Monday, 6 May 2013

Fr Alexander Schmemann on women and the priesthood.

The Russian Orthodox priest and theologian writing as long ago as 1982:
".....Three essential points, it seems to me, constitute the foundation of this answer. In the first place is the affirmation, common to all Orthodox theologians, of the impossibility of isolating the problem of women’s ordination from the totality of the Church’s Tradition, from the faith in the triune God, in the creation, fall and redemption, in the Church and the mystery of her "theandric" life. Once more the question of tradition stands at the very center and challenges us with essential questions. What is it? Is it the living memory and consciousness of the Church, the essential term of reference or criterion by which we discern the essential unbrokenness of the Church’s life and identity during her pilgrimage through history? Or is it itself a product, or a sequence of products, of history, in the light of which it is to be reevaluated, judged or rejected?
In the second place, Orthodox theology is unanimous, I am sure, in affirming that the question of women’s ordination must be seen and discussed within the scriptural doctrine of man and woman, i.e., of Christian scriptural and doctrinal anthropology, and not within the perspective of "human rights," "equality," etc. – categories whose ability to adequately express the Christian understanding of man and woman is, to say the least, questionable.
And this takes us to the third essential context: that of ecclesiology, of the understanding of the Church and the mystery of salvation. As presented today, it is the result of too many reductions. For if its root is surrender to culture, its pattern of development is shaped by clericalism. Clericalism is, on the one hand, the reduction of the Church to a power structure; and on the other hand, her reduction of that power structure to clergy. Thus, the alleged inferiority of women within secular society corresponds to their inferiority within the ecclesiastical power structure, their exclusion from the "clergy." And therefore, their liberation in secular society must correspond their liberation in the Church, i.e., their admission to the priesthood, etc.
The Church simply cannot be reduced to these categories. As long as we try to measure the ineffable mystery of her life by concepts and ideas a priori alien to her very essence, we mutilate her and her real power, glory and beauty. Her real life simply escapes us...."[here]
What is so troubling to many of us that over the intervening years since these words were written, in the headlong rush to "surrender to culture" - to embrace it, certainly, in the cause of relevance -  none of these points has ever been satisfactorily addressed by supporters of change - dismissed, yes, but seriously considered, no. 
The claims of post-modern liberalism are now regarded as such self-evident truths that to seek to question any one of their basic suppositions is, for too many in our midst, an unpardonable heresy - perhaps the only one. To surrender to culture is to refuse to think outside the narrow and, paradoxically, insular constraints of the prevailing ideology of historical progress. 

The limitations of aligning ourselves so closely with contemporary western culture  are becoming more apparent as each year passes, remembering that for us to surrender to it is to pass all control over the direction of our ecclesial life to the zeitgeist - and to jettison the insistence that the present be constantly interrogated by the true freedom represented by Holy Scripture and apostolic tradition.  Our surrender should be to  Christ alone; those who would speak to us now of 'prophetic' change in the life of the Church and who work so aggressively to promote it are perilously close to making an exclusive identification of the mind of Christ with the 'progressive' culture of the passing hour. 

"As long as we try to measure the ineffable mystery of her life by concepts and ideas a priori alien to her very essence, we mutilate her and her real power, glory and beauty. Her real life simply escapes us...."


  1. Thanks for this. God bless the Orthodox. Christos Anesti!

  2. One might add to this that the push for the church acceptance and blessing of sodomitic pseudogamy on much the same grounds as (and in some cases by the very same people) the push for WO 25-35 years ago demonstrates the accuracy of Fr. Schmemann's critique.


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