Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Inspiration through Time: Women’s Ministries in the Orthodox Church OTRF Conference - Abstracts

Inspiration through Time: Women’s Ministries in the Orthodox Church
OTRF Conference
High Leigh 8-10 September 2014

James M. Nelson, Body, Soul and Spirit: Psychological Reflections on Gender and Personhood
M.Div., Ph.D. Department of Psychology Valparaiso University
Modern psychological approaches to gender differences must deal with many epistemological problems and limitations. “Truth” that emerges from scientific research in psychology simply involves probabilistic claims about the overall characteristics of a group, but these claims are frequently “false” because many individuals within the group do not fit its general description. The same is true about psychological statements of group differences based on characteristics like gender—interesting statements can be made about overall differences between men and women, but these can seldom be used to make specific predictions and judgments about individuals. Despite this, many intriguing findings about gender differences emerge from psychological research and can inform theological discussions on the topic.
Contemporary psychological study of the body and gender is heavily influenced by
neuroscientific study of the brain. For many years, gender differences were thought to be largely sociocultural in their origin, as the central nervous systems of men and women were thought to be largely identical. Modern neuroscientists now reject this conclusion, pointing to a host of structural and functional differences in the brains of men and women found through the use of neuroimaging techniques. Sometimes these differences may provide an advantage for one gender in solving a particular kind of problem, in other cases men and women may be equally effective at problem solving but approach a task in different ways. The differences affect cognitive styles as well as social relationships.
Despite these advances in cognitive neuroscience, it is evident that human differences,
including gender differences, cannot be reduced to neurology. A psychological understanding of mind and soul must also look at differences between men and women that are mediated by environment and culture. These differences also impact problem solving style and social relationships, and can have important effects in many areas, such as how men and women exercise leadership in groups.
Psychological considerations of person and gender from neuroscientific or sociocultural perspectives are interesting and valuable, but ultimately they fail to completely penetrate the inner, active, free and transcendent mystery of the human person. Investigating this core spiritual aspect of the human person is probably more a task for theology than psychology, but some writers like Carl Jung have offered understandings of gender that seem to touch on this. Jung’s theory is interesting as he sees both male and female as transcendent indwelling potentials within all individuals regardless of their biological sex. This differs from the view that each individual has a single-gendered spiritual nature that matches that of the body. Aspects of Jung’s thought seem to be compatible with traditional Christian and Orthodox understandings of gender, however there are also some highly important differences, suggesting that Jung’s theory should be used with caution.

Mary Cunningham Women as teachers and scholars in Orthodox Tradition: the examples of Elisabeth Behr-Sigel and Wendy Robinson
[Nottingham University, Department of Theology and Religious Studies, Lecturer in Historical Theology, Faculty of Arts]
This paper discusses the role of women as teachers or scholars in the Eastern Christian tradition. After a brief look at early Christian models, including St Macrina and the ‘Desert Mothers’, Sts Sarah, Synkletike, and Theodora, it turns to the ongoing place of women as teachers in non-liturgical contexts. The contributions of two 20th- 21st-century women, Elisabeth Behr-Sigel and Wendy Robinson, are explored, with two main questions being asked: 1) what are the special insights of these important scholars? 2) Do Behr-Sigel and Robinson reveal a particularly ‘feminine' perspective in their approach to Orthodox theology (according to concepts of gender differentiation proposed by theologians such as Paul Evdokimov, Sergei Bulgakov, and others)? The paper will also engage briefly with Behr-Sigel’s arguments in favour of the ordination of women to the priesthood, asking whether such a position could only have been proposed by a female scholar and whether it is likely to gain greater support among lay and clerical Orthodox Christians in the foreseeable future.

Nick Mayhew-Smith ‘From Ia to Godiva: British women and the pre-Conquest church’
[Author of the book Britain's Holiest Places, and PhD candidate, Roehampton University]
Few periods in history can claim such a diverse array of female hermits, nuns, abbesses, martyrs and patronesses as the early British church. Some are remembered as mere place names on a map, ancient church dedications hinting at service and sacrifice unknown. Others, such as St Hilda of Whitby, helped shape the course of history, and with it helped define an era of female monastic leadership that has never been seen again.
Through patchy written records and elusive archaeological evidence it is possible to glimpse the rich variety of roles women played in the conversion and establishment of Christian Britain. This presentation will examine some of the more surprising and inspiring examples of female leadership, devotion and sacrifice to be found in the early church. It will also provide some illustrated examples of painted and carved images that have yet to be fully explained.

Fr Andrew Louth: St Makrina, Didaskalos.
[Professor Emeritus of Patristic and Byzantine Studies, Durham University UK
Visiting Professor of Eastern Orthodox Theology, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam]
We know about St Makrina mainly through the devoted memory of her young brother, St Gregory of Nyssa.  By comparing his perception of her with that of others such as St Basil and St Gregory the Theologian, I hope to build up a picture of her necessarily hidden role in the life of the Church.

Niki Tsironi: Female Emotion or Crossing of Boundaries? The Lament of the Virgin in middle-Byzantine Literature and Art
[Athens, National Hellenic Research Foundation, Onassis Foundation, Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation]
In the present paper I attempt to explore the connotations of the female expression of emotion with reference to the Lament of the Virgin as expressed in the middle Byzantine period. More specifically I intend to explore the boundaries between male and female in the context of Orthodox theology and the means through which gender identity is conceived and articulated through artistic media, such as literature and art.

Michael Sarni Anglo-Saxon Double Houses and the Ascetic Endeavour’
Besides discussing of the work of the great abbesses of pre-Viking double monasteries in the light of Eastern Orthodox monastic tradition, the paper will consider their monastic predecessors - St Brigid and St Genovefa, some near-contemporary examples of spiritual direction by women ascetics, and a case of a modern double monastery.

Lidia Kroshkina "Holy mother's way" and its embodiment in service of mother Maria (Skobtsova)"
[Tutor at Humanitarian University, St Philaret's Christian Orthodox Institute, Moscow, Russia]
The report is devoted to a theological view of mother Maria (Skobtsova) on the ways of Christian service in the modern world, and also to their embodiment in her merciful, missionary, church, theological and liturgical activity.

Sophia Androsenko ‘Women’s Ministries in Catechism in the Transfiguration Fraternity (1990 until today)’
[BA student at School of Theology, St Philaret's Christian Orthodox Institute, Moscow, Russia]
The presentation examines the experience of women catechists in the Transfiguration Fraternity since 1990, when the fraternity was officially established. The following questions will be raised: Transfiguration Fraternity catechetical ministry in the historical context of catechumenate in the Church (what do catechists and their assistants do?); why and in what way are women involved in catechism? a woman catechist: an advantage or a compromise? pluses and minuses of woman catechist (obstacles, limitations, advantages as compared to men catechists); the issue of confession.

Zoya Dashevskaya ‘Particular qualities of women’s church ministries in liturgical and canonical sources’
[Dean, School of Theology, St Philaret's Christian Orthodox Institute, Moscow, Russia]
1.      Short overview of the sources: content and the analysis of the material. The place of women in church gatherings of second - fourth centuries. Circle of interests and spheres of responsibilities of women and for women in Graeco-Roman society during the period of late antiquity. Social status of women.
2.      What does the term ‘women’s ministries’ mean? Which ministries do we know about in liturgical and canonical sources? Which ministries do they not mention?
3.      Women’s ministries, which need ordination/installation and the ones that do not. Conditions of installation/raising for the ministry. Spiritual gifts, which are necessary for performing each ministry. Difficulties, warnings, responsibilities for performing or not performing of one’s ministry.
4.      Development of women’s ministries. Witnessing of the canonical literature.

Svitlana Kobets ‘Female Holy Fools in Eastern Orthodox tradition’
[Literature Instructor at St. Michael's College at the University of Toronto]
The paradigm of holy foolishness as a form of Christian asceticism and saintliness is considered not to be gender-sensitive. However, if we compare the number of vitae of female and male holy fools, we see that males constitute the overwhelming majority of holy foolish saints. What was the reason for such a staggering imbalance? To what extent was it possible for a woman to choose the path of holy foolishness and to be on par with her male peers who roamed around naked or near naked, led an unsettled and unprotected life and presented themselves as mad and possessed? In which ways do the hagiographies and phenomenologies of female holy fools differ from those of their male peers? Is the paradigm of holy foolishness indeed the same for male and female ascetics? In this paper, as I address these questions I will discuss the idiosyncrasies of female holy fools’ hagiographic portrayals vis-à-vis those of their male counterparts both in Byzantium and Russia.

Dimitris Salapatas: Women Chanters and Hymnographers within the Byzantine Tradition
This paper will analyse the significant issue of chanting and hymnography within the Byzantine tradition, especially when executed by women within the Orthodox Church. There are many views on whether there should be women chanters, what they can chant, when they can chant etc. However, this paper will only analyse the tradition as seen through the Orthodox Church which retains and practices Byzantine Music. Additionally, Scripture, Church History and the Fathers of the Church will be used in order to verify the practice of the Orthodox Church. By analysing and examining the past we will be able to understand the current practices and identify the future prospects in the relation between Orthodox women and Byzantine Music.
It is evident that within the tradition of the Orthodox Church there are not many women chanters and hymnographers; the most famous being Kassiani, she is merely an exception to the rule. However, what will be analysed within this paper is the fact that many male members of the Church cannot accept women as chanters and are against this reality. Some are even arrogant enough to propose that women should merely sit with the rest of the women and listen to the male choirs. Many have the belief that if a woman is chanting, and a male chanter arrives, she should leave with ‘humility’ and allow for the male singer to continue the service. These negative pre-conceptions will be examined and analysed within this paper.
Personal beliefs, practices and examples will be given, showing the practical issues, especially as seen within the Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain. Women chanters play a key role in the day to day services, where male chanters are absent. Many times, even children chant, in the absence of a male chanter. However, what is their role today? In order to achieve a better understanding of these questions, a survey will take place, where chanters and priests from a number of countries will be asked to answer a number of key questions, on whether there should be women chanters.
Additionally a small analysis on Byzantine Music will be given, to ascertain whether women can chant within this ecclesiastical musical reality. However, despite the fact that Byzantine Music is dominant within the Greek Orthodox World, it is not the only musical tradition that exists. The Ionian Islands, for example, retain a more western and choral tradition, which is of course part of the Greek Orthodox Ecclesiastical tradition.  Therefore, a comparison between the two musical traditions within the Greek World will give significant results in regards to the role a woman has within the Pasltirion.

The key objectives of this paper are to identify the current role of women chanters, using the past practice as a basis. What is the future for women chanters within the Orthodox Church? Could there be an efficient marriage between women and Byzantine Music? Most importantly, can the male members of the Church accept women as chanters? Maybe the answer is a simple one. However, there are many who oppose this reality. The outcome of this paper is to further educate the members of the Orthodox Church on this crucial matter, in order to bring further equality and understanding between women and men. 

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