Eleni Kasselouri-Hatzivassiliadi, Fulata Mbano Moyo, Aikaterini Pekridou, eds.: Many Women Were Also There: The Participation of Orthodox Women in the Ecumenical Movement.
Many Women Were Also There: The Participation of Orthodox Women in the Ecumenical Movement is a collection of papers offered during a conference held in Volos, Greece, in June, 2010. This consultation was organized by the World Council of Churches programme "Women in Church and Society" and hosted by the Volos Academy for Theological Studies and the Holy Metropolis of Demetrias.
Apart from the foreword written by the director of Volos Academy Pantelis Kalaitzidis; a preface by Fulata Mbano Moyo, a systematic theologian; and an introduction written by one of the editors, Eleni Kasselouri--Hatzivassiliadi, a New
Testament scholar, there are 18 essays divided into three sections: (1) historical and theological reflection, (2) women as sources of inspiration and (3) local voices and initiatives.
In spite of the division of the collection into three thematic parts we can find common themes and emphases throughout the whole book. Generally, as the subtitle of the book indicates, the woman authors place ecumenical and interreligious dialogue in Orthodoxy in relationship with the role of women in the life of the Orthodox Church. However, the collection primarily speaks about the issues concerning the role of women in the Orthodox Church and only consequently about how Orthodox women have been involved in the ecumenical movement and have actively participated in various ecumenical organizations. But, of course, the evaluating of Orthodox women's status in their own Church is linked with their possibility to participate in liturgical, diaconical and administrative spheres of the Church (162). The least space in the collection is devoted to interreligious dialogue and Orthodoxy, where more the history of the dialogue and important moments such as encyclical letters, meetings and projects (166-77) are mentioned than their theological background (165-72).
Very often the essays refer to the World Council of Churches (WCC), which has played an important role over 60 years in the concerns of women, including consultations of Orthodox women (e.g., 3, 62, 85). It is clear that, together with the role of the WCC, the writers in the essays recall the history of inter-Orthodox women's gatherings (e.g., 21, 31, 38, 41, 81, 91, 98, 114, 62-70), which belong to their common memory and, in my view, help them to continue in their present and future activities. Among Orthodox women there is a desire to meet to learn from each other (52). From their gatherings many small organizations have also arisen, such as St. Catherine's Vision (53) or new journals such as St. Nina's Theological Quarterly (210). As the inter-Orthodox network is at the heart of their discussion, its importance is reflected also in this collection (21).
It is not only the history of gatherings of Orthodox women that comes alive in their essays but examples of other women's life and work also bring them inspiration and new motivation. Mainly the work of Elisabeth Behr-Sigel is remembered (e.g., 79, 97, 107, 181-83, 209). She is seen not only as one of the main representative figures among Orthodox women fighting for their role in life of church and someone who significantly influenced the ecumenical activities of Orthodoxy, but also someone who encouraged women to know about the questions of the feminist theology (128). Apart from her, the hagiographical story of Mother Erene, a contemporary female leader in the Coptic Orthodox Church, is mentioned. She is an example in three ways: social justice, community and leadership (18596). A very important example to be followed seems to be Mother Maria Skobtsova (64, 236), whose deliberate disobedience, rather than blind submission, created a new tradition and managed to change an unfavourable historical condition into something new. Some other lives of holy women are highlighted as models to emulate: so, for example, Catherine of Alexandria, Macrina the Younger or Mary of Egypt.
In the collection we can also find the common theological starting points relating to the questions of the position of women in the Orthodox Church. Mostly they come from the brief history of women's activities in the Church or from contemporary cultural and historical contexts. Also biblical studies and patristics provide a theological background for addressing the issues. Only a few times do the authors turn to systematic theology, contemporary philosophy or linguistics. There are some exceptions as, for instance, an essay by Spyridoula Athanasopoulou-Kypriou looks for solutions in the contemporary French philosophical context with Luce Irigaray and Jean-Luc Marion (117-31). The author criticizes the objectification of the "other" who becomes only an object to be seduced and whose freedom, language or world is limited (Irigaray). The same objectification can happen with God, when the iconic vision of God is changed into an idolatrous one (Marion). Here the theme of love must be called back into discussion. God as love cannot become idol and by loving the "other" we cannot objectify her/him but respect her/his alterity.
Apart from the essay mentioned above, some other themes from systematic theology appear, the dominant one being the interpretation of tradition. The habit of men dominating the positions in the Church and women's participation in it belongs also to the issue of interpreting of and new reflection on tradition (108). Tradition that is not interpreted is not alive and loses its dynamism (e.g., 88, 101) and its relationship to the present and to the future (106, 155). The Orthodox Church appears in the new postmodern or late-modern context of globalization and must answer new questions (110) if it does not want to slip into traditionalism (209, where the writer quotes Jaroslav Pelikan).
Other themes follow the traditional Orthodox theological perspective, as, for example, trinitarian theology, human beings created in God's image and likeness or the Chalcedonian dogma about hypostatic union. The Holy Trinity is the starting point for anthropology as the basis of equality of people and genders. Within three persons of Holy Trinity there is no hierarchy and this can help toward an understanding of the Orthodox faith. Such perfect love and equality is a model for human relationships (235). Also our creation, both women and men, in the image of God brings a new theological perspective on gender and the position of women in the Church. Gender exists within time and it will be diminished in the eschaton. The Chalcedonian dogma where Jesus Christ united us in himself by removing the difference between female and male can overcome conservative views (150)' on women as deaconesses (101).
Many questions that need to be answered and need to be fought for are understood less in terms of theology and more in terms of right orthopraxia (sic) (e.g., 44, 52), especially in the creative coexistence of orthopraxia (correct action) and orthodoxia (correct faith) (85). The main questions of orthopraxia are how women can participate more in activities of Church, including their ordination (the diaconate) (e.g., 46, 91, 95, 139-55, 203-204), how they can get more opportunities in theological education both formal and informal (92) and how to reexamine the sacramental tradition of the Church about women's "ritual uncleanliness," where biology is more important than theology (e.g., 45, 68, 93).
In the collection we can findthe lists of main issues concerning orthopraxia (e.g,. 32, 33, 45, 52, 86, 91). Among those that are repeatedly stated are a better access to study for Orthodox women, a need to support pastoral care ministries by Orthodox women and equip women for this ministry, a need for women to be included in the administrative bodies of
As the Lord did not choose a woman for apostolic mission, the Theotokos is a model for women and she was not ordained as a priest and so on. the church, a need to understand women's biology, a need for women to be admitted into newer ministries together with the restoration of the order of deaconess and finally support for the ministry of clergy wives and the nuns. Some of the issues are left in the form of questions where the answers and solutions still need to be found but some of them have been partly solved; for instance, the education of women on first and second levels or in the mixed church choirs (92).
Being a Christian and a woman allows me to understand many of the women writers of this collection, especially the feelings of injustice, anger, fear or desire to change one's own position of the "second minor." I admire the activities of the Orthodox sisters to change their status in their own church and in the ecumenical context. However, I am left with the question whether the concentration on orthopraxia would not be much more linked with theological research, which I understand is also a matter of educational opportunities. If I look back at Elisabeth Behr-Sigel or Mother Maria Skobcova mentioned in the book, they both managed in their lives an authentic combination of social and theological work because both spring from each other and bring the desired balance.
In conclusion, I would like to add one personal comment. When I published my first book I was very carefully thinking about the cover of it and finally I decided to put there a picture by a Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. I think that it is not just by chance that the editors of this collection chose for the cover of the book a picture by the same artist. Without knowing each other, for me it is the expression of existing closeness of opinion. What fascinates us about Frida Kahlo's life and work? I think that Kahlo managed to connect and also sensitively and truly express in her person pain both corporeal and mental, but at the same time she was able to fight very passionately against all the superstition of her own context, where as a woman she had to face difficulties to express her own personality authentically. Her attempt to speak out and not to stay the silent minor other (45, 97) is exemplary, as are the voices of women in this book. Even if I am not from the Orthodox tradition, this book in the same way as Frida Kahlo's life and work, is for me an inspiration how much courage together with passion can change the life situation where my voice is heard and recognized as the voice of a human subject, not an object. In this sense our journey is common regardless of our ecclesial tradition.
Katerina Bauer teaches at the Protestant Theological Faculty in Prague, Charles University, where she also earned her doctorate. She has published on Louis-Marie Chauvet's theology of symbol, Russian emigres in Paris and Prague, and the theology of icons.
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|Publication:||The Ecumenical Review|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2012|
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