NOTE: According to the Canons and, as taught in Elder Ephraim’s monasteries, a menstruating woman is not to touch holy things. This means, a woman on her menstrual cycle is not allowed to:
- Receive Holy Communion.
- Take Antidoron.
- Venerate relics or icons.
- Cannot be baptized “until purified.”
- Cannot suckle her newborn baby but must give it to someone else.
- Cannot have sexual intercourse; the Fathers teach that a woman who conceives during menstruation “gives birth to defectives”
There are various penances meted out when women sin in one of the above ways. The husband is also penalized in certain cases.
Maria-Fotini Kapsalis relays the experience of many a young girl born and raised in the Orthodox tradition and her first encounter with the canonical inheritance of the church. She writes,
…puberty marks the time when our mothers not only set us down to discuss with us the facts of life …, but also marks the time when our mothers expose us to the tradition [via the canonical inheritance of the church] of “ritual impurity” and the teachings of
“uncleanness.” …For some girls, this is calmly accepted as a fact of womanhood. For most, it becomes an obstacle to spiritual growth, causing distain for church practices which to the present day educated women do not make sense.”
The following article is taken from St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite’s The Rudder, which is one of the guides used by hierarchs and father-confessors in the Greek Orthodox Church.
DEACONNESSES BANNED FROM THE BEMA BY THE FATHERS DUE TO MENSTRUATION
…Though it is true that Balsamon says, in reply to Question 35 of Marcus of Alexandria, that Deaconesses enjoyed a rank in the Bema (or Sanctuary), but that the complications due to menstruation dispossessed them of their rank and removed their service from the Bema, yet he himself again in the same reply says that in Constantinople deaconesses are ordained who have no share or privilege in the Bema, but who perform many ecclesiastical services and help to correct women ecclesiastically… Blastaris, however, adds of his own accord that they were later forbidden by the Fathers to enter the Bema or to perform any such services due to the unfortunate event of menstruation as Balsamon stated further above… (pp. 497, 498)
[Note: In Elder Ephraim’s monasteries, nuns who are menstruating are forbidden to venerate icons, take antidoron or partake of any Sacraments. If a nun is an ekklesiastiko, she changes diakonimata when her cycle starts as she is forbidden to touch holy things and thus cannot clean the Church icons, touch or change the kandylia, etc., nor go into the altar to clean. This is why many times nuns who have reached menopause are preferred for ecclesiastical duties: there is no chance for an “accident” or “sacrilege” while performing her duties.]
CANON II OF DIONYSIOS, BISHOP OF ALEXANDRIA (3rd Century)
Concerning menstrual 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 opine, not even they 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.
When asked about this too, as to whether women in their mense1 ought to enter the temple of God, the Saint replied that there is no need of asking the question, since if the women themselves have a proper reverence for things divine, they will be inhibited by it from daring ever to approach the Holy Table and to partake of the Lord’s Body and Blood when they are in such a state of their menstrual affairs. For they can recall that woman who had an issue of blood and who on account of the flux of her blood did not dare, because of her great reverence, to touch the body of Christ, but only the hem of His garment. None of them is forbidden to pray, whatever be her predicament (whether she be at home or in the promos of the church), by imploring God and asking Him for help and salvation.
One is forbidden, however, to go near the Holy of Holies, which is the same as saying to partake of the holy portions (i.e., the Eucharistic species) when he is not clean in soul and body, like women who are taken with their menses. (pp. 1366-1367)
The footnote to this Canon is 4 pages and can be read here:
CANON XVII OF ST. JOHN THE FASTER, PATRIARCH OF CONSTANTINOPLE
As for menstruating women, let them not touch holy things for as many as seven days, the second Canon of St. Dionysios, but in particular the seventh Canon of Timothy bids. This is also what the old Law ordered, but neither did it permit them to mingle with men; for it happens on this account that the seeds sown become weak and evanescent. Hence it was that divine Moses ordered the father of a defective to be stoned to death, on the ground that on account of his intemperance he failed to await the purification of his wife. But as for a woman who has been so scornful of the same uncleanness during this period and has touched the Divine Mysteries, they bid her to remain without communion for forty days.
The present Canon decrees that those women shall not participate in the divine Mysteries who are having their usual monthly courses (menstruation), for at least seven days,1 just as Canon II of Dionysios also decrees, and Canon VII of Timothy commands. This same prohibition is found in the old Law, which does not permit such women to mingle with their husbands so long as they are having their monthlies, because even the children that are sown and conceived in women who are in such a condition become in consequence weak and defective for the most part. It was for this reason, too, that the Law commanded that the father of a defective child be stoned to death, since on account of his wanton desire he did not have the fortitude to wait for his wife to be purified from monthlies, but slept with her while she was having them, and thus the child sown in her became defective. But if a woman having her monthlies scornfully disregard this fact and partake of the divine Mysteries, they command that she shall not commune again for forty days.2 Read also Canon II of Dionysios. (p. 1687)
- The seven days which the Canon specifies here, though not contained in the Canons of Dionysios and of Timothy, the old Law nevertheless mentions expressly, since most women become purified within seven days (though there are other women who become purified in more days, according to the constitution of the bodies, as physicians insist), and see the Footnote to Canon II of Dionysios.
- MENSTRUATING WOMEN WHO COMMUNE PENALIZED: The requirement that a woman having her monthlies and partaking of Communion is to be canonized for so many days is not mentioned in the cc. Of Dionysios and Timothy, but it is a decree of the Faster’s own, as we found it in the manuscript Canonicon of the Faster. Blastaris simply summarized the Canon thus. (p. 1708)