WOMEN IN CREATION AND NEW CREATION
by Khoureeye Elfriede Daly
As all of you know, it is not possible to watch ten minutes of news on T.V. these days (or for that matter anything on TV.), without being reminded of how the role and status of women is being questioned throughout our nation. Every segment of society seems to be asking questions about women as mothers, wives, and as employees. This is true in government, education, industry, and even in religion. There is no part of society that is not touched by these very serious questions. We have seen recent appointments to very high public office being scrutinized because the nominees to these positions were women. There is no question that the role of women is changing in our society. I believe that we as Orthodox Christian women must ask ourselves how we should respond to all that we see and hear about ourselves as women in this ever changing world.
It is my conviction that how we respond to this new situation will depend upon how we understand our nature as women. We have to ask “what does it mean to be a woman? What is our special nature? It is my further belief that our nature as women has been determined by God. And however we live out our roles in society, they must be in accord with who and what God had ordained us to be.
I was born and raised in Austria. I also served as a missionary in Southern Africa from 1972-1979. I came to the States in 1980.
And, having lived in Europe, Africa, and North America over the past 25 years, I have seen women in many different situations and many different roles. In Europe, Africa and even in the United States, women seem to share one thing in common — their value is often based upon their function. This may be their biological function, or their economic function, or their social function.
How many babies they could produce, how many fields they could till, or how big was their paycheck. If women did not have an important function in society, they did not have value. Even educated women in our society often seek their dignity and status in terms of the function they perform.
1 think that it was in Africa, where human life is often lived in its most fundamental form, that I realized that it was only the church that did not measure women by these utilitarian standards. It was in the Church that the humblest African woman realized her true worth and true dignity. In the part of Africa that I lived in, women had the permanent legal status of a minor. She could not legally own anything. Even her children could be lost if she lost her husband through divorce or death. They belonged to his family rather than to her. The Church gave women a new view of themselves.
It is in the Church and especially in Her Sacred Scriptures that we discover what I believe to be our true nature.
In The Book of Genesis we read of our creation … “so God created man in his own image. In the image of God he created him, male and female he created them,” (Gen. 1:27). Men and women are both creatures of God. We share the very same origin. But being female is not simply one “way of being human,” being female is an act of creation. “Male and female he created … here is no androgynous human being. We are created either male or female. It was the eternal will of God that we exist precisely as females. Our nature was to be women. And we will live out our lives in all that we do as women. Neither men nor women were created in isolation from one another. This is a joint venture. With men we are part of creation, but we must not forget that we also share the same Fall, and with men we share the need for redemption. But being born female is an absolute. It is part of the will of God. There is nothing negative in any way to being female. And whatever we do, we should not try to alter or change our fundamental nature. We bring something into this world precisely by being female. Being male or female is to compliment one another.
One of my favorite Icons is that of Easter. Christ is depicted as coming forth from the realms of death. In one hand he has man, and in the other hand he has woman. Christ came to redeem both men and women.
The fundamental equality of women is revealed in the New Testament, not only by the choice of the Theotokos who would be the bearer of God the Word, but also by the total earthly ministry of Jesus.
Professor Veselin Kesich writes of this in his book The Gospel Image of Christ.
“Jesus’ … attitude toward women is without Rabbinic parallel — he conversed with them, he healed them on the Sabbath day. They traveled with him and he came to those who did not travel with him to teach them and to make them His disciples. This attitude towards women is a sign of the new age inaugurated with Jesus’ coming.”
This was truly revolutionary and it is only with Jesus Christ that how we look at women was now radically different.
St. Paul affirms in the Letter to the Galatians, “all of you who have been baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with him. There does not exist among you Jew or Greek, slave or freeman, male or female. All are one in Christ Jesus. Furthermore if you belong to Christ you are descendants of Abraham, which means you inherit all that was promised,” (Gal. 3:27-29).
In the Church, women are seen as children of God, redeemed and recreated by Christ. In the sacraments of Baptism, Chrismation, and Eucharist, we have received the Same Lord. Women are not given less than men. The Father created all of us, men and women alike. Christ died for all of us, men and women alike. The Holy Spirit dwells in all of us, men and women alike. Our dignity as human beings has little to do with our function in the world, but everything to do with our sharing the life of God. Not only do we exist uniquely as an act of God’s creation, we as women also share in the New Creation wrought by Christ Jesus.
In many churches today (especially non-Orthodox churches) the question of the role of women arises. But sadly these questions are raised in the context of Function. If a woman does not do this or that, then they believe that they are of less value.
Our dignity as persons does not arise from our function in the Church, but from the fact that we actually share the life of God and are new creatures. Men and women alike, we all have the same call and that is to serve. No two persons, men or women, will serve in quite the same way. In the final analysis, we will be judged, not by the function we performed in the world, but by the life we have lived.
No office in the Church, no honor bestowed, can compare to the fundamental dignity that every one of us received on the day of our baptism. We put on Christ. He is our Robe of Glory. Let each of us serve him with the gifts that he has given to us, men and women alike.
Now — Where do we go from here? If we recognize that we have been created by God uniquely as women, if we recognize that we have been redeemed by Christ uniquely as women, what does that mean for us as we live out our lives in our families, in our churches and in society?
The theme for our Parish Life Conference this past year was “See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received from the Lord,” (Col. 4:17). Whatever we do within the context of the Church is a Ministry.
Part of the ministry that we exercise is ours by virtue of being women. Another part depends upon the special gifts that God has given us as individuals, There are many ministries and many gifts. Far too many for me to speak about here! But I would like to mention two ministries that all women seem to be called to exercise. These are the ministry of Presence and the ministry of community building.
Our first ministry is simply the ministry of presence. Simply put, we must be there. Most of us are wives, mothers, and churchwomen. Many women are employed outside of their homes.
I think that we must recognize the priorities of our various responsibilities. Many of us over extend ourselves. We want to do everything at once. Obviously we can’t. Can we “have it all”? Can we “do it all”? I was gratified to hear the newly appointed Supreme Court Nominee state something that I have long believed. “You can do it all (so to speak), but you certainly cannot do it all at the same time.”
Our presence is needed by our children, by our husbands, by our churches. Our absence can be catastrophic especially to our young children, and to our families. Newborn babies and young children need our presence more than a twelve year old does. It is not always a matter of what we say or what we may do at a given moment. Love’s first duty is often simply to listen. To be there. (In the July Readers Digest there is an article on children from divorced families which tells us what we all already knew. These children pay a severe price when they do not have the presence of their parents.)
There is a second role or ministry that women have had and probably have always had since creation itself. This is the role or ministry of “community builder.” Whether we like it or not, we are the community builders within our families, within our neighborhoods, within the Church itself, and within society as a whole. We don’t have to ask why we don’t have neighborhoods anymore. There are no neighborhoods because we as women are not building neighborhoods We are not there.
Let me tell you a short parable:
A man goes out and buys a loom. He brings it home to his wife. She weaves the tapestry. She decides the color. She creates the shape and pattern as she decides what she creates is the life that they live as a family. The woman decides the spirit, the atmosphere, the music of the family. We are the greatest influence on our husbands. No one sits at our table, no one is treated with hospitality unless we decide that it will be so. It is we who create the family. It is the women who create or fail to create a neighborhood. It is we the women who in so many ways set the tone of the total society. And the Church is no exception. Close your eyes for a moment and think of your parish church without any women. Yes even the community of the Church is in large measure a product of the women. We seem to have the special ministry of community builders.
Watching women interact with women and men with men is very interesting. Women have it much easier. We can strike up a conversation with each other very easily. We know more about each other in one hour than when men talk to each other in one week. Whatever the special nature of men is, it seems to be far more difficult for them to come out of themselves and to make friends. Women seem to have far more friends. Is this not something inherent in us? Is this not part of our special ministry to our families, our communities, and our churches? In exercising this ministry of community building every woman in our Church can exercise the special gifts that God has given to her. These are the individual charisms. Here I would like to say that no talent is useless or insignificant. Each talent can be put to the overall service of building the community.
And what is it that we are building? Nothing less than the Body of Christ. “There are indeed many different members, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand ‘I do not need you’, any more than the head can say to the feet ‘I do not need you’. Even those members of the body which seem less important are in fact indispensable,” (I Cor, 12:20-22).
May I repeat, no office in the Church, no honor bestowed, can compare to the fundamental dignity that every one of us received on the day of our baptism. We put on Christ. He is our Robe of Glory. Let each of us serve him with the gifts that he has given to us, men and women alike.
As women we have been created by God as female. We will continue to be mothers and wives, as our mothers were before us, Many will have professions in the world, But whatever we do and however we serve, we cannot do so as men. We are different. God has made us so. He has given us our own nature and our own gifts.
In closing, I would like us to look at Mary our Mother and sister. God chose a woman to send his Son into the world. Whatever Jesus was as a human, don’t think for a moment that Mary had nothing to do with it. He learned through her how to be a human being. St. Luke tells us that “Jesus grew in wisdom and age and grace before God and man,” Let us say with Mary the humble words, “let it be done unto me according to your Word.”
Khoureeye Elfriede Daly is from St Anthony church Bergenfield, NJ. She delivered this paper at a luncheon for Antiochian Women during the Eastern Region Parish Life Conference in Wilkes-Barre, PA, July, 1993
From Word Magazine
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America