|Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries||Orthodox Practices|
MENSTRUATION AND CHURCH
By Fr. Panagiotis Vardouniotis
Many Christians – especially Christian women – are ecclesiastically concerned about the matter of menstruation. And their queries are various:
Can women (during their menstrual period) enter the church? Can they venerate the icons? Can they receive the Antidoron? Can they participate in divine worship? Can they go to confession and receive the Body and Blood of Christ? We shall attempt to shed light on this topic, from within the Canons of the Church and the teachings of the holy Apostles and Fathers.
Let us firstly take a look at the 2nd Canon by Saint Dionysios of Alexandria, which is the only Canon that focuses specifically on the matter and is also included in the “Pedalion” (The Rudder).
It says in the Pedalion: “Being questioned as to whether women during their menstrual period can enter the temple of God, the saint replied that there was no need for that question to be posed at all, because if those women possess the appropriate piety for divine things, they will of their own accord not dare to approach the Holy Altar and receive the Body and Blood of Christ while still in the state of menstruation. Because they should bring to mind that hemorrhaging woman in the Gospel, who, out of excessive piety did not dare to touch Christ’s body (to be healed) and touched only the hem of His garment. They can, however, either pray at home, or when they are in the Narthex (vestibule) of the Temple beseeching God, asking for help and salvation from Him. One is, however, hindered from approaching the Holy of Holies – that is, the partaking of the Body and the Blood of Christ – if that person is unclean in soul and in body, just as unclean in body is the woman who is in the state of menstruation”. (Pedalion, p.445-446).
Let us see what Saint Dionysios says, in order to understand what the spirit – not the verbatim wording – of the Canon says. The first thing that we all can understand is that this Canon tells us that women who are in their monthly period cannot partake of the Body and the Blood of Christ – because of a personal sense of piety (the word piety is repeated twice) and NOT because of sin or spiritual uncleanliness.
Menstruation is a natural state of cleansing in a woman’s body; thus, being a natural state, it is not an evil thing per se. The Apostolic Commands in the 6th book state:
“Neither sexual intercourse within a legal marriage, nor the (post-natal) state of puerperium, or the woman’s flow of blood, or the man’s involuntary ejaculation during sleep can defile human nature or isolate it from the Grace of the Holy Spirit, except only impiety and an illicit act”.
In his work “Regarding incarnation”, Saint Athanasius writes: “For He did not come to remove nature, but to correct predisposition.”
The Son did not become incarnate in order to abolish human nature – which is not responsible for the Fall – but was incarnated in order to repair man's free will, since that was responsible for the Fall into sin.
In his work “Precise edition of the Orthodox Faith”, Saint John of Damascus writes:
“So, then, God created man as a sinless nature and a self-governing will. I consider him sinless, not because he is not susceptible to sin (only the divine is not susceptible to sin), but because the inclination towards sin is not in his nature, whereas he does have it naturally, in his predisposition – in his free will”.
In his work, where he makes reference to menstruation, the blessed Chrysostom says:
These things are not an actual sin, nor uncleanness”.
Saint Theodoretus writes:
“Nor are the things that occur in a natural manner unclean”.
Saint Diodorus also says:
“Nothing is unclean, except a wicked disposition”.
To the Apostles and the Fathers it is absolutely clear that sin and spiritual uncleanness pertain to one’s predisposition and not his nature. Thus the menstrual bleeding, which is a natural function of the woman's body, is neither a sin, nor something dirty. It is (probably excessively) referred to as bodily waste, when compared to other natural secretions such as nose mucus, ear wax, gummy eyes, spittle, urine and feces. Thus - solely as her own pious gesture - a menstruating woman will not partake of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. For example, one does not go and receive Holy Communion with a runny nose; he must previously have cleaned that part of his body, around his nose and mouth, before approaching the holy Chalice; likewise, a menstruating woman will wait until she no longer has any menstrual flow before approaching to receive the Body and the Blood of Christ. Unless there is a serious illness and danger of death, in which case she will receive Holy Communion albeit menstruating, as Saint Nicodemus elaborates in the footnotes of Saint Dionysios’ Canon.
There is a sentence in this Canon of Saint Dionysios, which has caused
confusion to many. Says
The words ‘Narthex of the Temple’ causes many to believe that women who are menstruating cannot enter the Nave and participate in divine worship. Let us examine the meaning of ‘praying in the Narthex’. In Saint Dionysios’ time – 3rd century AD – common worship is mentioned only in relation to the congregating of the faithful, that is, the function of the Divine Liturgy. The Divine Liturgy is divided into 2 parts. First is the theological part, which begins with the reciting of the words ‘Blessed is the kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” and ends with the reading from the Gospel and the sermon on the divine words. (The place of the sermon is directly after the reading of the Gospel). Following the sermon, the Deacon announces: ‘Go forth, all those who are being catechized; let the catechized ones go forth; let there be no-one of the catechized. To those who are faithful, let us all pray to the Lord, again and again’.”
In other words, the Deacon instructs those present as follows: “Those who are in the ranks of the catechized – the unbaptized, that is – should depart from the Nave and go back to the Narthex; no unbaptized person can remain in the Nave and participate in the second part of the Divine Liturgy and receive the Body and the Blood of Christ.”
After all of the unbaptized have departed from the Nave, the Deacon says: “So, now that we who have remained are the baptized ones, let us pray to the Lord, over and over….”
Then he says: “The doors! The doors! Let us be wisely attentive!” The interpretation of the tangible aspect of this statement is: “Close the doors well, so that none of those who is not permitted can enter the second part of the Divine Liturgy”, while the interpretation of the spiritual aspect is: “Let us close the doors of the senses and perform the bloodless worship within our hearts “.
Now - along with the unbaptized - those who also had to leave the Nave and stand in the Narthex were the baptized ones who had fallen into sins that were prohibitive to the communing of the Body and Blood of Christ. These were the ranks of the “weeping supplicants” because they would beseech God with tears, and there were those who remained for the Divine Liturgy, in order to pray for them, that God may forgive them.
It is at this point that the second part of the Divine Liturgy begins: the theurgic part, in which everyone who remains in the Nave can participate in the Holy Communion. Only those who were going to receive Holy Communion could stay for the Divine Liturgy.
Now we can understand why Saint Dionysios mentions that menstruating women can pray – in the Narthex. It is because those women did not intend to receive Holy Communion and therefore had no reason to remain in the Nave during the theurgic part of the Divine Liturgy.
As stipulated in the 9th Apostolic Canon, only those who are going to receive Holy Communion can stay inside the Nave for the Divine Liturgy – in fact, the specific Canon actually EXCOMMUNICATES any faithful (who is not otherwise barred), if that person DOES NOT stay for the Divine Liturgy and commune the Holy Mysteries!
In conclusion, we could say that the woman who is in her menstrual phase can participate in all other ecclesiastic matters, except in the partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, given that Saint Dionysios is very clear about this:
“…if those women possess the appropriate piety for divine matters, they will, of their own accord, not dare to approach the Holy Altar and receive the Body and Blood of Christ while still in the state of menstruation. Because they should bring to mind that hemorrhaging woman in the Gospel, who, out of excessive piety did not dare to touch Christ’s body (to be healed) and touched only the hem of His garment..” - NOT because those women are spiritually unworthy, but out of conscientious piety.
Because even Saint Dionysios notes at the end of the Canon that no-one – man or woman – can participate in the communion of Christ’s Body and Blood, if they are unclean in soul or in body….
Translation by A.N.
Article created: 08-06-2018.
Updated on: 08-06-2018.