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The role of Women

The role of women in the Orthodox Church

The role of women in the Orthodox Church

by Vasie-Leigh Chames
Metropolis of Pittsburgh

Objective 

To impart to the participants the role of women (and men) in the Orthodox Church.  To teach them that their participation in the "royal priesthood” is not based on gender as each of us are called to a life of service for Christ.

Opening Prayer

Almighty God, our help and refuge, the fountain of wisdom and tower of strength, You who know that I can do nothing without Your guidance and help, assist me, I pray; and direct me to divine wisdom and power, that I may accomplish this task, and whatever I may undertake to do, faithfully and diligently, according to Your will, so that it may be profitable to me and to others, and to the glory of Your Holy Name.  For Yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory of the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to ages of ages. Amen.

Preparing for this Session

Review the bible verses that will be used during this session. Make sure you have a good understanding of them so that you can guide the discussions.  Don’t forget to make enough copies of the quiz for each person in your group.

Scripture

Ephesians 5:22-33 (Marriage Epistle)
Galatians 3:26-29 (In Christ, there is neither… male or female)
Matthew 28:1-10 (Women meet Christ after the Resurrection)
1 Corinthians 12:12-20 (Member of the Body of Christ)
1 Peter 2:9 (Royal Priesthood)

State (do not read but paraphrase in your own words)

We are the body of Christ, the Church.  Each one of us is a part of the body, dependent on another part of the body.  Therefore everyone has a role to play and every role is important, whether you be the skin, the brain, or just one microscopic cell.  In our American Society, we often place value on different roles. What we have to remember is that we are not a deck of cards with point values of worth. Today we are going to discuss the role of women in the church, as well as men who are not ordained to the Priesthood.  We will start out with a questionnaire to see what you think.

Activity 

Have participants fill out the following true or false quiz.  Depending on the number of participants you have, they may work independently or in groups of two’s or three’s.   For this activity, it would be best if males and females worked separately.  When you are finished, discuss the answers with the participants. 

State (do not read but paraphrase in your own words)

As you can see from our quiz, some of us may have misconceived notions about the role of women and men in the church.  In the eyes of the Church, men and women are equal, yet sometimes have different roles.  We function differently, that is why there are two genders that help and care for one another. Can you think of examples of how men and women are equal yet different?  (accept all answers and reflect back) Use examples from Ephesians 5:22-33 to wrap up this question

Read: Galatians 3:26-29(NKJ)

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

State (do not read but paraphrase in your own words)

Females and males are offered the same opportunities for salvation through our baptism. Our gender and our roles in the church do not determine if we get to heaven.

The Theotokos is an example of a great woman in history of the church.   She was chosen for a different role than that of the Apostles.  (Matthew 28:1-10)  She was not ordained, yet she holds the highest esteem in our church as the "bride of God, the God bearer and the apse of the heavens."   (Notice where her icon is placed in our Church) She is an example of purity, parenthood, and apostleship that we should all strive to achieve.  The Orthodox church has a great tradition of female saints in the church, some of which are considered equal to the apostles (St. Thekla) and deaconesses (Sts. Tabitha and Priscilla in the early church).  Can you think of some other examples of important female saints in our church? (accept all answers and reflect back)

Read: 1 Peter 2:9 (NKJ)

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;

State (do not read but paraphrase in your own words)

The “royal priesthood” is the priesthood of the laity (non-clergy).  Every baptized Orthodox Christian is a member of the “royal priesthood.”  The ordained priesthood and the royal priesthood come together to make the body of the church.

Read: 1 Corinthians 12:12-20  (NKJ)

For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free – and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many. If the food should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it there fore not of the body? And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. And if they were all one member, where would the body be? But now indeed there are many members, yet one body.

Discussion (accept all answers and reflect back)

Describe some of the roles and responsibilities of the priest in your parish? (write these down on one side of a large board and label it Clergy)

For Example:

  • Administering the Sacraments
  • Celebrating the Divine Services
  • Ministering to those in need…the sick, poor, needy
  • Preaching and Teaching the Word of God
  • Administration in the parish
  • Contribute to the growth of the church
  • To uphold the teachings of the church

As members of the “royal priesthood” we also have specific responsibilities and roles as members of the body of Christ, the Church.  What are our “priestly” responsibilities to Christ and His Church? (Now, on the other side of the board, label it Laity.  Brainstorm some ideas.)

For Example:

  • Sponsorship (become a godparent)
  • To spread the Gospel of Christ in words and deeds (do a service project, visit a shut-in)
  • To contribute our material means for the growth of the church (donate some of your allowance or salary as stewardship)
  • To participate in the administration of the work of the church (parish council, youth advisor, sing in choir)
  • To contribute in worship with our presence and our faith (serve as chanters, readers, acolytes, participants in the sacraments and to make offerings [bread, wine, oil etc.] for the sacraments.)

Let’s compare the roles of the ordained priesthood and the royal priesthood.  How are they similar and yet different?

Serving the church is not limited to the adults who are clergy, on the parish council and in Philopotchos.  Each one of us is called to serve the church in different ways and at different times.  Can you think of things that you have already done as part of your “priestly” ministry?

For Example:

  • Serve as an acolyte
  • Read the epistle
  • Teach Sunday school
  • Help with vacation church school
  • Visit the elderly
  • Make prosforon, artos, koliva
  • Assist the HOPE and JOY Advisors

Conclusion

The role of a woman in the church is the same as the role of a man in the church.  It is to be a member of the body of Christ.  As part of this body, the Church, we are all called to listen to God.  Being part of the “royal priesthood” means being a servant, making a sacrifice of ourselves for Christ, just as Christ did for us.  Christ, the Archpriest, gave us this example.  We have many male and female saints who have given us great examples of  “priestly” ministry as well as people in our own lives.  Your challenge as a young woman or man is to look beyond some of the misconceptions that exist in the church and cultivate the gifts that God has given you. When you use them to serve humanity in his name, then you will have found your special role in the church.

Closing Prayer

Christ our God, the True Light
Who enlightens and sanctifies every person who comes into the world:
Seal us with the Light of Your Countenance that we may perceive Thy Unapproachable Radiance.
Direct the foot steps of our life in the way of You commandments.
Through the prayers of You all-pure Mother and of all Your saints. Amen.

References

Kokkinakis, Athenegoras, Parents and Priests as Servants of Redemption-An Interpretatoin of the Doctrines of the Eastern Orthodox Church on the Sacraments of Matrimony and Priesthood, Morehouse-Gorham Co., New York, 1958, Pages 93-125.

Mitchel, Patrick, The Scandal of Gender – Early Teaching On the Man and the Woman, Regina Orthodox Press, Salisbury, MA, 1998

Limouris, Gennadios Ed., The Place of the Woman in the Orthodox Church and the Question of the Ordination of Women – Interorthodox Symposium Rhodos, Greece 30 October-7 November 1988, Tertios Publications, Ecumenical Patriarchate, 1992. 

 

What is the role of women in the church?
True or False Quiz 

Directions:  Read each question and circle true or false.   When the whole group is done you will share your answers.

1)      All men/boys can go in the Sanctuary. (True or False)

2)      The only type of priesthood is the ordained priesthood. (True or False)

3)      A woman’s role in the church is for baking and teaching. (True or False)

4)      If a man is not a priest, his role is to count money in the narthex, cook souvlaki, and to go to church only on occasional Sundays. (True or False)

5)      Every man who goes to Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology will be a priest and every woman will be a presvytera. (True or False)

6)      Philoptochos is 2nd largest woman’s philanthropic organization in America. (True or False)

7)      Women can never go into the Holy Altar. (True or False)

8)      Women should receive a blessing to be a reader in the church. (True or False)

9)      Only women can bake prosforon, and artos and make koliva to be offered at Divine Services. (True or False)

 

What is the role of women in the church?
Facilitators Key

1)      All men/boys can go in the Sanctuary. (False)  Only people who have a purpose and have received a blessing to enter the Sanctuary can enter.  In female monasteries, it is only the Sisters who have the blessing to go into the sanctuary and vise versa for male monasteries. 

2)      The only type of priesthood is the ordained priesthood. (False) There are two types of priesthood, the ordained priesthood and the royal priesthood.  (These will be explained more later).

3)      A woman’s role in the church is only for baking and teaching. (False) Both men and women in the church can use their talents for the glory of God.

4)      If a man is not a priest, a mans role is to count money in the narthex, cook souvlaki at the festival, and to go to church only on occasional Sundays. (False).  Yes, men are often seen in the Narthex counting money, and cooking souvlaki.  Men and women should both make an offering of their time and talents every Sunday on the Lord’s Day. 

5)      Every man who goes to Holy Cross will be a priest and every woman will be a presvytera. (False)  Men and women who go to Holy Cross School have a calling to learn about their Orthodox Faith.  Not all men who attend Holy Cross are called to the Holy Priesthood.  Some men have other callings to serve the church.  Women who go to Holy Cross also have a calling to serve God. They serve the Church in various ways (youth directors, lay assistants, missionaries, etc).

6)      Philoptochos is Second largest woman’s philanthropic organization in America. (True)  The members of Philoptochos make a great contribution to our American society as well as our church.

7)      Women can never go into the Sanctuary. (False)  They must receive a blessing from their priest or bishop.

8)      Women should receive a blessing to be a reader in the church. (True)  In fact, all people should receive a blessing to be chanters, readers, and acolytes.

9)      Only women can bake prosforon, and artos and make koliva to be offered at Divine Services. (False).  All people should practice the tradition of making an offering at our Divine Services.  Christ offered His own life for the Church.  We offer, for example, bread and wine at the Divine Liturgy as a sacrifice of our own time and treasures to God.

 

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