Friday, April 21, 2017

Rejoinder to Dr. Ladouceur

           One dubious joy of publishing anything more controversial than a cookbook is that of attracting critical responses.  One such critical response came lately from Dr. Paul Ladouceur, resident of Quebec, Canada, and a distinguished teacher at the Orthodox School of Theology at Trinity College, Toronto.  Dr. Ladouceur’s negative critique of my 2012 book Feminism and Tradition was published in a recent number of the St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, which is perhaps a bit odd, given that the book was a publication of SVS Press to begin with.  Go figure.
            If the response were simply an ignorant and dismissive rant such as one sometimes finds in the Customer Reviews section of Amazon.com, one could simply shrug and get on with other things.  But a critique as thoughtful and lengthy as Dr. Ladouceur’s in a journal as prestigious as the St. Vlad’s Quarterly deserves at least the courtesy of a reply, and I will try to give such a courteous reply now.
            I appreciate Dr. Ladouceur’s fairly long and detailed critique, along with his final stated preference for Metropolitan Kallistos Ware’s essay in the 1999 edition of Women and the Priesthood because it demonstrates that the question of the ordination of women to the priesthood is still a live one in the Orthodox Church, and that therefore the need for a book like mine still exists.
            To respond to specific critiques:  Ladouceur writes that my “principal arguments revolve around the Scriptural teaching of the subordination of women to men”, and “the witness of the Fathers”.  Actually it is simpler than that:  my principal arguments consist of a re-statement of the Scriptural teaching on the subject and the witness of the Fathers.  In other words, I simply present what the Bible and the Fathers teach on the subject, and assert that for Orthodox Christians the teaching of Scripture and the Fathers should settle the question.  It is significant perhaps that Dr. Ladouceur does not dispute my presentation of what the Bible and the Fathers actually teach.  Does he assert that the Bible for example doesn’t say what I assert that it says, and that I am misinterpreting the texts?  If I am correct in my presentation of the teaching of the Bible and the Fathers, then what is the problem?  Does Dr. Paul dissent from the teaching of Scripture?  This question must be answered before any other really fruitful debate can occur.
            Another point:  Ladouceur writes that I “focus more on the second creation account in Genesis and the fall than the first account, and more on Paul’s teachings concerning women than of Jesus’ dealings with women”.  This gives the impression that I prefer the second account in Genesis to the first, and the writings of Paul to the “dealings” of Jesus.  In fact I deal with the second account in Genesis and the fall more than the first account because there is more material to be examined in the second account—thirty-one verses in the second account compared to just five verses in the first.  It is similar in dealing with Jesus and Paul:  Jesus’ dealings with women constitute a comparatively small amount of material compared to the writings of Paul.  Since my project is rooted in exegesis, how could I do anything else?  Once again I suspect that Dr. Ladouceur and I have different views regarding the authority of the texts themselves.  Since I regard all of Scripture as authoritative, I cannot pick and choose, preferring the dealings of Jesus over the writings of Paul, or preferring the first creation story over the second.  All are parts of Holy Writ, and all must be believed.  One may not oppose one to another and then pick one’s favourite, but must interpret all the material as constituting a single harmonious whole.  Ladouceur grants that “it is certainly much easier to support the contention of women as subordinate to men from the Pauline epistles than from the Gospels”.  One gets the impression that he opts for the Gospels over the epistles.  But my point is that one does not get to choose one over the other, but that both are authoritative and can be harmoniously combined.  I realize that not everyone in Academia views Scripture as possessing such authority and as capable of harmonization (not to put too fine a point on it).  But the Fathers had such a view of Scripture, and the mindset of the Fathers must be ours as well.
            Another point:  Dr. Paul says that I “slide very quickly from the historical fact that Christ did not choose a woman among the apostles to a broad theological conclusion ‘showing that he [i.e. Christ] recognised their [women’s] subordination’”.  This he decries as “a logical non sequitur”.  Dr. Paul offers an adequate statement of my summary conclusion on p. 66, but ignores how I reached that conclusion in the previous pages.  My point in those previous pages was that (as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 14:34) the Law mandates a degree of social submission on the part of women, and Christ did nothing to overturn this attitude.  He had no problem overturning other Jewish attitudes He found objectionable, but still declined to choose women as authority-bearing apostles.  This suggests that He found nothing objectionable in this part of the Law.
            Dr. Ladouceur also objects that I leave several questions “dangling”, such as the relationship between “‘equality’ and ‘subordination’”, and objects that I “do not reconcile two seemingly opposing ontological principles”.  That is because, once again, I do not view equality and subordination as opposing ontological principles that require any reconciliation.  I realize that feminist exegesis does indeed regard them as opposite and as mutually exclusive, so that if I say that wives must submit to their husbands, I cannot consistently assert any ontological equality between them.  But the feminists are simply wrong about this.  Where they see opposition of principles, I (and the Fathers) see intricacy, richness, and nuance.  It looks as if Dr. Ladouceur tends more to feminist approaches than patristic ones.  This is apparent when he says, “for Farley…sexual differentiation (and hence women’s subordination) takes precedence over ontological equality”.  For me, the issue is not about which opposing principle “takes precedence”, but about how one combines into a single coherent whole all that the Scriptures teach about equality and subordination.
            In one instance at least, Dr. Ladouceur has simply not read what I have written.  As part of the above critique he writes, “another question left dangling is whether this ‘subordination’ implies that all women are subordinate to all men, or, as the biblical and patristic witnesses mostly stress, wives to husbands.”  I do not know why he thinks this question is left dangling.  On p. 41 of my book I wrote, “The translation used [of 1 Corinthians 11:3-12] is that of the English Standard Version, which mostly translates the Greek gyne as ‘wife’, rather than ‘woman.’  This is reasonable, since Paul was dealing with relationships between husband and wife, and not with women and men per se.”   In fairness to Dr. Ladouceur, I admit that it is often difficult to give careful attention to texts which one finds objectionable.
            Another area of disagreement is regarding the distinction between maleness and masculinity.  Ladouceur sees no distinction between them, and accordingly rejects the distinction as “semantic slight [sic] of hand”.  For him, an attempt to distinguish between the two is tantamount to re-introducing the pagan notion of male gods and female goddesses.  It is difficult to respond to this, since here we are left staring at each other across a conceptual abyss.  C.S. Lewis was but one example of someone who did not think God was male, and yet was capable of distinguishing maleness from masculinity.  In his little article Priestesses in the Church? he says that “God is in fact not a biological being and has no sex” and yet still argues that He is a Father and not a Mother.  In his The Four Loves, he speaks of God as “One far greater than Zeus and far more masculine than the male”.   Like Lewis, I also distinguish maleness and biological gender from masculinity.  Without this fundamental distinction, of course my iconic argument will make no sense.  I cannot help but again think of Lewis, when he wrote that there were some things in the Church which some will call irrational and which others will call supra-rational, leaving the two parties staring at each other with no way to bridge the gap.  For me as for the Fathers, the title of “Father” for God was not simply a metaphor or “an analogy” (to use Ladouceur’s term), something rooted in one particular culture, but ultimately disposable in another.  The title has greater depth and meaning than that.  God is not male, yet He is Father, and masculine.
            Ladouceur also complains that I “devote little attention to a straightforward appeal to tradition, which is the strongest argument against the ordination of women”.  That is partly because merely saying, “The Church has never done this in the past, so it can’t in the future” is everywhere rejected by feminist thinking as inadequate, and so my concern in the book was to show why in fact the Church had never done so in the past.  But as a matter of fact, I did appeal to tradition.  Ladouceur himself quotes me in the next breath as saying, “The ordination of women involves a complete denial of our Tradition and of our experience of Christian salvation”.  He may think that this is an overstatement, but he can’t have it both ways.  For what is the assertion that “the ordination of women involves a complete denial of our Tradition and our experience” if not “a straightforward appeal to tradition”?  I everywhere appeal to Tradition, including in the book’s very title.  My task was to reveal what that Tradition in fact says and why it should be embraced.
            Dr. Paul also objects to my comparison to theological feminism with the Arianism of the fourth century.  He is right in saying that I compare the two as equally threats to the integrity of the Church.  The comparison was also made by the late Fr. Thomas Hopko, of blessed memory, in an interview with AGAIN Magazine soon after he was installed as the Dean of St. Vladimir’s.  In this interview he said that he believed that the issue of women’s ordination “is kind of like our iconoclastic controversy, our Arian controversy.  It shows what a person believes about everything.”  In this interview he also quoted Russian priest Fr. Vitaly Borovoy: “The Russians have a saying.  If you say A you have to say B; if you say B then you have to say C.  I’m interested in where you get when you’re at LMNOP.”  Hopko went on to say that he interpreted Borovoy as meaning “if you take a step in a particular direction, you must see the full implication of where you are going.”  In other words, Fr. Hopko also appealed to the much-maligned “slippery slope” or the “thin edge of the wedge”.  Ladouceur objects to my use of such an approach as “another rhetorical device”.  One wonders if he would say the same of Frs. Borovoy and Hopko.  Dr. Ladouceur does acknowledge, however, that I “may have a point from the experience of Churches which have ordained women”, but says that I must also “demonstrate that the downstream consequences of one act are indeed inevitable”.  One wonders how this might be “demonstrated” without use of a time machine.   
But does it really require such demonstration?  Surely learning from the multiple experiences of other churches and denominations should suffice?  The notion sometimes heard that “such a thing could never happen in Orthodoxy” strikes me as preposterously triumphalistic or simply as magical thinking.  Are we Orthodox that much more intelligent, holy, wise, or prescient than other Christians?  And if so, perhaps one could “demonstrate” this with contemporary examples?  Does anyone really believe we Orthodox are so much wiser and holier than our neighbours that we possess a kind of immunity to the ecclesiastical decline which has befallen them if we take similar steps?  For the ordination of women is not simply “one act”.  The willingness to ordain women is a symptom as much as it is a cause, and (in the words of Fr. Tom) “it shows what a person believes about everything”.   Taking this step involves turning our backs on Tradition as a guiding principle in favour of contemporary and shifting cultural norms, and setting ourselves definitively upon a new path.  Where this path leads we can see from the multiple examples of the denominations which have done so.  No time machine is really required.
            In conclusion, I would like to put the ball of dialogue back in Dr. Ladouceur’s court and simply ask two questions.  Does he deny that my Scriptural exegesis or my presentation of the Fathers’ views are correct?  And if my exegesis of the Bible and the Fathers as forbidding the ordination of women is correct, does he agree with it?  I would like to end by saying that I appreciate that Dr. Ladouceur did not stoop, as many do in this debate, to using the label “fundamentalist” or any of the other theological swear words often employed to short-circuit debate.  That debate is better served when both parties avoid such tactics and stick to arguments, and I thank Dr. Ladouceur for doing just that.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Understanding Pascha

In recent months I have come to the conclusion that the best place to understand the significance of Pascha is in a cancer ward, or a hospice for the dying, or by a deathbed.  When one stands in any of these terrible places, one enjoys an immunity from the lies of the world.  For the world tells each one of us that we are a race of immortals, destined never to die.  Surveying our surroundings in these places reveals that  this is not so.
Both the cosmetic industry and the funeral industry conspire in their own ways to persuade us that we will remain young and wrinkle-free forever, and our media cheerfully picks up and conveys this message.  We know, of course, that it is nonsense, but we buy into it anyway.  Youth is celebrated and culturally portrayed as if it is eternal, and the dead are rarely allowed to be seen.  People expire privately in hospital rooms, and then are rushed down to the morgue.  Funeral directors (there are happy exceptions) do their best to anesthetise the survivors to the horror that is death, and often the corpse is cremated before the funeral (now renamed the “celebration of life”).  Often in of these services, the corpse is not present, and if it is, the casket is usually closed.  Our forefathers chanted, “In the midst of life we are in death” (the line is from the grave-side service in the Anglican prayerbook), but no longer.   In the midst of life we now rarely encounter death.  In the old days, people died at home, and were prepared for burial by their loving and grieving family.  Now we have people for that.
All of this culture of denial falls away from us when we survey our surroundings in cancer ward, hospice, or by the deathbed.  Whether or not we die of cancer, all of us will die.  It reminds me of the old children’s riddling rhyme:  “Doctor, doctor, will I die?  Yes, my child, and so will I.”  Our cultural denial notwithstanding, we are not a race of immortals, and all of us will one day lie upon our deathbeds.  As a priest, I have stood by a few of them.  And then one realizes afresh what Pascha really means.
Pascha is not simply a liturgical feast, something celebrating the end of a rigorous Great Lent.  And it is not simply the happy historical ending to our Lord’s life, an appendix added after the crucifixion saying, “And they all lived happily ever after”.  Pascha is God’s promise that the moment of pain we endure by the deathbed is not the final word.   For now we must be submerged in the horror and obscenity of death, but God’s plan is indeed for us to be a race of immortals, and one day this plan will be fulfilled.  Hurtling down the years to our deathbed is not a journey to oblivion but to joy.  When death’s cold hand finally closes our eyes, we will open them in paradise, and after our body returns to the dust from which it was taken, it will one day arise and be raised and transformed.   Pascha is not simply about Christ’s happy ending, but about ours. 
If one disbelieves in Christ and Pascha, then our cultural of denial of death makes good sense.  We can’t do anything about the fearful fate which awaits us, so why think about it?  Eat, drink, be merry, and watch television.  But if what the Church says about Christ and Pascha is true, we don’t need the lies or the denial.  We can look death in its fearful face and smile and say with St. Paul, “O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?”  Death may prowl the cancer ward or the hospice and may roar at us as we lie on our deathbed, but it will be gone soon enough.  Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Apostasy of Judas

The hymns of Holy Week travel straight like arrows to the heart.  There we learn of the harlot’s gratitude to Christ, she who formerly lived in the dark and moonless love of sin.  We learn of the one who laboured long to serve the Master and increase the talents given to him and who was finally summoned to enter into the joy of his Lord.  And also we learn of the apostasy of Judas.  Judas remains in our liturgical tradition like a shadow, haunting the light.  His fall warns us of the perennial danger of falling, and each time we approach the Chalice we speak his name and tremble:  “I will not give You a kiss as did Judas, but like the thief will I confess You, remember me, O Lord, in Your Kingdom”. 
            The apostasy of Judas, like all acts of sin, presents the mind with a mystery.  Why did he do it?  He could he do it?  The betrayal is perverse, impenetrable.  The New Testament give the barest hints of his heart’s motivation.  It describes him as a traitor, a devil, a thief who pilfered from the money-box entrusted to him.  But even this does not go very far in resolving the mystery.  Surely it cannot simply have been about money?  The Twelve imagined that they were on the brink of entering a new world order with themselves as the new rulers.  Surely in this new political order, money would not be a problem?  Was the heart of Judas already growing cold while he served in his Lord?  Did doubt and double-mindedness seep in, damaging and eroding integrity, drawing him ever more to side with the Lord’s foes?  Did the money he pilfered end up in the hands of the Zealots?  We can never know.  The shadow that shrouded his heart remains, and prevents us from seeing into it very far.
            But apostasy remains a possibility for everyone, and if one of the Twelve could fall, then no one can consider themselves immune and safe from temptation.  I think of this when I sometimes peruse my Church Metrical Book, the record containing the names of all those in the last thirty years whom I baptized and chrismated.  Many, happily enough, remain in the Church.  But others have fallen away, and the joy which shone from the faces in the baptismal font did not serve to protect from subsequent apostasy.  It is another arrow in the heart.
            Some church leaders, knowing this, have taken steps to try to prevent it.  One Greek bishop, realizing that many Greek teens no longer attend Church, wrote to his people and suggested that the problem was insufficient Hellenization, and that if the parents just used more Greek around the home, all would be well, and fewer of these young people would leave the Church.  With respect, I suggest that identifying the Faith with one’s ethnic heritage is part of the problem, not part of the solution.  The answer is not greater attention to ourselves and our background.  The answer is greater attention to Jesus.
            Parents need to help their children see the Lord, to have a living relationship with Him.  It is not enough to know about Jesus, in the same way as one might know about the Battle of Hastings or other historical facts.  They need also to know Jesus personally.  Sadly this is still no guarantee that they will not subsequently choose poorly and abandon their Lord.  But it is the best defence.
            In this matter of seeing and knowing Jesus, I am reminded of a scene from C.S. Lewis’ final volume in his Narnian Chronicles, The Last Battle.  In that world, there were two rival deities, Aslan and Tash, corresponding to our own Christ and Allah.  A devout worshipper of Tash by the name of Emeth who had been taught from his boyhood to hate the name of Aslan, finally finds himself through a door into the other world.  He beholds the bright sky and the wide lands and smells the sweetness, and thinks that he has surely come into the country of Tash.  Then, bounding towards him with the speed of an ostrich and the size of an elephant, comes Aslan, the great Lion.  “His hair was like pure gold and the brightness of his eyes like gold that was liquid in the furnace.  He was more terrible than a flaming mountain, and his beauty surpassed all that was in the world even as a rose in bloom surpassed the dust of the desert.”  “Then”, he said, “I fell at his feet and thought, Surely this is the hour of death, for the Lion (who is worthy of all honour) will know that I have served Tash all my days and not him.  Nevertheless, it is better to see the Lion and die than to be king of the world and live and not to have seen him”.
            This is the voice of authentic discipleship, the song of the Church, the confession of everyone who has known Jesus.  The beauty of Jesus surpasses all that is in the world even as a rose in bloom surpasses the dust of the desert.  It is better to see Him and die a martyr’s death than to be king of the world and live long in splendour and wealth, and not to have seen Him.
            How can one see the great Lion and then abandon Him?  How can anyone look long into those eyes of fire, and then turn away from His face and pursue other paths?  It remains possible, though the darkness of perversity shrouds such a choice and makes it impenetrable to pious reason.  But seeing the great Lion and knowing Him remains our best defense against the fate the Judas.  That should be our goal in raising our children, and our own continued goal as well.  The hymns of Holy Week warn us of the terrible possibility of apostasy.  Let us tremble, and look to the Lion.


Sunday, April 9, 2017

Palm Sunday: Where are You in the Crowd?

Come away with me; let us leave our world and travel back together to the first Palm Sunday in the first century.  Stepping out of our time machine, we see the bright sunshine beating down on us, the dusty road, the jostling, joyful, shouting crowds.  And there, coming down the road from Bethany, with the Mount of Olives towering above on His right, Jesus of Nazareth entering the Holy City with His disciples and a crowd of pilgrims following behind.  He is mounted upon a donkey, which plods along with its foal.  Christ sits smiling royally upon the donkey as the procession proceeds along the southern way into the Holy City.  Multitudes from Jerusalem have come out to greet Him, casting their garments on the road on which He will travel, while others cut branches from the palm trees and spread them also along the path.  Everyone is happy, everyone is shouting, and you can pick out from the noise the repeated chant, “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!”  The Pharisees caught up in the tumult are scandalized at this open and controversial declaration of His Messiahship, and plead with Him, “Teacher!  Rebuke your disciples!”  But He responds that prophecy must be fulfilled, and if His disciples were quiet, the very stones would cry out and give voice to their words.
            Then freeze the frame, pause the scene in mid-movement, and step back to observe everything as it would appear if painted on an icon.  And ask yourself:  if you had to play a part in that scene, which part would you play?  Where in that crowd would you want to be found?  Who would you choose to be?
            Would you be among the shouting crowds, one of those enthusiastically hailing Him as the coming Messiah?  Not a good choice, for within a week the crowds who once cried, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” would be crying, “Let him be crucified!  His blood be upon us and upon our children!”  They hailed Him as Messiah only because of what they thought He was about to do for them.  He would fulfil their nationalistic and military agenda; He would raise an army and with supernatural power overthrow the Romans, liberating Israel and exalting them to a place of power on the world stage.  He would replace the hated Pax Romana with a serene and almighty Pax Hebraica, and make the Romans pay.  When it at once became apparent that He would not overthrow Roman rule, and when they saw Him flogged, bleeding, and abused, trotted out by the Romans wearing an anti-Semitic crown of thorns and the purple robe of mockery, they instantly turned on Him.  So the Pharisees were right after all!  Jesus of Nazareth was not a true prophet, much less the hoped for Messiah, but just another deceiver.  Away with him!  Let him be crucified!  No; one should not choose to be part of that happy, triumphant crowd.
            Perhaps one should choose to be one of the apostles.  On that first Palm Sunday they stood close to their Master, basking in reflected glory.  But that also would not be a wise choice.  Within the same week following, they all would prove their unworthiness.  They would quarrel among themselves over the top places they imagined would be available to them in the coming Kingdom and in the new order, even to the point of quarrelling over seats of honour at their final meal together.  Though each one would loudly proclaim his unshakable loyalty to Jesus, when the test came a few hours later, they all forsook Him and fled.  Peter even denied Him repeatedly, caving in before the pointed accusing fingers of a servant girl. When the Lord finally found them after His passion and resurrection, they were huddling behind locked doors for fear of the Jews and of their own imminent arrest.  No; one should not choose a place among the apostles on that day either.
            I suggest that the best choice, the place of ultimate safety that day, was the donkey.  That beast of burden alone did not ultimately prove itself unworthy.  It was not swayed that day by the joyful acclamations, nor later by the screaming words of hate.  It was chosen to do a particular job and to bear a particular burden, and it did it, not expecting praise or reward.  There it was, front and center, unnoticed and invisible, completely reliable and obedient.  That is where I would choose to be, if I had to pick a place and choose a role that day.  The Lord has jobs for us to do, and burdens for us to bear.  They might be heavy burdens or light, involving prominence and praise, or obscurity and invisibility.  What matters is that we accept whatever load He lays upon us and do not complain.  We do not demand applause or reward in this age.  It is enough that when the Lord says to us as was said to the donkey, “The Lord has need of it”, we just come along quietly and do what is asked of us.  It is true that on Palm Sunday now we called to sing, and exult, and wave our palm branches with joy.  It is good to sing our Hosannas in obedience to our tradition.  It is even better to combine this liturgical exuberance with the calm constancy of ongoing reliable obedience.