Sarah Mac Donald's article is fascinating (NCR, July 26-Aug. 8), but I must add, as an Orthodox cleric, that what she is reporting does not necessarily imply priestly functions.
The mother of God raising her hands that way does not necessarily mean anything liturgical. The orans position only shows the Theotokos as intercessor for humanity, a role she takes in much Orthodox prayer. The postures her hands take indicate her intercession before God. Also, in many icons with her holding Christ, her right hand points to the child she holds, in effect telling the viewer that he is the important one, not her, since she is only the bearer of God, nothing more.
In the sarcophagus, it may simply be pointing out that the deacon is elevating the holy gifts right after the words of institution but before the invocation of the Holy Spirit (Epiclesis) when the actual transformation happens. This is a primary diaconal task, but done by the priest in absence of a deacon.
More frequently, women performed tasks that required their presence because of propriety, like catechizing women or in clothing them in the white baptismal robe, since baptism occurs by triple immersion in the Orthodox liturgy.
STEPHEN E. BRADFORD
Please Note: Illustration(s) are not available due to copyright restrictions.