This article on the WCC website, though more than a decade old, remains an accurate statement of the intentions of modernists regarding the Orthodox liturgy. The notoriously liberal monks at New Skete Monastery, formerly Catholic, but received into the notoriously liberal Orthodox Church in America (a jurisdiction whose autocephaly has never been universally recognized), corrupted by the modernist heresy so prevelant in the Roman church, manifested in the liturgical reforms in the wake of Vatican II (which, I should state, were a dreadful perversion of what Vatican II actually authorized; in terms of seeking reconciliation with the Orthodox, and in terms of the change of theological emphasis that Vatican II produced, it was, by itself, a movement in the direction of Orthodoxy), naturally want to do the same thing to the Orthodox church.
In this series of articles, I shall proceed to enumerate their desired reforms, and then explain why these reforms are deadly, from the perspective of Confessional Orthodoxy.
Suggestion no. 5: Female Clergy
"While the entire people of God are to participate fully in the Churchs worship, they do so in different ways, through a diversity of ministries. Recent pan-Orthodox consultations, including the Inter-Orthodox Conference on Rhodes in 1988, have repeatedly called for the restoration of the diaconate for women, but as yet no concrete steps for implementation have been made. We believe that a deeper and more extensive exploration into the role of the diaconate, both male and female, is now long overdue. Reconsideration of the role of other ministries in the Church is also needed."
Why this is a bad idea:
Again, we see the pressure for the restoration of the Deaconesses, intensified considerably, but also a new and disturbing suggestion, "Reconsideration of the role of other ministries in the Church is also needed." This clearly implies a desire for the ordination of female priests, and ultimately, female Bishops, following in the footsteps of the Anglicans. That this is impossible in the Orthodox church should be obvious, for in the entire history of the Orthodox church, we have had an exclusively male priesthood and an exclusively male episcopate; were we to ordain women to these roles, we would cease to be Orthodox; an axiom of the Orthodox church is that being Orthodox, we are not allowed to make arbitrary changes to dogma or praxis, but must at all times faithfully seek to preserve Holy Tradition, a Tradition which most definitely excludes women from these offices.
Let us now explore the question of why women are excluded. It is not misogyny, as some impiously dare to suggest, but rather, owes to the distinct vocation of men and wome, according to the divine economy of salvation. As men, when we are called to the Priesthood, we are called to iconically represent Christ at the last supper, when we consecrated it In Persone Christi, to use a Latin phrase. Most specifically, the celibate Bishop represents Christ, and the married Priests and celibate Heiromonks in turn represent the Bishop. The Deacons, in assisting in the liturgy and in the delivery of the sacraments, represent the Apostles.
Women on the other hand are called to iconographically represent the Virgin Mary, either through emulation of her Virginity, or her Maternity. Both Holy Celibacy and motherhood, in the form of Holy Matrimony, are the clear models for Christian women to aspire to; bearing children is their priesthood. Just as a man cannot give birth, a woman cannot consecrate the Eucharist, for Christ was a man. This is not to imply women are inferior, merely that a difference exists according to the design of God, and the Orthodox Church has always worshipped and believed thus. Unlike in other denominations that have sprung from the corrupted Western Church, we do not consider ourselves free to deviate from Holy Tradition in order to conform to secular pressure, and indeed the secular pressure for the ordination of women is most extraordinary. Yet in failing in this manner, and also in failing to maintain the ancient teaching of the church regarding marriage, gender roles, and sexuality, the mainline Protestant churches have very nearly destroyed themselves. God forbid that this should happen to the Orthodox Church.
As for deaconnesses, it should be observed that their specific function related, like that of their male peers, to the delivery of a sacrament; rather than assisting in the delivery of the Eucharist however, their function was to assist in the delivery of the initatory rite of Baptism. For in the early centuries of the church, the relative poverty of the populace meant that baptismal robes would be an unaffordable luxury, and thus men and women alike were baptized separately and in the nude. For a male Priest to go down into the water with a nude woman would be an obvious impropriety, thus, the the Deaconnesses were appointed, but not actually ordained, to serve in his place. They were required to be celibate, initially above the age of 60, but later this requirement was lowered to 40; one might assume the majority were nuns.
As Orthodox Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in the fourth century, and subsequently spread across the continents, mass baptisms of adult women became the norm. Then, to a large extent, the Orthodox Church reached boundaries, limits imposed on its evangelism, chiefly by the threat of violence from Islamic persecutors. Thus, over time, the vast majority of those received into the Orthodox Church were received via infant baptism, and the role of the Deaconness simply became obsolete.
In modern times, the Orthodox Church is again making disciples of the nations, but thanks to the increased wealth God has granted us, we have the provision for baptismal robes. Thus it is possible for the priest to descend into the water as he immerses the convert without any hint of impropriety, and without the risk of extreme temptation to lust that would be caused by the baptism of a nude adult female in this manner. Thus, the function for which the office of deaconness was created is, effectively, obsolete.
That said, the appointment of women to the lesser orders has continued to varying extents. Women also play vital administrative roles. My own parish, lacking a full time priest, is administered and effectively managed by two female parishioners; they keep the books, provide the administrative leadership and the primary decisionmaking. They also sing in the choir; without them, the parish would not exist. They are truly the mothers of the congregation.
That said, the restoration of the order of deaconnesses is not impossible, but the timing at present makes the situation difficult, for to do so would risk increasing the pressure to violate the natural order given by God, and to ordain women to the priesthood, thus taking onto ourselves the corruption that has poisoned the mainline Protestant denominations. The only possible use I can see for deaconesses at present would be to assist in the liturgy in Orthodox convents, but to my uncertain knowledge, the nuns do not wish this at present, and are content with present arrangements for their service. If deaconesses were implemented, the canons of the ancient Ecumenical councils would have to be followed strictly: they would be required to be celibate and at least forty years of age; thus, for all practical purposes, they would either be nuns, or secular virgins living in the world. However, at present it is simply the wrong time to be addressing this; there is not an actual problem affecting the church, as the vital participation of women is responsible, to a large extent, for the day to day operation and executive management of ROCA.
In closing, Priesthood is a very specific attribute; it is directly analogous to motherhood, for it represents spiritual Fatherhood. For the same reason that men cannot bear children, women cannot legitimately serve as Priests, for they are called to iconographically represent the most holy theotokos, who it should be stressed was closer to God than any other human being. In their vocation they are in fact considerably more blessed than their male brothers; for those who serve in the priesthood and episcopate are forced to endure demonic attacks on an unimaginable scale, manifesting themselves both through the mundane nastiness of ecclesiastical politics, to dreadful supernatural assaults such as those borne by St. Anthony. We sing of Mary, Blessed art thou among Women, but we should sing of Women, blessed are you among Humans, for You are bestowed with the kinder, gentler vocation, that come more naturally to you, and are spared the agonies of the priesthood, that exceed in their psychological horror the pains of childbirth by a great margin, for in acting in persone Christi, the priest carry the terrible Cross of Christ, and endure His sufferings; only through the grace of the Holy Spirit are they able to survive, and carry on their most sacred ministry.
In our next article in this series, we shall explore the attempt to encourage the most dangerous and destructive practice of casual communion, without proper preparation.