by Joy Corey
Our beautiful Lord, the Servant of all, instructs us that, “whoever desires to become great among men, let him be your servant and whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and who gives his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28, Mark 10:45).
As Antiochian women, we are called to a life of service to our Lord and to His people. Since the order of Deaconess has not been reinstated in the Church as yet (perhaps one day it will), as Antiochian Women we are called to fulfill that ministry in the Church by serving one another. The word deacon or deaconess means “to serve.” The footnotes in the Orthodox Study Bible (p. 3), read, “Service is characteristic of true greatness. The model is Christ’s incarnate life and death: the perfect man is the perfect servant.” When our Lord washed His apostles’ feet, He said, “For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him” (John 13:15, 16).
There is no greater example of this kind of servitude among women than the Queen of Heaven, our Blessed Lady Theotokos. Her whole life was lived in service to God and to mankind. From the time Mary was dedicated to God by her parents Joachim and Anna where she was three years old, she was raised in the Temple. When the time came for her to leave the Temple, which, in accordance with the Jewish Law, was at the age of puberty, the Temple priests betrothed her to the elderly (80 years old), pious, and righteous Joseph. He was to become her guardian from society; no man could dare approach her now. Mary had sanctified herself to God and had told the priests that she wished never to marry, but to remain a virgin for all of her life. Her betrothal to Joseph ensured that the desire of her heart be granted. Other young girls were dedicated by their parents to God and raised in various chambers of the Temple as well. But, none was raised in the Holy of Holies like Mary. In the book The Life of the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, her daily routine is described as follows: “From the morning [6:00 a.m.] until 9:00 a.m. she remained in prayer; from 9:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m., she was occupied with her weaving; and from 3:00 p.m., she again applied herself to prayer. She did not retire from praying until the appearance of the angel of the Lord (Gabriel) after the 9th hour or after 3:00 p.m., from whose hand she received food. Thus, she refreshed herself only once daily with that food brought by the Archangel. The food that she received from the priests was distributed among the poor.
Mary meditated and nourished her soul on Scripture day and night. None exceeded her in praise and vigils of God and no one was more learned in the Wisdom of the law of God. No one was more lowly in humility, more elegant in singing and more perfect in all virtue … Being submissive and obedient to all, she offended no one and was friendly to all. She never said a crude word to anyone and did not allow any unclean thought …
None saw Mary ever angry nor heard her speak evil. All of her conversations were full of grace. She was ever occupied in prayer or in searching the law. She was anxious also about her companions, lest any should sin even in one word or raise her voice in senseless laughter or should be in the wrong, or proud before their parents. Moreover, she herself feared to even inadvertently offend or appear proud before her peers.” [Mary was always concerned about the salvation of others; she demonstrated that when she agreed to become Christ’s mother and again here when she displayed anxiety over her companions’ potential to sin.]
“Mary blessed God without interruption and, lest per chance, even in greeting others she might cease from her praises to the Lord, she even answered then, praising God in her salutation, by saying: ‘Thanks be to God’ or ‘Glory be to God’” (pp. 53-54). The custom of using this expression began with her.
Her entire life and body were offered for God’s service and purposes. From the same book of her life, we read, “The Saviour had left His immaculate Mother among the living, so that by her presence, guidance, teaching and fervent prayers, the children of the Church might be established and increase” (p. 417). We learn from Tradition that she strengthened everyone, comforted all with the joy of her presence, encouraged many to die for the Lord and their Faith and others to live out their lives in virginity. She healed many sick, cast demons out of others, and gave alms to the poor constantly, showing great sympathy for widows. In fact, as she prepared to leave this world (her Son revealed to her three days before her death the time of her departure from this life), she gave her clothing to several poor widows she personally knew.
Mary is a perfect example of what it means to be a servant to all. Ruth, of the Old Testament, is another good example of what it means to be a servant. When Ruth’s husband died, his death left her mother-in-law Naomi a true widow in that her husband and both her sons by this time were dead. With no man left in the family, Naomi had no way to support herself. Her daughter-in-law Ruth was a Gentile, not even an Israelite, and yet she was willing to make Naomi’s people her people and Naomi’s God her God. Out of her deep love and respect for Naomi, Ruth made a decision to leave the land of her birth, Moab, and its people to accompany Naomi back to her people in Bethlehem. Ruth displayed rare character and she quickly won the affection, respect, and blessing of the Hebrew women who considered Ruth to be more valuable than 7 sons. This is absolutely amazing, since the number seven represents perfection, and the birth of sons was a sign of God’s blessing. It took a remarkable foreigner to receive such adulation from Hebrew women. Ruth modeled two critical concepts: an awareness of God’s involvement in life’s details and a selfless concern for those closest to her, much like our Blessed Lady Theotokos, who was concerned for her peers and all of mankind. No doubt, Naomi’s continual love, devotion and acknowledgment of God’s personal involvement in all of life, was an incredible role model for Ruth in the midst of their heartaches of death.
As Antiochian Women, we are to set an example for all women around us. The Holy Scriptures are clear as to what our attitudes should be in “being a servant” to others. Both Mary Theotokos and Ruth exemplified these attitudes. Let’s take a look at some of these attitudes that God expects us to have in our life of service to Him and His Church:
We are to serve God and Him only (Luke 4:8).
Our Lord, in rebuking the devil, quotes Deuteronomy 6:13 and 10:20, telling him, “For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’” As a man, Jesus was tempted, but never succumbed. Here, our Lord is making it clear to the devil that he was not willing to worship, nor serve him. Our Lord demonstrates that as a man he would serve God alone and obey His Law, the Holy Scriptures.
Joshua, who led the Israelites into the Promised Land, understood this. He said, “Choose you this day whom you will serve, but as for me and my house we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). Serving God is a choice.
When Jesus was about to be crucified, He told His disciples that no good fruit can be yielded if we do not die to ourselves, and that, just as a seed that dies produces much grain, so we must die to ourselves to gain eternal life. Mary died to herself. She gave her life entirely over to God. Ruth sacrificed to care for Naomi, thus dying to her own wants and needs and serving the other. She chose to serve God by serving her mother-in-law. In the parable of the Last Judgment, our Lord tells us that “What you do to the least of these my brethren, you do unto me” (Matt. 25:31-44). How does this translate for us Antiochian Women in the 21st century? Practically, it means we are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, take in strangers, visit prisoners, etc. Since we are created in the similitude of God, we serve the God in each one of us when we serve each other. Such an attitude toward serving others does not go unnoticed by God, for He has said: “If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor” (John 12:26). In serving each other, we serve the Christ in each of us, and our Heavenly Father notices how we treat His Son. The degree of honor we show His Son in each other, is the degree of honor with which His Father will honor us. Since Christ came to serve and not to be served, this is what we Antiochian Women aspire to do as well.
We are to serve God with all our heart.
Israel’s great Judge Samuel gave instructions to God’s people on how to serve God. He said: “Serve with all your heart” (1 Samuel 12:20) and not half-heartedly. St. Paul tells us in his first letter to the Corinthians that we are “to serve the Lord with no distractions” (7:35). Our Lord teaches us in Matthew 6:24 that we are to serve God wholly: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” We cannot give our full attention to or be loyal to two different masters, i.e. to God and to the things of this world. Our allegiance must be to one or the other. We must serve God with all our heart, as Mary Theotokos did.
We are to serve each other in love.
St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Galatians (5:13), “ … through love serve one another.” And in his first letter to the Church at Corinth (13:4-8), St. Paul defines the kind of love with which we are to serve each other as Antiochian Women: we are to be kind to one another, having no envy or jealousy, nor displaying any kind of arrogance. We are not to boast of what we do, but to boast of the accomplishments of others. When we parade our own learning and choose to be at the center of everything, we are children of vainglory. As Antiochian Women, we are not to be rude to anyone, nor are we to insist on our own agendas or feel that our own opinions are more important than the pinions of others. St. Paul also teaches us that love is not easily provoked. As Antiochian Women, we need to be tolerant of one another, thinking no evil of the other nor rejoicing when another sins. Instead, we need to bear all things together in loving submission to the Will of God; to endure all things through His Grace, to believe all things because “with God all things are possible“ (Mark 10:27), and lastly to hope in all things, since Christ is our Hope and with Him and in Him, there is nothing over which to despair. Love never fails because God is Love.
St. James in his epistle (3:14-18) describes the kind of righteousness that we, as women of God, are to keep moving towards and ultimately embrace: “But if you have bitter envy and selfseeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” Our Holy Mother lived it and as “children of righteousness” we are called to live our lives accordingly. When we as Antiochian Women can fully understand the impact of Love, we will change the world around us and preserve the Church and the Faith inviolate.
We are to serve God and each other with sincerity of heart.
In his letter to the Ephesians (6:5-7), St. Paul describes what our attitude should be in serving those in authority over us and each other: “Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters (our bosses, our bishops, our priests, etc.) according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; not with eyeservice, as men pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men.” God does not read our lips, but our hearts. He looks for the sincerity of our heart. When we try to please man, we cannot please God, but conversely, if we please God, we will be pleasing to man. Since God reads our hearts, He knows where we are doing something for personal gain, satisfaction or reward. As Antiochian Women, we are to serve each other in sincerity of heart as unto the Lord Himself, with no desire for pushing our own personal agendas but always seeking to do the will of God, and His only, from our hearts.
We are to serve the Lord with all humility (Acts 20:19).
St. John Climacus in his Ladder of Divine Ascent tells us that to serve the Lord in all humility is to acknowledge the achievements of others instead of our own; to acknowledge that we are the least important person in the world and the greatest sinner; to see ourselves as being weak and helpless without the Lord; to be the first to end a quarrel and apologize even if we were not at fault; to be willing to abdicate our own will for the Will of the Father. As Antiochian Women, we can manifest this kind of humility by entrusting all that we do to God in prayer and then accepting whatever happens as God’s Divine Will. When we need to have our opinion heard all the time, the Church Fathers teach this is due to loving ourselves too much and exposes our inner pride and lack of humility. And, when we do a service within the Church and expect to be thanked, again we are showing a lack of humility in that it is to God that thanks should be rendered, since in and of ourselves, we are nothing and can do nothing (John 15:5).
We are to serve the Lord with gladness.
In King David’s Psalm 100:2, he tells us: “serve the Lord with gladness.” Whatever we do in the church, whether sweeping the floor, emptying the garbage, cleaning the church, singing in the choir or chanting, or perhaps being a greeter, welcoming new people into the church, no matter how we serve the Lord we should do it with joy and gladness in our hearts, never grumbling nor complaining. Archimandrite Seraphim Alexiev, in his book Strife and Reconciliation, tells us that “All grumbling comes from the devil.” St. James, the Brother of the Lord, writes in his epistle (5:9): “Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door.” As Antiochian Women, we have to model for other women what it means to “serve the Lord with gladness.” All judgment has been given to the Son, Jesus Christ, since He became incarnate as a man. Only a man can judge mankind since, as man, Christ understands the weakness of our flesh. The Theotokos never grumbled; nor did Ruth. Both women served with sincere gladness, caring more for others than themselves.
We are to serve the Lord with thanksgiving and praise.
In his first letter to the Thessalonians (5:16-19), St. Paul tells us to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for your. Do not quench the Spirit.” When we grumble and complain, we quench the Holy Spirit in our lives and invite the demons instead.
St. Paul was content in all things, even when he was imprisoned: “ … for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content (Phil 4:11). St. Euphrosynos, the cook, was content in all things, and God, through him, taught the abbot and the other brothers at the monastery what is meant by “the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). The abbot learned in a dream that Euphrosynos, that simple cook, held the keys to the kingdom of God because he was content always, offering praise and thanksgiving to God for all things in his life.
With the help of God, we can do all things. As Antiochian Women, we will show honor to our Blessed Lady Theotokos and emulate her life if we learn to adopt these essential attitudes in serving God and His people, His Church. Christ, as man, came to serve and not to be served. We can attain true greatness if we are willing to be a servant to all through Christ by serving Him in others. Glory be to God for all things!
Courtesy of the
December 2007 issue of The Word magazine.