by Fr. Edward Hughes
from DIAKONIA Summer 2009 
The Ladies are the very foundation of the Orthodox Christian Church. There is no doubt that this has been true from the very, very beginning. When our Lord was about his public ministry, traveling and preaching all over the Eastern shore of the Mediterranean, the Scriptures tell us that there were "Many women… which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto Him." (Mt. 27, 55). At the Cross, besides these women from Galilee, there were "Many other women which came up with Him unto Jerusalem." (Mk 15:41) Among these women were those blessed women who were the first to know of the glorious Resurrection. It was they who evangelized the Apostles, telling them the good news which they had learned first from the Angels.
These women then spread out over the known world along with the Apostles carrying to everyone the same good news. Mary Magdalene, Mary and Martha the sisters of Lazarus, Mariamne the sister of the Apostle Philip are only some of those who went out to preach. Other women becoming believers through their teaching and the Apostles' teaching themselves began to spread the Gospel further. Priscilla and Lydia are well known from the earliest century. Almost immediately holy women served the Church communities through service, prayer and fasting. Communities of virgins and widows were found in every Church who would "Trust in God and continue in prayers and supplications night and day." (1 Tim. 5:5) Of special interest at this time is the glorious St. Thekla, who, being converted by St. Paul and surviving several attempts at martyrdom, traveled and taught herself until she founded a community of holy women in Syria which has continued in un-broken continuity up to the present day. Thus, women were the very first to practice the monastic life, long before St. Anthony began to teach men the practice. They were also the first to form monastic communities long before St. basil or St. Pakhomius taught men how to do the same.
When the persecutions began, women showed themselves equal to any man in courage, steadfastness of faith and eagerness for martyrdom. Saints Irene, Barbara, Katherine, Lucy, Agnes and Agatha along with countless others, many only children or teenagers, generously and freely gave their lives for the advancement of the Faith.
When peace again came to the Church, brave and intelligent women like Rhipsimia and Nina set out to convert the outlying pagan communities, sometimes adding martyrdom to their asceticism and apostleship, winning triple crowns from the Lord. St. Walburga of Heidenheim, St. Hilda of Whitby, and St. Bridgit of Ireland excelled in administration and propagation of the Faith as well as great learning, asceticism and personal holiness.
As the centuries have passed, the women of the Church have been the fount of Faith for each succeeding generation. Grandmothers and mothers pass on both the content as well as the practice of the Faith to their children and grandchildren. Contemporary social scientific studies have confirmed that most people receive their Faith from their mothers and grandmothers. But we have already seen that in the lives of our own great Saints. St. Elizabeth gave us St. John the Baptist; St. Anna gave us the Holy Theotokos; St. Monica gave us St. Augustine; St. Helena gave us St. Constantine; St. Martha gave us St. Simeon the Stylite; St. Makrina gave us Emmelia who gave us St. Basil the Great, Peter of Sebasteia, Gregory of Nyssa, Nafkratios of Mt. Nitria, and Makrina; St. Nonna gave us St. Gregory the Theologian; and so on. For so many, many saints there was a mother who was a saint beforehand, who taught and nurtured the next generation of saints for the Church. Martyrs, ascetics, bishops and teachers all had mothers and grandmothers who put them on the road to piety and holiness.
Are we any different? Most of our Church communities were founded at the instigation of wives and mothers who encouraged their families to organize parishes and build churches. How many of our first Church buildings were entirely financed by women's contributions of their grocery money and dollars raised through their cooking and hosting teas and dinners? Our Choirs, Sunday Schools, and SOYO could never have existed without the commitment of countless women for generations and generations.
And so, as we are entering into this new century and third millennium, we need to look to our ladies, our grandmothers and mothers, aunts and sisters to continue to inspire and lead either directly or indirectly, to serve in every level of parish life, to increase the Faith, to teach and encourage the young, and to minister to the body of Christ as their mothers, grandmothers, and ancient ancestors in the Faith have done for the last nearly two thousand years in holiness and piety and in the power of the Holy Spirit.