This blog was described to me recently as ‘irenic.’ This is a surprising compliment given that those who know me in person would likely describe me with other, less peaceful, words. That my writing is ‘irenic’ is a testament to the power of editing, of taking a deep breath, and a conviction that words must, whenever possible, be spoken with love and respect. But sometimes, when respect is impossible, taking a deep breath is overrated, and serves merely to hide the suffering inflicted by my church and its well-intentioned theologians. Theologians who seem to have no idea, as Metr. Anthony of Sorouzh once pointed out, how grossly insulting and even dangerous (I say that, not Anthony of blessed memory) their work is to women made in the image of God.
Below is an ‘intertextual’ reading of Evdokimov in which I insert comments into the stream of Evdokimov’s text. These comments are a minimally edited version of what goes through my head when I read such material. His words blend and clash with mine, neither of which are original, but which rehearse again and again the problem of gendered metaphors when applied to the real world. My comments are threaded with bitter humor, and the observant reader will rightly note the increasing level of anger and defensive sarcasm in the insertions. This is the only way I find myself able to survive such theology, first offered by Evdokimov as an attempt to re-value "the feminine" in light Simone Weil’s charge that women are defined only in relation to men.1 The text below is an introduction to a work that is otherwise excellent, a crucial rethinking and revaluing of marriage in a religious tradition that has wrongly elevated the ascetic monastic life above a faithful (by which I mean more than simply monogamous, but one in which faith is nurtured) married life. Evdokimov’s intent is laudable, and those positively moved by his work, in which there is much to value, may be offended by the reading below. But I am tired of reading this material and trying to find something good in without expressing the deep rage produced by the injury such texts do to my integrity as a woman of intelligence, capability, creativity, and passion. I reject his gilded cage with the same passion and conviction that Evdokimov rightly directs towards its not-so-shiny predecessor. I only wish he were still alive so that I could ask him, who is in other ways such an interesting and challenging thinker, why, why, why?
The following texts are from the Introduction, of The Sacrament of Love, 2001, pp. 39-40.
You may read the text uninterrupted in the footnote below.2
Men extends himself in the world by means of tools [power tools?]; woman accomplishes this by the gift of self [Clothing for covering and woven baskets for gathering aren’t ‘tools’?]. In her very being she is linked to the rhythms of nature [thank you, M. Rousseau]. But according to the norm, the physiological and psychological depend on the spirit, they serve and reveal it [to whom? That is the question now isn't it]. Woman’s physiological ability to give birth comes from her maternal spirit [the platonic ideal of 'woman' gives us the biological ability to give birth. Really.]. Likewise, man is physically more virile [he apparently wrote this before viagra became such a necessity] because there is something in his spirit that corresponds to the “violence” of which the Gospel speaks: “these are the violent who lay hold of the Kingdom of God.” [Apparently Jesus just addressed to men with these words. Good to know.]
If the nature of man is to act [no couch potatoes in his world], that of woman is to be [we don’t act? what do we do…oh wait, we don’t do, we be. That isn’t even grammatically correct!]—and this is the preeminent religious state [Yes, you read it here first: despite centuries of male spiritual headship, women are actually the more naturally religious. Interesting turnabout. And so much for religious verbs, like ‘feed,’ ‘clothe,’ ‘release,’ ‘heal.’ ]. Man creates science [Marie Curie, you weren’t really doing science], philosophy [so much for Gregory’s paean to his sister, “the Philosopher”], art, but he distorts everything [everything? Are men really this terrible?] by a frightening objectification of the organized truth. Woman is contrary to all objectification [so much for “sex sells”] because she stands in the perspective not of creation [oh, we never objectify creation!] but of giving birth; she herself, by her being [birth is just “being”? He must mean “giving birth via C-section” ‘cause I can’t imagine any other form of birth that does not involve a pretty actively involved woman], is the criterion that rectifies every abstraction [yes, a woman most certainly needs to rectify all of this abstraction] and recenters the values, in order to correctly manifest the masculine logos [Our job: birth men, apparently for the rest of their violent and destructive lives]. Instinctively, woman will always uphold the primacy of being over theory [what does this even mean?], of the active over the speculative [I thought men acted…], of the intuitive over the discursive [men are the talkative ones? So much for Chrysostom’s complaint…]. She possesses the gift of directly “seeing” into another’s life [now we are psychic, or, perhaps more positively, naturally possessing discernment, which is the primary gift of Spiritual FathersMothers], the innate [ah. No need for education, a role in the public sphere, or nurturing of wisdom, we are just innately awesome.] ability to grasp the imponderable [is this why men fill pages with ponderous theories about women? Because they don’t get our innate imponderableness?], to decipher destiny [so kind of Evdokimov to give voice to the destiny we deciphered]. To protect the world of men [wait…the world is men’s? Are there two? Or is it just our job to protect theirs?] as mother and to purify it as virgin [yea, lots of virgin mothers out there], by giving to this world a soul [men don’t have souls? Bummer for them.], her soul [right, our job is to give our self while men use tools at a safe distance from their vulnerable and apparently soulless selves], such is the vocation of every woman, religious, celibate, or spouse [so much for a unique and distinct person and call, but at least we have noble vocation].
Reader beware: the following paragraph is particularly offensive, but I didn’t write it, I just read it in the context of a world where violence against women by men exists in disturbingly high ratios, especially in countries where male headship has been theologically elevated.
United to Christ the Priest, man penetrates [Right. Here we go. Once again, the primary tool of man is the penis] into the elements of this world sacramentally [That makes it better, a sacramental penetration]; he consecrates and transforms the world into the Kingdom [big job for the naturally not-so-holy]. Violent, he takes hold of the Kingdom [violent taking…this worries me]. However, this treasure is made up of every manifestation of the sacred [which Evdokimov has already established that men lack], of holiness of being [uh oh, here we go…men don’t be, they act, so…], and it is a woman [called that one!] who represents this [let us pause and review: a Christic male priest violently takes and penetrates the representative of the King[sic]dom, a holy woman. Isn’t there a word for this?]. The woman wounds [while being violently penetrated. What, she slaps him with her purse?] the dragon at the head [whoa…the priest who is the male taking the Kingdom with penetrating violence is now a dragon? And priests are supposed to be a good thing?], not through her activity [of course not silly, she can’t act], but through her very being, her purity [yes, she passively radiates bolts of purity from her soul, piercing the lecherous mind of the dragon]. For the demons [from priest to dragon to demons…being male appears to have its drawbacks], it is this holiness of being that is mortally unbearable [and yet we ask demon-possessed, fire-breathing male priests to bear the holy to the world].
My tolerance for romanticized poetic metaphor just ran out. This is just crap.
- 1. This theology of gender first appeared in Women and the Salvation of the World.
Men extends himself in the world by means of tools; woman accomplishes this by the gift of self. In her very being she is linked to the rhythms of nature. But according to the norm, the physiological and psychological depend on the spirit, they serve and reveal it. Woman’s physiological ability to give birth comes from her maternal spirit. Likewise, man is physically more virile because there is something in his spirit that corresponds to the “violence” of which the Gospel speaks: “these are the violent who lay hold of the Kingdom of God.”
If the nature of man is to act, that of woman is to be—and this is the preeminent religious state. Man creates science, philosophy, art, but he distorts everything by a frightening objectification of the organized truth. Woman is contrary to all objectification because she stands in the perspective not of creation but of giving birth; she herself, by her being, is the criterion that rectifies every abstraction and recenters the values, in order to correctly manifest the masculine logos. Instinctively, woman will always uphold the primacy of being over theory, of the active over the speculative, of the intuitive over the discursive. She possesses the gift of directly “seeing” into another’s life, the innate ability to grasp the imponderable, to decipher destiny. To protect the world of men as mother and to purify it as virgin, by giving to this world a soul, her soul, such is the vocation of every woman, religious, celibate, or spouse.
United to Christ the Priest, man penetrates into the elements of this world sacramentally; he consecrates and transforms the world into the Kingdom. Violent, he takes hold of the Kingdom. However, this treasure is made up of every manifestation of the sacred, of holiness of being, and it is a woman who represents this. The woman wounds the dragon at the head, not through her activity, but through her very being, her purity. For the demons, it is this holiness of being that is mortally unbearable.