Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Matriarchy in the Church

Women’s role in the Orthodox Church, and generally in the Christian world, has been a key issue examined in many meetings in the World Council of Churches and between the Christian denominations during the 20th and 21st century. What is the role of women in the Church? When will they be permitted to become priests? Questions like these have been examined, and continue to be scrutinised in ecclesiastical circles today. Such was also the theme of the last Orthodox Theological Research Forum’s conference, entitled ‘Inspiration from Time: Women’s Ministries in the Orthodox Church.’[1]Below is an interesting abstract from Dr Nikolaos Matsoukas’ article, where he examines the exclusion of the priesthood of women, referring also to the existence of matriarchy in the Church and the Scriptural Tradition:

‘From the very beginning of the Orthodox church until today a long-standing tradition has excluded the priesthood of women. It is worth mentioning that this exclusion was effected imperceptibly and silently, without any dogmatic enactment. In this company it is not necessary to recall the well-known social factors and the priestesses of idolatry, which excluded women from priesthood. However, there is an historical paradox. To appreciate this, one must study the history of ancient Greeks based on classical texts, which prove the existence of an absolute male dominance that almost completely eliminated women’s participation in culture. On the other hand, in the culture that was cultivated by the life of the church one may easily detect signs of matriarchy. In other words, church life is permeated by a delicate aura of matriarchal civilization. In texts of the Old and New Testaments, as well as in ecclesiastical patristic texts, the female presence is often dominant. More than a few female prophets are mentioned in the Old as well as the New Testament. From Deborah of the ancient biblical song, who is called the mother of Israel (Judg. 5:7), to Jael, who pierced Sisara’s head with a stake and is called blessed among women (Judg. 5:24), to the praise of Ruth, Judith, Esther, etc. and to the women of John’s Revelation who surrounds the sun with twelve stars on her head (12:1-2), the matriarchal tone is distinctive. Thus, with the Virgin Mary, who fulfilled the messianic hope of salvation, the matriarchal civilization formed deeper roots and it is poetically depicted in the Akathist. The hymns to the Virgin Mary, seen from a historical and philological perspective, are related to the Song of Songs.’[2]  

[1] For more information on the OTRF Conference please visit the following link:
[2] Matsoukas, Nikolaos, ‘Women’s Priesthood as a Theological and Ecumenical Problem’, in Tamara Grdzelidze (edit.), One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic – Ecumenical Reflections on the Church, (Geneva, WCC Publications, 2005), pp.219-220. 

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