Honestly, it drives me CRAZY to see random men wandering in and out of the altar during Divine Liturgy! It also drives me nuts that the mythology that says "you can enter the altar if you are a man" still prevails. When I was working in my home parish as the director of sales and catering, this was a major problem. When I first started working, the thermostats for the sanctuary were located in the altar. This was a problem because I (a lowly woman...) was in charge of the facility, and during events, I had to be able to control the temperature. At first, I was calling people to come up to the church, go into the altar, and turn down the temperature. But this was (obviously) ridiculous. So I spoke with the Priest (who presumably spoke with the Bishop), and received the blessing to go into the Holy Altar to change the temperature (there were occasional other reasons that I would have to enter the Altar as well, because of the way the building was laid out, etc). He left it up to my discretion to use my judgement to know when I needed to enter the Altar. And I was in constant contact with both him and my father confessor. I took that as a heavy responsibility. But then I would turn around and see random guys in the parish going in and out of the altar, cutting through the altar to get into the vestry (instead of going around like the rest of us), etc and so forth. And they think they can do this because they are men. And nobody corrects them! That's what kills me! And it is like this in pretty much every parish I've ever been in! Oh, and by the way, in order to prevent the same problem happening with the girl that took my place when I left my home parish to go to the seminary, my priest actually MOVED the thermostats out of the Altar! The reason was because there were some people in the parish who did not like that I had been given a blessing to go in the Altar... because I was a woman.
Please don't get me wrong. Lest I be accused of being some scary left wing woman who is going to go requesting ordination, let me be clear in stating that I do not believe in women being ordained, etc. However, I find some of the attitudes regarding women in the Holy Altar thoroughly offensive and insulting. This feeling did not come from anything said here, though. It is based on experiences such as the following: About two months ago I encountered a certain gentleman at a chant stand who, upon meeting me, made it very clear that he disapproved of me being at the chant stand, and he was totally disrespectful of both myself and my husband (who was celebrating the Divine Liturgy that day). I was at the chant stand through all of Orthros and into the Liturgy. After the Epistle, the male chanters (some of whom I knew did not have a blessing to be in the altar) all went to hang out and chat in the altar for the rest of the Liturgy, and I went to sit down in the pew. As I did so, the attitude the gentleman gave me was so insulting, and triumphalist, and was based totally on the fact that HE was allowed to enter the Altar because he was a man, and I couldn't because I was a woman. He went as far as to laugh at me in front of the entire congregation. Obviously his nannny-nanny-boo-boo attitude was childish, and I knew it, but I was actually embarrassed! I was embarrassed to be a woman! I was embarrassed that I could not enter the Altar! I felt like a child being punished for something that I couldn't help!
The other experience that comes to mind: I was actually teased by a priest because I could not enter the Altar to venerate the relics he had in the Altar because I was a woman. My husband, God bless him, was kind enough to bring them to the altar door so that I could venerate them. Again, I was humiliated (and in front of several priests-- none of whom stood up for me), and was feeling lower than dirt for being a woman. What are we to do when our clergy themselves are furthering this type of thinking? This is the exact type of thinking that makes women in the Church feel that they are worth less than men, to feel that the Church has no place for them, to have all kinds of negative feelings that even I, who obviously know better, have struggled with.
Anyway, I would love to hear other peoples' thoughts on this. This is a really difficult subject for me (which is why my post is so long... sorry!) and I would really like to hear what everyone else thinks.
By the way, I just want to say also that it's really nice to be back on the forum. I've been gone for several months, because my husband and I transferred (we are now happily located in warm and sunny Atlanta! at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation) and have been extremely busy. I missed this forum a lot, and it's good to be able to get back on and catch up now!!!! I missed you all!