Eleni Pessemier enjoys attending a Greek Orthodox Church in South Florida. Eleni has participated in the St. John Chrysostom Oratorical Festival and loves learning about her beloved faith passed down from her ancestors.
The following article was first delivered in person at the St. John Chrysostom Oratorical Festival in Florida. The speakers were asked to respond to the following prompt: Women apostles, martyrs, and saints have spread the Gospel and advanced the Church from the beginning of Christianity. Discuss the significance of their roles and examples for all Christians today.
Have you ever thought about how many times Jesus scolds his disciples and male followers, yet he never even once becomes angry at or reprimands a woman? The priest at my former church once pointed this out in a bible study. He said this to emphasize that while women clearly have different roles in the Orthodox Church, that doesn’t mean they’re any less important or less loved by God. Inaccurate beliefs about women’s value in the Orthodox faith are caused by ignorance, mistranslations or misunderstanding of the New Testament.
Many people who don’t understand Orthodoxy mistakenly think that it doesn’t value females. As a young Orthodox woman, I know that God loves women as much as men and holds a special place for females to be honored in His Church. This is reflected in Orthodox beliefs. While women can’t be priests or venture behind the altar, we are still equally valued to men. Many people think that to be equal means that everyone must have exactly the same roles, but that isn’t the truth. God chose specific roles for each gender, and He knows what is most fitting for each person. The roles of the two genders are simply different, not unequal. We know from the countless female saints of the Orthodox Church that many, many women have been very close to God and have helped to spread His holy Church.
When you walk into any Orthodox church, what is the first thing you see? There is always a large icon of the Theotokos at the center of the iconostasis. Why? Because she is considered by the Orthodox faith to be the most holy person besides Jesus Christ Himself. The hymn we sing to the Mother of God every Sunday during the Divine Liturgy calls her more honorable than the cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim. How can we claim that women do not hold an important role in the Orthodox Church when we believe that the Mother of God is holier than even the most holy and powerful angels?
People who say that women aren’t held in the same honor as men in the Church forget that Christ first showed Himself after His resurrection to women, not men. The story of the three witnesses to the tomb of Christ is one of the most powerful examples of God’s love, trust, and value of women. While many of the male disciples were in hiding, these women brazenly approached the tomb of Christ to anoint His body. Because of their faith and bravery, Christians even two thousand years later are still able to hear the good news and witness the resurrection through their eyes as the story is written in the Holy Scriptures.
Have you ever heard of St. Thekla? I had never heard of her until recently, which I think is sad because as I learned more about her, I found out that she was actually very influential to early Christianity. St. Thekla was one of the first apostles and taught the Gospel alongside St. Paul. She went against her parents’ wishes by becoming a Christian, and devoted her life to the spread of the Christian faith, even though she was exiled from her home for it. Other saints even visited St. Thekla’s shrine to venerate her. This is a perfect example of how important God finds women in our faith. The tragedy is that we all know exactly who St. Paul is, but many people have never even heard of St. Thekla.
It’s our responsibility as Orthodox Christians to spread the word of forgotten women in Church history, like St. Thekla, who have been so important to the development of this faith we cherish so much. Holy women like the Theotokos, St. Thekla, and the women at the tomb have been vital to Christianity’s growth, and serve as role models to all Christians today. Female saints are responsible for the conversion of tens of thousands of people to Christianity throughout history, and women have been every bit as important as men to the spread of the Gospel and advancement of the faith. Today, women are still very influential in the Orthodox Church. Except serving in the altar, females are invited to participate in every area of church life. Women can serve on parish council, lead the choir, write icons, teach classes, and read the epistle. We don’t need to compare women to men to see who is more holy in God’s eyes. We as Orthodox Christians know that God loves and values each of us equally. Women bring many things to Orthodoxy that men do not, as the reverse is true. Holy men and women alike are responsible for the spread of the Christian Church, and for making the teachings of Jesus Christ’s life and resurrection known to the world. We need to dispel the myths that women aren’t valued in the Orthodox faith and spread the word of the impact women have had on the Church and still do. Countless women have been saints, apostles and martyrs, helping spread the Gospel to people all over the world and keeping Christianity alive, as it is today.
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