Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Presvytera Meetings (1)

September 22, 2005: At last week's future presvytera meeting (called "Ladies' Night Out," but that sounds silly, too), we went around the church with Fr. E— explaining things. It is difficult to understand him, and the acoustics of the chapel served to reinforce that; I knew some of the things that were discussed, but others were new to me.

I had thought that women were not allowed in the altar area, period. (Or "full stop" as was said on the television version of "All Creatures Great and Small.") Evidently, they are allowed to clean in the altar area, but not allowed to approach the altar itself. (None of the future presvyteras was terribly comfortable with this idea, but it's nice to know that I can go in and clean if it's necessary; we all stopped at the door and simply peeked through.) The altar area at the Holy Cross chapel is surprisingly bare. From the front of the church, the congregation gets to see the iconostasis, but behind the altar there are bare walls (some icons, yes, but still).

There are three seats behind the altar, historically used for the bishop (bishop-in-the-middle, bishop-in-the-middle ... sorry. Flashback from the good old days of Latin translating with Miriam and Kelly.), the castellan, and the pastor. The bishop's throne was evidently moved out front because the emperor-types couldn't hear what the bishops were saying back there, and grew suspicious. I like seeing the bishop out front, but it seems like it might be lonely for him, since there are usually about 10 priests (it seems to me) who are all in the altar area.

Anyhow. In the iconostasis, right next to the royal doors, there are the icons of the Panagia holding the Christ-child and of Christ Himself. In the chapel of the Holy Cross, the icon of Christ holds a closed book. Fr. E— said that these icons represent the first coming (Panagia holding the Christ-child) and second coming (Christ holding the closed book, indicating the end of judgement [yes, the British spelling; it looks happier]), not just the persons depicted in them. At St. Vasilios on Sunday, however, I was looking at the iconostasis: the icon of Christ has Him holding an open book. I'm also not sure why the Theotokos is draped in purple, but there are plenty of things I don't have answers for.

Also, we talked about vestments. Fr. E— didn't know of any restrictions on who could make vestments, or any particular process that they had to go through. (In iconography, there's a specific process and prayers and fasting and everything.) S— offered to hunt up one of her books for me which describes how to make the vestments. I'm not sure I would want to make any myself, but I would like to know how it is done at least.

So I don't necessarily like going to the presvytera meetings, but I will try to go because I need to work on my patience and I am learning little bits of interesting things. Also, Vassi was there, and I cannot resist her. (Go see her pretty things for sale.)

This entry brought to you by Philippa and the letter π.


Anonymous Jim N. said...

Those are cool cards!

I didn't know women were allowed in the altar for any reason at all! Shows what I know... although I suspect there may be some tradition nuances (?). I know that Fr. G has lamented that when he was in the ECUSA, women would clean the altar area, but here in the Church they are forbidden from going back there for any reason. Maybe it's a Bishop thing...

Tue Sep 27, 08:47:00 AM CDT  
Blogger Mimi said...

What a neat thing for you to have experienced.

Our altar has a side spot that is storage that I have been in to get cleaning supplies, but of course, I've never been in the altar proper.

My youngest son serves, though, so every once in a while he'll tell me an altar story.

Tue Sep 27, 02:25:00 PM CDT  
Blogger Philippa said...

Very, very interesting. Thanks for sharing Magda.

I also did not know women were permitted behind the iconostasis. I would never do that I don't think. Although I know Fr. Radu (GOA) used to take baby girls behind the altar when they were baptized. And I've heard that Fr. Pat did so at a recent baptism of a baby girl and he's AOA. So I dunno.

I have heard a woman is permitted behind the iconostasis only when she has passed through menopause.

Always learning.

Tue Sep 27, 05:54:00 PM CDT  
Blogger TeaLizzy said...

Women in the altar does not appear to be one of those absolute absolutes. At the Holy Dormition women's monastery in Michigan, there is an older nun (related, I believe, to one of the priests) who spends every service as the altar boy. She stays behind the iconostasis, manages the candles, etc. But it's definitely something I'd at least check with the priest on. I wonder about the menopause thing; it wouldn't surprise me too much since all of the women I've heard of being 'behind the altar' are older, and the ancient deaconesses of the church were required to be over 40.

Wed Sep 28, 07:29:00 AM CDT  
Blogger NonnaNaz said...

I've heard from several different OCA priests that no one goes into the altar unless invited by the priest or bishop, but even a woman can go in...if she's invited. St. Nonna actually went into the altar to die. I'm happy on my side of the iconostasis though. ;)

It's interesting to hear of priests taking girl children through the altar at baptism. I've always been curious about the Russian(?) tradition of only taking baby boys through the altar.

How blessed you are to be getting this presvytera education. We have nothing like that here at St. Tikhon's Seminary(OCA). We do have a lecture-type series presented by various Matushkas, which is excellent, too - but it doesn't sound like the same kind of information you're getting. If we could add a little liturgical education, it would be great.

Interesting post, thanks!

Wed Sep 28, 08:31:00 AM CDT  
Blogger Bernie said...

Women in the Altar is a "Blessed by the Bishop" matter. In Russia, it is common for the women of the parish (especially the elderly and widows) to clean the Altar.

One reason behind the OCA practice of boys behind the Altar after baptism is the fact that boys might potentially be ordained as men (and this is part of the offering of the child to God's service - if an ordained position is what God has in store for the child).

And, yes, female monastics can serve as an "Ecclesiarch" during the divine services (much like an Acolyte, and with a Priest serving) in their own monasteries.

Wed Sep 28, 12:37:00 PM CDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No lay woman is allowed to go behind the iconostasis, baby or grandmother (the bringing of the baby girl into the altar is, indeed, a whim of American priests). Among nuns, only some are chosen to go behind the altar (those with a particular blessing/ranking). These issues are absolutes and common knowledge. They are presented as nebulous only when people new to the Church are instructed by others also new to the Church, or by those whose concern for Holy Tradition is less-than-vigorous, let us say.

Wed Sep 28, 06:14:00 PM CDT  
Blogger Virgil Petrisor said...

A Romanian priest once told me that sometimes elderly women are allowed to clean the altar with the bishop's blessing. That was quite a few years ago and it seemed very strange at the time - I had also thought that women were not allowed in the altar under any circumstances.

Speaking of Holy Dormition, I seem to remember one of the younger nuns going into the altar for a brief period of time as well. However, my memory on this is rather fuzzy, so don't take my word for it.

In any case, it seems to me that, while not very common, women do seem to be allowed to enter the altar in certain circumstances even in the so called "old countries."

I haven't had the chance to look seriously into the history of women in altar. If I remember correctly, Dr. Kyriaki Fitzgerald argued that deaconesses were allowed in the altar. Beyond that, I need to do a more in-depth search on the topic. But that, after the semester. For now,I have to do research into ethical issues - to be posted on orthodoxwiki at some time before the end of the semester.

in Christ,

Wed Sep 28, 08:43:00 PM CDT  
Blogger TeaLizzy said...

Anonymous--I'd like to see your canon.
There is also a story (which completely shocked me the first time I read it) about one of the early saints - may have been Nona; I believe she was related to Sts. Gregory and Basil - who was a deaconess. When ill, she went into the Altar one night and (get this) anointed herself with the Body and Blood. Not only was she not struck by lightning but she recovered.
I'll get more details. ;-)
Further, my Orthodox professor of Liturgics assures me that in the early Church everybody, bar none, went into the Altar to commune.

Fri Sep 30, 07:32:00 AM CDT  
Blogger NonnaNaz said...

I think it was St. Nonna [diff. spelling, same saint;) ]. She was the mother of St. Gregory the Theologian.


Fri Sep 30, 09:06:00 AM CDT  
Blogger Bernie said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Fri Oct 07, 08:54:00 AM CDT  
Blogger Bernie said...

The commentor who, for some reason, felt compelled to remain anonymous said ...

>>>Anonymous said...
No lay woman is allowed to go behind the iconostasis, baby or grandmother (the bringing of the baby girl into the altar is, indeed, a whim of American priests). <<

That was phrased in a rather arrogant manner, and I think that the testimony of others, that this practice (at least of allowing older/post-menopausal women into the altar to clean) extends beyond the boundaries of America ... even to "Holy Rus."

>>>Among nuns, only some are chosen to go behind the altar (those with a particular blessing/ranking).<<

This completely contradicts your first statement since female monastics are "lay-women." A blessing does not a clergy-man (woman???) make.

>>>These issues are absolutes and common knowledge. <<

As "tealizzy" implied in her post -please cite canons before you make absolute statements. And, might I ask, common knowledge to whom?

>>>They are presented as nebulous only when people new to the Church are instructed by others also new to the Church, or by those whose concern for Holy Tradition is less-than-vigorous, let us say.<<

Based upon my personal experience (and considering myself one who holds Holy Tradition in high esteem), I can say that I know of pious, devout, and "tradition oriented" priests-American and Russian-and at least one bishop who loves the Tradition of the Church, safeguarding it regularly, as been Orthodox Christian for ~65 years (these are not simply new converts and the "unzealous") who understand this issue in a manner contrary to your assertions.

The implied message in your comments to everyone who related contrary understandings and assertions was, "You were only told this because you are weak in the faith or you don't appreciate the Tradition of the Church."

Canons (which might, or might not, exist) aside. Charity and grace are biblical and Christian mandates - and without tempering public comments with these virtues, your criticisms, claims and admonitions ring hollow.

In Christ,


Fri Oct 07, 08:59:00 AM CDT  

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