Eastern Orthodox, Menstrual Purity, & "Churching" Women

Greetings everyone,

I was waiting for the subway the other day and struck up a (very brief) conversation with an Orthodox priest who was just beginning to tell me about purity rituals within Eastern Orthodoxy for women after they had their period and after they give birth. Something about not being allowed inside of a Church within a number of days after her period, not being allowed to touch anything holy (the Bible, an icon, etc) during menstruation, and having to be ritually purified 40 days after giving birth. He likened them to what is practiced in Orthodox Judaism. As intriguing as this conversation became, I unfortunately had to bid the priest farewell as my train was approaching.

I have some questions for our Orthodox brethren here:

Can anyone tell me the specifics about these practices? Are they salvific in nature, a Mystery in Eastern Orthodoxy, or simply a cultural phenomenon closely linked to traditionally Orthodox nations? What exactly does the Orthodox Church teach about ritual purity with respect to “women’s issues”?

If this is more of a doctrinal matter than a cultural taboo, how does the Orthodox Church justify holding to the Old Testament laws on ritual purity for women while rejecting the law of circumcision for males?

Also, how seriously is this held? Would it seriously be considered sacrilege for a menstruating woman to kiss an icon?

I’ve tried doing my own internet search, but the only results render deal with Orthodox Judaism and menstrual purity. I cannot find anything about menstrual purity in Orthodox Christianity

Thanks everyone!
Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays!

This is the first I’ve heard of it, although being male I’ve never thought to look into such things.

Still I’ve also never noticed women refraining from kissing the icons. I have to wonder if he was an actual Orthodox priest, or a priest from some organization which calls itself orthodox.

I’m sure it seems extremely odd, if not frighteningly freaky, that I should strike up a conversation with a perfect stranger, and a priest no less, concerning women and menstruation. For those who care, the topic arose within the greater context of his assertion that the Catholic Church has altered/done away with various traditional practices, of which he included the rituals of and concerns for churching women.

Glory to Jesus Christ!

I’m not as well-versed in this subject as others are, but I found this from an Orthodox forum. They link to other sites which discuss the subject far better than I could. I hope that helps!

In Christ,
Andrew

EDIT: I have heard of similar things being done in the Latin church, but this was probably waaaay Pre-V2.

Hi as a Orthodox woman convert I have heard that women are not to commune during menses (just as men are not to commune after involuntary emissions in their sleep) and within 40 days after child birth.

That’s been the consistent practice of the Church since the beginning as recorded by the Fathers.

It was explained to me that the Church allows women rest after childbirth to allow their bodies to heal and to adjust to the responsibilities of motherhood/their new baby by not allowing them the responsibility to attend Church. When the 40 days are up they are welcomed into the Church officially - mother & child into the Church. Just as Jesus & Mary were in the Temple at the Presentation.

As far as menses goes - I never asked “why” - it just makes sense. Us women feel awful with cramps & just over all yucky during that time as that’s certainly not the way to approach the Lord of the Universe in Holy Communion.

Canon 17 of St. John the Faster echos Canon 2 of St.Dionysios & Canon 7 of Timothy: Woman during their menses should not touch holy things for up to 7 days. The Canons echo the Old Testament commanded it (in addition to forbidding men to sleep with their wives during that time). The Canons state that if a woman is disrespectful by coming into contact with the Holy Mysteries during her menses her penance is to not be allowed to commune for 40 days.

There is a traditional postpartum waiting period of forty days, this I know. I have also seen this at the Byantine Catholic parish I belonged to in the USA years ago. There is a ritual for the mom at the end of the waiting period.

However, I am not well versed on the rest, I think the person you spoke to was substantially correct. I think there may be some flexibility here via economy, but that is between the layperson and the spiritual director.

I know some Orthodox priests will not commune a person if he smells cigarette breath. We are supposed to be fasting before communion. That means NO CIGARETTES!

So yes, there are some things like that which surprise the rest of the world. They are carried on from the early church practices.

EDIT: I see Monica has already responded.

This post is just my own opinion…

I tend to think that those canons were not infallible and not binding upon the whole Church… the reason I think so is because as a Catholic, I believe the Vatican has the “final say” in these matters, and since the Catholic Church does not officially teach this (even if it was once a* custom*), then it’s not a binding “dogma”.

But I was just thinking…

to be completely honest

I’m having difficulty with this whole concept. I don’t mean to challenge our Orthodox brothers and sisters or to speak against Orthodoxy in any way… but isn’t mortal sin the only thing that can block us from God, and thus from receiving Communion? I believe that Jesus wants us to receive Him in the Eucharist, and wants to come into our hearts… and just as a sick person can come to church and receive Communion, so can a woman come to church during her menstruation and receive… because menstruation isn’t a sin and it’s not something “impure”, it’s just something that happens in the body and no one can control it. I have a hard time imagining that Jesus would not want to unite Himself with a person in this situation…

also what about nuns, who typically receive Communion every day? female Saints have done this, I guess, and I can’t imagine they’d be sinning… how does menstruating make someone “unclean”? Didn’t Jesus allow a woman who was “bleeding for many years” to touch Him…and allowed lepers to touch Him, who were also considered unclean in their society?

I understand there were OT laws, but we’re living in the New Covenant now… maybe the reason this idea was in the canons, is just because it crept in from Jewish practices of the day?

I hope that if I’m wrong, God would show me and guide me to the truth, and forgive me for speaking error :frowning:

In that link, there’s also this quote:

another second century Canon which is accepted as an authentic, authoritative document
by our Orthodox Christian Church, the Canon of the Holy Apostles, which pre-dates any of the above mentioned Canons, and
it states as follows:
For if thou think, O woman, that in the seven days of thy flux thou art void of the Holy Spirit; if thou die in
those days, thou wilt depart empty and without hope. But if the Holy Spirit is always in thee, without just
impediment dost thou keep thyself from prayer and from the Scriptures and from the Eucharist? For if the
Holy Spirit is in thee, why dost thou keep thyself from approaching the works of the Holy Spirit?
Wherefore, beloved, flee and avoid such observances: for you have received release, that you should no
more bind yourselves; and do not load yourselves again with that which our Lord and Saviour has lifted
from you. And do not observe these things, nor think them uncleanness; and do not refrain yourselves on
their account, nor seek after sprinklings, or baptisms, or purifications for these things.12
This Canon understands that the only way one can make women feel full of the Spirit is to allow them to participate
fully in the New Life of Christ, including participation in the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

I don’t understand, does this contradict the other canons or not?:confused:

It’s just an abstention, sometimes that is good for us, but I see your point. :wink:

One should recall that receiving frequent communion was not even the norm in the west until fairly recent times. More recent Popes have endorsed even daily communion, and that’s not a bad thing, just a different perspective. Some people regard the sacrament with much more appreciation and reverence with less frequent reception, for others it is like "an apple a day … ".

For everyone the sacrament is efficacious. I have not been able to receive since August, and it tears me up, but I accept this as my lot in life.

I was going to quote a lot more in my previous post, about the way people thought and the way people lived so long ago (including modern sanitation and personal products), but decided not to discuss those things and deleted most of it. Suffice to say that today this is not as rigidly enforced, often the discipline is handled pastorally, many priests would be happy to see everyone receive communion as often as possible, and a priest in conjunction with his bishop has a lot of leeway.I recall helping at liturgy with the red cloth in my hands when this woman we all know brought her young child up (parents bring up the young ones first) for communion. The priest wanted to give her communion and she was protesting “I am not prepared … no … only my child” and while she was saying this he ‘popped’ it in her mouth! You should have seen her expression! :smiley:
I would not be surprised to see a lot of women want to adhere to these conditions. There is a certain amount of zeal that comes with faith and it can cause us to accept without question some things that the modern egalitarian world finds offensive. Abstaining, fasting and restraint can be spiritual exercises, they can strengthen us. I am not trying to defend a two thousand year old mindset, just trying to explain how people look at these things. Many of us appreciate these (sometimes odd appearing) connections with our early past.

For instance, head coverings are another area of imposition (so to say) which might be considered unfair and offensive to modern women, but today we find many young believing women eager to wear them! In the east they often look like headscarves and in the west they often look like Spanish mantillas. I don’t recall that the canons on headcovering were ever changed in the east but in fact most women (especially the older coiffed set) do not actually cover their heads in the parishes I have attended, it is not preached on and potential communicants are not turned away.

Traditionalist minded individuals will gladly accept a lot of conditions that others simply regard as unfair impositions.

We are not talking damnation and hellfire here. The first order of business is the salvation of our souls, and this sort of thing is a topic for a woman and her spiritual director.

For the record you and I agree, and I also feel that young children should receive.

http://ocaphoto.oca.org/filetmp/2004/August/102/Detail/DSC_0048.jpg

Four things:

  1. You are absolutely right: Not receiving the Eucharist approximately once a month (if your menses even happens to even be on a Sunday), or less, will NOT cause a woman to be damned or burn in hell.

  2. You are right, any woman who has questions on this matter should speak with her spiritual director about it.

  3. You are right: Jesus said, “Let the little children come unto Me.” They should be able to receive the Holy Eucharist!

  4. That little boy in the picture you posted is absolutely adorable!

From what I have seen, this can be a controversial topic among Orthodox communities.

Which part of the topic are your referring to?

Being welcomed back into the church in a ceremony 40 days after a woman gave birth or a woman receiving the Holy Eucharist during her menses?

In my 37 years of Orthodoxy, I’ve heard of no “purity rituals” after menses. Nor do I see prayers relating to this in ANY of the liturgical books I have.

The rule about menstruating women abstaining from the Eucharist is based on a totally false understanding of the physiology of menstruation. Suffice it to say that this process is NOT bleeding, but rather the discharge of the lining of the uterus (which contains blood). The capillaries have already sealed off before this discharge starts. Otherwise the woman would bleed to death.

There was an Orthodox church I frequented once upon a time that had a pew in the back women would take turns sitting in from time to time. Certainly gave the priest something odd to try not to think about during the sermon.

FWIW, a priest cannot liturgize if he has bleeding that cannot be stopped. Of course common sense says he should go to the hospital at once in this case.

Not only the Orthodox and Latin Churches, but all the Pre-Reformation churches have special prayers for women when they resume public life after childbirth. This rite was even included in the Book of Common Prayer.

The latter.

There is a ceremony of Churching for women. Per my traditional missal, the mother goes to church with her child as soon as she is able to, kneels at the church entrance holding a it candle, and the Priest sprinkles her with holy water.

I’m not going to write out the whole liturgy, but there is an opening, antiphon and Ps 23, other prayers, and more holy water. The focus is not on cleaning as much as thanksgiving, and is done in memory of the Blessed Virgin’s Purification under the Old Covenant.

You have it in the Traditional Latin Missal?

I was a Catholic for many years, I never actually witnessed this ceremony happen in the Catholic Church in either the Traditional Latin Masses, the N.O. nor in any of the Eastern Catholic Churches.

Have you ever witnessed the actual ceremony take place in any of the Catholic Churches you have attended?

Now that I’m Orthodox, I see it quite frequently.

Although I’ve never seen it done where I live, I have heard of the Churching of Women being done in Anglican churches in Newfoundland occasionally.

hmm I kind of disagree that frequent Communion makes it less reverent. If anything, it gives us additional graces and helps to appreciate the Sacrament even more… :slight_smile:

For everyone the sacrament is efficacious. I have not been able to receive since August, and it tears me up, but I accept this as my lot in life.

I sometimes have to wait as well, for example if I haven’t been to Confession… it’s difficult :frowning:

but I really wish I could go to daily Mass.

I was going to quote a lot more in my previous post, about the way people thought and the way people lived so long ago (including modern sanitation and personal products), but decided not to discuss those things and deleted most of it. Suffice to say that today this is not as rigidly enforced, often the discipline is handled pastorally, many priests would be happy to see everyone receive communion as often as possible, and a priest in conjunction with his bishop has a lot of leeway.I recall helping at liturgy with the red cloth in my hands when this woman we all know brought her young child up (parents bring up the young ones first) for communion. The priest wanted to give her communion and she was protesting “I am not prepared … no … only my child” and while she was saying this he ‘popped’ it in her mouth! You should have seen her expression! :smiley:
I would not be surprised to see a lot of women want to adhere to these conditions. There is a certain amount of zeal that comes with faith and it can cause us to accept without question some things that the modern egalitarian world finds offensive. Abstaining, fasting and restraint can be spiritual exercises, they can strengthen us. I am not trying to defend a two thousand year old mindset, just trying to explain how people look at these things. Many of us appreciate these (sometimes odd appearing) connections with our early past.

I appreciate abstaining, fasting, restraint, and penance… and all that… I just disagree with the logic behind this particular rule. It’s not because I think it’s “offensive” or because I don’t value fasting, rules, etc… it’s because of my beliefs regarding the Eucharist

I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong

…I’m not trying to convince anyone :slight_smile:

For instance, head coverings are another area of imposition (so to say) which might be considered unfair and offensive to modern women, but today we find many young believing women eager to wear them!

I cover my head at Mass…

Traditionalist minded individuals will gladly accept a lot of conditions that others simply regard as unfair impositions.

We are not talking damnation and hellfire here. The first order of business is the salvation of our souls, and this sort of thing is a topic for a woman and her spiritual director. For the record you and I agree, and I also feel that young children should receive.

ok. Thanks :slight_smile:

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.