Maria Gwyn McDowell

Theology | Ethics | Liberation | Jesus

Embodied Virtue: Male and Female Priests

Liturgically situated icons envision salvation in embodied transfigured persons who are unique, irreducible and free. Through them, and through the life of the one fully human person towards whom they point, Christ, we become free, unique and irreducible. In short, a properly iconodule theology of participation expresses an Orthodox ethic of becoming fully human as uniquely embodied irreducible persons. The driving question is: does our iconic liturgical practice fully encourage this process in men and women? As long as we continue to implement an exclusively male iconic priesthood, the answer is no. A theological ethic of embodied participation as images of Christ is a compelling reason to ordain women to the priesthood in the Orthodox Church.

Women in the Orthodox Church: past roles future paradigms: papers of the Sophia Institute Academic Conference, New York, Dec 4th 2008
New York: Theotokos Press, 2009, pp. 158-167


Eastern Orthodox theology affirms the liturgy as an anticipatory icon of God’s reign that establishes a pattern of relationships by which Christians are called to live in and for the world. Taking at face value an Orthodox theological claim that the liturgy is the sole source for deriving ethical actions, Orthodox theologians typically address the question of female priesthood within the existing visual parameters of the liturgy in which it is men who exercise authority. Given patterns addressed by both aspects of ritual theory and contemporary anthropology, the articulation of anthropologies that likewise limit the authority and capability of women are to be expected. However, these defenses of the exclusion of women from full participation in the liturgy, including sacramental ordination, are the result of a reductionistic view of the priesthood, the liturgy, and human persons. Neither Orthodox personalism, its ethical implications, nor a few rarely glimpsed snippets of the Orthodox tradition support such reductionism. Rather, recognition of the unique capabilities of women by the community and their welcome participation within the community encourages the joy which underlies the transformation of a people who live for the life of the world.

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