it’s hand to the fire and said “We can’t trust that the pain we feel is accurate, so we won’t move our hand.” It’s said a variation of that to justify centuries worth of evils and moral failures. I don’t think even Jesus would have taught such a thing, but it’s a problem that both sides of Christianity share.

      • I’m actually an High Anglican. I’m not saying feelings are inherently deceptive but rather that feelings can sometimes be deceptive. How do we determine whether it is God who is saying something or not? There needs to be an exercise of spiritual discernment. Only fools rush in where no angel dare to tread.

        But what precisely are these “evils” and “moral failures” you talk about? I’ve studied much the history of Christianity and have an undergrad degree in European history. Where are these moral failures which exist?

      • Jamie Carter says:

        Anglican is Church of England right? I don’t know very much about the difference to high or low or whatever falls in-between. Where I live 80% of the churches are Southern Baptist, the rest are Methodist, Cumberland Presbyterian, Church of God of Prophecy, Amish, and I think the one Catholic church is on the other side of the county. I can only rely on the internet to tell me about your church from a wikipedia point of view, but that tells me nothing about how the average person lives out their faith or what they understand by what the church means.
        Not once is it ever questioned when a man feels that he is called to be a priest / pastor. Nobody ever has a problem if he senses God drawing him to be a leader in the church. The same is not true for women and I don’t understand why that is. If emotion is the same for men and women, then what’s true for men ought to be true for women as well. if a man can feel that he ought to be priest, then it makes sense that women ought to feel likewise. If women’s emotions can be deceptive, then it must hold true for men as well.
        I referred to the ones that exist in my church, pedophile situations, domestic abuse – The Village Church recently dis-fellowshipped a woman who annulled her marriage to her husband who was a missionary who admitted to a child porn addiction. He was viewed as “walking in repentance” so he was not disciplined for being a danger to children. That church only has male pastors and male elders. another church dis-fellowshipped a hundred year old woman who questioned the teaching of the pastor when it didn’t match up with what they used to teach. Sometimes people who realize that embezzling is going on are the ones who are disfellowshipped so that the leaders can get away with it. It’s rather sad really to see so much issues with churches everywhere.

      • “Anglican is Church of England right?”
        I’m a Continuing Anglican. We broke off from the Church of England. Our church website is here:
        http://anglicanchurchinamerica.org/

        “Not once is it ever questioned when a man feels that he is called to be a priest / pastor.”
        Not true at all. We also recently de-frocked a priest a few years ago for clerical abuse which included locking a civil judge up in his parish office. Many men do not become ordained. Only a few do. Otherwise, there’d be no shortage of clergy in our own church.

      • Jamie Carter says:

        I guess that explains some things, because I had heard that the Church of England had accepted and ordained women. The continuing movement broke off of the Church of England to form their own churches just to make sure that women weren’t ordained. That’s exactly what a number of churches out here often do – when the main church isn’t conservative / fundamentalist enough, they form non-denominational churches where they can control what women wear, what women can’t wear, what women can do, what women can’t do, how women ought to live and how women ought not to live that it’s terribly legalistic – like this example: https://kateschell.wordpress.com/2015/02/04/ip-rules/ there are countless blog articles talking about how modest women ought to dress. Oddly, there are precious view governing these things about men.

      • Not all dioceses in the CofE ordain women. The Diocese of Walsingham has obtained permission to refuse ordination to women and does not ordain women.

        It is not about the “main church not being conservative/fundamentalist enough” but it is about the “main church” separating itself from the historic Christian tradition.

        I have not told women what they should and should not wear so unless you are saying that my blog is in one of those, the last comment you made about the numerous blogs telling how modest women should dress is entirely non sequitor.

        Your comments are regretfully becoming nauseating.

      • Jamie Carter says:

        As I said, we couldn’t be further apart if we tried. If it’s any consolation, once we’re all in heaven we’ll understand each other perfectly and see how in our own way and to our own perspectives both of us was right. As it is, the sum of my knowledge and experience is totally different from that of yours, difference, one might conclude – would suggest that one of us right and the other wrong; but I don’t see that’s the case. My spiritual tradition is a descent of the one church that was founded in the Bible, it might not trace itself through the same spiritual lineage of the reformers so if there’s a disconnect it’s probably more of the fault with my church. I, for one, am glad to have had this conversation. I had never heard of the continuing movement and looked it up on wikipedia and learned something new. I don’t think I would have learned about it and the difference in some orthodox teachings. That’s what I value – learning things, not being right or wrong. Sometimes the best way to learn a thing isn’t to agree with everyone (because they’ll assume that you agree with them because you both know the same things) but to take the opposite position to learn what you don’t know. I’m sorry if it’s become a problem or nauseating – but this is the only real way I know how to deal with the chaos of the Protestant church.

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