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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?

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Christ is risen! I’m delighted to be posting the first of Fr. John’s Sunday homilies on the spiritual teachings of Gerontissa Makrina. The book he references as the basis for the homilies is the recently translated Words of the Heart.

From the video description: Fr. John Palmer (of Holy Lady of Vladimir Mission, St. John’s, NL) delivers an introductory homily on the person of Gerontissa Makrina of Portaria, the first in a series of homilies on her life and spiritual teachings.

May we have her blessing!

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fake it 'til you make it

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Below is a loosely translated transcript of a homily by Metropolitan Athanasius of Limmasol. While I have tried my best to be faithful to the Modern Greek, because the source is audio in some places I’ve only captured the essence of what the Bishop is saying. It’s not a word-for-word translation but it gets the point across, I think.

I find these two stories perfectly illustrate the state of our hardened hearts toward those we believe are “lesser” human beings simply because we refuse to see our own sins and passions as equal or worse than the sins of others.   

agia skepi

Agia Skepi Therapeutic Community

The Bishop begins, “I want to share two stories with you.”

The first story:

Christmas was on a Sunday that year. It was the Friday before Christmas and the monastic brotherhood had just finished their meal. Leaving the Trapeza (dining hall) the Bishop’s eyes fell on three young men sitting outside in the courtyard. He recognized one of them who had come to speak with him some months prior; some young people had brought him. Seeing the youths, the Bishop asked if perhaps they were hungry and he brought them into the Trapeza to eat. In fact, they were so hungry they nearly ate the table, he said.

After they had eaten the Bishop asked the young man how he was. At their previous meeting the young man had confessed and informed the Bishop that he had a serious drug addiction and was ready to go to detox.

So the Bishop asked him, ‘Did you go to detox?’

And the young man responded, ‘I did but unfortunately all they did was put me on meds and place me in a psych ward with a bunch of psychiatric patients. I didn’t find any support. Unfortunately, I left and returned to what I was doing, and in fact it’s worse than it was.’

‘And the young men with you are they your friends and do the same things?’ the Bishop asked

‘Yes,’ he responded.

One was 20, one 21, and one is 18. They were like outcasts. They were in a difficult situation because they were all living in a room together and the woman who rented the room to them was going to kick them out because they owed her a lot of money. Likely they had never paid rent.

The young man continued, ‘And there is a place we would go to eat, where they would give us sandwiches, but they won’t give us anymore food because we haven’t paid them anything.’

So the Bishop told him, ‘Tell your landlady the monastery will pay the rent you owe and the bill for the food you ate.’

The Bishop continued his homily, saying:

“But a bad thought entered my mind to make sure they weren’t lying to me and looking for me to give them money. So we drove them down to the apartment so I could see where they were living. There was nothing in the room, not even a bed. There was an old rug and two blankets on the rug. There was no toilet or sink in the room.

“That night we had vigil, as we do in the monastery, for the feast of the Nativity of Christ. And we sang those wonderful hymns that speak about Christ, that Christ was born in a stable in the presence of animals. And the Son of God becomes the Son of Man, the person who created the Sea and the Earth and all the things in the Earth. And I thought of those young men; I thought of where we, the monastic brotherhood, lived and where some others find themselves.

“And the next day I saw again the young man sitting outside the monastery and he was crying. He said the woman kicked them out on Saturday and they had nowhere to go. So he spent the night in an abandoned building and he laid on a board and put one over him for warmth and spent the night like that. He hadn’t eaten since Friday when they ate at the monastery.

“And I told him not to be sad, to think of Christ, who also had no place to lay His head…

“That night we called a taxi to come get him but the taxi wouldn’t come because it was Christmas. So we left to take him down to the city. And we searched for a place to get food for him. We took him to a room we have at a Metochian so he could sleep there. I searched and found a phone number for the number, you know the one they say, ‘If you have a drug addiction call this number…’

“And they asked the young man some questions, ‘Do you want to stop doing drugs?, etc.’ Such questions, that to us, we understand… Does ‘I want to’ mean ‘I am able?’ No. But from their perspective they believe ‘I want to’ means ‘I am able.’ Don’t we all want to cut our passions? But does that mean we stop having passions.

***

“When people heard we were helping young people on drugs, they said, ‘Oh no, Father, stay far away from such people!’

There was a woman I knew who told me, ‘If you every know anyone who needs any help, please tell me and I’ll help.’ So I called her and told her ‘I know some kids, they’re the best in all of Cyprus, only they have some problems with drugs.’ And she responded, ‘Ah, Father! That’s dangerous! Stay far away from them.’

“Okay, now I will tell you the second story:

“[The next week,] on Friday morning a dog appeared at our monastery. All night it was outside barking. What could we do? We called animal control. We told them about this dangerous dog that had come to the monastery. We told them, ‘We have a rabid dog here, it will eat us. But it doesn’t matter if it eats us, it’s dangerous for the children that come to the monastery.’  They responded, ‘Just show it love. Put some milk out for it; give it some food.’ They instructed us how to make a special pasta for the dog, told us to give it warm milk… all these things,” the Bishop says laughing. “Two hours later the manager called us, ‘I hear you have a dog there at the monastery. Have you fed it?’

‘Fed it? No. It will eat us, we can’t go near it,’ I said.

“And the man tells me we need to make a warm place for the dog to go because it was Christmas weekend and no one could get the dog until Monday. So he tells us, ‘Take care of the dog. Don’t treat it poorly so it won’t suffer any psychological harm.’ And every two hours they called us to check on the dog.”

“Don’t think I’m kidding,” the Bishop continues. “This is what transpired at the monastery these past days. And then something happened to the dog. I don’t know. It disappeared.

“Everyone was concerned about the dog. But no one cared about the drug addicts.

“In the Gospel it says a young man asked Christ,

“What should I do to inherit eternal life?” And Christ answered, “What is written in the law?’

And he answering said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

And he said unto him, “You have answered right: this do, and you shall live.”

And the Bishop tells the story of the Good Samaritan and how the Priest and the Levite all passed by the man who fell among robbers.

“These young men are like the man who fell among robbers,” the Bishop says.

The Bishop goes on to speak about the following passage in the Gospel:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

“Who are the least of these?” the Bishop asks. “Aren’t they these young men?”

***

The Bishop goes on to tell the people his monastery decided to do something “crazy”. They planned to donate land for a treatment facility to be built for drug addicts: a place where young people can learn life-skills, have a safe place to live (in community) and have the opportunity to work, with animals, in the gardens, etc. That night he was asking for the people’s financial support. By the grace of God the treatment facility was built. It’s called Agia Skepi (Holy Protection)

Let’s be like the Bishop, and show love and compassion for human persons suffering in the depths of despair. Let’s allow our hearts to be softened by such individuals and let’s leave criticism and judgment of them to God, who alone knows the heart of man.  

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