Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

More to the Point: Should Nuns Light Their Icon Lamps?

Posted in Women in the Church by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 28 April 2010

As a continuation of the discussion started in my previous paper, “On ‘Ritual Impurity’: In Response to Sister Vassa (Larin),[1] I now would like to address some of the issues that have been raised in greater detail.  The problem that has been posed by Sister Vassa is as follows:

When I entered a convent of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad in France, I was introduced to the restrictions imposed on a nun when she has her [monthly] period. Although she was allowed to go to church and pray, she was not to go to Communion; she could not kiss the icons or touch the Antidoron; she could not help bake prosphoras or handle them, nor could she help clean the church; she could not even light the lampada or iconlamp that hung before the icons in her own cell: this last rule was explained to me when I noticed an unlighted lampada in the icon-corner of another sister.[2]

The conclusion at which Sr. Vassa arrives after a study of early Church writings and contemporary opinions expressed by a handful of ecclesiastical bodies is that the rules surrounding “ritual impurity” are “a rather disconcerting, fundamentally non-Christian phenomenon in the guise of Orthodox piety.”  In my previous paper, I raised some very general concerns about Sr. Vassa’s methodology in addressing the issue of ritual impurity in the Orthodox Church.  In this paper, I wish to attempt to find some constructive ways forward…

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