Orthodox America

{Part XVI of a continuing series on the Epistles of Saint Paul)

by Archbishop Averky

The eleventh chapter contains an exposť and remedy for certain improprieties in church gatherings, namely: 1) women not covering their heads in church, and 2) disorders at agape dinners. The essence of the first injunction lies in the fact that at common church gatherings women should attend with their heads covered, and men with their heads bared. St.

John Chrysostom explains this injunction by saying that in Corinth, "women with uncovered and bared heads both prayed and prophesied, while men grew their hair, like those who occupied themselves with philosophizing, and covered their heads when they prayed and prophesied, adhering in both cases to a pagan law." The holy Apostle, finding this inappropriate for Christians, requires that women cover their heads, as a sign of their submissive state in relation to the husband. Besides this, at that time pagan women would go into their temples with uncovered heads, having impure motives, and a bared head for a woman came to be considered a sign of her shamelessness. A profligate woman was punished for her profligacy by having her hair cut off. This is why the Apostle says, if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn (v. 6).

"At first the man," writes Bishop Theophan, [was created] according to God's image, and then, as though according to the image of man, from him was created woman, who "for this reason is the likeness of the likeness, a reflection of the man's glory." For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head (v. 10). "If," writes St. John Chrysostom, "you pay no attention to your husband, then you shame the angels." This covering of the woman is thereby a sign of her meekness, submissiveness and subjection to her husband. But in order that the husband not lord it over his wife and not ill-use his headship, the Apostle says further: Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man in the Lord (vv. 1-12). "Does not nature itself teach you that if the man grows his hair long that this is for him a dishonor?" Sectarians use these words to criticize Orthodox clergy, who wear long hair. But here St. Paul is speaking not about clergy but about ordinary believers and has in mind a widespread custom according to which only women grew long hair, while men cut theirs. Sectarians forget that God Himself gave an ordinance that men giving a vow to be Nazarenes had to grow their hair (Numbers 6:5). The wearing of long hair among today's Orthodox clergy and monastics comes from this same idea of Nazarenes, i.e., the dedication of oneself to God (vv. 14-16).

From verse 17 to 34 the holy Apostle denounces the disorders which took place among the Corinthians at their agape dinners. As in the first community of Christians in Jerusalem, everything was held in common, and all the faithful came together to partake of food at a common table. This custom was preserved for a long time and was kept in all the early Christian communities. At the end of the Divine Liturgy, after partaking of the Holy Mysteries, a common meal was held for everyone; the wealthy would bring food and invite the poor who had nothing. In this way everyone ate together. These were the so-called agape dinners.

The Apostle reproaches the Corinthians first of all for the divisions which arise when they come together in church (v. 18), i.e., that they are divided into factions, either according to families, or friendship, forgetting the poor, which destroys the very purpose of holding these love feasts. In calling them to a reverent participation in these feasts, the holy Apostle speaks (vv. 22-23) about the establishment of the Mystery of the Eucharist, which was usually celebrated before the agape feasts. According to the Typicon, this passage is read during the Liturgy on Great Thursday. Of particular importance to us here are the words: Wherefore, whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord (v. 27)-i.e., those desiring to partake of the Holy Mysteries must prepare by examining their conscience and shunning all that would hinder them from partaking worthily.

The Orthodox Church has for this reason established the practice of fasting and confession before reception of the Holy Mysteries. This is absolutely essential, For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body (v. 29).

In conclusion (vv. 33-34), the Apostle admonishes the Corinthians to wait for one another when they come together for the agape feasts, that they behave themselves and not fall upon the food greedily with no thought for others. And the rest will I set in order when I come (v. 34). This is important: everything comes from the Apostles-all the rules for the well-ordering of Church life are established by them, although not everything is laid out in the Holy Scripture.

The twelfth chapter speaks about the spiritual gifts in the Church. A distinctive feature of the life of the Church of Christ in apostolic times was the extraordinary manifestation of the grace of God in the form of spiritual gifts possessed by the faithful. Here the Apostle enumerates the following spiritual gifts: the gift of wisdom, knowledge, faith, wonderworking, prophecy, discernment of spirits, the gift of tongues and their interpretation. These gifts were to promote success in preaching the Gospel among unbelievers. But among the Corinthians many began looking at these blessed manifestations of the Holy Spirit as a source of personal glory and superiority. In trying to acquire a more striking gift, some fell even into delusion, and having no gift at all, acted like one possessed, uttering inarticulate sounds which no one could understand; sometimes they even darkened their mind and heart in shouting blasphemous ideas, pronouncing, for example, an anathema on Jesus Christ. Here was felt the influence of pagan prophetesses like Pythia and Sibyl. In an artificial and false ecstasy, foaming at the mouth, their hair loose, they would shout incomprehensible or ambiguous diatribes and made a strong impression on people, insistently soliciting answers from them. Certain contemporary sectarians, such as the Khlysti and Pentecostals, are like this. The Apostle warns the Christians against this pagan attitude towards spiritual gifts. He explains that all the spiritual gifts in the Church are the work of the One Spirit of God (vv. 3-11). For this reason, just as one who is under the influence of the Holy Spirit cannot utter blasphemies against God, so too there should be no rivalry between those who possess various spiritual gifts. Just as a person's body is composed of various members, and each of them has its particular function, and among them there can be no antagonism, so too in the Church there can be no rivalry among Christians, who comprise the one Body of Christ.