Tuesday Jul 28, 2020

French Orthodox Theologian Elisabeth Behr-Sigel

Generally you should run screaming in the opposite direction when someone starts talking about her dissertation, but we promise this is a good one. French Orthodox theologian Elisabeth Behr-Sigel (1907–2005) knew pretty much every important Orthodox theologian of the 20th century, pioneered Russian hagiography, co-edited a journal, was active in the ecumenical movement, and supported the possibility of the ordination of women in the Orthodox church. Wait, what? Yes—but not until she was 75! And she kept at it until her death at the age of 98. We review her atypical support for women in ministry (atypical in many ways) and draw out some larger lessons for thinking about sex and gender in light of the Christian faith today.


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1. Some useful background to this episode was already covered in our earlier episode on What Is a Person?

2. Among the books by Elisabeth Behr-Sigel, check out: The Ministry of Women in the Church, The Place of the Heart, Discerning the Signs of the Times, The Ordination of Women in the Orthodox Church (with Kallistos Ware), and Lev Gillet: A Monk of the Eastern Church.

3. Olga Lossky has written a wonderful biography of Behr-Sigel entitled Toward the Endless Day, which I reviewed here.

4. My book is entitled Woman, Women, and the Priesthood in the Trinitarian Theology of Elisabeth Behr-Sigel; there’s an interview with me about it here. I co-edited a collection of essays about Behr-Sigel entitled A Communion in Faith and Love, which includes Elisabeth Parmentier’s essay about Behr-Sigel’s education at the University of Strasbourg and one from me on “Behr-Sigel’s ‘New’ Hagiography and Its Ecumenical Potential.” I’ve more recently contributed to Women and Ordination in the Orthodox Church with the essay “Elisabeth Behr-Sigel’s Trinitarian Case for the Ordination of Women.” I created an archive of my collection of Behr-Sigel’s books and articles at the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg, France.

5. Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine (5 vols)

6. Among the other Orthodox theologians mentioned in this episode are Alexander Schmemann, Kallistos Ware, John Meyendorff, and John Behr.

7. Our friend Michael Plekon is the author of (among other things): Living Icons, Uncommon Prayer, Saints as They Really Are, The World as Sacrament, and Hidden Holiness

8. Paul Evdokimov’s main books on women are Woman and the Salvation of the World and The Sacrament of Love

9. See Dad’s essay “Whose Church? Which Ministry?” in Lutheran Forum 42/4 (Winter 2008): 48–53

10. For further detail on some of the topics discussed here, see my contribution to the Lutherjahrbuch 2017 and also the Lutheran Forum essays “The Epistle of Eutyche,” “The Face of Jesus, Part One” and “The Face of Jesus, Part Two,” and “Where Have All the Women Gone?

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