Precedent-Setting Participation by Women at the HGC

CRETE - Among the historic elements of the Holy and Great Council (HGC) that was held in Crete June 17-27 was the participation of women. 

Each delegation was permitted to send up to six consultants, and among them was Dr. Elizabeth Prodromou, Professor of Conflict Resolution and Negotiation at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and former Vice Chair of the U.S. Commission of International Religious Freedom.

“I am very humbled to have been appointed; it is a great honor to enjoy the confidence of the Mother Church,” she said. 

Prodromou was one of two women in the delegation sent by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, along with Gerontisa Theoxeni from the Chrysopigi monastery near Chania.

The Church of Albania, which is led by Archbishop Anastasios, also had a woman among its six advisors, Sister Rakela of the Monastery of the Myrrh Bearing Women in Durres.

“I was appointed by His All Holiness, Prodromou said. “In January, he had convened a meeting in Constantinople of about 30 Orthodox scholar-practitioners. We were tasked to make presentations about the HGC; our group intervention asked for a Council that would recognize the fullness of the ecclesial body, including priests and laity, which of course, would include women.”

Consultants/advisors do not speak at the Council, but there were meetings of the delegations where all their members can fully participate in open discussion.

Dr. Elizabeth Prodromou is working on a document with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on the right and Archbishop Anastasios of Albania at left. 

“That there are women here speaks to the visionary leadership of His All Holiness is…I would wager that his was a position not easily embraced by some; after all, consider that we are only three women in the entirety of all the delegations. He is a leader who expresses his commitment to recovering, sustaining, and enlivening the fullness of the ecclesial body--to put it in the vernacular, he practices what he preaches,” said Prodromou who added that the Patriarch’s inclusion of women in the delegation sends an important message about women in the life of the Church, a message for all to hear. 

And she agrees that by convening the HGC even with the regrettable absence of some Autocephalous Churches who had committed to come to the HGC, this Council sent a hopeful message that Councils at all levels of the Church must include laity, with this precedent of including women, as well. 

Prodromou was deeply moved by the way the Council was conducted. “What we have experienced these last days is the extraordinary possibilities flowing from the authenticity of the conciliar approach: the Council unfolded with free flowing, highly spirited, impassioned discussion about the Church as a living church, and as many have emphasized, as a global Church in the 21st century.”

She noted the inspiring voices of what can be understood as Orthodoxy’s mission churches--in Albania, the Americas, and Africa--who emphasized the importance of the Church as a global ecclesial body, moving beyond the terminology of "diaspora." The Church of Cyprus and the Church of Alexandria also spoke eloquently, echoing this message and mindset of globality. She noted that she heard Archbishop Demetrios’ reflections as "a compelling encapsulation of America as a microcosm of the reality of the Orthodox Church as a global church, with diversity within our unity and within a reality of enormous religious pluralism." 

“It is very important for the Church in America, the Assembly of Bishops, to be in the forefront of the issues of participation of women… in the U.S. there exist the sociological and ecclesial conditions for the full embrace of women and their role in the daily life of the Church,” she said. 

Asked about discussion regarding the female diaconate, Prodromou said this was not an issue discussed at the Council.  Nevertheless, there is now a trajectory for women to participate in future HGCs, and Prodromou emphasized "the importance of the Church in America committing to the loving, respectful, and expansive inclusion of women in the life of the Church."  She added, "we can, we must, set an example, without fear or hesitation. This is critical for the present, and especially, for the future, vitality of all of us as Church."

Prodromou said that she participates in the life of the Church "in any way that I can and, certainly, in terms of my daily life” - which she exercises in the context of family life with her husband, Professor, Dr. Alexandros Kyrou, and their young daughter Sophia – “and through my professional commitments. It’s my Orthodox conscience that informs all that I do.”

Prodromou has been very active in Washington, DC, the center of policy debates that impact the Orthodox world. After completing eight years of diplomatic service on the U.S. Commission of International Religious Freedom, then, from 2011-15 she served on the U.S. Secretary of State’s Working Group on Religion and Foreign Policy. 

She remains active on particular issues related to Christians in the Middle East and is working on a number of publications. Prodromou co-edited with Fr. Nathaniel Symeonides, Director of the Office of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations at the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, a special edition of the prestigious journal The Review of Faith and International Affairs, dedicated to Orthodox Christianity and humanitarianism – the first time an entire issue was dedicated to Orthodoxy.


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