A PERSONAL REFLECTION
Overlooking the beautiful Mediterranean Sea is the Balamand Abbey, built by Cistercian Monks in 1157 A.D., on the Hill of Balamand in al-Kurah, Lebanon. The monks left the Abbey before the capture of Tripoli and the Crusaders departed.
Three hundred years later, Greek Orthodox monks took over the Abbey, naming it the Balamand Monastery. Initially, ten monks occupied it, but this number increased to twenty-five in a very short period. Their lives were filled with prayer, tending crops, writing and copying manuscripts, as well as hosting visitors. The buildings were built around a square courtyard, representing the four evangelists, which is the center of their monastic life.
From the moment we arrived at the Balamand, our North American delegation, consisting of Fr. Thomas Zain, Vicar General, Fr. Timothy Ferguson, Protosyngelos, Fawaz El-Khoury, Dan Braun, Dan Abraham, Khalil Samara, Jordan Khurzum, Douglas Cramer and myself, were welcomed and made to feel very much at home. Metropolitans, bishops, priests and delegates from Antiochian archdioceses all over the world convened at this historical conference. They came from Brazil, France, England, Mexico, Syria, Lebanon, Europe, and Saudi Arabia, to name a few, and, of course, North America. We prayed together, ate together, and attended the presentations and workshops together. We were equally blessed to have Archbishop Joseph, soon to be Metropolitan Joseph, Bishop Alexander, Bishop John and Bishop Nicholas with us.
In 1972, at the Archdiocese Convention in Los Angeles, California, His Eminence Metropolitan Philip stated, "We must realize once and for all that women have a definite ministry in the life of the Church. Very often we have the tendency to confine women's role to the kitchen. Both the Old and New Testaments testify beyond doubt to the important role which women played in the history of salvation. Time does not permit me to speak in detail about Ruth, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachael, the Virgin Mary, the Ointment-Bearers, the Deaconesses and many others who ministered to the church and Christ. I propose, therefore, that a NATIONAL SISTERHOOD OF CHARITY be organized in the Archdiocese."
Yes, I am an Antiochian woman. We (we women, that is) are all Antiochian Women. You may be saying to yourself, “Is she referring to me?”; “I don’t belong to our women’s chapter organization – I sing in the choir”; “I teach Sunday School”; “I belong to the Fellowship of St. John the Divine”; “I make altar cloths and help clean the church.” My dear sisters in Christ, by virtue of your baptism and chrismation into the Antiochian Orthodox Church, you are an Antiochian woman.
As mothers, daughters , grandmothers, we are by nature nurturers, caregivers, and comforters of the sick and infirm. Whether we help cook for the church, fundraise for worthwhile church projects, make altar cloths, volunteer at a homeless shelter, or support battered women and their families, we are all serving God. In doing so, we are following in the footsteps of many pious, humble and faithful women who served the Lord with their whole beings, women such as the Virgin Mary, the ointment-bearers, the deaconesses who served Christ and the church, Martha who prepared and served Jesus a meal, and her sister, Mary, who, “took a very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair” (John 12:3). Each of these women with their many gifts cared for the Lord in her own way.