Banning Women From Worship

ImageNo women allowed: Tourist destinations where females are forbidden was the title of an article which caught my eye yesterday morning as I skimmed my Google News page. I eagerly clicked the link, of course expecting some great pictures of Mount Athos. What I found was an article framed to display a “reminder of how far, or not, women have come.”

The article asserts that Athos maintains “a centuries-old belief maintains that the presence of females inhibits their path to the spiritual enlightenment of the monks” The article continued to discuss other places off-limits to women due to religious arguments. It had a tone of sarcasm and seemed to belittle those cultures.

More striking was a paragraph on a particular Hindu temple where the author thought it interesting to note, “it’s based on the belief among some religions, including Hinduism and the Eastern Orthodox Church, that menstruating women are impure, and as result they are banned from entering sacred areas of worship or receiving communion.”

I was intrigued that she once again found it important to draw a paralel to the Orthodox faith. What about Orthodox Judaism? I asked myself. In Leviticus it explains that even if a woman sits on a couch the couch is unclean until sundown!

That aside, I was frustrated to see a belief maintained by some circles as absolute.

A bit of history:

There is no record of menstruation discussion in the ecumenical councils. It is not written in doctrine because as Orthodox Christians we limit doctrine to those teachings which relate directly to the person of God, and His incarnation for our salvation. (This is different from the Catholic church, which has a doctrine for many other teachings).

The issue of menstruation and cleanliness then, is up to tradition. Traditions, of course, are able to change because they are not doctrine. In the course of the history of the Orthodox Church, many Jewish traditions or laws were carried over into Orthodoxy and adapted for its teachings. At the time of the early church, menstruation was, indeed, a very unclean processes. It was for practical reasons that women would remain at home, more than a religious reason.

As a pure technicality, menstruation is not nearly as “unclean” in today’s world. Periods do not inhibit most women from executing their normal schedules and routines.

Then comes the question of spiritual cleanliness. Unfortunately, like many issues, our church has failed to address this with a concrete, up-to-date answer. Most resources will tell you to discuss this with your personal spiritual father.

There are a variety of views (my titles, not official ones)

1) The ultra-traditionalist view holds that receiving communion during menstruation is forbidden by the cannons and must continue to be forbidden. Some circles will go so far as to say that a woman cannot even consume the andithoron.

2) The logical-rationalist view holds that communion must be received with proper preparation. Many of us women are familiar with large mood swings which can cause us to lash out irrationally at loved ones. The idea here is that our state of mind is not one which is prepared for communion in many cases.

3) The holistic view holds that women should be able to receive, regardless of the point in her cycle. As long as she is properly preparing the week before communion, menstruation should not hold her back from the chalice. Some cultures celebrate a girl’s first period because it is her mark into womanhood. From an Orthodox perspective, a period demonstrates a woman’s ability to participate in the creation of human life. This is a blessing from God, not a punishment for sin.

I plan on addressing my other issue with this article at a later date.