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THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN THE CHURCH

Saint Paul tells us in 1 Cor 11:11-12 “neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God.” To God both are equal and indispensable but God assigned different roles for each. A woman was given a unique role that no man can match, that of being able to bring forth into the world men and women (with a little help from the man) Only a woman can bring forth as part of herself a priest, a bishop and even a pope. Not only that, but a woman was given the honour of being called the Mother of God, while no man was ever called the “father of God”

     But when God chose to manifest himself to us he came as the man Jesus Christ. This was according to his plan of salvation. In the Old Testament, God established a relationship with the church of the Old Testament, the people of Israel, based on the institution of marriage which He Himself instituted:  And the Lord God said, "It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” (Gen 2:18) “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Gen 2:24) God considered himself to be the husband and Israel to be the wife. That is why God accused Israel of marital infidelity when the Israelis worshipped other gods.

     When God was incarnate he chose to manifest himself as a man in keeping with this husband-wife analogy. When Israel rejected the Lord who came in the flesh, it was as if she divorced herself from God who manifested himself as man to be more accessible and understandable to men “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, ... that which we have seen and heard we declare to you” (1 John 1:1-4) It was then that the Lord invited the gentiles to be his bride instead, as St. Paul tells us in  2 Cor 11:2: “I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ”. So the whole of humanity became this chaste virgin bride of Christ. It is this relationship that defines the role of men and women in the Church. The Lord chose 12 disciples that were to represent Him in front of the whole of humanity and they were all men for the single reason that each of them will be the husband to a congregation that would be his chaste virgin bride, in the same manner that Christ is the bride of the whole church. It was this analogy that decided the gender of those who serve as priests in the church. If women were assigned priestly roles we would have had this analogy overturned since we will have the female minister married to the church (who is always a female)

     This did not mean that women were excluded from the service but only from holding priestly roles in the service. The Bible tells us that “the twelve were with Him, and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities — Mary called Magdalene, out of whome had come seven demons, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others who provided for Him from their substance.” (Luke 8:1-3)

You see, not only the twelve men were around Jesus but also Mary Magdalen and Joanna and Susanna and many others who provided for Him from their substance. Both men and women served the Lord in His ministry but in different functions: the men were told to “go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: ( Matt 28:19) While the women provided for Him from their substance. The women were also very prominent at the crucifixion of Jesus, for while all the disciples forsook him, and fled. (Matt 26:56) we are told that “many women who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him, were there looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee's sons.”

(Matt 27:55-56) When the Lord was put in the tomb it was these women who “bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him very early in the morning” (Mark 16:1-2) That is why, the Lord gave the honour of appearing after his resurrection to a woman: Mary Magdalene and even told her to bring the good news to His disciples and instruct them to meet Him in Galilee.

     And after the resurrection, these women preached Christ in many places together with Saint Photini (formerly known as the Samaritan woman). There were even women that were given the gift of prophesy in the early church: “and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him.  And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy.” (Acts 21:8-9) The apostles realized the role of women in the early church and they ordained deaconesses that were allowed to baptise women and even anoint them with Holy Myron. “The office of a woman Deaconess is required, first, when women go down to the water, it is necessary that they be anointed by a Deaconess, For it is necessary for the Priest who baptizeth, to anoint her who is baptized ; but when there is a woman, and especially a Deaconess, it is not fitting for the women that they be seen by the men.” and “the Bishop sits for you in the place of Almighty God ; but the Deacon stands in the place of the Christ ; and ye should love him, but let the Deaconesses be honoured by you in the likeness of the Holy Ghost.” These quotes are taken from the Didascalia, one of the oldest compositions of Christendom, and they show the importance of women in the church. But there were limits: “Let a man repeat over them the names of the invocation of the Godhead in the water. And when she that is baptized arises from the water let the Deaconess receive her, and teach her and educate her.” You see, the liturgical part (the invocation over the water) is the job of a man because he represents Christ but the anointing and teaching are left to the woman deaconess for she represents the Holy Spirit.  The apostles emphasized the role of the deaconess: “Therefore we affirm that the service of a woman, a Deaconess, is necessary and obligatory, because even our Lord and Saviour was served by the hand of women deaconesses, who were Mary the Magdalene, and Mary of James, the mother of Joses, and the mother of Zebedee's children, with other women. This service of Deaconesses is necessary also to thee for many things, for in the houses of the heathen, where there are believing women, a Deaconess is required, that she may go in and visit those who are sick, and serve them with whatever they need, and anoint those who are healed from sicknesses.” You see the different roles?

     A woman deaconess was not allowed to celebrate the Eucharist because the priest who celebrates it is a type of Christ. Women deaconesses were not also allowed to give a sermon from the pulpit but they were entrusted with teaching women catechumens as we said above. Women are also the ones who teach their children at home and help them become deacons, priests and bishops, like Timothy, himself a bishop who was raised as a Christian in the manner St. Paul describes in 2 Tim 1:5: “When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also.”