From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Raiser Raises Possibility of Women's Ordination in Orthodox
PCUSA NEWS <firstname.lastname@example.org>
10 Dec 1998 21:17:34
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Raiser Raises Possibility of Women's Ordination in Orthodox Churches
by Stephen Brown
Ecumenical News International
HARARE, Zimbabwe--The question of the ordination of women to the priesthood
in Orthodox churches is not "closed," according to Dr. Konrad Raiser, the
general secretary of the World Council of Churches.
The issue of the ordination of women, along with inclusive language,
has emerged as one of the key issues at the WCC's eighth assembly in the
Zimbabwean capital, Harare, dividing Orthodox churches, which do not
ordain women, and many churches of Protestant and Anglican traditions,
which ordain women as ministers, and in some cases, as bishops. Earlier
this week, Vsevolod Chaplin, an official of the Russian Orthodox Church
described the ordination of women and inclusive language as "blasphemy."
At a press conference yesterday 8 December, in Harare, a journalist
asked Dr. Raiser, a German Protestant theologian and leading ecumenist, to
comment on Chaplin's comments. Dr. Raiser pointed to recent research about
women's ordination by two respected Orthodox theologians, Bishop Kallistos
Ware and Elisabeth Behr-Siegel, which, he said, had reached the conclusion
that "there are no essential or ecclesiological reasons preventing the
ordination of women in the Orthodox tradition."
Speaking to ENI today, Dr. Raiser said that the research by Bishop
Kallistos and Behr-Siegel was developing "emerging perspectives" from an
Orthodox perspective, showing that "if you take seriously the Christian
affirmation that men and women are created equally in the image of God ....
the systematic exclusion of women from the ministry cannot be defended on
purely theological grounds." Although the exclusion of women from the
ministry was still defended in Orthodox churches on the basis of "history,
tradition, [and for] canonical reasons," these were not at the "theological
center," Dr. Raiser said.
For the moment the question of the ordination of women to the
priesthood in Orthodox churches was a "purely theological discussion," Dr.
Raiser told ENI, but the fact that the issue was being raised "gives us
hope that the discussion can yet move beyond the present situation of
During yesterday's press conference, Dr. Raiser said that he "fully
agreed" with remarks by Dr. Janice Love, a member of the United Methodist
Church (USA) and a member of the WCC's outgoing central and executive
committees, who described Chaplin's speech was "one of the saddest I have
ever heard" in her 23 years as a member of the WCC central committee. She
added that she was particularly upset by its "anti-ecumenical spirit."
At the press conference, Dr. Raiser also restated his hope that the
world's main Christian traditions would start preparations for a universal
Christian council to resolve the issues dividing the church.
Dr. Raiser first proposed in 1996 that the main Christian traditions
should in the year 2000 start talks to settle outstanding differences,
saying that only a genuinely universal council would be able to deal with
the many problems between churches. Universal councils were held in the
first centuries of the Christian church, bringing bishops together to
settle doctrinal differences.
Delegates at the WCC assembly are debating proposals, known as "Common
Understanding and Vision," for the future of the WCC. An early draft of the
proposals included the proposal for a universal council, but the suggestion
was dropped in the course of revision. Instead the CUV document now talks
of a "forum."
Asked by ENI at the press conference whether he was disappointed that
the CUV document did not include the proposal for a universal Christian
council, Dr. Raiser said that he was "not surprised that [the proposal] has
not immediately caught on," but he still believed that this was the
direction to go.
I haven't given up hope that, if not in the year 2000, then in 2001, a
gathering can take place which can initiate such a process," he said,
adding that such a proposal was being discussed by a commission at the WCC
"I don't stop being visionary when I express my own thoughts," he said.
"I am a little more cautious when I am interpreting the views of the WCC."
Dr. Raiser's proposal received the cautious support of Tom Stransky, an
official Roman Catholic observer at the WCC's assembly.
Stransky told the press conference that an "essential part of the Roman
Catholic understanding of being in the ecumenical movement is to enter into
this conciliar process."
Stransky also said that he would not "rule out" the possibility of his
church joining the WCC in the future. In 1972, after considering the issue
following the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church had decided not
to seek membership of the WCC, Stransky said. However, the
"same objections" might not apply in the future.
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