Antiochian Women's Month Spotlights Role Models
The month of March is designated as Antiochian Women’s Month by His Eminence Metropolitan Philip, and is a time when the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Women of North America encourage their sisters in Christ to minister in their parishes and their communities. With this in mind, Khouria Suzanne Murphy, Religious Coordinator for the National Board of the Antiochian Women, wrote this reflection about the women saints of the Church.
When I was a little girl, I loved to read stories about brave knights and lovely princesses. By the time I was a mother, societal sensibilities had broadened so that our children not only read about brave knights, but also brave princesses. The Walt Disney company did a good job of coming up with female characters that were both feminine and brave – and they did this without diminishing the virtues of the male heroes. Our Orthodox saints, however, are not fairy-tale heroes. These brave men and women (and children) faced very real horrors – torture, enslavement, and death – with steadfast resolve.
We have real stories about such heroes as the Holy Martyr Hermione, the Daughter of St. Philip the Deacon, and the Martyr Babylas of Nicomedia with the 84 children-catechumens, including Ammonias and Donatus (commemorated September 4). Of course, my husband and I read Bible stories to our children. There are many heroes and heroines in the pages of Scripture which we could point to when our children asked about Halloween costumes. The accounts in the Scriptures, especially in the New Testament, are lacking detail, however. It wasn't until we became Orthodox that we found the treasury of oral traditions that fleshed out the figures we read about in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. It was this oral tradition that gave actual, real names to the Myrrh-bearing Women, and stories about who they were and how they were related to each other and to the Lord.
In the Book of Acts, we read of a woman named Lydia: "We sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to give heed to what was said by Paul. And when she was baptized, with her household, she besought us, saying, 'If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.' And she prevailed upon us" (Acts 16:13–15). From this brief account, it would be impossible to guess the details of her very interesting and compelling life: that she was the first convert to faith in Jesus Christ in Europe, or that she dedicated her life and her fortune to building up the Church in Macedonia and helping the poor and destitute in the name of Christ.
It is this rich oral history of the lives of the saints, and particularly of our Orthodox women saints, that I am going to focus on in the months ahead as the Religious Coordinator of the Antiochian Women's North American Board (NAB). With the blessing of our NAB board, I contacted John Maddex, CEO of Ancient Faith Ministries, to investigate whether we could undertake a joint effort in this project. My idea is that we would produce several short inspirational spots that would air periodically during the week, featuring a woman saint whose Feast Days we keep in that month. John was very encouraging, and as soon as we get some of the technical issues taken care of, we will begin airing these biographical sketches. As reference, I will use the book A Cloud of Witnesses: Saints and Martyrs from the Holy Land, and the information we have available at our Antiochian Women Website, compiled by one of my predecessors as NAB Religious Coordinator, Dianne O'Regan, and a great resource. I encourage you to visit the site and read the listings, both for information and inspiration.
Our goal in producing and airing these biographies is to give the listeners spiritual and intellectual strength to meet the temptations we each face during the day. I also hope this effort will remind us to honor the memory of the saints. Their bravery and fidelity to Jesus Christ in the face of death should encourage each of us. Their ability to bless those who sought to persecute and silence them offers us an example of true godly humility and submission to the Cross. Their exemplary lives will surely inspire you and me to live up to the calling of our Lord to be "perfect even as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48) – a daunting task, to be sure, but one that we can embrace in the company of the saints.
I hope and pray that you will find this effort helpful in your spiritual life. If you have a saint who is special to you – especially if she is a more obscure saint – and you would like me to include her in these broadcasts, please e-mail me with information on her life. For truly, "the choir of the Saints have found the Fountain of Life and the Door of Paradise." Through the intercessions of those who "have trod the narrow way most sad," may we also draw near to Christ our God and enjoy the "home-country of (our) heart's desire" at the end of this, our earthly pilgrimage.
Wishing you and yours a fruitful Great Lent and a joyous and holy Pascha.
Khouria Suzanne Murphy, NAB Religious Coordinator