Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences

First Advisor

Associate Professor Cynthia Dixon

Second Advisor

Rev. Dr. Beate Stierle

Third Advisor

Dr. Harry Simmons


From 1948, when the Orthodox churches became members of the World Council of Churches, the "woman question" has been debated and researched through various assemblies, consultations and programmes. The general attitude of Orthodox Church hierarchs on the debate of the 'woman question' is that it is an imposition from the West and therefore any changes for the Church to be active in improving the status of women are not under serious consideration. The question of changing roles in the ministry of women is one of the most contentious issues in the ecumenical movement for the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox member churches have not implemented specific programmes for Orthodox women based on the work of the WCC. This thesis includes analysis of the archives of meetings and documents contributed by Orthodox theologians and historians to discern at what level the recommendations for change were acted upon or ignored. This thesis analyses patriarchy and authority within the Orthodox Church and the influences of culture and tradition upon the status and participation of women. The analysis focuses on data from ecumenical archives; national church documents and statements; traditional Orthodox church theology and history and sacramental practices of the Church. The thesis questions the present understanding that in order to be Orthodox, that is, for 'right thinking' and 'correct practice' in the faith of the Orthodox Church, Orthodox men have authority and spiritual leadership for both the sacramental and liturgical life of the church and in turn their rightful authority and headship in the family and community. This thesis focuses on both historical and contemporary elements of human sexuality, ministry and participation of women in the Orthodox Church with reference to selected teachings of the Church Fathers whose attitudes and perceptions were very often to the detriment of women. The Church Fathers continue as guide lines for the Church today with little reference to the context of their times und in contrast to contemporary issues and concerns for women and societal influences of society, imposed and absorbed, that have arisen in the twentieth century. The women's movement in the Orthodox Church is in the infancy stage and very few women have written or researched present day situations; contemporary Orthodox Church historians are not engaged in critical analysis of the liturgical, religious or cultural traditions that place women in gender specific subservient roles and have led to the exclusion and prohibition of women within the fullness of religious life of church communities. Specific contributions of Orthodox women, though not necessarily with a feminist agenda, are analysed in the context of a feminist framework of a 'hermeneutics of suspicion' in addition to references to the contemporary work of Catholic and Protestant feminist historians and theologians.