Dear Metropolitan Laurus, Archbishops and Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia,
Christ is Risen! We ask for your blessings and that you hear the concerns of many women of the church. The commencement of the All-Diaspora Council on the Sunday of the Myrrh-Bearing Women – without the participation of women – has left many of us with a personal spiritual pain and desire to express our views.
Growing up in the communities of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, we are taught that spiritually, intellectually, and creatively neither male nor female is innately superior. In our churches and parish schools we learn that all human beings are equal in spiritual essence. The priests might all be men, and only boys can go into the altar, but when it comes to what is most fundamental, what is timeless and universal – the state of our souls and our quest for salvation – we are all equal. We are taught that every one of us is created in the image and likeness of God, we all carry the divine spark, and we are all reaching for closeness and union with God. In our ROCOR parishes, we nurture children and teach them to pursue their talents. Our priests, matushkas, monastics, and laity set fine examples and encourage us to live full, Godly lives. The Church has always found joy in the successes and achievements of all her children.
Women are an integral part of today’s ROCOR. We conduct the choirs, we are members of parish councils, we head church organizations and we teach at the seminary. We are wives and mothers as well as lawyers, doctors, scientists, businesswomen and scholars. Our clergy do not deter women from nurturing their intellectual and creative talents, whether inside or outside the church community. The equality of men and women as God’s creation is not a foreign or feminist concept, but the value we as an Orthodox community share, embrace and live by. We have women vote, we do not hide women behind burquas, we encourage women to learn, think and work.
Orthodoxy is a living faith, and ROCOR is a living and changing church. In 80 years there have been many modifications, additions, and alterations to our ecclesiastical organization and church life. Among these changes is the greater role of women. Most of us recognize this as a positive development that has helped our Church flourish and given everyone the opportunity to reach his or her personal spiritual potential.
ROCOR’s legacy is that it is important both to know our past and to have an acute awareness of our present cultural, political and historical context. Our forefathers were bold enough to establish our jurisdiction because they recognized their contemporary situation. Today, our hierarchs recognize the contemporary situation in Russia.
It is inconsistent with this legacy that the historical precedent of no female delegates at past Sobors overrides the clear living reality that women are an integral part of ROCOR, and that the participation of women is a collective value of our Church today. We were told that the decision was taken to have the same rules for participation as were in effect in 1918 at the All-Russian Sobor, and were still (it was believed) maintained by the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. 1918 certainly was a different time: women could not vote in the overwhelming majority of countries, and in many countries people still voted by class or caste, while the vast majority of the world had no popular representation at all. However, we have since learned that in Russia women have in fact been included in Councils. Regardless of the rules set in 1918, the exclusion of women from the All-Diaspora Council in 2006 suggests a disconnect between the priorities of our ecclesiastical organization and the actual life and values of the flock.
The exclusion of women monastics is particularly painful. In the Holy Land, women monastics have struggled for decades in the most difficult conditions anyone in our Church has endured to practice our faith. While the Council organizing committee felt that there was too little time to consider the inclusion of women, sporting and scout associations were summoned to send delegates. This indicates that the Church does not hold in high regard the contributions and worth of its female members.
This decision may lead to a breach of trust and faith between the Church institution and the faithful, and thereby weaken the essential bonds that keep our community together. It is disheartening that the Church that taught us about immeasurable love and moral honesty, that was a place of refuge and acceptance, shuts us out when it comes to making momentous decisions. Many of us are personally pained by this decision because of the energy, love and faith we have poured in to the workings of our Church, and our eagerness and dedication to identify ourselves as members of ROCOR.
Another value that ROCOR’s history has instilled in us is not simply to follow blindly, but to trust our hierarchs while listening to the voice of our conscience and having the spiritual confidence to ask questions. So we ask: are women full members of ROCOR? Are the nuns from Lesna or our Holy Land convents worthy of sharing their perspective and experience at our All-Diaspora Council? Does ROCOR appreciate the struggles, contributions and talents of its female members? The exclusion of nuns and women laity from the All-Diaspora Council has sent many of us the message that the answer to these questions is “no.”
We have faith that in your dedication to your flock you will consider our words and help us both to understand this situation and to repair it. We ask therefore that you consider convening a subsequent Church Commission to specifically address the issues of Orthodox women in our Church. Given that the Council will likely consider a changed relationship with the Russian Orthodox Church, and given the dire condition of women and families in Russia, it is particularly important that women’s voices be heard. The status of women needs to be addressed, continuing the discussion where Holy Martyr Grand Duchess Elizabeth left it, and recognizing contemporary problems and realities.
Sincerely in Christ,1
- 1. Natalia Ermolaev Doctoral Candidate, Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Columbia University
2. Katherine Ermolaev Ossorgin, Doctoral Candidate, Department of Music, Princeton University
3. Lena Serge Zezulin, Attorney, The Services Group, Inc.
4. Nadieszda Kizenko, Associate Professor, Department of History SUNY at Albany
5. Xenia Soubotin Meyer, Doctoral Student, Department of Education, Cornell University
6. Tatiana Ermolaev, Ph.D. Head of Sisterhood of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Assumption, Trenton, NJ and teacher at St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral Russian School Howell, NJ
7. Erin Zavarin, Civil Engineer, Geomatrix Consultants, Inc.
8. Ksenya Zavarin, Project Coordinator, Commercial Finance, Genentech Inc.
9. Vera Shevzov, Associate Professor, Department of Religion, Smith College
10. Matushka Nina Shevzov
11. Matushka Maria S. Potapov, St. John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Cathedral, Washington, DC
12. Sophia Resnikoff, parishioner, choir member, and Sunday School teacher of
St. John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Cathedral, Washington, DC
13. Alexandra Potapov, Wife, Mother and Teacher of 3 Orthodox children
14. Marina Ledkovsky, Professor Emerita, Barnard College/Columbia University
15. Irene Tata Kotschoubey, Member of Board of Advisors Holy Trinity Seminary
16. Eugenia Temidis, Director, Holy Myrrhbearers Diocesan Women’s Choir
17. Tatiana Olegovna Rodzianko-Samochornov, Contract Program Officer/Interpreter, International Visitor Leadership Program, US Department of State
18. Xenia Woyevodsky, President, Internatonal Firebird Arts Foundation, Inc.
19. Irina Papkova Doctoral Candidate, Department of Government Georgetown University
20. Marina Rodzianko Petroni
21. Katherine Penchuk, M.A. in Economics, M.B.A. in Finance
22. Natalie Glazunova Penchuk
23. Nadia Mokhoff, Publisher, Russian Orthodox Youth Committee and Martianoff Calendars
24. Protodeacon Nicolas Mokhoff
25. Marie Borisovna Kizenko, Assistant Editor of the Thoroughbred Daily News, Parishoner, St. Vladimir Memorial Church, Jackson, NJ
26. Olga Peters Hasty, Professor of Russian Literature, Princeton University
27. Katerina Mickle, Masters in Education, Columbia University
28. Natasha Ignatovicz
29. Anna Yedgarian, St. John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Cathedral, Washington, DC
30. Anna Rozanova, choir member of St. John’s Cathedral in Washington, DC
31. Catherine Yaxley-Schmidt, CPA, MBA, RN, Vice President, Planning & Government Affairs, Holy Name Hospital, Teaneck, New Jersey
32. Tatiana Sarandinaki
33. Anna (Holodny) Ferreira, and her daughters Callista, Calliope and Kiriena who will
too someday be raising Russian Orthodox Christians
34. Lana Sloutsky, Doctoral Candidate, Department of Art History, Boston University
35. Liana Rodzianko
36. Amber Ralli, St. John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Cathedral, Washington, DC
37. Natalia Ekzarkhov, St. John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Cathedral, Washington, DC
38. Galina Leonidovna Mickle, St. John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Cathedral, Washington, DC
39. Helen Bogolubov Desai
40. Xenia Leonidovna Bogolubov
41. Nina Zarudsky Arlievsky, MD, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, New York Medical College, Valhalla, NY, and wife of a Deacon
42. Valentina Zavarin, Ph.D.
43. Nina Zavarin, choir member of Cathedral of the Mother of God “Joy of All Who Sorrow,” San Francisco, CA
44. Eugene Zavarin, PhD.
45. Rev. Joakim Provatakis, St. Sergius Mission Parish, Synodal Cathedral of the Mother of God of the Sign, New York, NY
46. Herman Ermolaev, Professor of Russian Literature, Princeton University
47. Elizabeth A. Ledkovsky, Cornell University, ROCM.org
48. Larissa Rodzianko
49. Michael M. Ossorgin VIII
50. Lena Olhovsky
51. Raisa Priebe, student at the University of Chicago, choir member at Virgin Mary Protection Cathedral, Des Plaines, IL
52. Nina Alexandrovna Ledkovsky
53. Maria Slobodskaya, teacher, MA Columbia University, MA Norwich University, Advanced Graduate Certificate -School District Administration, Stony Brook University
54. Ludmilla Rodzianko, St. Sergius Russian Orthodox Church, Cleveland, OH (church
55. Catherine Doroschin
56. Nadine Kuzmins
57. Paul Grabbe
58. Mary O’Brien, Cathedral of St John the Baptist, Washington DC.
59. Tatiana Eichmann ↩