In this article I want to respond to a question I received from a reader of the portal www.moldovacrestina.net
Why I, as a woman, can not enter the church when I have menstrual cycle? They say I am dirty. But the Lord made me so, and I am not part of Him? Please answer me because I am outraged by this restriction!
The New Testament does not stop the woman to enter the church during the menstrual cycle
Cristian Serban wrote in an article devoted to such topics:
Women are allowed to enter the church even at this time and if she feels unworthy or unclean she can call the confessor to give her absolution to enter or not enter. Let us not to do on our own. Let us not make dogmas out of gossip or rumor … “The idea of uncleanness of women during the menstrual cycle is one that takes of the Old Testament and Jewish tradition. It says nowhere in the New Testament that the woman is stopped from entering the church during the cycle … “said IPS NIFON of Targoviste, bishop who ruled strongly in favor of receiving women at the Liturgy.
The Holy Fathers have very different views on this subject
Orthodox church tradition is based on the teachings of the Holy Fathers of the church, that had different opinions on women’s participation in church services during her menstrual cycle. Thus, St. Dionysius of Alexandria writes thus:
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 opine, not even they 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 Holies of Holies. (The Second Canon of St. Dionysius of Alexandria (264))
St. John the Faster wrote in Canon 17 the following:
As for women occupying a separate seat, let them not touch holy things for as many as seven days, the second Canon of St. Dionysius, but in particular the seventh Canon of Timothy bids. This is also what the old Law ordered, but neither did it permit them to have any sexual intercourse with men; for it happens on this account that the seeds sown become weak and evanescent. Hence it was that divine Moses ordered the father of a defective to be stoned to death, on the ground that on account of his intemperance he failed to await the purification of his wife. But as for a woman who has been so scornful of the same uncleanness during this period and has touched the divine Mysteries, they bid her to remain communionless for forty days.
The author of this canon refers to some cases not mentioned in the 39 canonical books of the Old Testament. St. Athanasius the Great says that this prohibition for women to enter the church during the menstrual cycle is a devil’s guile that caused causing questions that must be removed. Here’s the full text of what Athanasius the Great said:
All creatures of God are good and clean. For there is nothing useless or unclean that the Logos of God has made. “For we are a fragrance of Christ among the saved” says the Apostle (II Cor. 2:15). But inasmuch as the Devil’s arrows are various and versatile, and suffice to disturb the minds even of the most honest men, by inseminating them with cogitations of uncleanness and of pollution, let us proceed to dispel the Evil One’s delusion briefly, with the grace of our Savior, and bolster up the mind of simpler men. “Unto the pure all things are pure” (Titus 1:15): but the conscience and everything of the impure. I am moved to admiration by the Devils ingenuity, because though it breeds corruption and pestilence it suggests thoughts that seem to be pure, yet the result is rather an ambush than a test. For, as I said before, in order to occupy ascetics with, mannerly and salutary meditation, and appear in this respect to the winner, he nevertheless breeds such maggots as produce nothing good in life, but only empty argumentations and twaddle which one ought to forgo. For tell me, dear and most reverent friend, what sin or uncleanness is there in a natural excretion? It is as if one should find fault with mucus exuding from noses, and with the spittle expelled through the mouth. And we can say still more than this: the secretions of the stomach, which are necessary to the animal economy and to its vital processes. Furthermore, if we believe man to be a work of God’s hands, in accordance with the divine Scriptures, how could any work be polluted when made by a pure power And if we are a race or kindred of God (cf. Acts 17:28-29), as the divine Acts of the Apostles assert, we have nothing in us that is impure or unclean. For it is only then that we may be polluted when we perpetrate the foulest sin. But when any natural excretion occurs involuntarily, then, as we have said before, we must patiently put up with the necessity of nature. But simply because those who are inclined to dispute whatever is said aright, or rather done by God, are wont to cite a passage in the Gospel, on the ground that “it is not what goeth into the mouth that defiles a man, but that which cometh out” (Matt. 15:11), we must needs disprove also this illogicality (for we shall not call it an argumentation). For first of all, being unbolstered, they force the Scriptures to fit their ignorance. For the explanation of this divine assertion is as follows. Some men like these used to be in doubt about foods, and the Lord Himself, by way of exposing their ignorance, or, at any rate, making the deception patent to all, says that it is not what goes into a man that defiles him, or makes him unclean, but what comes out of him. Then he goes on to say from where it comes out, namely, from the heart. For there He knows the evil treasures of profane thoughts and of the other sins to be. The Apostle who has had it taught to him says more concisely: “Food commendeth us not to God” (I Cor. 8:8). But even now one might reasonably enough say that no natural excretion commends us to God for punishment. Even the children of physicians (to be ashamed of their externals) might counter to this that certain necessary passageways have been given to the animal for the purpose of enabling each of us to eliminate superfluous humors that accumulate in our members. Thus, for instance, the hairs of the head are superfluities, or excess baggage; and the aqueous ejections from the head, and the expulsions from the stomach, and above all the emissions of seminal passages. After all, what sort of things, for God, O most God-beloved old fellow, constitute the sinfulness when the Lord has created the animal such and has wanted to have it have such passages in its members’? (The First Canon of St. Athanasius the Great (+373)
My opinion is that the words of Athanasius the Great is well substantiated by the Scriptures as the supreme authority that must lead us all, those who believed in Jesus.
Old Testament commandment on women during menstrual cycle
In the book of Leviticus, God gave Moses the following command:
Now if a woman has a discharge of her blood many days, not at the period of her menstrual impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond that period, all the days of her impure discharge she shall continue as though in her menstrual impurity; she is unclean. Any bed on which she lies all the days of her discharge shall be to her like her bed at menstruation; and every thing on which she sits shall be unclean, like her uncleanness at that time. Likewise, whoever touches them shall be unclean and shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening. When she becomes clean from her discharge, she shall count off for herself seven days; and afterward she will be clean. Then on the eighth day she shall take for herself two turtledoves or two young pigeons and bring them in to the priest, to the doorway of the tent of meeting. (Leviticus 15:25-29)(NASB)
Here’s how this Old Testament passage is commented on an website of Macin 4 parish:
But the Old Testament had also other teaching concerning purity and impurity, that about clean and unclean food (Leviticus chapter 11 and Deuteronomy chapter 14. Father Cleopas Elijah in the book “About Orthodox Faith” says that in the New Law, we no longer have the commands of the Old Law because Abraham had not received righteousness by fulfilling the commands of the Law (circumcision, Sabbath, sacrifices, clean food, etc.) but only through faith in Christ (Romans 4, 9). “For if righteousness comes through the Law (the Old) Law then Christ died in vain” (Galatians 3:16-21). The Old Law … “has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.” (Galatians 3:24-25). The Savior Jesus Christ himself showed us the things set by St. Athanasius the Great, that human uncleanness does not come from outside (from certain foods), but from within it, from the heart, as saying: “It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man. Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man... ” (Matthew 15:11,17-20). Holy Apostles followed the teachings of the Savior and in that regard. Stumbling directly with the issue of clean and unclean foods, when they gathered in Jerusalem on the first council, to determine whether the law of Moses is compulsory for Gentiles (i.e the people of other nationalities than Jews), they decided that the Old Law Testament is an unnecessary burden, “a yoke” too hard (Acts 15:10) and therefore it no longer should be called on Christians. For this, of all the commandments, settlements, laws, covenants and eternal signs of the Old Testament, they set as required the following: 1) abstinence from fornication; 2) from the things sacrificed to idols; 3) from the food which is of strangled beasts and 4) from blood (Acts 15:20-29). At this Apostolic Synod, St. Peter, who had a vision in which God invited him to eat the animals which – after Old Testament laws – he himself called “filthy” (Acts 10:10-16), spoke and argued – being convinced by the vision that had been shown to him – that the commandments of the Old Testament, among which were those relating to food should no longer be kept in the New Testament (Acts 15:7-11).
Each reader can make his own opinion.
Translated by Felicia Rotaru