Meta. Kallistos Ware died on August 23rd.

I wish I had sent the letter. I wish I had asked him to do one last thing before he left us, to write one last article. 

I met him a few times at academic conferences. I rarely spoke to him other than in greeting, but he remembered who I was. 

I exchanged a few sentences with him only once.

I joined the line of folks greeting him after a lecture. When I reached him, he kindly shook my hand as I introduced myself. I told him of my work in theological ethics developing a constructive argument for the ordination of women to the priesthood in the Eastern Orthodox Church. He smiled, leaned in, and very quietly said to me: 

“Metropolitan Anthony was prophetic on this,” he said. “He could be, you know, because he knew he was dying.”

I was shocked. The implication of what he had just said were crashing in my mind, and I was acutely aware of the line extending behind me. I muttered something about being aware of Metropolitan Antony’s words, thanking him for his work on the topic, and then foolishly ceded my place to the next person in line.

In the Orthodox tradition, prophets speak truth. Metr. Kallistos Ware had just admitted to me that Metr. Anthony’s comments were truth

And he also admitted that only Metr. Anthony’s impending death from cancer gave him the freedom to speak that truth. I can only assume that knowledge of his death gave him the boldness to speak out on a very controversial topic.

Metr. Anthony was one of the few Orthodox theologians to state that there is no compelling theological reason to deny female priestly ordination and that many of the arguments for the practice were simply insulting to women. 

But he never made a constructive argument for such an ordination. He died first.

Having read virtually every Orthodox argument against (and the few for) female priests I was convinced that the one living theologian that might move Orthodox thought into a more constructive direction was Metr. Kallistos Ware. His gracious presentation of Orthodoxy and his openness to change was unparalleled among Orthodox theologians. He had already written two essays, fifteen years apart, on the topic. His second essay undid every argument in the first essay, and while he did not come out for ordaining women, he was clear that the arguments against it were more Roman Catholic than Orthodox. He left the question open, and that was itself a major shift. He was respected like no other English-speaking theologian. On a topic that raised cries of “heresy!” among evangelical and Episcopal converts to Orthodoxy who were busy running away from change and towards a more historically satisfying patristic fundamentalism, I believed Kallistos Ware might be a voice a calm and careful thought, willing to deeply consider the exact kind of constructive argument I wanted to make. 

What I wanted to say, what I thought of only minutes after I left him, what I wanted to go back and tell him before he left, was this:

“Your Grace, to be prophetic is to speak God’s truth. As a bishop, your call and duty is to speak the truth of God to the Church. When will you take up Metropolitan Anthony’s mantle and speak the truth that there is no reason not to ordain women?”

I have regretted leaving that conversation too quickly ever since I had it almost two decades ago. I was a young scholar unsure of how to negotiate brief interactions with a respected theologian. I am a woman, trained to be polite, to not take up too much space and time, especially when there is a line of others waiting. To this day I wish I could have been a cocky young theo-bro unbound by decorum, theological stature, or others’ needs. To this day, I wish I had written to him, asking him to take the next step, to present even a few constructive arguments for the full participation of women according to all their gifts, and to pass his mantle on to subsequent generations who could make the arguments he could, or would not make, with his blessing.

Now, he has died. A gracious, thoughtful, articulate spokesperson for the best of Orthodoxy to an English-speaking audience has died. 

I feel like one of the last hopes for a kind and gentle Orthodoxy, for an Orthodoxy that might take seriously the gifts of its women, has died.

May our hope not die with you, Your Grace, and may your memory be eternal.

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