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Amal Dibo
Learning to see Women in Christ

The eye is the lamp of the body.
If you eye s are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. (Mt 6:22)

 

It is undoubtedly clear that this blessed conference in the memory of Metropolitan Anthony is based on these versus from the Gospels by Matthew and Luke. It is equally certain that we believe that the light of Christ was transmitted to us through the eyes of Metropolitan Anthony, and we gather times after times to elucidate our human conditions according to his teachings.

The reason on which we build our belief is that Metropolitan Anthony had his eyes focused solely on Christ as the prototype of Man and the image of the Light and Glory of God the Father at once. Deeply and solidly rooted in the Holy Tradition of the Fathers of the Church and their experience and interpretations of the teachings of Christ, Metropolitan Anthony interiorized them and summarized them and was gifted to reformulate them in the language that could speak to us today in our present contexts. He was able to do that, because he was eager to see that the message of Christ would reach us in our present realities.

This eagerness brought him closer to the concrete realities of the world today; on one hand as a medical doctor he could diagnose the ailments that stood between us and the Word of God, on the other hand as a priest (in the image of Christ) he looked with empathy, love and compassion at our aliments. The obstacles he taught us to recognize are derived from the worldly traditions. I recall that he gave to one of the Diocesan Conferences that took place during his life with us the theme of Tradidion and traditions. Fr John Meyendorff writes on the subject:

One of the most basic problems facing theologians today is knowing how to discern between the Holy Tradition of the Church- the expression adequate or appropriate to Revelation - and the human traditions which express Revelation only imperfectly very often, which even oppose or obscure it.

For whereas our worldly traditions echo our conflicting interests and games of power, the Holy Tradition moves us into the direction of our resemblance to Christ, in love instead of iniquities and in abnegation instead of greed. Indeed, going back to the versus of the Gospels quoted above the texts continues

The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. (Mt 6:22-24).

Metropolitan Anthony choosing to serve God, taught us to be free from our human traditions built on greed for material things, yet without ignoring or despising our reality and its human needs. He taught us to see, to recognize and accept our human limitedness which he dealt with in compassion and patience. These were the reflections of the mystery of the Incarnation, God took the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness, and being found in appearance as a man, (Ph 2:7-8) he was loving to mankind. Societies are stronger than individuals and each one of us is a product of a specific culture and civilization of this world; yet in as much as we choose to see, identify and recognize the image of God engrained in us at our Baptism we can free ourselves from the world impact and slavery and treat our ailments.

I needed this introduction to the subject of my talk entitled Learning to see Women in Christ because we know that the beauty and as well the ugliness is in the eye of the beholder. We have witnessed that the eyes of metropolitan Anthony were beholding the newness of the Gospels. What did we learn from Metropolitan Anthony with regards to seeing?

In answering this question, there is, it seems to me, a set of key approaches or attitudes of the soul that we could have learnt from him.

The first is the personal encounter with the person of Christ. Ever since metropolitan Anthony was ceased by the vivid feeling of the presence of Christ, he committed his life to this encounter. It is the quality of this commitment that he tried to convey to us. A total, uncompromising surrender of the heart, a clear and unhesitant answer of love. A love that was not shared with matters of the world but rather a love that served and shared the love of Christ to the world with those who believed in Him as Savior across ages and times. He met all those in reading and feeling the Fathers of the Church, he took every single word in the Gospels as seriously as a lieutenant takes order from his commander, and raised up his heart to their level. He lifted up his heart, as we say in the liturgy, and did not as we are often tempted to do, interpret the world of God as it suits our desires. Thus he was in conversation with God, he prayed.

The second point is the prayer. The Living Prayer, the School for Prayer, are not writings or teachings, they are the experiences of a 20th century believer who genuinely, deeply, seriously lived them and is recounting what he has felt and lived to his sons, brothers, friends and grandchildren of all times to come, all are called to be the children of God. His words, his talks were prayers that he was creating in the presence of God to convey it to His sons and daughters. He taught us the responsibility of praying, of conversing without which there is no transmission of the living faith.

The third point is the living faith. The condition of the living faith is freedom from the worldly material things, and freedom in God When we pray we say to God, Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven, for metropolitan Anthony, there was no gap between the words of prayer and the daily reality of seeing, looking and living life. He was well aware that earth is still earthly and far from heaven. Yet in as much as he insisted that total surrender and obedience to the strict teachings and practices of the life in the church were necessary to come close to the mystery of the Divine Love that for our human reason is foolish, metropolitan Anthony revealed to us our freedom in God by giving the example. New expressions of our freedom in God in living Gods will were a gift of the Grace once we have submitted to His will.

It is through these three points of the teachings of metropolitan Anthony that we can address now the issue of women as seen by Christ and the Holy Tradition amidst our earthly traditions. The newness of the Gospels and our faithfulness to the presence of God in our hearts and minds will enable us renew the attitude of the world towards the partners, men and women, in the spirit and the will of Christ.

A quick overview of the relations between men and women over the past centuries of human history presents great discrepancies in the way women are looked at and treated in the various cultures and civilizations. Earthly traditions recognizing that women were the womb of life erected men as the guardians of this life by the power of their muscles and their material welfare, men were providers of womens means of subsistence and their protectors. Accordingly, men formulated and passed laws that emphasized the weakness of women and their obligation to submit to the will of their protectors. This reading of women presents two major ailments: the first a woman is reduced to her biological function neglecting her full humanity, as in the soul, the heart, the mind and the existence of her personal body and personal talents; the second is denying the contributions of women in the life of the world, in as much as history and men would acknowledge their participation. Here is no place to argue about this reality, suffice it to say that 1946 years after the coming of Christ the secular world, inspired by the equal dignity and freedom that Christianity spread in the world reached at declaring that all human beings are equal regardless of sex. Today this declaration is struggling to erase from the minds of human beings the supremacy of men. Whereas the developed world has started recognizing her professional contributions and her individuality, the rest of the world still holds her in various forms of custody, while churches in the world abide by a mixture of spiritual and cultural attitudes towards her role in the community.

For us Christians, there is a different way to learn to see the presence of women in the world.

There is no room in this short paper to review the history of women in the life of the Church and in the various traditions of the churches. However, we who have been privileged to have encountered contemporary Fathers, Confessors and Teachers of the Orthodox Church can in the light of their guidance and teachings elucidate a way of learning to see and read the presence of women so that the will of God be done.

Our point of take off is the Gospels, the Word of God in Christ and in his attitude towards women of his society.

In his Incarnation, Christ has resolved the enmity between Adam and Eve, the relation of conflict, of power. of possessiveness, the conflicting relation between the masculine and the feminine. He did so at two levels: one at the level of nature itself, and second at the relational level between the two partners both created in his own image.

First at the level of her nature; in the Incarnation the Logos Himself dwelt in the womb of Mary blessing thus our human nature male and female. In Chapter 5 of the Book of Genesis [5:2] we read, Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them "Humankind" when they were created, the unity of mankind is therefore accomplished in the Incarnation when Christ and Mary were one. It is this unity which metropolitan Anthony speaks of in his introduction to the book of Elizabeth Behr-Siegel (an eminent 20th century woman theologian), on the ministry of woman in the Church as he refers to the Creation of the undifferentiated total Man, containing all masculinity and all femininity; this man (anthropos) which is Christ. God reveals the whole of the human being and not the aspect of virility for what has not been assumed has not been saved (as the principle of Chalcedon 451 stated). According to St John of Damascus, The human nature as a whole, both male and female, has been assumed by the incarnate Logos The Incarnated Word is the archetype of humanity, the image of perfection of all human beings, male and female.

The Son of God is the archetype of man and woman, the Incarnated Logos became the beginning of a new essence, the second or the new Adam, which means the one and undivided human being (See: The priesthood of women, A look at Patristic Teaching by C. Yokonaris, in the book Orthodox women speak, WCC publications, Geneva, 1999).

This unity is confirmed by Saint Paul, the Apostle in his Epistle to the Ephesians: Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, and Christ also is the head of the assembly, being himself the savior of the body. But as the assembly is subject to Christ, so let the wives also be to their own husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the assembly, and gave himself up for it; that he might sanctify it, having cleansed it by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the assembly to himself gloriously, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands also ought to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself. For no man ever hated his own flesh; but nourishes and cherishes it, even as the Lord also does the assembly; because we are members of his body, of his flesh and bones.

For this cause a man will leave his father and mother, and will be joined to his wife. The two will become one flesh. This mystery is great, but I speak concerning Christ and of the assembly.

The worldly reading of this passage focuses on the obedience of the woman and the godhead of man, to which ironically metropolitan Anthony would say if he is the head , she then is the neck and could turn this head into whatever direction she pleases. Learning to read this passage with the eyes of God, Christians are invited to focus on the verses that refer us to the relation between Christ and the Church, Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the assembly, and gave himself up for it they become one flesh when man fulfils the condition of being the savior of the body in the image of Christ who gave us His blood to wash humanity from all its blemishes. The apostle confirms this oneness in the flesh by saying The two will become one flesh. This mystery is great, but I speak concerning Christ and of the assembly. For men and women the submission is only to the likeness of God revealed to us by Christ.

At the relational level, Christ inaugurated a new meaning of love, There is no greater love than to give ones life for the other, as for the meaning and the value of love between a man and a woman, Christ has inaugurated a completely new understanding. Christ moved the human heart and mind from the love that is desire, want, possession that takes and consumes the other until annihilation and slavery, to the love that is all giving and giving again; giving unto dying for the life of the other. This is fulfilled in the Love of Christ for the Church and reflected in his behavior and attitudes with women.

This unity of the body represented by Mary, the woman par excellence and the Holy Spirit , who is Christ in her womb, is the new learning to see Women. No male , no female, neither body nor souls in the Life in Christ, we are to learn to see that wwe are rather energies of love Divine in as much as we are ready to die and obey one another in our journey to achieve our resemblance to Him in whose image we were created.

The Gospels portray Jesus as someone that not only spoke and interacted with women, but also treated women with compassion, dignity, and respect. Men of the time generally did not publicly speak or interact with non-related women, yet Jesus publicly spoke and witnessed to women, even lowly foreign women. Jesus expected a faith response from women just as he did from their male counterparts. Jesus was truly revolutionary in his treatment of women.

In the Judean culture of the time, the testimony of women didn't count, yet it was women that testified of Jesus Resurrection. The Jewish religious elite believed that women in general should not be taught the Torah, yet Jesus taught Mary, the sister of Martha. A woman was considered untouchable (unclean) during menses, yet Jesus showed compassion to the woman with the issue of blood who touched the hem of his garment.

It is significant to see in the Gospels that most of the acts of mercy that Jesus has operated during His life with or for women were in answer to their faith and their hope in him.

Learning to see woman in Christ, means learning to recognize her dignity at all levels of her person.

The respect He had for her mind was unprecedented. With Him women conversed, questioned and obtained more than the answers they could expect, they were given the truth of the Revelation. Mary the Mother of God argued with the Angel: said, How shall this be, since I am a virgin? (Lk 1:34). At the answer of the Angel: Do not be afraid, Mary, You have found favor with God, Mary surrendered, obedient in faith to the word of God, I am the servant of God. May it be to Me as you have said.

The second conversation is the one that took place between Christ and the Samaritan woman at the well. A serious argumentation that ended by revealing to this alien woman the true Divine nature of He Who was asking her for water and who proved to her that He was closer to her than herself. She believed in Jesus and in turned eagerly witnessing to the townspeople (Jn 4:25).

At the Resurrection of Lazarus which was called upon by the faith of his sisters, Mary and Martha. Martha then said to Jesus, Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You. Jesus said to her, Your brother will rise again. Martha argued, I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.  Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies,  and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?  She said to Him, Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world. (Lk 11:21). It is to the faith of Martha and Mary believing that had Jesus been there, their brother would have not died, that Jesus reveals His full Divinity: I am the resurrection and the life.

The respect He had for her feelings, sicknesses were met with infinite compassion and understanding. The Gospels describe two miracles of Jesus raising persons from the dead. In both incidents the dead are restored to womento the unnamed widow from Nain her only son (Lk 7:11-17) and to Mary and Martha their brother Lazarus. Among the things considered defiling (disqualifying one for the rituals of religion) was an issue of blood, especially menstruation or hemorrhage. One such woman had been plagued with a flow of blood for 12 years, no one having been able to heal her. She found the faith in a crowd to force her way up to Jesus, approaching him from behind so as to remain inconspicuous, and simply touching his garment (Mk 5:27). When she did, two things happened: the flows of blood stopped and she was discovered. Jesus pressed his inquiry and the woman identified herself and declared to the crowd the blessing that had come to her. Jesus treated her as having worth, not rebuking her for what the cultic code of holiness would have considered as having defiled him. Rather, he relieved her of any sense of guilt for her seemingly rash act, lifted her up and called her "Daughter." He told her that her faith saved her, gave her his love, and sent her away whole (Mk 5:34).

To the Syro-Phoenician woman who fell down at his feet asking him to drive the demon out of her daughter. He responded to her : "Let the children first be fed, since it isn't good to take bread out of children's mouths and throw it to the dogs! But as a rejoinder she says to him: "Sir, even the dogs under the table get to eat scraps dropped by children!" Then He said to her: "For that retort, be on your way, the demon has come out of your daughter." She returned home and found the child lying on the bed and the demon gone (Mk 7:25-3). The answer of Jesus is shocking to our worldly code of politeness, but Jesus knows the faith of that woman and wanted her to profess it to the world at the expense of his being rather rude to her.

Mary Magdalena as in Luke (10:38-42) is depicted as a devoted disciple who ignores the taboos of her society in her commitment to Jesus. Sitting at his feet as a disciple (Lk 10:39) was not the place for a woman, but she is commended by Jesus (Lk 10:42). Now she acts in an even more scandalous manner in anointing Jesus' feet with extremely expensive perfume and then wiping them with her hair (Jn 12:3). Both aspects of her action - the extravagance and the method - were disturbing to the eyes of the world. There is no indication of why Mary did this act. Learning to see with the eyes of Christ here is what we find.

Whatever Mary's intentions and reason for her action, Jesus sees it in reference to his coming death. There is no reason to think Mary knew the full import of what she was doing, any more than Caiaphas knew what he was saying (11:49-51). The people around are acting for their own reasons, yet they are players in a drama that they do not understand, doing and saying things with significance beyond their imaginings. "Mary in her devotion unconsciously provides for the honour of the dead. Judas' shock at the waste of such costly ointment makes us more aware of Mary's extravagance.

Judas' heart is thus fundamentally different from the heart of Mary as she lavishes her love and respect upon Jesus; here we have the contrast between a true disciple, Mary, and one of the Twelve, which shows that privilege of position is no substitute for faith and obedience.

In Saint Lukes Gospel, Jesus accepts the courage and impulsiveness of this sinner woman who did the anointing. Here also he has a different reading to her act Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgivenas her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little. Then Jesus said to her, Your sins are forgiven.

In conclusion, Learning to see Women in Christ is to have the eyes of Christ, healthy eyes that makes our life filled with light. It is putting our understanding and hearts in unison with the very words of Christ, praying to the Holy Spirit to develop in us the courage that makes us stand if need be in opposition to the old game of power that opposed men to women.

Christ rehabilitated her faith; indeed He has recognized women to be capable of faith in many instances. For instance He declares to the sinner, Your faith has saved you, go in peace (Lk 8:50).

To the Canaanite woman He answers, O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire(Mt 15:28); and to the bleeding woman, Take heart, daughter, your faith had made you well (Mt 9:22). He rehabilitated her against the expectations of society: He refrains from judging the adulterous woman, going against norms of the times and the society crossing thus the wall of enmity He talks to a Samaritan, for it was known that Jews do not speak with Samaritans!

At last but not least He rehabilitated her role in society and gave her the mission to announce His Resurrection. Jesus Resurrected did not ask Mary at the tomb to go and call his disciples men, to reveal His resurrection to them, but rather He sent her to do that, Go and tell them.

I shall revert to the concluding words of St. Paul (Coll 11, 17), As woman was made from man, do man is now born of woman, and all things are from God.

- But now that faith has become, we are no longer under a custodian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For many of you as were baptized in to Christ have put on, Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male or female, for you are all one in Christ! (Ga 3:28).

The question becomes then: How much are men and women in our churches striving together toward the Kingdom of God, and how much are we still rooted and imprisoned in our worldly tradition? Are we progressing towards the Kingdom of the power of love or perpetuating the old human game of power?

The question of womens power, place and role in the Church becomes the first question of a series of questions, aiming at evaluating our faithfulness to the project of the Kingdom (that we pray it arrives) where both women and men are equally welcomed and recognized.



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