The Problem of “Unclean” Women and Holy Communion

Question: Explain to me, please, why women may not enter a church when they are unclean (during menstruation)? After what period of time after the completion of these days may they venerate holy things and Commune? How should one behave if during this time one finds oneself on a pilgrimage? I’ve heard that such a prohibition has not always existed, and comes from the tradition of the ancient Syrian Church. Please explain. 
Answer: In agreement with the statutes of the Divinely-reveled Old Testament religion, cleanliness (spiritual-moral and physical) is an essential requirement for approaching all things holy. Sin leads to inner uncleanliness. Physical uncleanliness in the books of Law in the Old Testament included: leprosy, purulent discharge, carnal emissions, the time of cleansing after childbirth (forty days for a boy, eighty days for a girl; Lev. 12), female bleeding (monthly and pathological), touching a decaying body (corpse). According to the religious understanding of ancient cultures, uncleanliness was not a sin, but it was genetically related with it. It is with this meaning that the holy prophets used it: Isaiah (6:5), Ezekiel (22:5), Zechariah (13:2). The word “clean” is also etymologically connected with a moral condition. It means luminous, emitting light (Job 17:9; Isaiah 50:12). The New Testament Church abolished ritual uncleanliness. The primary condition for our union with God is inner purity: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mt. 5:8). The
New Testament Church of Christ, in abolishing the Old Testament statutes of ritual purity, simultaneously preserved restrictions for women during childbirth and during menstruation. The second canon of St Dionysius of Alexandria (third century) reads: “Concerning menstruous women, whether they ought to enter the temple of God while in such a state, I think it superfluous even to put the question. For, I think, not even themselves, being faithful and pious, would dare when in this state either to approach the Holy Table or to touch the body and blood of Christ. For not even the woman with a twelve years’ issue would come into actual contact with Him, but only with the edge of His garment, to be cured. There is no objection to one’s praying no matter how he may be or to one’s remembering the Lord at any time and in any state whatever, and petitioning to receive help; but if one is not wholly clean both in soul and in body, he shall be prevented from coming up to the Holy of Holies.” 
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  1. In light of the global mission of Holy Orthodoxy in a world full of new issues and troubles, I don’t think we need to worry about antiquated rules and the lack of proper hygiene in medieval days. Nor do we worry any more about the wife having to walk five feet behind her husband, nor are we really prohibited to shop in stores and businesses owned by Jews — all of which is also in some Canons. Orthodoxy is not about following pharisaical rules, but foremost about the holy FAITH and its practice !!

    1. On the responder who thinks these are outdated… Canons are not ‘superfluous’ or out dated – they are inspired by God, and are beyond our knowledge of how they help us – men with a night emission can’t commune either, or should not! Being glib about Communion puts ourselves above the Church, which brings down wrath – see St John Chrysostom and EVERY SAINT on how we should approach Communion. No wonder the Orthodox Church in America specifically fell into such disaster with such a ‘well whatever we want!’ attitude. Even the Greeks lost 90% of their children in America to the world, sending them to WOLVES.

      Men should not commune with a nightly emission either! The Saints and Canons and Ecumenical Councils guide us, not our own sense of ‘injustice.’

      This ‘hygeine’ is just academic writing nonsense – its literally written by academics. Theologians in the Church are the Saints, those illumined by God – all knowledge comes from God, an academic who has no fear of God is no theologian.

      Return to the Church and its praxis, and lets pray for mercy!

      Thank you for the article!

  2. Our Lord Jesus Christ was teaching that the uncleaned things comes from our hearts, not from our body. We live in New Testament, not in the Ancient one. If the rules for women from the Torah should be respected, why then we do not respect the same rules for men? In Ancient Testament every person who touch the "uncleaned woman" was declared also uncleaned. So, taking into account such logic, the priest who has touched even the hand of his uncleaned wife, cannot celebrate the Liturgy and is uncleaned till the evening. The children who were kissed by their uncleaned mum are also uncleaned and cannot participate to the Holy Eucharist. And the case of an uncleaned woman who touch Jesus, she really has no right even to touch His clothes, while all the christians are cleaned by the Baptismal waters and Spirit, they cannot be uncleaned, if only they have committed any sin. Moreover, nowadays, the hygiene is at high level and it is absolutely safe to the woman to go the Church,to kiss the icons, to receive the blessing and on my opinion, she can partake the Holy Eucharist, because, as Lord has said to St. Peter, what I have cleaned, you should not think it is uncleaned. Such periods are very difficult for women in any senses and the possibility to communicate with the Lord will help them spiritually and even physically. Also, there Holy Fathers with even higher authority that st. Dionysius, I mean St. Athanasius and St Gregory the Great Pope of Rome. While St. Dionysius just forbid to the women to communicate and does not explain why, St. Athanasius explain why priests should not forbid women to communicate, because such things are natural and not sinful. Canons are not dogmas, they are rules and when the life of the Church changes, the rules should be also changed. And such rules should correspond with the Gospel and Jesus Christ teaching, while in this case, I, personally see the contradiction to the Gospel and prefer the point of view of St. Athanasius and St. Gregory.

  3. Show me where Christ said a woman who is after giving birth is
    Ignorance among the male congregation is the root of this ridiculous idea emerging from a patriarchal society,
    Was the mother of
    God impure after giving birth?
    You misrepresent Jesus and his teachings at your peril and hiding behind erroneous tradition or man made scripts will not be a defence.

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