Orthodox Women as Theologians, Liturgists, and Homilists

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This is our fourth and final week of celebrating Women’s History Month by highlighting the roles that women are already doing in the Church — roles that we tend to assume only men are allowed to fulfill. Last week we looked at women in leadership roles at church organizations. This week we’ll talk about women who act as theologians, liturgists, and homilists.

Let’s start with theologians. In the academic setting, theologians hold terminal degrees, normally doctorates, in their subjects. They hold positions in secular universities as well as in virtually every Orthodox Seminary. An incomplete list of theologians who are women includes: Dr. Donna Rizk Asdourian (pictured), Dr. Beth Dunlop (St. Herman’s), Dr. Mary Ford (St. Tikhon’s), Dr. Carrie Frederick Frost (Western Washington University and St. Sophia Seminary), Dr. Nina Glibetić (Notre Dame), Dr. Susan Ashbrook Harvey (Brown University), Sister Dr. Vassa Larin, Dr. Despina Prassas (Providence College), Ashley Purpura (Purdue University), Dr. Teva Regule (MIT), Dr. Sarah Roumas (Notre Dame), Dr. Vera Shevzov (Smith College), Dr. Eve Tibbs (Fuller Theological Seminary), and Dr. Gayle Woloschak (Northwestern). 


Among church historians are Dr. Stamenka Antonova (Missional University), Dr. Evgenia Constantinou (University of San Diego), Dr. Mary Farag (Princeton Theological Seminary), Nadia Kizenko (State University of New York, Albany) (pictured),  Dr. Caren Stayer (Strayer University), and Dr. Helen Creticos Theodoropoulos (St. Sava School of Theology). 

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Art historians include Dr. Christina Maranci (Tufts University) (pictured), Dr. Bissera Pentcheva (Stanford University), and Dr. Rossitza Schroeder (St. Vladimir’s Seminary).

Academics focusing on religious education include Dr. Ann Mitsakos Beszzerides (Holy Cross Seminary) and Dr. Jenny Haddad Mosher (Holy Cross Seminary). 

Bioethics is also a field growing in importance these days, and its best known Orthodox practitioner is Dr. Gayle Woloschak (see above).

Liturgists (writers/compilers of prayers, hymns, and services). These are hard to trace, as prayers rarely have names attached. The Byzantine-era nun Kassiani, who wrote some fifty hymns that get used in the Greek liturgy, is an obvious exception--and if you are curious to know what they sound like, Cappella Romana has recently released an album called Hymns of Kassiani, featuring her works for the Nativity and Lent. A more recent example of an Orthodox woman creating hymns and services is Dr. Carla Thomas (pictured), who wrote the Canon of Racial Reconciliation which many of us prayed often in the summer of 2020 and beyond, as well as an Akathist for Healing.

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Homilists. Homilists are people who have received a formal blessing to deliver sermons during church services. If this is something that you feel called to do, you’ll have an easier time asking your priest for his blessing if you have a seminary degree, but it’s not strictly necessary. As you may know, I have no theological background but I was surprised to be invited to give a sermon at parishes in Vermont and Montreal. Women giving sermons is far more common for laity in some jurisdictions than others: our lay Indian seminary graduates seem to receive more requests to give homilies than—say—lay OCA or Greek seminary graduates do.

If you’ve never heard an Orthodox woman preach, it’s time! Head over to the Orthodox Scholars Preach series and you can hear a number of women homilists, including Donna Rizk Asdourian, Lori Branch, Evgenia Constantinou, Nina Glibetić, Sister Vassa Larin, Kyra Limberakis, Ashley Purpura, Teva Regule (pictured), Helen Creticos Theodoropoulos, and Gayle Woloschak.

And that brings us to the end of our Women’s History Month series. Women play many other roles in the Church, including chief financial officers and treasurers; musicians, choir directors, and singers; iconographers, embroiderers, and ecclesiastical tailors; writers, editors, podcasters, and translators; and catalysts and founders of Orthodox parishes and parachurch organizations; to name only a few–and you’ll find many others in our Woman of the Week series. What roles would you add to this list?