Posted by: Joel | March 25, 2010

Quote from Alexander Schmemann on Women’s Ordination

A friend is writing a paper on Women’s Ordination and I found an article by this Eastern Orthodox Theologian. Interesting perspective on the whole issue. It may be a question that only ‘Western Christianity’ (as in: Roman Catholic and Protestant) is asking, but it is by no means isolated in the ‘West’ geographically.

…to me the debate on women’s ordination seems to be provincial, deeply marked and even determined by Western self-centeredness and self-sufficiency, by a naive, almost childish conviction that every “trend” in Western culture justifies a radical rethinking of the entire Christian Tradition. How many such “trends” we have witnessed during the last decades of our troubled century! How many corresponding “theologies”! The difference this time however is that one deals in this particular debate not with a passing intellectual and academic “fad”—like the “death of God,” “secular city,” “celebration of life,” etc.-which, after it has produced a couple of ephemeral best-sellers simply disappears, but with the threat of an irreversible and irreparable act which, if it becomes reality, will produce a new, and this time I am convinced final, division among Christians, will signify, at least for the Orthodox, the end of all dialogues….
It is well known that the advocates of women’s ordination explain the scriptural and the traditional exclusion of women from the ministry by cultural “conditioning.” If Christ did not include women into the twelve, if the Church for centuries did not include them into its priesthood, it is because of the “culture” which would have made it impossible and unthinkable then. It is not my purpose to discuss here the theological and exegetical implications of this view as well as its purely historical basis which, incidentally, oeems to me extremely weak and shaky. What is truly amazing is that, while absolutely convinced that they understand past “cultures,” the advocates of women’s ordination seem to be so totally unaware of their own cultural “conditioning,” of their own surrender to “culture.”
How else can one explain their readiness to accept what may prove to be a passing phenomenon, and what at any rate is a phenomenon barely at its beginning (not to speak of the women’s liberation movement which at present is nothing but search and experimentation), as a sufficient justification for a radical change in the very structure of the Church? How else, furthermore, are we to explain that this movement is accepted on its own terms, i.e., within the perspective of “rights,” “justice,” “equality,” etc., all categories whose ability adequately to express Christian faith and to be applied as such within the Church is, to say the least, questionable?

Found on pp. 240-41 here.


  1. I’ve read this one before, but it’s good to read it again. It’s so much more effective for a non-Westerner to say, “Hey, wake up! You just don’t get it.”

    Sidenote: response to your comment on the Hodge post is up on my site.

  2. There are plenty of problems in the Orthodox Churches, but the longer I’m there the less I feel the “turbulence” and argumentativeness of so much of American Christianity as being relevant. There is a distance from so many of the controversies that flare up and fade away or fester in protestantism. The long term feeling I’d describe is one of peace: we accept what we have received and focus on Christ and loving one another.

    I understand this is not an argument on behalf of Orthodoxy, but there again – I’m becoming convinced that in a sense such arguments aren’t helpful in the main.

  3. Boy, am i glad i found this blog.

  4. Very serious question indeed…

    there is of course another little question to add tot he mix…

    If the wife is ordained, where does the man fit into the household?

    Who leads who?

    if she still tends to the children, he becomes unnecessary…

    It is a complex situation which holds no simple answer…

    Except maybe this:

    God’s Kingdom is not a democracy. No-one beside Him has any “rights”. All we have is responsibility – towards the souls entrusted to us. He wants us to be like children – because little children do not sweat the little things – they just accept, and allow their Father to do everything for them.

    How this will end, only time will tell…


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