Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Progressive Dynamic: Tradition Part II

I have written the following in response to the questions raised by John Roop's comment on a previous post, found here: In short, John asks: ""Where do you draw the boundaries of Orthodoxy?" and related to this, "So, you draw the boundaries of Orthodoxy with the ACCA inside; they draw the borders with the ACCA on the outside. Who is correct, and on what basis do we judge?"

John, I am pretty sure that others have wondered about these things as well, so I thank you for giving me the opportunity for further clarification and explanation as to our stance on these matters.


To begin, and as background, let me draw a distinction between "Orthodox" and "Apostolic". In speaking of the four communions, I am speaking primarily of the quality of apostolicity, as manifested in the presence of the apostolic succession of their bishops which, in each of these communions, comes down directly from the Apostles. Further, in speaking of the very high level of consensus that exists between them (even higher when one takes Rome out of the discussion), I was not thereby defining the Tradition. I was countering the argument that there is no intrinsic organic continuity, especially in belief and practice, between the Church of the Apostles and any community which exists today and that whatever traditions any such communion may hold are not necessarily helpful in understanding the Scripture, especially the New Testament. I was also showing that these four communions pretty much always agree with each other over against Protestantism. Obviously, a large segment of Anglicanism could be included in this consensus, but the problem there is that Anglicanism is so heterogeneous. So, no, I do not think this gives us a useful definition of "tradition" in this context.

In any case, "Orthodoxy" would be a sub-category. It is characterized in relation to Roman Catholicism and/or the Church of the East by adherence to either three or seven "ecumenical" councils; by an insistence that the Filioque, if not heretical, distorts the doctrine of God and was, in any case, added to the Creed improperly, only by papal fiat; by an ecclesiology that is counciliar from top to bottom; by an existential, non-legalistic, therapeutic approach to salvation which focuses on restoring communion with God and the healing of human nature damaged by sin and death: this process of salvation, of restoration, healing, and re-entering communion with God is summed up by the word "theosis" and is made possible, in the first instance, by the Incarnation. If this list is not exhaustive, it covers the main points of difference, particularly between the two types of Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. So then, the question of the ordination of women aside, it should be clear that the ACCA is, indeed, "Orthodox." In what follows, I shall argue that far from compromising our Orthodoxy, the fact that we ordain women in fact enhances and confirms it.


But back to the question of tradition: the word itself is defined as "that which is passed on, handed over". But, when we come to the central question of this discussion, the possibility of women being ordained and functioning as priests and bishops, one must address the question of what COULD have been passed down and why it was not. We therefore also have to address the matter of "development".

The Orthodox, especially among the Byzantines, are often quite allergic to that word, and understandably so, in that it is usually associated with changes in Roman Catholic dogma and practice, especially in terms of things that the Orthodox find inherently unacceptable, even heretical. These issues include the addition of the Filioque to the Creed; the growth of papal authority and power, culminating in the decrees of the First Vatican Council; and "ex cathedra" statements made by Popes, statements which, according to Vatican I, are in and of themselves "irreformable" and thus, infallible. The one which the Orthodox find most problematic is the statement which defines that Mary was conceived without original sin, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.

However, as the late J. Pelikan points out, if one considers Church history, one must acknowledge the presence of development, but development of an organic sort. He compares the development of the Church to the development that occurs when an acorn becomes an oak. In contrast, I would speak of the development that has happened within the Roman Catholic Church, especially with regard to the Filioque and the Papal claims, as not being organic, but rather, as being "mutations" meaning that they at best distort that which has been handed down and, at worst, depart from it.

So then, if we admit the notion of development, we can look at the development that occurs in the early Church, say from the beginning to perhaps 200 CE. We will immediately notice much direct continuity: in comparing the New Testament with the writings of the early Fathers, we find nothing that is, in the final analysis, contradictory, either in terms of belief or in terms of behavior, either moral behavior or liturgical behavior. The question of Church order is more complex, but the bottom line is that the Bishops succeed the Apostles, first, while the Apostles remain on earth, as a college in each local Church, a presbyteral body under an Apostle and assisted by deacons; however, already in Acts, we find James the Brother of the Lord acting alone in overseeing the Church in Jerusalem, assisted by presbyters and then, served by deacons as well. As the Apostles depart this life, the model of "one bishop in one city" prevails, and we see that concept already firmly in place in the writings of Ignatius of Antioch. In a sense, this is not necessarily developmental, in that, along with the Apostles, Jesus had also appointed the Seventy to assist them.

But what of discontinuity? Well, it seems that the practice of communal living, found in Acts, was short-lived, perhaps never leaving Jerusalem. It is significant, I think, that in the Fourth Century, St. John Chrysostom deplored this fact, even maintaining that the Church of his time saw few signs and wonders precisely on this account. There is the also the matter of the status of Jews vs. Gentiles. In the earliest Church, Gentile male converts were first circumcised, converted to Judaism, before being baptized. However, according to Acts, this was changed at the "Council" of Jerusalem, as described in Acts 15, after Peter receives a vision from God telling him to preach to a group of Gentiles and, in the aftermath, he witnesses them receiving the Holy Spirit. Paul, also, is already routinely preaching to and baptizing Gentiles without requiring they be circumcised. While it occurs very early in the life of the Church, it nevertheless represents development, even as the Church's creation of the diaconate does, as recounted in Acts 6:1-6.

The Role of Women in the Earliest Churches

And the role of women? It is clear that women served the early Church in leadership roles, roles that would have included presiding at the Eucharist. There is Prisca, the "fellow-worker" of St. Paul, along with her husband, Aquila (interestingly, the Byzantine Church lists Aquila among "the Seventy" but not Prisca (diminutive: Priscilla). However, from the NT, it seems that she had the more prominent role in the Church. There is a growing body of literature dealing with this, but for now, I will mention only Ben Witherington's Women in the Earliest Churches which clearly demonstrates that women had leadership roles, and therefore sacerdotal functions, in the earliest Christian communities.

I don't think that Witherington deals with this example, but it is clear that there were female prophets in the earliest Churches. (See Acts 21:9) Indeed, according to the words of the Prophet Joel, which Peter quotes in his sermon at Pentecost, in the "last days," beginning at Pentecost, "God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; yea, and on my menservants and my maidservants in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy." (Acts 2:17-18) The equality of women in ministry is a sign of the last days, both in general and in particular.

Now, we turn to the Didache, written before 100 CE. In it, we see Church order in transition. On the one hand, we note that the old ministries of Apostle (presumably in the broad sense) and Prophet are still around, and are still held superior to that of "bishops". However, all of these are Christian "High Priests" and all are, as one therefore might expect, authorized to preside at the Eucharist, the sacrifice mentioned in Malachi 1:11. But wait: we have just noted, have we not, that the early Church recognized the ministry of female "Prophets"!

This is but one indication of a relative equality in ministry in the earliest Christian Communities. Witherington discusses Prisca, and he notes that she is not the only woman that St. Paul refers to "fellow-worker," a term he uses for men like Timothy and Titus. Also, there is the matter of the unquestionably female Apostle Junia, and the fact that St. Paul, even while requiring that women have their heads covered in the Assembly, acknowledges that they "pray and prophesy" during worship, as he writes in I Corinthians 11:5.

So what has happened? Well, first, women continued to be called and ordained as Deacons until relatively late in the First Millennium, and the Greek and Coptic Churches have indeed revived that practice, although their ministry tends to be restricted. Also, in the First Millennium, there are sporadic denunciations of a bishop here, a bishop there, who is ordaining women as presbyters. What is noteworthy, however, is that it is not until the work of Roman Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas, early in the Second Millennium of the Christian Era, that anyone suggests that it is impossible to ordain women; rather, the denunciations say that women SHOULD not be ordained. Aquinas, for his part, says that women cannot be ordained because they are "defective males"; they are not, in effect, fully human. Of course, aside from any other consideration, this position is easily refuted by the most cursory glance at the first chapters of Genesis, which clearly indicate that both male and female are created in the image and likeness of God and that both together as well as distinctly, are called "Adam," meaning "human" (Genesis 5:1-2) Therefore, even though Aquinas is clearly basing his argument on a false ontology, Rome has uncritically followed him in this at least insofar as the RCC maintains that it is impossible to validly ordain a woman, to confer upon her the sacrament of ordination. We also note that none of the other sacraments are gender specific with the exception of marriage, and marriage requires one member of each gender.

Therefore, the question is not, "Can women be ordained to the presbyterate or episcopate?" but "Should women be so ordained?" Perhaps, between c. 100 CE and c. 1940, the answer was always "no", and today, it may be the case that in one place, one situation, a female priest is needed, while in another, one is neither needed or desirable. Along with the Byzantine theological writer Elisabeth Behr-Sigel, I advocate pluralism in this matter even as, after the Council of Jerusalem, the Messianic Jews continued to live according to Torah while recognizing that the Gentiles who were converting to Christ were not so bound.

There is also one other alleged basis for denying ordination to women, the "argument from ikonography". This refers to the biblical image of Christ as the bridegroom of the Church, his bride. The argument states that since the priest is alter Christus, he is, in a sense, married to the Church he serves. However, using this image in this way ignores the contrasting image, also found in Scripture, which is that of the Church as the "Body of Christ" and therefore, "the extension of the Incarnation". Obviously, neither image can be taken to the extent of excluding the other. To do so would be akin to arguing that since the Church is the ikon of the Trinity, it must have Three and only Three members!

Then, there is a consideration that has yet to be mentioned, the role of the Theotokos, the Blessed Virgin Mary. Beginning with the Annunciation, she shares in all aspects of her Son's ministry. She is Prophet, she is Queen, and yes, she is Priest. Together with her Divine Son, she offers Him in sacrifice to the Father as she stands at the foot of the Cross. She receives her ordination to the priesthood at the Incarnation even as she shows herself to be prophet in her utterance of the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55).

We have seen that the earliest Churches included women at all levels of ministry but that this did not become part of the Tradition, that which is passed on, except with regard to women deacons, or deaconesses, but that it could have. But why was it not passed on? And, since it did not, can we justify the practice today? I believe we can.


As noted above, there is indeed progress, development within the life of the Church. This begins with the decision of Acts 15 (or even, with the creation of the order of Deacons). With this decision, one matter of division and domination, that of "Jew and Greek" in the words of St. Paul, is overcome. Over the next centuries, the Church and Christendom progressively address the matter of "slave and free". Until it raises its ugly head again in the early modern period with the European enslavement of sub-Saharan Africans, slavery all but disappears from Christendom. However, of these three divisions within humanity, all the result of the fall, it is clear that "male and female" is most basic. Humanity is created male and female but is not created, in the first instance, "Jew and Greek" and certainly not "slave and free" However, as a result of the fall, according to Genesis 3, patriarchy becomes the normal relationship between men and women. But, according to St. Paul, these three basic fault lines of humanity, along which not only division, but also oppression and domination arise, are overcome in Christ. And, the result, in the end, is the perfect freedom and equality of the Kingdom of God "which is to come" wherein God will be "all-in-all" and "everything to everyone". Thus, following Bishop Zizioulas, the life of the Church is not only grounded in that which is instituted by Christ in the past, but is also constituted, being pulled into the future by the Holy Spirit.

Now, as it happens, the first purpose of the Church is the salvation, the making whole, of distinct human persons. However, in the process, the Church also cannot help but affect the culture, and its associated institutions, in which she finds herself in any given historical period. Thus, the question becomes, in effect, "How does this question, or that issue, affect the possibility of bringing human persons into communion with God?" St. Paul, for example, does not take on slavery directly, but his mission and ministry begins a process which subverts, and eventually virtually eliminates, slavery among Christians. It is this same impulse that empowers the Christian abolitionists of the early modern period even as they confront this evil more assertively. In the case of the question of Jews and Gentiles, God intervenes directly, demonstrating that Gentiles, too, were called to Christ and that apart from circumcision. In the case of women, both apply. At least in the West, it has become increasingly the case that more and more people are concerned with moving beyond patriarchy, and if the Church is to be engaged, it must address this question in one way or another. Also, Christian women increasingly testify to having a call to ordained ministry, including at least one RC Saint, Terese Martin, "the Little Flower". And, in those places where women are ordained to Christian ministry, including to the priesthood, as in Anglicanism and in certain of the Independent Orthodox/Catholic Churches, including the ACCA, the testimony of those receiving the ministry of these women is almost always positive. "By their fruits you shall know them." And, once again, we can place this in the context of the words of Joel, quoted by Peter at Pentecost: "In the last days, your sons and your daughters shall prophesy."

The late J. Pelikan has famously said that "tradition is the living faith of the dead while traditionalism is the dead faith of the living." Because the Church moves toward the kingdom, because salvation entails the healing of humanity, both in terms of individual persons and humanity as a whole, fidelity to the Tradition must be dynamic or it, in fact, ceases to be fidelity and becomes something else. Patriarchy, ethnic differentiation and conflict, and socioeconomic stratification and oppression are all results of the fall, but in Christ, they are conquered and will eventually be completely overcome. The Church is called to witness to this, not only verbally, but also in the way in which it lives its life.

Therefore, the ACCA claims to be Orthodox in terms of a dynamic adherence to the Tradition that, I think, will eventually be found as well in the mainstream jurisdictions of the two forms of Orthodoxy, in Roman Catholicism, and in the Assyrian Church of the East. Who judges? In the end, God. Until then, however, history will judge. "By their fruits you shall know them."


John Roop said...

Fr. Greg,

I appreciate the very thoughtful and thorough response to my earlier comment. Before reflecting on it I wish to clarify my relationship with the ACCA for the readers of your blog who do not know me. I have nothing but respect for the ACCA – its mission, clergy, and people – and more than respect, genuine Christian love. St. Demetrios – and, by extension, within the heart of the ACCA – is one place I know myself truly loved in this world. You will understand what I mean when I say that the ACCA offers proof that the Tradition “works” to produce saints. Further, I recognize the ACCA as fully orthodox and Orthodox, and my comments do not question that.

The point of my earlier comment was not to question the Orthodoxy of the ACCA but simply to note that some other Orthodox jurisdictions do so. The fact that the ACCA is Oriental raises suspicion in the minds of the Byzantines. The choice of the ACCA to ordain women – irrespective of whether the choice is justified – impedes full recognition by other jurisdictions. The ACCA's open communion is not the norm in Orthodoxy. My comment was not to question any of these practices, but simply to point out that because of them, the ACCA is not considered “fully” Orthodox by some other Orthodox jurisdictions and that full communion with them would be problematic. It was that observation that raised the question of where to draw the boundaries of Orthodoxy. I believe the ACCA has drawn them differently than other Orthodox groups (cf Ps 16:6) and has therefore – willingly – placed itself outside some recognized boundaries.

In your section APOSTOLIC vs. ORTHODOX you make some important distinctions. I think of these issues a bit differently, but perhaps harmoniously? Rather than seeing Orthodoxy as a sub-category of Apostolic, I think of the relationship more in terms of sets and Venn diagrams. Let us view the set of Apostolic Churches as those which manifest apostolic succession, as you suggest. Then let us view the set of orthodox (small-o) churches as those which correspond to your description of the sub-category of Orthodox. (It is in this category I find myself.) This set accepts the councils (though not necessarily all the canons), rejects the Filioque, recognizes conciliar ecclesiology, and views theosis as the means and the end of salvation. It lacks only apostolicity as you define it. Now, the intersection of the sets of Apostolic and orthodox churches is the Orthodox (big-o) Church. It is Apostolic in constitution and orthodox in faith and practice. It is possible, then, to fall outside the boundaries of Orthodoxy in two ways: to lack apostolic succession or to reject various orthodox doctrines or practices. I would suggest that these two ways are quite different.

Now, as to TRADITION AND DEVELOPMENT and PROGRESSIVE ORTHODOXY I have only the most general comments. I do not wish to engage the issue of the ordination of women; both sides of this argument have ample ammunition, pretty good aim, and the will to shoot one another and each other in the foot. However, the fact that you write over four printed pages to justify the ACCA position simply emphasizes that it must be justified, i.e., that it is out of step with the majority of Orthodox jurisdictions and therefore places the ACCA outside their boundaries. That was the point of mentioning the ordination of women in my original comment – not that the ACCA’s position is right or wrong, but that it is different and considered heterodox by other jurisdictions, though you believe the ACCA can justify it.

You have done an admirable job of describing the parameters of Orthodoxy, but the exact boundaries still remain somewhat subjective as, I think, the example of the ACCA shows. Of course, this is the perception of an outsider. Thanks be to God that, no matter how we describe it, there is one church – one faith, one Lord, one baptism, one God and Father of all, to whom be glory forever.

Peace of Christ,


Abbas +Clement said...

Father, Well done!

I'm so glad you were finally inspired to write this; I found it to be most helpful, in more ways than one.

You and I have discussed the women's ordination thing a lot, as you know, but it's easier for me to absorb and retain when it's in writing versus in conversation. So I truly appreciate this effort.

But I think perhaps there is yet another chapter to be unfolded here ( and which I am most eager to see you tackle) that being, Canonical Subordinationism. This seems to me to be the essence of what Pastor Roop is trying to get at. So my question is not - "Where are the lines of Orthodoxy drawn" but rather, if a "true and particular church" (ref. Dominus Iesus) is "apostolic in constitution" and "orthodox in faith and practice" - does it actually matter if said "church" is or is not recognized/validated/approved/sanctioned/within the boundaries of - other Orthodox and Catholic jurisdictions? And why.

FrGregACCA said...

John: Thanks for your reply. If the boundaries are not subjective, they are certainly blurry. I think that at least some Byzantines would agree with this as well, given their Old-Calendarist off-shoots.

I have not addressed the matter of open communion nor, for that matter, our divergent discipline when it comes to married bishops. There are clearly not matters of faith and, while they would factor into the fact that we are not in communion with Indian Orthodox or Syriac Orthodox Churches, they can not be used as reasons to deny us the label "Orthodox". Indeed, the Malabar Independent Syrian Church ( grants "eucharistic hospitality" to Anglicans. Therefore, as far as I can tell, the only sticking point of substance here is our ordination of women.

Abbas, my immediate reaction is "yes" and "no". "No" in that, everything else being equal, such a Church will indeed be restoring people to communion with God.

However, at the same time, part of that process is working to restore communion in the universal Church, among the particular Churches where such communion has been lost. There is also the fact that a particular Church which is going it alone is more vulnerable to being subjected to various deviations of doctrine, practice, and even, personalities. Thus, I think it important such a Church be very open to input, both direct and indirect, from other particular Churches and/or communions of such Churches, even if there is no formal communion between them.

Further, when a particular Church believes that it is called to deviate in a specific way from the consensus, as with ordaining women, I think that it must be able to justify that. That is partially the reason for these pieces. I've been thinking about these things for a very long time, as you know.

Anonymous said...

The Malabar Independent Syrian Church is also a 'lone' church, ie. not in communion within the generally accepted bounds of Orthodoxy, like ACCA, so it's not a valid justification. A more fitting justification, if you'd like to use it is the accord between the Syriac Orthodox Church and Roman Catholicism in extending Eucharistic hospitality, but that I believe is only in times of necessity, ie. a parish of one's own denomination is not nearby, in which case you may use the other's.

Michael Redmond said...

Very good piece, Father Greg. Than you for it!