- John Manutes wrote:
"Women may practice this of their own accord but I would guess it has
developed this way over many centuries from previous restrictions
spelled out in canon law. The law resulted from a view that one type
of defilement (there are two types) was the result of contact with a
person considered polluted and impure by nature. This type of
defilement was not affected by a repentant member or the original
intent of the subject. All the canonical commentators say
menstruation introduces impurity by nature, which on cannot repent
Me: The canons speak in the same way about nocturnal emmissions,
though the time frames that one was considered "unclean" was shorter,
for obvious reasons. No father ever suggested that menstruation was
a sin, only that it was a natural uncleaness. In the days prior to
sanitary napkins, the reasons for this are not hard to imagine.
According to Balsamon, the canon of St. Dionysius did not prevent
such women from entering the narthex. One could spend a lot of time
on this, but as things have developed over time, the practical
distinction between the narthex and the nave of the Church has
changed, and the restrictions that in earlier times were applied to
the nave have generally been moved back to the Iconostasis... which
is not unrelated to the development of high iconostases. Just as we
no longer (outside of very strict monasteries) require catechumens to
depart, and prohibit non-Orthodox from entering the Church -- but
continue to prohibit either from entering the Altar, likewise,
menstruating women are not prevented from entering the nave of the
Church, but continue to be prohibited from entering the altar.
JM: "By the 15th c. menstruating women were excluded from other
mysteries as well."
Me: On what basis do you make this statement?
JM: "These exclusions lead the Fathers to abolish the ordination
of deaconesses and denied women access to the altar area."
Me: Deaconesses had to be at least 40 years old, and either a widow
or a virgin vowed to celibacy. And their duties had nothing to do
with the altar. The end of the use of deaconesses had nothing to do
with their mentruating, but rather had to do with the conversion of
the general population of the Empire -- which for the most part did
away with adult catechumens. You will also note that we no longer
baptize adults in the nude... these two facts taken together
eliminated the need for deaconesses... whose primary job was to
administer the actual baptism of adult women behind a screen for the
sake of modesty.
JM: "Now, I am not "railing" against menstruating women, but, I cite
it as an example of old canons that need to be reevaluated. Your
statement implies that there is something pious or holy about women
who practice not going to services or partaking of the Eucharist
because they are menstruating. As I said it is more likely left over
from years of restricions within the Church. Menstruating women who
stay away from the Church may believe they are being pious, but it is
a baseless tradition (small "t"). "
Me: Do you think we should revise the Scriptures too, while we are at
-Fr. John Whiteford
P.s. I had previously stated that this discussion needed to come to
an end. If your posts start disappearing prior to being distributed,
please do not e-mail me to inquire as to why that is.