Tabitha, which means Dorcas
Now there was at Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity. In those days she fell sick and died; and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him entreating him, “Please come to us without delay.” So Peter rose and went with them. And when he had come, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping, and showing tunics and other garments which Dorcas made while she was with them. But Peter put them all outside and knelt down and prayed; then turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, rise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. And he gave her his hand and lifted her up. Then calling the saints and widows he presented her alive. And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.
That is our entire knowledge about Saint Tabitha, or Dorcas. All of it, right there. We don’t know if she was a young woman, married and with children to raise, or single and living with her family. We don’t know if she’d been disowned from a pagan family because she was Christian. Maybe she was old, and all by herself, so she dwelt with the other widows of the community. We just don’t know. Other than the fact that Peter’s prayers for her, and her return to this life brought believers into the fold, we don’t even know why St. Luke decided to include this account in the Acts of the Apostles.
But every time I read this, I think of a woman in my parish. She’s quiet. She is raising children. She’s not a widow, and she doesn’t sew, although she does knit. When she smiles at you, her entire being lights up, and she smiles a lot. Our church doesn’t need electric lights when she’s around. She never has anything bad to say about anyone, even people who have hurt her. She knows her boundaries and is quiet, firm but loving when she has to enforce them. She adores her husband, loves her children, and is always there at the services. When she’s not present, we miss her.
What does she do? Why is she so important to our parish? What about her is so important and vital that I would compare her to Dorcas, a woman in the BIBLE?
Honestly? Nothing. And everything. The Biblical Tabitha was a non-entity. She didn’t hold an important place on parish council, she didn’t influence decisions in the community, she didn’t give pots and pots of money to the parish and to other Christian communities struggling to survive in a hostile world. She didn’t sing in choir, read the lessons, or even bring food for Sundays. But she is simply there, trying, in her own simple, broken way to love God and follow him, being a good wife, a good mother, a good friend, a good widow, whatever she was. Trying to be a good handmaiden of God. She was so underrated (until they lost her) that the widows felt compelled to point out her good stitching and her charity to Peter to justify asking God to bring her back.
But when the Sunday School needs teachers, she’s there. When someone in the parish needs a visit, or food delivered to their home, she’s organizing it, and cooking for it, but she never announces it (that’s why she has friends) and she never advertises what she’s doing. When St. Nicholas day is approaching, she’s sewing the bags, gathering the toothbrushes, the socks and the underwear (not to mention the cookies) to make sure the needy in the city have something. If the sanctuary windows need cleaning, or the kitchen needs organizing, guess who does it? But nobody ever hears from her, nobody ever thinks of her, and everybody overlooks her when they hand out the ‘attaboys.’
Look for these women and men in your parish, and give them a hug. Because they, more than many, exemplify what Christ taught: Love your neighbour. Do good to others. Praise God and follow him. We forget them, we neglect them, and we overlook them for the simple reason that they are doing what Christ told us to do, and without them and their prayers, we would all be the poorer. Cherish the invisible people in your parish.
Posted by the Orthodox Christian Network. You can find the Orthodox Christian Network on Google+.