This practice, as well as many other traditions, came to us from the East, from where the Holy Church itself has its roots. In the ancient East (in some Muslim countries it remains even today) almost all the spheres of people’s life, including prayer, were divided according to gender. Some facilities or conditions were for men, while others were for women.
Today this practice is not a must. Such “separation” in the church was aimed to help people concentrate better on prayer and focus on it as their personal communion with God. The idea itself was the following: standing in the church near a person of a different gender could disturb us from prayer, to say the least. Then our presence at the Divine service becomes just a physical presence, but not participation.
People’s thoughts in the church must be focused only on God, on communion with Him. We should leave all the earthly thoughts and worries outside the doors of the church. It is even said about this in one of the prayers of the Orthodox liturgy – the Cherubic Hymn, in which the Church calls upon all the praying people to “lay aside all earthly cares”.
Translated by The Catalog of Good Deeds