Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Menstruation and Communion

Right, so, this is a 'girly' post. I don't *think* I have any male readers, or at least none who comment, but if I do, I expect that we can all be mature, yes? Cause if we can't and we comment, I have a delete button, and I'm not afraid to use it. I truly and completely believe that this will not be a problem, but I say this in the extreme 'just in case'. :)

I've started the next chapter in B&W, W&O, and it's on baptism. The author starts the chapter by briefly mentioning that there is a tradition in the Orthodox church of the mother being absent from church for 40 days after birth, and then there being a special ceremony for mother and child welcoming them into the church after that point. He doesn't go into any detail, really, he mentions it, very briefly, as well as 'other traditions regarding menstruation' that get misunderstood.

So, being me, I want to know what those 'other traditions' are. The 'women are more sinful than man' because of a bodily function that God designed in! thing really bugs me, so, um, yeah. I was curious. I do want to say, before I go on, that I in no way was thinking that that was the Orthodox point of view. I know better than that by this point. I'm just saying that it's a topic that interests me because of this backwards view point that I've come across before.

I also hesitated to post because I know that I don't have a grasp on Orthodox teachings on this matter, or sexuality, which is tied in. But I'm posting with the caveat that this is what I've learned in a couple of hours of reading on the internet from Orthodox websites. So anything I say should be taken with a block of salt.

The only tradition that I have come across consistently is that it is a pious tradition for women who are menstruating to refrain from taking Communion. Pious tradition, as I understand it, means that it is a good thing, with roots in the early church, but that it is not dogmatic law. Therefore, as with other things, it is a matter between the woman and her spiritual father. So some women may choose to take Communion while others may not, and both are acceptable.

So, if a woman is no more impure than a man, what's the thinking behind this?

From what I have found, the tradition actually encompasses and extends to 'nocturnal emissions', and bleeding wounds. So a man who has an emission the night before should refrain from the Eucharist, as well as any person who has a wound that is bleeding, or may start bleeding. (On one thread -here-, the question of people who were in the hospital came up, because they may have wounds and be near death, and should they be denied Communion because of that? And the answer was that there are, of course, exceptions, and impending death is clearly one of them...)

The clearest explanation of the 'no bleeding' rule that I have come across is this: 'the Eucharist unites you to Christ's body and blood; you become one with it; if you menstruate you are "losing" Christ's blood. Now before anyone starts talking about mysogeny, a priest with a cut is not supposed to celebrate liturgy, a layman with a cut is not supposed to commune, and if you get cut after communing it is a pious custom to bury or burn the bandage with the blood in it.' This was posted by Fr. Anastasios on the above thread, and other posters (including, I believe, another priest, confirmed this reasoning, as opposed to the continuation of Levitical rules of clean/unclean.

It's interesting, and to be honest, I don't have a problem with it. I think, to me, it makes a certain level of sense, though I'm not sure I can articulate the reasoning behind it at this point. Maybe it's just that I *like* the idea, though again, I couldn't tell you why.


  1. I think it probably stems from the same rules of purity/cleanliness from the Torah. It sounds like some of the same regulations.

    My professor actually talked about these yesterday (not in the Orthodox tradition, in ancient Jewish and possibly also Greek traditions), pointing out that impurity is not the same as sinfulness. You cannot participate in ritual while physically unclean, which happens (in Hebrew tradition) through a variety of things, including bleeding. The point isn't that these things are sinful, but that they belong inside the body, and when they are outside the body something's wrong. You stay away from other people and from the religious ritual because these outward impurities can touch and spread to other people. I see it as a health thing, really.

    But you can be excluded from the ritual and still not be sinful and be totally right with God, and you can take part in the ritual and be sinful in your actions. It's not that the woman (or a man who is likewise barred for physical uncleanness) is more sinful, just that right now her body is not right. Lepers weren't allowed in either, do you think that's because they were seen as sinful? It's about protecting the community.

    (I understand that doesn't mean it's the same as the Orthodox church's reason, just chiming in with what I've been learning.)

  2. Oh looks like the same as the Qur'anic rules too! People forget to mention that a man who has a wound that keeps bleeding shouldn't be praying as well :)

  3. Yeah, and on a slightly different note: if you vomit for whatever reason, shortly after taking communion, guess what you get to eat!

    (So if you at all think you might have a stomach bug, DON'T TAKE COMMUNION!)

    There was a story about St. John of San Francisco who was giving communion to a woman in the hospital with rabies. She for some reason (probably because she was very ill) spat it up, and he consumed it. Did not make him sick of course.

  4. Wow, interesting stuff and Alana's comment was yucky!

    Honestly I find it embarrassing to use my period as a reason for not taking part in things. I guess I am just not used to talking about it with others.

    "Oh, Susanne, why are you not praying today?"

    "Oh well, ya know, I'm on the rag."

    I prefer to keep those things private.

    "Oh, Man, why are you not taking communion today?"

    "Darn wet dream last night."

    Maybe I am a prude or from that prudish era in England ... was it the Victorians? Anyway, it's not my cup of tea to be broadcasting these things.

    Weird? Yeah, sure. No surprise there.


  5. Sanil,

    Yes, that's actually similar to many of the arguments I've read for this tradition. It's certainly not about sinfulness, but ritual uncleanness.

    The Orthodox seem to place a greater weight on things like this than any other denomination I've encountered.

  6. LK,

    People forget to mention the requirements for men in Islam in a lot of instances. They focus so much more on what women can and cannot do.

  7. Alana,

    That's true, I did read that, but chose to leave it out. :)

    It's also true in the Catholic church as well...

  8. Susanne,

    It's true in the Catholic church as well, in re: Alana's comment. The Eucharist must be consumed, where it's been spit back out by an ill patient, thrown up, dropped, etc.

    It's the Body of Christ, are we supposed to just throw Him into the trash? I certainly would never be able to do that.

    That's why we're so careful with the Body and Blood. They're God, and any disrespect or insult is's horrifically unthinkable...

    *grin* Well, Susanne, no one is going to *ask* you those questions. And even if, for some insane reason they did, you don't have to *tell* them.

    While I personally don't go around announcing the ins and outs of my reproductive cycles to the world, I find no shame in it, and I have had occasion where I was asked to/invited to do things that I didn't feel up to because of my period. I didn't tell them it was my period, I just said that I wasn't feeling well, or I wasn't interested. And it gets left at that. :)

  9. "I didn't tell them it was my period, I just said that I wasn't feeling well, or I wasn't interested. And it gets left at that. :)"

    Hehehe...yes, I know what you mean. I was being a bit dramatic, but here's how I see it in Islam. You cannot pray/salat (I think) when you are having your period, right? Can you even go to the mosque? I just kind of find it weird once a month to be skipping prayers and worship because of that. I guess I should get over the shame factor and be more like you. *sigh* You'd think I'd be grown up about this by now, huh? *sigh*

    Maybe it's because I had a brother right after me and we would pretend to be BROTHERS. I didn't want to grow up that way and have an icky old period! And certainly I didn't want to announce it: "Hey, everyone, Aunt Flo's in town so I'm not going to be participating in worship or going to church this week."

    Like I said earlier...prude.


  10. You can go to the mosque, you just sit on the side and watch. Its so common no one notices. It happens to all of a us once a month, no reason to be embarassed. And you would never be sitting on the side alone lol

  11. Susanne,

    It is my understanding that you can attend the mosque, you just can't perform salat. So you sit to one side and listen to the khutbah. You're also not allowed to touch a Qur'an.

    What irritates me about this is Islam is that it's called 'the deficiency of their religion' that they are forbidden to pray or fast during their period. So, God designed the reproductive system this way, then told them they weren't to do certain things at that time, then called them 'deficient' for being the way He made them?

    Eh. It's engrained in us to be ashamed of our periods. I think it stems from the erroneous belief that it's a 'womans curse', that whole Original Sin is all Eve's fault thing...

  12. Sooo.... having discovered this about mensturation and taking communion - has it changed whatever you did before you found this out.. indeed has it changed how you think about this topic.

    But you are right it IS a truly fascinating topic and we could have discussions for months....

    thank you for being brave and sharing. hugs xx

  13. Yeah, the deficiency of religion thing IS irritating....agreed!

    "It's engrained in us to be ashamed of our periods. I think it stems from the erroneous belief that it's a 'womans curse', that whole Original Sin is all Eve's fault thing..."

    Honestly, I've never been made to feel that way - like it was shameful or that Original Sin was all Eve's fault. If you read the NT, you get more of an impression that ADAM was held accountable for that. (E.g. Romans 5:12-20 where it shares that through ADAM death and punishment came.) No one ever made me feel inferior because I'm a female and, FOR SHAME, the woman first sinned! I swear, it's not that AT ALL! :)

    Rather, it's something much sillier. I guess I never wanted to grow up. I was a *brother* to my brother (in our pretend world) and always my dad's little girl. Why would I want to ruin it all by having some icky bloody thing happen every month? So see? It's just a psychological thing for me...nothing where I was made to feel ashamed by anyone. I promise. I just for some reason found it all icky-sounding from the beginning and wanted to stay young and never have that happen to me.

    But, alas, we must all grow up.


    Btw, thanks for explaining speed dating the other day. Sounds interesting. I've been mulling over whether I'd like that sort of thing. Not that I'm in the market for dating any more. Hehehehe.

  14. Ahavah,

    Yes, actually, it has. It's a practice that makes sense to me, and I've decided to adopt it.

    I wouldn't say it's changed the way I think about it so much as added a new dimension to it. :)

  15. Susanne,

    *Very* annoying. It could have been left at that, a mercy from God kind of thing, but no. 'Deficient' had to get chucked in there.

    Heh. While it may not have been your thinking, it is many peoples. They're *wrong*, but I know a lot of people who think that way.

  16. Good I am glad your research is making an impact in your life.

    I would like to throw something else for you to consider...

    How precious is the blood you lose each month?

  17. 'How precious is the blood you lose each month?'

    My first thought was, 'in what context?'

    But that was followed up by the realization that I don't consider it precious in any way. It's just dead blood, a by-product of the design of the human system. I dispose of it like I do bloody bandages.

  18. mensturation is a cycle about 25 days long.. so i am not sure how that ties into being impure and rituals? I am really trying to understand this? In church you cannot have communion if you are on your persiod.. when exactly? when i am physically bleeding or when the cycle starts hence leaving me with 5 days of "purity" during the entire month??? r u saying that I am "impure" for 25 days of the month?? or the fact that there is blood than that makes me dirty??? soo if i get a cut and bleed that equals to me being "impure"? or does the blood have to come out of my female organs?? I really dont mean to be rude or sarcastic.. im just wondering, since this makes no sense to me and no one can answer me?? i dont think God would make me go through all this pain everymonth and then say.. "aaahhh sorry lady! i made u bleed hence ur not clean hence go play in the dirt till ur 5 "pure" days are up!"??????? CANNNNN ANYONEEE HEEELLLPPPPPPPPPPP.. thank you =)

  19. Anon,

    The tradition means only when you are actively bleeding - by which I mean, blood is leaving your body. So, the one week a month that you bleed, if you happen to be bleeding on a Sunday, you're not to receive the Eucharist.

    I'm including this quote I used in the original post for a short explanation of the why: 'the Eucharist unites you to Christ's body and blood; you become one with it; if you menstruate you are "losing" Christ's blood. Now before anyone starts talking about mysogeny, a priest with a cut is not supposed to celebrate liturgy, a layman with a cut is not supposed to commune, and if you get cut after communing it is a pious custom to bury or burn the bandage with the blood in it.'

    It's not just women, but anyone who is bleeding. There are, of course, other things that would make one ritually impure (which is not the same at all as one being sinfully impure), a few of which were mentioned in the previous comments.

    But, at the end of the day, it's a decision that must be between the communicant and their spiritual father.

  20. Amber,

    "bleeding" is a monthly process, it is not like cutting one self by accident. It is a cycle and process of the female body. It should not be titled "impure". this is not a negative or something one should be ashamed of like how it is taught in church and mosques. Women should not feel impure or less worthy because they are bleeding due to their period! this is what makes women second class.. that is belittling and demeaning. I do not believe that bc i am bleeding due to my period i should not unite with god and have the same relationship i am striving to build with God! There is no reason one should be ashamed of it.. it is a natural process that leads to life.. i dont understand how can anyone label it impure at any stage?

  21. Anon,

    Ritual impurity is a concept that exists in every religion that I've ever studied. The rules may be different, but they are there. It's not a condemnation of the 'impure' one as sinful or less, it's rather a reflection of the extreme holiness of the action that they are asked to refrain from.

    I, as a woman, do not feel evil or wrong when I have my period. I don't know anyone who does. It is a biological function, without which we could not reproduce. As such, it's a good thing. Women are elevated because of their ability to give birth - set apart as sacred, to a certain degree. I don't feel that this tradition is belittling or demeaning at all. I know that, if, biologically, a man had a flow of blood or some other bodily fluid once a month, he too would be asked to refrain from receiving because of his ritual uncleanliness. I know this because the tradition is for them to refrain if they have nocturnal emissions, which are an unconscious reaction. They can't help it anymore than a woman can her period, and yet they're still asked to refrain because they're ritually impure.

    I have a question: Do you believe that the Eucharist really is the Body and Blood of Christ? Do you believe in the Real Presence, or is it merely symbolic for you?

    Because I do, and I take to heart the warnings of St. Paul that to receive unworthily is to our condemnation. That is why there are rules regulating who is allowed to receive and those who are asked to refrain. Less than the issue of menstruation, we are required to fast. We are required to have confessed our sins and been absolved. There is a process and a preparation, a 'course' of prayers, one must undergo before one is ready to meet God is this way.


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