Women in the Church: Conversations in Orthodox Theology with Dr. George Bebawi

Women in the Church: Conversations in Orthodox Theology with Dr. George Bebawi


There is no male or female, free or slave,
Greek or Jew. A gender is not an issue in the church. It is in the society. Society
has its own agenda because the society has its own problems, but in the Church it’s a
new creation. The new creation is God’s gift, neither to male nor a female but to humanity.
All the things that happened throughout history are basically social issues. Look, a rule
in Orthodoxy, that’s very hard to make Orthodox people swallow it; any Canon Law that contradicts
a doctrine, this Canon Law is false. It doesn’t matter who said it and for whatever reason. Give an example, there is a kind of law attributed
to St Basil. God alone knows whether he said it or not, were that Canon Law says if a man
commits adultery he is forgiven … but if a woman commits adultery, the husband has
to divorce her. Now that destroys the basic apostolic teaching that in Christ Jesus there’s
no male or female, they are equal. I don’t care who said it, the Canon Laws that are
binding the church are those in the ecumenical councils. Those who came by bishops or archbishops
throughout history must be criticized theologically. Here’s another example. In the Didascalia,
the Ethiopic text and in the Arabic text also, if the priest is baptizing an adult women
he cannot anoint her with chrism because of decency. He let the deaconess do that. The
word deaconess, if you go to Coptic Museum in Cairo you see a tomb stele from the sixth
century of a deaconess woman dressed in the liturgical tunics putting her hands up … She
is a woman because her breast shows in the relief… standing in front of the altar.
Used to have a picture of that but it’s in the Coptic Museum. We used that deaconess in the Church, known
in our liturgical tradition. When Anba Shenouda became a patriarch he was very keen on bringing
back women to the diaconate. And I, George Bebawi, witnessed in the presence of the Father,
Son, Holy Spirit that I got the ordination of the deaconesses from the Syriac Orthodox
Church, signed by the Patriarch Ignatius Yacoub the Third with his seal in both Syriac and
Arabic for Anba Shenouda. On Pentecost, it’s recorded in el-Keraza the newsletter. He ordained
I believe 12 or 10, I don’t remember the exact number of these women. But then the old generation accused me, not
the Patriarch, as if I’m the one who ordained them, of trying to create a novelty in the
church. So he closed the file and forgot about it and I don’t know how many of these ladies
is still alive. They were not given any responsibility in the church and they are no longer heard.
You know the female is equal to us because not only that we need to look at the Canon
Law and examine it theologically speaking, critically to see if it fits in the apostolic
preaching or not. If doesn’t it has to be abolished because the Canon Law is made by
human being. It’s not really a tradition handed over by the Lord, that’s just one issue. The most important urgent issue is the whole
doctrine of the Church being the body of Christ. The body of Christ is made of many members.
It doesn’t say male and female just body of members. The women are members of the body
of Christ, equal to us because they are being joined to that Body by Baptism, Chrismation
and Holy Communion. I cannot pick up the gender issue because you know because Islamic culture
and Mamluks and before that the Umayyads, Ayyubid and the nasty Turks we split the church
into a section for women and a section for men. Why? Because this is a culture, it’s
not a Canon Law. You cannot show me a Canon Law that says men
has to receive communion first and then the women afterwards. Even if there is a Canon
Law… I haven’t seen that but if it does exist, it has to be thrown away. You give
communion not to a man or to a woman, you give communion to the family standing together
in the presence of the Trinity to receive the body and the blood of Christ. Because
you and your wife and your children will go into the house of the Lord to receive communion.
Now the family is no longer a unit anymore in the church and that’s terrible so the
church is no longer the body Christ. Then another influence, I prove that in a
study being published on Coptology, for the first 1000 years of Christianity there was
no law about purity of the body for a man or a woman. Then during the monthly period
in the Didascalia, the latest edition published by Doctor William Suleiman strange and surprise,
surprise introduction by Anba Shenouda the Third. He says in the Didascalia, it’s not
Doctor William, the text says, “and you woman having your monthly period, [Arabic 00:07:48],
this is Arab text in my memory. Did the Holy Spirit depart from you when you are having
this natural law in your body?” No. Because if Holy Spirit departs from you then
you are dead and you go to hell. But since the Holy Spirit is in you while your body
is doing its natural function you can read the bible and receive communion. Doctor William
Suleiman to prove that translated the letter of Saint Athanasius to Ammoun the Monk about
the excretion of sperms by the monks which was a problem in Scetis. Because some of the
monks read the Old Testament and regarded it as a defilement. Saint Athanasius said
no, it’s not defilement it’s natural law. Why is it natural law? Because all the rituals
of the Old Testament are no longer applied to us. Why? Because we’re a new creation and the
new creation is no longer under the curse of the old creation, the curse of sin and
death, we’ve been freed. You better read that. When the Didascalia was published in
Arabic, with the introduction with Anba Shenouda, Anba Shenouda wrote the introduction without
reading the chapter actually, I think. This is incredible. When people told him he
said ah George Bebawi deceived me. I didn’t deceive him. I gave him the book to read introduction,
to write the introduction. If you think this is wrong, say so. He didn’t. He wrote the
introduction without actually reading the book I think. And all sort weird things in
a church in Cairo.… They consecrated a special room for women
during the monthly period not to enter the proper church building but to stay there to
pray so everybody pass by will know who are these women. I went and I made a fuss with
Anba Shenouda and I said you bring that priest and ask him to close that room and get rid
of it. This is improper. Well you see, we’re coming back to the body being consecrated
by baptism and by chrism. When I receive communion my body is joined with my soul to receive
Christ. Otherwise communion is not a spiritual matter only, it’s also bodily. There is that theology that needs to be corrected.
Canon Law should be examined in the light of the apostolic teaching and the origin.
Our membership of the church is not based on gender. The grace received in the sacraments
or the mysteries is a grace that is not temporary but eternal and it’s the grace given to
both body and spirit. Lastly to conclude by saying the Old Testament, all of it, in the
letter to the Hebrews is obsolete. Read chapter 10 to the Hebrews and chapter nine and read
systematically from chapter six, seven, eight, nine and ten. You’ll see that Paul wrote this letter,
he did not put his name on it in order not to attract the attention of the Jews to his
name. He systematically pointed out the difference between the two governments. The priesthood
has changed, the Torah has changed, sacrifice has changed, the temple has gone. You know,
sorry. The laws about the food and the laws about dead bodies, why you keep dead bodies
in the church, relics of the Saints, according to Old Testament they are defiled. If you
touch them you are unclean till the evening but you know we have the relics of the Saints. There is a selective mind in some of our churches.
You take what suits your narrow vision and impose on the church. We need this cosmic
reverse of vision that was dominant in the church in the first 1000 years. In order to
free ourselves from the slavery that has permeated our own behavior and made us actually slaves
to the law. I wish to Christ because with Christ we have freedom but we don’t have
freedom. I wish women will recover their place. In the prayer book it doesn’t say deacons
should chant, it says the people. If you create a certain rank to get dressed
in white and to chant all the responses, that’s wrong, that’s in itself wrong. These are
deacons who work and serve inside the sanctuary not outside to say the responses to the people
and the people are just sitting watching two lines of people dressed in white tunics you
know chanting responses. This is utterly wrong because in all modern traditions and old traditions,
in the euchologion the book of liturgy it says the people and the people means men and
women. I’m sad but my hope is that those who live in freedom and democracy in the West
may recover the early vision that was dominant in the first 1000 years of the Eastern Church.

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