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Female altar servers


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#21 Owen Jones

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 09:22 PM

Yes, all I'm saying is that there might be certain liturgical roles for women that were instituted but with the wrong justification and therefore the wrong meaning behind it. Then there is an affect on everything else, e.g. the conclusion is reached that theology is all culturally conditioned. I've seen this in the Episcopal Church.

#22 Father Stephanos

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 11:05 PM

To help explore this question, I have not referred to the altar serving practices of female monastics in Monasteries as they are not properly referred to as girls. What nuns can do in a Monastery does not necessarily parallel what Orthodox women and girls can do in a Parish.

Canonically and traditionally, women and girls are not altar servers in the Orthodox Church. There is no mention in the Holy Canons concerning women and/or girls in parishes being allowed to be tonsured Subdeacons, Readers, Psaltes, Acolytes, etc., nor does there appear to be any real extenuating circumstances that would allow women and girls to be altar servers. Similarly, I do not know of any Monasteries of female monastics that have women and/or girl pilgrims function as altar servers while they are visiting.

Briefly, to add some general observations, more than one thousand years ago, in Orthodox parishes, our Holy Church ordained (not tonsured) Deaconesses in the Sanctuary of the Temple. Although they were ordained in the Sanctuary, their service was always outside the Sanctuary. The candidates were to be older (at least 40 years old) single women who were not allowed to marry after their ordination. Their functions were to help with the baptisms of women and girls; cense the faithful and the Temple on the side of the Theotokos during services; visit, minister, and bring Holy Communion to sick women and girls, and women in prison, etc. The Deaconesses’ ministry was to women and girls. Further, to prevent rumors and scandal, Hierarchs were not to meet with women or girls unless there was a Deaconess present. I do not remember Deaconesses being tonsured as a Reader or Subdeacon before they were ordained as a Deaconess. In the Hellenistic period, although Deaconesses were on occasion referred to as Deacons with the use of a feminine article of speech instead of a masculine article of speech, a Deaconess was not a female Deacon; in other words, a Deaconess did not have the same liturgical function as a Deacon did. For example, a Deaconess did not intone the petitions during a service.

In addition, it is important to note that it is the tradition of our Holy Church for men and boys to stand in the nave of the Temple on the side of our Lord Jesus Christ while women and girls stand in the nave of the Temple on the side of our most-holy Theotokos Maria. One of the reasons there is a separation of males from females in the nave is to help prevent flirtation and the like during the services among those who are eligible to marry. For this very same reason, the Holy Canons prohibit those who were baptized in the same Baptismal water (Baptisms often took place in moving water such as rivers or lakes; the water was sanctified, and then all who were to be baptized on that day were baptized in the same water.) from marrying one another. This was done in part to discourage men and women from coming to catechetical classes to find a prospective spouse. For self-evident reasons, this very same phronema is also applicable within the Sanctuary and is more diligently enforced.

Just because a Hierarch does something contrary to the Holy Canons, does not mean that what the Hierarch has done is right and correct. Theologically speaking, individual Hierarchs are not infallible in their actions. I believe, generally speaking, that a Hierarch who has and/or encourages girls and/or women to be altar servers has departed from our Holy Traditions and Canons of our Holy Orthodox Church and that he and those who have participated in this irregularity should be disciplined and penanced accordingly.

#23 Algernon

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Posted 27 June 2012 - 12:34 PM

I think it's interesting that no one is willing to say "My parish has female altar servers, and I think it's fine and here's why..."

Is there anything that a layperson can do to inform (or remind) a bishop that his allowance of female altar servers is scandalous and should stop, or do we simply have to grit our teeth and accept it?

#24 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 27 June 2012 - 03:44 PM

Well, there are often pastoral reasons and something even beyond this why a bishop leaves things as they are. Perhaps certain things just are more suitable to certain local settings. And trying to correct everything can lead to an environment that is so antiseptic that it is cold and lifeless.

#25 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 27 June 2012 - 06:01 PM

Is there anything that a layperson can do to inform (or remind) a bishop that his allowance of female altar servers is scandalous and should stop, or do we simply have to grit our teeth and accept it?


Let him know what you think and how it distresses you and others, but do so in private, in person, and with due respect. And don't demand that it stop; ask him to consider the matter first, be prepared to hear his excuses without immediately dismissing them, and follow up with him later, when you both have given it more thought.

#26 Marcin Mankowski

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Posted 28 June 2012 - 05:42 AM

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.


I am sorry but I find your remark naive. Male psychology does not work that way.

#27 Marcin Mankowski

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Posted 28 June 2012 - 05:50 AM

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.


It is just the camel trying to put his head into the tent.

#28 Reader Luke

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Posted 29 June 2012 - 05:22 PM

What should we make of examples like this?

http://stjohnthedivi...acolyte-program

Where there are girls and boys vested in sticharion? Isn't the sticharion a clerical vestment? I can understand if they were deaconesses, but they aren't unmarried 40 year old women who fulfill the role of the ancient deaconesses.

Does the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, with this article, endorse altar girls?
http://www.goarch.or.../sessions/women

I'd think that the following churches are doing the right thing, they aren't permitting altar girls, but rather have another ministry for the girls to fulfill in their church:
http://www.sttimothy...ministries.html
http://www.assumptio...Handmaidens.dsp

As for a group like St. Nina's Quarterly, is it really a canonically endorsed group, or is it more like the uncanonical pro-same-sex-marriage group "Axios"?

#29 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 29 June 2012 - 07:53 PM

Does the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, with this article, endorse altar girls?
http://www.goarch.or.../sessions/women


Lordy be! I am cited as a source on the GOARCH website. But not as having approved of altar girls -- that's a relief.

#30 Father Stephanos

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Posted 03 July 2012 - 01:26 AM

With all due respect to everyone contributing to this thread, there is no pastoral reason for an Orthodox Hierarch to allow female altar servers in parishes. An Orthodox Hierarch has the pastoral charisma and ability to deal with such abnormal irregularities as he encounters them. He also has the humility and grace to correct an error that he has overlooked or made. When same-sex marriages are performed in our Orthodox Temples, will/do we say it is suitable to certain local settings and/or will/do we start making excuses? All real Orthodox Christians will/do oppose same-sex marriage in our Holy Orthodox Church; the issue of female altar servers in parishes should be dealt with accordingly.

In addition, it is outrageous and wrong to permit women and girls to wear a sticharion, so they can be made to look like male altar servers who wear a sticharion. Not to go too far off track, but it reminds me of an extremely weird incident, outside of our Holy Orthodox Church, that made worldwide news in the mid-1970s. If I remember it correctly, at that time a Roman Catholic nun at Boston University one day celebrated mass for Roman Catholic students there since their Roman Catholic priest did not show up for the service. When she was asked why she did it, she replied that she did not want the students to be without the Eucharist they had come to receive. Likewise, the two links regarding improper innovations occurring in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and Saint Nina’s Quarterly show things that are equally bizarre and not part of the Holy Tradition of our Holy Orthodox Church. From what I understand, some of these people are trying to lay the foundation for women to be ordained as Orthodox priests in the future. Such actions and innovations do not come from the Holy Spirit!

To Algernon: I agree with Father Deacon Brian in how you might approach your Bishop. If you are able, you might even write a concerned, respectful letter about the matter to your Bishop.

I completely agree with Olga that Orthodox clergymen are always to refrain from impure thoughts and not to blame someone else if they have them. Her remark is not naïve. Her hypothetical is correct! To add to the defense of her correct statement: If an Orthodox priest was serving in the sanctuary of an Orthodox Monastery of female monastics and there were no other altar servers or clergy present, there are occasions when up to two nuns would be in the sanctuary. It is not for long periods of time, nor are the occurrences very frequent, but as needed. They would also hold the communion cloth for the distribution of Holy Communion. On one of these occasions, one of the nuns, usually the Hegumeness, would cense the Holy Gifts as they are brought from the Holy Table to the Prothesis Table after the distribution of Holy Communion. An Orthodox priest who would claim to be distracted by two Orthodox nuns serving at the Holy Altar in the Holy Place needs to grow spiritually and needs to conquer the vile demon(s) of fornication who is/are actually the ones distracting and deluding him. Likewise, Orthodox priests who are similarly distracted by women and/or girls need to root out their own passions and conquer the demons hunting them. This is what our great ascetics and clergymen have done! Similarly, in this very same way, we all can live and are called to live our life in Christ together!

With agape in our Lord Jesus Christ,
+ Father Stephanos

#31 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 03 July 2012 - 01:53 PM

Father Stephanos, amen to everything you say, up until your mention of "impure thoughts." You seem to assume that men can respond to women only in two ways: "impure thoughts" or as if women are men. But of course things aren't that simple. In between sexual lust and sexual blindness is a range of more or less innocent awareness of the difference of male and female and of the amazing beauty of the woman, whom God made beautiful that the man might love her. That beauty and that difference are sources of distraction even when they don't lead to impure thoughts. In their presence, a man needs to be very much on his guard, and a conscious effort to be on one's guard is itself a distraction.

The Church is very reasonable about this. It doesn't just blame men for being distracted or accuse them of impure thoughts if they can't pretend that women are just like men. Instead, its tradition calls for separating men and women in worship and for complete covering of the woman. It also teaches us not to do things that needlessly cause our brother to stumble. As Christians, we can't just say, "You shouldn't be that way." That's the feminist approach. Feminists force men and women together even on submarines now, and if the men don't like it or can't behave themselves, feminists blame them for being men and for not treating women just like men.

Forgive me for my boldness, but this is a specialty of mine.

In Christ,

Dn Patrick

#32 Father Stephanos

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Posted 04 July 2012 - 12:25 AM

Father Stephanos, amen to everything you say, up until your mention of "impure thoughts." You seem to assume that men can respond to women only in two ways: "impure thoughts" or as if women are men. But of course things aren't that simple. In between sexual lust and sexual blindness is a range of more or less innocent awareness of the difference of male and female and of the amazing beauty of the woman, whom God made beautiful that the man might love her. That beauty and that difference are sources of distraction even when they don't lead to impure thoughts. In their presence, a man needs to be very much on his guard, and a conscious effort to be on one's guard is itself a distraction.

The Church is very reasonable about this. It doesn't just blame men for being distracted or accuse them of impure thoughts if they can't pretend that women are just like men. Instead, its tradition calls for separating men and women in worship and for complete covering of the woman. It also teaches us not to do things that needlessly cause our brother to stumble. As Christians, we can't just say, "You shouldn't be that way." That's the feminist approach. Feminists force men and women together even on submarines now, and if the men don't like it or can't behave themselves, feminists blame them for being men and for not treating women just like men.

Forgive me for my boldness, but this is a specialty of mine.

In Christ,

Dn Patrick


Christ is in our midst!

Father Deacon Patrick,

God forgives, and I do too!

You say you have boldness, so you should be able to face the truth!

I did not and do not say or mean to imply that men can respond to women in only two ways. I referenced the term “impure thoughts” as in this current thread the term “impure thoughts” was mentioned previously in post #4 by Olga, in post #5 by Paul, in post #6 by Reader Andreas, in post #7 by Deacon Patrick (you), and in post # 26 by Marcin in referencing Olga’s post.

To be more explicit to our topic, I say that an Orthodox priest can and should respond to men and women as our Lord Jesus Christ does. It is that simple! (In addition, Orthodox deacons and subdeacons are expected to respond to men and women as a priest can and should.) Our Lord Jesus Christ does not have the distractions that you propose, nor does He have the other problems you suggest. A priest is called to follow and imitate our Lord Jesus Christ, not someone who has an improper perspective on this matter.

An Orthodox priest is called by our Lord Jesus Christ to be holier than you might think. An Orthodox parish priest is called to be holier than an Orthodox monastic. To bring it down on a lesser spiritual level, briefly: A priest sees people not just as men and women, but as grandfathers, grandmothers, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, nephews, nieces, cousins, and the like, if not as his own, as someone else’s who is expecting and demanding the priest to treat them as his own.

If you remember your Orthodox Canon Law, spiritual relations are closer than physical relations are. All Orthodox remember the episode from the life of the all-beautiful, all-everything, et cetera, Holy Greatmartyress Katherine the all-wise. She was referred to as being "ugly" by our Lord Jesus Christ during her vision of Him and our all-holy Lady Theotokos Maria, and He would not take her as His bride (spiritual relationship) unless she repented. Likewise, an Orthodox priest is expected to see people not just physically, but also and more importantly spiritually. Do you really think on this occasion that our Lord Jesus Christ succumbed to Saint Katherine’s physical beauty?

An Orthodox priest who lives his life in Christ is undistracted about all the things you have mentioned in your post, as at all times and places he is naturally undistractedly on guard and/or alert about everything just as he is naturally undistracted about his breathing and his heart beating. An Orthodox priest fights against Satan and his demons and enemies of the Holy Church of our Lord Jesus Christ. Do not think what you have mentioned in your post is anywhere near as distracting as Satan and his demons and true enemies of the Holy Church can be while they are trying to trip up all the faithful throughout the world except for a certain few they can do little or nothing against.

You say in your post: “The Church is very reasonable about this. It doesn't just blame men for being distracted or accuse them of impure thoughts if they can't pretend that women are just like men. Instead, its tradition calls for separating men and women in worship and for complete covering of the woman. It also teaches us not to do things that needlessly cause our brother to stumble. As Christians, we can't just say, "You shouldn't be that way."”

I say that the Holy Orthodox Church is the Bride of Christ and is not an “it,” but a “she.” Here you have exposed an illness and weakness: A refusal to refer to the Holy Orthodox Church with feminine pronouns.

An impure thought is not just what you want it to be; an impure thought is also any thought that takes us away from our Lord Jesus Christ in any manner; it does not have to be sexual lust. The Holy Church of our Lord Jesus Christ never tells us to pretend women are just like men or men are just like women. Please note what I stated in post #22. I agree that our Holy Church teaches that both men and women are to have appropriate conduct and modest appearances, not only in church, but at all times and places; after all, we are supposed to be Christians and God is everywhere. I also agree that we should not do things that cause our brother or sister to stumble.

Still, real Orthodox Christians do not blame others for their impure thoughts; it does not matter what type of impure thoughts they are. Real Orthodox Christians acknowledge their sins and weaknesses and realize that with the grace and power of our Lord Jesus Christ they can eliminate their sins and weaknesses. Real Orthodox Christians at various times even cover for the sins of others, and even take on these sins as their own!

I hope this helps!

With agape in our Lord Jesus Christ,
+ Father Stephanos

#33 Olga

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Posted 04 July 2012 - 12:39 AM

You seem to assume that men can respond to women only in two ways: "impure thoughts" or as if women are men. But of course things aren't that simple. In between sexual lust and sexual blindness is a range of more or less innocent awareness of the difference of male and female and of the amazing beauty of the woman, whom God made beautiful that the man might love her. That beauty and that difference are sources of distraction even when they don't lead to impure thoughts. In their presence, a man needs to be very much on his guard, and a conscious effort to be on one's guard is itself a distraction.


What is expressed here does nothing to defend the integrity of the male sex. It only reinforces the idea that males are beholden to what their eyes see, and to the passions that this sight may arouse; therefore, the answer, according to this dictum, is that women cover themselves to reduce or eliminate being a temptation to men. Yet, does the covering of the female form truly prevent such temptation? Innumerable cultures, western and eastern, ancient and modern, insisted on modest dress for women. Yet, men have continued to lust after women, and, in extremis, commit sexual assaults and rape on them, even in cultures where the burkha is mandatory, and the niqab, where even a woman's eyes are practically invisible.

Your argument, Fr Patrick, fails in another regard as well: Men and boys are entirely capable of interacting with, and living with, and working with, women and girls, with no shred of sexual distraction. Fathers, brothers and male relatives see their familial females as sexually neutral: anything else has, since time immemorial, been regarded as a monstrous aberration, Egyptian Pharaonic royalty excluded. Therefore, if males are capable, not out of primeval biological instinct (which demeans your sex as slaves to your eyes and hormones), but out of rational action, of not regarding their female family as sexually distracting, what's to stop them from doing so with other females not of their kin?

Edited by Olga, 04 July 2012 - 03:22 AM.


#34 Paul Cowan

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Posted 04 July 2012 - 05:49 AM

Job 31:1


It is something that can be overcome.

#35 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 04 July 2012 - 10:19 AM

Job 31:1 It is something that can be overcome.


Indeed. An Orthodox priest or deacon is likely to be married. Isn't this why they marry? To help prevent lust towards others? From what I've been told about the way the evil one attacks during the anaphora, it will be a very blessed priest who isn't ever troubled, whether there were females serving or not (though on this I agree with Fr Stephanos). The point is not whether temptations come but how a man handles them. If thoughts are immediately rejected, the man has not sinned. The attack of the evil one by logismoi proves the holiness of what is going on. I was taught to pray for the officiating priest very hard during the anaphora. Once, at the monastery here, I was standing at the back of St John's chapel as Archimandrite Zacharias officiated. I prayed silently for him as Bishop Irenaeos had taught me to do: 'be nigh, Lord, unto thy servant, our father in God N. Compass him about with angels and saints to protect him from the attacks from the evil one'. After the liturgy had ended, Fr Zacharias came and thanked me for praying for him.

#36 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 05 July 2012 - 09:50 PM

An impure thought is not just what you want it to be; an impure thought is also any thought that takes us away from our Lord Jesus Christ in any manner; it does not have to be sexual lust.


1. So Father, say as a young teen you took an interest in architecture and went on to study architecture in college and became an architect before becoming a priest. In all those years, you naturally developed a keen appreciation for architectural beauty.

Then imagine one day during the Divine Liturgy, an accoplyte pulls out his smart phone and shows you a photo of the house he has just bought. You glance at it and see that it's a beautiful house, and it piques your interest. Have you just had an impure thought? Has the earthly beauty of the house not taken you away from our Lord Jesus Christ for at least a brief moment?

If you say you have indeed had an "impure thought" upon looking at the house, I would advise you that that is not how native English speakers normally understand those words and that most native English speakers would instead say that you had merely been momentarily distracted by a worldly glory, which is a lot less culpable in common understanding than having "impure thoughts."

If you say that your admiration of the house was not an impure thought, consider the following:

2. As a matter of fact, in a similar way, a pious Christian male learns to appreciate feminine beauty as he develops a healthy, heterosexual male identity, which the Church encourages by requiring men and women to dress differently, take different roles in society, and not mix commonly with members of the opposite sex as if there were no difference between the sexes.

In developing his healthy, heterosexual male identity, in accordance with the Christian faith, he naturally begins to view the female sex as romanticly "Other." I would like to say "eroticly" instead of "romanticly," but I'm afraid people might not know what I mean. What I mean is that he learns to view the female sex as the natural mate to the male sex and therefore worthy of his love and devotion, as Adam viewed Eve.

In viewing females as romanticly "other," the healthy, heterosexual, pious Christian male is intrigued by their strangeness and delighted by their beauty. He naturally finds them "cute" or otherwise pleasant to look upon, which is not how he regards other males. Other males do not interest him in that simply visual way. He never thinks other males "cute," and so he isn't in the least distracted by serving in the altar with other males. But if one of the other servers were to pull out his smart phone and show our healthy, heterosexual, pious Christian male a photo of his beautiful sister, our pious Christian male would be distracted in way not so different from an architect priest viewing a photo of a beautiful house. That's just the nature of the beast -- the way God intended us to be.

That being the case, it is quite reasonable to say that one reason the fairer sex should not serve in the altar is that they would be a distraction to men and boys in the altar, and it is quite unreasonable to say that any man who is distracted by the fairer sex in the altar is guilty of "impure thoughts" and not fit to be a priest.

I said what was quite reasonable, Olga said what was quite unreasonable, you emphatically endorsed everything she said, and now you put forth an impossibly high standard for the priesthood that only Christ Himself meets. Please reconsider your argument.

With prayers in Christ,

Dn Patrick

#37 Father Stephanos

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Posted 06 July 2012 - 12:18 AM

1. So Father, say as a young teen you took an interest in architecture and went on to study architecture in college and became an architect before becoming a priest. In all those years, you naturally developed a keen appreciation for architectural beauty.

Then imagine one day during the Divine Liturgy, an accoplyte pulls out his smart phone and shows you a photo of the house he has just bought. You glance at it and see that it's a beautiful house, and it piques your interest. Have you just had an impure thought? Has the earthly beauty of the house not taken you away from our Lord Jesus Christ for at least a brief moment?

If you say you have indeed had an "impure thought" upon looking at the house, I would advise you that that is not how native English speakers normally understand those words and that most native English speakers would instead say that you had merely been momentarily distracted by a worldly glory, which is a lot less culpable in common understanding than having "impure thoughts."

If you say that your admiration of the house was not an impure thought, consider the following:

2. As a matter of fact, in a similar way, a pious Christian male learns to appreciate feminine beauty as he develops a healthy, heterosexual male identity, which the Church encourages by requiring men and women to dress differently, take different roles in society, and not mix commonly with members of the opposite sex as if there were no difference between the sexes.

In developing his healthy, heterosexual male identity, in accordance with the Christian faith, he naturally begins to view the female sex as romanticly "Other." I would like to say "eroticly" instead of "romanticly," but I'm afraid people might not know what I mean. What I mean is that he learns to view the female sex as the natural mate to the male sex and therefore worthy of his love and devotion, as Adam viewed Eve.

In viewing females as romanticly "other," the healthy, heterosexual, pious Christian male is intrigued by their strangeness and delighted by their beauty. He naturally finds them "cute" or otherwise pleasant to look upon, which is not how he regards other males. Other males do not interest him in that simply visual way. He never thinks other males "cute," and so he isn't in the least distracted by serving in the altar with other males. But if one of the other servers were to pull out his smart phone and show our healthy, heterosexual, pious Christian male a photo of his beautiful sister, our pious Christian male would be distracted in way not so different from an architect priest viewing a photo of a beautiful house. That's just the nature of the beast -- the way God intended us to be.

That being the case, it is quite reasonable to say that one reason the fairer sex should not serve in the altar is that they would be a distraction to men and boys in the altar, and it is quite unreasonable to say that any man who is distracted by the fairer sex in the altar is guilty of "impure thoughts" and not fit to be a priest.

I said what was quite reasonable, Olga said what was quite unreasonable, you emphatically endorsed everything she said, and now you put forth an impossibly high standard for the priesthood that only Christ Himself meets. Please reconsider your argument.

With prayers in Christ,

Dn Patrick


Dear Father Deacon Patrick,

What Olga said was completely reasonable!

Before I answer the rest of your post, I would be interested in what the others, who used or referenced the term “impure thoughts,” say it means, especially when they used or referenced it.

With agape in our Lord Jesus Christ,

+ Father Stephanos



#38 Olga

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Posted 06 July 2012 - 01:25 AM

What is expressed here does nothing to defend the integrity of the male sex. It only reinforces the idea that males are beholden to what their eyes see, and to the passions that this sight may arouse; therefore, the answer, according to this dictum, is that women cover themselves to reduce or eliminate being a temptation to men. Yet, does the covering of the female form truly prevent such temptation? Innumerable cultures, western and eastern, ancient and modern, insisted on modest dress for women. Yet, men have continued to lust after women, and, in extremis, commit sexual assaults and rape on them, even in cultures where the burkha is mandatory, and the niqab, where even a woman's eyes are practically invisible.

Your argument, Fr Patrick, fails in another regard as well: Men and boys are entirely capable of interacting with, and living with, and working with, women and girls, with no shred of sexual distraction. Fathers, brothers and male relatives see their familial females as sexually neutral: anything else has, since time immemorial, been regarded as a monstrous aberration, Egyptian Pharaonic royalty excluded. Therefore, if males are capable, not out of primeval biological instinct (which demeans your sex as slaves to your eyes and hormones), but out of rational action, of not regarding their female family as sexually distracting, what's to stop them from doing so with other females not of their kin?


Fr Patrick, I would appreciate your comments on the above.

#39 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 06 July 2012 - 02:29 PM

What is expressed here does nothing to defend the integrity of the male sex. It only reinforces the idea that males are beholden to what their eyes see, and to the passions that this sight may arouse; therefore, the answer, according to this dictum, is that women cover themselves to reduce or eliminate being a temptation to men.


The covering of women is Orthodox Tradition, for three reasons found in the Fathers: (1) as a symbol of the woman's subjection, (2) to teach women modesty and humility, and (3) to spare men from distraction and temptation. (Again, I must point out that all sexual distraction does not amount to sexual lust or, in your words, "impure thoughts.")

The covering called for was nearly complete. To my knowledge, it has never included a screen or veil over the eyes, but it did include the use of the palla to sometimes shield the face from view. St. John Chrysostom writes: "For [St. Paul] said not merely covered [kalypto] but covered over [katakalypto], meaning that she should be carefully wrapped up on every side." [Homily 26 on 1 Cor.] There are many ways to accomplish this covering in our day and age without simply adopting Byzantine dress.

Yet, does the covering of the female form truly prevent such temptation? Innumerable cultures, western and eastern, ancient and modern, insisted on modest dress for women. Yet, men have continued to lust after women, and, in extremis, commit sexual assaults and rape on them, even in cultures where the burkha is mandatory, and the niqab, where even a woman's eyes are practically invisible.


Covering does prevent temptation. To say that it doesn't merely because some men are still tempted is to commit a logical fallacy akin to saying that punishing people for murder is useless because some people still commit murder, or saying that laws against abortion don't stop abortion so why have them? (I heard this recently, twice, from an OCA priest.)

Your argument, Fr Patrick, fails in another regard as well: Men and boys are entirely capable of interacting with, and living with, and working with, women and girls, with no shred of sexual distraction. Fathers, brothers and male relatives see their familial females as sexually neutral: anything else has, since time immemorial, been regarded as a monstrous aberration, Egyptian Pharaonic royalty excluded. Therefore, if males are capable, not out of primeval biological instinct (which demeans your sex as slaves to your eyes and hormones), but out of rational action, of not regarding their female family as sexually distracting, what's to stop them from doing so with other females not of their kin?


I think I have addressed this issue in my response to Fr. Stephanos on the matter of distraction. You and he still talk as if there are only two ways for men to regard women: complete indifference or "impure thoughts." That just doesn't cover the range of responses. I don't lust after my daughters or have "impure thoughts" about them, but I do marvel more at their beauty than I do at my son's handsomeness. See what I mean:

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#40 Father Stephanos

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Posted 07 July 2012 - 03:06 AM

1. So Father, say as a young teen you took an interest in architecture and went on to study architecture in college and became an architect before becoming a priest. In all those years, you naturally developed a keen appreciation for architectural beauty.

Then imagine one day during the Divine Liturgy, an accoplyte pulls out his smart phone and shows you a photo of the house he has just bought. You glance at it and see that it's a beautiful house, and it piques your interest. Have you just had an impure thought? Has the earthly beauty of the house not taken you away from our Lord Jesus Christ for at least a brief moment?

If you say you have indeed had an "impure thought" upon looking at the house, I would advise you that that is not how native English speakers normally understand those words and that most native English speakers would instead say that you had merely been momentarily distracted by a worldly glory, which is a lot less culpable in common understanding than having "impure thoughts."

If you say that your admiration of the house was not an impure thought, consider the following:

2. As a matter of fact, in a similar way, a pious Christian male learns to appreciate feminine beauty as he develops a healthy, heterosexual male identity, which the Church encourages by requiring men and women to dress differently, take different roles in society, and not mix commonly with members of the opposite sex as if there were no difference between the sexes.

In developing his healthy, heterosexual male identity, in accordance with the Christian faith, he naturally begins to view the female sex as romanticly "Other." I would like to say "eroticly" instead of "romanticly," but I'm afraid people might not know what I mean. What I mean is that he learns to view the female sex as the natural mate to the male sex and therefore worthy of his love and devotion, as Adam viewed Eve.

In viewing females as romanticly "other," the healthy, heterosexual, pious Christian male is intrigued by their strangeness and delighted by their beauty. He naturally finds them "cute" or otherwise pleasant to look upon, which is not how he regards other males. Other males do not interest him in that simply visual way. He never thinks other males "cute," and so he isn't in the least distracted by serving in the altar with other males. But if one of the other servers were to pull out his smart phone and show our healthy, heterosexual, pious Christian male a photo of his beautiful sister, our pious Christian male would be distracted in way not so different from an architect priest viewing a photo of a beautiful house. That's just the nature of the beast -- the way God intended us to be.

That being the case, it is quite reasonable to say that one reason the fairer sex should not serve in the altar is that they would be a distraction to men and boys in the altar, and it is quite unreasonable to say that any man who is distracted by the fairer sex in the altar is guilty of "impure thoughts" and not fit to be a priest.

I said what was quite reasonable, Olga said what was quite unreasonable, you emphatically endorsed everything she said, and now you put forth an impossibly high standard for the priesthood that only Christ Himself meets. Please reconsider your argument.

With prayers in Christ,

Dn Patrick


Dear Father Deacon Patrick,

As I am waiting for others to come to your defense about the term “impure thoughts,” I believe it is proper to address very briefly some of the issues you have raised in your above post to see whether you are indeed sincere about what you have posted or whether you are just joking around.

You have come across as being comical regarding this issue, and I am somewhat disappointed that you have not discussed this issue with an Orthodox Christian phronema and viewpoint! Are you really serious about this post?

Believe me Father Deacon Patrick, if I as a young teen took an interest in architecture, went on to study architecture in college, and became an architect before becoming a priest and during those years developed a keen appreciation for architectural beauty, before becoming a priest I would no longer have a keen appreciation for architectural beauty. Do you understand why from an Orthodox Christian viewpoint? If yes, please respond in a respectful manner why this would be so.

Further, I do not oblige others by looking at their smart phones during the Divine Liturgy! Do you? Yes or no? Here are other questions for you: What demon would urge an acolyte to do what you described? Would the acolyte be demon-possessed or would the demon be accompanying the acolyte since it obsesses with the acolyte so much that the demon is willing to suffer even from the presence of God in the Holy Temple to be with the acolyte to hold on to the acolyte and lead him astray? Real Orthodox priests and acolytes do not do what you have described. If an Orthodox Deacon tried to do what you described the acolyte as doing, he should not be allowed to continue serving at least for the rest of the week if not much longer. Clergy who do what you have described lose much of God’s grace!

Unlike Olga’s hypothetical, so far, your hypothetical is not anywhere near realistic; your hypothetical is extremely pretentious! Can you understand why, or does it need further elaboration for you?

Awaiting your respectful and serious replies, if you are able, to all my questions in this post,
With agape in our Lord Jesus Christ,
+ Father Stephanos




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