sides of this history—that which would abase them along with that which
affirms their dignity.
On the one hand, it cannot be denied that there are parishes in which women are
permitted to do only those tasks which the men consider “women’s work” and
therefore “beneath” them—cleaning the church, taking care of the children,
baking the prosphora.
In fact, of course, these traditionally femaletasks are just as honorable and just as essential to the life of the Church as any of the more public or glamorous tasks
which these men reserve to themselves;nevertheless, they do not exhaust the spectrum of women’s gifts and thereforeshould not circumscribe their contribution.
On the other hand, there are many parishes in which women serve in every capacity
except those of the ordained clergy—as chanters, readers, choir directors; as
teachers, administrators, parish council members; as helpers to the clergy in
all sorts of works of mercy.
While 0rthodox practice in some places reflects the overmasculinization of our culture
as a whole, the solution to this problem is not to be found in feminism, even of
the so-called “Christian” variety. The fundamental error of feminism is the
same as that of the male-dominated culture that feminism is reacting against:
the error of believing that masculine qualities, such as leadership, physical
strength, analytical thinking, and strict justice, are inherently superior to
feminine qualities, such as nurturing, gentleness, intuition, and mercy. Instead
of striving to win men’s respect for feminine qualities, feminists tried to
empower women by transforming them into imitation men.
“Christian” feminism, while less vehement in some respects than the secular variety, still
attempts to raise the position of women in the Church by placing them in roles
traditionally reserved for men, such as the priesthood, instead of by exhorting
the Church to accept and honor women in the ministries for which they are
naturally and/or spiritually gifted. The masculinization of women which
inevitably results from this mistaken approach is one of many reasons that the
Orthodox Church has steadfastly maintained its traditional stance against the
female priesthood and the “feminization” of God.
In spite of those weaknesses which characterize every human institution, the
Orthodox Church still provides, in her Tradition and very often in practice, the
strongest witness to be found in the modern world to the godly model of womanhood
that we have been trying to define. We as Orthodox women have the responsibility
to help restore our society to balance by living out those godly feminine
qualities which have often gotten short shrift, both in the world and in the
LIVING OUT OUR CALLING
What, then, are some of these godly feminine qualities we need to cultivate? It is
impossible to give an exhaustive list, but here are several that seem especially
1) The greatest of these is love. Of course, all Christians are called to
love; but women have a special gift for loving. We should love, first of all,
those closest to us—our families or those who are like a family to us. But we
should not stop there; our love should reach out to our neighborhood, our
parish, our community, our world. The love demanded of us is not just a
sentimental good feeling toward other people. We’re talking about sacrificial
love—love in action—love that puts our own interests second to those of
the beloved. It’s not an easy task.
2) We should give ourselves in joyful service. Again, all Christians are
called to serve; but it seems to come more naturally to women. Our service
should follow our love, starting at home and spreading outward, always guided by
God’s will for our individual lives.
Our service should also follow our individual gifts. If you can’t bake a fluffy
pastry to save your life, go ahead and say no when the festival committee asks
you to make baklava. But if, on the other hand, you have artistic talent,
perhaps you should study iconography or illustrate lives of saints for children.
Don’t let your gifts go to waste. If you don’t know what your gifts are, or
can’t think of a way to use them for God, talk to your husband or priest or to
an older, wiser woman you know. They may know you better than you know yourself.
3) The essence of womanhood is motherhood. Not all women are called to be
physical mothers, but all are called to be spiritual mothers, guiding and nurturing
and teaching others to follow Christ. Those who work in the world should seek
vocations that allow these qualities their full expression, rather than trying
to compete in the dog-eat-dog business world of men.
Those of us who are mothers in the physical sense must take this responsibility very
seriously. The world would have us believe that mothering is just one aspect of
life, that it can be done quite adequately in the few hours a day we have left
over from our careers or other activities we have chosen to “fulfill
ourselves.” But we mothers really, in our heart of hearts, know better. We
know that children are a sacred trust; they need and deserve the very best we
have to give. If we cannot pass on our faith to them through our example of
devoted love and service, how can the Church survive? And how can we stand
before God and claim to have accomplished anything of any value in this
4) Women have a unique capacity to respond to God with all our hearts and
souls. This is the essence of spirituality, and it comes more easily to women
than to men, because responsiveness characterizes our human relationships as
well as our relationship to God. Men, being called to leadership in the human
realm, often find it more difficult to surrender that role and to meet their
Creator in humility. We women can set an example in simple, faithful piety that
is ultimately more influential in the life of the Church than the most inspired
teaching or the most glorious martyrdom.
5) Our proper response to God is to strive for holiness. Only by pursuing
holiness will we become capable of all that is required of us. Only by deepening
our relationship with God can we come to understand, accept, and live the life
He has designed for us. Only through loving, trusting obedience to God can we
find our true calling, as women and as human beings. Only so can we begin to
fulfill the vocation bequeathed to us by Mary of giving birth to Christ in other
people. This is our proper contribution to the salvation of the world.