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An Antidote to Snake Oil
Archbishop Haaike Barnard
Sometime Apostolic Administrator for the UMSINDISI Diocese, Africa
The United Ecumenical Catholic Church
The Betesicled God
Insisting that God is male, is as banal as insisting that God has testicles
and a penis, for that is what male is. And if God were female, then She
has a vagina and breasts. Why on earth would we want to only worship a
betesticled God, or a breasty God? This is all just so stupid!
In God is the fulness of everything, and God fills everything with fullness.
God is the fulness of "male" and "female", so, the gender duality (yin-yang,
etc.) in reference to God or the Church is nothing more than ill-informed
patriarchal prejudice or unqualified paganism.
Gender is secondary to our Baptismal Identity
The dualities that we hold so dear and that have caused so many, many broken
hearts and bodies, are the evils of which the Church is purged. The
pleroma of God removes the obstacles of distinctions: "There
can be...neither male nor female - for you are all one in Christ Jesus"
[Gal. 3:28]. This wiping out of the external distinctions of class
and gender is done by the assumption of a new identity through Baptism
in which we clothe ourselves with Christ's Divinity and hence our external,
physical gender is "covered" by the new identity of Christ's Divinity in
which there is no gender distinction. In this sense, those who are
united with Christ in Baptism "wear" only Divinity on the "outside", and
this Divinity is the "new identity" in which we find our own fulfilment.
Gender or Grace?
Discriminating against gender in the extension of Orders, for example,
is to go "under the robe of Christ", as it were, and to dig up that which
is covered in Baptism. This nullifies the spiritual significance
of Baptism which is more than just a "laying off" of sins. At a simplistic
level, there are two "results" (the effect of the forgiveness of sin) of
In the case of the former, we have already spiritually assumed the inner
status of resurrection (being "born again" in Baptism) and already have
the effect of the New Covenant of grace in its fullness, in the spirit.
And Jesus reminds us Himself that resurrected beings have no need for the
genital functions and distinctions of gender: "For
at the resurrection men and women do not marry; no, they are like the angles
in heaven" [Matt. 22:30]. In the case
of the latter, Baptism clothes us with the resurrected and glorified Christ
who also has no need of genital distinctiveness. It is Christ that
we see in each other, through Baptism, and it is this vision of Christ
that makes us "one" in the Church. To deny this and to resurrect
the genders that are "buried" in Baptism is, in my view, tantamount to
heresy since it makes the qualification one of gender and not one of grace!
spiritual resurrection "...by Baptism...you have
been raised up with Him through your belief in the the power of God who
raised Him from the dead" [Col. 2:12],
clothing with Christ "...everyone of you that has
been baptized has been clothed in Christ"
Our Humanity is "united" with Divinity.
And yet, there is male and female in Christ! The point from [Gal.
3], clearly, is that gender is not important in spiritual terms
since the "new identity" is defined in terms of being "one in Christ Jesus"
through Baptism, and in Him (male though He was!), there cannot be a gender
distinction since He is the pleroma of Divine Incarnation, "in
bodily form" [Col. 2:9]. The Sacrifice
of Jesus unites us with God in a way that "perfects" our humanity.
At the Commixture in the Antiochen Liturgy, for example, we pray these
"You have united, O Lord, Your Divinity
with our humanity and our humanity with Your Divinity; Your life with our
mortality and Your mortality with our life. You have assumed what
is ours, and You have given us what is Yours, for the life and salvation
of our souls. To You, O Lord, be glory forever."
Our own "sexless" fulfilment is in Christ
And, Saint Paul continues to the Colossians: "...in
Him you too find your own fulfilment" [Col.
2:10]. God is, as it were, "bisexual" since in God is the fullness
of everything, and so is the Church [Eph. 1:23].
The antithetical dualities of night and day, summer and winter, male and
female, sun and moon, love and hate, etc., require a pagan conception of
God in which the male is the sun and the female is the moon, and so on.
(I should know, I used to be an avid Wiccan practitioner for a long time!)
But, the God of the Revelation in Jesus Christ is all and in all.
The extent of our Patriarchal Madness
Our misguided gender prejudice through the ages has resulted in the creation
of an idol whom we call exclusively "Father", and we have assumed that
"He" is like human men with testicles and penis, and therefore only men
can be Priests because they act "in persona Christi". And we (Orthodox!)
have even gone even further to assume that Priests have to sport a beard
to TRULY be "in persona Christi", to the extent that a Priest who shaves
his "holy beard" is considered to have invalid orders! What madness is
this? For two millennia we have subjugated women to servanthood and
serfdom in the Church, ready to serve their male masters, and we still
pussy-foot around this matter as if the sin we had committed were not serious
enough to warrant an open and decisive stand once for all!
Our Motherly God
We all know of the various Scriptural instances where God is "feminine"
and "motherly", but let me just remind you of two of those:
"Can a woman forget her baby at the breast...Even
if these were to forget, I shall not forget you"
"When Israel was a child I loved him...I myself taught
Ephraim to walk, I myself took them by the arm, but they did not know that
I was the one caring for them, that I was leading them with human ties,
with leading-straps of love, that, with them, I was like someone lifting
an infant to his cheek, and that I bent down to feed him"
But, most importantly to me is the "motherliness" of God in God's "mercy".
In Hebrew, one of the words that is used for "mercy" is "racham" from which
is also derived "rachamim" ("mercy" or even "insides/bowels"), "rachum"
("merciful/pitiful"), "racham" (to have pity/to love), and so on. But,
"racham/rechem" is also the word that is used for a woman's womb! The connection
between mercy and womb is astounding! When God grants us mercy for our
sins, God is being "wombful" toward us, and brings us into the safety,
protection, intimacy and dependency of His "womb". This is the condition
in which God reaches out to us to be merciful and forgiving. And when we
participate in the Holy Liturgy, once again at the Commixture, we pray
from our hearts and praise God for rechem:
"Father of truth, behold Your Son, a
Sacrifice pleasing to You. Accept this Offering of Him who died for me.
Behold His Blood shed on Golgotha for my salvation, it pleads for me. For
His sake, accept my Offering. Many are my sins, but greater is Your mercy.
When placed on a scale, Your mercy prevails over the weight of the mountains
known only to You. Consider the sin and consider the Atonement; the Atonement
in greater and exceeds the sin. Your Beloved Son sustained the nails and
the lance because of my sins, so in His sufferings, You are satisfied,
and I live. Glory be to the Father who sent His Son for our sake. Adoration
to the Son who, by His Crucifixion, redeemed us. Thanksgiving to the Holy
Spirit, through Whom the Mystery of our salvation was brought to fullness.
Blessed is God who, in His love, gave us life. To Him be glory. Amen."
[Anaphora of the Holy Apostles].
And we pray this awesome prayer for mercy at the Anamnesis (which is just
before the Epiclesis):
"O Lord, we commemorate Your death, Your
resurrection from the dead on the third day, Your ascension into heaven,
Your sitting at the right hand of the Father, and Your awesome and glorious
second coming when You will judge the world in justice and reward all people
according to their deeds. We plead before You this awesome and Holy Sacrifice,
united with the Sacrifice of Christ. Do not judge us according to our faults,
O Lord, nor reward us according to our iniquities. In Your compassion and
love, we implore You: blot out our sins, for we are Your people and Your
inheritance. We pray to You, O Christ, through You and with You we pray
to Your Father, saying: Have mercy on us, Almighty Father! Have mercy on
us!".[Anaphora of St James]
How easily could be, here, pray instead: "Have mercy on us, Almighty
Mother! Have mercy on us!", but even "Mother" is incapable of expressing
the Nature of God.
I have just put together a few ideas in an attempt to make a case for the
futility of our "gossiping" about God and
the utter ridiculousness of a "theology of the
body" that undoes what Baptism and grace have done.
What we need is the "theology of the Body" and not the "theology
of the body". In the Body, we are "one" and gender is no distinction
since it is being clothed with Christ that is our new identity. But, in
the body, we are distinct and different, and rightfully so. Since we are
not pagan, we need no "maleness" or "femaleness" in the God whom we worship.
God transcends our metaphors and definitions, especially those that refer
In our quest for spiritual understanding, we are
trying as best we can to "contain"
our faith in the receptacles that we calls "vocabulary",
and we are well aware that
this distorts reality enormously.
We should be far wiser in our quest to "yadah" God, and allow the limitations
of our vocabulary to point to the greatness of surpassing glory of God.
Let us remind ourselves: "...those who live
in the spirit have their minds on spiritual things" [Rom.
8:5], and: "...the Spirit explores the
depths of everything, even the depths of God...nobody knows the qualities
of God except the Spirit of God" [1 Cor. 2:10-11].