Role of Women in the Church
- Over the last few weeks I have been reading about the various views on the role of women in the Jacobite church, in SOCM. Four years ago I had alluded to this topic as a small part of a talk I had given at one of our family conferences in the North American diocese. I had put forward some of our Patriarch's thoughts at a previous meeting in Damascus in 1996. I had found his Holiness' comments very intriguing. The ignorance of the vast majority of our lay people and clergy on the stand of the Syrian Orthodox Church's views about the role of women in the church are really very astonishing.
I was very pleased to see the link to his Holiness' talk published in the SOCM of November 23, 2010. This is a must read for Christians, especially those who belong to the Syrian Orthodox Church, for in his talk the Patriarch makes the church's views clear. The Patriarch says, "Depending on the Holy Bible the Syrian Orthodox Church (SOC) considers women equal to men in rights and duties. According to the Holy Scriptures, God created man in his image, In the image of God created him, male and female He created them." So the church has clearly mandated that men and women are equal before God. Further in his talk he tells a very amusing story of St. Ephrem's meeting with an Edessan woman. The story goes that this woman kept glancing at St. Ephrem who rebuked her saying "Woman keep your eyes downward and look at the ground." To which she answered, "I'm entitled to look at you, oh man, because I was taken from you and you should look down to the earth as it was from the earth you were created." After St. Ephrem talked to her, he admired this woman's wisdom, and later encouraged the education of women.
His Holiness gave numerous examples from the Bible which clearly showed that God and Christ considered men and women to be equal, and treated them as such without prejudice. His Holiness did not ignore St. Paul. The Patriarch says that when St. Paul wrote in Corinthians 14:34 "let your women keep silence in the churches" he did so solely as a temporary organizational measure, and not as a doctrine of faith that should be amended or changed. In fact, he felt it was said in order to prevent talkative women from prattling when others wished to pray. I agree with His Holiness' stand on this matter, for within a few verses in St. Paul's various letters, St. Paul contradicted himself over and over again. For example, he gives honor to some women over men by his words; he traveled with women something that was not a common practice at that time; and he had women preach in their fellowship meetings.
In the past, our church had deaconesses, a practice that has recently been renewed. The only position a woman cannot hold in our church is that of a fully ordained priest. The reason being used to defend this stance is that Christ did not have any female apostles. If you consider the culture and practices of those times, it is easy to understand why Christ did not use women as apostles. During those times, the male dominated society considered women to be less than cattle and therefore respected less than humans. I have never considered Jesus to be a Sadist or a Misogynist because if He had been one, He would have sent women out to preach in the various towns. where they most likely would have been raped, abducted, murdered, or sold into slavery. However, whenever He could, He elevated the status of women; He even made women apostles to the apostles.
His Holiness closed the talk by saying "Today, Syriac women hold high positions in all domains social, cultural,and religious. Women have become physicians, lawyers, judges, engineers,teachers, Members of Parliament, and in the church, Council of Trustees as well as being members of charitable societies. In all of these endeavors, women are equal to men in rights, duties, and dignity."
Members of the Syrian Jacobite churches of Malankara in and outside of India need to educate themselves to how the church, which represents Christ's thoughts and teachings, feel about women and their role in the church and not impose contradicting, non Biblical views on its members. Various well known theological scholars who have studied the letters of St.Paul feel, that in later centuries, others have added their thoughts and so have created numerous contradictions. Be that as it may, the Syrian Orthodox thinking and belief is very clear in that in everything men and women are equal in the sight of God, except for ordination as a priest.