Saturday, July 9, 2011

Response to Fr. Behr's Talk on Women Disciples

Alice C. Linsley


I listened to Fr. John Behr's talk on Women Disciples and laughed (a dismayed laugh). How true it is that there is nothing new under the Sun! As a friend said, "After one has heard this stuff for so long in TEC it is now amazing to hear it cropping up in the Orthodox Church."  She's right.  I too hear echoes of Episcopal clergy who abandoned Holy Tradition 25 years ago in Fr. Behr's ruminations.

Here are key points of his argument:

1.The early Fathers don't say much about what it is to be Man and Woman. - False.

St. John Chrysostom says volumes about man and woman and the importance of a right relationship in marriage. His sermons are very deeply grounded in Scripture, unlike the message of Fr. Behr. He doesn't want to talk about praxis, only theoria. That means he wants to set aside the clarity of Scriptural teaching on being made Male and Female!

2. Times have changed. Understandings of science on "sexuality" require that we adjust our view of Male and Female. - False

People who lived in Abraham's time knew about homosex and condemned it as a violation of God's order in creation. As people of the Bible we don't accomodate the biblical worldview to pseudo-science. There are only two genders - Male and Female and these were created by God at the beginning. There is no continuum of sexuality. That is a myth perpetuated mainly by gay/lesbian activists. Male and Female are an aspect of the fixed order of creation. Those born with gential confusion are less than 1% of the world's population and most of these know which gender they are and can be helped through surgery. Homosex is regarded as a disease in many countries, like addiction to pornography. India's Minister of Health made this comment last week. He said that homosexuality is a disease introduced from the sex-obsessed West.


3. The focus should be on what it means to be Human "after the stature of Christ." - False.

The Gospel is about the Son of God who came into the world to save sinners, to crush the serpent's head, to make void the curse, to set Eve free, and to restore Paradise. He did this as the "Son" of God. His being male is of great significance. Only a son could receive a kingdom from his Father and Jesus' kingdom is an eternal one, as we recite in the Creed.

This view that Jesus Christ came to perfect a genderless Humanity is nonsense and demeaning to both men and women. At the day of Resurrection we will rise in our bodies as male and female, not as genderless angels.

The Eastern Orthodox churches historically have resisted modernism and egalitarianism. Orthodox resistance was heartily demonstrated at the 1978 Anglican-Orthodox Joint Doctrinal Commission 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 and opened Pandora's box.

The Orthodox are again under pressure to accommodate to the world. While most are standing firm on the Church's teaching, St. Vladimir Seminary wavers. Some seminarians at St. Vladimir 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, seeing that they do not discern the foremost necessity for a Priest, which is to preserve Holy Tradition.

The seminarians hardly can be blamed when their professors and their Dean encourage them in this waywardness. Bishop Kallistos is credited with opening the door. Thomas Hopko wrote in the Forward to Woman and the Priesthood (St. Vladimir Seminary Press, 1999) that 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)

Personally, I'm not impressed with the way things are heading at St. Vlads. If such nonsense isn't headed off now we'll be fighting to preserve the true Faith in Orthodoxy. As one who has been through "the Anglican wars" I don't relish the prospect of more battle wounds.



33 comments:

Teena Blackburn said...

You know, I listened to the talk and didn't have a negative reaction to it. Perhaps I should go listen to it again. :) If he indeed is pointing towards the acceptability of ordaining women, I want nothing to do with it.

Alice C. Linsley said...

St. Vlad's is in a difficult position. It needs to find positions in the church for its female graduates.

Anonymous said...

Alice, too bad you don't have a position at SVS! Your voice seems to be confined to blogs. It is needed in the larger world, as one who has fought the battle elsewhere and learned from it.

Rdr. James Morgan

Alice C. Linsley said...

Thanks for that vote of confidence.

I prefer my quiet life. It allows me to write, research, think and pray. It is easy to become distracted "in the larger world."

Dean Rick Lobs said...

Alinc, that is a very understandable post you wrote. It is always good to read the product of your thought. Rick

Anonymous said...

That is precisely my take on his talk, too. He is setting up the to include sexual deviancy. That's the only logical place his argument can reach. I find it incredibly disturbing coming from the head of SVS.

Alice C. Linsley said...

It is fairly easy in western egalitarian societies to set aside catholic order and practice in the Church. Simply insist that women have a right to be priests. Once this is done, there can be no objection to ordaining gay and lesbian people. They have their rights too!

Ron said...

Little by little, one travels far.

James the least said...

I think what made me suspicious was the constant emphasis on becoming perfect humans without a mention (unless I missed it) of deification. I think, however, we should await developments before rushing to judgement.

It is worth drawing attention to the fact that both Met Kallistos and Fr Behr are products of Oxford University, which is apparent in their method of discourse (cf Archbishop Rowan Williams). The teaching of Divinity there has been of the liberal variety for some time. Met Hilarion of the Moscow Patriarchate also spent some time at that university under Met Kallistos but so far has not displayed similar traits. He has been on occasion outspoken in defending the Tradition whilst continuing to try to draw those outside Orthodoxy into the Church.

frontierorthodoxy said...

I must say, I am surprised to learn that SVS is being treated as some bastion of liberal Protestantism, or nearly so. It isn't. I haven't had a chance to listen to this particular talk, but Fr. John Behr never publicly advocated for the ordination of women when I was there. The most recent argument, which I've not yet read, is in Maria McDowell in her 2011 dissertation, The Joy of Embodied Virtue: Toward the Ordination of Women to the Eastern Orthodox Priesthood. Valerie Karras has also argued for it. I think those are the two leading thinkers you ought to address on this issue.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Holy Tradition concerning Jesus, the Son of God, is fixed. Women priests corrupt the Tradition and cause confusion about who Jesus is.

Anonymous said...

Alice said, in part "Simply insist that women have a right to be priests. Once this is done, there can be no objection to ordaining gay and lesbian people. They have their rights too!"

Problem as I see it is that no one has a 'right' to be a priest, even a deacon, or much less a bishop! One of the features of an Orthodox ordination is that two guys take hold of your arms, drag you into the altar, some prayers and other stuff is done, and then you are sorta shoved out, and lo and behold! you are now a priest! I think this a graphic illustration of being called and chosen, rather than the strange thingy we get from the west about 'having a vocation'.
I myself several years ago had a retired bishop say to me, rather wistfully: "I wish I could ordain you a deacon."
I could feel my pride going all over the place with that. Fortunately, I had been married before so was not canonically eligible.
Thank God for small favors!

Rdr. James Morgan

Skevophylakion said...

I think that you are reading implications into the lecture that simply aren't there. I respect your right to challenge what Fr. Behr said, but he does not deserve to be accused of teaching "nonsense" simply because you didn't understand him.

1.The early Fathers don't say much about what it is to be Man and Woman. - False. St. John Chrysostom says volumes about man and woman and the importance of a right relationship in marriage.

Fr. Behr said there were no texts from the early church, which would predate Chrysostom. And his saying that there was little on marriage was "apart from homilies and scriptural commentaries", which I take to mean he is perfectly well aware of the writings you have mentioned.

He doesn't want to talk about praxis, only theoria. That means he wants to set aside the clarity of Scriptural teaching on being made Male and Female!

This fails to take into account the context in which Fr. Behr was speaking, which was following a lot of discussion that *did* directly relate to the practical aspect of women in ministry. Fr. Behr's job, at that point in the conference, was to give some overarching theological perspective on the situation. Keep in mind that he was the only male speaker at the conference, so it was fitting for him to provide a theological perspective on sexual differentiation.

Times have changed. Understandings of science on "sexuality" require that we adjust our view of Male and Female. - False

It depends on what one means by adjusting. Obviously, Orthodox teaching on several aspects of sexuality - sexual identity, sexual relations - are timeless and not up for debate. Yet it would be ridiculous not to acknowledge that science has given us a better understanding of the biological aspects of sexual differentiation. Moreover, the prevailing trend in Western culture is at variance with Orthodox tradition on human sexuality. We have to work out a way to respond to that. That doesn't mean departing from the tradition, as ordaining women would be, it means re-articulating the tradition in a way modern people can understand and accept, in the light of secular influences that try to pull them away from the tradition.

3. The focus should be on what it means to be Human "after the stature of Christ." - False. ... This view that Jesus Christ came to perfect a genderless Humanity is nonsense

I think you have completely misinterpreted and misrepresented the lecture here. The essential point made by Fr. Behr was this: "Sexual difference provides a concrete, incarnate, and immediate experience of otherness, evoking possibility of real self-sacrifice in ecstatic and erotic love. To reduce the otherness of sexual difference to a mere biological means of reproduction doesn't do justice to the richness of human experience provided by God as the framework for our growth into what it is to be human, in the stature of Christ." In other words, he is certainly not saying we grow out of our sexual differentiation, he's saying it's the "framework" for our growing into human beings. To make this perfectly clear, after blasting those who go into long discourses about personhood without bringing up the matter of sexual differentiation, Fr. Behr says, "Our goal in Christ is to become human, as men and women equally." Contrary to your assertion, it would seem that he feels that sexual differentiation is really important to consider.

(to be continued)

Skevophylakion said...

(continued from above)

Fr. Behr explicitly rejected the denial that sexual differentiation is real, or that it's something that will be removed when we reach some transcendent level of personhood. He said that sexual differentiation is inscribed into human existence, and attributed the trouble that people have with recognizing the reality of sexual differentiation to an "inadequacy" within the nature/hypostasis model.

He reads Genesis 1:26-28 as having a "possible intimation" within the passage that there is something greater in human sexual differentiation than procreative capacity. In fact, while insisting that there is nothing in God that corresponds to male or female, he says "human beings, and they alone, are provided a way into the mystery of God through this aspect of their existence as male and female."

Later, when discussing the quotation from 1 Corinthians 7:1-6, Fr. Behr says that the various practices of abstention are not attempts at making us "sexless", they are intended to give us an experience of our sexual identity that "transcends our present experience", free from "impassioned lust". Again, he is not promoting a genderless humanity or even one without sexual intercourse.

Fr. Behr then explains that males and females have a common calling and destiny in dying to ourselves, and that death has been transfigured into a means of becoming truly human. He does talk about overcoming the distinction between male and female when he gets into the quotations from St. Maximus, but he very emphatically insists that there are still men and women. We overcome the distinction between male and female by acquiring dispassion and virtue, but we are still men and women, who can "finally see each other as human beings". This is what he meant by the interest of the Fathers being "being human after the stature of Christ, [rather] than being either male or female." So it is never about removing our sexual differentiation at all!

While most are standing firm on the Church's teaching, St. Vladimir Seminary wavers.

This is an incredibly inflammatory and offensive statement, and you have not assembled nearly enough evidence to justify saying that.

Some seminarians at St. Vladimir 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, seeing that they do not discern the foremost necessity for a Priest, which is to preserve Holy Tradition.

Obviously, St. Vladimir's has to foster the spiritual growth of its seminarians, but they cannot force that growth, nor can they expel students simply for disagreeing with what they are taught. The seminarians all have bishops and spiritual fathers who bear the ultimate responsibility for their souls, as well as vetting candidates for ordination.

I thought it was pretty obvious that SVS did not hold this conference in order to promote women's ordination. The only reason the topic of women's ordination was addressed at all was because some of the attendees came with this interest at heart, and brought it up during the free discussion periods.

To say that SVS would promote women's ordination in order to provide job opportunities for their alumnae is ludicrous. SVS has hundreds of alumnae, and the seminary has never championed a single one as a candidate for ordination in the Orthodox Church.

It's unfortunate that you did not give the lecture enough time and consideration to understand what Fr. Behr was talking about. I have the impression that your opinion of SVS was not all that high to begin with, and confirmation bias led you to make assumptions about Fr. Behr's viewpoint that weren't actually borne out in the lecture, and were actually contradicted by Fr. Behr. So, I invite you to listen to the lecture again and reconsider your viewpoint.

Anonymous said...

Why is everybody so confused?

Only the Catholics and Orthodox have a priesthood to begin with. The reformation churches rejected this concept along with the Mass.

These things are now being called rights?

Even if if we look at the concept that the Holy Sprit has revealed this to us. The question is why did the Holy Sprit previously tell the reformers they were an abomination and now that they are rights that belong to the people of God.

Why was this not made clear before?

This is the height of madness.


Savvy

Alice C. Linsley said...

Thank you, Skevophylakion, for your excellent response. It is nice to have someone respond intelligently to what I write! :)

If you read what I wrote again, you will note that I hear "echoes" of heresies from the Episcopal Church in what Fr. Behr says. That is not to say that he is a heretic. However, I do believe that the trajectory of his remarks is dangerous.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Good point, Savvy. Does the Faith comes by special revelation to a few [Oxford men]? Or is the Faith a received, unchanging Tradition for all people at all times and places [catholic]?

Anonymous said...

Am I missing something here? Has Fr Behr ever spoken or written, explicitly or implicitly, that one must be an "Oxford man" (or woman) to speak about the faith?

Or is this another "echo"?

These echoes, as Skevophylakion pointed out, are not based on what he actually said. So, why the ad hominem attacks on Fr Behr and Metropolitan Kallistos? Surely, you are not suggesting that education disqualifies someone from articulating the faith or remaining true to the Tradition?

Alice C. Linsley said...

What ad hominem attacks?

Did you read the other comments?

Education isn't the issue here.

Please give your name in the future. I usually don't allow comments from people who don't give their names.

Fr. Stephen said...

Alice,
I took time yesterday and today to listen carefully to Fr. John's talk. I understand that one might "hear" echoes of earlier things (Episcopal). You know I was there too. However, Fr. John simply does an excellent patristic exegesis fully in concert with his earlier work. He particularly uses St. Maximus, who probably has more to say on "male and female" than any Church father. But Fr. John's presentation did not provide a foundation for women in the priesthood nor homosexuality, etc. At most he provides the case of, "Now having been Baptized, we remain men and women, and the way forward is not through the Adamic version of that, but through ascesis." He has done a masterful work of exegesis which, as Orthodox, will better and more fully defend the Tradition which has once and for all been delivered to the saints.
Fr. John is falsely accused, unless there is evidence elsewhere.

Skevophylakion said...

Alice, you just conjectured that Fr. Behr is some kind of esotericist, simply because he studied at Oxford.

Your original posting purported to summarize the main points of Fr. Behr's lecture, but your summarizations were misleading, and in some cases directly contradicted what Fr. Behr actually said.

You accused Fr. Behr of teaching "nonsense" and of encouraging "waywardness", and you also accused the seminary of "wavering" with respect to the Church's teaching. These accusations are false. They are based not on the content of the lecture, but your misunderstanding of it.

In your reply to Teena, you seemed to suggest that SVS would promote the acceptability of women's ordination in order to provide employment for its female graduates. This is totally groundless, as well as offensive to the alumnae of SVS who uphold the tradition of the Church.

I would suggest that you listen to the lecture again. If you still have concerns, perhaps you can find a more direct and professional way to share those concerns.

Alice C. Linsley said...

I'll gladly listen to his presentation again. Perhaps with less suspicion this time.

My suspicions remain however when I hear that seminarians at St. Vlads entertain the possibility of women priests. The dean and faculty should expose the fallacy of this. Such a development is contrary to Biblical teaching and to Holy Tradition concerning the Son of God.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Here is part of the advertisement for the conference at which Fr. Behr spoke: "This year, for our annual summer academic conference, we've chosen "Women Disciples of the Lord" as the theme. The goals of this particular conference are:
to explore and articulate the Christ-centered context out of which lay, and especially women’s, ministries are to be expressed;
to listen to women pursuing Gospel-bearing vocations in the Church and parish, home and society; and, building on previous meetings,
to help our parishes and Churches foster women’s and lay vocations.

The primary questions we will be addressing towards these goals are:
How did our female forebears understand and live in Christ—as women? And how may we follow their examples today?

Christ empowered the women among His disciples. How can women’s talents enrich the work of the Church today, energize parishes, and bring the Gospel into the world?

How can the Church’s institutions better participate in the preparation of women and other laity for service? How can the Church validate women in their ministries: hiring them, blessing them, and sending them to attend to the Church’s missions? How can it establish positions worthy of its women seminary graduates? What infrastructure needs to be created?"

Skevophylakion, this tells me that the hiring of women for church positions is a matter of concern, as well it should be. I applaude affirming women's ministries/gifts in service of the Church. If women are not recognized officially in roles other than the priesthood (teachers, theologians, parish administrators, religious education directors, seminary professors, etc.); if the priesthood is the only way to serve officially (as it was in The Episcopal Church), then that door will be forced opened.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Fr. Stephen,

Fr. Behr affirms heterosexual attraction. He does not leave the door ajar for homosex, though advocates of gay rights in teh Church will interpret "other" in terms of the gender continuum theory. His application of St. Maximus' incarnational theology seems to place male and female into a dualistic framework, whereas the biblical worldview holds the male-female binary set as male greater than female and in service to the weaker vessel (kenosis). I must listen to it again to be sure.

Call me Ishmael said...

"This view that Jesus Christ came to perfect a genderless Humanity is nonsense and demeaning to both men and women. At the day of Resurrection we will rise in our bodies as male and female, not as genderless angels."

False! Who teaches you such things, what books have you been reading? Read the Gospels:

"And Jesus answering said unto them, «The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage: but they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.»" (Luke 20: 34-36)

And this is what St. Paul has to say:

"Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I shew you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, «Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?»" (I Corinthians 15: 50-55)

And homosexuality existed also in ancient times, when the roles of men and women were clearly divided. There is no proven cause-effect relation between these things. Following your logic, you should be sitting at the cooking herd -- no offense intended, I only wanted to prove a point.

Peace.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Ishmael,

Jesus makes a distinction between humans and angels in the verses you cite. The two are quite different, though both created beings. Being equal to angels is not the same as being changed into angels. Jesus is speaking of immortality.

If you have followed the dissolution of historic Anglicanism you would recognize that the introduction of non-celibate clergy and same-sex ceremonies in that "church" came only after the Episcopalians broke the back of catholic orders by ordaining women as priests.

No offense taken. I'm not easily offended.

Call me Ishmael said...

To have a body means to have a form -- we are limited in space and time. And I believe that in the afterlife we will have new bodies, made out of light -- or shadow.

Alice C. Linsley said...

You are a Gnostic, not a Christian.

Skevophylakion said...

Skevophylakion, this tells me that the hiring of women for church positions is a matter of concern, as well it should be. I applaude affirming women's ministries/gifts in service of the Church. If women are not recognized officially in roles other than the priesthood (teachers, theologians, parish administrators, religious education directors, seminary professors, etc.); if the priesthood is the only way to serve officially (as it was in The Episcopal Church), then that door will be forced opened.

SVS has had very few women applicants in the past few years. There are precious few ministry opportunities that make a seminary education worthwhile for women. The Church is already served in many ways by women, and women can base other new ministries and activities off of previous successes.

Unfortunately, there seems to be an undercurrent among some that these ministries ought to be used to agitate for women's ordination. Women are afraid to embrace certain ministries, like chaplaincy, precisely because it's being used to promote an agenda. Today we're "restoring" these "female deacons", and next thing we know they will be pushing to have these "female deacons" (and girls) serving at the altar.

I am sure you know that the issue of deaconesses is one of the sticky issues when women's ordination is discussed. It helps when women who uphold the tradition of the Church get involved in the conversation. There is so much disinformation out there about deaconesses, that it's hard to know where's the truth and where's the agenda.

I interpreted your suspicions about Fr. Behr as based in fear that they could be used to support something ungodly. I wrote in because I know Fr. Behr is a passionate defender of Holy Tradition, not just against overt heresies but also against well-intentioned errors.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Skevophylakion, I am glad that you expressed your concerns. I took/take them to heart.

Women have significant ministries as wives, mothers, teachers, employees, daughters, sisters, friends, etc. Perhaps we need the clergy to remind all lay persons, both male and female, that their true ministries are where God has them right now!

Steve Allen said...

I fully agree with your assertion of a binary worldview for the Scriptures and for the tradition of the Church, and I fully agree that to ordain women to the episcopal or presbyteral ministry would be a gross distortion of the Faith.

(I do not agree that deacons are to be only men, since there is ample evidence of deaconesses in all ages of the Church. Albeit, I do realize that deaconesses had/have a more limited and "feminine" role than deacons, focused mostly on ministry to other women. But I digress...)

However, in your reaction #3, you state, "At the day of Resurrection we will rise in our bodies as male and female..." I certainly hope you are correct! (I rather like being male...haha.)

Nevertheless....I do wonder what you do with St. Paul's assertion that "in Christ there is neither male nor female"?

Alice Linsley said...

Steve,

The Greek Church is considering female deaconess, for which there is a precedent, as you say.

In the Latinized West, the Church hierarchy from Pope down to sub-deacons was reserved for males and all had some liturgical duties. This was never the case for female deaconesses in the Bible or the early Church.

When St. Paul speaks of the Church, he always has in mind that we are the Body of Christ, with Christ as the Head, having the preeminence in all things. Being in Christ makes distinctions between us - male/female; rich/poor; slave/free, etc. fade into obscurity. This is not to say that gender or other characteristics of humanity disappear.

Arimathean said...

I was a student at St. Vlad's back when Alice wrote this post. I heard not one word from anyone there advocating women priests. There was some discussion among the students about the possibility of women deacons, but even that never rose to the level of advocacy. The one female M.Div. student from my class now works as a (lay) hospital chaplain.