The issue of women's ministry and witness in the Church's next millennium can only be properly addressed within the context of our fundamental identity as members of the body of Christ, as Church.

Women can make God manifest to the world in a rich variety of ways.

Our ministry, as the Church, is to communicate the Gospel to the world, and to strive toward the growth, sanctification, and well-being of the whole body of Christ. The Greek word for church, ekklesia, comes from the phrase ek kallo, " to call out" - indicating a gathering of the people of God who have been called out from the world to be a sign and manifestation of God's kingdom in it. The Church is, by her very nature, called - with a mission of proclaiming and teaching the Gospel to the whole inhabited earth. Christ commanded us, "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.1 With such a commandment as our foundation, we can never remain static; we can never be satisfied with the status quo.

All the people of God, both corporately and individually, share this same witness and ministry. Thus, all of us are called, in principle, to the same vocation. Metropolitan John Zizioulas asserts that "there is no such thing as a non-ordained person in the Church,"2 for ordination to a ministry is implicit in the laying on of hands that occurs in our baptism and chrismation. He further affirms that the "royal priesthood"3 of all believers is the source and foundation of every other priestly office. Orthodox women, as members of the body of Christ, are of this royal priesthood by virtue of our baptism and chrismation. As John Karmiris reminds us, "Orthodox theology does not acknowledge any ontological difference between clergy and laity other than that of the ordination to the sacramental priesthood."4 And what differentiates the ministry of ordained clergy from our "lay" ministry is their role in presiding over the administration and celebration of the sacraments.

Though we share a ministry, each of us is made in the image and according to the likeness of God, and each of us is unique, unrepeatable, irreplaceable. Our ministry involves making God manifest in the world as the unique persons that we are; to manifest the one body of Christ with our multiplicity of gifts, roles, talents, and functions. Women can make God manifest to the world in a rich variety of ways. Our ministry can include the talents of parents, singers, seamstresses, theologians, translators, organizers, administrators, architects, iconographers, cooks, hymnographers, musicians, counselors, doctors, social workers, pastors, missionaries--to mention only a few of the possibilities. It is the witness and ministry of Orthodox women to be fully themselves, with the distinctiveness of character and multiplicity of God's grace to fulfill their ministries in preaching, teaching, catechism, Liturgy, celebration of the sacraments, election and ordination of the clergy, administration and social work of the Church--as intended and practiced by the Church in its first three centuries.

As we move toward the twenty-first century, aspects of the direction our ministries need to take are becoming clear. These include:

  • Growth of support for theological education for women
  • A re-establishment of office of deaconess--with a revival and renewed understanding of the diaconal ministry for both women and men
  • An increase of leadership and participation by women in liturgical worship
  • Greater involvement by Orthodox women in the social and political life of the world around us
  • The establishment of an active and viable monasticism for women and men

If some of these goals seem challenging, it is helpful to call to mind the example of the myrrhbearing women who went with faithfulness to the tomb of Christ to anoint His body. Though they questioned their ability to fulfill their ministry-- "Who will roll away the stone for us?" they wondered--their fear did not keep them from proceeding to their challenging task. And because of their faithfulness, God was able to help them in a miraculous way. Their story serves as an icon of divine human synergy: Christ Himself rolled away the "stones" of the fear, obstacles, and sin that stood in the way of their ministry. We must be as faithful in our own vocation - even when it seems that we cannot "see the light at the end of the tunnel." We must keep our focus on the Light Himself, Who will most certainly guide us and enable us to fulfill the witness and ministry that He has ordained for us.

Notes.

1. Matthew 28:19-20.

2. John D. Zizioulas, Being as Communion (Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1993), 215-216.

3. 1 Peter 2:9.

4. John N. Karmiris, The Status and Ministry of the Laity in the Orthodox Church (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Press), 8.