Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Menstruation and Communion

Q & A with Fr Job:
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.

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.”
For further discussion, from varying perspectives, of this contentious issue, see the following articles:

1 comment:

Ernesto Obregon said...

Fr. Job, let me respectfully disagree on the Church preserving the restriction for women.

The Didaskalia Apostulorum (3rd century) says, “But if there be any who are precise and desire, after the Second Legislation, to observe the wonted courses of nature and issues and marriage intercourse: first let them know that, as we have already said, together with the Second Legislation they affirm the curse against our Saviour and condemn themselves to no purpose. And again, let them tell us, in what days or in what hours they keep themselves from prayer and from receiving the Eucharist, or from reading the Scriptures -- let them tell us whether they are void of the Holy Spirit. For through baptism they receive the Holy Spirit, who is ever with those that work righteousness, and does not depart from them by reason of natural issues and the intercourse of marriage, but is ever and always with those who possess Him, and keeps them; as the Lord said in Proverbs: If thou sleep. he keepeth thee; and when thou awakest, he will speak with thee [Prov 6.22].”

More than that, Saint Augustine of Canterbury sent a question to Saint (Pope) Gregory the Great on that very issue in the 7th century. The Pope answered to permit the women to come to Church and Communion. He did further say that, “But when a woman does not dare, because of her great reverence, to go there, she is to be praised.” That is, if she has faith to go, let her go. But, if she cannot go because she lacks the faith to go, then praise her for her reverence. The decision is the woman’s, not the Church’s.

While I know that the East later developed purity rules, it was only the East, and it was backed by no Ecumenical Council. I would further say that we should have never developed them as they are not appropriate. That is, I agree with both Pope Gregory and the Didacalia Apostulorum (and other sources).