I am grouping the next two talks into one post, partly due to time, but mostly because they are thematically related.  Dr. Kyriaki FitzGerald spoke on the connection between Eve, Mary and Us, emphasizing the blessedness of those who hear the word of God and keep it.  Dr. Mary Ford offered the diverse lives of women saints, each of whom attained holiness in and through the circumstances of their lives.  The common thread through each is freely responding to the work of God in order to abide in God, acquiring grace.  Ford’s emphasized that fulfilling our vocation is not necessarily about fulfilling our gifts, but to do whatever is before us with all our hearts.

FitzGerald emphasized the basis of discipleship, the need to freely abide in God.  She notes the process by which the Serpent deceived Eve, “softly cooing delusional fantasies,” distracting her with a debate on the technicalities of the rules, convincing her to turn away from a person, God, to an IT, a desirable tree and its fruit.  Her choice, freely made, is balanced by the free choice of another woman, through whom Christ is brought into the world.  In the Theotokos, God dwells in humanity, all “men and women are called to give birth to Christ” (an image popular in both Maximus and Symeon the New Theologian).

Ford identified three vocations, framed by our ultimate vocation which is to acquire grace.  First, we fulfill this vocation as women, and for most of history this has meant bearing or adopting children, being mothers and wives.  A second option is monasticism.  A third, only recently an option in the world, and which needs to be further developed, is that of a single woman.  Given the even newer freedom to choose ones vocation, often only experienced by women in the Western world, she noted the need to consider other options.

Her caution, a good one I think, is not to assume that if one loves the church, to think that the only way to be serious about our faith is ordained ministry and full-time work.  All ethical work is the work of God.

Yet I also must admit a thread through both talks, that disturbed me.  On the one hand, FitzGerald somewhat jokingly notes that the serpent chooses Eve, because she is a “twofer,”  get her, get Adam.  But if Adam had been approached, Eve might have objected.  What does this say about men?  Is this a way in which we diminish men in order to elevate women, similar to what has been done to us?  Or is this a real weakness of men?  A wise woman with whom I discussed this, shared an observation regarding women pastors (obviously not Orthodox).  They tend to be blindsided by the evil present in their congregations, they just don’t see it coming, and as a result, are undone.  We need, she said, to understand the clever and subtle distractions from the love of God which can undo us and those around us.  Is this, she asked, an inherent weakness of women (whether cultural or natural, it is irrelevant)?  Can we honestly confront these weaknesses without elevating one over the other?  I simply wonder if sometimes, in our emphasis on Mary as redeeming Eve, if are we still atoning for female guilt of introducing sin into the world?  What about the man?  He was there, and he did choose, even if it was a silent choice.  It is just a rhetoric that bothers me every time I see it.

A similar concern arose for me in listening to Ford.  Among the gamut of women saints, some of whom did have and use their gifts fully, are those whose holiness came as the result of suffering, often abuse at the hands of ‘loved’ ones.  Ford never once affirmed, endorsed or even suggested that the abuse itself was good.  Her point was that holiness can be achieved in the ‘givenness’ of life, regardless of circumstances.  Yet in her elevation of motherhood (and adding singleness as somewhat of an afterthought), is everything once again subsumed into motherhood?

A further note is that she and FitzGerald (and Schmemann) repeatedly noted the importance of detachment.  For me, this begs the question, detachment from what?  Is this thread really an silent acknowledgement that there is a problem?  Are we to be detached from the pain and suffering in the world, or the pain and suffering we experience by the denial of our gifts, the obstruction of their free and full exercise, by the church?  I am grateful that we can acquire the grace of God even we do not feel fulfilled in our gifts, and that theosis is not dependent on the receipt of our gifts by the world or church.  But this does not then excuse the church from the ways in which it, through its practices, inclusions and exclusions, denies the gifts of women and becomes a source of suffering rather than life.

Sounds like a whole discussion on its own. I hope you will have the chance to ask the question "detachment from what?".

Genevieve

Sat, 18 Jun, 2011 - 14:11

This lesson in detachment is actually one of the biggest boons I have had in my marriage... not because I learned it, but because my husband did. If you believe that God has the best good in His plan, and your job is to act ethically and use your discernment to follow the best path, then your second job is to be detached from the outcome. You might work with all your might to build, grow, or love something/someone... and it might get run over by a train. You have to trust that God has a bigger plan than yours. That is the lesson in detachment that my husband says has relieved his stress in the last six months, and given him the energy to act in love toward his coworkers. If it seems I've left myself out of the lesson, it is only because I learned this long long ago. Seeing my husband learn it has brought me great joy... and I wasn't the one who taught it to him, despite trying for about five years.

I am curious... did we meet at the NM mission? Pani Sue sent me the link to your blog. I am tremendously looking forward to reading more, and wishing I had the chance to attend with you!

Genevieve

Sat, 18 Jun, 2011 - 14:26

Part of the same concept would be keeping your hopes in heaven, rather than dreaming of earthly success... the many martyrs mentioned were able to detach themselves from despairing about their earthly prisons (sometimes of marriage or abuse) and focus on God. If He has chosen you to live a life of suffering, how can that compare with the Heavenly glory He has promised you?

How many Abbesses today and in the past could have had educational glory and exciting careers? Detachment from aspirations and earthly praise, from dreams of beauty and freedom, all these plans have to be laid aside (or accomplished for the glory of God) in order to grow spiritually.

Please forgive me if I'm making an ass of myself... but the suggestion that being single is only available for women in the modern west does not seem accurate.

Genevieve, I agree with you in the abstract, but in this situation, I think that the need to be detached is in part a desire to avoid disappointment at the failure to see an unspoken outcome justly desired. And yes, monasticism was one of the few legitimate ways of women remaining single. The only other I can think of was being royal, but even that had its marrying hazards.