Tag Archives: Ashley Purpura

Beyond the Binary: Hymnographic Constructions of Orthodox Gender

by Ashley Purpura  |  ελληνικά  |  ру́сский

Much like gender itself, Orthodox understandings of gender span a spectrum of diverse views. Many who address “the problem of gender” or the “role of women in the church” rely on an assumption that any theological interpretation of gender is necessarily situated along a cisgender binary. Simply, individuals with male bodies identify as “men” and display masculinity, and individuals with female bodies identify as “women” and display femininity. Byzantine hymns commemorating prominent saints and feasts, however, evidence that there is an aspect of Orthodox tradition where the performance of gender identities and masculine and feminine attributes does not necessarily correlate with particularly male- or female-sexed bodies. In these hymns, gender functions along traditional patriarchal lines as a means to make a saint’s holiness discernable to a temporally constrained ecclesiastical community. Gender as it is liturgically constructed through the singing of the hymns, however, functions beyond a binary categorization in relation to God. In short, a more encompassing and complex conception of gender is already present in the universally prescribed liturgical voice of the church.

The content of the general hymns for male and female martyrs, for example, reveals striking distinctions drawn along a binary gender divide. Continue Reading…

Challenges for Restoring the Byzantine Female Diaconate for Present Times

by Ashley Purpura

Pope Francis’s recent call for a commission to explore the possibility of reinstating the female diaconate in the Catholic Church resonates with over a century of similar calls among leaders and laity of the Orthodox Church. These calls for restoring the female diaconate within the Eastern Orthodox Church have been supported by prominent theologians and hierarchs. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I even stated in 1995 that, “There is no canonical difficulty in ordaining women as deacons in the Orthodox Church,” and in 1997, that the “order of ordained deaconesses is an undeniable part of tradition” and that “there are already a number of women who appear to be called to this ministry.” Continue Reading…

Blessing Canonically Anomalous Marriages: The Need for Consistency

by Ashley Purpura

(This essay was originally delivered as a public talk at the June 2015 Fordham/OTSA conference on the upcoming Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church. It was part of a panel on canonical impediments to marriage.)

According to Orthodox canon law and theology, the ideal Christian marriage among laypeople is union between faithfully practicing virginal male and female Orthodox Christians who intend through marriage to grow in oneness with each other and God, aid each other in striving towards salvation, and faithfully grow their household as a “little church” and an icon of God’s love. The couple continues this way in peace, marital chastity, oneness, and mutual uplifting even after the earthly departure of one spouse. Indeed they are “worthy!” of “crowns of glory and honor” when this is the case. With increasing frequency however, many marriages may be a canonically aberrant, religiously mixed, repeated event, which may be preceded by pre-marital cohabitation or disrupted by divorce. Continue Reading…