My icon painting workshops are a type of meditation. One where everyone involved learns something about their soul. It has been my joy and a joint learning experience to understand the importance we as women have in culture and in Christian tradition.
Cultural Bias Against Women even In Icon Painting
Descrimination has to a large extent been overcome in the societies of developed nations, however, the tradition and status of women is still unfortunately inferior to men around the world.
Jesus strongly promoted the dignity and equality of women yet the early Christians leadersgreatly reduced the role of women, all in an effort to build the institution which reflected the cultural norms of the day. For 2,000 years women have been marginalized, and I expect many will agree it is time for change. But change is difficult, and will not come without effort from everyone one on every side to stop the prevailing ingrained bias and prejudice against undiscovered Women in the Christian Tradition.
Women’s Role in Icon Paintings
For centuries, women were physically seen but not heard, present but confined to areas behind grills, convent Windows, or pushed to one side of the isle. The liturgies are still filled with subtle references to him and his, men of God and mankind. To some extent this is language. On the other hand, women often allow for the injustice and filter the teachings to include themselves or simply accept our names are not mentioned, and our voice is not heard.
According to the Gospel accounts, Jesus’ attitude towards women was one of love and respect. Jesus did not differentiate between men and women; both genders were invited to participate in the future kingdom of God. He walked through cities and villages, preaching and bringing the good news to God’s people. Prophets, Saints, Disciples and Apostles were named and called in both genders. They were all instructed to love, heal, teach and share the words of Gods instructions for the benefit of humankind.
The Women Who Knew Jesus
Mary Magdalene was one of his travel companions present at many events recording to the bible, yet women of that era normally didn’t speak to men in public. John 4:7 – 5:30 records Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan, an outcast, a foreigner and a woman, why would Christ even speak with her? The women who touches the hem of His garment He calls a “dog” ! The disciples argue over who will be the wife in heaven after 7 brothers have passed her from bed to bed! The women who washes His feet with her hair illustrates an act of extravagant love yet she is referred to as a prostitute simply because she wears her hair loose. Jesus cured a woman who suffered from menstrual bleeding, curious ailment? yet this healing was possible with God. I call on the priesthood to review these stories and give us a clearer, deeper interpretations, ones where women are seen as valuable and wise rather than their being lesser then men, dirty or in need of healing.
One example of a women who knew Jesus involves the story of Veronica’s veil. As Jesus walked with His cross, a woman called Veronica seeing His blood and sweat, drew out her handkerchief and wiped His brow. Later on, she reverently caressed the piece of linen and later found the image of the blood-stained face of Jesus imprinted on it. This small act of kindness set in motion the whole tradition for iconography.
Women are unnamed disciples of Christ
Women followed Jesus at the baptism, feeding the five thousand, the last supper and Pentecost, etc. They had to have been there witnessing beside men because of His open and inclusive teachings. Women proved their commitment to Christ, at the foot of the cross, at the tomb and afterwards in service to the community as wise women apostles and disciples. Paul’s letters in particular yield strong historical evidence that the leadership roles of women in the infant church got distorted. Contrary to this the artwork in the catacombs appears to indicate that women took an active part in leadership in the early Church and also in the celebration of the Eucharist.
Many catholic women are restless and dissatisfied with the Churches refusal to dignify women. They find no benefit from their long devoted silence. No matter how much female devotion and dedication to the teachings, the Church institution continues to limit the service of women. Most women active in today’s church have come into contact with those in control who refuse to re frame the outdated “ancient” teachings institutionalized by men. Women are tired of always getting permission from a man. The bias towards them has changed too slowly.
In 1960 the Roman Catholic Church changed celebrating mass in Latin to each countries native language, before that it was Latin everywhere. It was a necessary alteration in the mass. People had changed and many no longer studied or spoke any Latin anywhere. In addition for centuries Catholics were encouraged not to read the bible independently for fear of false or misleading interpretations. The church had to change a long tradition to suite the times. This was a magnificent change opening communication and debate and thinking. How the church treats Women is a similar landscape which also needs change. Imagine men went to the moon in 1964 but after 2,000 years only a few nations are beginning to ponder the position of women in today’s church or society.
TRUTH Galatians: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.
Few biblical text defend the absence of Women’s voices. The words of ancient theologians fuel theological debates but unfortunately continue to perpetuate an ignorance of our contemporary world. Centuries ago women were accepted as inferior to men and considered unworthy, poor things were easily led astray. In the 2nd century Tertullian, said of woman: “You are the devil’s gateway”; in the 3rd century Origen wrote: “What is seen with the eyes of the creator is masculine, and not feminine, for God does not stoop to look upon what is feminine; in the 4th century Epiphanius said: “The devil seeks to vomit out his disorder through women.”
YUP outrageous, Harsh words indeed!
The study of Gnostic influences must have really threatened the mainline developing church institution during the first two centuries. The teachings were decidedly unacceptable, too radical, too inclusive, too mystical to teach and therefore rejected, ridiculed and squashed. Many of the texts highlighted commonality and a common spirit shared equally within all of creation. Yet, the church chose to shape the cultural prejudice against women making them inferior to men by nature and by law. A male dominated church rose and kept the control. As late as St Thomas Aquinas 1250, we have a well developed attitude: “… the individual nature, a woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active power of the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of a woman comes from defect in the active power….”. Theology like this altered the agenda of the day and may have helped to perpetuate the undiscovered Women in the Christian Tradition
Ladies, if you have ever wondered where the teachings came from, the framework for our continual debasement, the doctrines which have been hailed as word of God, these kinds of text above are still being held to be truth. If the men are so enlightened and want to teach the word of God, those in power will have to recognize the error and make amends, for too long we have failed to see accurately the God given blessed commonality within the male/female relationship. Those in power have the power to omit the words and teaching which do not serve but only hinder and separate women. The past has passed and we are fast coming into a new age of awareness. We are waking up to a new world. The sky and the mountains and the oceans have always witnessed truth, only humanity has failed to see clearly how balanced creation is and how it fits together as a whole, male and female alike.
We Can Allow Change.
It is not heretical to think there is equality with difference between the sexes. We are by no means finished learning to be one body in Christ, we have yet to fully develop and honor the feminine side. Our leaders must condemn sexual discrimination in their congregations on every level and work to put an end to the subordination of women in every community and societies around the world. Or we will forever remain the undiscovered Women in the Christian Tradition
Women I invite you to meditate in one of my icon painting workshops. What You Will learn Will be iinvaluable to you.