Question: Explain to me, please, why women may not enter a church when they are unclean (during menstruation)? After what period of time after the completion of these days may they venerate holy things and Commune? How should one behave if during this time one finds oneself on a pilgrimage? I’ve heard that such a prohibition has not always existed, and comes from the tradition of the ancient Syrian Church. Please explain.For further discussion, from varying perspectives, of this contentious issue, see the following articles:
Answer: In agreement with the statutes of the Divinely-reveled Old Testament religion, cleanliness (spiritual-moral and physical) is an essential requirement for approaching all things holy. Sin leads to inner uncleanliness. Physical uncleanliness in the books of Law in the Old Testament included: leprosy, purulent discharge, carnal emissions, the time of cleansing after childbirth (forty days for a boy, eighty days for a girl; Lev. 12), female bleeding (monthly and pathological), touching a decaying body (corpse). According to the religious understanding of ancient cultures, uncleanliness was not a sin, but it was genetically related with it. It is with this meaning that the holy prophets used it: Isaiah (6:5), Ezekiel (22:5), Zechariah (13:2). The word “clean” is also etymologically connected with a moral condition. It means luminous, emitting light (Job 17:9; Isaiah 50:12). The New Testament Church abolished ritual uncleanliness. The primary condition for our union with God is inner purity: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mt. 5:8). The New Testament Church of Christ, in abolishing the Old Testament statutes of ritual purity, simultaneously preserved restrictions for women during childbirth and during menstruation. The second canon of St Dionysius of Alexandria (third century) reads: “Concerning menstruous women, whether they ought to enter the temple of God while in such a state, I think it superfluous even to put the question. For, I think, not even themselves, being faithful and pious, would dare when in this state either to approach the Holy Table or to touch the body and blood of Christ. For not even the woman with a twelve years’ issue would come into actual contact with Him, but only with the edge of His garment, to be cured. There is no objection to one’s praying no matter how he may be or to one’s remembering the Lord at any time and in any state whatever, and petitioning to receive help; but if one is not wholly clean both in soul and in body, he shall be prevented from coming up to the Holy of Holies.”
- Sr Vassa Larin, Ritual Impurity.
- Fr Sergei Sveshnikov, On “Ritual Impurity”: In Response to Sister Vassa (Larin); More to the Point: Should Nuns Light Their Icon Lamps?
- Orthodox Tradition, Menstruation, Emissions, and Holy Communion.
- Fr Andrew Phillips, Q & A (scroll almost to the bottom of the page).
- Russian speaking readers will also want to look here, here, and here.