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Fr. John and I were recently visiting our families in New Brunswick for a few weeks so I haven’t blogged lately. Here is a picture of my immediate family (my mum, sister-in-law, brother, father, husband, myself and my sister) at church in NB and a quotation I really love. St. Ignatius’ words help me feel less home-sick and more at peace with God’s will.

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‘Whether I desire it or not, death will come. Other situations may arise that separate me from those whom I consider my own, and they will no longer be mine. They were never mine in actual fact. There was some sort of relation between us, and I, being fooled by this relation, called and considered them my own. But if they were truly mine, they would forever remain in my possession. The creature belongs only to the Creator. He is their God and Lord. My Lord, to you I give Your own. 

-St. Ignatius Brianchaninov

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This is a talk I delivered for young adults this past March at St. George’s Antiochian Orthodox Church in Montreal.

It’s odd to hear myself answer questions on the spot. I am often critical of my answers and wish I had more time to consider the questions, but that’s the nature of an on-the-spot Q & A. But, hopefully I didn’t say anything incorrect or harmful.

I found the questions really poignant; they demonstrated how seriously this crowd take their faith and that was inspiring. In fact the Q & A went on so long I didn’t include it all in this recording because it took me so long to edit the recording so that you could somewhat hear the questions being posed.

In addition to this talk I did two talks earlier that day for a retreat organized by the Orthodox Christian Women of Montreal, and on Sunday, after Divine Liturgy, I spoke with the teens in their Sunday school class. It was so nice to be surrounded by plenty of Orthodox Christians! I’d like to extend my gratitude to Fr. Justin and Matushka Catherine for inviting me, as well as the Orthodox Christian Women of Montreal, and of course to the parish of St. George’s for hosting me.

 

Christ is risen!

I am not going to offer the same theological explanations on women’s ordination that have been offered many times before and by far more capable people than myself. I simply want to address three important elements that seem to continually be absent from the conversation of women’s leadership roles in the Orthodox Church (including ordination to the diaconate or priesthood): 1.) Orthodox female monasticism; 2.) The role of the priest’s wife; and 3.) The spiritual priesthood.

1.) It greatly saddens me that this educated, obviously committed, Orthodox Christian young woman (and those whose testimonies she cites) has lived an experience of Orthodoxy that has clearly been devoid of its rich and empowering monastic tradition. A tradition which is replete with incredible, strong, dynamic women who have become leaders in our faith through their monastic obedience and love for Christ. Visit a cenobitic monastic sisterhood (not simply “the nun who lives in the remote monastery”). Take the time to really understand their way of life – and you will find a place where women are empowered. But, this life requires the “first to be last and the last first” (Matt. 20:16). In other words it’s a life of humility, not worldly glory.

2.) My dogmatic theology professor at Aristotle University in Thessaloniki used to say, “They want to be presbyters but they don’t become presbyteras”. In other words, “You want to become a priest: why not a priest’s wife?”. Initially I took this to be a very simplistic answer but after becoming a priest’s wife I understood what he meant. Women saying there are no leadership roles in the church have either met few priest’s wives or have too quickly dismissed their important role. You want to serve Christ? I’ll tell you an option readily available to you in the Church right now. Find a spouse who shares your love, zeal and calling. Support the ministry of Christ by taking up all the duties, responsibilities and struggles that come with being a priest’s wife.

Trust me there are plenty of things a priest’s wife can do that meaningfully contribute to her community. And there’s no debating whether or not its a leadership role. The Church, recognizing it as the important leadership role that it is, even applies a title to it. I have a Master’s degree in theology and yet I find my life as a priest’s wife, even in our small parish, allows me to put all my theological education to good use. Furthermore, the role of the priest’s wife is absolutely a pastoral role. Now, whether each individual priest’s wife has the capacity to counsel or guide people, to comfort them, teach theology or inform people on moral matters does not really matter because every priest’s wife has the capacity to teach by example.

I believe much more can and should be said of the role of a priest’s wife and the calling she receives to live this life but I’ll leave that for now.

3.) Okay, so I can hear the rebuttals of my above comments already: Yes, but the first point requires I become a monastic and the second I marry a man wanting to become a priest. Both are contingent on (in one sense) external elements that do not guarantee I have a voice in the decision-making process of our Church (ie. at Councils or Pseudo-councils).

There is, however, such a thing as the spiritual priesthood and this is available to all: male and female, monastic, married or single. This differs from the sacramental priesthood. It is, essentially, a true spiritual life that facilitates one’s own sanctity and the sanctity of others. (Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos speaks of this in his book Orthodox Psychotherapy, particularly in the chapter “The Orthodox Therapist”).

The desire to “hold a position of power” is indicative of a spiritual illness, in both men and women. St. John Chrysostom goes into detail about this in his work “On the Priesthood”. So, I find that alarming no matter who is saying it.

The fact is if you want to play a prominent role in the decision-making process of the Church, whether you’re male or female, I’ll tell you the best way to do this. You may not like it. Hold out your hand and I’ll place a prayer rope in it. Prayer. It’s the most powerful tool we have at our disposal. Nothing will fulfill a thirsting soul like prayer nor will any word, paper or lecture influence your immediate and wider community more than prayer. Obviously, there is much more to the spiritual priesthood than just prayer but the cornerstone of this is prayer.

I fully understand that my response will likely not be favourably received. And please forgive me for imitating the holy Apostle Paul who closes his argument on widows with, “And I believe I too have the Spirit of God” (1 Corn. 7:40). But I also am a young woman and an Orthodox theologian. I too am a priest’s wife, have spent extensive time with Orthodox nuns contemplating and writing about the spiritual life of women, and I happen to be a social worker. There are available roles to women right now in the Church. Why not seek to understand and honour the important roles of female monastics? Why not seek to understand and honour the role of the priest’s wife? And most importantly, why not become a member of the “true clergy” (as Met. Hierotheos says) by participation in the spiritual priesthood where your voice – both through prayer and teaching (by word and example) – will have a vast and powerful influence on the Church?