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Canons of the seven ecumenical councils
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Let it not be permissible for women to talk during Holy Mass, but in accordance with the words of Paul the Apostle, “let your women remain silent. For it has not been permitted them to talk, but to obey, as the law directs. If they wish to learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home.”
“As in all churches of the saints,” says Paul the Apostle, “in the churches let your women remain silent. For it has not been permitted them to talk but to obey, as the law directs. If they wish to learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home” (1 Cor. 14:33–35.)
“Let the women learn quietly with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to exercise authority over a man, but to be quiet. For Adam was formed first, and then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman having been deceived became at fault. But she shall be saved through child-bearing, if they abide in faith and love and sanctity with sobriety” (1 Tim. 2:11–15).
According to the words of this Canon and according to the words of St. Paul, women are prohibited from teaching either in holy temples (churches) or outside thereof, for St. Paul does not mean by “church” the temple itself, but a “congregation of people” anywhere; and still more are they prohibited from chanting either in a choir of their own or along with men.
“For it is a shame for women to talk in church” (1 Cor. 14:35). This means that women should keep silent in church, and out of church wherever there is a congregation of people. The fact that the word talk is used here, and not the word speak, controverts and overthrows the allegation put forward by some persons that only teaching is forbidden to women but not chanting; for talk includes any sort of vocal utterance, and not merely articulate speech. In fact, women are not allowed to let their voice be heard at all within the sacred temple of the church. They may, of course, sing and chant in their hearts praises and blessings to God, but not with their lips.
Before God formed Eve, He said: “It is not good that man should be alone; let us make for him a helper meet for him” (Gen. 2:18). This means that woman was created, not to rule man, but to help him and to be ruled by him. Woman is a teacher of every virtue by word and deed within her own province at home; but she is not allowed even to speak or sing within the sacred precincts of the church. Woman’s job is to bear children and rear them in the belief and love of God, to uphold the sanctity and sobriety of marriage, and to shun adultery as a thing that is odious to God. By so doing she will be saved, and not otherwise; by leaving this path and failing in these duties, she invites perdition.
“If anyone think himself a prophet or a spiritual agent, let him acknowledge that what I write unto you are commandments of the Lord. But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant” (1 Cor. 14:37–38). A true prophet or teacher or spiritual agent has the spirit of Christ and does not disagree with Christ’s Apostle; he easily discerns and believes that St. Paul’s commandments are commandments of Christ. Whoever, on the other hand, does not discern and believe this, yet thinks that he is a prophet or a spiritual agent, is merely deluding himself; he is a false prophet lacking the spirit of Christ.
Teaching and chanting are inconsistent with the nature and destiny of a Christian woman, just as are the priesthood and the bishopric. Eve, the woman formed by God, was the first to teach Adam once, in Paradise, and she ruined everything; that is why women are forbidden to talk in churches. The greatest adornment of women is silence. Let their example be Mary, the New Woman and Child of God, who alone has the honor of having had her speech recorded in history and handed down in the ninth ode of the Church; this refers to her speech and that of Elizabeth. Therefore let Christian women emulate her. The ancient idolaters had priestesses to officiate at the altars and in the temples of idols, in which demons were worshiped; and hence it is that deluded heretics derived this impious custom of theirs of letting women teach and sing and govern in their churches. Shall we Orthodox Christians imitate them? By no means!
It is recorded in the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius (Book 7, ch. 30) that a council of bishops met in Antioch in the third century after Christ from various cities for the purpose of trying Paul the bishop of Samosat, who was rather a sophist and magician than a bishop and who, in addition to other heresies, had introduced a choir of women into the church of Antioch. That council addressed a letter to bishops Dionysius of Rome and Maximus of Alexandria containing the following phrases: “Having suppressed the psalms to our Lord Jesus Christ on the pretext that they are modern psalms and the writings of modern men, who is preparing women to chant to himself in the midst of the church on the great day of Easter whom one would shudder merely to listen to.”
Women were never permitted to teach or to chant in the church along with the sacred cantors or in a choir of their own. Female choirs are an unexampled innovation involving many perils and capable of leading to many scandals, for woman’s voice is more attractive and more pathetic than man’s. The appearance of women in the church choir constitutes a stumbling block; for the eyes and ears of the congregation are at once turned to them, and, becoming intoxicated with the sight and sound of the highstrung melodramatic voices of women, they are languorously effeminated in mind and rendered incapable of enjoying the modest and contrite songs of the Church; thus the church choir gradually becomes transformed into a theatrical chorus!
Canon LXXV of the Sixth Ecumenical Synod decrees the following with reference to church choirs: “It is our wish that those who come to church to chant should neither employ disorderly yelling and strain their natural voices to scream, nor recite anything inappropriate and not suited to a church, but that they should offer such psalmodies with great care contrition to God, who listens and looks on in secret.” “The children of Israel shall be reverent,” saith the sacred saying (Lev. 15:31).
The holy liturgy and sacred hymnody presented in church has the purpose of offering prayers to propitiate God for our sins. Whoever prays and supplicates should be of humble and contrite mind; yelling indicates rudeness and irreverence of mind. But voices and faces of female choirs and the psalmody of European quartets represent a theatrical mind rather than a modest ecclesiastical mind. What is it that is unsuited to the church? Effeminate songs (melodies) and trills (which means the same thing as the warbles of old) and an excessive variety of tones that inclines to whorish songs, Zonaras, an interpreter of the Canons, says.
The children of Israel after Christ are the pious Christians, who should be imbued with fear of God and reverence while within the church. God is not pleased with variety of melodies and voices, but with contrition and repentance of the heart. This is easily understood when we remember that man is pleased to listen to melodies and to look at pretty faces, whereas God looks into man’s soul in the depths of the heart and delights in its reverence, which is manifested by humbleness of behavior.