I APOLOGIZE FOR NOT POSTING A BLOG LAST WEEK. UNFORTUNATELY, MY COMPUTER DIED DURING HOLY WEEK. I AM WORKING ON THE PROBLEM. GOD BLESS YOU ALL!
Chapters 7 and 8 of Behr-Sigel’s essays centre on the central theme of Mme. Sigel’s life, the issue of women and men in the Church. As these chapters are read, it must be pointed out that the essays were written for the most part in the 1980’s and 1990’s. The reason I call this to the mind of readers is that at that time this topic was being encouraged by the general trends in ecumenical and theological scenes world-wide. Unfortunately, the extension of this movement, a more significant role for women in the Church, led to a relativism that opened the door for the current and more difficult issue within the contemporary ecumenical setting. The newest difficulty for the Orthodox is the problem of the role of practicing homosexuals, be it their “marriage” or ordination.
The injustice is that this current development has pushed aside the valid concern of the role of women. This issue is a topic that must be faced with thoughtful study and consideration. Behr-Sigel introduces her approach to this topic with a discussion of the question of Holy Tradition vs. common tradition. This inquiry is tantamount to the consideration of the conversation about women and the Church. What is true Tradition and what is custom? Our Church is a Church of Living Tradition; from this Holy Deposit of truth springs all the teachings of the Church. The Bible, the dogmas, the teachings of the Holy Fathers and Mothers of our life as a people of God are all part of Holy Tradition. This Tradition is the sinew of faith. In addition, the life of the Church in history develops traditions with a little “t” which are the practices and customs which acculturate the Church in a time and place. There are times that these two traditions are confused. They are not only confused, but in an attempt to preserve essential Tradition, everything is zealously preserved even the non-essential. What is the true authority by which the Church is regulated? Within these two traditions, the ferment and question of the role of women becomes entangled. Did we not have women deaconesses within the Holy Tradition of our Church? Did we not see their diminished manifestation in the tradition (little t)? The Church of today must grapple with this question. Behr-Sigel asks the difficult questions, while witnessing to the process by which the Church is using to deal with these matters.The theological foundation which forms the backdrop of this conversation is the subject matter of the next few chapters.
The beginning point is, of course, the example of Jesus and His relationship with women. The essay points out correctly Our Lord dealt with the person, not with groups. He encountered individual humans, not men or women, not colours or nationalities, nothing but a personal encounter with God was the reality of coming face to face with the Messiah. Behr-Sigel rightly calls to our attention that Jesus shattered the “tradition” of His time concerning with whom he “should” associate. Women, tax collectors, adulterers, prostitutes, Samaritans, lepers, those possessed by demons; none were taboo for the touch of the Master. These examples are telling us what is important is the person relationship with Christ, the encounter not the convention of society. Is this example borne out in the life of Church? What is the Tradition and what is tradition?
This last Friday, I did not place my accustomed posting on this blog. Ria and I were in Houston for the forty day blessing of our newest grandson, Peter. It was a great honour for us to be present as a new child of God made his entrance into the temple of Our Lord. I hope you all excuse me for being a proud Papou and skipping the last entry. I promise to make it up, as this conversation continues.
Today, I would like to talk about silence. As I was growing up, my parents always referred to the Friday before the Saturday of Lazarus – as the “Silence (oi koufi)”. I always thought this was because the Akathist had finished and there wasn’t a service that night. Ok, there was silence. Now, I look at this a bit more deeply. If you remember a few years ago, there was this movement to help young people make better decisions by using the question, “What would Jesus do?” As I recall, there were even little rubber bracelets with the letters “WWJD” on them. In this case this is the question that should be asked. The Gospel reading of the Raising of Lazarus, (John 11, 1 – 45) begins with Jesus apparently hesitating to go to his friend’s aid. Well, this supposed hesitation had a real purpose, for all to see the glory of God. How was this to be accomplished? Our Lord seemingly was blasé about Lazarus’s illness and rushing to his side. After staying put for two days, Jesus prepared to go to Bethany informing His disciples that Lazarus was dead. As Jesus encountered Martha and Mary, they expressed thoughts that we all feel at sometime, “if only.” They were sure that if only Jesus had been there Lazarus wouldn’t have died, but Jesus was silent and missing. For us to truly understand Jesus’ hesitation, we need to know a bit about the Jewish teaching concerning death. At day four, in the Jewish understanding, the soul left the body in other words the body was a cadaver, a corpse. So if Lazarus was a corpse, Jesus did not simply resuscitate him. As Jesus called forth Lazarus and Lazarus walked out of his tomb Christ created life from dead matter. The Creator God bestowed life on Lazarus. Christ is God and the silence of Lazarus’ tomb was shattered. To the assembled crowd this silence was deafening.
It seems to me that it is ironic that “March Madness” happens each year during Great Lent. If you’re a sport’s fan, like me, you watch the progress through the brackets; always looking forward to the next weekend. For those readers outside the U.S., what I am talking about is the basketball playoff system that is used by the college and university system here in the states. After playing in their leagues across the land, the top sixty-four teams begin a playoff leading to four teams which are called the Final Four. During that last few days, the tension increases while the last four teams play each other until there is one winner. I think that there is a parallel with the Fast.
We’re constantly pointing to our goal, Pascha. Each service prompts us to remember the final step, the Resurrection. We work our way through the brackets, each Sunday of Great Lent. At each stage there is a victory. The victory enables us to move on to the next. As we progress through these Sundays, we must prepare for the next level. During the week, the Church gives us “practice opportunities;” the Pre-Sanctified Liturgies, the Akathist Hymn. Each, in their own way, not only encourages our progress, but also supports our efforts. Each Sunday gives us a new game strategy, with an almost ESPN-like hall of fame player featured. Each of us is supported by a coach, our father confessor. The final week the excitement grows and by the last few days there is real tension. Like the march to the Final Four, it is much more satisfying if you have been involved from the very beginning of the long progression to the big finish, but you can get into it at the very end and still feel the exhilaration. Here’s where the really moving divergence comes to pass. Unlike the Final Four, there are no losers, when our “big week” is over. Everyone is a winner. We can all cheer, because this triumph is universal and eternal.