The Word Magazine, November 1969, Page 4-5
The Role Of Women In The Life Of The Church
Address delivered at Women’s Luncheon,
Midwest SOYO Convention, Detroit, Michigan.
by METROPOLITAN PHILIP
IN ORDER TO UNDERSTAND the role of Women in the Life of the Church, we must examine the history of Salvation and find out what kind of role women played in this history. In the book of Genesis, we notice that after God created man He said: “It is not good for man to be alone on earth.” so he created Eve to be his partner and his helpmate.
Whenever we glance through the pages of the Old Testament, we come across women who have served the Divine purpose by their examples, their life and good deeds, such as Sarah, who was called the “Mother of Nations.” Rebecca, Rachel and Ruth. When Ruth’s husband died she was given a choice to go back to her tribe or to stay with her Motherin-law. Ruth chose to stay with her Mother-in-law, and said these famous words: “Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following thee: for whither thou goest, I will go, and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: Thy people shall be my people and thy God my God. Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried.” What a great example of loyalty and devotion Ruth offers to all Women!
In the book of Proverbs there is a perfect and living portrait for a good woman. “Who can find a Virtuous Woman? For her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her so that he shall have no need to spoil. She will give him good and not evil, all the days of his life. Her husband is known in the gates when he sitteth among the elders of the land. Strength and honor are her clothing and she shall rejoice in time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom and on her tongue is the law of kindness. Beauty is deceitful and vain: but a woman that feareth the Lord shall be praised.
The New Testament gave women a greater role in the history of Salvation; they became equal to man in their responsibilities to the Church. St. Paul said “In Christ Jesus there are no males or females, because all are one.”
The most important personality among the New Testament Women is the Virgin Mary. She was given many titles, such as, “Second Eve.” “Queen of Heaven.” and “blessed among women.” She obediently and willingly accepted her role as the Mother of God. St. Luke tells well the story of her obedience to the Divine Will through the following words: “And in the sixth month the Angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth to a Virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph of the House of David and the Virgin’s name was Mary, and the angel came unto her and said, “Hail, thou art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women.” And when she saw him she was troubled at his saying. and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said to her “Fear not, Mary, for thou has found favour with God. And behold, thou shall conceive from thy womb and bring forth a son and you shall call his name Jesus, he shall be great, and shall he called the Son of the Most High and the Lord God shall give unto him the Throne of his father David and he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Then said Mary unto the Angel “How shall this be, I know not a man.” And the Angel answered and said to her “The Holy Ghost shall come unto thee and the power of the most high shall overshadow thee, for with God nothing shall be impossible.” And Mary said “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to thy word.
How many of us today would accept with such obedience the Divine Challenge? God created us for a purpose. This purpose cannot be fulfilled unless we say to God what the Virgin Mary said: “Be it done to me according to thy word.” By her willingness to accept the Divine Challenge the Virgin Mary was saved. Salvation is complete, cooperation between the Human and the Divine. Although the Virgin Mary does not say much in the Gospels, yet she speaks to us silently through her irresistible impact on the life of the Church. We also read in the New Testament that many women followed Jesus. Some of them were more faithful to Him than His own disciples. Remember that Peter denied Him, Judas betrayed Him, and Thomas doubted Him. And during the darkest hour of His agony on the cross, all His disciples deserted Him except John, and a few women who were there at Calvary watched Him with torn hearts.
In the story of the Resurrection, we read that it was not the Disciples who first saw the empty tomb, but rather a group of Faithful Women. We read in St. Mark “And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, brought sweet spices, that coming they might anoint Jesus. And very early in the morning, the first day of the week, they came to the sepulchre, the sun being now risen.”
And they said one to another “Who shall roll us back the stone from the door of the Sepulchre? And looking they saw the stone rolled back. For it was very great. And entering into the sepulcher, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed with a white robe and they were astonished. Who saith to them: “Be not affrighted: you seek Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified: He is risen, He is not here, behold the place where they laid Him.”
“But go, tell His disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: and there you shall see Him. as He told you.”
During the apostolic and patristic eras many women ministered to the sick, the orphans, and the needy ones. Special orders for women were established by the church, such as that of Deaconess, to help in the work of charity and social relief. In spite of these various orders, the activities of women were restricted to a few areas such as the home first, and second, the church.
We can now summarize what we have already said by the following: Before the industrial and technological revolutions women had a definite role to play and a strong sense of belonging. They were deeply rooted in the family, which was in reality their kingdom. Does not the church crown them during the marriage ceremony to play this role? Now what about modern women? The industrial and technological revolutions definitely changed and enlarged the role of Women in life and involved them deeply in many social affairs. Today they are doctors, soldiers, business women, scientists, pilots, cab drivers, ministers, detectives, politicians, and so on. Modern women have acquired such new roles because of their dissatisfaction with their traditional and limited role. The scale of our values has been turned upside down. Men are dissatisfied, women are dissatisfied, children are dissatisfied and everyone is trying to be what he is not. God created you to be a queen, a mother, and not a soldier or a traffic director. Nikos Kazantzkias in his book, “The Saviours of God,” said “we are living in a critical violent moment of history. An entire world is crashing down. Our epoch is not a moment of equilibrium in which refinement, reconciliation, peace, and love might be fruitful virtues.” Dissatisfaction marks our age and disturbs our happiness. We have become detached from ourselves, from others, from nature, and ultimately from God. We are, as the French philosopher Camus said, “strangers” in the world. Our society is stricken by mental disorders, violence and crimes. We have lost our sense of destiny. We are nobody, from nowhere, going no place. Alienation is the stigma of our age. This world alienation has been used by philosophers, psychologists, and sociologists to refer to a variety of psycho-social disorders including self, anxiety, despair, rootlessness, apathy, social disorganization, loneliness, meaninglessness, isolation, pessimism, and the loss of beliefs or values.
Could we honestly say that women alone are responsible for this state of affairs? Absolutely not! All of us are responsible, men and women, priests and laymen. We must reassess our values and give the priority to what comes first. What is more important to us? A second television and second car or a mentally well balanced child? If men are supposed to provide bread for the family, women are supposed to provide love “for man shall not live by bread alone.” Many children have left home and have become hippies not because of lack of bread but because of the lack of love. Can you ever forget the warmth of your mother’s kisses? The tenderness of her arms? And the sweetness of her smile? How wretched must we be if we never experienced this reality. My mother was not a philosopher or a soldier but she was a poet in her own right. She opened my eyes to the beauty of life, to the holiness of the holy, and above all. she taught me how to serve and how to love others. She gave herself totally to us, expecting nothing in return. Does a nightingale expect anything in return for its singing? Does a rose expect anything in return for its perfume? This is my mother— and your mother—this is true womanhood.
I would like to conclude this talk with the following story : Four priests gathered together to discuss the various translations of the Bible. The first one said, “I like the King James translation because of its beauty.” The second one said. “I like the Douay translation because it is accurate.” The third one said. “I like the Revised translation because it is simple.’ The fourth one said. “I like my mother’s translation.” The rest of the priests asked him, “We didn’t know your mother translated the Bible?” “Yes, she did: She translated the Bible into life!”