I know we have had discussions on this in the past, but I can't seem to find the threads. Anyway, I ripped this interview off from E-cafe because I think it would be interesting to post on this site.
AN ORTHODOX RESPONSE
An Exclusive AGAIN Interview with the Newly Installed Dean of Saint Vladimir’s Seminary
Father Thomas Hopko
AGAIN: In addressing the Anglican General Synod last November, just prior to the vote concerning the ordination of women priests, the Archbishop of Canterbury stated: “We are in danger of not being heard if women are exercising leadership in every area of our society’s life, save the ordained priesthood.” How do you as an Orthodox theologian respond?
FATHER HOPKO: My response is that this is not an issue of being heard or not heard. The issue is whether what the Church teaches is true or false. Society can do many things, but as Christians we are sometimes called to stand against society and simply say, “That is wrong, it’s unfruitful, it’s not beneficial to human life.” It would be frightening indeed if the position of the Church on any given issue would be relative to what’s happening in society today.
Many years ago when women’s ordination was first being discussed in the Faith and Order Commission in the World Council of Churches a Russian Orthodox priest, Father Vitaly Borovoy, said, “The Russians have a saying. If you say A you have to say B; if you say B then you have to say C. I’m interested in where you get when you’re at LMNOP.” His point was, of course, if you take a step in a particular direction, you must see the full implication of where you are going.
I don’t think it is an accident that in our time you have not only the huge discussion about who may or may not be ordained in the various Churches, but also the discussion on whether Christ is really risen from the dead. You have discussions on the character of His relationship to God, or of whether God Himself ought to be called “Father.” You also have the whole symbolical structure of the Bible under question.
So my question is, what are all these discussions really about? Where are they really leading?
AGAIN: These are the 1990’s. Women have assumed leadership roles in countless areas of life denied to them only a few years ago: politics, the military, medicine, blue-collar work— almost every conceivable walk of life. If not for reasons of sexism and chauvinism, why on earth should the Church continue to deny women leadership positions, when they have proven that they can handle such authority in every other walk of life?
FATHER HOPKO: The real question here is, what kind of leadership are we talking about? Very often people see leadership in the Church analogously to being a king, a president, a judge, or a military leader. The question Christians must ask is, is that the kind of leadership we would want to have and are supposed to have in the Church?
Leadership in the Church, especially in regard to the priesthood, is much more analogous to a family relationship than to a societal relationship. My question would be: Is there such a thing as fatherhood? Is there such a thing as the husband?
Leadership in the Church is also analogous to the relationship existing within the Holy Trinity, where you have the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, equally divine but not exchanging the way in which they are divine. Of the three divine Persons, only the Son of God is incarnate and becomes the great High Priest. The Holy Spirit is not incarnate, does not become the great High Priest. But no one would say that the Holy Spirit is less God than the Son of God. And no one would say that the Holy Spirit is being discriminated against because He is not the great High Priest of our salvation.
So, you can argue from the Trinity that because particular people have particular modes of being human and being Christian, that doesn’t make them any better or any worse than any other person.
And there is a certain priority of the Son over the Holy Spirit in the Scripture—the Spirit bears witness to the Son, empowers the Son, “takes what is mine,” Jesus says, and gives it to you (cf. John 16:15). So, there are clues within the very three Persons of the Trinity to the understanding that the ideas of equality and justice and ministry which we bring from a secular experience are not the best ones for human nature as such, and certainly not ones appropriate to the Church.
AGAIN: To date, most of the discussions about ordaining women have originated from non-Orthodox, Western Christian sectors. How much impact has this Western influence had upon the Orthodox Church?
FATHER HOPKO: Of course you hear the issues being discussed in contemporary Orthodoxy. But what is interesting to me personally is that given all that has gone on in the West concerning the issue of the ordination of women in the modern time, how few Orthodox people are espousing this cause, given the impact and the power of this in society.
There are many Orthodox women who would be the first to decry the unchristian things which often go on within the factual Orthodox communities—things which are really discriminatory and harmful against human life, men and women both. But it’s interesting how many women there are in the Church who would have real problems with many aspects of the role of women in the spiritual life and in the life of the ecclesial community but who would at the same time not necessarily be advocates for the ordination of women to the priesthood and to the episcopate, and would even be willing to say: Let’s take a closer look at it. Let’s really think about it. Or this is not really the important issue. These are not the life-and-death issues.
Here is where the force of the practice of the saints for two thousand years becomes very, very pertinent. The Church from its inception was counter-culture. It was filled with martyrs and blood. It has gone through so much controversy, has brought to the world the gospel of the crucified God—like it says in the Scripture, it has “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). Yet never once did the Church ordain a woman as presbyter or bishop! You’d think with all the blood and martyrdom and counter-culture positions of Christians, if this were simply a cultural issue, it would have happened somewhere in time.
Why, when the Church was fighting so hard against society, cultural norms, imperial tyranny, and fighting for equality and the care of the poor and the needy and the homeless through the whole of history, why is it that it’s only in the late twentieth century that the issue is raised about ordaining women to the ordained ministry? That is a hard question to answer.
It seems to me that some other elements have entered into the scene—elements of power, of authority, of the secular influence, of the fulfillment of life in this world through the exercise of different functions and roles, which is a basic approach to life, which would be essentially alien to the Christian Gospel to begin with, that whole way of thinking.
All through Church history until now, you find very pow-Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¡erful men and women living the spiritual life. You find very strong monastic life. You find incredible theological arguments and articulations over a wide array of issues. When you take what is given, how the formulation of the Faith was articulated, how people actually lived, how men and women really related—and I’m talking about the saints; I’m not talking about what happened in society, because ecclesiastical history is very different from the Holy Tradition of the saints—you have to ask the question:
Why is it that you have women canonized as saints, monastics, missionaries, prophets, teachers, ascetics, healers, evangelizers, but never through that whole period was a woman ordained to be a presbyter or a bishop in a particular Christian community?
AGAIN: Many Episcopalians and Anglicans read AGAIN. A lot of folks from that background have watched helplessly while their situation went from bad to worse. Is there any hope that you can offer to someone who goes through the trauma of leaving a denomination to become Orthodox, that they are not going to find themselves going through a repeat crisis of faith ten years down the line?
FATHER HOPKO: No, I can’t guarantee that. They might. But I would also say that that’s not the issue. The issue is, a person has to bear witness to what he or she believes, whatever others are doing. A person can’t enter a Church and say: “I’m going to enter this Church if you give me a guarantee that I’m not going to have to suffer or bear witness here.” You can’t do that.
I would say that if someone has certain convictions, he or she ought to meet together with other people who have the same convictions. As Father Florovsky would say, if the Church is not only “one in space” but also “one in time,” then those who are holding the Gospel will be one not only with those who are contemporaries, but also with those through the ages who were holding the same Gospel and therefore were in fact the same Church.
It seems to me that a person should enter the Orthodox Church to say “right now, today, there are people who believe what I believe—and we both believe that our faith is not just a matter of our subjective experience, but it is the Christian Faith the Apostles taught, the martyrs died for, the Fathers kept, and the saints lived. That’s who I want to be with. Even if that’s a small remnant of people, I have to be with them.”
If someone came to me and said: “Unless you can give me a guarantee that we’re not going to have to face these kinds of temptations in the Orthodox Church, I’m not joining,” I’d say, “Don’t join because you’re entering on false premises.” That’s not why you should enter. You’re not making a bargain, you know. You’re saying: “I recognize here the Church—the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church—and I want to be in it. I have to be in it, whatever the future holds.”
AGAIN: You have been involved in a lot of discussions concerning this subject. What kinds of questions usually come up? Is there something you’d want to speak to from that perspective that we haven’t yet discussed?
FATHER HOPKO: One thing I would like to say is this: Not everyone who is opposed to the ordination of women is opposed for righteous, blessable reasons. There is misogyny; there is a power issue; there is a lot of cynicism and traditionalism; and there are some strange ideas about why men should be priests and women shouldn’t. Not everyone opposed to the ordination of women as priests and bishops is opposed in a way that is really inspired of God.
In the same way, I believe many folks who would promote the ordination of women are not necessarily evil, bad people who want to destroy the Christian vision of reality. There’s a lot of confusion. There has to be a lot of charity and compassion, a willingness to pray and understand. But at the same time the bottom line is, people have to make a stand on the practice, and I think that here is a case where, speaking for myself, I would say here I stand, however popular or unpopular the stand may be.
And I can see that many people favor the ordination of women because they’ve had bad experiences in the Church, or because they don’t understand the implications of the issue, or because they’re not very mature in the Christian Faith. That is my subjective opinion for which I’ll have to give answer at the Last Judgment. But at the same time I still believe that at this point, you have a real theological, soteriological issue, where—given everything that we’ve experienced about life in the Church—the ordination of women would be a great mistake, because of our understanding of Christ and what, in fact, the presbyter and the bishop is supposed to be in the Church.
Now, anybody who knows me knows that I have grave questions about whether or not we Orthodox ourselves understand what the ministry of the Church really is. There are incredible misunderstandings about authority, about the priesthood, about the episcopate, about the relationship of lay people and clergy within the Orthodox Church. There’s a lot to be clarified.
Saint Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:2. When it comes to sanctity and value and humanity, there’s no difference between men and women at all. Yet the very same apostle gave certain qualifications as to who should be a presbyter in the community, and how a widow should be enrolled, and about the virgins, and about husbands relating to their wives and wives relating to their husbands. And unless one would say, as some people do, that Paul’s teaching is filled with contradictions and discrepancies, we have to take all these passages very seriously—certainly we Orthodox do.
Father Schmemann said years ago that inherent in this whole debate of women’s ordination is the issue of clericalism. If in fact the Church means the clergy, and if in fact the clergy is a power position, and if in fact if you’re not a clergy person you don’t really have a place in the Church and you certainly don’t have any power or authority, well, then, obviously anyone in his or her right mind would say: Let’s try to get into the clergy, whether we fall outside of biblical qualifications or not.
But the key question is: Is that really what the priesthood is? Is it not a particular function for the edification of the Body in relation to all the people, which only certain members of the Body are able to adequately carry out, because they happen to have certain qualifications? And if it is in fact the paternal function, the sacramental calling to be a father in the community, then do you not have to be a man in order to be a father? Can a woman be a father? Can every man be a father?
Saint John Chrysostom, who said-that the office of the presbyter-bishop excludes all women and most men, had in his Church in Constantinople several hundred women deacons, the head of which was Saint Olympia, who was his best friend and co-worker. But it never entered his mind to ordain her to be a presbyter or bishop. And I don’t think that she felt that she was being particularly discriminated against by not being one.
AGAIN: How important is this issue of women’s ordination to you personally? Is this just another theological abstraction, something to talk about over donuts and coffee after a class, or is it truly a crisis of faith?
FATHER HOPKO: It’s at the heart of the matter, and it is connected organically, ontologically, with the basic convictions of Orthodox Christians about everything. I don’t believe that the qualifications for the ordained presbyter-bishop——and I’m using that expression rather than priesthood because every baptized person is a priest, but not every baptized, chrismated person who belongs to the Body of Christ receives the second laying on of hands to be the father of a Christian community—are open for question. There are very particular qualifications for that particular service in the Church. It’s not simply a “charism.”
In the Scriptures you find qualifications for who can exer-Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¡cise that particular ministry—a ministry which belongs to the very structure of the Church herself, her vision of God, Christ, salvation, family, male, female, father, mother, husband, wife, man, woman—I believe that is really what’s at stake here. I really do. I believe that the issue is kind of like our iconoclastic controversy, our Arian controversy. It shows what a person believes about everything. That’s my personal opinion.
I don’t think this is simply a question of management or a matter of who gets to serve the Eucharist or preach the sermon. I believe it’s a much deeper issue. I believe the very Faith is at stake here, one way or another. And I think that much of what has happened elsewhere proves this to be the case. Wherever you have the issue of women’s ordinations being introduced, you also find compromises concerning issues of inclusive language in the liturgy, family life, sexual relations, and the issue of homosexuality and how that’s to be interpreted and related to pastorally and spiritually. All this enters into the picture immediately.
I think women’s ordination is one of those key issues around which there is a constellation of all the other issues. I think the very Faith is at stake here.
Fr. Thomas Hopko is the Dean of Saint Vladimir’s Seminary in Crestwood, New York. He is the author / editor of numerous books including Women in the Priesthood (SVS Press).