March is the month when women across my archdiocese will take a more visible role during the Divine Liturgy. Mostly “Women’s Month” means they will read the Epistle and collect the offering. I am glad for this month because I do think women need not only work with the kids or in the kitchen, but giving them one month out of the year feels like an empty gesture that, I’m afraid, reinforces the paternalism it pretends to testify against.
Women’s Month is proof that there is misogyny in our church, just like Black History Month proves systemic racism. African Americans need one month out of the year only because people like me pretty much get free reign over the other eleven. The same is true for women. Every month is Men’s Month.
I think sometimes in the Orthodox Church we worry that giving women a more prominent role in our worship will take us too close to feminism, but the problem with letting fear dictate our actions is that we end up needing what we are not in order to know what we are. To fear letting feminism influence the church is for feminism to influence the church, only in reverse. It is to listen to culture more than the gospel.
Once upon a time in Orthodoxy, women were deaconesses. Some preached the gospel (Sts. Nino and Thecla). Others led liturgical processions. Women have been pushed to the margins for cultural reasons that have nothing to do with the kingdom of God. “Your daughters shall prophesy,” Peter told a crowd of his fellow Jews after Pentecost (Acts 2:17), which is a sign that God’s kingdom has come close. The kingdom of God breaks into the world in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, breaking down barriers between life and death, the holy and profane, and even male and female. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). In the Orthodox Church, we believe that our journey into the Eucharist is a journey into the kingdom of God, but it is a kingdom we testify against insofar as we carrier old barriers into it.
I know this raises the bogeyman of women’s ordination, but don’t get distracted! One need not support the ordination of women to believe that maybe they should collect the offering or read the epistle during the other eleven months of the year. Some women are gifted speakers; maybe they could preach (which anyone can do with the priest’s blessing). At every liturgy the kingdom of God breaks into the world. It comes close to us; it both beckons and testifies against us. The kingdom of God calls the church to become its future, it is a future we begin to fulfill when we let women on the ambo more often, when we make every month Women’s Month.