Holy Mothers of Orthodoxy


Eva Catafygiotu Topping

Orthodox Eve and the Royal Priesthood

To conclude, this birthright Greek Orthodox woman hopes and prays that in memory of and in the names of our forefathers and foremothers the saints Orthodox Eve will claim her rightful heritage; that together Orthodox men and women will turn away from the sin of sexism and move forward to equal discipleship and diakonia, worshiping God in spirit and truth, and with love for the Creator and for all creation.

Symposium on Medicine, Psychology and Religion, The Expanding Roles of Women. Hellenic College. Brookline MA., April 19, 1986.


1From I Peter 2:9, repeating Exodus 23:22 (LXX) and Isaiah 61:6.
2Nikodemos Hagioreites, Synaxaristes, 2 vols. in 1 (Athens, l 868),11, 107. Hereafter cited as Nikodemos
3Ibid.,II, 270f; Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendel, The Women around Jesus (New York, 1982), 61-90; L. Swidler, Biblical Affirmations of Woman (Philadelphia. 1979), 207-214. Hereafter cited as Swidler, a valuable handbook, containing biblical passages with commentary. Another excellent study of women in the Judaic and Christian traditions is the collection of essays edited by Rosemary Radford Ruether, Religion and Sexism (New York, 1974).
4The service books of the Orthodox Church contain a large repertory of hymns to Mary Magdalene. I have underway a study of these hymns.
5Swidler, 300-304
6Ibid., 301f.
7Ibid., 299: Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza in Womanspirit Rising, edited by Carol P. Christ and Judith Plaskow (New York, 1979), 89f.
8Nikodemos, I, 63f; Swidler, 318-320. Honored also as the first woman martyr, Thekla enjoyed great popularity in the Christian East.
9See Eva C. Topping, "St. Joseph the Hymnographer and St. Mariamne Isapostolos," Byzantina 13 (1985), 1035-1052.
10From the account in John 4, the Samaritan woman appears to have been the first missionary to carry the gospel to Samaria. Cf. Swidler, 189-192. According to tradition she traveled in North Africa. preaching and converting pagans to Christianity. See Eva C. Topping, "Saint Photeine, the Woman at the Well," The Church Woman 49 (1983-84), 23f.
11St. John Chrysostom praised the wisdom of this woman apostle (Patrologia Graeca 60.669). Hereafter cited as PG. See Swidler, 299; Bernadette Brooten, "Junia. . .Outstanding among the Apostles" in Leonard Swidler and Arlene Swidler, Women Priests. A Catholic Commentary on the Vatican Declaration (New York, 1977), 141-144. Informative and stimulating essays in this volume support the ordination of women to the priesthood in the Catholic church.
12A gifted teacher and leader, Priscilla is mentioned six times in the New Testament. In four cases she is mentioned before her husband, thus reversing the patriarchal order of naming men first. Cf. Swidler, 297f.
14Like γυναιον which occurs in patristic texts, γυαιχαριν conveys derogatory connotations.
15For ancient Greek views see Julia O'Faolain and Lauro Martines, ed. Not in God's Image (New York, 1973), 2-32, 118-122.
16For example, St. John Chrysostom claims it is a "divine law" that excludes women from the priesthood. See W.A. Jurgens, The Priesthood. A Translation of the Peri Hierosynes of St. John Chrysostom (New York, 1955). 38.
17Corinthians 14:35, a passage considered by many New Testament scholars to be a later interpolation, dating from the post-Pauline era.
18Quoted from G.H. Tavard, Woman in Christian Tradition (Notre Dame, Indiana, 1973), 68.
19In Paul's day Gentile and Jewish men thanked the gods for not making them women. Cf. 322f.
20See Eva C. Topping, "Heroines and Haloes," forthcoming in The Greek Orthodox Theological Review (1986). That we generally ignore our women saints was brought dramatically home to me when my parish church was dedicated. Although the church bears the name of St. Katherine, she was named in passing, without any comment on the significance of this great martyr. Nor were any relics of a female saint placed in the altar, only relics of male saints.
21Nikodemos, 11, l72f. In the eighth century this intrepid nun led a group of women in a public demonstration against the removal of Christ's ikon from the Chalke Gate. Their resistance caused the death of an imperial soldier. Without women like Theodosia and the empresses Saints Eirene (August 9) and Theodora (February 11) there would be no Sunday of Orthodoxy to celebrate.
22With the exception of Philothei the lives of the other women neo-martyrs are to be found in Nikodemos Hagioreites, Neon Martyrologion. 3rd. ed.(Athens, 1961), 186-188, 258-261,133-135, 114f.
23Triodion (Athens, 1960), 21.
24See the Letter to the Editor in Greek Accent 6 (May-lune, 1985), 4. The writer left the Orthodox Church because "The niche the Church carves for its women is too narrow and confining." She became an Episcopalian ""because it is a church that is learning that the daughters of our Lord have talents that are as diverse and valuable as the talents of His son's." Who knows for how many alienated Orthodox women she is speaking?
25This phrase is taken from Rosemary Radford Ruether, Mary-The Feminine Face of the Church (Philadelphia, 1977).
26See Eva C. Topping, "Patriarchal Prejudice and Pride in Greek Christianity: Some Notes on Origins," Journal of Modern Greek Studies I (1983), 7-17.
27Quoted from Jurgens (note 16), 21.
28For a discussion of these passages consult Swidler, 76-78, 329-338.
29The importance of the Theotokos in Orthodox theology and worship cannot be discussed in this brief paper. A subject of utmost importance in relation to women in the church, the position of the Theotokos must be reconsidered creatively.
30See Eva C. Topping, "Belittling Eve," Greek Accent 5 (November-December, 1984), 24-27, 49, 51.
31"Subordination" and "Subjection" are the key words for women's place in relationships to the opposite sex, in both the New Testament and in patristics. See, for example I Timothy 2:11; Ephesians 5: 22-24; Colossians 3:18: PG 53. l44; 55.559,602; 61.215.
32Clement of Alexandria (150- 215 A.D.), somewhat more moderate than most of the church fathers, allowed women into his school and occasionally admitted that they possessed capacity for learning equal to that of men. Cf. Tavard (note 18), 62-66. It is worth noting that Clement sometimes imaged God as Mother (PG 9.46).
33For Cyril's views on women see Swidler, 3441.
34St. John Chrysostom's low opinion of women is amply documented in his voluminous writings. For a fuller discussion and references consult Elizabeth A. Clark, Jerome, Chrysostom and Friends (New York and Toronto, 1979),1-34. Diodorus of Tarsus (ob. 390) also believed the divine image was restricted to men (PG 33. 1564).