This is my second blog request (delayed – I apologise to that reader!)

It also coincides with my blog on ‘Women and Communion’ written last year- which can be found here: http://learnpraylove.com/women-and-communion/

“Those therefore who do not obey Him, that He may lighten and deliver them from the bonds of the Old Law, obey not God, who has called them to come forth unto release and rest and refreshment; and they bind themselves with the heavy burdens of the Old Law, which are of no avail.” (Didascalia, Ch. 26, Teaching of the Apostles, 3rd c)

(This blog is quite long – but if you have 15 minutes to read – I hope you find it worth the time)

This topic today is many times misunderstood, misinterpreted, justified, discarded as insignificant among some people (mostly women surprisingly) when speaking about why women are not able to partake of the Eucharist after giving birth to a child and why there is a 40/80 day rule for a new-born’s baptism.

No theological explanation is ever given that is in accordance with our Christian Orthodox understanding of salvation, of the sacramental life of the Church, of our view on the body, and what Christ did through His Incarnation, baptism, death and Resurrection.

This topic again is extremely vast – so I will attempt again to tackle its issues as much as I can.

When a woman is prohibited from entering the church until the child has reached a certain age and is allowed to enter back into the church – a series of prayers are said over her before the child is baptised. This practice of receiving the new mother back into the church is called “Churching of Women” in the Orthodox Church. This practice derives, as many of us know, from the book of Leviticus:

‘If a woman has conceived, and borne a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days; as in the days of her customary impurity she shall be unclean. And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. She shall then continue in the blood of her purification thirty-three days. She shall not touch any hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary until the days of her purification are fulfilled. ‘But if she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her customary impurity, and she shall continue in the blood of her purification sixty-six days. ‘When the days of her purification are fulfilled, whether for a son or a daughter, she shall bring to the priest a lamb of the first year as a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or a turtledove as a sin offering, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting. Then he shall offer it before the Lord, and make atonement for her. And she shall be clean from the flow of her blood. This is the law for her who has borne a male or a female. (Leviticus 12:2-7)

The understanding of purification among Old Testament scholars and Jewish Rabbis are often debated and in disagreement, but this passage is often interpreted as stating that a sin offering is made for giving birth as a reminder of Eve’s sin. Note: reminder, not bearing Eve’s sin. It was because of the consequence of Eve’s sin woman experiences childbirth (Gen 3:16).

Unfortunately, Orthodox Christians have often interpreted this passage in applying and justifying the practice of “Churching Women”, where the woman must “offer” repentance for 40 or 80 days before coming back to church because of her sin, as if her repentance for giving birth has become her “sin offering”. Her sharing in the creation with the Creator of bringing life into this world has turned into a penitential act and an event to remember her sinfulness as being a woman who is graced with the gift of child-birth.

Some may say, the woman offers a “sin offering” or atonement because of Eve’s sin (here in the ecclesiastical interpretation the “sin offering” has become equivalent in being prohibited from entering the church). If the Church has kept this “remembrance” of Eve’s sin, then what was the purpose of Christ’s offering of Himself? Did not His sacrifice remove the necessity for blood sacrifices for sin and eliminate the necessity of remembering past sins? We no longer remember past sins, but remember – and commemorate His death and resurrection (As we sing in the divine Liturgy: Amen, Amen, Amen we proclaim Your death, confess Your resurrection, acknowledge Your ascension and remember You until You come”).

Furthermore, why is this remembrance of “Eve’s sin” linked to childbirth? If women are to remember their sinfulness because of Eve after they give birth, what about the barren or the celibate woman?

Christ is the fulfilment of the Law

There is no argument need to be made that simply Christ fulfilled the law (Matt 5:17; Hebrews 9) and that there is no longer need of atonement, burnt or sin offering – for Christ being the final and perfect offering made atonement for all of humanity – yes even the bleeding woman after child-birth. For “if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Heb. 9:14)

If you don’t understand that the Church of God is established on the redemption of Christ as being our True Law, and that the old Law (even Leviticus 12) is nullified because Christ has sanctified all of creation and made it new and perfect in Himself—simply read the book of Hebrews. St Paul is very clear about Christ as the fulfilment of the law and that the Old Law was a shadow of the things to come.

I’ve heard arguments for the Churching of Women using this Levitical passage and the passage of Mary entering the temple (Luke 2:21-4). I’m repulsed to think that people believe Mary needed purification or because she was “humbly obedient” to the law. Yes, she was obedient, but the Mother of God was not in need of purification for her child-birth, let alone giving birth to the Life-Giver Himself who is the One who purifies all. If we use this catch-phrase to “defend” women in waiting for her “days of purification” before entering the church, then we are also implying that the Mother of God was unclean for giving birth to the Creator of the Universe.

Let’s go back to the passage of Luke 2 (I quote it shortly below).

Firstly, Mary obeyed the law because everyone was still under the law, she entered the temple “according to the law of Moses. (Luke 2:22 – most people never quote this part of the verse). It is simple logic: Christ was not crucified yet, the law was not fulfilled, redemption was not completed; “for where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of a testator” (Hebrews 9:16).

Secondly, Mary also circumcised Christ (Luke 2:21) according to the law of Moses – so why aren’t males circumcised? If all women need purification since Mary was “purified?”, why don’t we offer pigeons as St. Mary did any more? Or why aren’t our boys circumcised according to the law of Moses (Gen 17:12). Am I under the law of Moses or under the law of grace? (John 1:17)

And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.22 Now when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord. (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord),24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons. (Luke 2:21-4)

Why 40 and 80 days?!

There seems to be just one church canon (I was able to trace among the canons) that this practice of 40 and 80 days has been established from. (The Coptic Church is the only church worldwide who keeps this differentiation of 40/80 days among the sex of a male or female child — the other Orthodox Churches have dropped the differentiation of 40/80 days, yet keep the “Churching of Women” for 40 days for either a boy or girl. Orthodox theologians still today dispute this practice in their Churches).

This “Churching of Women” originated from the Canons of Hippolytus, a 4th century (possibly 5th c) list of church regulations that originated from Egypt. The author is unknown and disputed, and this text exists only in Arabic today, which scholars believe was a translation from a lost Coptic version.

In Canon 18 it states:

The woman who has given birth stays outside the holy place forty days if the child which she has borne is male, and if it is female, eighty days. If she enters the church, she is to pray with the catechumens. Likewise midwives are unclean twenty days for delivering male children and forty days for female. They also are to sit with the catechumens who have not yet been judged worthy to be accepted.” (Canons of Hippolytus, ed. Bradshaw, 1987, p 20)

When this question of “Churching of Woman” is always asked, no one I have come across has been able to refer to this canon or explain the origin of this practice. Often than not, we do things without understanding the source and why we do what we do. We make up answers and “spiritualize” the purpose of their practice without giving a clear theological explanation and understanding of them and often times say “just be obedient”.

Besides this point of not knowing our sources, often as Orthodox Christians we misinterpret the purpose of church canons and at times place the canons above the Scriptures (like the super-deacon who knows his el-han (hymns) more than he knows his Bible). During my time at an Orthodox seminary, I remember a time when my friend was mocked for carrying her Bible to class (let me remind you this was a seminary). She told me the story and laughed because that seminarian would rather carry the Rudder to class (the Rudder is the Greek Orthodox book of church canons) and said that such people think the Bible is for Protestants. Thankfully, this was an account of just one seminarian who thought the Rudder was more Orthodox than the divine Scriptures.

I return to my point about church canons –

The purpose of the canons was to govern and guide the people at the time. “Canons are adaptable to the needs of the time” (Dr. Patsavos, Canon Law) and are purposed to guide the flock to salvation. Now, Canon 18 of Hippolytus I cannot explain how this rule was to guide the people, but most likely during 4-5th century Alexandria, sanitation was limited and the view of women was perceived differently even more so than it is now in our 21st century western-influenced world that we live in. The city of Alexandria was heavily influenced by Jewish practices since there was a large population of Jews in the city at that time; such culture and practices inevitably enter the church and it seems that Hippolytus (or whoever the author may be) were influenced by views of ritual purity and impurity from the Jews (some scholars believe the author of the Canons of Hippolytus was of Jewish origin).

Thus, there are many church canons that were interpreted according to the culture of their time and are no longer in use for today. Canon 27, for example, from that same book speaks about the purification of hands before one prays:

Each day when there is no prayer in church, take a Bible and read from it. Let the sun see the Bible on your knees at each dawn. The Christian is to wash his hands each time he prays. He who is bound by marriage, even if he rises from beside his wife, he is to pray because marriage is not impure and there is no need of a bath after second birth, except for the washing of hands only, because the Holy Spirit marks the body of the believer and purifies him completely.” (Canons of Hippolytus, p. 29)

Bodily purification is a common practice in the old law, particularly washing of the body (Exodus 30:17-21), so again these canons were written during a certain cultural perspective and interpretation of the time.

If we want to “firmly” adhere to the church canons and see them as “infallible” then we need to follow and know them all. But we don’t, nor do most of us know the canons and their purpose and their cultural/ecclesiastical context. Everything has to be read in context and understood in context (this to say the least applies to the entirety of Scripture).

I’m not saying to eradicate church canons and that the Church is fallible. I am saying that such practices and teachings need to be read in light of Scripture, not above it. We often times think that the fathers were in perfect agreement of certain practices (such as their explanation of ritual purity – washing the hands before prayer, woman not taking communion during menstruation etc). They have to be read in context and applied through the lens of the Church’s doctrine and faith.

What does this practice say about our views of the body?

Whether some may outwardly say it or not, many of us have a negative view of the body, and such practices such as the Churching of Women taint our views even further.

The view of the body, especially in early monastic practices was viewed at times negatively. This is due to a number of reasons, but one of them is because of the influence of Gnosticism. Many Gnostic teachings taught and believed that the material world was evil and this included the body, since the body is of the material world. Such beliefs infiltrated into monastic practices, which in turn entered into some church views and practices (this is an overly simplified explanation of that complicated process and influence of Gnosticism, monasticism, and church practices that I cannot cover here).

For example, some of Origen’s view (3rd c) on the body was influenced by his Hellenistic education on Greek philosophers (such as Plato, Socrates, Philo), who again viewed the body (the material) in a negative light. (Many of the early fathers who were educated in schools, such as the School of Alexandria, learned Plato, Socrates, and other Greek philosophers).

Inevitably, some of these fathers’ writings were influenced by their education (St. Clement of Alexandria for example quotes about 359 classical/non-biblical writers throughout his texts; some fathers believed Plato was divinely inspired – a famous saying about this is, “Who is Plato but Moses speaking Greek?”). (For a basic historical understanding of Greek influence and education in the Alexandrian fathers see a Coptic reference http://www.copticchurch.net/topics/patrology/schoolofalex2/chapter06.html; also I highly recommend to read Norman Russel’s book, The Doctrine of Deification Oxford, 2004) – especially Chapter 5 on “The Alexandrian Tradition: I”.)

And overtime, such views were kept in the Orthodox understanding on the theology of the body. Besides the general (negative) view of the body as being “material” and something that needs to be chastised (how people view fasting or prostrations for example), — the Churching of Women (as well as a women on her menstrual cycle) has been understood to view her body as sinful and/or unclean. Her body needs “purification” before entering the Church, before she partakes of the holy Eucharist – she must be wholly holy – body and spirit. All of a sudden, giving birth and having natural bodily emissions taint her image of purity and she is unclean. “Cleanse the inside of the cup and the outside will be clean also” – it is not the other way around.

St Paul speaks about the sanctification of the body very clearly in Hebrews —

Therefore, when He came into the world, He said: “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come—in the volume of the book it is written of Me—to do Your will, O God.’” Previously saying, “Sacrifice and offering, burnt offerings, and offerings for sin You did not desire, nor had pleasure in them” (which are offered according to the law), then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God.” He takes away the first that He may establish the second. By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all….for by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.” (Heb 10:5-10)

I have become completely sanctified and made complete and holy through the fact that Christ took our humanity – our body – for Himself. Do we not sing in the Midnight praises in the Coptic rite, “He took what is ours and gave us what is His?” (Friday Theotokia) What did Christ give women? An unclean body – even after we have been washed and sanctified through baptism?

The doctrine of the body throughout the fathers is very clear in that Christ sanctified and saved all of the body at all times – yes even when we bleed or have natural emissions. “For what Christ did not assume He did not save” (St Gregory Nazianzus)– meaning Christ took my entire body, He sanctified and cleansed it through His blood and offering. I am “unclean” if I abuse my body – whether in physical acts led by lust, drunkenness, gluttony, drugs and the such – because I sin using the body. Giving-birth or bleeding after child-birth is not an act of sin and does not make one unclean or unworthy to approach the altar of God.

The body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19)– it belongs to God, and whatever is created by God and belongs to Him is holy and perfect. The presence of the Holy Spirit sanctifies our entire being – (I will explain more on this in the section on baptism below).

In the Didascalia (3rd century apostolic book of church instructions, probably written in Syria) (long excerpt – but worth the read), he writes how women should not fear or prohibit themselves from participating in the sacramental life of the church during her “flow” of the month. This also applies to post-childbirth bleeding:

For if you think, O woman, that in the seven days of your flow you are void of the Holy Spirit; if you die in those days, you will depart empty and without hope. But if the Holy Spirit is always in you, without (just) impediment, do you keep yourself from prayer and from the Scriptures and from the Eucharist? For consider and see, that prayer also is heard through the Holy Spirit, and the Eucharist through the Holy Spirit is accepted and sanctified, and the Scriptures are the words of the Holy Spirit, and are holy. For if the Holy Spirit is in you, why do you keep yourself from approaching the works of the Holy Spirit? as those who say: Whosoever swears by the altar, sins not; but whosoever swears by the gift that is upon it, sins. As our Lord said: Fools and blind, whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifies the gift? … [Mt 23.18-22]. If therefore you possess the Holy Spirit, but keep yourself from His fruits so that you approach not to them, you also shall hear from our Lord Jesus Christ: ‘Fool and blind, whether is greater, the bread, or the Spirit that {sanctifies the bread?’ Therefore, if the Holy Spirit} you possess: fool, you keep vain observances

A believer is filled with the Holy Spirit, and an unbeliever with an unclean spirit: and his nature does not receive an alien spirit. He therefore who has withdrawn and separated himself and departed from the unclean spirit by baptism, is filled with the Holy Spirit; and if he do good works, the Holy Spirit continues with him, and he remains fulfilled; and the unclean spirit finds no place with him, for he who is filled with the Holy Spirit does not receive him…

You then, O woman, according as you say, (if) in the days of your flow you are void, you shall be filled with unclean spirits. For when the unclean spirit returns to you and finds him a place, he will enter and dwell in you always: and then will there be entering in of the unclean spirit and going forth of the Holy Spirit, and perpetual warfare. Wherefore, O foolish (women), these misfortunes befall you because of your imaginings; and because of the observances which you keep, and on account of your imaginings, you are emptied of the Holy Spirit and filled with unclean spirits: and you are cast out from life into the burning of everlasting fire. But again I will say to you, O woman: in the seven days of your flow you account yourself unclean according to the Old Law: after seven days, therefore, how can you be cleansed without baptism? But if you be baptized for that which you suppose, you will undo the perfect baptism of God which wholly forgave you your sinsWherefore, beloved, flee and avoid such observances: for you have received release, that you should no more bind yourselves; and do not load yourselves again with that which our Lord and Saviour has lifted from you. And do not observe these things, nor think them uncleanness; and do not refrain yourselves on their account, nor seek after sprinklings, or baptisms, or purification for these things. … for she also who had the flow of blood was not shunned when she touched the skirt of our Saviour’s cloak, but was even vouchsafed the forgiveness of all her sins [Mt 9.20-22]. And when (your wives) suffer those issues which are according to nature, have a care that, in a manner that is right, you cleave to them; for you know that they are your members, and do you love them as your soul… (Didascalia, 6.21-2 http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/didascalia.html)

The fathers wrote extensively on the body – particularly St. Athanasius’ writings on the body and how Christ sanctified all of humanity in Himself – that we are no longer under the old law of ritual impurity. (See for example St. Athanasius’ letter to Bishop Amun his view on emissions of the body http://newadvent.org/fathers/2806048.htm)

What God has cleansed you must not call common. (Acts 10:15) Simple, clear, logical. If we are not clean then you are calling God a liar and His sanctification for humanity in His body did not take affect.

What does this say about baptism?

Is the reception of baptism confined to a date or age? 40, 80 days?!

Since when is the work of God limited by age? Doesn’t Orthodoxy pride themselves over having “infant baptism”, especially in light of the practice of confirmation in the Roman Catholic rite, but yet Orthodoxy has a contingency for a new-born?

Yes, some may say, this ‘rule’ is because of the mother. If so, then again, there would be no difference for length of days between a male or female infant. A girl is not more “sinful” than a boy because Eve ate from the fruit; that way of thinking is a horrific way of understanding sin, and how we view females and males.

St. Irenaeus (130-202 AD) writing in the late second century, stated that Christ sanctified every age because Christ himself passed Himself as a child, an infant, a youth:

Being thirty years old when He came to be baptized, and then possessing the full age of a Master, He came to Jerusalem, so that He might be properly acknowledged by all as a Master… Being a Master, therefore, He also possessed the age of a Master, not despising or escaping any condition of humanity… but sanctifying every age, by that period corresponding to it which belonged to Himself. For He came to save all through means of Himself— all, I say, who through Him are born again to God — infants, and children, and boys, and youths, and old men. He therefore passed through every age, becoming an infant for infants, thus sanctifying infants; a child for children, thus sanctifying those who are of this age, being at the same time made to them an example of piety, righteousness, and submission; a youth for youths, becoming an example to youths, and thus sanctifying them for the Lord.” (Against the Heresies, Book 2, 22.4; http://newadvent.org/fathers/0103222.htm)

This is one of the passages scholars note that infant baptism existed since the time of the early church. Ireneaus makes no time limitation or constraint when anyone should receive baptism because the gift of God is not and cannot be constrained by time. Humanity may limit God’s work by time but He is above all things. Does one think, for example, that it is “sinful” that a baby girl be baptised on her 79th day after birth than 80th? I’ve known several cases where infant girls have been baptised before their 80 days mark because the Pope happened to be in town and an ‘exception’ was made. Our sister churches – the Oriental Orthodox, have no such practices (the Armenians, Syrians) – so if a baby girl is baptised at a few weeks old – is their Orthodoxy less superior than “Coptic” Orthodoxy?

There is much more to say about our understanding and our theology of baptism, but this will have to be for another blog.

How does this taint our understanding of the Eucharist?

As I’ve already covered this topic slightly in my other blog on “Women and Communion” I will make just a few points.

In prohibiting women from partaking of the Eucharist after child-birth we are withholding women from Life itself for bringing life into the world. Why? Because she bleeds? Does she bleed for 80 days after giving birth to a girl and miraculously bleeds just for 40 days for a boy? Are we afraid of blood – do we excrete Christ’s blood when we bleed? Why have we become so carnal?

The Eucharist has become reduced to a literal and physical element that we digest and can let out if we bleed. Do we also ‘digest’ Christ in our system? Or if bleeding is not the issue, then what?

Some responses (from women) I’ve heard over the years is that they feel more “spiritual” during this time after child-birth or during their period. Why? Because being away from God (ie the Eucharist) they feel closer to Him and more sanctified. So, when I stay away from the One who sanctifies my whole being, I am sanctified? It’s like saying, I get closer to God when I am away from the church and don’t pray to Him. “For if you think, O woman,… if the Holy Spirit is always in you.. do you keep yourself from prayer and from the Scriptures and from the Eucharist?” (Didascalia, quoted from above)

(I also just heard a story from a woman who went to school in Egypt and witnessed her friend refusing to read or touch the Bible because she was on her menstrual cycle. How far some of us have become from true Orthodoxy).

Do I approach the Eucharist unworthily because of giving birth or having a flow of blood? What makes me worthy of taking the Eucharist? Because I confessed to Abouna a few minutes before, or because I made it just in time for the Gospel or because I read my Bible last night?

It is not “what” makes us worthy, that is our works, but Who. It is Christ Who makes us worthy to approach Him. No matter what you do- you are not worthy. But with boldness and confidence of what Christ did – through His sacrifice and His acts of redemption we are worthy. It is through the gift of the Holy Spirit I approach the altar; not my “gifts” of confession, of praying, reading my bible – such so-called “tick-box” works of righteousness. (I am not saying do not do these things – I confess by the guidance of the Spirit, I read and pray being led by the Spirit – not because I owe God or add to God something He needs from me).

I come to Christ as christ– as a child of God– (for indeed we become “christs” (Greek word for chrismation) through baptism and chrismation – we put on Christ and become His; Galatians 3:27). I am accepted before God because of what Christ did—not what I do or did – this is how I approach the holy Eucharist. I put on Christ’s “righteousness” not mine (Matthew 6:33).

Did not St. Athanasius say, “God became man so man may become like God?” (Αὐτὸς γὰρ ἐνηνθρώπησεν, ἵνα ἡμεῖς θεοποιηθῶμεν, On the Incarnation, § 54) I become like God through God – and I partake of Christ in the Eucharist through the grace of the Holy Spirit (that is why we approach the Eucharist as baptised members who have received the Spirit through the sacrament of baptism).

Again, we approach the Eucharist as Eucharist through the work of the Spirit:

“For consider and see, that prayer also is heard through the Holy Spirit, and the Eucharist through the Holy Spirit is accepted and sanctified” (Didascalia, quoted above)

The same Spirit that sanctifies the elements on the altar sanctifies our entire being – this is how we are accepted and sanctified. The Spirit does not shun or leave me because I have a flow of blood – God is not sadist or materialistic; He sees us as participating in His divine nature (1 Peter 1:4) and not as carnal beings who bleed out and taint the sacraments.

And this point goes against the argument below that we must “respect” the Eucharist if we are bleeding:

“It is important that the holiness of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ be kept within us after the Holy Communion. A person bleeding for any reason either due to a physical illness, menstruation or a cut should not partake of the Holy Communion.http://www.suscopts.org/q&a/index.php?qid=780&catid=452

So if someone bleeds and they partake of the Eucharist – does the Godhead all of a sudden excrete from his or her body? Is God mere flesh that He enters the bloodstream and is vile enough to leave the flesh of man that He created? Am I mindful also not to chew gum, or not brush my teeth because I’ll spit “God out” and that I am aiming to “keep God within us”? What a disgraceful view. (I am in no way not advocating or saying to approach the Eucharist mindlessly and without caution – but what are the precautions we are taking, to what extent and with what understanding?)

If God can be “excreted” from the body – via bleeding – (man or woman) – is God mere flesh and blood? This degradation or separation of Christ was an early Christian heresy (by Nestorius, patriarch of Constantinople 428-431) that was refuted by Cyril the Great in the 5th century.

Nestorius’ theological explanations and beliefs about Christ are quite complicated (and even disputed among scholars) but for the sake of brief exposition, he believed that Christ consisted of two persons and he divided Christ’s human person from the divine person.

When speaking about the Eucharist, Nestorius asked when one partakes, does one “eat the Godhead or the flesh”? Cyril replies:

“…what wonder or how can one disbelieve that the Word out of God the Father, being the Life by Nature, and disbelieve the flesh which is united to Him as Life-giving? For it is His very own and not that of another conceived of as apart from Him and of one of us. But if you remove the Life-giving Word of God from the mystical and true Union with His Body and sever them utterly, how can you show that it is still Life-giving? And Who was it who said, He that eats My flesh and drinks My blood, abides in Me and I in him? If then it be a man by himself and the Word of God have not rather been made as we, the deed were cannibalism and wholly unprofitable then … why do you speak unpromisingly and utter vain things, stating that not the very Word out of God the Father has been sent, but some other than of Him, “the visible,” or His flesh, albeit the God-inspired Scripture every where proclaims One Christ, full well affirming that the Word was made man as we herein the tradition of the right faith.” (Against Nestorius, Tome 4, http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/cyril_against_nestorius_04_book4.htm)

Some will say, ‘ah Donna, we don’t believe in Nestorianism, were just admonishing and paying respect to the Eucharist”. Respect and admonishing yes, but by what means? By what belief? By what understanding? If the body and blood are “Life-giving” indeed, would the Life-giver be reduced to mere bodily excretions?

St. Cyril continues and says that this indwelling is not mere physical, but a divine indwelling:

And as the Body of the Word Himself is Life-giving, He having made it His own by a true union; so we too who partake of His holy Flesh and Blood, are quickened in all respects and wholly, the Word dwelling in us Divinely through the Holy Spirit, humanly again through His Holy Flesh and precious Blood.

St. Cyril also often refers to the Eucharist as transforming man from corruption to “incorruption”, as “Life-giving” as “being commingled with our bodies” (Commentary on John, 3.6). He says man is foolish to withhold himself from partaking of the Eucharist and that one should “hasten to come with boldness to the participation of Life”. Christ is mingled in our bodies – He does not “fall” out from our bodies or bleed from it.

And finally…  Why does this all matter?

We should be attuned to the needs and questions of the people of our church – simply on a pastoral level; if some women do not ‘feel’ affected by such a prohibition and that it ‘makes no difference’ to them or their children, that does not in any way apply to all women and does not justify the practice by stating to ‘humbly obey.’ As St. John Chrysostom said, “One Christian who does not care for the salvation of others is one cold Christian” (thank you Joanne Rozeik for this quote).

A very common liturgical phrase when studying liturgical theology is often said: Lex orandi, lex credendi, which means “rule of faith, rule of worship.” In other words, what we believe is expressed in our worship and our worship likewise expresses our faith. This is clearly seen in the prayers of the Divine Liturgy, in our Creed, in our hymnologies and so forth. This thus is also seen and often times understood in the Churching of Women and more so for the double-time for a girls baptism.

When a woman is allowed back into the church with her new-born, prayers of the sick are said over her. What does this liturgical practice reveal about our belief? If our faith is expressed in our worship and our worship reflects our faith, then is a women viewed as “impure” and need of physical and spiritual healing after child-birth?

How does this practice coincide with our belief about baptism, our interpretation and application of Levitical law, our view of the body, and our belief that Christ saved all equally and without partiality – woman, infant, boy and girl?

In her book, Women Deacons in the Orthodox Church: Called to Holiness and Ministry, theologian and professor, Dr. Kyriaki Fitzgerald writes:

“…These practices and prayers do not properly express the theology of the Church regarding the dignity of God’s creation of woman and her redemption in Christ Jesus…”

As I already said in my other blog on ‘Women and Communion’, this issue does not deal with ‘feminism’ or ‘rebellion’ or for the sake of theological disputes, it deals with the reality of Christ’s redemption and sanctification for the body and all of humanity. “There is no male or female… you are all one in Christ.” (Gal 3:28) If we are all “one” and “equal” in Christ – this logically, rationally and above all theologically applies to the rule of 80 days for a girl’s baptism.

When I asked SUSCopts the reasoning of the Churching of Women, particularly why the discrimination of 40 and 80 days for a boy and girl, I was utterly shocked at the lack of theological understanding and explanation. I quote the following:

The longer period of ceremonial uncleanness for the birth of a daughter should not be understood as a penalty. Instead, the longer time is for the symbolic responsibility of bringing other sinners into the world. When giving birth to a female, a mother brings a sinner into the world who will bring still other sinners into the world.”

Quoting this email makes me cringe. I cannot fathom how one can think in such a manner – and that all creation coming into the world are viewed as “sinners” (or at least for baby girls). There are such deep theological errors in this statement and I am so saddened at such a response.

A few points to this:

Firstly, a woman is not responsible for the sin of her child or the child is not responsible for the sin of their parent; this simply goes against our belief of salvation and the mercy of God (as it says in Ezekiel 18:20 “The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.”)

Second, what is our view of creation and sin? Do we, as Orthodox Christian believe that women bear “sinners” (girls) who will bring “more sinners” into the world?! Does every new creation bear the sin of Adam, thus calling them a “sinner”?

Clearly, the belief of every human being who is born bears the sin of Adam is the belief of “original sin” which the Orthodox Church blatantly rejects; this belief originated mainly from Augustine and is upheld until today in the Catholic Church as well as the Lutheran Church. The Orthodox Church believes in the effect of sin on all of humanity, that is, we all bear the fallen nature, – because all of humanity was removed from being the lord of creation and removed from the state of being in the image and likeness of God (this is restored in baptism) – this was a natural process due to the result of sin. But this is an entire topic in itself and will not be covered here.

Thirdly, how can one assure that the mother who bears a girl is bearing a girl who will “bring still other sinners into the world”?! What about the barren or the celibate woman? Or the woman who never lives to be married? Or chooses not to have children? How can that argument even be logical?

I can go on but I will move on to the last point…

A theological conference in the Eastern Orthodox Church was held in 2000 to tackle the issue of the Churching’ of Women and a following statement was made:

Theologians should … write simple and appropriate explanations of the churching service and adapt the language of the rite itself to reflect the theology of the Church. This would be helpful to men and women who need to be given the true meaning of the service: that it exists as an act of offering and blessing for the birth of a child, and that it should be performed as soon as the mother is ready to resume normal activity outside her home….We urge the Church to reassure women that they are welcome to receive Holy Communion at any liturgy when they are spiritually and sacramentally prepared, regardless of what time of month it may be.”

We approach the sacraments with preparation – and that preparation is putting on Christ and His righteousness (which was said earlier). But we’ve reduced our understanding of the sacraments to carnal prohibitions and works of our own righteousness and our understanding of “purity”.

I’ve come across too often people who complain to me how many people in the church do not know their theology, how some members (servants) of the church shun people who question too much or disagree with certain practices. Most of those people have left the church because a tunt or someone in leadership has told them to “humbly obey” or gave some non-theological answer that has no credibility or clear understanding in accordance with Orthodox truth. We are responsible for our own knowledge, growth and understanding of truth – and we are also responsible in teaching others the right faith and correct theology. How many people are we loosing because we are teaching the wrong beliefs (whether directly or indirectly?)

Orthodoxy is not a mere practice of rituals and rules – it is the truth, it is freedom, it is salvation. “What Christ gave, the Apostles preached, the Fathers kept” (St. Athanasius) – this is Orthodoxy.

If we don’t know the answer to certain practices or beliefs – we need to search out the correct resources through the guidance of the Holy Spirit and find a correct theological understanding of our faith.

Lastly, if one asks a question, and we don’t know the answer to it, we cannot “spiritualise” it or make up some answer to our liking – either say you don’t know and/or again seek out a reliable source.

As Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”.

Let us strive to understand more about our faith for the sake of our salvation and the salvation of others.