A Woman’s Voice on Orthodox Christianity Online

Wouldn’t you know, but on the day after I posted some of my impressions from 21 years of blogging, I found in my morning tech roundup here that Ian Bogost at The Atlantic published a piece called The Age of Social Media Is Ending which was quite interesting. He remembers a lot of the old stuff I do, like the site Six Degrees (which I enjoyed), but while I think there were some parallels with what we both wrote, I think we’re of vastly different opinions on where things are going. The more I think about it, the more I think I want to put my thoughts into a separate post…

One of the reasons that I started this blog – besides that I like to think and write – was actually a post in the Orthodox Christianity community on Reddit. The author states that she’s a young woman in her 20s, and although she enjoys some of the online resources on Orthodoxy, she feels like there are hardly any women online and very little that is aimed at women at her stage of life. (Original post) Going down through the comments, somebody made a remark about even with the Orthodox women bloggers out there, a large percentage are “homemaking” blogs centered around house and kids, very often homeschooling.

As I mentioned on my last post about blogging, when I started, it didn’t seem like there was a great disparity in the number of men and the number of women blogging. However, a lot of that comes with the fact that most of us, at that time, were just blogging about our everyday lives, and were generally at a similar stage in life – finishing off college or newly into the workforce. This is the stage where the reddit poster is. What I started to notice was that once the women I knew got married, but even moreso once they had kids, they just didn’t post very much anymore. Men, on the other hand, probably didn’t post as frequently as the women did to start out with, but seemed to be better at continuing on blogging even once they were married and had kids.

The blogger
The blogger, in pre-kid days

Before I got to the point of having kids myself, I really didn’t understand what was happening; once my first daughter was born, my days were no longer about me whatsoever. Even with a spouse, one is dealing with another adult. With a newborn, than an infant, then a toddler, there is no understanding that mom doesn’t have infinite energy. Hence, mere blogging gets put to the side.

The other thing that tends to happen is that mom’s day is filled with kid issues. Figuring out what to feed everybody. Making sure kids aren’t doing things that could hurt or kill them. Shuttling them around – especially as they get older. It’s pretty boring stuff to the outside world. It’s not that once a woman has kids, she can no longer think, but there is a phase in life where the primary focus is keeping things together at home, and I think this is true even for most women who work outside the home – it’s not as though most of us can hire nannies and housekeepers!

The thing is, for most women, when measured along the timeline of one’s life, the phase of being independent and on one’s own (“alone”, if you will) is quite short. It’s very hard to be a “voice” for these women when, by the time one can really get perspective on it, it’s already over. At the same time, it’s a very formative period, and probably one of the times in a person’s life when one is most open to change. It’s a two-edged sword, though. On one hand, it’s a time when some people develop an interest in Orthodoxy, and on the other, it’s also a period where there is quite a lot of falling away from the Orthodox Church.

It’s often not easy to be a woman in the Orthodox Church. I don’t mean to imply by that statement that I’m wanting to change the Church, but that for anyone truly trying to live a Christian life these days, the path isn’t easy, and while there are things that make it difficult to be a man in the Orthodox Church, there are certainly different issues that affect women differently.

Furthermore, women and men consider the world differently. I think, in general, men like to come into things in a very “rational” way. It’s not that they don’t feel things or have intuition about things, but they would like data to back up what they are processing. I think in that way, Orthodoxy is very appealing to men because there is this rich treasury of theology and lives of the saints and this sort of thing to delve into. For women, I believe that a lot of what they consider is relationships – how they and their family fit into the world. It’s not that they are uninterested in things like theology, but they also want to feel the assurance of a loving God rather than a referee keeping score.

The truth is, there’s a place for both in the Orthodox Church, and it is absolutely necessary. Orthodoxy is a lived faith, not just a collection of a bunch of rules amassed over the years. I find it very interesting when people ask questions like “Are Orthodox Christians allowed to use public pools“, which, on it’s surface, comes off as being an absurd question. However, a lot of people’s experience of religion is through “the rules”, and even in Jesus’ time, he called out the Pharisees – who were experts in the law – to stop using the law as a religion in itself. I think women, generally being tasked with taking care of children and such, use the baseline of “God is Love” to try to bring people back into relationships with each other. They see a lot more “grey area” in interpersonal relationships, and also have to react without consulting what “the rules” say.

Each approach has its benefits and its drawbacks, but when put together, they work well. However, at the end of the day, reason must still reign supreme. The discourse of 4 Maccabees is a wonderful example of a woman who relies on reason even in the face of unbelievable mental anguish, so it’s not like the people of the Bible were even saying that women aren’t capable of using reason; it’s just that in each of us, we have to constantly be working to order our thoughts and desires to be in line with God.

I came across this post from Fr. Andrew Damick which I think is important and I think also touches on what I’m writing on here. He doesn’t mention young women specifically, but he speaks about how Orthodox outreach in the United States in particular is geared toward fairly narrow swaths of people, and that there are many gaps where very few people are speaking. Part of the issue is, of course, the Orthodox are very disorganized. Yes, there is the jurisdictional messiness, but in general, Greeks and Slavs are not really known for doing things in efficient and methodical ways. I say this being an Orthodox Christian for two decades and loving them all, but apart from the Russian missionaries to Alaska, it’s not like most of them came with any sort of plan for evangelization. Even many of the early missionary priests were primarily concerned in ministering to the scattered sheep – St. John Kochuroff, Fr. Nicola Yanney for example – and while that was absolutely proper and right, there are still jurisdictions in the US that barely have any convert population to speak of.

However, when it comes down to it, it isn’t inherently the priests or the bishops or theology that gets people interested and keeps them in Orthodoxy. A lot of that comes down to relationships. The most important, of course, is that between one’s self in God. However, a large percentage of how people feel about the church does come down to how people feel in relation to others there – is there, at the very least, a comfort level.

I benefitted greatly from being part of the Orthodox “online community” in coming to Orthodoxy and understanding what was going on. I was baptized in a parish in a non-English speaking, Western European country, and most of the time, I lived at least an hour away. Apart from people from a couple of the churches, I didn’t know anyone else Orthodox in the entire country, so it was amazing to have people I could communicate with in my own language.

St Nicholas Chapel, ROCOR, Munich, Germany
St. Nicholas Chapel, ROCOR Cathedral, Munich, Germany

This isn’t to say that there is a lot lacking – or even dangerous – about online Orthodoxy, and I think a lot of this, at the moment, comes from the fact that a lot of the loudest voices are from those with lots of time, little life experience, and a penchant for following the “Orthodoxy of Rules”. That’s not what the church is about, and that isn’t all that people ought to be able to find.

I’m not holding myself up to be a great writer or thinker, or have any delusions that this little blog is anything but a voice among many. However, it is one thing that I have learned in my many years is that it’s not necessarily the smartest who succeed, but rather those who may have a decent amount of talent (a calling, if you will) and persevere in doing something despite the hardships, obstacles, and the inevitable failures.

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