The Theology of Gender – 6. The New Eve

31 March 2017

The honor and respect of Christianity to women is demonstrated especially in the person of the Theotokos. She is the human closest to God; after Christ, she is the most beloved and honored person by men and God. She has a great place in worship and is most beloved to the Fathers who wrote extensively about her. St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite affirms that the whole world was created for the person of the Theotokos, and that she was created for Christ. In addition, God would have been pleased by the Theotokos alone, even if the whole of creation had become evil and rebelled against God.[1] The Theotokos is she who: “divinized the human race and brought the earth to the heavens and, on the one hand, made God the son of man and, on the other hand, made people the sons of God as she conceived within herself without seed and ineffably brought forth Him who created all things out of nothing and Him who transforms all things to well being and does not allow them to fall back into nothingness.”[2]

Deisis, Vladimir, s13 IN

God did not let His beloved creatures feel hopeless after their exile from Paradise. Along with punishment, He offered hope through His promise of the birth of Christ by the Theotokos, by what was said to the serpent[3]:”I shall put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; it will bruise your head and you will strike its heel”[4]. This prophecy is considered the first “good news” to alleviate the pain of exile from Paradise, and expresses the messianic expectation that is fulfilled through the person of the Theotokos.

In Orthodox theology, the typological relation between Christ and Adam is paralleled by that of Eve and the Theotokos. Christ, through His Incarnation, recapitulated all of humanity in its original state as was intended by God’s will from the beginning. He became the New Adam through whom the new generation of humans was born. However, this new creation presupposed the breaking of the shackles of Eve’s disobedience[5] which was brought about through the Theotokos’ obedience (ὑπακοή).[6]

The distinctive role of the person of the Theotokos in God’s plan for the salvation of humanity is the source for the empirical, typological symbolism according to which the liturgical function of women in the plan of divine οἰκονομία is parallel to the work of the Holy Spirit, while the liturgical function of the male is parallel to that of Christ.[7] This does not mean that Orthodox theology tried to ascribe to the Holy Spirit gender characteristics as Russian theological thinking did.[8] On the contrary, the typological relation between the Theotokos and the Holy Spirit is based on the synergy of both in the plan of God’s οἰκονομία.[9] Through the Holy Spirit, the Theotokos became the “temple” of God and type (prototype) of the Church, since the motherhood of the Church and the motherhood of the Theotokos function through the energy of the Holy Spirit.

The Theotokos assists humanity in her Son’s work of salvation. She intercedes for all, because on the Cross He entrusted to her all humankind in the person of his beloved disciple John.[10] She became the spiritual mother of all people as Eve was the physical mother of all humans.[11]

The person of the Theotokos is the most profound example of the recognition of woman’s value in Christian thinking. In his homily on the Nativity, St. Gregory the Theologian affirms that through the birth of Christ from the Theotokos without man’s “help,” Eve pays back her debt to Adam, because Eve was taken from the rib of Adam. From then on, man and woman are equal. However, equality does not mean the lack of distinctive roles and functions of the genders in all aspects of spiritual and social life.

[1] St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite, Συμβουλευτικόν Ἐγχειρίδιον, (Αθήνα, 2001), 314-328.

[2] Γρηγορίου Παλαμᾶ, Ὁμιλία 42, 4, Ἒργα, ΕΠΕ, τομ. 10, σ. 590. «Τό ἀνθρώπινον γένος θεώσασα καί τῆν γῆν οὐρανώσασα, καί υἱόν μέν ἀνθρώπου τόν Θεόν, υἱούς δέ Θεοῦ τούς ἀνθρώπους ποιήσασα, ὡς ἐν ἑαυτῇ συλλαβοῦσα άσπόρως καί Σαρκοφόρον άποῤῥήτως προαγαγοῦσα τόν ἐκ μή ὂντων τά ὂντα παραγαγόντα καί πρός τό εὖ εἶναι μετασκευάζοντα καί πρός τό μή ὂν οὐκ ἐῶντα διαπεσεῖν» (Translated by the author).

[3] See more in Pentiuc, Jesus the Messiah, 34-38.

[4] «καί ἒχθραν θήσω ἀνά μέσον σοῦ καί ἀνά μέσον τῆς γυναικός καί ἀνά μέσον τοῦ σπέρματός σου καί ἀνά μέσον τοῦ σπέρματος αὐτῆς΄ αὐτός σου τηρήσει κεφαλήν, καί σύ τηρήσεις αὐτοῦ πτέρναν» Gen 3:15.

[5] «…Μαρία ἡ παρθένος ὑπήκοος εὑρίσκεται…, ἡ δέ Εὒα ἀπειθής, παρήκουσε γάρ ἒτι παρθένος οὖσα.Ὣσπερ γάρ ἐκείνη, ἂνδρα μέν ἒχουσα τόν Ἀδάμ, παρθένος μέντοι οὖσα…, παρακούσασα, ἑαυτῇ τε καί τῇ πάση ἀνθρωπότητι αἰτία ἐγένετο θανάτου, οὓτω δή καί Μαρία, ἒχουσα τόν προωρισμένον ἂνδρα καί ὃμως παρθένος, ὑπακούσασα, ἑαυτῇ τε καί τῇ πάση ἀνθρωπότητι αἰτία ἐγένετο σωτηρίας» Εἰρηναίου, Κατά αἱρέσεων, ΙΙΙ, 22, 4.

[6] «ὁ τῆς Εὒας τῆς παρακοῆς δεσμός λύσιν ἒλαβε διά τῆς ὑπακοῆς τῆς Μαρίας΄ ὃπερ γάρ ἒδησεν ἡ παρθένος Εὒα διά τῆς ἀπειθείας, τοῦτο ἡ παρθένος Μαρία ἒλυσε διά τῆς πίστεως» Εἰρηναίου, Κατά αἱρέσεων, ΙΙΙ, 22, 4.

[7] See more in V. Fidas, “Τό Ἀνεπίτρεπτον τῆς Ἱερωσύνης τῶν Γυναικῶν κατά τούς Ἱερούς Κανόνας” in the book Θέσις τῆς Γυναικός ἐν τῇ Ὀρθοδόξω Ἐκκλησία καί τά περί Χειροτονίας τῶν Γυναικῶν.

[8] Ibid., 268-269.

[9] «Μετά οὖν τήν συγκατάθεσιν τῆς ἁγίας Παρθένου, Πνεῦμα ἃγιον ἐπῆλθεν ἐπ᾿ αὐτήν κατά τόν τοῦ Κυρίου λόγον, ὃν εἶπεν ὁ ἂγγελος, καθαῖρον αὐτήν καί δύναμιν δεκτικήν τῆς τοῦ Λόγου θεότητος παρέχον, ἃμα δέ καί γεννητικήν. Καί τότε ἐπεσκίασεν ἐπ᾿ αὐτήν ἡ τοῦ Θεοῦ τοῦ Ὑψίστου ἐνυπόστατος σοφία καί δύναμις, ὁ Υἱός τοῦ Θεοῦ, ὁ τῷ Πατρί ὁμοούσιος οἱονεί θεῖος σπόρος καί συνέπηξεν ἑαυτῷ ἐκ τῶν ἁγνῶν καί καθαρωτάτων αὐτῆς αἱμάτων σάρκα ἐψυχωμένην ψυχῇ λογικῇ τε καί νοερᾷ, ἀπαρχήν τοῦ ἡμετέρου φυράματος΄ οὐ σπερματικῶς, ἀλλά δημιουργικῶς διά τοῦ ἁγίου Πνεύματος» Ἰωάννου Δαμασκηνοῦ, “Ἒκδοσις ἀκριβής τῆς Ὀρθοδόξου Πίστεως,” 3,2. PG 94, 985.

[10] See more in Jeanlin Francoise, “Ἡ Θέσις τῆς Ἀειπαρθένου Μαρίας εἰς τήν Ὀρθόδοξον Ἐκκλησίαν ἐπ᾿ Ἀναφορᾷ πρός τήν Χειροτονίαν τῶν Γυναικῶν” in the book Θέσις τῆς Γυναικός ἐν τῇ Ὀρθοδόξω Ἐκκλησία καί τά περί Χειροτονίας τῶν Γυναικῶν.

[11] «Αὓτη ἐστίν ἡ παρά μέν τῇ Εὒα σημαινομένη, δι᾿ αἰνίγματος λαβοῦσα τό καλεῖσθαι μήτηρ ζώντων (Gen 3:20)…Καί κατά μέν τό αἰσθητόν, ἀπ᾿ ἐκείνης τῆς Εὒας πᾶσα τῶν ἀνθρώπων ἡ γέννησις ἐπί γῆς γεγένηται΄ ὧδε δέ ἀληθῶς ἀπό Μαρίας αὓτη ἡ ζωή τῷ κόσμω γεγένηται, ἳνα ζῶντα γεννήση καί γένηται ἡ Μαρία μήτηρ ζώντων. Δι᾿ αἰνίγματος οὖν ἡ Μαρία μήτηρ ζώντων κέκληται» Ἐπιφανίου Κύπρου, “Πανάριον,” PG 42, 728C-732A.