The Wisdom to Know the Difference

Our culture changes things. One of its myths is that changing things results in a better world. And so we endure unending advertisements for the newest, the latest, and the improved. Very few things, apart from medications, are tested for their consequences. As such, we are a society in perpetual experiment. It reminds me of a local joke.

The last words of a redneck … “Hold my beer. I wanna try something.”

The British political thinker, Edmund Burke (1730-1797), is often considered one of the fathers of conservatism. He was not opposed to change, but was deeply aware of the “law of unintended consequences.” When something is changed, everything is changed to some extent. Only time will reveal whether the sum total will have been an improvement or a disaster. His philosophy of governance was thus, “Go slowly.”

His thought becomes increasingly appropriate when the change is widespread and popular. Traveling by horse and buggy is slow and tiresome. If someone comes along and suggests a machine that will move us far and fast, how can this not be a desirable improvement? But, if we left the machine out of consideration, and only discussed the long-term consequences of automobiles, I wonder if the horseman would be so eager to change. The shape of our modern world has been completely altered by automobiles. Urban sprawl, suburbanized loneliness, environmental pollution and a host of other unforeseen consequences are all by-products of this machine.

Of course, human societies are never static. We have no evidence of unchanging cultures. It is the pace and scope of change that are hallmarks of the contemporary world. I read about an experiment at the CERN accelerator a few years back. Towards the bottom of the article, it was noted that there was a tiny risk that the experiment would cause the universe to disappear. As consequences go, that’s quite serious. The experiment took place and we’re still here to discuss it, but I was staggered by the idea that we might do such a thing so lightly. The experiments had the benefit that if things went wrong, there would be no one to complain!

These are thoughts on the level of technology. There are other experiments, equally frightful, that our culture pushes forward on a regular basis. We have endured a time of vast social change, particularly since WWII, regarding marriage, family, sexual identity, etc. Changes have gone from obscure discussions on the fringe of academia to legislative and judicial fiat in a very short span of time. Not since the earliest years of the Bolshevik Revolution has the family been the object of such sweeping change (the experiments in the Soviet Union were disastrous and were outlawed within a decade). The results of our changes have yet to reach their mature effects. Quite likely, we will only observe their true impact after several generations.

It is often the case that we move from consequence to consequence, racing to plug another hole in the dike without ever asking why the holes have appeared. Much of our social legislation is of precisely this sort. We create programs to deal with crime without ever examining the role of a broken family life in its creation (or our role in creating that break).

The above observations are nothing new. I have no expectation that the pattern will change. There are places, however, where this conversation spills into the Church’s life. In February of 2016, the Patriarch of Alexandria “ordained” a number of women deaconesses (though the ministry was ill-defined), sparking renewed discussion within certain circles of the Orthodox world about women and ordained ministry. Much of that discussion, though often invoking early Church history, is clearly committed to the concept on grounds that belong not to the early Church, but to the recent decades of modernity. We are not immune to our culture, so, such conversations are not a surprise.

I have pondered this for years and have some thoughts. I share them for what they are worth.

My first thoughts are on our present life. Our modern notions of equality and interchangeableness are themselves something that should be examined critically. We have redefined human beings in terms of their ability to produce and to consume – it’s what consumer capitalism does. The cultural question of “career” occurs in the context of creating a maximum workforce. Even though we confuse the question with clouds of “personal fulfillment” and the like, we ask such questions without ever asking what it means to be human in the first place. There is every willingness to deconstruct the Tradition but little willingness to turn such a searching gaze towards ourselves.

The economic wealth of modernity first emerged during a period of colonialism. Great Britain’s lead in that endeavor came at the cost of massive exploitation in various colonies. Today’s consumer paradise presumes globalization with the destruction of older cultures and at the expense of local development. In the light of such massive efforts, the role of one gender or another in the economy might seem to be but a tiny thing. The point, however, is that the questions we entertain as matters of personal freedom, are, in fact, also questions of economic structures. The sexual revolution (so-called) cannot be separated from the economics of feminism. It has granted a freedom (of sorts) that has required both the suppression of biology as well as the deaths of one-third of all children conceived in our society. We hide these costs and mask them as matters of moral debate. But they have been driven by economics rather than the noble claims of freedom.

The nature of tradition is that it is something given to us. In the case of the Church, the Tradition is not just a habit of doing the same things over and over again. The truth of our faith and its revelation is embodied in the Tradition. There are things we can only know by doing them, and even then, only through long and careful reflection. The character of the priesthood (of which the male role is only a small part) is a profound part of the Tradition. It cannot be reduced to mere functionality. Could a liturgy be served without vestments? Of course, though a priest would, even in extreme circumstances, try to cobble something together. The vestments themselves are not mere decorations. Can a liturgy be served without icons? Of course, though it would be wrong to do so unless under extreme duress. There was once a liturgy celebrated in the confines of the prison of Pitesti in Romania. The canons require that the liturgy be celebrated in the presence of a martyr’s relic (all altars have such a relic). It was decided to celebrate the service on the body of a deceased prisoner, the only martyr present. Such things are not extraneous. The liturgy should not be subjected to reductionism.

For the sake of argument, it will undoubtedly be possible by some sort of scientific shenanigan, to create a viable embryo without the biological input of a male (perhaps we’ve done this already?). But such technological wizardry only serves to confirm the artificiality of the modern paradigm. We can “force” nature to be something we imagine, but it will not obey us of its own accord. This same force is evident in the fact that most of the changes that have taken place over the past half-century, have arrived only by artifice and political power. We are not becoming more truly human. We are configuring a humanoid substitute.

The givenness of the liturgy, in all its aspects, is a proper subject of theoria – contemplation and understanding. It is a mystery that yields itself to the heart. It is not, however, one more cultural artifact to be manipulated in the interests of consumer capitalism and its deformation of humanity. We are fast losing the memory of who and what we are. It is the confusion of Babel.

Reinholt Niehbur famously prayed:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

This applies to so much within our modern world.

 

87 comments:

  1. How true it is that we never seem to remember the Law of Unforeseen Consequences. We are not omniscient and we blunder along changing things or passing laws to see what is within them, and then are surprised at the consequences. I tend to think this is the consequence of Adam’s sin we most feel. we do things on our own not wanting to do it God’s way. I have been thinking much about the words of Samuel to the Israelites concerning their desire for a King. Samuel told them what would happen and they ignored him. I was thinking of Samuel’s warning because it still applies today. Our government taxes us and involves us in wars we do not want. Hmmm. Maybe we should have listened at first.

  2. Nicholas,
    In a social media conversation, someone recently noted that the Church’s teaching regarding a male priesthood was a “stumbling block” for many who would otherwise be interested in Orthodoxy. I think they would like a bit of modern accommodation, a sort of Byzantine-Rite Anglicanism. Of course, those same arguments were heard among Episcopalians some 50 years ago. Their embracing of modernity has emptied their Churches and made them strangers to Christianity. But the allure of accommodation remains out there – “if only…” Living with a Tradition is a willingness to believe that God knows what He’s doing. A world whose most fundamental institutions are collapsing is not the place from which we will receive helpful insight.

  3. Wisdom is lost in the tide of the modern world. It is not valued as it asks too many questions that require insight and hard decisions.

    Many thanks for this, Father.

  4. Living with a Tradition is a willingness to believe that God knows what He’s doing.

    I’ve never heard it stated like that before. I’ve heard so many stories decrying tradition by people who don’t realize they are usually following a tradition of their own.

    When I came to Orthodoxy, I was in awe at how utterly sane and stable the church is. It felt as if I had finally found a port safe from the raging storm of life.
    Your post also reminds me of a story told by one of my parish’s members. When he first decided to visit an Orthodoxy church, it was a Greek Church. He went to meet the priest at the parish, before visiting and asked him, “Are you a modern church?”
    The priest responded, “Oh yes, we are very modern. We have lights, running water, flushing toilets, air conditioning in summer, and heat in winter.”
    I really hope our church does not ever get much more modern than that.

  5. Ananias,
    What a great answer! When people comment about an “American Orthodoxy” I laugh. My Church uses English and people frequently smile at one another and laugh at my jokes in the sermon. Anyone who doesn’t know how profoundly American that is has never traveled in Orthodox Europe!

  6. “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should. ” Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park

  7. G Witham,
    It is an exceedingly rare thing, as far as I can tell, for science to willingly stop itself. We built the bomb. We used it. The nerve gasses and biological weapons exist, waiting for use. Biological research seems to have no one saying “no.” Scary.

  8. This morning I read an article about a new AI voice assistant that can engage in unscripted conversations, presented as a convenient way to make phone appointments without having to interact with a human. The comments around it were a double-take: wait, we have computers already that are mistaken for human over the phone? And they’re being presented as a way to save a few minutes a week making appointments? Has anyone thought this through more?

    The classic thought experiment for how AI is most likely to go wrong is an overpowered paperclip maker. It’s given enormous processing power, access to the worldwide network, and a directive to maximize paperclip production. Being a machine, it proceeds to turn the entire Earth into paperclips before anyone figures out how to specify how many paperclips could possibly be wanted.

    A community of mostly atheists who’s writing I follow has begun calling the phenomenon of crazy over-optimization and competition Moloch. They don’t believe in God, but even so it’s beginning to look demonic.

    All the experimentation is very interesting, but very dangerous as well. I was glad to find Orthodoxy after growing up Evangelical in a church full of constant churn and experimentation.

  9. Father Stephen,
    So would you say that women have no role as deaconesses or ordained servants in orthodoxy?
    If modern conversations about what the pope of Alexandria did was culturally influenced, then what is the say of the early church on this issue.
    Why are women excluded from clergy in orthodoxy ?

  10. Anna, the same blog to which I gave the link now has a follow-up article on women’s role in the Church. I thought Fr. Stephen (De Young) did a nice job with these articles.

  11. Anna,
    I always wonder where the Orthodox women who aspire to ordained positions in the Church get their energy and motivation!? I can barely keep up in life with the things the Church already asks me to do!
    Just trying to be a good mother, wife, daughter, God Mother… to fast and pray and attend the Church services…? and if you have to earn a living? – most American parishes can’t afford a decent enough salary for one priest… they would not pay a deaconess…

    Forgive me, but it’s a “hot button” issue for me. Let’s be a little more obedient to the wisdom of our tradition… that would do a lot more good in combatting the craziness of our world (that’s my tie in into the theme of this post 🙂 )
    Forgive me Father, please delete if you disagree…

  12. Agata, I agree wholeheartedly.

    A person may make ideological arguments for any number of things in the Church but if we are focused on our own humility and repentance, ideology, which is almost always based on pride, quickly becomes a non-issue. There is a lifetime of work within our own hearts!

  13. My Protestant friends have identified several “stumbling blocks” in Orthodoxy, Father. The exclusion from the priesthood/clergy of women being only one of the, Our stubborn belief in the Body and Blood is another such a block, the common challenge being it cannot be proven through scientific analysis. I prefer to be in the Faith Once Delivered and I am especially pleased to have it stand firm again the elemental forces of this world. I draw great comfort that we are not blown about by the winds of this world and any changes take many centuries to be accepted.

    An unrelated note, I still cannot follow conversations. I never get the confirm follow e mail and therefore have to go back to the original and click the comment button to see what is happening in the conversation stream.

  14. Anna,
    I think that hierarchy (“holy order”) is present in many ways, and that the hierarchy manifest in priestly ordination (all of the orders), is only one of them. Every human being exists within the holy order of creation and has “orders” as such. Only a very few men are called to the priestly ministry (whether Diaconal, etc.). Most are not. The fact that a few men are called to that ministry doesn’t somehow change how all men relate within the Church. I think there is a unique iconic role within priesthood that is distorted when filled by a woman. We do not have evidence of women deaconesses ever serving in those roles. By the same token, it would be deeply distorting if we thought of the Theotokos in male terms. The life of the Church is extremely diverse and not to be confused with the very thin slice of the priestly offering of the bloodless sacrifice.

    The tendency in modern culture is to think of all things in terms of “jobs.” I do not think of my wife’s role as mother as a “job.” Neither have I ever wanted to be a mother or feel excluded because men cannot be mothers (though we rightly should take a deep part in the work of the home and with children).

    The “iconic” role within the life of the Church is not a small thing – though many treat the “iconic” argument about ordination very dismissively. What the Pope of Alexandria did is still very unclear. He did not, however, introduce a “diaconal” ministry in terms that are parallel to a male deacon. In that sense, it is more a similarity in name than in function. I could imagine such a thing being appropriate in places (as it was in the early Church). However, most moderns, including modern Orthodox, have a very modern idea about the question, which, if put into practice, would, I think, have long-term disastrous consequences.

    The current destruction of male/female and the family in a daily onslaught of false ideology needs to be resisted. Frankly, Orthodox women, for the sake of women everywhere, should resist any attempt to “modernize” the Church in this regard. Their own true identity is under assault.

    The spirit of democracy, everything is equal and the same, is a false spirit and contrary to the gospel. It’s hard to say that without someone twisting it into something it is not. The democratic soul cannot be saved – for it cannot say, “Jesus is King and God,” and actually mean it. We live in democracies, and vote, etc., but we should not confuse that with the actual nature of things. We also shouldn’t imagine that because we officially live in a democracy that we actually live in a democracy. If voting really changed things, they wouldn’t let us do it. We are governed by and for the rich. Democracy is imaginary and is used to keep us passive and willing to be used.

    As Christians, we need to live into the Kingdom of God – in truth, not as a slogan. It is only within the truth of the Kingdom that the truth of our humanity can be revealed and made known. It looks very little like modernity – but something quite different.

    I frankly think that CS Lewis has written about this better than anyone.

  15. Thank you for your careful answer to Anna, Father Stephen. Anna, do not be afraid to ask until your heart is satisfied. I, for one, am super sensitive to when American Christians, even Orthodox ones, use certain arguments against women in authority.

    The iconic defense, and the appeal to the Holy Mother, are truly unique to Orthodoxy and cannot be under-emphasized. Most other arguments boil down to fallacious appeals to inequality.

    Much of what passes for “differences” between men and women is pop psycho-babble. It is my belief that the furor over transgenderism is the flip side of the coin of sexual/religious fundamentalism.

  16. Tess,
    Thanks for your words. This is such a difficult topic on our culture because the topic has been both driven by the ideology of modern economies, and by the accurate description of poor treatment of women at various times and places. The argument has been, of course, that the poor treatment was the result of patriarchy – itself a moniker of a Marxist/feminist analysis of history that distorts many of the facts. It’s just not that simple and never has been. Many historical analyses are not good faith studies, but products of an ideologically driven agenda – I’m speaking from what I’ve seen first hand.

    What I am certain of is that Modernity itself is more than problematic in many, many things and that its philosophical commitments are anti-human. It repeatedly throws out the baby with the bath, and when it is analyzed, reveals that the process ultimately made a small group of people rich and very few people truly happy. It is not the answer.

    The gospel of Christ is the answer. I do not think Jesus was driven by a culture. He proved repeatedly that He was completely comfortable with criticizing all sorts of things in Jewish culture – and to risk being stoned, hated and killed for it. But we find no agenda of an anti-hierarchical gender blending sort of thing in his actions or his words. The reason, I think, is because that is not the answer.

    The answer lies in fulfilling the truth of our humanity – and that is something only made known to us in and through Christ. That someone complains that they are excluded from the priesthood is like being upset that you don’t get to be the Body and Blood on the altar. We exclude kool-aid and grape juice, milk and honey from that role as well. The priest is a sacrament – not a function. And, I repeat, even most men are excluded. I should add as well, that many priests fail to understand this role and purpose and are drawn away by the modernist notions of functionality, productivity and activity. They do not live as intercessors, mediators, or with an understanding that they are married to the altar.

    For myself, I have to admit that the “mystery” within all of this has seemed ever more clear to me as I have drawn nearer to the Theotokos. Indeed, I would even say that only she can explain this aspect of the priesthood to us. It should be noted that she is not an afterthought in Orthodox liturgies. We almost never speak of Christ without speaking of her. You cannot rightly and fully know Christ apart from the Theotokos. The same is true of the priesthood.

    Draw near to her and let her whisper the mysteries of her Son to you. That some very few men are called to the priesthood is astounding in the first place. It is only one of the many things that God is doing in our midst. I fear that we fail to understand this because our vision and understanding of the Church is both limited and too often formed by the distortions of various non-sacramental forms of Christianity. People speak about the priesthood as if they knew what they were talking about – and most people don’t – very few do (in my experience, those who do rarely say much about it).

    But, to follow St. Paul, “I speak like a fool.”

  17. Thrice Amen, Father Stephen
    Re: Lewis – I’m currently rereading ‘The Abolition of Man’ (a new critical edition)

    His words seem to come more true with each turn of the eternal and widening gyre of the news cycle

  18. Father Stephen,
    Your “foolish babble” is like fresh air to my spiritual lungs, so much more crisp and bracing than the polluted, stale air of the world.

  19. Eric,
    A young woman friend was reading Lewis’ space trilogy, and did pretty well until she reached That Hideous Strength. I challenged her in very uncomfortable ways. Of course, feminism can make someone have a knee-jerk reaction to some of the things in that book, no matter how true they are. And Lewis is writing long before much of the current social crisis was at all manifest. He is frequently quite prescient. Certainly, the trends in modernity that he saw and exposed have not disappeared, but grown by leaps and bounds. The Episcopalians hotly debated adding him to their calendar of “saints” after the 50th anniversary of his death (mandatory nowadays). It was because of his essay or two opposing the ordination of women – a sin that was unbearable to many.

  20. Thank you, Father Stephen, for this post. You have helped me to understand how to think about this modern reductionism that is everywhere present in my circle.

  21. Are there any churches now, besides Orthodox and Catholic, who do not have women priests or ministers? I ask this because here in CA a bill has been introduced that would bar Christians, or anyone else, from trying to help people out of unwanted same-sex desires or who have gender identity confusion. It could cast a very wide net including hindering pastors from preaching against the practice of homosexuality or perhaps even of what books the church bookstore might sell. Could a law in CA in the future even attempt to force both male and female priests upon churches? Thinking outloud….

  22. Dean, there are plenty of Protestant churches that do not allow female ministers because of the Pauline injunction that women should not teach men. I think this is an example of toxicity in religion between men and women (protestant pastorates are not analogous to the Orthodox priesthood by any stretch of the imagination).

    Father Stephen, please know that I agree with everything you wrote here. But I still think your care with words is very important. Your advice to draw near to our Holy Mother is the most important nugget that everyone should take home.

  23. Father, I very sincerely hope that this discussion, in full depth, will make it into your new book!

    Dean, CA is insane. I would hope that such a law would be challenged in court and, once the CA courts have backed it, would eventually make it up to the Supreme Court. It may be the simple fact that it might go there that will keep it from being passed in the first place.

  24. Tess,
    I agree!
    “Draw near to her and let her whisper the mysteries of her Son to you.“ – I am adding these to my most favorite words I ever read on your blog Father.. Or anywhere else. Thank you!
    I heard recently (in a beautiful lecture entitled “The Personality of The Mother of God – what kind of person was She?”) that the Mother of God is one of God’s greatest gifts to us. And we women especially need to emulate Her. The list of Her attributes I have jotted down from that talk was: that She was discerning , intelligent about the faith, grounded in Scriptures, attentive to others and not herself, fearless in faithfulness to Christ and obedient to His commandments.
    Of course She had all the virtues, but it would be enough for our lifetime to emulate these, without any ordained roles…

    Dean,
    What you describe is frightening…

  25. Dean,
    I have no idea. I’m not sure about what has been said regarding CA’s law – much less how it will play when it reaches the Supremes. Very dubious that it will be upheld if it is as you say. But, who knows?

  26. tess,
    I indeed feel like a fool for even daring to speak in these matters – not because I know nothing or discern nothing – but because there are so many landmines that have been planted in our culture and in the minds of so many that it is impossible not to set them off. I do pray that something of what I’ve shared might be of help to some.

  27. The democratic soul cannot be saved – for it cannot say, “Jesus is King and God,” and actually mean it.That line right there is definitely Lewis-level stuff! Father bless!

    Tess: I agree with everything you’ve said here and I feel the same way. I just read a gruesome piece on Patheos about Paige Patterson’s comments and how so much of what passes for Christianity in America seems far better represented by the *pre-Christian* nastiness that the other Fr. Stephen describes in his follow-up piece to the one Karen linked: https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/wholecounsel/2018/05/09/women-disciples-of-the-lord/ rather than anything remotely resembling the gospel.

    About that CA law, a friend brought it up last week and while I’m hardly an expert on California state legislation it did strike me as being overwhelmingly predominantly directed at “ex-gay” conversion therapies that try to pseudoscientifically “fix” a person by changing their sexual orientation – an approach no less Modern than what they’re trying to oppose, and not worth defending. If the US has anything like the Canadian “reading down” of a statute to favour an interpretation that is constitutional over one that is not, it should not in itself be an immediate cause for alarm.

  28. Anna,
    Do note that there have been women deaconesses in the Church in the past, and could well be in the future. There have been some within the 20th century in Greece, again in particular circumstances. It is not a subset of the priesthood, as in the case of the male diaconate, but is clearly part of the Tradition of the Church. Most of the debate, when there is one, centers around the nature of that ministry, its purpose and appropriateness. It does not exist in order to make a political affirmation about women, just as the priesthood does not exist to make a political affirmation about men. It’s about something quite different.

  29. I completely support the ordination of deaconnesses. But there are people who believe that the whole church will fall apart if we succumb to modernity.

  30. Fr. Stephen,
    Not a law as of yet. It passed the Assembly Thursday and now heads to the Senate. I certainly do not want to be alarmist. I don’t know how this might play out if it becomes law. But, the truth of unintended consequences
    (here maybe intended) always remains in the background, as you noted.
    The Theotokos, Agata, was a great stumbling block to me in coming to Orthodoxy. Now, 23 years later she is one of my greatest consolations. One prayer says to her, “…with love do I praise thee.” I truly have learned to love her and I beseech her daily that she save me through her blessed intercessions.” She does” whisper the mysteries of her Son to me.” Thank you for pointing that out to me.

  31. If deaconesses were ordained as a nod to modernity, it would indeed be tragic. Modernity (as I use the term) is a heresy and among the most serious. As I’ve noted, there have been deaconesses, there are deaconesses, and have been others in the 20th century. That is not a debate within Orthodoxy. There is a debate/discussion that centers around the nature and purpose of that ministry. For some, it is a leading edge of modernity and they want it to be. For others that is a deep fear, and rightly so.

    If we were talking about women and not about modernity it would be a different conversation. However, I also think it to be the case that most people don’t know what they’re talking about – neither about priests, deacons, etc. Most people have very little understanding of ordained ministry within Orthodoxy and simply import what they think they know from somewhere else. That’s like importing a Baptist view of the Eucharist and assuming it’s the same thing in Orthodoxy – they’re not even similar – remotely.

    I would caution against opinions formed without knowledge. Have you ever seen an Orthodox Deacon? Maybe once? How can you speak about what you haven’t seen? This is not an abstraction – the ordained ministry of the Church is a profound reality – worthy of theoria rather than opinion.

    I watched a very traditional Christian denomination, with many similarities to Orthodoxy, succumb to modernity. It is dying and in its death it is becoming a very repulsive, sad thing. Thus, I confess to having some visceral commitments in the topic. I watched this happen once upon a time. I warned of it then and was ridiculed for it. I am sad that it turned out to be even worse than I predicted. Many lives were deeply affected, and many lost their way and their faith. I found safe harbor in Orthodoxy and am grateful to its many martyrs who resisted modernity in other times and places – read about the “Living Church” efforts in Bolshevik Russia. God forbid that I should come within the walls of Orthodoxy and demand that it become what I left.

  32. Byron,
    I want to write a bit within it about male/female/gender/modernity. I dread it frankly. I believe there are very wonderful things to be known within the mystery of this aspect of our being. Our culture not only knows very little, it treads on the mystery constantly and makes any conversation very difficult. In the right settings, with the right people, both men and women, there can be wonderful exchanges and understandings. Interestingly, some of those for me have been with women monastics. I suspect that our failures to comprehend the truth of all this is among the factors that make for our bad record on marriages, though that’s a very complex thing itself. What I am certain of, is that the failure to comprehend the truth of all this – hidden in the Church’s Tradition – makes most “modern” marriages quite shallow and lacking in something essential. On the other hand, I think there are many healthy marriages between otherwise “modern” people, that draw them past their modernity and towards something that they do not have words for – but would find them within the Tradition. This, I think, is because of love. Love conquers modernity. Modernity resists love and is rooted in coercion. It is why it has never known peace.

  33. Leaving aside priests and deacons, most people don’t know what they are talking about when it comes to men and women, either, Father. Let alone love.
    I don’t think I know a single person who isn’t infected with some kind of “bad femininity” or “bad masculinity,” as Evdokimov so aptly put it.

    I completely understand your trepidation. 🙂

  34. Tess, for many years, my single question was, “What does it mean to be male and female?” Then one day I found a quote of St Maximus in which he described male and female as “energies” of the human person. As such, it could be described as different modes of existence. This is not two ontologically distinct things but is an ontological category. I might even describe the priesthood as related to the energies of the person as priest. We’re not used to thinking in these terms. That led to many more years of thinking about Maximus’ statement. I admit, it is greatly helpful to consider from inside the priesthood…I’m not sure it could be approached very well from the outside. I have rare conversations with other priests when we discuss these things. They can be precious beyond description. Most priests are reluctant to speak much about their priestly experience, those things God whispers to the heart within the altar. To speak of them seems wrong. But there are times. One reason it is so hard to write about these things is that you are sharing extremely rare pearls…and I hate to see them despised or merely discussed.

  35. That feels deeply true to me. I have had similar thoughts about the hidden things in femaleness… To jump back to the Theotokos, those things she taught all of us to ponder within our hearts. It is a travesty when we, in our arrogance, just make noise about these holy things. But then, our people are starving for the truth in these matters. Set a watcb, O Lord, before our mouths.

  36. Father,
    I’m sorry you dread having write about the male/female/gender issue in your book, but I sure hope you do.

  37. As to the topic of “deaconesses”, I can offer something out of personal witness.
    The church which I attend has a deaconess, who serves at the altar. What this means is as follows:
    She was a regular member who attended our Church for a long time and she had a regular job in the world. Then the enterprise for which she worked was closed. She never married and wanted to dedicate her life more towards God, but she wasn’t entirely sure about becoming a monastic. Since our priest needed a little help in the daily tasks of the church, he obtained a special blessing from a bishop or maybe metropolitan (I don’t know for sure) so that he can have this lady consecrated as a “sister” and deaconess and be allowed to live the life of a monastic in the world.
    So her role is basically that she serves in our church and commits herself to different chores that are to be done- such as cleaning and this sort of stuff, while during services, if there is no one else around, she prepares incense, lights candles, in other words prepares the stuff the priest needs in some moments of the services. She is allowed to enter the altar (like all monastic women), but she cannot stand in front of the Holy Table (like any other non-ordained Christian), nor does she have any attributes a priest or deacon (ordained) would have.

    In other words, she was consecrated as a monastic, but not ordained. She is not a female version of the male deacon.
    This is the way in which the “deaconesses” of the early Church should be understood. And if anyone reads some of St Paul’s letters where he discusses Church life, he cannot understand anything else regarding this topic.
    If the Patriarch of Alexandria understood anything else and he actually ordained women to serve as regular male deacons are serving, then that is a clear sign of the extent to which the degradation of modernity has entered the Church.
    Also, I must add that this constant tendency to alter liturgical life and implement changes not from the inside- as was done in the past, that is truly holy men being moved by the Holy Spirit to bring in something that was lacking or remove something which had become superfluous- but from the outside, through an “archaeological” study of history is another worrisome trend. It turns Orthodoxy into a sort of Protestantism where some strive to return to some “pure” form of Christianity from the past by reconstructing it artificially from bookish recipes.

    In Eastern Europe, this is not a big topic of discussion inside the Church- not yet at least. Here you usually get angry women and men who are either declared enemies of the Church or simply do not participate and don’t care but who are nonetheless appalled at the fact the “you don’t ordain women”- which is simply ridiculous.
    In the West, I am not surprised that such conversations are taking place within the Church.
    But the women who are asking such question really do need to ask themselves: “what exactly makes me ask such a question? From what kind of spirit does it stem from?”. I am not a priest and I’ll never be one, but that doesn’t make me feel like I’m missing anything; nor do I resent my priest for being able to do things which I am not allowed and I cannot.
    God has appointed each of us in a certain place and given a certain role. This is what the true meaning of cosmos is.
    Egalitarism is not something pertaining to cosmos, a mark of chaos.

  38. Father Stephen,

    Thank you.

    This sentence, “We create programs to deal with crime without ever examining the role of a broken family life in its creation (or our role in creating that break).” reminded me of this article: https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/05/02/west-virginia-opioids-immigrant-doctor-solution-218118. Perhaps you’ve seen it?

    Not having read all the comments yet, forgive me if this particular thread has already been sewed into the fabric of this discussion.

    BTW, your words are quite life-giving. Thanks be to God. And may I listen carefully to him in order to ingest that which contributes to my well- being and eternal being.

    Father bless

  39. Thank you, Nikolaos.

    This is a very rich thread for me. Thank you all, especially Fr. Stephen.

    I have never much identified with modern feminism (though I admire many of the early suffragettes and obviously deeply believe, as a Christian, women and men have equal dignity and value as persons in the image of God). Having had to examine it more closely (when a young relative attended the women’s march in 2017 and her posts started coming across my FB page), I find modern feminism’s current iteration deeply repulsive—it seems to be little less than a Marxist psyop perpetrated on the culture by an elite with a satanic agenda. As part of my self education, I read a little about a few of the organizers and spokeswomen for that march (deeply disturbing). Next I watched the documentary film, “The Red Pill”, by Cassie Jaye on the Men’s Rights Movement (as well as many of the extended interviews used to make it available on YouTube)—that was a real eye-opener and put the nail in the coffin for any slight sympathies I may have once had for some aspects of the modern women’s rights movement. I realized those sympathies—which were really for those who are abused by others in the name of “authority” of one sort or another—were hugely misplaced when modern feminism is understood as the (in reality, anti-human) political propaganda and movement that it is. The sad and ironic thing is, it is largely comprised and supported by those who think it is about resisting those who abuse or devalue others in the name of some sort of hierarchy or “authority”.

    Having said that, I confess to often feeling like a bit of a “Yentil” in my thirst for God and desire to engage in deep theological discussion to better understand my faith and Christian history, etc. Especially, on my journey to and within Orthodoxy, I have often sought to engage in what were usually men-dominated discussion threads with men who were seminarians or formerly so (and not a few times been completely out of my depth—not having enough of the background reading required to do so completely intelligently).

  40. Karen,
    Married some 43 years, it has seemed important to me not to be equal or the same, but to understand the differences and to respect them. An interesting learning for me has been that there are some subjects I would rarely ever want to discuss with another man but would be ok in discussing with a woman. The differences are striking. I’m still pondering…

  41. Karen, the “men’s rights movement” is equally satanic, though in a different way. Christians, particularly conservative ones, need to be aware of this snake in the grass.

    Men and women need not be enemies. If we Orthodox Christians can’t manage it, then Satan wins. It’s a hard topic, but everyone’s concerns can be answered with integrity of everyone stays patient with each other and REALLY listens.

    Do not give the red pill people the time of day.

  42. Father Stephen,
    I read this passage this morning on the life of St. Dionysius and immediately recalled your words about how you are careful how you speak of your experiences in service at the altar.
    “[St. Dionysius] carefully concealed his spiritual life from other people, who might suffer harm from a superficial knowledge of it.”
    “Do not ask a monk about things concerning his monastic life,” said Saint Dionysius, “since for us monks, it is a great misfortune to reveal such secrets to laymen. It is written that what is done in secret should not be known, even by your own left hand. We must hide ourselves, so that what we do remains unknown, lest the devil lead us into all manner of negligence and indolence.”

    On another note, I have so many questions after reading this post and comments over the past day. I will try to form them in words, but it is hard because I don’t really know what I’m looking for. But I do know that my impressions are faulty, as result of… well, many things.
    So Father, despite where you say you dread to talk about this male/female topic because it would set off landmines implanted in our minds, despite this, I think those of us who want to come to terms with this, by the grace of God, will do so. It is a great need…and why should we be held back by such distortions set in motion by listening to the lies of the prince of this world (manifest in modernity)? I mean, it was his agenda from the very beginning to kill the image of God in us by severing not only the bond with God but between the man and the woman…thus, all mankind.
    One thing I think it would help a great deal is an understanding of what St. Maximus means by male/female “energies”. It helped you! Yes, after years of contemplating, but still your heart became satisfied in time. You are right when you say we are not used to thinking in these terms, yet we have to start somewhere. Another avenue, but very much connected, is seeking answers through the Theotokos. I guess what I am saying is that we need you to continue to point us in the right direction, Father, as you have begun here in this post. Please. And thank you so very much for all you have said here already.

    Karen, your last comment is very helpful. Especially the last paragraph. It is such a pleasure, but so very rare for me, to find another to have a “deep theological discussion to better understand my faith…”. And that, knowing my depth is not that deep, but my desire is. Just recently, by email ( I know…not the greatest way to engage in these conversations) I reached out to a woman friend to talk about something I read (and it wasn’t all that deep!) and never received a reply. Twice this happen, matter of fact. And where you speak of your sympathies for the women’s right movement…all you said there…yes, I agree. I understand.
    Finally,
    Mihai, thank you too, very much, for your last comment. It is good to hear first hand your experience. Very helpful.

  43. tess….yes these movements are indeed satanic. No doubt. But we need not fear him. No, Christ has overcome. And yes, I agree, we need to be patient with each other and listen. You can’t really listen if you already have in mind ‘they’re on the left or on the right, so they ‘are’ in essence what their ideology reflects. We are not ‘ideologies’, but persons, as Father said, members of the Kingdom, and need to live our lives as such. We have to remember that we each are at a different place in our journey too, and what may appear as arrogance is really ignorance and fear. That is where we need God to grant us much patience, kindness, and compassion.

  44. Tess,
    Are you speaking from listening to one of Jaye’s extended interviews with someone like Erin Pizzey or Warren Farrell or from watching the actual documentary? Or are you speaking from reading critiques of the documentary (a lot of which comes from those who refused to actually watch it) and some of the more hateful rhetoric of some MRAs (the latter of which which I would agree is equally satanic)?

  45. Tess, I should clarify I was asking only about your last sentence.

    Otherwise, I think we see eye-to-eye on these matters.

  46. Fr. Stephen,
    Returning to male/female. Thank God we are complementary! My wife and I complete 53 years in July. She was 16, I just 17 when we met in high school. I could not have met a more compassionate, sweet, caring, loving, Christ honoring woman. God has blessed me beyond measure with her life intersecting mine all these years. Yes, we do sometimes know what the other is thinking. We can just sit together, hands intertwined without words. She encourages me in the faith, I her. She will at times say something about a person or situation that strikes me as true, yet something my maleness would never have entertained. When my magnetic compass is wobbling all over the place, she brings me back to a steady true course. “A good wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.”

  47. Father, as regards my marriage, me, too.

    Once in a discussion about the real biological and neurological differences between men and women with a feminist relative, I briefly described what I’d learned from my psychology background and quipped, “Vive la difference!” She did a sort of double take in that moment as if she was having trouble computing there might not only be real differences to be respected, but also really be something to celebrate in those differences. It’s a moment that really stuck in my memory.

  48. Karen, as with any of these movements, the “entry-level” videos appeal to the common sense of honest people. That’s actually true of a lot of feminist movement material, as well. I know you’re familiar with organizational tactics of identity politics— no one gets all of the information, let alone the philosophical underpinnings, at their first exposures.

    I have not seen the documentary to which you are referring. I *have* seen plenty of youtube red pill nonsense. In so far as they point out the inconsistencies of the social programming of the modern left, they aren’t wrong. But they come from a philosophical place that is inimical to Orthodox Christianity— a place that makes the other my enemy. The “hateful rhetoric of some of the MRA’s” is the beating heart behind the movement and is not its fringe.

    Within the past year, I have personally witnessed a so-called Orthodox Christian man use “men’s rights” information and tactics to abuse and manipulate his wife and frighten her into submission so that she will not leave him. I have read the articles that he did and watched what videos I could stomach.

    We can do SO much better in our counter-offerings to modernity than offering a different colored pill. We have the Body and Blood of Christ.

    Father Stephen, this is precisely the reason why I think we need to start talking the explicitly *Orthodox* understanding of sexuality and gender, even if we’re afraid to do it. Because there is evil on both sides— and that’s how Satan keeps us fighting against each other: because he shows good-hearted people the evil present on the other side only.

  49. Father, I look forward to reading your wisdom and insights about the male/female/gender issue.

  50. Tess,

    I think I hear what you are saying and would both agree Jaye’s documentary and interviews might be used to bolster an illegitimate and destructive MRA agenda and disagree if by this you mean that this was the agenda of Jaye herself or those who find value in what she brings to light (statistics about abuse of boys and men and inequities in our family courts) or that this info could not provide a needed corrective to a lot of mainstream propaganda in this culture about both men and women. The documentary gave me a much better understanding of what is fueling the pain, fear and anger of MRAs. Naturally as a woman, I already had a good understanding of where this was coming from for women.

    I would see it as unfortunate and a potential loss if we were to ignore Jaye’s discoveries in this video for her own journey (as a former feminist dismissive that there could be any real injustices in this culture men could be facing that are as critical as those women face). On the other hand, I find it deeply disturbing that any Orthodox husband or Priest would pick it up and use it as you have described.

    In the end, what is absolutely certain is that all cultural voices need to be heard with great discernment, and the only answer to all such dilemmas is to be found in the fullness of our Tradition and not in political movements that divide.

  51. Such a rich discussion! Thank you Fr. Stephen for continuing to challenge me to think deeply about my life and my faith. And thank you everyone for all of your great comments.

  52. Karen, that there is inequity and corruption in family court should not surprise ANY of us, especially with the knowledge of how many innocents are incarcerated in America. But to imply that family courts victimize men across the board is not a statement of fact, but rather a statement of political spin.

    I have an acquaintance who is a real, live family court lawyer who recently explained to me that he can’t even get a local judge to rescind legal custody from a proven physically abusive husband. My point is that our government is not so much against men or women, but against humanity. This is no surprise.

    We don’t need voices of anger to prove to us that boys and men can be hurt. To believe otherwise (that men are somehow immune in a way women are not) is to already have bought into the rhetoric of “The Differences Between Men and Women.” It’s non-productive, and totally beside the point if we come at the world from an unadulterated Orthodox anthropology, which doesn’t need neuroscience to prove its theses— the proof is in the pudding, so to speak.

    The enemy is trying to distract us from the right conversation about men and women by misdirecting us to false conversations. I don’t know Jaye personally, so I really don’t have anything to say in that regard. I absolutely agree that we need to listen with discernment to the voices out there. I think perhaps one way we can do this is to shepherd our conversations away from the way media (on all sides) is prodding us to think, and back to real interpersonal communication— communion, if you will. 🙂

  53. Tess,

    My point was simply Jaye’s is not an angry voice, but a thoughtful one, and we can’t let the sociopathic narcissists and political manipulators or those under their spell set the agenda or tone of the conversation for us. I am a Christian, not a feminist or MRA, and I deeply desire justice (as mercy) for both men and women. I have no doubt that women are regularly victimized in family courts, too, but when statistically men routinely get stiffer sentences than women for identical crimes and that there are virtually no shelters that admit victims of domestic violence that are men or teen boys, that seems significant to me (unless these statistics have been massaged not to reflect reality, too—always a possibility in the times in which we live). That our cultural problems and the polemical rhetoric that is out there hurts (and is intended by the sociopaths who employ it to hurt) all humanity is without doubt. It is the children, the poor and the disenfranchised who suffer the most no matter which side’s false rhetoric wins…and that is very telling, isn’t it?

  54. Tess,

    I would like to offer a simple observation on your use of the word “men”. Personally I dont think “men” manipulate women into submission. That doesnt sound manly. “Men” arent intetested in the submission of their families. I dont know what we should call people like that…but Im not sure that “men” is the right word.

  55. Karen, I think we’re starting to say the same things in different ways. 🙂 We agree that humanity should not be divided into groups, like “men and women,” that victimize one another. And that when people let evil overcome their hearts, they are able to cause great suffering among people who are powerless to defend themselves against it. Of course men can be victims of domestic abuse— that anyone in our society even believes otherwise is symptomatic of the bad masculinity/bad femininity that only Orthodoxy has the answer to.

    However, I must stand by my assertion that, this one documentary notwithstanding, the “Red Pill” and men’s rights movements are hotbeds of misogyny that Christians would do well to distance themselves from. Even a broken clock is right twice a day. 🙂

  56. Simon–

    Please don’t misunderstand me. I use the phrase “men’s rights” to describe a very specific group of people. By no stretch of the imagination do I ascribe those motives or behaviors to all, or even most of, the male sex. I hope you’ll forgive my emphasis— it’s very important to me that you not read me that way. 🙂

    I agree that the specific example that I mentioned is not a man worthy of the title. He is neither a reflection on his faith or his sex— he is just a sick, fallen human being in need of the mercy of God. He and his wife need our prayers.

    But just because the behavior of these individuals repulses us also does not leave us off the hook for engaging with the fruits of their behavior. There are prominent speakers within the Christian world who defend “traditional gender roles” from philosophical premises that should be unacceptable to Orthodox Christians. We need to keep speaking to this so that our witness of Christ is not obscured. So, for example, even though it is inconvenient to have to explain Orthodox anthropology and the iconic defense of the priesthood every time someone wants to talk about deaconesses, it is where the rubber hits the road. Men and women in our culture need to understand that Orthodoxy offers a vision of sexual integrity that is not present elsewhere in America (except, as Father Stephen mentioned, by accident and grace in particular marriages, even if they be modern— excellent observation, btw, Father).

    It’s huge, isn’t it? 🙂

  57. Tess,
    I would love to get your feedback if you get the opportunity to watch “The Red Pill” and a few of its official “raw files” extended interviews. The documentary itself is only about an hour long. The “raw files” videos are officially connected to the documentary, not videos put together by some of those interviewed or others picking up the metaphor and using it to push their own extreme political agenda or smear of the other side’s legitimate concerns.

    Also, I would be interested if you are aware of any sources that actually carefully analyze statistical data related to differences between how cases of men and women are handled under our current laws and changes in those realities that have occurred over the period of social engineering we have been undergoing for the last several decades. What you have related was not surprising, but also anecdotal.

    Feel free to use my email. I don’t want to monopolize this thread any more than I already have.

  58. Karen, I clicked over a few of those raw files. I stand by my assessment that even in its best form, it is fighting fire with fire. It is not the “right side” versus the “wrong side” of feminism. No one wins by making homelessness a men’s rights’ issue, for example. We “win” when we each start carrying an extra $100 in our wallets to give away.

    Our modern obsession with “show me the statistics” is just that— a modern obsession with a particular philosophical premise. It really feels beside the point to me, from an Orthodox standpoint. Statistics vs. anecdotes is a false dichotomy. For one, I can’t do anything about the global problems statistics try to relate. But I am doing something when I listen in communion and pray for a person in front of me who is telling me a story about his or her life.

    I do hope that Father Stephen jumps into the fray with Orthodoxy and sex/gender. Because I believe we simply must offer the world a different option, you know? We can’t heal the hurts of self-professed feminists by convincing them that men’s right’s have facts, too. And we can’t heal the men’s rights people by argument, either. The whole thing is a demonic (and very modern!) smokescreen.

  59. Tess –

    You said…

    “Our modern obsession with “show me the statistics” is just that— a modern obsession with a particular philosophical premise. It really feels beside the point to me, from an Orthodox standpoint. Statistics vs. anecdotes is a false dichotomy. For one, I can’t do anything about the global problems statistics try to relate. But I am doing something when I listen in communion and pray for a person in front of me who is telling me a story about his or her life.”

    Extremely insightful. Thank you. 🙏 ☦️

  60. Very often “traditional gender roles” is such an imaginary thing. I think of my maternal grandparents. They were farmers with about 120 acres in SC. They ultimately had 12 kids. All of the kids worked on the farm (cotton mostly). My grandfather worked, my grandmother worked, everybody pulled together. I never noticed any “roles,” just people being themselves working together for their common life. There were, doubtless, mean men and mean women, good people, bad people. But the “traditional roles” are largely Victorian constructs, popularized in the media, but very shallow as historical analysis. People talk about women and the vote (for example). Most of Britain couldn’t vote until quite late – and America had a limited franchise (property owners only) to start with. These modern analyses are frequently just bogus history.

    I have a very high regard for good, solid historical work and analysis. For antiquity, I would point to the work of Peter Brown as a stellar example. I’ve seen histories developed by others with an agenda that are not only bad, but actually a falsification of the facts. Ideology makes for bad history (including a religious ideology).

    Human history has no golden ages to which we can point. We can, however, isolate examples within history that exemplify what we think is good, healthy and salvific. The whole historical analysis business is largely a modern thing – categorizing in generalities what can only have existed in particularities.

    I am a committed critic of modernity – not because I think it is the present – it is not. Modernity is a philosophy, not a time period. It disguises itself as a time period and wraps itself in contemporary technology as if its philosophy is the reason it exists. That is a lie.

    But, though I criticize modernity, I do not champion any period of the past. Orthodox Christianity is not true because its old and ancient – it’s true because it’s just true. It judges every age (including the NT). Orthodox who champion the past and talk about a return and such are misguided. The Divine Liturgy is not an exercise in creative anachronisms. It is the Kingdom of God on earth. I criticize modernity because it’s a false philosophy.

    It’s also not the only false philosophy. There have been plenty of things wrong long before modernity. It’s just that we happen to live at a time when it dominates the world. Just as the Fathers had to address the errors of their own time as they spoke the truth – we have to do the same. Thank God, however, we’re not called to fix the world. We’re called to be the Church. Fixing is God’s work.

    Just some thoughts as I’m reading everybodies’ comments.

  61. Tess,
    I think we may be talking past one another a bit in terms of the type of usefulness we see that can be gleaned from listening to some voices we won’t necessarily get a chance to hear face-to-face. I have found this sometimes helpful for revealing my own blind spots and better explaining some of the reactions in others around me who have different contexts and experiences than my own. I’m not trying to suggest reviewing documentary material like Jaye’s is the answer to the sex wars that go on in our own homes or parishes, but a judicious listening in on some of the more thoughtful of the “voices” out there in the culture in this instance was quite helpful to me in explaining why so many otherwise sensible Christian men have reacted so negatively to “feminism” as a movement, on the one hand, and on the other why some women (like my relative) use “the patriarchy” (as distinct from modern “Christian/cult patriarchy” nonsense, which really *is* inherently wrong-headed and abusive) as an explanation for everything that is wrong with society and helping me articulate why I believe that is incorrect (and misanthropist). I’m not sure what “clicking over” exactly means, but it doesn’t sound like the careful listening you describe and very astutely suggest we need to be doing face-to-face with one another. It sounds a bit like the jaded clicking over I do of some “click bait” I have learned to recognize as the worst sort of one-sided propaganda, fear porn, or other type of disinformation. Perhaps some of the raw files do need to be placed in context of the whole documentary. We have Amazon Prime, so I was able to watch that without any extra fee. Netflix and most mainstream theaters and mainstream media (at least initially) refused to promote or carry it, which suggests to me Jaye’s voice carries the potential to actually disrupt their agenda of perpetuation of the gender wars in those able to hear her. I do agree with you completely about the ultimate solutions taking place on the level of communion.

  62. Wow. This reading and the threads that followed are very in-depth. I’m an Orthodox Christian (for 8 years), and the mother of a gay daughter, and many of her friends are gay and transgender. I don’t have any answers when it comes to “gender fluidity,” and I know that both “sides” of the LGBTQ issue have their data to back them up. I worry not only about the souls of those in the LGBTQ community, but also those in the Westboro Baptist community (and those who admire them).
    Father Thomas Hopko wrote a book I recommend to anyone who wants to know how to love those in the LGBTQ community while still remaining faithful to the Orthodox Church. The book is Christian Faith and Same-Sex Attraction: Eastern Orthodox Reflections. He very carefully laid out the Church’s teachings on marriage, and reminds us that we are to care for these neighbors of ours (on both sides). “Every person is the very icon of God incarnate in the world. ” (Saint Maria of Paris)
    May the Good Lord have mercy on us as we struggle in this world.

  63. Laura,
    Sounds like you have been and are a very good mother. Blessings to you and to all the godly mothers world over. I am thinking of my own dear mother who always pointed me to our Lord Jesus. Especially, Christ, we thank you for your all holy Mother, the most blessed Panagia and virgin, on this Mother’s Day in the US.
    Proverbs 31:10 ff is the best description I know of of a godly wife and mother.

  64. A priest I know back in the UK once told me (with a wry smile) that the word for Deacon and the Greek word for “garbage collector” were very much the same. Please correct me if I am wrongly informed. However it got me thinking. When the first Deacons were instituted it was to fulfill a need in the early Church to deal with “things” (Acts chapter 6) and to leave the priests free to be priests. The role is not priestly in itself. We get so confused because we see the priesthood as a “career path” from Deacon to Priest to Bishop. The whole order of things is actually the other way round. Bishops come first! Anyway back to the Deacons. They are servants of the servants of the Church and the male Deaconate is so beautifully expressed in the elaborate yet humble gestures with the stoles in the Eastern Rite. They constantly present their stoles as they present themeselves in service. But they are mainly there for the “things”. Things are important, things have value, things are sacred, things need looking after, things are oriented to God.

    I thik that if female deacons did exist it can only be in the sacred “garbage collector” role and nothing to do with worship. Their role was to be there at those times when God’s presence was most profound in the home life of Christians: they were there for birth and death. Both of these can be messy processes, Someone is needed to put the dignity into the washing and laying out, into the clearing away and the prayerful “right order” of these occasions. This is a role for women, not men. It has a parallel to the Deacon in the Liturgy but it is not the same thing. The problem is that we have secularised and institutionalised birth and death, I for one would love to see a return to the days when both took place in the home and there were women who came round to see to the smooth order and dignity in these occasions irrespective of whether we call them deaconesses or not.

    Mihai: I remain very uneasy about female deacons being instituted to help in the sanctuary

  65. Rita

    The Greek work for deacon is diakonos and it’s etymology is uncertain. I was recently told that one of the elders ( I cannot remember who ) mentioned that the priest confessor is a garbage bin. I wonder if Father Stephen shares this perspective.

  66. Moving from the general to the very particular: I am an educated woman. An “n” of 1. My “job” in life, now that I’m Orthodox, is, if you will, “theosis.” A concern for rights and privileges in the church would likely impede that goal. The Theotokos and the many women saints are witnesses of how we can, through humility and great perseverance and “effort” move toward Theosis. That’s it. They are our inspiration. In some ways it seems that all other arguments are irrelevant. If people want to be in the Church to join in the throng of witnesses of the possibility of Theosis, the Church will guide them there. If I were to want to argue the point, that’s what I would boldly respond to those who worry about women’s “rights” to serve at the altar: women have the freedom to become more than Clergy. We can become saints. But the path to sainthood is likely quite different from the one that demands rights. Forgive me if I have stated these things incorrectly. I am not less loved by Christ for being a woman. My husband, as a Deacon, is not more so. We are all called to be servants of God.

  67. Wonderfully stated, Geri!

    I had a discussion online with a very strident woman who insisted that women should be made deaconesses in the Church. I was careful to not make the discussion into an argument and, instead, plumbed for her reasoning. After numerous exchanges, I posted to her that it sounded as if she wanted women to be priests in all but name. She never responded again.

    I recall Met. Ware stating that we need to be aware of why there is such an outcry for deaconesses in the Church. If it is from a need, then that is well and good. If it is from a prideful, modern desire for status, then we must beware that; it is in of God.

  68. Byron,
    It seems to me that women have suffered in many ways over the years on account of being women. The nature of that suffering is its own discussion. I recall a woman that I was in graduate school with (at Duke), who stated as a fact that more women had been put to death in the Inquisition (as witches) than people had died in the Holocaust. Running the figures, the numbers she threw around would have exceeded the female population of Europe at the time. But she was very upset about it!

    People carry injuries and wounds. I personally think those injuries and wounds are occasionally translated into semi-political energies because – well, because political energy is the very heart of modernity. “That happened then – therefore, this must happen now!”

    But, still, we are talking about a pain – frequently legitimate. I think the energy directed towards demanding a female diaconate is often displaced – its origins are elsewhere. And because those origins are not actually within the topic itself, there’s not really any satisfactory answer.

    What I do know (and I draw on my Anglican experience), is that when the Church begins to be driven by political energies, it is headed for very dark times. Even the political energies that already exist are the largest contributor to ecclesiastical darkness.

    Political energies are rooted in coercion and the use of power. I knew the man, for example, who was actually the single primary organizing force for the ordination of gays and same-sex unions in the Episcopal Church. He was formidable! He worked tirelessly for decades to bring about a change…and he did. The proposals would be voted down, only to be brought right back up, repeatedly. When asked why he didn’t stop, he said, “The votes are getting closer!”

    The use of coercive power always corrupts, even when it is used legitimately by civil authorities. It doesn’t make its user evil, but you can never walk away from such things without something within the soul having been lost.

    I worked tirelessly myself, for a season, as an Episcopal priest, to hold back what was taking place. It finally occurred to me that “saving the Church” was wrong. The Church was supposed to save me. I became Orthodox and utterly despise political plots when I see or hear them. I want nothing like that near my soul. Such actions are ultimately atheistic in nature. We deny that God is in charge of the outcome of history.

    But we do well to listen to the pain in others – including when it is expressed in a political-type agenda. The pain needs tending and we should pray for their souls to be protected from darkness. Many, many good people have done terrible damage to their souls in the name of a good cause.

    Christ gave us a Kingdom, not a cause.

  69. I appreciate the discussion here. Thanks to all. I ask for pardon for diverting just as bit. I want to provide a couple of links to articles on Maximus the Confessor:
    http://www.agape-biblia.org/literatura/The-Anthropic-Cosmology-of-St-Maximus-the-Confessor.pdf
    http://orthodox-theology.com/media/PDF/IJOT4-2011/Hieromonks-Zinkovskiy-Hierarchic-Anthropology.pdf
    Earlier on, Father said:
    “for many years, my single question was, “What does it mean to be male and female?” Then one day I found a quote of St Maximus in which he described male and female as “energies” of the human person. As such, it could be described as different modes of existence.”
    I think that is an excellent question, I think the answer would help place a proper perspective on these male/female issues we’re talking about here, as well as on our personal lives. The problem is understanding St. Maximus. You can’t just read a section of his work on, for example, male and female energies and expect to understand without first having at least some basic understanding of his work. Recently I began reading Thunberg’s Microcosm and Mediator. (Father also recommended Andrew Louth’s book on the Saint) I quickly found that this was going to go slowly, as I need to revert frequently to the internet for additional info that would help move me a little farther. This is where I came across those links. As I read these things, I notice that Father uses a lot of the terms that the author includes to explain St. Maximus. It also ties together much of what we read about the Faith. Although its a long road and takes some time, my hope is that this would be one avenue we can use to come to a better understanding of the male/female issues, and even more, a better understanding of our tradition that would shin a light upon the truth that we are all connected, to each other, and to all creation, through the One Who is drawing all to Himself. What else could be the answer?!

  70. Much of Maximus’ terminology has its roots in Aristotle (and in Greek philosophical terminology). The Fathers refined it, but the terms retained their same general sense. The “energies” of something (a nature) are its fulfillment in what it does. For example, a parked car is not fully a car, for the car’s purpose is to be in motion. So the “energies” (“actions”) of a car in motion reveals the truth of what it is.

    God, on the other hand, is always what He is. He is always doing what He is. And so His energies and His essence are one. He is not one thing while doing another.

    If you turn to male and female – and speak of them as “energies” of human nature – then they are somehow being fulfilled when a male is doing what he is – and a woman is doing what she is – and they are not the same thing. Also, each individual, as person, uniquely expresses the energies of human nature. For example, when I sing, my voice is not the voice of any other, though it might be similar to many others.

    So, chew on that a bit. I get cautious to draw this into a discussion of priesthood – because it’s not entirely clear to me. But I know that there is something going on that we could call the “energies” of the priesthood – which would be its actions. What is interesting is the relationship between the energies expressed in a uniquely personal manner and its relationship to the “energies” of the priesthood. This makes sense, in that each priest is both “all priests,” while being uniquely himself as well.

    Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas (of blessed memory) once said to me, “Priests are born. Ordination simply reveals them.” There is so much more that could be said. But not tonight.

  71. Thank you, Father, for that reminder. I should add that I never tried to open, or even identify, her wounds, only understand her reasoning. In the end, I did not attack it or her but simply pointed out what I understood her attempting. My impression was that she was trying to not say it but it essentially came out anyway so she ended the conversation.

  72. Father….thank you. Very helpful.
    OK, no more for tonight! (so close to another comment/question!)
    I’m chewing and will be chewing….

  73. One idea that I have found helpful in this discussion of males, females and priesthood, is that the Orthodox Church moves slowly to make decisions. Each generation has blind spots that are difficult to see and understand as one within that generation, and we often make revolutionary decisions, as Fr. Stephen points out, and have little understanding of the consequences they will create for our own generation and those who come after us. I think that there is wisdom in this. We can make requests, have discussions and opinions, and fight for rights for one thing or another, and the church will sit on it for some time (tens (hundreds?) of years) and wait to see what the impact will be. Perhaps some of the hopes, dreams and prayers we have for certain modifications will not happen in our lifetime, but may happen in the lifetime of the generations after us. But the time that is taken to observe, reflect and pray will also be a grace to us throughout our life in the church and our childrens’ lives in protecting us from grave errors too. So we can be patient, have an opinion, shaped by the culture around us and/or the calling of our own hearts and experience , and know that in time those hopes will be fulfilled or laid aside, depending on the fruit they bear in the cultures around us.

  74. Our host wrote: “I watched a very traditional Christian denomination, with many similarities to Orthodoxy, succumb to modernity. It is dying and in its death it is becoming a very repulsive, sad thing. . . . Many lives were deeply affected, and many lost their way and their faith.”

    Indeed . . .

  75. A commentator wrote: I think this is an example of toxicity in religion between men and women (protestant pastorates are not analogous to the Orthodox priesthood by any stretch of the imagination).

    A long time ago (maybe the mid-90s) there was a pair of articles in the journal “First Things.” In one, a female protestant pastor (Lutheran) argued for the ordination of women. In the other, a former Lutheran pastor (female) who had converted to Catholicism argued against. It struck me–they were both right, because they were talking about very different things.

    I am not in a position to comment on the similarities (or differences) in the way the Orthodox and the RCs see the priesthood. But I bet they have historically been more similar to each other than either is to the various Protestant traditions.

  76. Male and female created He them. There is a deep mystery in that. It is a mystery that is so profound and so full of enormous fecundity that it was one of the first realities Satan messed with.

    Nonetheless we must at least acknowledge that there is a difference and an equality that is in no way egalitarianism. I am head of my wife not because I am better but because God requires it. There has to be polarity within synergy.

  77. Dean,
    I too was told about the news that a law banning the Bible (and Churches) -due to their sexual morals clashing with modernist politically correct morals – is being considered/pushed in CA. And one can even assume that Muslim resistance to this might be taken more seriously than Christian resistance -by promoting lobbies..

  78. Dino,
    No, the bill does not mention the Bible.
    It would prohibit advertising for sexual orientation change efforts. A law in CA in 2012 outlawed trying to change one’s sexual orientation in those 18 or younger.
    Things get skewed in the news. It’s like the news you read about in the newspaper is true, except for that which you know personally. Or the old parlor game in which something is whispered in someone’s ear, and that person tries to whisper the same thing in the ear of the person next to her, and so it goes around the circle. By the time the last person relates what he heard, it is nothing like what was said originally!
    I am very saddened by what I see happening here in CA. I pray daily for our leaders. The rest I have to leave in God’s hands. As Father says, we’re not called to change the world. We pray, help those around us, show mercy, etc.
    I do not know what else to do. Keeping my focus on Christ during the day brings peace and keeps fear at bay.

  79. Dean,
    I just have to go “on record” saying how much love these words you wrote:

    “I do not know what else to do. Keeping my focus on Christ during the day brings peace and keeps fear at bay”

    I hope you see my comment… Thank you, they are becoming a little prayer for me 🙂

  80. Dean,
    Yes, and if/once we are patently called to actually challenge and resist – as there are also sometimes imperative occasions for such a thing, and a genuine discernment that clearly thrusts towards this– the underpinning and the “stores” for it are our, (already having had) our focus undistractedly cemented upon Christ-alone, and having had this become a kind of undeviating condition in us. Without it we are bound to err whether in our rightful action or in our blessed inaction.

  81. Nothing that happens anymore in the People’s Republic of California surprises me in the least.

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