Women Aren't Allowed to be Priests in the Russian Church. Here's Why

Men and women are created equal but different

The question of why women cannot be priests in the Russian Orthodox Church (as well as in all other Orthodox churches) always inflames controversy.

But before we attempt to offer answers:

People protest this rule on the grounds that it is "sexist," "patriarchal," "intolerant" and "inequitable."

These are labels that originated outside of Christian thought; they originated in a secular, liberal ideology. 

According to the official page of the Orthodox Church in America: 

While the matter surely warrants thorough study, discussion, and dialogue, especially within cultures such as our own, and while there are certain related questions which indeed beg serious discussion——care needs to be taken not to create an artificial issue.

If we truly believe that all that happens within the Body of Christ is directed and inspired by the Holy Spirit, we might well question why calls for the ordination of women only surfaced some 1,950 years after Christ.

While it is only my opinion that the question should never be silenced, I would also propose that its discussion must be conducted within the parameters of the Church’s ongoing Tradition and not in post-modern secular or humanist categories which bear little relationship to the Gospel.

For centuries of Christianity, female priesthood was a non-question; simply because there were different roles and ministries for women and men: and ministry was thought of as a "gift and a blessing and a calling and a vocation rather than a question of justice and equality." 

Having said that, the issue today is highly tractable. And while there is no one simple answer in a complex issue (theologians have written books on the question) , here we bring to you two answers from well-known Orthodox theologians to at least help elucidate the issue.

1. The Apostles were all Men - So were their Successors. 

The Orthodox Church believes that the Apostles passed down the Grace of the Holy Spirit to their successors, they to their successors, and so on until the present day. In other words, there is a spiritual genealogy that leads from the Apostles passed down to the contemporary Orthodox bishops.

The Orthodox Church also believes in Holy Tradition (the wisdom passed on by the members of the Church from one generation to the next). While Protestants, for example, believe only in the Bible, the Russian Orthodox believe that the legacy of holy fathers and saints, called the Holy Tradition, is also pure and an important part of religion and theology. 

So, if the Apostles did not ordain female priests, and if the Holy Tradition that has been passed down does not seem to support it, why do we think that we know better? 

Bishop Hilarion (Alfeyev) of Vienna and Austria said: 

The Orthodox Church follows the order established by the Apostles themselves.

Christ chose only men to be His Apostles, who themselves never ordained female priests. Throughout centuries sacramental functions in the church have been performed exclusively by men.

Some people explain this fact by cultural traditions. We know, however, that in Ancient Greece there were priestesses and, apart from Judaism, the very idea of women priests was not alien to the ancient culture.

Christianity expanded quickly in the Greek and Roman worlds.

I think that if priesthood for women had been possible it would have been introduced at the earliest stage of the Church’s existence. But this did not happen. Up to the present day the Church has maintained the same order as was set by the Apostles.

The fact that women became equal to men in many spheres of human life, including politics, has nothing to do with the church order.

In order to introduce female priesthood, we need a new Revelation as powerful as the Revelation of the New Testament, and the creation of a New Testament Church. Since such a Revelation has not happened, we cannot make any radical changes to the established church order.

2. Christ Chose to be Incarnate as a Man.  


Fr. Alexander Tefft. Chaplain, Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, Cambridge

 The question of women in the priesthood depends upon defining a priest. A priest is not the same as a Protestant minister. A woman may be a minister.

A priest offers sacrifice. A Christian priest offers the sacrifice of Christ. Christ is the one who both offers (as High Priest) and is offered (as sacrificial victim). This is an unchangeable dogma of the Church, found in the Divine Liturgy.

Therefore, the one who offers (the priest) must correspond to the one offered (the victim).

Christ is the Incarnate Logos, the Second Person of the Trinity. Christ was incarnate as a man. Why? The Holy Trinity is inherently neither male nor female.

The Trinity is spirit. However, God the Father has revealed Himself as male. Why? The Father creates all things visible and invisible. The male is the source of creation. The female must be impregnated by the male.

As the male is the natural source of creation, the supernatural source is revealed as Father. Christ, the Son, is eternally begotten of the Father. He is the image of the Father. When He is begotten in time, He reveals himself as a male.

Therefore, to correspond to Christ as He reveals himself, the priest must be male. This is the economy of salvation, as revealed in the Bible. This is the economy of salvation, as defined in the dogmas of the Universal Councils. If the priest were female, this would destroy the economy of salvation. Only those who do not accept the Revelation, can argue for ordaining women as priests.

If the priest is the type of Christ, women are the type of the Mother of God. The Mother of God is the most powerful intercessor among mortals. The ministry of women is maternal: intercession, loving service, education, and so forth.

Mothers are not inferior to fathers. But mothers are not fathers. Men and women are created absolutely equal but different.

To confuse one with the other is to deny the creative intention of God. Therefore, the movement to ordain women to the priesthood is fundamentally anti-Christ.

3.Men and Women have different methods of service

Many people immediately conclude that this means that the Orthodox religion does ‘undervalues’ women; this, however, demonstrates a lack of understanding of how what the Church teaches.

In the Orthodox Church, Christ is the head of the Church, but Mary, the Mother of God, is at his right side.

She, a woman, is the model ultimate Christian; she brought God into the world, by her devotion, humility and sacrifice. Her service made Salvation possible.

And thought her service was different  than that the service of the apostles, it was definitely not 'lesser.' 

According to Fr. Alister Anderson:

Through St. Mary Jesus has raised the status of all women everywhere and for all time.

They were no longer to be regarded as chattel but to be treated as being equally precious as men in the eyes of God.

Christ hallowed the state of marriage which was much abused in those days to the detriment of women.

He taught the spiritual equality of men and women and blessed that equality by saying, “for this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife and they shall be one flesh.”

But while Christ taught that men and women are equal in their human nature, they are blessedly and entirely different in their human function.

Here are a few other resources: 

Women and the Priesthood, a book by well-known priest Fr. Thomas Hopko on the question. 

OCA Official Page

From a woman's perspective

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