Dear Second Chance:
Hierarchy has been very important to the Church for a very long time. I myself would argue that it has been too important. Elsewhere I have distinguished between hierarchy and mere “archy.” Archy, I would argue, is the order that exists within the Trinity --- three equal Persons ordered as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit --- and the order that existed originally between the man and the woman and among men (human beings) generally. The fall, however, necessitated a temporary, economical subjection of some men to other men, as well as of the woman to the man, and that order we call hierarchy. It is, as I said, temporary, but it is still in force because we are yet still in the fallen state. In the next life, we will live together archically, but, I would argue, not hierarchically. (Here is where I differ with Dionysios the Areopagite and many other fathers, who seen hierarchy among human beings as the natural state, now and later.) I have a 40-page paper on this topic under review by St. Vladimir Theological Quarterly; it has already received favorable comment from some noted Orthodox scholars, and maybe in a year or so it will be out there for all to read.
As for gender, it is only very recently (within the last 50 to 100 years) that gender has been no longer considered relevant to duties outside the altar such as choir director and reader. Until this past century, Orthodox Christians respected the tradition of the Apostles and Saints that women were not to teach or exercise authority over men and were to remain silent in church, singing along with the congregation but not speaking, reading, or singing alone. (1 Co. 14:33-40, 1 Tim. 2:11-14) Unfortunately, this tradition has lately been abandoned by some Orthodox, largely as a result of ignorance. We have stopped teaching the Orthodox regard for gender, partly because we haven’t felt that we’ve had a very good explanation of it. Indeed, we haven’t, because, until now, we haven’t needed one. The paper mentioned above should help with that.
But remember, gender is itself a calling. And the truly important thing is not what the world calls “self-actualization,” with everyone exercising his gifts to the fullest. The important thing is respecting the truth (including the truth about gender and about the traditions that govern the genders) and being what God wants us to be, which is always partly what He has already made us, male or female.
Thanks, but there are already several works in English on deaconesses, and they do not substantially contradict anything I have said.
You seem to have missed the centrality of the sacraments to the life of the Church, which is odd for an Orthodox Christian. We are so often accused of being only about the sacraments, and participating in the sacraments is indeed most of what many Orthodox Christians do as members of the Church. It should not be all that they do, but the Church is principally an assembly for worship, not a marketing campaign, not a social service agency, and not a political party. It is from our worship that our works of evangelism, social service, and political witness flow. As is often said, when we come together for worship, we constitute the Kingdom --- we become what we are most meant to be, if only for a time.
As for Acts, you need look no further than the Orthodox Study Bible to see that my reading of Acts is ancient. There were other ancient ways of reading it, but Eucharistic churches have tended to prefer my way because it explains why they do what they do and why the Eucharist is so essential. In contrast, non-Eucharistic churches have tended to read Acts your way, taking “the breaking of bread” to mean nothing more than eating together. In the faith-filled time of the Apostles, this Eucharistic breaking of bread was done daily, as is still the custom in Orthodox monasteries (and some Roman Catholic parishes). Ask yourself, why would St. Luke have made a point of saying that the early Christians in Jerusalem continued daily “breaking bread” and “partaking of food with gladness and simplicity of heart” (Acts 2:46) unless there was something truly special about these mundane activities? People eat everyday. Always have. What’s special about that to warrant its mention? What’s special is that they were then eating with a new awareness of the sacramental dimension of their partaking, that their bread was the Body of Christ and their wine was the Blood of Christ.
If you don’t accept this reading, how do you explain the origin of our Eucharist, and how do you explain the complete absence of any mention of it in Acts? You might say that the Eucharistic was a secret, a mystery that was liable to being misunderstood, and therefore St. Luke said nothing about it. That does indeed explain why he is not more explicit about this breaking of bread. He is speaking cryptically so that those in the know will recognize “breaking bread” as the Eucharistic meal.
As for authorities to back me up, this reading is so common I hardly think authorities are needed, unless someone is wont to be contentious. It didn’t take me long to find support in the OSB, or to find this passage in a book on my shelf by a Protestant scholar:
“Under this rubric, ‘the breaking of (the) bread,’ we find also that the Eucharist was celebrated on a weekly basis, perhaps at first on a daily basis (daily, Acts 2:45; 5:42; weekly, Acts 20:7). Paul is our first witness that it was a primary feature of worship, to be carried out with frequency (1 Cor. 11:26), not annually like the Pesach. At first it was probably in small groups in private houses, but later, as the church grew, in more spacious houses that could accommodate the larger numbers (1 Cor. 11:22), that is, in houses of the well-to-do members (Philem. 2, 22). [Allen Cabaniss, Pattern in Early Christian Worship, Mercer University Press, 1989]
If you need more, look around. I’m sure you won’t have to look long.