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On Christian Femininity

by Robyn Riley

No path is as fraught with as much deception, trickery, and artifice in modern times as that of the path to womanhood. From all angles and the early stages of childhood, women are ambushed with ideas about the best way to be who they are and more importantly what they are not. Messages of how they should think about femininity, sexuality, love, marriage, motherhood, spirituality, and vocation are all dominated by secular voices most often coming from pop feminism.

         Women scoff at the thought of seeking biblical wisdom or God’s guidance in their journey to adulthood and yet still wonder why they are so miserable. Modern women are never satiated in their continuous pleasure-seeking and are usually left feeling empty inside though surrounded by material wealth.

The issues facing secular womanhood.

         Humility is a seldom considered virtue in modern times, even less so by secular women. Everything in our culture directs women towards a cult of pride, materialism, and vanity. Narcissistic tendencies are celebrated in “Girl Boss” culture and are encouraged over self-sacrifice and charity. Social media exacerbates this fact by encouraging women to feel that the greatest thing they have to offer to others is merely images of themselves, filtered and edited to perfection.

         The normalization of female sexuality has been seen as a currency that has encouraged women to sell their bodies online as soon as they’re legally permitted to do so. They offer debased digital fragments of themselves to thousands of anonymous men for a living rather than devoting their lives to one man of honor, and they are applauded for doing so. Indeed women receive more attention, validation, and in some cases more wealth this way but it is all fleeting. Dreams and success are therefore built upon sand.

         Feminism reigns supreme in the secular world and elicits another form of pride pertaining to women’s ability to live and even become mothers independently from men. At great cost to individual women who attempt it, the infrastructure exists to support such a delusion. It can be artificially achieved through working a minimum of 40 hours a week, paying for a sperm donor, IVF, a nanny, and daycare. Those who would rather the focus be perpetually themselves can simply “rescue” a cat or dog.

         Sobriety of mind is one of the most important factors of living a spiritual life. Yet many women are sucked into the new age religion of self-worship where many are regularly engaging in ritual veneration of pagan and Hindu deities in the form of yoga and live under the constant influence of marijuana. Ironically we see a lot of these specific forms of delusion popping up in holistic health communities.

         This culture inevitably results in the suffering of many women because even though on the surface we can make it appear as if they are living happy fulfilled lives, most have absolutely no purpose beyond their own pleasure-seeking and suffering avoidance. More women than ever rely on SSRIs to cope with crippling mental illness, no doubt at least in part from lifestyle choices and toxic beliefs they harbor within.

         Rather than address the cause and root of this crisis among women, we see intense efforts to simply normalize despair, to dress up pain in comedy and quirky self-deprecation. Women have been made into clowns and caricatures of themselves, embracing their failure as some kind of trophy. Personalities such as Lena Dunham and Amy Schumer and their work reaffirm this new archetype rooted in failed, or rejection of, traditional femininity. It has become the all too common model for a new kind of vileness in women’s shameless displaying of non-compliance with natural womanhood.

What is Biblical/Orthodox Christian womanhood? 

         I hesitate to dictate too firmly from my own perspective on what it means to be a good Christian woman. I fail at being so every day, I am after all human, broken and flawed before God’s eyes. I have been a Christian all my life, but only Orthodox for about a year. I am an infant in my understanding and practical implementation of what it means to embody right Christian womanhood and I encourage you to approach any woman who speaks with a sense of authority on the matter with extreme caution. 

         While my own personal experience is lacking, as I still have so much to learn and unlearn in my own journey of walking with God as an Orthodox wife and mother, scripture is clear about what God intended womanhood to be.

Motherhood as a form of Asceticism

         Embracing motherhood with a joyful heart is one of the most challenging and transformative things a woman can do. As mothers, every moment of every day is considered in relation to our children. We are no longer individuals, there is an extension of our hearts and selves out in the world and under our care. We sacrifice sleep, spare time, our hobbies, often even the food on our plates for our little ones. It is a constant practice in subverting our own will for the good of another person.

         There are a lot of toxic beliefs and coping mechanisms floating around modern mom culture. From making excuses about being lazy with housework, putting no effort into cooking nutritious meals for our children, the normalization of alcoholism, and even making social media posts expressing how you are still a good mom even if you have a kind of disdain and resentment towards your children. I suspect this is mostly because this community never considers that it is God that they can rely on to help them through the often tedious and trying aspects of motherhood.

“God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns.”

Psalm 46:5

         I’m not saying that motherhood will be easy if you rely on God, it’s going to be hard regardless. What I am saying is that with God by our side even the most difficult days can be accented with gratitude, love, and patience. God doesn’t give burdens and challenges in our lives as a form of punishment. These are opportunities to turn towards God himself for help rather than worldly comforts. God will always be here for us when we need him. Motherhood is a pathway to realizing and experiencing this on a daily basis. 

          In the same way that a monk or nun denies themselves for their own salvation and in their charity the salvation of others, Christian mothers also deprive themselves of much and still find great meaning and joy in the process along the way. In this way, a Christian approach to motherhood can be seen as a form of asceticism, and among the highest callings a woman can answer.

Icon of the Mother of God the “Milkgiver”

Serving one’s family and/or community as a vocation. 

         Christian women are often seen as having to be mothers in order to be embodying womanhood correctly, but this is not always the case. Many Christian saints lived chaste lives and still were more than adequate representations of Orthodox womanhood.

“She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy.”

Proverbs 31:20-21

         Christian women must be willing to be charitable to those in her community and life who are in need. They must do such works for the well-being and salvation of others without expecting anything in return. Charity for the sole purpose of getting oneself in God’s good books makes charitable works ultimately self-serving. God gave women a nurturing and life-giving nature that can be fully expressed through acts of charity to both the stranger as well as to one’s family.

         Furthermore one of the most contentious aspects of the service of Christian womanhood pertains to the service to one’s husband. We know that Eve was created as Adam’s helper. This has been taken out of context to mean that Eve was Adam’s slave or indentured servant. On the contrary is it the complementary roles played by both sexes in cooperation with one another which allows for both men and women to fulfill their natural God-given roles adequately. 

“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word.”

Ephesians 5:22-33

         It is of the utmost importance that women see their husbands as instruments of their salvation and vice versa. God gave us the sacrament of marriage as a gift that allows us to attain eternal life through service to and love of another person. Both husband and wife have their duties to one another and there is great honor in fulfilling them.

         In practical terms when we try to serve our husbands we must consider that different kinds of husbands will need different things to feel loved and supported. Some husbands fully appreciate having a hot meal prepared for them consistently when they get home from work, others simply need to hear words of encouragement and appreciation regularly and some men really just need time alone to feel that they are being supported. 

         Rather than making demands of our husbands, why not entrust him with tasks that better help him lead the family? As women, we can sometimes feel that we know the best way to do things and it can be very difficult to trust in our husbands to not only do things their way but to do them correctly.

         When we build that trust in our husbands by letting go of the need to control family matters we offer our husbands the opportunity to grow in their Christian role as family leaders. In so doing we grow in humility and our trust in God’s will for us.

St. Gorgonia: declared by her brother, St. Gregory the Theologian, to be, “The Paragon of Women” and “The Diamond of Her Sex”

Seeking and Glorifying God through all things. 

         One of the most challenging things about pursuing Christian womanhood in today’s world is practicing humility and learning to be grateful for all things the Lord has offered and withheld from us. Women are taught to have an enormous sense of entitlement from very early on in their lives. Women have incredibly high standards and expectations of the world around them and generally believe they should receive all the comforts and luxuries life has to offer merely for existing. This ensures a kind of extended adolescence and perpetual postponing of emotional maturation resulting in women never really knowing how to accept denial or being told no.

         Christian womanhood takes the exact opposite approach to navigating life’s triumphs and disappointments. We must be careful to not let success go to our head, nor let failure create a sense of self-pity. When God gives, and withholds, the things we desire greatly in our hearts we must be willing to accept these things with the response of gratitude and humility always. 

         Subverting our own will for the will of our Creator is a constant practice. If God sees it right to withhold something from us, trust that it is good. If he gives, thank him sincerely. This doesn’t mean that we ought to carry out our lives with indifference and lack of direction, it means that we should work towards what we want with a constant surrender to God’s plan over our own. Being able to do this subverts the often neurotic and depressive tendencies women can indulge in at times. It allows us to express great emotions with dignity and feminine grace.

“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time”

1 Peter 5:6

         Our endlessly vain and narcissistic beauty culture on social media distracts many women from the feminine beauty within ourselves. We can easily become too focused on outward beauty due to the reality that merely being physically beautiful can afford women a great deal of wealth and luxury. While it is not a sin to take care of one’s appearance and to enjoy looking good we must be careful that we do not let our fixation with our appearance distracts us from God.

         We must work at least as hard adorning our spirits with qualities that are pleasing to God as we do with adorning our physical bodies. A kind heart and a gentle spirit are more beautiful in the eyes of God than any physical quality.

“Do not let your adorning be external — the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear — but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.”

1 Peter 3:3-4

Wisdom from my Matushka

         The cultural pressure to prove that you are more than “just a woman” is pervasive in our culture thanks to feminism. Women are pressured to be career-driven, financially independent, fashionable, worldly, highly educated, etc. Women have been told from a very young age that the “patriarchy” prevents them from doing what men can do. They then spend their whole lives trying to prove that they can do what men can do, sacrificing many aspects of womanhood they deeply long for in the process. As my Matushka once said, “Just be women!” We were designed to be nurturers and mothers and that’s enough! Our roles as a strong, grounding, organizing, and solidifying force for the family and community are essential for the health of children and wider society. 

         Orthodox women don’t feel a need to perform or prove that they are something more than they are. They celebrate and embrace who God made them to be. My Matushka taught me that Orthodox women are wholly, authentically themselves and they do not apologize for it. We know we are powerful, necessary, and strong in the roles and responsibilities God has given us and that our blossoming can best be achieved there. This doesn’t mean that we can’t change a lightbulb or do hard work, on the contrary, it means that we do hard work as women. We are comfortable in our own skin. We are happy and grateful to be women and do our work the way only women can.

         Christ took on human form and suffered human death for us, it is important then, that Christian women constantly be asking themselves, “What are we taking on for Christ?” Is it the challenges of raising Christian children who love God also? Is it supporting the husbands, fathers, and brothers God has given to us? Is it service to one’s community and disciplined obedience to God’s word? However we as unique and individual women are destined to fulfill God’s will, we must carry our cross with love, humility, and gratitude just as He did for us.

Robyn Riley is an Orthodox Christian, SAHM, and Homemaker. She is also a digital media creator focusing on political commentary, the challenges of motherhood, marriage, and developing one’s femininity. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Film Theory and Mass Communication with a concentration on Media and Identity. Her main mediums for commentary are YouTube live-streams and the written word. She speaks to the ever more common experience of de-programing from the radical feminist mindset and has a dedication to seeking the truth wherever it leads her. She is a voice for those women who feel alienated by an increasingly ideological view about what womanhood is.