Gender Roles in the Greek Orthodox Church

by Trudie Longren
The Orthodox Church has historically only ordained men as presbyters, priests and bishops.

The Orthodox Church has historically only ordained men as presbyters, priests and bishops.

The Greek Orthodox Church traces its origins back to the early Church referenced in the Bible, teaching that its authority is derived from Jesus' apostles, a tradition referred to as apostolic succession. The Orthodox Church believes that the Scriptures establish that the roles of men and women differ. Men carry out the roles of bishops and priests, while women act as deaconnesses. The Orthodox Church does not ordain women to lead local parishes or to serve as bishops.

Scriptural Basis for Gender Roles

The Orthodox gender roles are based on Scripture and Church tradition. The Church teaches that the members of the Church are not superior to one another because Galatians 3:28 states: "You are all one in Christ Jesus.” The Church also upholds the belief that the roles of men and women, while equally important, are distinct. Orthodoxy states that men are uniquely empowered to be priests and to teach, based on 1 Timothy 2:8: “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarrelling.” Women are to keep silent and do not have authority over men or to teach, based on 1 Timothy 2:12: "I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet."

Bishops

Orthodoxy teaches that bishops, who must be male, receive their authority to lead from the apostles. Only bishops can ordain deacons, priests or presbyters and other bishops, as Paul wrote in Titus 1:5: “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain presbyters in every city, as I had appointed thee.” Bishops also have the authority to administer the sacraments and to teach. Bishops must be single or widowed and are often taken from among the hieromonks, the unmarried priests of the Church.

The Priesthood

Women have never served as priestsin the 2,000-year history of the Orthodox Church. Orthodoxy divides priests, or presbyters, into two categories. One category of priests are permitted to marry as long as it is the first marriage for both individuals. A second category of priests remain single and belong to a group known as the monastic clergy, also referred to as hieromonks. Priests serving in local parishes administer the sacraments, teach and spread Orthodox doctrines and practices; they officiate marriages and tend to the faithful during sickness and death. Clergy also serve in the military, seminaries, hospitals and nursing homes.

The Diaconate

Both women and men can belong to the diaconate -- a group called to serve as officials in local parishes -- of the Orthodox Church; however, the roles of women in the diaconate, called deaconess, and men, called deacons, are not the same. In the early history of the Church, deaconesses may have assisted in the administration of the sacraments of baptism and anointing of the sick. Today, the role of the deaconess is to be an intermediary between other women and church officials. Deacons are ordained in a sacrament called Holy Orders and can assist the priests in administering sacraments.

About the Author

Trudie Longren began writing in 2008 for legal publications, including the "American Journal of Criminal Law." She has served as a classroom teacher and legal writing professor. Longren holds a bachelor's degree in international politics, a Juris Doctor and an LL.M. in human rights. She also speaks Spanish and French.

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