Report of the Inter-Orthodox Consultation
Volos, Greece, 8-12 June 2008
1. We offer thanks and glory to God for the inter-Orthodox consultation: "And many women were there (Mt. 27, 55) Participation of Orthodox Women in the Ecumenical Movement: Past, Present, Future" held on 8-12 June 2008 at the Volos Academy for Theological Studies, Greece. The meeting was sponsored by the Programme for Women in Church and Society of the World Council of Churches and hosted by the Diocese of Dimitrias. The participants were welcomed by His Eminence Ignatios, Metropolitan of Dimitrias and Almyros. Forty-five women from Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches in Europe, Middle East, Asia, Australia and North America, discussed the participation, ministry and concerns of Orthodox women in the Church and in the Ecumenical Movement. Prominent women theologians and scholars offered a review of the history of the various meetings and consultations and of the major concerns expressed by Orthodox women over the past decades to promote women's participation in the various spheres of Church life: liturgical, ministerial, and administrative. Particular attention was given to the assessment of the present situation of women in their respective Orthodox Church communities and ecumenical bodies.
2. The participants noted the important role that the WCC has played throughout the sixty years of its existence in promoting the concerns of women of all the member churches, including sponsoring consultations for Orthodox women. Many of these consultations held over the past thirty years were also supported by the leadership of the various Orthodox Churches, e.g. Agapia, Romania (1976); Rhodes, Greece (1988); Crete, Greece (1990); Damascus, Syria (1996); and Istanbul, Turkey (1997). At these consultations a number of important concerns relevant to the life of women in the Church were expressed. We understand that the statements from these meetings represented the consensus of all the participants and summarized what they felt to be the important issues facing women in the Church.
3. The participants noted with thanksgiving that the situation for Orthodox women in some contexts had reached significant milestones by the grace of God, including establishing a Special Synodical Commission on Women's Issues (Church of Greece), approving changes in language of occasional prayers concerning women (Holy Synod of Antioch), the blessing of deaconesses for ministry (Coptic Orthodox Church), participating in the decision making process at the parish and church level and serving as readers and choir leaders (Finland).
4. However, many of the concerns of women have not yet been fully addressed within the life of the Church and are still relevant today. For instance:
a need for better access to and funding for Orthodox women to study theology and then, if desired, to have the opportunity for employment within the Church
a need to support pastoral care ministries by Orthodox women and to others (e.g. hospice, hospital, nursing home, prison and other institutional, community and military chaplaincies) and equip women for this ministry
a need for women to be included in decision making processes in the administrative bodies of their churches
a need to address the understanding of women's biology and the dignity of women, including the prayers and practices associated with women's menstrual cycle, childbirth, 40-day churching, miscarriages, etc.
a yearning for women to be admitted into the "minor orders" (e.g. altar server, blessed reader, chanter, etc.) and newer ministries (e.g. preacher) to more fully serve within the liturgical assembly and other ministries and to better serve the needs of women and men in the Church
a holy desire for the restoration of the order of Deaconess and a rejuvenation of all diaconal work
5. Since the last inter-Orthodox women's consultation in Istanbul, Turkey in 1997, many changes have taken place, both globally and locally in the Orthodox Churches and their respective countries. Therefore, we feel a full assessment of the current situation and needs of Orthodox women is required as well as development of a framework for future action in order to identify areas of common concern as well as differences and to provide an overview of the complexity of the many current realitiessocial, cultural, economic, politicalaffecting the life of Orthodox women. Among the vehicles for assessing needs and responding to concerns could be:
a) convening general regional meetings of Orthodox women to address not only our universal concerns, but also many of those specific to local situations, and to encourage mutual support and networking to solve country/church specific problems
b) establishing a desk or focal point at the WCC for Orthodox women that would follow up on the challenges identified and provide support for the involvement of women in various aspects of Church life, as well as safe space for discussion of sensitive issues
c) support for a web site for Orthodox women, and other existing internet resources, to accumulate theological materials, guides to applied ministry as well as provide a space for discussion forums, etc.
d) encouraging theological research on issues of concern to women in the life of the Church
6. We invite the WCC to continue this process in close cooperation and with full support of the Orthodox Church leadership. We see the need to identify together with our Church leadership the ways and instruments to implement decisions and recommendations of women's consultations in our Churches. The implementation process can be strengthened through involving Orthodox women appointed as representatives of their churches or serving with the blessing of the Church and other women of good faith.
7. We affirm that men and women, lay and ordained, belong to the overall Body of Christ. We recognize that these issues come through active engagement of all members. Therefore, we desire to promote dialogue by convening conferences for women and men (e.g. pastoral care, liturgical renewal etc.) to further deepen the faith of all Orthodox Christians.
8. The consultation was enriched by the contributions of the participants who shared their current experience of church ministry, such as women's involvement in:
ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue
revitalizing the life of the Church and its social ministry, especially in Eastern Europe after the fall of communism
establishing national and global networks that promote theological research in women's issues, share information, and equip women for applied ministry and
establishing women's committees within church structures.
9. Women are called to holiness and ministry through baptism, and already serve the Body of Christ and His Church through:
their witness and teaching
their intercession, advice and guidance as spiritual mothers
their dynamic evangelical ministry in all areas of pastoral and social work
their caring for the poor, ill and homeless
their offering prayer and comfort for those in need.
The conference participants encourage women in these ministries and call upon the WCC and its Orthodox member Churches to consider seriously and implement the points of this report to strengthen the ecumenical participation and the ministries of Orthodox women, moving forward all together.