Here is a question I received from a reader of our site:
Why am I not allowed, as a woman, to enter the church during my periods? They say I am unclean. Hasn’t God made me this way?, am I not part of Him? Please, give me an answer, I am really disturbed by this restriction.
The woman is allowed to enter the church even during her periods, and if she feels unworthy or unclean, she may find a mentor/confessor who will give her permission to either enter or not. Let us not accept dogmas from rumors and gossiping…The idea of the woman not being clean during her periods comes from the Jewish tradition and the Old Testament. “Nowhere in the New Testament is it said that the woman must be withhold from entering the church during her periods…” said the Bishop of Targoviste, Romania, a minister that encouraged the woman’s participation in Liturgy.
The tradition of the Orthodox church is founded on the teachings of the holy Fathers who shared different opinions about the woman’s participation in church during her periods. Thus St Dionysus from Alexandria wrote:
As to the women who are at their monthly periods, if the need is so for them to be in the house of God, I think it is needless to even ask about it. I believe that if they are faithful and devout, they will not even dare to approach the holy table or touch the Body and the Blood of Christ, for even the woman who was bleeding for 12 years did not touch Him to be healed, she touched only His robe. It is a godly thing to pray to God no matter your circumstances, to ask for help and to remember the Lord. The one who is not clean, be it in the body or soul, will withhold from the holy things and the Holy of Holies.(the 2nd canon of St Dionysus)
The women at their regular monthly periods shall not touch the holy things until the 7th day, says the 2nd canon of St Dionysus and the 7th of Timothy. The old law asks women not to intercourse with men in those days, because as a result of it, children can be born weak and sick. This is the reason why godly Moses killed the father of the leprous child, because of his unrestraint ,he did not wait until the woman was clean. If a woman makes herself unclean during her periods and touches the holy things, I order to stay out of partake for 40 days.
The author of this canon refers to some stories that are not mentioned in the 39 canonic books of the Old Testament. St. Atanasy the Great says that the interdiction of the women to enter the church during her periods is a stratagem of the devil who stirs questions and vain talk that need to be stopped. Here is the whole text:
All God’s creatures are good and clean, since God’s Word has not created nothing worthless and unclean, as the Apostle says ” For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved(2 Corinthians 2, 15). But because the devil’s arrows are various and numerous and he tries to disturb those with clean minds and stops brothers from their usual efforts, placing unclean and dirty thoughts in their minds, let us stop the devil’s delusions and by our Lord’s grace strengthen the mind of the simple ones. “To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure” (Titus 1:15) I am amazed by the devil’s stratagem, for he himself is corruption and destruction and he gives birth to thoughts that apparently seem clean; what happens is more of a temptation or trap for those that I mentioned earlier who are zealous and whom the devil wants to withhold from the common and redeeming goal. It gives a sense of victory and uses such lures that are completely useless for life, but at the same time arouses many questions and blab that needs to be stopped. Tell me, precious and godly friend, how can a natural bleeding be sinful or unclean? It would be the same thing to accuse someone for his nasal secretion or for the spitting that comes out of his mouth;but we have much more to say about the bleeding that is necessary to the living one to remain alive. If we believe that man is the creature of God’s hands, according to the Holy Scriptures, how could a sacred power make an unclean thing! ” If we are God’s people according to the Apostles’ godly Acts(17, 28-29), then there is nothing unclean in us”, for we defile ourselves only when we commit the stinking sin. But when a natural bleeding occurs, we will consequently suffer it as well. For those who want to speak bad against the right things, or better to say, things created so by God and refer to the evangelical word, that says that ” not things that go into the man defile him, but things that come out of him, that is what defile the man”, so this temerity of such people needs to be rebuked, we cannot even name it a question. For they are not strong in the Word, and out of this, in their ignorance, they damage the Scriptures. And the holy Word is as follows: There are similar people who question eating food; God Himself clarifies their error by saying: Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles. For out of the heart come evil thoughts and sins. The Apostle teaches us briefly: ‘Food does not bring us closer to God” ( 1 Corint. 8:8) And if someone says now clearly that the natural bleeding does not lead us to sin, it may happen that doctors, the ones from outside, will be ashamed and will explain that for a person who is alive, some ways were given to evacuate the extra fluids that feed all the parts of the body, just the same as hair was given to the head and the mucous that is drained from the head and the stomach, so it is with the secretions of the reproductive organs. So can it be a sin in God’s eyes, oh, old godly man of God, that He, the Creator, has created the human parts and decided that the body has this kind of fluids? ( Canon 1 of Atanasy the Great)
In Leviticus, God gave the following command through Moses:
“‘When a woman has a discharge of blood for many days at a time other than her monthly period or has a discharge that continues beyond her period, she will be unclean as long as she has the discharge, just as in the days of her period. Any bed she lies on while her discharge continues will be unclean, as is her bed during her monthly period, and anything she sits on will be unclean, as during her period. Anyone who touches them will be unclean; they must wash their clothes and bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening. When she is cleansed from her discharge, she must count off seven days, and after that she will be ceremonially clean. On the eighth day she must take two doves or two young pigeons and bring them to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting. The priest is to sacrifice one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. In this way he will make atonement for her before the Lord for the uncleanness of her discharge.( Leviticus 15:25-30)
Here is how this text of the Old Testament is commented on an Internet page of the Macin parish 4:
The Old Testament had other teachings about being clean or unclean, that about clean and unclean food(Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14) Father Ilie Cleopa in his book: About the orthodox faith” says that under the New Law we do not have the Old Law’s commandments because Abraham himself was not justified through the works of the Law( circumcision, the Sabbath, sacrifices, clean food etc), but only by faith in Christ (Romans 4:9) “If righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”(Galathians 2:21) The Old Law “… So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.”(Galathians 2:24-25) Our Savior Himself has shown what St Atanasy the Great mentioned above, that the man’s uncleanliness does not come from outside(from certain food), but from the inner man, from the heart, for he says: “What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them…“Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body?…But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person.(Matthew 15) The Holy Fathers followed the teachings of the Savior in this respect. When it came about the clean and unclean food, they gathered in Jerusalem at their first synod(council) to decide whether the Gentiles(other nations than Jews) should obey the Law of Moses, they decided that the Old Testament is a useless burden, a “yoke” too heavy for them(Acts 15) and it must not be put on Christians. Out of all the commandments, laws, covenants and eternal signs of the Old Testament, they decided that the following must be compulsory: abstinence 1) from sexual immorality; 2) from food polluted by idols; 3) from meat of strangled animals and 4)from blood.(Acts 15:20-29) At this important Council took part the Apostle Peter who had a vision where God told him to eat from the “unclean animals”- according to the Law of the Old testament- and he took the floor and confirmed, as a result of his vision, that the commandments of the Old Testament, including the ones about food, must not be kept under the New Testament.(Acts 15:7-11)
It’s up to each reader to make her own conclusion on this subject.