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Female altar servers


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#1 Algernon

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Posted 19 June 2012 - 04:31 PM

I apologize if this has been addressed before, but...
Is there anything wrong with having girls as altar servers?

Why or why not?

Thanks,
A

#2 Anthony Stokes

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Posted 19 June 2012 - 07:03 PM

From just a simple, practical view, they are not allowed to enter the altar, so it would be quite difficult to have them serve. I'll let someone else deal with the bigger questions.

Sbdn. Anthony

#3 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 19 June 2012 - 07:11 PM

1. Because God created man male and female and gave the headship to the male, including the priestly role in mixed company.

2. Because women and girls would be terrible distraction to men trying to perform their priestly duties in the altar.

#4 Olga

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 12:19 AM

Let me make it crystal-clear that I agree that female clergy and altargirls have no place in Orthodox praxis (other than the established monastic practice of older nuns serving in the altar). However, Fr Patrick's point below cannot go unchallenged:

2. Because women and girls would be terrible distraction to men trying to perform their priestly duties in the altar.


Altarboys are perfectly capable of distracting each other in the altar, they don't need the presence of girls to misbehave. And if clergy find it difficult to refrain from impure thoughts in the presence (anywhere, why should the altar be any different?) of women or girls, then they shouldn't be clergy.

#5 Paul Cowan

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 05:58 AM

Sorry Olga. I have to disagree with you on that last sentence. Many of our greatest ascetics suffered torment from impure thoughts. To say we can't have priests unless they are pure in mind would leave us with few at most. Even our beloved St. Silouan had his demon to deal with.

Now distractions coming from boys or girls is a different matter entirely in a nonsexual context and I deal with this most Sundays. (from the boys of course).

Paul

#6 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 10:30 AM

We should turn to the hymnography and iconography of the Church. The priest is ‘invested with the grace of priesthood’ and says, ‘For Thou art both He that offereth and He that is offered. Thou dost receive and art given, O Christ our God’. These words from the Prayer of Offering in the Divine Liturgy during the chanting of the Cherubic hymn make clear that Christ is the High Priest. Priesthood is Christ’s, and the priests are deputies of the bishops who themselves are ministers of the mystery; that is, instruments appointed to serve in the stead of Christ. Thus, priesthood is not something which ‘exists’ in itself but is merely the means God uses to manifest His once-ever sacrifice and His Priesthood in time and space.

The Church’s iconography shows this: in many sanctuaries are wall paintings showing Christ as Priest at the holy table distributing His Body and His Blood. As Christ is the icon of the Father we cannot see, so the priest is the icon of Christ in liturgical ministry. Christ took male form and so His liturgical icon is also a man.

Men and women share a common humanity but there are two differences: we are each a unique individual, and we are of different genders. It is said that the exclusion of girls and women is rooted in cultural norms, partly the traditional Jewish norms, that we today have progressed beyond. We should obviously be very wary of accepting anything that has emerged from the modern concept of humanity, based as it is on non-Christian notions of liberalism and rights. We must have regard to the timeless truth of the Church, not to the passing notions of a generation.

I have no answers but there are questions we may ask. Is there a linkage of ‘icon bearing’ from the Father to Christ to priest which should be completed by being reflected in all who take part in liturgical service in the sanctuary? (I would have thought yes.) Are there theological reasons for excluding girls from altar service? (I don’t know.) Is it enough to say that, apart from arguments concerning female deacons in Byzantine times, it has been the tradition of the Church for many centuries to admit only males who have a blessing to do so to enter the sanctuary? (I think yes.) Can it be said that in its tradition in this matter the Church has been doing something wrong? (I can’t see that.) Is it true that boys’ service helps them become familiar with the roles of priest and deacon for those who may progress to ordination? (In some cases, yes.)

As to girls being a distraction to the clergy, I have to agree with Olga, save that any man in any situation may suffer from impure thoughts because the evil one will attack him for what he is doing as a priest. After all, what about when the priest is alone with a woman at confession? To return to the Prayer of Offering, the priest there prays for his soul and heart to be cleansed from an evil conscience.

#7 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 11:17 AM

Olga, it's not just a matter of "impure thoughts"; it's also a matter of serious distraction by the charming beauty of the female sex in the eyes of men. I'm surprised that Andreas doesn't understand this, but I'm not surprised that you don't. I have found most women amazingly blind to the effect they have on men. They have no idea how visual men are or how attracted men are to feminine beauty. That is why so many women parade around half-naked and take offense when a man tells them to cover up, saying, "That's your problem, you with your impure thoughts." But our tradition tells women to cover up, and the power of their natural beauty is one of the reasons the saints cite for their covering.

#8 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 12:13 PM

Andreas understands this very well! But such possible distraction cannot be one of the reasons for excluding girls from the sanctuary. If it would help some priests that girls are not present, so be it, but surely if a girl were to be serving, she would be wearing a stikharion, would she not? Another point: if girls were to serve in a church where women cover their heads, would not female servers have to do likewise? And what age of girls are we talking about? Why would girls want to serve? Should we not all humbly accept our gender and the roles that pertain to each?

If the point raises a multitude of questions answers to which may not be found or agreed upon, is this not in itself sufficient reason for sticking with the tradition that girls may not be altar servers? It strikes me as yet another modernist move for change for no good reason save contemporary notions of 'equality' and 'inclusiveness'.

Edited by Andreas Moran, 20 June 2012 - 12:29 PM.


#9 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 01:20 PM

It is not enough to simply say, "This is the tradition," as if tradition were merely law, arbitrarily handed down by a lawgiver who doesn't expect us to delve into the depths of his wisdom. Tradition does often make great sense, and in this case it's not hard to see how.

I have given the two main and most obvious reasons for the tradition, and the first does not deny the second.

#10 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 01:33 PM

Do you mean 'tradition' as in custom, or as in 'Tradition'?

#11 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 01:36 PM

We have to remember that serving in the Altar is a clerical function. The ideal for those who serve there is that they be subdeacons which is considered to be a clerical role. Even the practice of having boys as servers (which is possibly a practice that is quite recent) is done with the assumption that they are in training as it were to become future subdeacons, etc.

I have just come back from the Holy Land and one major difference from here is that in the Altar in none of the churches we served in were there the 'servers' that are so common here. Instead the vested subdeacons did everything in aid of the bishop and priests that servers often are seen to do here.

In Christ
-Fr Raphael

#12 Olga

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 01:56 PM

We have to remember that serving in the Altar is a clerical function. The ideal for those who serve there is that they be subdeacons which is considered to be a clerical role. Even the practice of having boys as servers (which is possibly a practice that is quite recent) is done with the assumption that they are in training as it were to become future subdeacons, etc.

I have just come back from the Holy Land and one major difference from here is that in the Altar in none of the churches we served in were there the 'servers' that are so common here. Instead the vested subdeacons did everything in aid of the bishop and priests that servers often are seen to do here.

In Christ
-Fr Raphael


Thank you for this, Father. This certainly explains the Greek practice of vesting altarboys in sikharion and subdeacon's orarion, with the difference that the two front bands are not crossed over in an X form, but are arranged parallel to one another.

#13 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 02:07 PM

Yes- that's exactly what occurs in our parish. As with many other parishes in the west we have oodles (that's a technical term mind you) of stichars for boys of different sizes in the risnitsa. No matter how young the Altar server they always wear a stichar and first get a blessing from the priest before putting it on. I suppose this practice is a tie in from the older practice of having only subdeacons (or some other kind of server) in the Altar.

#14 Christina M.

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 02:56 PM

It's terrible to think of little boys and little girls flirting inside the altar. Yuck! It's hard enough for the priests to get the little boys to stop goofing around back there. I doubt he'd have any more success telling the kids not to flirt with each other.

#15 Algernon

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 06:44 PM

I am curious as to whether anyone is willing to defend the practice of having female altar servers?

The reason I am asking about this is that at least one local parish--and possibly two--has been known to use female altar servers from time to time and no one in the parish seems to have a problem with this, and if they do they're keeping it to themselves. But I am very uncomfortable with this but I'm not sure I can say why. It just doesn't seem right. But if a bishop has ok'ed it (which I assume he has since they used female altar servers while he was visiting) then does that make it ok?

#16 Rdr Thomas

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 08:07 PM

I am curious as to whether anyone is willing to defend the practice of having female altar servers?

The reason I am asking about this is that at least one local parish--and possibly two--has been known to use female altar servers from time to time and no one in the parish seems to have a problem with this, and if they do they're keeping it to themselves. But I am very uncomfortable with this but I'm not sure I can say why. It just doesn't seem right. But if a bishop has ok'ed it (which I assume he has since they used female altar servers while he was visiting) then does that make it ok?


I heard Archimandrite Meletios (Webber) say once that "orthodoxy is what the bishop says it is". I personally have a little bit of a problem with this because history demonstrates that bishops can be spectacularly wrong!

I would be just as uncomfortable as you about having female altar servers. On the other hand, be comforted by the knowledge that the bishop is the one responsible for that, and not you. We're responsible for obedience and trust in our bishops unless they depart orthodoxy. I believe that this was Fr. Meletios' real meaning was. And I'm not sure if female altar servers rises to the level of "departing orthodoxy". Others may disagree.

My question to the clergy of these parishes (and to the bishop) might be: Are there not enough men who are willing to serve at the Holy Altar that we are required to do this?

Edited by Rdr Thomas, 20 June 2012 - 08:28 PM.


#17 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 01:05 PM

I am curious as to whether anyone is willing to defend the practice of having female altar servers?

The reason I am asking about this is that at least one local parish--and possibly two--has been known to use female altar servers from time to time and no one in the parish seems to have a problem with this, and if they do they're keeping it to themselves. But I am very uncomfortable with this but I'm not sure I can say why. It just doesn't seem right. But if a bishop has ok'ed it (which I assume he has since they used female altar servers while he was visiting) then does that make it ok?


Not to be difficult. But our purpose here on the Forum is to discuss the theological or 'church logic' point of practices of the Church and also to avoid as much as possible getting into what particular parishes and jurisdictions may be doing (except as illustrations of already made points). The former illuminates Chuch practice while the latter gets one bogged into questions that in any case we can not resolve here (and frequently don't know the details of either since these often are locally resolved pastoral issues- thus the wisdom of 'let the bishop decide').

In any case if the role of serving in the Altar is clerical then the connection to being male is obvious. However the known exception is in women's monasteries. At Gethsemane & Mt of Olives (Eleon) only the subdeacons did what Altar boys/servers often do here in the west. Meanwhile nuns prepared vestments in the riznitsa (conveniently/purposely these were very large in area compared to anything I have seen here); lit the kadyllo before handing it into the Altar (to a subdeacon); and held the procession candle (but outside the Altar area).

In Christ
-Fr Raphael

#18 Father David Moser

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 02:14 PM

However the known exception is in women's monasteries. At Gethsemane & Mt of Olives (Eleon) only the subdeacons did what Altar boys/servers often do here in the west. Meanwhile nuns prepared vestments in the riznitsa (conveniently/purposely these were very large in area compared to anything I have seen here); lit the kadyllo before handing it into the Altar (to a subdeacon); and held the procession candle (but outside the Altar area).


In most of the altars in the Holy Land there were large sacristies on either side of the actual altar. The nuns did most of their labor in those areas - there are no doors, just large openings connecting the areas making passage and sight lines much easier. I did see occasionally one of the senior mothers/sisters enter the actual altar area, however, that usually was simply to bring something in or take something out. Any actual "serving" was done by the clergy present.

In answer to the question - what would the female servers wear - I think that the best answer from tradition is that they wear the podriasanik (cassock) and head covering of a novice (unless they were riassaphore or higher) but not a sticharion since that is properly the vestment of a reader.

Fr David Moser

#19 Owen Jones

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 05:25 PM

One cannot avoid the political context of this issue, which is (according to the prevailing political orthodoxy) that Orthodoxy is hopelessly patriarchal and misogynist for not ordaining women, etc. Bishops and clergy need to have a much better understanding of the faith in order to educate the faithful on this before we were to rush into allowing females having a liturgical role.

#20 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 09:13 PM

In terms of what we are about, 'stumbling block' and 'foolishness' and 'not of this world' come to mind. If we are wrong in the world's terms, we must be right.




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