Alice C. Linsley
"...I heard that the Church of England was being advised to declare women capable of Priests' Order. I am, indeed, informed that such a proposal is very unlikely to be seriously considered by the authorities. To take such a revolutionary step at the present moment, to cut ourselves off from the Christian past and to widen the divisions between ourselves and other Churches by establishing an order of priestesses in our midst, would be an almost wanton degree of imprudence. And the Church of England herself would be torn in shreds..." -- C.S. Lewis, from his essay “Priestesses in the Church?”
Lewis was speaking personally, as obviously he was opposed to the innovation of women in the Order of Priest, but he was also speaking prophetically, as is now apparent. Women priests is an innovation which, like a wedge driven into dry wood, has split the Anglican Communion. As is often the case, one innovation leads to another. This innovation led to the ordination of non-celibate homosexual clergy and to the blessing of same-sex unions in the Anglican Church of Canada and in The Episcopal Church USA. The actions of these churches has led to a fracturing of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
The slide started in the 1920s when liberal clergymen began to question Biblical authority and the authority of Church Tradition. The Report of the Commission on Christian Doctrine Appointed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York in 1922 (not published until 1938) reveals that only about half of the clergy of the Church of England held to the historic Faith “once delivered”. By 1930, the Church of England slipped further from the historic Faith when it succumbed to egalitarianism and the sexual freedom demands of English society. That year the Synod accepted contraception.
Many Protestant churches followed that path, but the Eastern Orthodox churches and the Vatican retained the authentic Christian Tradition against egalitarianism, modernism, and contraception. Orthodox resistance was heartily demonstrated at the 1978 Anglican-Orthodox Joint Doctrinal Commission held in Athens. Here the Orthodox delegates soundly rejected all possibility of ordaining women to the priesthood. However, Church of England clergy, feeling pressure from their Episcopalian cousins in the United States, were ready to discuss the question.
Now, under similar pressure to accommodate to the world, Orthodox clergy are being encouraged to open the discussion, to engage in dialogue on the issue of women’s roles in the Church. I’m wary of “dialogue” which too often means beating down the opposition with high-sounding words, circuitous arguments and polished clichés. I’m told that there are seminarians at St. Vladimir Seminary (New York) who believe that women should be ordained priests. It is a good thing that I have no authority there. I would dismiss every seminarian of this mindset as unworthy of the priesthood, seeing that they do not discern the foremost necessity for a Priest, which is to preserve Holy Tradition.
But these seminarians, mostly converts to Orthodoxy, can’t be made to bear all the blame for wrong thinking. They have professors who encourage them in this waywardness and even bishops who insist that Holy Tradition should be questioned.
Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia (Timothy Ware) is one to be credited with opening the door. As Thomas Hopko wrote in the Forward to Woman and the Priesthood (St. Vladimir Seminary Press, 1999), Bishop Kallistos “has moved in the direction of greater tentativeness about the possible ordination of women as priests and bishops in the Orthodox Church. He demonstrates less conviction about the authority of the traditional Orthodox practice on the issue, and questions his own rather firm arguments against the ordination of women…” (work cited, p. 1)
In this series of essays, I will examine Bishop Kallistos’ approach to the question of women priests. I refer primarily to his essay, “Man, Woman and the Priesthood”, in which he focuses three crucial questions. He writes, “First, there is the question of the nature and the authority of Tradition…” and “There is secondly the question of anthropology...the distinction that exists within humanity between male and female” and “Thirdly, there is the question of what we mean by priesthood.”
In Part II, we look at the nature and the authority of Tradition.
In Part III, We consider ideologies opposed to Holy Tradition.
Related reading: God as Male Priest; Why Women Were Never Priests; Blood and Binary Distinctions