Women and the Priesthood ed. by Fr. Thomas Hopko is a necessary book these days contributing to an ongoing discussion in the Church as to whether women should be ordained or not. I thought it was quite a refreshing read as it escaped the politicization of the egalitarian vs. non-egalitarian debate going on in regards to women’s ordination. It is actually a series of essays written by different Eastern Orthodox theologians reflecting on the issue as to whether women should be ordained to the priesthood. Not every single author agrees with the other authors’ reflections–this is certain. For the Orthodox, it is an open question as to whether women should be priests with most Orthodox Christians arguing against it. I’ve written reviews on Met. Kallistos Ware’s contributions and Nonna Verna Harrison’s contributions.
One thing that all the authors in the book agree upon is that Church Tradition clearly militates against the ordination of women to the priesthood (of course, an egalitarian might respond with the argument that women did all sorts of things in the early church but the primary question is not whether they did these things but whether or not they were priests–and they were not priests except in heretical communities). I myself find myself agreeing with egalitarians a lot though my own church is not egalitarian and I think it is safer to submit to the voice of Church Tradition on this than go against it.
One person contributing to the discussion in the book, Georges Barrois, taught Biblical archaeology at Princeton University. Most of the contributors though are church historians and systematic theologians though. For the Orthodox, unlike the Protestants reflecting on this, the issue cannot be resolved by appealing to the Bible as the “final trump card”. Both Tradition and the Bible are authoritative. In fact, the Bible is really interpreted through Tradition.
All of the authors agree that there were once women deaconesses who were ordained in the ancient church and believe that the order should be called back. My own denomination, being western, has women deaconesses but they are lay positions though they most certainly carry out the entire duties that women did in the ancient churches.
I find myself unswayed and unconvinced overall of the egalitarian position since most of it is highly politicized these days though I do find myself agreeing with much of the egalitarian position. This book was refreshing as it avoided much of the politicization of this ongoing discussion within the Church.
Met. Kallistos Ware argues that the appeal to Tradition is a strong argument which is why it would be a mistake to do away with it so soon as many in the Church of England have done. Georges Barrois contends that the Biblical evidence shows us that while there were women prophets and judges in Israel, there is no evidence of women priests and hence, this is an inadequate argument of the egalitarians. Nicholas Afanasiev gives a detailed discussion on the Council of Laodicea’s condemnation of women priests. Kyriaki Karridoyanes Fitzgerald argues for the reinstitution of the sacramental ordination to deaconesses within the Eastern Orthodox Church. Thomas Hopko contends that the priest is a reflection of Christ the Head and iconographically represents the bridegroom (an argument Ware considers unconvincing) and as helpmeet, the woman reflects the Holy Spirit (I found Hopko’s argument unconvincing, personally). Nonna Verna Harrison contends that while in Christ, the baptized receive a transcending of gender in becoming the female church, gender is used iconographically as Christ elevates the male to serve as the image of the divine bridegroom (her argument was quite convincing). Deborah Malacky Belonick argues that modern feminism has completely distorted all readings of the church fathers on the issue and contends that there is an importance within the terms “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” that is better carried out by an all-male priesthood than a male-female priesthood.
This book is worth a read regardless where you stand on the women’s ordination issue. If you’re for women’s ordination but have only read arguments that center around Biblical hermeneutics, this book should add to the arguments against your position. If you’re for women’s ordination but have only read those representing the complementarian position as presented by the CBMW, then you should probably read this book as it is definitely not copying from those arguments (and even rejecting quite a bit of them). If you’re against women’s ordination, this book may just fuel to your contentions against them and provide you with more ammunition. If you’re against the ordination of women deaconesses, this book will challenge your position. If you’re for the ordination of women deaconesses, this book also provides a great wealth of ammunition.
Highly recommendable and any class on religion and gender issues should have this book as a required text.