NEW YORK, NY – Greek News USA
The Center of Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies of Queens College hosted an edifying lecture presented by the Reverend Protopresbyter Father Nikiforos Fakinos, Vicar of the Western Long Island District, Secretary of the Holy Eparchial Synod and Pastor of the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Demetrios in Merrick. The topic of the lecture is “Women in the Byzantine Empire” and it was a hybrid presentation, with the attendance of students as well as a video remote presentation.
The event was organized by the Director of the Center, Dr. Gerasimus Katsan, and the Assistant Director, Dr. Maria Athanasopoulou.
The lecture emphasized on the triumphs and challenges of women’s rights during the millennium of what we now call Byzantine history, in the Eastern Roman Empire. It explored the contributions of exceptional women as well as the conditions of life of the general female population in the region. Fr. Nikiforos Fakinos also made specific references to the correlation of Christian Orthodox theology and how it influenced certain advancements and changes that impacted the life of the Empire as well as the legal protocols affecting women’s rights.
The scholastic study also catalogued the rights of women during the Byzantine era to inherit, own, and manage their property and sign contracts, as well as the legal rights of women in marriage and in divorce during the period. He detailed the evolution of those legal protocols from Roman law and the influence of Patristic theologians and Saints in advancing women’s rights. Certain Fathers and great Saints of the Orthodox Church were opposed to this systemic suppression of women’s rights, such as Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Basil the Great and Saint Gregory the Theologian. The latter wrote that “The men formulate and laws and thus the laws oppose women.” (Gregory the Theologian – Oration 37: 6) and impressed the need to “ensure the equality of legislation. One is the Creator of both men and women, they are made of the same essence, they are the living icon of the same prototype, under the same divine law, suffering death alike and expecting the common Resurrection. We came to existence through a man and a woman. We are indebted to both our parents for our lives.”
Furthermore, Fr. Nikiforos referenced women with political authority, who imposed significant changes for the Empire. Among them were female monarchs like Saints Helen the Great and Pulcheria, Irene of Athens and Theodora Porphyrogenita, as well as female regents such as Theodora, Theophano and Eudokia Makrembolitissa. “Empowerment comes at a price” stated Father Nikiforos Fakinos. “Many virtuous males and females have been persecuted in the Roman world. The Byzantines were not immune to intrigue and corruption. Women often times became martyrs of such victimization.”
He added: “Byzantine history evokes the complex and exotic world of the era’s women, from Empresses and Saints to uneducated rural widows and academics. Their religious beliefs formed and informed public beliefs, usually going against powerful men, even Emperors. They changed ecclesiastical procedures, influenced the formulation of dogmas and elevated Church figures from that of shame to the status of a Saint. Women suffered much, and they experienced the drama and turmoil of the longest lasting Empire, which was filled with conflicts, intrigue and manipulation. They adapted.”
And Fr. Nikiforos Fakinos concluded: “The Byzantine Empire would not have existed if it were not for Helen the Great; it would be much different without Theodora, and Irene. But apart from the glorious examples of leadership and imperial glory, focus should be given to the women who led their rudimentary lives to give true might and power to this marvelous Empire. The mothers and the wives of the soldiers, the farmers, the traders, the engineers and the workers. The women who worked and sacrificed. The women who created art and wrote poems and hymns. The women who became religious leaders and Saints. The women who became the backbone of a powerful Empire, working in the textile industry, agriculture and academia. The women of the Byzantine Empire!”