Monday, May 9, 2016

Theotokos side. Christ side.

From the blog Orthodox Christian Meets World a post entitled "The Early Church Tradition of Separate Seating: Ancient Practice, Not a Cultural Anomaly." It's a few years old, but was just brought to my attention yesterday. Gender-based arrangement of people in the nave is not a topic that comes up too often. Most of our parishes in the US don't follow this practice, though some do. I remember going to a monastery with some fellow seminarians and having one of our number asked to move over to the other side because "You're on the ladies side." It was more amusing than embarrassing. Once called to your attention it's really not easy to forget as the Church even gives us handy signage - Theotokos side, and Christ side. So it was with interest that I read this article from a Coptic gentleman on the topic. Enjoy.

I will let St. Cyril of Jerusalem (c. AD 313–386) start this blog post off with what he taught people who were considering joining the Church:

Let men be with men, and women with women. For now I need the example of Noah’s ark, in which were Noah and his sons, and his wife and his sons’ wives. For though the ark was one, and the door was shut, yet things had been suitably arranged. If the Church is shut, and you are all inside, yet let there be a separation, men with men, and women with women, lest the pretext of salvation become an occasion of destruction. Even if there be a fair pretext for sitting near each other, let passions be put away. (Protocatechesis, 14, NPNF 2:7)

St. Augustine (c. AD 354–430) described the chastity displayed in the churches of his time, and used the separate seating of men and women as an example:

[See] the masses flock to the churches and their chaste acts of worship, where a seemly separation of the sexes is observed; where they learn how they may so spend this earthly life, as to merit a blessed eternity hereafter; where Holy Scripture and instruction in righteousness are proclaimed from a raised platform in presence of all, that both they who do the word may hear to their salvation, and they who do it not may hear to judgment. And though some enter who scoff at such precepts, all their petulance is either quenched by a sudden change, or is restrained through fear or shame. For no filthy and wicked action is there set forth to be gazed at or to be imitated; but either the precepts of the true God are recommended, His miracles narrated, His gifts praised, or His benefits implored. (City of God and Christian Doctrine, Chapter 28, NPNF 1:2)

Some see this practice of separate seating as a cultural matter with no place in the Church today and lump it together with other cultural elements within different Orthodox jurisdictions that they believe should be done away with, in the spirit of accommodating for modern culture and keep from “turning off” newcomers.

The practice of separate seating has nothing to do with culture and has everything to do with maintaining a practice that has been around since even before the early Church, irrespective of culture, meant to inhibit the natural tendency to be distracted around members of the opposite sex, so as to preserve modesty and attention during worship...

Complete article here.

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