The Ministry of Women in the Church Paperback – 1 Jan 1991
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very good theological and ontological explanation of the matter
The Orthodox Church, as Behr-Sigel points out, seems to believe that women are content with the role that both nature and Tradition has given them. But what nature is this, Behr-Sigel asks? Is it the broken and torn nature of the fall or the new creation in Christ? This question is at the heart of Behr-Sigels' argument.
Behr-Sigel explains that when she first came into the Orthodox Church from her Protestant traditon, she was shocked by the fact that the Church still held Old Testament taboos on women. She saw contradiction and tension between the freedom women have in Christ and a patriarchal and clerical institution that has condemned women into silence.Although the feminist movement has challenged the traditional and misogynist attitude towards women, the Orthodox Church still avoids the issue by hiding behind the Virgin Mary as an example of why the Orthodox Church is not anti-feminist.
Behr-Sigel courageously challenges and criticizes the Church's attempt to avoid the women's issue. She states that the veneration of Mary - as important as it is - has in fact been used to degrade women by associating women with Eve. Mary has become an almost 'goddess' like creature and is no longer a 'women' that Christian women can associate with.In spite of the priestly and prophetic role Mary had, the Church uses Mary to push women away and limit their role in the Church.
Overall, Behr-Sigel argues that the Church's attitude towards women is contradictory and against the Gospel of Christ. The Church's attitude towards women is rooted in Genesis 3 and the misogynist exegesis that has surrounded the second creation story. Behr-Sigel states that the creation is that of the creation of the 'total man' which contains both the masculine and feminine. Although the Church Fathers taught that women were created in the image of God, it was the Genesis 2-3 creation story that has dominated male Christian consciousness, that is, that man was created first and hence superior to woman. Behr-Sigel however correctly states that the misogynist interpretation of Gensis 2-3 - so harmful to women - is in fact evident of the rupture between male and female that characterises the fallen world and hence, must be rejected. It is the Gospel that proclaimed the fullness of the human person,yet the Church went back to the Old Testament to justify its warped and misogynist attitude towards women!
Behr-Sigel's book raises so many important issues that simply cannot be covered in this review. She raises some controversial issues - such as the ordination of women to the priesthood - that will be resisted by many within the Orthodox Church. Although Behr-Sigel correctly argues that there is no 'theological' argument against the ordination of women to the priesthood, her argument would be seen as too radical by many Orthodox and hence, her entire argument and the important issues she does raise will be avoided as 'unorthodox'. The issue of the ordination of women is in fact the least important issue for women in the Orthodox Church. What is needed is a visible presence of women in the Church - where the voice of women is heard and respected. For too long men have dominated exegesis, theology, writing, the intrepretation of history and of course, preaching and pastoral ministry. But of course, one can also state that this is because women have been denied ordained ministry - especially in an institution where the distinction between clergy and laity is very sharp.
Overall, it is the women's movement that has made the women's issue in the church unavoidable. The Orthodox Church sees the women's movement as a western movement and hence, irrelevant to the Church. But what is becoming increasingly irrelevant for women is a Church which justifies the subordination of women based on a couple of passages of Scripture interpreted by 'men' and which continues to condemn women into silence. Women no longer have the gifts of the Holy Spirit that St.Paul talks about in 1Corinthians 12 precisely because the church has become so hierarhical and male dominated. Women do not have the gift of apostleship, or teaching, or prophesying that women clearly once had in the primitive church. Thus, in spite of the transformation the women's movement has brought to the life of many Orthodox women today, the Orthodox Church continues to function as an institution based on out-dated attitudes towards women based more on 'culture' and a selective exegesis of Scripture than on the Gospel of the perfect Man Christ.
I thoroughly enjoyed Behr-Sigel's book because it raises issues that touch me personally as an Orthodox Christian woman frustrated by the Church's out-dated and offensive attitude towards women. Behr-Sigel has raised important issues that will hopefully be recognised by the male hierarchy in the Church.
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