Apostles To The Apostles – Feminism As It Should Be Understood
Generally speaking, there is discomfort about the feminist movement in the Orthodox Church. Here is what His Beatitude Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church affirmed, speaking to a meeting of the Union of Orthodox Ukrainian Women in Moscow: “I consider this phenomenon called feminism very dangerous, because feminist organizations proclaim the pseudo-freedom of women, which, in the first place, must appear outside of marriage and outside of the family…”
On the other hand, some feminist organizations don’t hold the Church in high regard because of the false perception that men hold all positions of “power” in the Church, from deacon to patriarch; they consider, therefore, the role of women in the church to be marginalized and insignificant.
Is it possible, however, for these two apparently immiscible positions to reach a certain compatibility? Not a compromise, since a lot is lost in compromises of any kind, but maybe a better understanding of the perceptions and real problems from both perspectives?
First, let us be clear about one thing: not all the feminist ideas are in conflict with the teachings of the Church. On the contrary, the equality between man and woman was and continues to be affirmed by the Church. Here is what St. Basil the Great has to say about it: “The virtue of man and woman is one, since also the creation is of equal honor for both, and so the reward for both is the same. Listen to Genesis. ‘God,’ it says, ‘created the human; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them’ (Gen. 1:27). And since their nature is one, their activities also are the same; and since their work is equal, their reward also is the same.”
Where life in Christ and salvation are concerned, man and woman have the same work, the same struggle, the same opportunity, the same goal: union with Christ, in which all gender differences disappear because they lose their meaning. Jesus Christ explained this Himself: “And Jesus answering said unto them, the children of this world marry, and are given in marriage, but they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage, neither can they die any more, for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.” (Luke 20:34-36)
Seems to me that part of the problem is the confusion between the age we live in and the age to come about which Jesus speaks. The age we live in is an imperfect one where gender differences exist with a good and God-determined purpose. These differences, imperative now, as necessities of the fallen world, will lose their utility in the age to come because our lives, for man or woman alike, will ultimately fulfill their potential through union with Christ. Our current reality, however, happens here, in this imperfect and fallen age where differences do exist and they have to be properly understood.
By assuming their natural roles, as determined by the Creator, men and women complete each other in a wonderful harmony. These roles are different, but not antagonistic, enriching the couple as a whole and helping them fulfill their potential in God that was lost through the fall but regained through Resurrection.
We cannot confuse these two stages of our lives: the fallen and the risen one. In the fallen one, we are bound to the laws of the fallen nature, and through our spiritual and physical struggle, we climb toward the risen one. The struggle for salvation, however, does not involve the negation of the gender roles through a misunderstood and politically forced egalitarianism, but it should be a wonderful symphony between the roles of men and women, in perfect harmony and mutual understanding.
The Orthodox Church does not push the women to the sidelines. It is true that sacramental priesthood is reserved for men, but this does not mean that women have no active role in the Church. The royal priesthood mentioned by the Holy Apostle Peter (1Peter 2:9) is open to everyone, not in a sacerdotal meaning, but as the general understanding that all people, including women, are witnesses of the Resurrection to the world.
This idea is very well expressed in the Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing women, where the women, not the men, are chosen to be the first witnesses of the resurrection. “O Women, hearken to the voice that echoes with exultant joy. Trampling on Hades, that tyrant, I raised up all from corruption. Run now with haste and tell my friends good tidings as evangelists. For I will that my creature see joy distinctly arising from woman, from whom came sorrow.” (Exapostilarion of the feast) They become nothing else but apostles to the apostles, bearers of the Gospel of good news of the Resurrection of Christ. The old Eve is redeemed through a new breed of virtuous followers of Christ.
In this new and virtuous tradition, we can remember all the women inscribed in the synaxaria as “equal to the apostles”: The Holy Great Martyr Photini the Samaritan, The Holy Great Martyr Thecla, The Holy Empress Helen, Saint Nina the Enlightener of Georgia, Saint Olga The Holy Empress of Russia and so forth. We can add to this list all the women martyrs and other righteous women saints, all of them holy women who through their dedication to the life in Christ have spread the Gospel to the peoples in the four corners of the world. We also shouldn’t forget that we refer to The Church as a “She”, nor that above every Orthodox Altar we have the Mother of God enthroned as the Queen of all.
Any women can reach this: daughters, mothers, nuns, they all can be apostles if they try to become living examples of faith, love and self-sacrifice. Over the history of Christianity, the women have shown their apostolic role by upbringing into faith generations upon generations of Christians. Although their position may seem inside oriented, the fruits of their works are catholic, universal. We cannot forget that behind (or maybe we should say in front of) every Father of the Church there was a pious mother: St. Emilia for St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Nona for St. Gregory the Theologian, St. Anthusa for St. John Chrysostom, and many others. They were not ashamed to fulfill their role as women and mothers; on the contrary, they assumed it with full responsibility as a holy mission, fulfilling the natural order as intended by God.
The equality of women is not fulfilled leaving behind the role of a mother, by abandoning traditional family values or avoiding marriage in pursuit of carriers. Equality is the opportunity that both men and women have to rise from the fallen nature through works of synergy, in order to enter, together, into the Kingdom of God. Here, all the differences of the fallen world will fall like worn-out garments, and the splendor of the union with Christ-God will be fully revealed.
Come ALL the faithful, let us worship the holy Resurrection of Christ; for behold through the Cross, joy has come in all the world.
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