Is the Orthodox Church Too Patriarchal? - Video Interview with Frederica Mathewes-Green

"Our Church has always had Patriarchs. It's just the title of the leadership of the Church. . . . we are led by our fathers, and they are part of that whole stream of God's goodness and grace toward us"


Dr. Herman A. Middleton: In the summer of 2010, I bought a bunch of video production equipment. I jumped in my car, and I went on a month-long road trip throughout the Midwest and up and down the East Coast interviewing interesting Orthodox people. The last person that I interviewed was Khouria Frederica Mathewes-Green, who probably doesn't need much of an introduction. Khouria Frederica has written many books on topics such as the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, the Theotokos, the Jesus prayer, to name a few. She's also written many, many articles on cultural topics, topics related to marriage and the family, as well as countless movie reviews. 

Hi there. My name is Herman Middleton, and welcome to The Protecting Veil Youtube channel, which is all about understanding our Orthodox Christian faith better so we can live it more deeply. In order to do this, I started something called the Collective Wisdom Project, and this interview with Khouria Frederica Mathewes-Green is one of the interviews in that project. So, without further ado, I hope you'll enjoy this episode from my interview with Khouria Frederica. 

Is the Orthodox Church too patriarchal? 

The question about the Church being too patriarchal - I think it's kind of an easy shot, in a way, because we actually do have Patriarchs. It's not like we can hide that. Our Church has always had Patriarchs. It's just the title of the leadership of the Church. And I think it helps a little bit to recognize that the word comes from Pater Arkhein. The arkein is the source, is the fount, th origin. It says in Hebrews that Jesus Christ is the author, the source, the arkhein, and the foundation of our faith. So to say that the father is the arkhein, that we are led by our fathers, and that they are part of that whole stream of God's goodness and grace toward us - it sounds a little better than the image of patriarch meaning this big bully with a club that's knocking you down. 

Three Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, & Jacob

I think what's behind the question, though, is not merely about the title, Patriarch (what does that word mean?), but the assumption that that word means that women don't have - aren't recognized in the Church, that women aren't of value. What I can say is from my experience: It's exactly the opposite! When I was in my former church, my mainline Protestant church, nobody asked me to come and give speeches. Nobody asked me to do retreats. I wasn't invited by publications of that denomination to write for them. But within six months of my chrismation, I was welcomed into Orthodox churches, and I had Orthodox publishers, and magazine writers, and web pages coming to me saying, "Wouldn't you like to write something?" I wasn't a famous writer then, but I published a few things. I found that the doors were wide open and that I was more, you know, I was more - the phrase "affirmed in my ministry" in Orthodoxy than I ever had been in this very liberal, supposedly "women-friendly" mainline denomination where I was before. I think it depends more on what you opinions are and whether they like the sort of thing you're going to say. 

I found, in Orthodoxy, it didn't matter that I was a woman. It really didn't make any difference. And I think this is true to our faith. It's interesting to me that, when you look at the way our Church, throughout history, has spoken about the Incarnation, it always emphasizes the humanity of Christ. You can search, but you won't find a troparion, or a hymn, or anything that is emphasizing the maleness of Christ. He had to be one or the other. The fact that he is male, I am sure has profound theological significance, but you know what? That is is not something that Orthodoxy has really ever explored because saying that men are better than women is just not important to us. What we share is our common humanity. And even the prayers for the Feast of the Circumcision, even then, it is the humanity of the Incarnation that matters. 

So, I find less of a division between men and women in Orthodoxy. We are equal, as they say, "the ground is all level at the foot of the Cross." And we are absolutely equal because we're all sinners. You know, if there's a competition it's who can proclaim themselves first to be the chief of sinners! It isn't the attitude that we sometimes see in other organizations and even other churches where having authority or having power is viewed as something to compete for and is something that gives you, as I said, that club that you could beat other people up. 

Not that power isn't still a terrible seduction, and it carries its own dangers, but I think we have more reminders about the necessity of humility in Orthodoxy, and that, too, protects us from having even a Patriarch get out of control with his ego or emphasizing masculinity as opposed to femininity. 

As a woman, I have found Orthodoxy to be very friendly. 

Transcript provided by Dormition Professional Services. 

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