WOMEN’S ISSUES IN OUR CHURCH
(Sunday, September 17)
“Then they returned from the tomb and told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them, who told these things to the apostles. And their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them. But Peter arose and ran to the tomb; and stooping down, he saw the linen cloths lying by themselves; and he departed, marveling to himself at what had happened.” (Lk 24:9-12)
This situation, described in today’s Gospel-reading, when the men “did not believe” the women, reminds me of some of the situations discussed at the women’s conference I just attended at New Valamo Monastery in Finland. At this conference, to which men were also invited, (but only one attended), many women shared their concerns about the difference between the roles or “place(s)” open to them outside of church, and those open to them within the church.
The vocations of women have expanded “outside” church, not because of any rebellion or revolution brought about specifically by Orthodox Christian women, but because of various, God-given, historical circumstances, like the fairly-new (in the big picture of world history) reality of women receiving higher education, leadership and management positions in various fields, e.g., often being the primary bread-winners in their own families; prime ministers in government (as was a woman here in Finland, just recently); CEOs in corporations; tenured professors at academic faculties (except Orthodox ones), etc.
But within the church, women’s vocations are still governed by canonical texts penned by men well over a millennium ago. And if any of us women try to speak about our new situation today, which calls for new canonical forms and norms, the reaction of our church-men to such a conversation is often like the reaction of the Apostles to the news of the women, who came from the empty Tomb on that Sunday morning two millennia ago: the men dismiss our testimonies as “idle tales.” In fact, seeking to talk with our church-men about the need for new canonical forms and norms for women’s ministries often feels like seeking “the living among the dead.”
But should we stop speaking, and testifying to our new vocations? The women who came to our Lord’s empty tomb did not stop, and we gratefully honor them for their testimony. One of them, Mary Magdalene, was even recognized by subsequent generations of Christians as “Equal to the Apostles,” for her apostolic service throughout the cities of her time. Ages later, another woman, Ksenia of St. Petersburg, testified to Christ in the midst of her city, and was recognized as a “holy fool.” Let us take heart and speak, perhaps as “holy fools” in the midst of our cities. Who knows; maybe here and there certain men, like St. Peter, will be prompted to go and see for themselves, that their Lord is no longer where and how they expected to find Him, but as the women have been saying.