Discerning the Signs of the Times (part 4)

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.

Female saints

Some Women Saints of the Church

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?