An Orthodox Vision of Lay Ministries

By Denise Jillions

The mandate for Christian ministry has been given to us by our Lord through his words spoken to the eleven disciples who met him in Galilee before he ascended unto the Father: “Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you.” (Matt. 28:16-19) The ministry of Christ’s followers is to be based on His model, which was at once life example and teaching.

In the following pages the essential elements of the Orthodox understanding of Christian ministry are outlined.

“For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” Collosians 3:3

The first principle guiding the Christian ministry is summed up in St. Paul’s eloquent words to the Collosians 3:3, “For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” The Christian is the one who has died to himself and lives in Christ, no longer seeking to do his or her own will, but to be the instrument by which the will of God will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Whatever type of service we do in the Church, we are to do, not for our own satisfaction or reputation, but for the glory of God. To be in Christ means that, having been baptized into His death, we no longer live unto ourselves. Rather, we live His life in this world, participating in Hisministry to the world. This is why he sent His Spirit to the Church on the day of Pentecost and sent it to us individually on the day of our Chrismation so that we, you and I, men and women of the Orthodox Church, could continue his life-saving work on earth.


We are appointed, we would even say ordained, in that we are each set apart through Chrismation to be the stewards and the ministers of His grace and of His truth. As St. Peter says, we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9) Christ’s desire is to save the world through us who constitute His Church by dying to ourselves and becoming the vessels of His love and mercy to those around us. This is the ministry of the Church to the world and each of us participates in it in our own particular way.

We Serve Christ By Serving One Another

The second point to be learned, from the Gospel of Matthew, is serving one another. The key reading is the parable of the Last Judgment. (Matt. 25) In no uncertain terms Christ identifies Himself with all those who suffer, are sick, are in prison and naked and hungry, and consequently regards as true followers those who visit Him and feed Him through their ministry to these unfortunate ones. But to those who do not, his condemnation is not spared. His disciples ask, “Lord, when did we see Thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did minister to Thee?” He answers, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”

There is no such thing as serving God in the abstract. Serving God means first of all seeing Christ in the other and then responding to the other out of love and reverence for Christ. The stark clarity of the story always amazes me. One would have to do a good deal of acrobatics to misinterpret it. According to Christ, we will not be asked whether we went to church on Sunday, whether we fasted, or even whether we served on the parish council or put in time at the annual festival. I do not mean that these are all unimportant, but that they sidestep the crux of Christ’s saving message, that He loves the person, saves the person, dies for the person that He calls our neighbor, the brother or sister next to us. Clearly, if we wish to serve Him we must address ourselves to the needs of our neighbor.

In our times, people have a way of surrounding themselves with nice neighbors, generally not poor or hungry or naked. But very often these same neighbors have other needs which are just as profound, and certainly in most of our cities and towns we don’t have to go but a few miles to find the truly poor and hungry and naked. The other thing that is perfectly clear in this story is that as we stand shaking before the throne of judgment, it just won’t do to tell Christ that we sent the priest to visit Mrs. Jones when she was sick in bed!

Priestly And Lay Ministries

This brings me to my third point, the distinction between the priestly and lay ministries. The clergy have a special ministry, one for which they have received special grace through the laying on of hands. The priest presents Christ, and his vocation is none other than to lead the world toward salvation and away from deception and evil.

But what is a head without its body as St. Paul says? (1 Cor. 12) The active ministry of the laity in the Orthodox Church complements the priest’s ministry, enabling him to be effective. Similar to the relationship between the male and the female in Christ, there is no competition, contradiction, duplication, or value judgment implied in making this distinction between the priestly and lay ministries. Our sister churches in the West are having some difficulty accepting such differences as distinctions and not value judgments.

In the Orthodox Church we have a different kind of denial of the ministry of the laity. How often have I heard lay people say, “That’s what we pay the priest for. It’s his job!” NO! His job is to lead, to present Christ, to keep reminding his flock of the Christian vision of life and death, to guide them to see Christ working in their daily lives, to push back the boundaries of the chaos by extending the love of Christ to those both inside and outside of the parish community.

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It is the lay men and women, however, the members of the Body of Christ, who work to realize the victory of Christ over death and sin and evil in a particular place - in their neighborhood, at the factory, in their family, on the local P.T.A., at the voting machine, in whatever circumstances they find themselves. Specifically, their work is visiting the sick, ministering to the bereaved or discouraged, counseling the alcoholic, welcoming the stranger, hating and fighting oppression and poverty in all its material and spiritual forms, seeing and serving Christ in our neighbors daily, and thereby witnessing to Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. This is the type of service that glorifies God the Father and, according to Christ’s promise, wins us a place at His right hand with those who will be found worthy of His kingdom.

Being And Doing

My fourth point is that this has just as much to do with who we are as what we do - what might be called the tension between being and doing. Any Christian work, in order to be truly in the service of Christ, is grounded in faith, prayer and love. In fact, prayer itself is an active ministry. This is what distinguishes Christian service from secular social work. When we advocate lay ministry, we are not advocating the frenetic, often self-serving activity of do-gooders, who feel justified by their sacrifice of time as the pharisee felt justified by his adherence to the law.

As Orthodox we must resist the temptation to equate sanctity with religious observance, or faith with involvement, or salvation with good works alone. It is not only the morsel of bread which we give that nourishes the hungry man - because we believe that man does not live by bread alone and that he is more than his stomach - but it is the love of Christ which is being manifested by the act of feeding that man which indeed nourishes his weary soul and may bring him to repentance and salvation.

We do not believe that if it were possible to eradicate poverty on this earth the result would be the Kingdom of God. It is extremely important that while we do the works of mercy that Christ commanded to us to do, we remember that His Kingdom is not of this world and our primary vocation is to proclaim this and to make our lives a testimony to this revelation. In concrete terms, for example, the mother who is raising a child to know and love God is serving Christ. It is not only what she is doing - in other words, how many Bible stories she has taught her child - but how she is manifesting Christ in her daily interactions with the child, so that the child, in knowing and loving his mother, is learning to recognize and love Christ.

We are not as much concerned with the end product as with making the process one that will bring others to God, because it is He who saves. This should, of course, keep us from counting our successes and failures or judging others as less Christian because they happen to be less involved in church activities that show immediate and measurable results. Sometimes the most profound and meaningful “lay ministry” is done anonymously, quietly, and over the period of a lifetime.

Our Diversity Of Talents

And this leads me to my fifth point in terms of our understanding of Christian ministry, that God in His mercy endowed each of us with different gifts, and therefore we are called to serve Him in different ways. One result of this is that we are members of one another. We need each other, just as all the members of the human body need each other because of the different functions each performs. (Romans 12:4-8) Not everyone needs to be in the kitchen making soup or on the parish council, sometimes also making soup!

God has given us a great diversity of gifts for a good reason, and I believe it is time for the Orthodox laity, who has always appreciated its crucial role in the life of the Church, to understand the tremendous scope of its Christian responsibilities and make the most of this diversity. St. Paul says in Romans 12:6: “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them” and goes on to suggest that it is not so much what particular work we do that is important, but in what spirit we offer ourselves to God and to one another: “...he who contributes, in liberality; he who gives aid, with zeal; he who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.” Whatever our talent, we are called to invest it as good and faithful stewards, not to waste it or hide it selfishly, but to invest it for the glory of God. Think of such valuable talents as landscaping, carpentry, writing, counseling, child care, sports, music, teaching, or just being a good listener, and consider the wealth of knowledge or information you may have about a particular matter.

The laity is the Church’s “natural resource,” waiting to be tapped. But as long as we persist in limiting the role of the laity in the Church’s mission, we will continue to have, on the one hand, not enough little jobs to go around for those who would like to be more active, and on the other hand, a tremendous passivity and inertia in the majority of our people. Once we change our vision of the Church’s mission, the possibilities for lay involvement are endless.

Men And Women: Their Complementary Roles

A sixth element of the Orthodox understanding of lay ministry is that both men and women share the task equally and in a complementary manner. Although St. Paul is frequently accused of limiting the role that women can play in the Church, he in fact was ministered to by women throughout his apostolate and thanked God for them in full recognition of this significant role in the life of the early church. By understanding the cultural context of his ministry and discerning the principles behind his injunctions, we Orthodox can say without hesitation that, when we speak of the ministry of the laity, there is no distinction between what men and women can do. The Christian ministry is not characterized by a spirit of competition and “equal rights” but by mutual love and concern for the upbuilding of the body of Christ.

In summary, although much more can be said to develop this topic, we can consider these six points the biblical and theological foundations of our understanding of Christian ministry:

1. As Christians we are dead to the world and we live in Christ, meaning that our entire life and activity must be dedicated to accomplishing His mission to save the world by our becoming the instruments of His love and power.

2. We serve Christ by serving one another, particularly those among us who are needy and suffering, because Christ himself has identified himself with the poor and the oppressed.

3. The laity has a special and distinct ministry which complements the ministry of the priest by extending the love of Christ to all those with whom we come in contact in the course of our daily lives and in our families.

4. This goal is not realized only by doing good works but also by living according to our faith, so that through our lives the light of Christ is apparent to those in darkness.

5. We are richly endowed by God with different talents and gifts, much as a body has many different members that perform different functions. Every Christian is called to invest these special talents so that his or her life will bear fruit for the glory of God.

6. Men and women together are responsible for the ministry of the laity and complement one another in the use of their special gifts.

Denise Jillions is an alcoholism counselor and family therapist. She heads the Section on Lay Ministries for the Department of Stewardship and Lay Ministries.

Denise Jillions is an alcoholism counselor and family therapist. She heads the Section on Lay Ministries for the Department of Stewardship and Lay Ministries.

Ministry of People

By Fr Sergei Glagolev

An Interview With Fr. Sergei Glagolev On The Understanding of Lay Ministries

How do we in the Orthodox Church define Lay Ministries?

The difficulty with words like “lay ministries” is that the original intent of the words, that is, understood scripturally and theologically, does not necessarily follow what we understand the words to mean in our culture. We say “lay ministries” in our American society and we usually think of something that has to do with the Protestant Church. If we look at what the words actually mean as they are used theologically, I think we come to a better understanding of what the Church means.

When we talk about “laity”, we should not mean something less than clergy or something different than clergy. This is the first difficulty. The word, itself, “laity” comes from the Greek word “laos” which speaks of the people, or “laos tou Theou”, which speaks of the people of God. We are all baptized in Christ into this “people”. God has made a covenant with people. St. Peter talks of this extensively, particularly in the second chapter of First Peter: “You were no people, but now you are God’s own People. You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, special people….” And so our baptism is into this life of Christ as the people of God.

First of all, we have to see lay ministries as the ministry of the people, and that priests are themselves people. Otherwise they couldn’t even be priests. Among the people there are those who are set aside for holy orders, who function as bishops, priests, and deacons. That doesn’t mean that they’re the only ones who have the ministry.

We understand this particularly with an in-depth look at worship. The prayer books are deceiving when we think of the celebrant as being the priest and the respondent as being the choir. It’s the assembly that worships. In the worshipping assembly there are priests and bishops and deacons and choirs - all kinds of people with special roles. But it doesn’t mean that they function instead of the people. Once we clarify this I think we can begin to see what the broad aspect of lay ministries is. It’s not a different ministry than that which we are called to do - priests and laity together as the “laos”, as the people.

But then are you saying that in worship, besides the specific functions of the clergy and choir, there should be an active role for the rest of the people?

This is precisely the problem. I am not saying that we should create a separate role for the people. It should be the people who are doing the worshipping. To give you an example, when the priest turns around and says, “Peace be with you!” he’s speaking to the people. Well then, why does the choir sing, “And with your spirit.”? If the priest says, “Let us lift up our hearts…” why does the choir sing, “We lift them up unto the Lord”, especially in some kind of fancy concert. He’s addressing the people. As one of the people, he’s talking to the people, you see, as the priest. And it’s the people who should be responding. It’s the assembly that’s celebrating. It’s the people who minister. We are called to be that one voice in worship. This is what has to be restored. And when people participate, they then feel responsible. They come. They wouldn’t miss. This is the kind of feeling we have to generate.

The parish as a ministering community has something to minister. The priest doesn’t minister to them. They minister to one another. He supervises. That’s his particular sacramental function, to keep order, to assign, etc. but it’s the community that’s ministering. And ultimately the sign of growth is to minister not just to each other, but to our neighborhood, to our city, to our country, to the world. This is what the ministry is all about. It finally changes that whole inversion - that we take care of ourselves, or that we pay someone to take care of us, that we pay someone to pray for us or to minister to us. It simply isn’t true according to Scripture and the theological understanding of these words.

When the priest says, “Peace be with you,” was there a time when all the people responded?

Of course there was. It isn’t until the development of “Imperial Rites” - between the 4th and 7th centuries - this period of time when everything became much more formal - that the people’s role was so eroded by specific ministries such as choirs and cantors. Once the Imperial Church took shape, the people no longer had a ministry.

In areas, though, like Carpatho Russia and Galicia where there was not that imperial formality and where the Orthodox were under the oppression of Uniatism, the people played an active role in keeping their Orthodoxy alive. We see this in the way they celebrated, the way they participated in the worship. Their parishes were much more active than those churches which were officially supported. As a matter of fact, brotherhoods even kept the churches alive in many places.

What were “brotherhoods”?

In the beginning they were groups of laity that would resist the Latin take-over in their parishes.

When you say “laity” here, does that include the priest?

It includes the priest because he was part of the people. And precisely the Uniate priest would not be part of the people. He would be imposed, either by the Jesuits or somebody else, or by a government that was making some kind of deal with Rome. God made a covenant with a people.

Lay ministries then, has always been a part of our church life though not labeled as such. Within the past 10 years, more focus and attention has been given to this concept in our church, to the point of creating a Department of Lay Ministries. Why?

I think it was the development of a new feeling of responsibility that we call “stewardship”: stewardship for the church, for the faith, for the witness. It’s not just a question of money. It’s a question of everyone’s responsibility as the baptized people, as the Orthodox, as those who are called to give true glory to God. Stewardship is a ministry. Everybody’s ministry. Stewardship of time, talents, resources, energies, all this is everybody’s function. Someone isn’t going to do it for us. God doesn’t want someone to do it for us. He expects us to do it. I think it was natural then, once we developed the stewardship theme, that we make a responsible stewardship commitment - that God would bless us and make our ministry possible, the Church’s ministry - and that is the ministry of us all. This would logically lead into the growth of what we call “Lay Ministries”.

In a sense the term “stewardship” encompasses lay ministries, in that both involve our time, talents, money commitment. Do you see a difference between stewardship and lay ministries as we are currently using these terms in our Church?

I think the difficulty that we’re having, even in discussing this, when you talk about the confusion of those terms, is that we are putting a label on something that exists as self-evident. If you’re baptized into the community, chrismated to participate in that community, then you’re an active part of its worship, in contributing your usefulness, your talents - and that is the ministry. In order to have to label it “lay ministries” now causes the confusion. It is the same thing with stewardship. This is exactly what a Christian is. Is a person really a Christian if he’s not a steward?

There is a need, though, to make people realize this. During the years when Orthodox people were just becoming established here, their main task was to build the churches to provide for their worship in this country. And now, the Church wants people to understand what all the facets of stewardship can mean. So that’s why, I think, Stewardship and Lay Ministries as church departments were created.

I think you’re right.

Many people have felt that all of ministry is what the priest should be doing, taking care of everything himself.

Exactly. I don’t think we can do that anymore. It doesn’t make sense. I ‘m very hopeful about the response of the people in assuming the joy of their ministry as stewards, as ministers in life - because of the restoration within the last 30 years of the Eucharist. Eucharist is something celebrated by all - something in which we all participate together. And it follows that we have a common mutual ministry.

In the sense that by all of us partaking in Communion, this fortifies us to go out and minister?

Exactly. Eucharist is not meant to be a self-serving thing. It’s to nurture us in order to be ministering Christians.

Since you travel a great deal and have been to many parishes in this country, do you see evidence among people who are receiving the Eucharist regularly, that it follows that they are becoming more conscious of being witnesses and ministering in other ways?

I don’t think it’s automatic. I think we have to preach and teach and organize not as ends in themselves, but in order to bring people to the experience. In the same way I keep telling my class: “No one in the parish is automatically going to start singing litanies unless it’s organized, unless it’s taught. You can invite them from now until doomsday. It’s not going to change anything. A choir still is going to sing. People are still going to sit and listen until something happens, until the teaching is provided for. I think it’s the same thing with the consciousness of ministry as a function of our Christian life.

You asked before whether people in the past had a consciousness of ministry. I would say, yes, but they didn’t call it “lay ministry”. One realizes that to be married is a ministry, to be a Christian husband, a Christian wife, a Christian mother is a ministry! Think of the priest’s responsibilities! Think of a mother’s! It’s a fantastic vocation as a ministry when she does it to the glory of God and the upbuilding of His Holy Church. Our people didn’t feel that they had to be called “lay ministers” or anything special. Caring for the community, caring for one another, just listening, being a good and faithful friend, someone to hear someone out and help the person with the burden of loneliness and frustration - each is a ministry. And it’s important for us to be conscious of that again, perhaps even to receive some training to shape skills in these areas. One thing we don’t need now is another category of “lay ministers” in the Church. I think that’s the problem. We keep categorizing and compartmentalizing.

Who is responsible for helping people to become conscious of this vision of Christian ministry?

To answer this, let’s take the family, as an analogy. Everyone has responsibility for the ministry of the family; the husband, the wife, the children, even relatives, and friends. The father has the responsibility for the order of it. But that doesn’t mean he has to dominate, that he would look upon anything his child wants to do with great suspicion, that the child is trying to become the father. This is ridiculous. In love, how could this be misinterpreted? If they love and trust each other, how could the daughter become the father? It doesn’t fit somehow in the Christian understanding. Or if the mother or wife exercises her ministry, is this a threat to the husband? If he’s that threatened he’d better go to counseling—which is one of the areas of development that we need. Or even to be challenged within the loving community. I would expect my children to challenge me from time to time. That doesn’t mean they’re going to ride slipshod over me. I’d say, “O.K., we disagree. Let’s talk about it. Let’s see if we can’t come to some common understanding”. Sometimes they’ll be right. I’ll have to bend a little or change. At other times, my decision will have to prevail. But I think they will respect me more because I’ve given them a chance to talk and express their point of view.

In other words, I’m saying that in the family, in the parish, in the Church, the leadership capabilities of each according to his talents and function need to be nurtured and utilized for the benefit of all, without the fear that in so doing it will diminish the unique role of any of the others. We must continually remember that Christ was the servant of all.

What do you see then, as the role of Lay Ministries in our present day church life?

Rather than always again compartmentalizing in choosing certain people to do certain things, we have to somehow uncover the special talents that every parish has. Can you imagine the explosion of talents we’d discover if we searched for them, made people aware of the unique talents they possess and then use them to minister in the many different ways, ministering first of all one to another, and then letting this joyously spill into the community. Part of the difficulty in Orthodoxy now is that you find in a typical parish that the neighbors are in no way touched or even approached by the ministering parish. We just simply come to church, we are ministered to because we pay our dues, and then we travel back home again. But the neighborhood remains unaffected by any kind of caring outreach. And this is the ministry of everybody. It’s not just for the priest to knock on doors and leave pamphlets.

I think we’re very slowly beginning to reach out.


I think we are. And I’m quite pleased with what is developing. But it begins in worship itself. None of this can be done in isolation from worship. Once we understand that we are called together to assemble, to be that worshipping community, then we also understand that we are called to be that ministering community in the neighborhood.

To come to that understanding does take time and education and experience. The key, I think, is who you feel you are, what you feel your role to be in the worshipping community.

That’s it. Why is it a sin, for example, to absent one’s self from the services? Because God counts on your ministry, your function. If you’re just going to church to get something, well then, you can absent yourself. “No thanks, I don’t need it this time.” I would never feel that I could. All right, you’ll say, but that’s because you’re a priest. But I would imagine that every person would feel like this - as the “laos” -all of us people together. I don’t absent myself, because I have a ministry to perform - as a friend, as a co-worshipper, as a co-celebrant; not just simply as a priest because I’m paid to do it or because I’m canonically responsible for doing it. And everyone should share this feeling, this intense joy of being called to serve.

Everything we do in life is an extension of this. You can see again in terms of the sacraments - there is the ministry of marriage, the ministry of healing, the ministry of extending care, the ministry of teaching. These all flow from worship.

Our church has begun to focus our attention on outreach through the concepts of stewardship, lay ministries, church growth, evangelization. Would you say, then, that each of these words, though it has a slightly different focus, is calling us to the same thing?

I certainly see it that way. I would go so far as to say that it is all worship, an extension of worship. If it isn’t, it’s kind of pointless, isn’t it? St. John Chrysostom says some startling things. He said, “My altar is also on the street corner. The bread which Christ calls me to give is the bread to the beggar, to heal a man, or to show kindness to a child on the streets.” So you see, he could make that extension. And for him that was worship. That was an extension of his worshipping life. In the face of a child or a man in trouble, he could see Christ. He was worshipping Christ. It was just the extension of Eucharist.

Is there a fear that those who feel they are called to minister “on the street corner,” may not feel the need to worship in church as much?

That kind of fright exists only if one misunderstands the intent of St. John Chrysostom. Would he ever substitute the celebration of Eucharist for his ministry on the street? Of course not. And this is the whole point. If we all feel the way St. John Chrysostom does, we have an active ministry in our community. It’s not a substitute for worship, it’s an extension of it.

Would you say that the converse would be true? If you had the call to minister to one another, that there would be a call or need to have the Eucharist?

I would say so from this standpoint: Do you notice that those who are most active in the parish are those who worship and take Communion. And vice versa. Once people get involved, it leads to worship. And once people are involved in worship, this leads to getting involved. When one is alive and responding to the love that they’ve received from Christ, one is looking for an opportunity to share this love.

When someone takes a bag of food to a hungry person or visits in a nursing home, the experience can bring you closer to God than being in church. But it draws you back to church.

One is not a substitute for the other. Most of the time we are frightened that our activity - the social gospel activity will lead us away and make us too busy to worship. I’m equally frightened if worship becomes a thing in itself and doesn’t lead to active social responsibility.

Is there a need for direction, even perhaps some trained personnel to guide and encourage people in lay ministry?

Surely. You have to develop the skill first of all to help people discover their talents, discover their resources. And then you often need skills to train the people in using them. Their use, however, should be in response to a real community need. You can have opera singers in your parish and can say, “Oh, isn’t it wonderful, we have talented mezzos and tenors” but in fact the parish doesn’t need some super duper choir. And so we have to direct those talents in some other channel. For instance, an Orthodox couple I know, an opera singer and a professional pianist, give concerts to raise money for the church, for the starving people in Ethiopia, for missions, etc.

To what extent do you think Lay Ministries should be organized?

Ministries can take many, many faces. Some can be very simple and some can be more complex, requiring training. If there is a need for direction or training, then there is a need from some organization. An example of the latter is alcoholism. I know myself, all the years I’ve been a priest and only recently have I been “sensitized” to the problem of alcoholism. We always think it happens someplace else, not among the people we know.

But I think this is changing.

Yes, and now, you see, you have a ministry. You have some kind of responsibility to care when others suffer like this. Not just the alcoholic, but his family, his neighbors, his job, even the parish. If you can find people within the parish, within the Church to help deal with such problems, this will take some organization, some education, some searching out of helpful resources.

Father, would you like to offer any concluding remarks?

I think I would just like to recap a few points. First, I hope it’s understood that when we talk about “lay ministries,” we talk about the “laos” - the people ministering. We’re not talking about something anti-clerical. Secondly, I hope it’s understood that ministering is not something that the people can impose upon the priest as his duty. We must become conscious that all of us have a responsible ministry in our lives, in our parish. If we get those two ideas across I think we’ll be all right.

People are scared by the words, the labeling. People have all along been stewards, ministers. We give them these names now to focus attention on them and on their development. People shouldn’t be afraid of them. They should look into them and develop them as most naturally suits each person. Simply being a member of the “laos”, the people of God, as a baptized Christian, is a great and special gift. It is itself a full ministry.


Fr. Sergei Glagolev is Director Of the OCA Fellowship of Orthodox Stewards and teaches Liturgical Music at St. Vladimir’s Seminary.

To Serve

By Fr Sergei Glagolev

Extracts from a keynote address given by Fr. Sergei Glagolev at a NY/NJ Conference on Lay Ministries (Transcribed and edited by Dr. Michael T. lrvin):

What is the implication, the meaning, the reality of baptism, chrismation, membership in the Church? The definition of church membership is not something that we can read in the statutes. It is simply “to serve.” All are called to minister. The people of God are called to minister, not to be ministered to, but to minister.


All are called to serve. It is not a question of the clergy serving the people but rather a call to service for all the people, including the clergy, who make up the Church. In the beginning of the Scriptures, in Exodus, God is choosing His people, laos theou. His people are called out from other peoples. He assigns the priestly functions to Aaron and the priesthood to the male members of Aaron’s family. But again, He chooses the priests out of the people, out of the serving people, out of His people whom He has called to do His work, His will, to fulfill His plan.

Why does our Church seem so slow to grow? It is precisely because we never seem to get beyond ministering to our own people. Instead of ministering to them, we should be ministering with them, to make the Church grow, to extend its mission and work in this country and everywhere.


I love the Pauline images of the Epistles when he talks about the people of God. He speaks so often in images of military service. He talks about marathons, running races, and, in several passages, images of the Olympics. And, in today’s terms, I think precisely in terms of football, baseball, marathons. Paul sees in the secular world images of the sacred. He doesn’t separate the sacred from the secular. He sees these images and he struggles, grapples, with them. The Epistles are so realistic for this very reason.

When St. Paul speaks about the people of God, the ministry of the people of God, he means everybody who considers himself a member of the Church. In his military terms, he says that if, in the church militant, it is only the clergy who fulfill the function of the ministry of the Church, then it is like fighting a battle with only the generals. Can you imagine how foolish that would be? Of course, it might be a good way to stop all wars! But in the real world, such a situation would be unthinkable.

And when it comes to the ministry of the Church, this is precisely where the action is - on the front-lines, in your homes and neighborhoods, at your jobs, in our country. These are the front lines. We cannot do the work of the Church without the troops, the fighters, without those who are trained for service, trained to be of service, trained to be loyal, trained to understand the principles and do something about them, to give their lives and their hearts. This is precisely what St. Paul is talking about and this is the approach to the ministries of the Church that we must take.

St. Paul uses another image - that of running the race. What would happen at a marathon if only the coaches ran the race while everyone else stayed home and watched the television? This is exactly what we have allowed to happen in the Orthodox Church. The coaches run the race. Everyone else attends. We attend services, we attend classes. We attend. We advise the priest, at best, at parish council meetings, when in fact, we should be expected to run the race with the coaches. The coaches can run alongside us, with us, but not for us. Priests can help with the training, they can facilitate, but it is ultimately up to each member to run the race.


My son began playing football in junior high school some years ago. I would go to the games and say, “Wow, that quarterback is fantastic!” But my son taught me an important lesson. He said, “Pa, you think that that is where the game is being played, with the quarterback, all the razzle-dazzle, the ‘Hail Mary’ pass. No,” he said, “listen, if there is no offensive line, that quarterback is going to wind up on his rear end so fast, you won’t believe it! It’s in the line.”

It’s the front line that moves the ball, you see, and that quarterback, that priest, that bishop, isn’t going to be able to do anything without the front line. He’s going to get sacked every time unless he has the front line working with him, for him, understanding the game and doing something about it.

This was a revelation for me. All the time I sat there with the other laymen, listening to Howard Cosell talking, and waiting for something spectacular to happen in the backfield. Then, your son plays football, and this insight comes as you watch him play. You begin to see all kinds of fantastic things open up. You begin to see what happens when the line holds, when the line gives, what happens when someone goofs, what happens when there isn’t that team spirit and they don’t work together. Then you begin to see the injuries. You see what happens to the receivers and to that quarterback when there’s no line. The ball doesn’t move. This is what St. Paul is talking about when he speaks about all of us being committed to moving the Church forward.

The bottom line is that we don’t want another generation of Howard Cosells to talk football. I’m so tired of hearing explanations about this or that - or giving explanations. Let’s train people to help instead of talking the game, talking about missions or church schools. Let’s learn the skills so that we can teach others in order to make the Church grow, so that it might be the extension of power, grace, love and fullness that it is called to be in this country.

What I have in mind is power, people-power - not programs, not even materials - but rather people-power, power of the laos, the lay people. This is where our strength is. “Lay ministries” is getting back to the basics of equipping all believers, all the faithful, to use their gifts and talents for the work of the Church; that is, not to attend services, but to be of service, to be the servers, the ministers.

Orthodox worship itself is called “service” by no accident. The worship of the church is an enterprise of all the Christian people who are known by one word - “servant.”


In the sacraments, all Christians are addressed by one word - “servant” and this implies that no one may contract out of rendering service to Christ and His Church. And, how are we known in the Church? Is there a single sacrament in which we are referred to in the abstract? Each and every time, the commitment is personal - Mary, John, Andrew - every name. We are known personally. But are we simply called by name? Always, we are identified as the servant of God, Mary, the servantof God, Andrew, the servant of God, Ann, the servant of God. Are these just vain words, or some sort of wonderful, mystical connection to the glorious Byzantine past? No, indeed! There’s not a single word in the services that we shouldn’t take seriously. And, if the priest or bishop refers to us as “the servant of God,” we’d better believe it! That’s what we’re called to be, what we’re called to do - to be the servant of God, to be the servant of the parish, to be the servant of the diocese - the servant of God and specifically, by name. This is what ministries is all about.


Every sacrament implies a beginning in baptism and chrismation, those acts by which we enter into service and join in Christ’s own life, He who came to serve and not to be served. Every new member of the Church comes to be baptized into this life of service. And chrismation is precisely to be enabled by the Holy Spirit Himself to use our hands, eyes, ears, mouth, nose, and feet to serve the church, to extend the ministry of Christ into the world. In each of these sacraments, we are called “the servant of God.”

In penance, we are restored and reconciled to usefulness in the Church. How? We are reconciled again to the baptismal grace. We come and say, “We are worthless. Our sins have isolated us from our holy and high calling,” and penance restores us to service. How are we forgiven? As “the servant of God.”

In communion itself, koinonia, the fellowship and nourishment in which we ourselves partake of the Divine Light in the Precious Body and Blood of Our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ, we are addressed as “the servant of God.” Is this simply for our own spiritual service? Do we think that just because it is spiritual; it cannot be selfish? I have seen too much spiritual selfishness in my lifetime. We receive Christ here in the Holy Gifts precisely so that we can say to our neighbor, even to our enemy, “Jesus in me loves you.” I have no business holding grudges because I have partaken of forgiveness itself, of divinity itself. Now I must serve. I must serve love. I must serve the divine so that what Jesus is by nature I might be by grace.

Marriage itself is meant to serve as a ministry of Christian witness. This is the reason for the martyrs’ crowns. Our home must be part of this ministry, this witness in the neighborhood, in the community. This is where it begins and where it grows - in the home, in the family, among relatives and friends, in our places of our work and lives, we are married to each other as “the servants of God.” How quickly romance will fail unless Christ Himself is involved, unless our love is service whose purpose is being the means by which we are given to each other, to love each other, and to fulfill that love by which we have been bound to Christ.

Ordination is simply an extension of our family into the world, and this is why the Orthodox Church doesn’t ordain just celibates. This ordination, as every priest knows, is a martyr’s crown, just as life is for all of us.

Finally, even in the anointing of Holy Unction, there is service rendered. The sacrament is not simply to pray for some kind of miraculous healing but to realize that the ultimate healing is that the servant of God is anointed, so that even in sickness, old age, even dying, there might be the service rendered - a service of courage, faith, and hope. It is also a service of rejoicing for all that we have shared, all that we can expect, all that we have received out of God’s abundant love. And, for those who render this service to the Lord, we cannot even imagine the beauty and rejoicing that comes to those who love Jesus.


Baptism, chrismation, and all those other sacraments, are meant to prepare us for ministering, for our ministries in this world. And in these ministries, we are called to act as the equals of God.

We talk so often about being baptized into Christ’s life, of being chrismated by the Holy Spirit, of being enabled to live this life. We talk about Christ’s fasting after His baptism, and we say that we ourselves now fast in imitation of Him. We fast in preparation for Pascha, in preparation for the Theophany, to honor the Apostles and the Theotokos. But, there is still another aspect of these events in Our Lord’s life.

Why was He baptized? That we might enter into His baptism and life. Why did He fast? So that He might share with us all those things by which we as humans are tempted. St. Paul says in Hebrews, “ who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:14). And so, we are baptized and we fast. But what did Our Lord do after this? He began His ministry.

All the events that went before were to prepare Him for His ministry. Now, who is supposed to continue this earthly ministry? Why, in His prayer for His Church (John 17) does Christ say, “I do not pray that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from evil.” “As thou didst send me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” We remain in the world. Why? In order to do what? In order to continue Christ’s ministry in His Body, the Church.

All are called to this ministry of service. We are not called simply to fulfill the fast and then to say, “Oh, good, Christ is risen!” or “Christ is born!” Our fasting must lead us, prepare us, again and again, reinforce in us again and again, our calling to minister.


And what was this ministry of Our Lord’s? To teach, to preach, and to heal. If our lives do not teach, preach, heal by our example, then we are no Christians at all! Teaching does not mean “to explain” the way we explain icons. We are called to beicons! Do you realize that if an icon doesn’t teach, preach, or heal, then it isn’t an icon, either? It is the same thing with us. That we are to teach does not mean “to explain” or “to talk about” but rather to be the followers of Christ, to be the doers of Christ.

Our preaching is precisely to reflect in ourselves this message of salvation. And healing, St. Peter speaks of as the love that covers a multitude of sins. Because we have been loved first, we are given this ministry of love by which we are enabled to love others and to heal, to be the balm of Gilead in the lives of others, in their loneliness, in their separations, in their aches and despair.

In order to teach, preach and heal, the ministry of stewardship is crucial. We must learn how to manage our lives since there is never enough time, money, and resources to do everything that we are called to do in this overwhelming task for the growth and evangelization of the Orthodox Church in America. Without the stewardship and management of our priorities and our resources, we will make very little progress.

The prophet Joel says in Chapter 2, “And it shall come to pass afterward, (as we live in the fullness of time) that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; (on all people) your sons and daughters shall prophesy, (will be able to speak, to witness, will be able by their example to show that Jesus Christ is in their midst, that He is risen, that He has filled us, and that we ourselves are now partakers in His victory over sin and death) your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even upon the menservants and maidservants (upon them all) in those days, I will pour out my spirit.” (Joel 2:28-29)

This is the kind of ministry we should be talking about in youth ministries and in the ministries of the aged. Parish growth is the work of the parish council, and the work of the parish itself in evangelizing the community, winning back those whom we have lost, not erasing the names of peripheral people. Rather we should be saying, “We are responsible for these people on the periphery. Let’s go out and get them. Let’s go out and make sure they’re counted. We are responsible. We care about them.”

Family life - this is where the ministries begin. The training to serve begins in the family itself. And in the witness of our family life, we give our witness to the community, witness to Orthodoxy by what we are, how we live, by the goals and priorities we manifest in our lives. This is what witness truly is, not another teaching film. By our witness, yours and mine, people will see how we live, how we behave, what our goals are, what Orthodoxy is all about. So, when someone says, “What is Orthodoxy?”, the usual answer , “Well, I’m not sure. You know, it’s the Russian Church but actually it’s the Greek Church, but, then again, we use English” - won’t be necessary. They won’t have to ask questions if, as Joel suggests, the witness of our lives will show what it should or could be, if we take this business of lay ministries seriously. Then those who are outside the Church will say, “Who are these people that love each other so much? What kind of church do they have that it gives them that kind of power, those kinds of priorities in their lives? Look at how they rejoice! Look how happy it makes them!” They won’t see us going around with a sad face saying, “I’m Orthodox, I’m fasting.”



All right, then, let’s go to work. But first, listen to God’s word:

Matthew 20:26-28 “...whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave; even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as the ransom for many.”

John 12:25-26 “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serve me, the Father will honor him.”

I Corinthians 4:1 “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” (The “mysteries of God” does not just mean ordination, but all the sacraments.)

Galatians 6:14-15 “But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” A new creation, a new humanity, and this new humanity is recognized, is manifested by our behavior, by what we do, by what our goals are, not by our talk.

Philippians 2:5-8 “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” We read in this passage, and in the Liturgy of St. Basil, that He lowered Himself to the likeness of a servant so that in our serving, we might liken ourselves to His glory - doxa. Hopefully, it will be the right glory - orthdoxa.

I Peter 2:9-10 “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were no people but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy.” And, finally,

I Peter 4:8-11 “Above all hold unfailing your love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins. Practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another. As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied Grace: whoever speaks, as one who utters oracles of God; whoever renders service, as one who renders it by the strength which God supplies; in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To Him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

1986 Fr. Sergei Glagolev is retired. He continues to lecture at St. Vladimir’s and St. Tikhon’s Seminaries.

Dr. Michael T. lrvin is Headmaster of Harbor Country Day School, St. James, N.Y., and is a member of St. Andrew’s Parish, Dix Hills, N.Y.

Ministry of Laity in Daily Life

By Jean M. Haldane

The hidden ministry of the people needs to be brought into the light.

In practice, the church rewards institutional activities and gives little attention to men’s and women’s daily ministry in their workplaces, in their homes and during times of recreation. Church-related ministries are known, recognized, supported, encouraged. Yet there are many works of ministry in the world that, if known, would spark many more. Already the laity serve in a world of power, but if what they are doing is unknown or assumed or not given attention, how can laity be aware that the church values the servanthood?

Many laity have a deep sense of service, of being servant. One good reason stems from their devotional lives centered in the corporate worship of the church. That ritual of giving and receiving is at the heart of the Eucharist. A second good reason has to do with people’s perception about the life of Jesus. Many understand Jesus as servant. And they have appropriated this image for their own lives. When laity are asked to describe experiences of giving service, they can do so, usually with humility and modesty. But their sense of “real” ministry continues to be for in and for the church.

Yet laity have great opportunity to carry out their Christian commitment “in the world”—for that is where they spend most of their time. Monday to Friday, weekends, too, for many, men and women are working in the fields of industry, agriculture, education, politics, retailing, “helping” professions, etc. at all levels of responsibility. These men and women are also maintaining relationships, responsibility to spouses, parents, children, friends, and many groups in the community and society as a whole. They are members of numerous organizations, social service groups, environmental groups, political associations, peace efforts, associations and task forces of all kinds, as well as sports and health clubs .... Are they ministering “in the world?”


Sadly, the greater scope and appreciation of laity’s in-church ministries (pastoral, Eucharistic and others), has not furthered greater recognition and support of laity’s ministry beyond the walls of the church. Laity themselves seem blind to their daily ministries.

Nevertheless, my research reveals that privately and quietly, generally unknown to the church, laity in their daily lives demonstrate servant ministry as followers of Christ. This is distinct from what they do in church and outreach activities.


If Christ’s ministry of compassion and healing in the world is to be lived out more consistently and effectively, laity need more education to help them perceive, accept and act upon the ministries for which they have been gifted. And both clergy and laity need to find ways to recognize, support and encourage the worldly ministry of laity.

I have many times facilitated this ministry awareness exercise: I ask laity to share two personal experiences when “you feel you were ministered to,” and “when you feel you ministered to someone else.” As they talk it becomes obvious that each has understanding of and experience with “ministry.” When asked what they were doing as they ministered they said things like “I cared,” “I listened,” “I was there,” “I showed some alternatives.” When I asked, “Where did these ministries take place?” the answers revealed they happened with friends, family and strangers, in supermarkets and hospitals, at work and the tennis club, and, of course, at church.

As people share they begin to see themselves and others differently. And they see that ministry happens in all of life.

A layman in San Francisco, a bus driver, calls out clearly the names of the stops, “so people don’t get lost.” Is he ministering? He now believes so. But are these experiences seen as ministry by the church? We may say, “Yes, of course,” but are their ministries commended as outreach along with the Hunger Program? Probably not, for we do not see the laity acting in society; their experience is not part of the input that the church shares. We do not act as though they are our greatest outreach on a daily basis.

Who authenticates a woman’s ministry of caring for an invalid mother over twenty years if she is unaware that such caring is ministry and feels the time given prevents her from doing “real ministry” through the altar society and outreach work? What support can the church give to the executive who is silent about saving 250 jobs for people who otherwise would be unemployed? Is his job-saving action seen as ministry? He has begun to think so. What is it in church norms that prevents the “whistleblower” from talking about risking his job in order to stop the shipment of faulty materials that could cause lives to be lost? Is this not ministry?

In conference settings, when laity are led to share these experiences, they suddenly see one another living their lives by faith, ministering in the community, addressing issues of justice and human need. Then they speak of “renewed hope,” being “encouraged for my work,” discovering “a vision of our ministry.” Why is this not already plain to people in the church? Because this ministry is carried out where other church people do not see it. It is the hidden ministry of the church. There is no planned way for laity to talk to each other about their service in the world. The hidden ministry of the church would be brought out into the light. What stands in the way of this being a central activity? Significant ministry is seen by the church as solely taking place within and under the auspices of the church community.


A woman spoke to me quietly after the Eucharist. “I have spent years work in the church in all kinds of areas. Right now I am sensing different spiritual needs, wondering what’s next in ministry for me. But as soon as you drop out of working full-time for the church, you are ignored. It’s lonely.” The only way, it seems, for laity to relate to each other is through working together in the church. They are still seen more as helping hands for the church, rather than those to be nurtured and strengthened as the church in the world. In some of the most caring congregations, the normative way of belonging is to be involved, support the church, volunteer for more and more. Burnout is not just the clergy’s problem. When laity drop back a little, their names no longer appear in the church bulletin. They feel discarded. Many endure, some leave. (And when I interview people who’ve left, this seemed the pattern: burn-out, dropping out and no one seemed to notice.) If ministry is interpreted as more and more work in the church, for the church, we shall not sustain the true servant ministry in the world.

Clearly there is need for a different approach to “adult education” and “training” for ministry and mission. On almost no church agenda is there a place for reports from the field! Because of this the laity count as trivial their efforts to carry out their Christian commitment in daily life, and the church as a whole misses its opportunity to shape church programs for empowerment of the people.


There is a necessary, dynamic tension between the church’s risky sense of mission and its conserving sense of tradition. For the laity, the tension could be described this way: “How do I belong to a caring faith community and at the same time respond to my calling to minister to the world?” In this highly individualistic society people yearn for community, so it’s tempting for lay people to stay in the faith community, especially when the church norm strongly affirms in-church acts of service and leadership. Most laity have “merged” tradition and mission under one roof—the institutional church; relatively few live creatively with the tension.

Clergy exacerbate this problematic norm by leadinglaity into mission instead of sending them. Clergy usually initiate programs of outreach that are good in themselves; but these lull laity into believing these programs comprise ministry in society and world. Both clergy and laity collude around two things: keeping laity in the church, and continuing to hold clergy primarily responsible for mission.

The church offers warm relationships and common purpose, a “community of memory” that gives us a past, meaning and values, and a chance to care for one another in ways we find difficult in society. In contrast, laity’s ministry in the world is complex, often difficult and unclear. Many experience struggles of conscience, tensions and worry in their work, loneliness in the gray areas of public conduct and practice. So they collude with the clergy to keep themselves focused within church programs. Clergy, for their part, though they may intend to support laity’s ministry in society, are caught with the need for many “hands” if worship, education, and outreach are to be worthy of the name. And “anyway, our Prison Ministry is surely ministry in the world!” So clergy and laity collude around keeping the laity in church.


There is a crucial moment in lay people’s lives - a moment when a good many ideas and values about their identity and vocation get formed. It is that time when they become aware - sometimes for the first time - that they ARE the church. Many have a profound experience - perhaps of conversion or awakening to their call. It is then that they are in a state of readiness for careful nurture, support and education. The Church Gathered needs to be a lifelong catechumenate, providing training for the Christian life so that new and not-so-new- members may become mature - spiritually and in ministry.


Let us see the laity as people who must be nurtured for ministry in society rather than as recruits for tasks in and for the church. In that regard people’s daily work and associations are of particular importance. On the whole the church does not take much account of laity’s work. In one congregation, the visiting preacher’s sermon was on “ministry of the laity being primarily in the world work, jobs, community, family, as well as the church.” A layman, Mike, commented afterwards, “That doesn’t go for my work. I rent houses, and I guess that’s one job everyone labels ‘bad guys’. Seems like I spend my time fighting with tenants. So I was never able to take much church with me on the job.” Parishioners around the table looked at each other knowingly; there were some wry smiles. Then, laughing a little, Mike said, “Anyway, it’s too late now. I’ve just retired.” There was some quiet laughter.

This story was told to two groups. Those at the clergy conference were filled with compassion for Mike. They considered it tragic that this man spent his life at work he felt meant nothing, and that it never had been significant to anyone, let alone the church. The other group was mostly laity. They regarded the situation as nothing unusual. They felt rather critical of Mike, “He should have done something about it!” Their work, for the most part, had never been counted as significant by the church.

In the congregations of one church jurisdiction, there was a strange silence about unemployment. More than one pastor was heard to say, “I haven’t heard anything; I don’t think we have a problem here.” Then, at a symposium on employment another said, “One of my leading laymen has lost his job and they’re selling their house - and he can’t tell me.” The 200 laity gathered there had seemed to feel their employment or unemployment was a private matter, not of much concern to the church.


A central process for the empowerment of the laity has been Identification of Gifts. There are two basic approaches. The first leads to discernment of one or more New Testament gifts of the Spirit, the second to discernment of lifelong gifts and talents, all God-given. The first approach leads more logically to ministry within and to the church. The second is more directly related to ministry in all of life.

Both processes have been life-changing for thousands of lay people. But among the leadership (clergy and lay) there is a lack of awareness about the significance of the two outcomes, and even a tendency for some to speak of “spiritual” gifts as being higher than “market-place talents,” making the use of gifts in worldly ministries of lesser value.


A great deal of support needs to be given to laity if they are to have the courage to sally forth day after day to try to do what is right. And they need a group in which to think aloud about the strategies and the consequences for actions they may or may not take, and should or should not take.

When you ask lay people to think of an experience beyond the walls of the church, in which they felt called upon to act, to do or say something that seemed within themselves to be “right,” you find that people are trying to “stand” in difficult situations, to speak up for what is right, to refuse to go along with the majority . . . but this is not easy. Jobs can be lost, people can be ostracized, there’s a great cost to pay for whistle-blowing and advocacy. Someone has said, “When I feed the hungry, I am called a saint; when I ask why they are hungry, I am called a communist.”

The larger society is the place where people of integrity, honesty, and courage are needed if we are to help build a world. The whole of life is the place for servant ministry. The institutions and structures of society constitute a world of power. Laity’s ministry here must be prophetic as well as pastoral. The church must encourage them to be ministers for the common good in their daily lives.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Applying Jean Haldane’s experience on recognizing ministry: Can you think of a personal experience when you feel you were ministered to? Can you think of a personal experience when you ministered to someone else?
  2. What do you consider to be your ministries “in the world?”
  3. Do you wish there were a time at the church when you could talk with others about some of the situations you encounter “in the world?” Are there any natural times in the parish schedule or in a parish group that this could occur?
  4. Does it help you to think of your work “in the world” as a potential Christian ministry?

Jean Haldane is a consultant on Laity and Ministry Development for the Episcopal Church and other denominations. (Reprinted by permission from ACTION INFORMATION, published by The Alban Institute, Inc., 4125 Nebraska Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20016. Copyright 1989. All rights reserved.)

Jean Haldane is a consultant on Laity and Ministry Development for the Episcopal Church and other denominations. (Reprinted by permission from ACTION INFORMATION, published by The Alban Institute, Inc., 4125 Nebraska Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20016. Copyright 1989. All rights reserved.)

Lay Ministry - A Shared Responsibility

By Larry Jenney

(A keynote address given by Larry Jenney, Chairman of the Department of Lay Ministries, at the assembly of the Diocese of Eastern Pennsylvania on September 10, 1988)

I would like to share some thoughts with you about a fundamental, but sometimes overlooked, aspect of our lives as Orthodox Christians. By Holy Scripture, by tradition, and by the example of the saints through nearly 2,000 years of history, we are called to minister to one another. In the title of my address today I have characterized this ministry as a shared responsibility. Let me begin by explaining why I have chosen this title.

Historically, the Church has understood that the practice of Christianity is not something pursued by individuals acting alone. True, we must make an individual and personal commitment to God, and we must cultivate within ourselves a oneness with Him in every part of our being. But the Church has never perceived personal faith as simply a one-to-one relation with God. If we truly believe in God and fully absorb His message of love and redemption through Jesus Christ, we see that our faith and submission to His will takes place in a social context. We are of the family of God - and as in our earthly families - we are bound to each other by a web of love and mutual commitment.

Forms Of Cooperation In The Church

Christianity is communal and cooperative. The people of God (the laos, or laity) and those chosen for special responsibility (the clergy) work together to fulfill the mission of the Church. Broadly speaking, this cooperation takes three forms.


First, there is worship itself. The root meaning of the word “liturgy” in Greek is the “work of the people.” The Divine Liturgy is not celebrated by a priest alone, nor is it a spectacle to be passively witnessed. The Divine Liturgy requires the active participation of the laity. Together, the people of God assemble for worship, celebrate God’s presence, invoke His blessing, and partake of the Eucharist. The Divine Liturgy is what it is because it is a shared, cooperative endeavor.

The second area of cooperation is in the administration of the Church. Each of us shares in the tasks and activities that enable the Church to function as an institution. We work together to assure the good order and well being of God’s earthly house - contributing talent, time, and treasure as stewards of the Church to sustain it as a social institution.

The third form of cooperation - and a necessary consequence of the other two - is service to others. Christ commands us to love one another as we love ourselves, not only in our hearts but also in our conduct. From the very beginning of the Church, as told in the Book of Acts (and the name itself is significant), the early Christians understood that ministry to others was an essential part of their lives. Following the example of Christ’s ministry and inspired by the Holy Spirit, the early Christian community devoted itself to serving those in need. To administer this work, they created a special group known as deacons (in Greek meaning is “servants”) to distribute food, clothing, and other necessities. Equally important, they also gave spiritual comfort to those in need. It is clear, however, that the deacons were not the only persons involved in charitable work; they were coordinators and managers of a community-wide activity involving everyone in the Church.

Thus, the earliest, fundamental, and correct understanding of the Church is that it involves cooperative effort by the whole people in worship, stewardship, and ministry - a shared endeavor of clergy and laity, young and old, men and women, rich and poor, all of us who call ourselves Christians.

More Than A Desirable Practice

This is more than a desirable practice or “a good thing to do,” like supporting the scouts, mulching your garden, or flossing regularly and seeing your dentist twice a year. Christ did not “suggest” that we do this, nor did He “recommend” it for our consideration as “good Christians.” He commanded us to minister to one another, and we must accept it for what it is: a duty to be fulfilled as a member of the body of Christ. We are to give because we have been given. We really have no choice if we are to be Christians - not “good Christians,” just Christians.

Saint Peter clearly saw it thus. In I Peter 4:8-10 he tells us:

“And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves; for charity shall cover a multitude of sins. Use hospitality one to another without grudging. As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”

The linkage between stewardship and lay ministry is not accidental. They are twin duties, two sides of the same coin. As stewards we are dedicated to good housekeeping and shared responsibility for the internal order and well being of God’s house. As ministers we are to see to the needs of the community - the neighborhood, the city, the country, the world - in which the Church resides.

Parenthetically, the name of the department of which I am chairman was originally the Department of Stewardship and Lay Ministry, a title given in recognition that internal and external responsibilities go hand in hand. While the two functions have since been separated for administrative reasons, the connection between the two spheres of Christian service remains a strong feature of the policy of the Orthodox Church in America.

Serving Others - A Shared Responsibility

What I want to emphasize today, and the reason for entitling my talk as I have, is that lay ministry, like worship and stewardship, is a shared responsibility. Some might construe this as a “good-news-bad-news” message, and in a way it is. The “bad news” is that it is not enough to call ourselves Christians. We must beChristians, and that means we must act as Christians. We must really and wholeheartedly commit ourselves to serving others and ministering to their physical and spiritual needs. It is a duty commanded by Christ Himself. The good news is that His command falls on all of us alike. You are not expected to do it alone. We are all in this together, and - best of all - Christ is with us.

To put what I have just said more simply and positively, we serve Christ by serving one another. In personal terms, we serve Him not only in our hearts but also in the way we live and interact with those we encounter in our daily life: our family, our friends, our neighbors and co-workers, our casual daily contacts, the strangers we meet, and those whom we never meet but whose needs we come to know.

Everything we do in service to others can be a ministry, from simple spontaneous acts of kindness to the most grandiose and far-reaching acts of charity. To be a Christian is to act as a Christian and to follow Christ’s example of love and selfless giving to all who have need.


When I say giving, I do not want you to interpret this as a plea for funds. I am speaking of charity in the true sense of the word, not the trivialized meaning we have given this concept in modern times. Today, if someone makes an appeal for charity, the first thing most of us do is reach for our wallet or checkbook. (Better the checkbook because the contribution is likely to be tax-deductible, and we will need a record.) Charity really means “love” or, by extension, an act prompted by love. The original meaning survives in the phrase “Christian charity,” an act of loving kindness.

This is the charity that Christ practiced in His ministry and the example He bids us to follow in the parable of the sheep and the goats. He tells us that it is the duty of the righteous to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to take in the stranger, to clothe the naked, to comfort the sick, to visit those in prison.

“Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt. 25:40)

The sternness of this command becomes evident at the end of the parable, where Christ tells us that those who practice this charity are to be counted among the righteous sheep and those who do not are the goats who shall go away to everlasting punishment.

Feeding The Soul

Christ’s message is clear and unequivocal. We are to minister to others. We must deal with their physical human needs: food, clothing, shelter, medicine. We must also deal with their psychological needs: comfort, encouragement, solace, love. But these ministrations are intermediary to satisfying the most fundamental need of all: the spiritual hunger for the word of God and, through it, salvation. This is what distinguishes our ministry from that of the many social welfare organizations operated by government and private institutions. We feed the body, and we feed the soul. In fact, we feed the body in order to feed the soul.

Thus, lay ministry and evangelization are parts of the same process. Through our service to others and to our Christian charity we make manifest our faith in, and commitment to, Christ. This is summed up in the formula: teach, preach, heal.

We teach not by explanation and exhortation. No, we teach by what we show of ourselves and what we do. We teach by the example we set as Christian servants of God. We preach not by sermons or any words that we say to others, but by the reflection in our conduct that we have received and embraced Christ’s message of salvation. We heal not only in the physical sense but above all in the spiritual sense of helping to make our brothers and sisters whole and one with God. To teach, to preach, and to heal mean - in the fullest sense—to be icons of Christ in what we are and in what we do.

To summarize, let me repeat a few key points about what lay ministry is and is not. Lay ministry is not a new concept, nor is it alien to Orthodoxy. Lay ministry is as old as the Church itself and fundamental to the practice of Christianity. Lay ministry is not something difficult or mysterious. It is a natural and inevitable expression of our belief in Christ and being a part of His Church. Lay ministry is not synonymous with social welfare. It is service to others, born of simple Christian love for all God’s creatures. Unlike the social programs administered by government or private charitable agencies, lay ministry deals with more than material need. It also seeks to meet spiritual need and thus to minister to the whole person - body, mind, and soul.

The Role Of The Department Of Lay Ministries

Finally, and here I refer to the role of the Department of Lay Ministries within the Orthodox Church in America, lay ministry is not a centrally organized and operated national program. Lay ministry as an organized activity consists primarily of efforts at the parish level, or by small groups within a parish. The purpose of the OCA Department of Lay Ministries is to study and to promote the involvement of lay men and women in Christian witness and service to the teachings and Tradition of the Orthodox Church. The Department serves as a clearinghouse for information about lay ministry and as a mechanism for encouraging and supporting initiatives at the parish and diocesan levels. Through its publications (chiefly The Resource Handbook For Lay Ministries), through task forces focused on special needs or problems, and through special activities (conferences, workshops, seminars) the Department seeks to foster the practice of lay ministry by individuals and parishes. In other words, I am not the Department of Lay Ministries; you are - you and your fellow parishioners at home.

Your Commitment

When you return to your parish after this assembly and report what you heard today, I would like to suggest that you say we talked about service to others. By service I mean simply giving of ourselves - our talent, our time, our treasure - to those in need. It is for you to determine what the need is and how you can minister to it, but let me suggest that you not think of what you might do solely in monetary terms.

Think instead of what you might give of yourself. Think of the use that can be made of your talents, your experience, your education, your God-given abilities in service to others. None of us is devoid of talent; we all have some gift that we can share with others. Think also of how you can use your time - something we never seem to have enough of and can never seem to find more. Think of the use that can be made of your treasure - the monetary resources that you and your parish may need to translate your talent and time into practical results. But of the three, I would ask you to focus on your time, perhaps the most precious gift we have to offer.

All of you are familiar with the concept of tithing, pledging some share of your income to the Church. When we tithe, we give back to God, through the Church, some part of the material wealth that we have been given. It is our thankful response to God, who has given us all we have.

My appeal to you today is to extend the concept of tithing to include time. Time, too is a gift from God, and we should budget some part of this gift to fulfilling our shared responsibility of ministering to those in need. Commit some of your time, and hence part of yourself, to reach out to those who want and who are hungering to hear the message of Christ from us… and in us.

Larry L. Jenney is Chairman of the Department of Lay Ministries of the Orthodox Church in America. He served as Lay Chairman of the 8th All-American Council, held in Washington, D.C. in 1986. Larry attends St. Mark’s Orthodox Church in Bethesda, Maryland, where he was Church School Director for fifteen years.

Women in the Mission of the Church

By Constance J. Tarasar, Ph.D.

The decade 1988-1998 has been proclaimed “Ecumenical Decade in Solidarity With Women” by the World Council of Churches. To promote an awareness of this Decade, several articles will appear in the Resource Handbook on the mission or ministry of women in the Church.

The following article offers theological and historical reflections on the topic. It can be noted for the purpose of our interest in lay ministries, that the word “mission”and the word “ministry” can be understood interchangeably in this article.


The work of mission is the work of the Church. In its catholic context, i.e. in the sense of wholeness, fullness, integrity, it has both universal and particular dimensions. It is at the same time addressed to the whole inhabited earth - in fact, the entire cosmos - as well as to the place “where two or three are gathered in Christ’s name” (Matt. 18:20). One is not less than the other. It is also the work of the entire Body; it involves women and men, children and aged, healthy and infirm. Each person becomes a witness to Christ in a unique way, bearing the gift and the cross that each has received.

As I reflect on mission, I reflect upon my life, as well as the lives of all those apostles, saints, and martyrs to whom I owe the treasure that has been passed on to me. In my own life I see that God has worked in mysterious ways—sometimes guiding, sometimes pushing, sometimes supporting me as I am led into ever new and totally unexpected challenges to accomplish his will and his work. Having learned to accept the “question mark” in my life, I have come to appreciate the meaning of the words “through the Cross, Joy has come into all the world.”

In the following pages, I will share a few of the perspectives that constitute my understanding and vision of mission. I begin with a brief theological reflection on the trinitarian nature of the meaning of mission, an understanding that increasingly becomes more concrete and relevant to me as I carry out my daily work. What follows are a series of reflections on the particular ways that women have participated in mission throughout the history of the church. The examples are by no means exhaustive, but representative.

A THEOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE The nature of mission in the church

There are numerous ways to conceptualize the nature of the mission of the church, but St. Paul’s vision in his letter to the Ephesians is most inclusive:

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ . . . speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
(Eph. 4:11-13, 15, 16)

The unity of the Body of Christ - Christ and the church - is both the subject and object of Christian mission. Such a mission occurs within the life of the church and extends beyond it, for the sake of the church and the entire cosmos. Every member of the Body is essential to the work of mission and each is given a unique gift for the work of ministry and the building up of the Body.

The focus from which the church’s missionary effort begins and to which it returns is the divine community of the Holy Trinity. God in Trinity is both the source of the church’s life and the model for human community, which is to be taken up into God “so that God may be all in all” (I Cor. 15:28). In this context, the concept of Person is central to the nature of Christian life and mission. As Christians we believe in a personal God - more specifically, One God in Three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God in Trinity is the prototype, the perfect example of the relationship of persons in a community of love. Although each of the three divine persons is distinct and has a genuine identity as person, all three persons are fully and completely united, acting as one, with one will, always together and freely cooperating with one another. And yet, each acts differently in relation to human persons and to the world. It is this “unity without confusion” and “diversity with separation” that constitutes the mystery of the Trinity. This is the God who we proclaim and by whom we are saved.

God - a personal being

This God is neither a philosophical abstraction nor a nameless spirit, but a personal being: “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex. 3:14) - the One who creates us, loves, us, heals us, reproves and corrects us, gives his life for us, dwells in us, and calls us to new and everlasting life in His kingdom. To believe in God, to believe in any person is to commend ourselves freely to them in faith and in love. As Bishop Kallistos Ware says: “When I say to a much-loved friend, ‘I believe in you,’ I am doing far more than expressing a belief that this person exists . . . [it] means; I turn to you, I rely upon you, I put my full trust in you and I hope in you. And that is what we are saying to God in the Creed.” He continues:

The two most helpful ways of entry into the divine mystery are to affirm that God is personal and that God is love. Now both of these notions imply sharing and reciprocity. Each becomes a real person only through entering into relation with other persons, through living for them and in them. There can be no [person] . . . until there are at least two [persons] in communication.
(Ware, Bishop Kallistos, The Orthodox Way. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1979, pp. 18-20, 34-35.)

The opposite of this life of persons-in-relation is individualism. Individuals, says Bishop Kallistos, are “isolated, self-dependent . . . a bare unit as recorded in the census” - because they do not love, they do not exist as authentic persons. “Love,” he says, “cannot exist in isolation, but presupposes the other. Self-love is the negation of love . . . for, carried to its ultimate conclusion, self-love signifies the end of all joy and meaning . . . . Hell is not other people; hell is myself, cut off from others in self-centeredness.” (Ibid., p. 34)

Vladimir Lossky explains:

A person who asserts himself as an individual and shuts himself up in the limits of his particular nature, far from realizing himself, becomes impoverished. It is only in renouncing its own possession and giving itself freely, in ceasing to exist for itself that the person finds full expression in the one nature common to all.
(Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1976, pp. 124-125).

The importance of the Trinity

The importance of the Trinity for understanding the church and her mission is to remind us that our true mission is to draw all persons, all of humankind together into Christ. This is the message that we are bringing to others. It was Christ who first showed us, by his own life, that the “medium is the message.” The message of Christ is communicated by the one and only true messenger - God himself, through his Son in the Spirit - not only in words, but in attitudes and actions. If our witness is to Christ, then it is a personal witness not only to his words and actions, but to those of God in Trinity, Father, Son and Spirit. It is a witness to God’s personal relationships - within the community of divine persons, with the world and the entire cosmos, with me and those with whom I come into contact - enemies as well as friends. Our first task or perspective in mission is to image, as best we can and in a personal way, the Tri-personal God in whom we believe and whom we proclaim.

A second aspect of this witness of the Triune God, of persons-in-relation, concerns the way we enter into communion with God through the sacramental nature of the church. Through baptism into Christ we become members of His Body; through chrismation (or confirmation), we receive God’s gift of the Holy Spirit bestowed uniquely on each one. Participating in the eucharist, we are continually renewed in the partaking of the Body and Blood, drawing ever closer together with one another in the oneness of Christ’s Body, the church. Through the gift of the Spirit, special charisms are distributed - in the sacramental acts of orders, matrimony, monastic tonsure and blessings for a variety of ministries engaged in the upbuilding of the church. And when affliction of a spiritual or bodily nature engages us, the church ministers to us in the sacraments of healing: repentance (confession) or anointment with oil.

But this sacramental life exists not for ourselves alone, but also for mission in and to the world. It is part of that “equipping of the saints for ministry” to those who have not heard or followed the call of God. It is for orienting our lives - and calling others also - to the reconciliation and renewal of the cosmos that God has created us. It is a reminder and call to us to draw this world into ourselves, to make it a part of our lives, to see in it the work and the will of God, and to offer it up to him in thanksgiving as our acknowledgment and gift of the very life he gives to all. And, in turn, as we acknowledge ourselves to be recipients and stewards of that gift, our mission is to renew and transform it through our own lives, through our own understanding and use to the glory of God.

Our task then is to become instruments of unity - to work towards the unity of all persons and creation in God. In this effort, we begin with ourselves, with families, friends, colleagues, . . . extending outward to the stranger, the one in need, the one afflicted or lonely. As instruments of unity, we extend ourselves in love to others, to build relationships between us and other persons, to heal relations among persons - i.e. to create community - a human community of persons-in-relation, in the image of the divine community.

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES The New Testament community in mission

Witness takes on many forms: proclamation, teaching, care for others, personal sacrifice, a particular lifestyle, material support, martyrdom, asceticism, even a silent presence. Each person fulfills his or her mission in a unique way, according to the gift given. When we look at the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles and the Letters of Paul and others, it is sometimes easy to overlook the missionary role of women because, in most instances, they were not the center of attention or leadership. There is specific mention of women among the multitudes who followed Christ(Matt. 14:21; 15:22; 15:38; 20:20; Mark 3:32; 5:25; 6:3), especially the women who stood at the Cross (Matt. 27:55; John 19:25). There are those who ministered to Christ: Peter’s mother-in-law (Matt. 8:15), the woman who anointed Christ’s head (Matt. 26:7), Martha, the sister of Lazarus (Luke 10:38), and those who came to anoint his body for burial (Luke 23:55). Particular attention is given to the role of some women who confessed Christ: the Samaritan woman (John 4) and Martha (John 11:27) to those of great faith, such as the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:24); to those who accompanied the disciples, providing spiritual and material support (Luke 8:1-2); and to those who spread the news of his resurrection (Matt. 28: Mark 16:9; John 20:18).

St. John Chrysostom remarks on the faith and dedication of these women, especially at the Cross, and he contrasts their courage and lack of concern for themselves to the fear and blasphemy of the men who stood back. Pointing to the women at the cross, he says:

They had followed him, ministering to him, and were present even unto the time of the dangers. Wherefore also they saw all; how he cried, how he gave up the ghost, how the rocks were rent, and all the rest. And these first see Jesus; and the sex that was most condemned, this first enjoys the sight of the blessings, this most shows its courage. And when the disciples had fled, these were present…
(St. John Chrysostom, Homily 88 on the Gospel of St. Matthew, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. X, p. 522)

And at the tomb:

For what purpose do they wait by it. As yet they know nothing great, as was meet and high about him, wherefore also they had brought ointments and were waiting at the tomb, so . . . they might go and embrace the body. See the women’s courage? See their affection? See their noble spirit in money? Their noble spirit even unto death? Let us men imitate the women; let us not forsake Jesus in temptations. For they for him, even dead, spent so much and exposed their lives.

In the Book of Acts and the Epistles

In the Book of Acts and the Epistles, it is clear that women played a major role in establishing and facilitating the mission of the nascent church. St. Paul’s greetings reveal the extent to which women were involved; his comments are addressed particularly, not generally, to the efforts of persons he knows by name. He sends a simple greeting to Apphia “our sister” (Phlm. 1:2); to Mary, who he says worked hard among the Christians in Rome (Rom. 16:6); to Tryphaena and Tryphosa, “workers in the Lord” (Rom. 16:12); to the mother of Rufus, to Julia, and to the sister of Nereus (Rom. 16:13,15); and to Prisca and her husband, Aquila, who are mentioned several times in Paul’s Epistles as ones who had a church in their house and who risked their lives for Paul.

He also sends the greetings of Claudia, who is thought to be the mother of Linus (II Tim. 4:21); and recalls the faith of Timothy’s grandmother Lois and mother Eunice (II Tim. 1:5). He exhorts Euodia and Syntyche to settle their differences, adding that they have laboured side by side with him in the gospel (Phil. 4:2-3). Finally, he commends to the Romans “our sister Phoebe, a deaconess of the church of Cenchreae” who, he says, has been “a helper of many and of myself as well” (Rom. 16:1-2).

In addition, there were, undoubtedly, other women in the various house-churcheswho helped to make prominent the households to which Paul sends greetings: the houses of Nympha (Col. 4:5); Philemon (Phil. 1:1-2); Stephanus, whose household included the first converts in Achaia and who devoted themselves to the service of the saints (I Cor. 16:15); Onesiphorus (II Tim. 4:19); the household of Aquila and Prisca (Rom. 16:3-5); and the family of Aristobulus and Narcissus (Rom. 16:10-11). The Book of Acts also mentions the church in the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where there also dwelt a maid named Rhoda (Acts 12:12); as well as the household of Lydia (Acts 16:1).

The importance of the early house-churches

It is to the courage and devotion of the patrons and members of these and the other numerous house-churches that the primitive church owes much of its existence and growth, for it was there that the church gathered, sometimes under most difficult and dangerous conditions. It was in these households that new Christians were nurtured in the faith, and where the family character of the life of the local church established close ties and a firm foundation, with different persons assuming fatherly, motherly, brotherly, sisterly roles and relationships within the Christian family. Each had an “office” to fulfill, and all “offices” were necessary for the care, efficiency, and even safety (for example, the doorkeepers) of the household of God that met there. Quite naturally, a diversity of “orders” evolved from such a situation, with qualifications for leadership related to one’s ability to manage a household well, and to exhibit the virtues by which one would want children to be influenced (see the letters to Timothy and Titus). Such qualities are applied to men and women alike as they are called to fulfill their special gifts or charisms in the church (I Tim. 3:2-13; 5:1-16).

Finally, we read of the qualification for widows and deaconesses (or deacon’s wives) in I Timothy; of the women who accompanied the apostles (I Cor. 9:5); of the four daughters of Philip who prophesied (Acts 9:36-43); and of Dorcas (Tabitha), a woman full of good works and acts of charity (Acts 9:36-43). In addition, the Book of Acts simply records the presence of numbers of women who were added to the church, many of whom were among the early martyrs. We read of the disciples gathered together in prayer “together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus” (Acts 1:14); the believers added to the Lord—“multitudes of both men and women” (Acts 5:4); and the persecutions of Saul where we see him dragging off “men and women,” committing them to prison (Acts 8:3); Philip’s preaching resulted in the baptism of “both men and women” (Acts 8:12); and in Thessalonica, Paul and Silas persuaded a “great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women” (Acts 17:4). Such was the case also in Beroea, where “many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men” (Acts 17:11-12).

Knowing the context in which these letters and accounts were written, it is not insignificant that so many specific references make a point of naming women who, in all probability, held considerable respect and status in the life of the church. One should also note the varieties of service and witness by women that are already present in the primitive church; teaching, prophecy, diaconal ministry (though not yet an “order”), and the service of prayer held by widows.

Ministries of women in the second and third centuries

Church life in the second century continued to affirm a positive attitude towards women and their roles in the house-churches, though little change occurred in the actual forms of ministry for widows, virgins, and those who served in a diaconal capacity. As persecution increased, many women witnessed to the faith of martyrs, the most famous example being offered in the Passion of Perpetua and Felicitas—a “well-born, liberally educated and honorably married” woman and her slave who confessed the faith and who died at Carthage. (“The Passion of the Holy Martyrs Perpetua and Felicitas,” by Tertullian, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. III, pp. 699ff.)

In the third century, however, several different emphases emerged. The first was a heavy emphasis on virginity, especially by Tertullian whose views towards women were often contradictory (and influenced by Montanism). He and others exalted the celibate life and some even forbade marriage; but Clement of Alexandria defended marriage against gnostic attempts to discredit and reject it.

In spite of heretical views that overemphasized virginity and reflected rather negatively the role of women in the church, there was, at the same time, a growing experience and body of literature in the church that shows a certain positive development, stability, and affirmation of the existing ministries of women - a development that parallels that of other orders or offices in the church held by men. Particularly, the role of the deaconess begins to take on specific functions in ministry to women; assisting in baptism, education, home visitations, ministry to the sick and needy, attending to the placement and conduct of women during the services (similar to the functions of deacons in their ministry to men in the church). By the beginning of the fourth century there is a prescription for the ordination of deaconesses which, in the rank of orders, is placed between that of the deacon and the subdeacon, thus giving to this women’s order a high status among the “quasi-clerical” offices.

Women in ministry in the Nicene and Post-Nicene church

Because of the growing recognition and “official” character of the church in the Byzantine Empire, the conditions of church life changed radically. No longer were house-churches the norm, but permanent church buildings and large basilicas. Following the massive influx of adult converts to the church, which had required the assistance of an active group of deaconesses as well as increased diaconal responsibilities among younger widows, the ministry of these two groups gradually became more formalized and eventually went into a period of decline. Fewer adult baptisms (because most children began to be baptized at a young age) required fewer deaconesses for this particular service. The emphasis on the virtues of virginity, a life of continence, and the desire to engage the devil directly in order to seek union with God, led many Christians - men and women - to dedicate themselves to monastic life. The wilderness of the Egyptian and Palestinian deserts, and the harsh life of the Cappadocian caves led thousands to a new form of martyria or witness, which later found its way even into the midst of the cities.

Although this movement began as an ascetic, eremitic (hermit) form of existence, it quickly led also to the development of a coenobitic or communal form of monastic life. It is to these communities that the church owes its tremendous spiritual riches: its tradition of prayer, iconography, hymnography, liturgical development, spiritual writings and defense of true doctrine - elements of the church’s life today that are inseparable from its work in mission.

“Desert mothers”

This monastic movement produced its “desert mothers” as well as “desert fathers,” several of whom were quite prominent, along with their male contemporaries, in the history of the church. From the family of St. Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa we note the influence of their famous grandmother Macrina, their mother Emmelia and sister Macrina. The grandmother had built a chapel to the forty martyrs on their ancestral estate, where later the younger Macrina and her mother established a small community of religious women. This Macrina greatly influenced her brothers Basil and Gregory; of Emmelia’s five sons and five daughters, three sons and one daughter were canonized as saints. Gregory and Basil extol the virtue of their grandmother and sister in their writings.

Gregory of Nazianzen’s mother Nonna and his sister Gorgonia were also highly respected for their Christian virtues. Of his mother, Gregory says:

...she who was given by God to my father became not only, as is less wonderful, his assistant, but even his leader, drawing him on by her influence in deed and word to the highest excellence; judging it best in all other respects to be overruled by her husband according to the law of marriage, but not being ashamed, in regard to piety, even to offer herself as his teacher . . . . She is a woman, who while others have been honored and extolled for natural and artificial beauty, has acknowledged that one kind of beauty, that of the soul, and the preservation, or the restoration as far as possible, of the Divine image.
(Gregory Nazianzen, “On the Death of His Father,” Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. VII., p. 257)

In the essay “On his Sister Gorgonia,” Gregory states that she was recognized as a common advisor not only by her family and friends, but by all men round about, who treated her counsels and advice as a law not to be broken. She had a knowledge of the things of God, she opened her house to all and had a compassion upon and shared her goods with others, often times entertaining “Christ in the person of those whose benefactress she was.” She was “seen to surpass not only women, but the most devoted of men, by her intelligent chanting of the Psalter, her converse with, and unfolding and apposite recollection of the Divine oracles . ...” (Gregory Nazianzen, Oration VIII, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, pp. 241-242.) Gorgonia greatly influenced her husband, children and grandchildren, dedicating her own family and household to God. It is from these concrete images of her household and Macrina’s that we can imagine how great the role of women was in the house-churches of the early Christian community.

Deaconesses and monastics

Many fourth century deaconesses are given particular mention by church historians. Theodoret describes the deaconess Publia, a widow known for her virtuous deeds, as one who stood up against the emperor Julian. He also writes a letter of consolation to the deaconess Casiana. Others commend the deaconess Eusebia (Sozomen); the deaconess daughters of Terentius “fruitful in good works and verily like lilies among thorns,” and Theodora the Canoness (Basil); the deaconess Theosebia, wife of Gregory of Nyssa, the “glory of the church, the adornment of Christ, the helper of our generation . . . the most beautiful and glorious among all the beauty of the Brethren . . . truly sacred, truly consort of a priest, and of equal honor and worthy of the Great Sacraments” (i.e. her office of deaconess) (Gregory Nazianzus).

At the end of the fourth century and beginning of the fifth, we note the presence of a number of pious and often well-educated women in the company of Ambrose, Rufinus, Jerome, John Chrysostom, and Augustine. Marcellina, sister of Ambrose, was consecrated a nun by Pope Lierius. Marcella, a woman of Roman nobility, lent her house to Jerome and his pupils for study and prayer. Her influence, backed by a remarkable knowledge of theological literature, contributed largely to the condemnation of Origenism by Pope Anastasius in 401. It was from her circle that Jerome recruited his companions Paula and Eustochim to share in his self-imposed exile at Bethlehem in 385. Jerome himself writes to Marcella about several women: Lea, who converted and became the head of a monastery; the virgin Asella, who became an ascetic at age twelve; and Blaesilla, the daughter of Paula, who was also an ascetic and who knew Greek, Latin, and Hebrew. Both Marcella and Paula presided over communities of women.

Other women, both in Byzantium and in the outer reaches of the Empire, for example, in what is now Great Britain, followed similar paths of service as founders and abbesses of women’s communities, or as deaconesses. Among one of the most prominent was the deaconess Olympias, the friend of St. John Chrysostom, to whom he addressed at least seventeen letters that are extant. By the sixth and seventh centuries, under the Emperor Justinian, and later under Heraclius (612), it was reported that there were, at any given time, twenty to sixty deaconesses assigned to the church of St. Sophia in Constantinople alone (the figure of sixty, however, has been questioned). Though the order continued at least until the eleventh century, it had greatly diminished; the speculation is that it was also absorbed into the monastic vocation.

Women in the Byzantine Court

At the same time and in the centuries that followed, several women in the Byzantine court very actively supported the work of the church. The first among these was Empress Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine, who made several pilgrimages to Jerusalem and Palestine seeking the sites where Jesus had lived and died, and establishing churches there. She herself was willing to serve others and contributed generously to the poor. The Empress Placilla (385), wife of Theodosius, educated herself in the faith and devoted her life to ministry to the maimed, visiting the guest chambers of the churches, ministering to the sick, and even working in the kitchens. The Empress Pulchera, regent to her brother Theodosius II, not only governed the empire excellently, but raised him in the faith and helped to fight heresies in the church, as did the Empress Irene, wife of Leo IV, who summoned the seventh ecumenical council to restore the veneration of icons in the church. It should be noted that women were among the first martyrs over the issue of icon veneration; the main participants in the riot following the edict against icons in 725-26 were women.

Other women of the court and many among the laity were also active in charitable work. A woman doctor and several women nurses attended to patients in a hospital founded by John Comnenus (12th century). Two kinds of hospitals existed during the Byzantine period: those that were church institutions, staffed by clergy, monks and nuns; and diaconates, which were serviced by the lay “philoponoi” (friends of the suffering). Some diaconates were especially set aside as women’s hospitals and pious laywomen often served there as nurses as part of their philanthropic activity. Particularly noted is the work of the saintly Euphemia, praised by John of Ephesus; and the money-changer Andronikos and his wife Athanasia, who devoted their leisure hours to works of mercy in Antioch as “philoponoi.”

Much of this activity of women in the Byzantine Empire was made possible by the remarkable changes in laws concerning the legal rights and privileges of women. Many of them were influenced by or served to influence the status of women in the church, as well as in society. Georgina Buckler’s review of several collections of civil and ecclesiastical laws, dating from the time of Justinian throughout the entire Byzantine period until the fifteenth century, notes the significance of this body of legal literature. She concludes that “under a law fundamentally old-Roman but modified by Christianity, the women of Byzantium in the eleventh and twelfth centuries enjoyed a position both of security of law and importance in fact that has rarely if ever been surpassed.” Although civil and canon laws were always distinct, she says that the Councils of the Church inevitably influenced the emperors. (Georgina Buckler, “Women in Byzantine Law—about 1100 AD,” in Byzantion, Review Internationale des Etudes Byzantines, Tome XI, 1936, Brussels, pp. 391-416.) Clearly, the mission of the church was positively affected by the attitudes and possibilities granted to women by changes in Roman law.

Women saints in the mission of the church

Many women have already been named who were canonized by the church for their witness to the faith through martyrdom, charitable acts, Christian virtue, and mission. Countless others could also be named: Nina, the apostle to the Georgians; Olga, whose grandson the Great Prince Vladimir brought the Christian faith to the land of Rus’; Rhipsime and Gaiana, virgins who were among the first martyrs of Armenia; the martyr Irene, with her sisters Agape and Chionia, who tried to save the sacred scriptures and church books during the time of persecution; Juliana Ossorguine, a sixteenth century wife and mother whose piety and selfless service to others during a time of great famine in Russia is regarded as an exemplary witness of Christian life; Mother Maria Skobtsova of Paris, who gave her life for others in a German gas chamber; and many known and unknown women in our century who were confessors and martyrs for the faith in the Gulags of the USSR.


Throughout this sketchy overview of women in mission in the history of the church, it is apparent that mission occurs through particular persons—people of faith who reach out to God and other persons, motivated by a desire to offer themselves in service and joy. There is very little that is “institutional” about the examples of mission described in these pages. If one completes the picture with the stories of male saints and missionaries, the outcome would be the same; in each case, the most effective mission came about through the selfless service and witness of particular persons of faith.

The divine model of One God in a Trinity of Persons perfectly united in love is the vision and gift given to us for our life in human community, beginning with our life in the church. Love cannot be legislated; it can only be shared in freedom and in joy. That is the way of saints, martyrs, servants, teachers, prophets, and apostles of Christ. Only in this way can we hope to fulfill the words of the Lord, offered in prayer to the Father: “that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21).

Reprinted with permission from the International Review of Missions, vol. LXXXI, no. 322 (April 1992), World Council of Churches, Geneva, pp. 189-200.

Dr. Constance Tarasar is Coordinator of the OCA Unit on Education and Community Life Ministries. She is also a lecturer at St. Vladimir’s Seminary in Religious Education.

Time Management: an Orthodox Perspective

By Albert Rossi, PhD and Julia Wickes, MA

The first thing to say, from an Orthodox perspective, is that there is no such thing as time management. We don’t manage time. Time manages us if we allow the Lord to have a place in our schedule.

Whose time is it?

Christ is everything, including the giver and owner of our time. He is the Way we format our schedule, the Truth about the meaning of time, and the flow of Life that moves us through time.

C. S. Lewis makes a profound point about time. He says that we usually regard time as our own. We start our day with the curious assumption that we are the lawful possessors of an upcoming twenty-four hours. With that hazardous assumption we then plot a matrix for our day, filling in time slots with tasks or restful moments. We might hope that we are managing our time in a way that will somehow please God. But when we begin with the assumption that time is ours, inconveniences and unexpected interruptions become intrusions into “my time.”

By contrast, we can begin with the assertion that time is not our own. Time belongs to the Lord and He has a plan for time that He desires us to accept for our own peace and joy.

Adjusting our expectations

Those who are trying to use their time to do the Lord’s will must begin every day, and every moment, with Jesus Christ. One question might be, “Lord, what do you want me to do, now?” But an even better question is, “Lord, what do you want to do through me now?” This takes the emphasis from the ego and places it on the Lord.

If we believe that God has a plan for each moment, we can then be sensitive to each moment as it unfolds in unexpected ways. When we receive each moment as from the Lord we will begin to experience our time on earth as a series of small deaths and resurrections.

Every loss is a gift that God gives us so that He can give us more. It might be saying goodbye to high school or college days, a move from the old neighborhood, the loss of a job, the loss of physical or mental health. We might lose loved ones through separation or death. In degrees, the reactive thought might be, “This is the beginning of the end.” A more truthful thought would be, “This is the beginning of the beginning.” Death is the beginning of a new relationship with Christ, a fresh beginning of an entirely new life. Each loss and little death is a new beginning towards our ultimate beginning—heaven.

As we adjust our expectations time takes on a new meaning.

Sacrament of the present moment

Simple awareness of the presence of God is the power within the present moment. The present moment—now—is the only place where God is. He discloses Himself through the reality of the present moment. Nowhere else. This is a mystery we can participate in by simply trying to be aware of His presence.

Awareness, conscious contact with God, is the key.

The Prayer of Metropolitan Philaret

An Orthodox morning prayer by Metropolitan Philaret says: “In unforeseen events let us not forget that all are sent by Thee.” Here it is helpful to refine exactly what is meant by the idea that God sends all moments. God did not send terrorists to fly planes into the World Trade Center in New York City. Rather, God allowed terrorists to fly those planes. What, then, is implied by the all in Metropolitan Philaret’s prayer? An Orthodox perspective would say that events outside ourselves are subject to God’s allowing will, and moreover are beyond our understanding. However, by faith we believe and confess that God sends all of the events that pertain to us. All events in our day, even those that we anticipate in a human way, can legitimately be described as “unforeseen,” because they bear a divine potential which is not revealed to us in advance. But even “unforeseen events,” in the most mundane sense of the term—the unforeseen phone call or the inconvenient request—can take on a new meaning, simply because our time is not our own.

Our freedom consists in embracing all that happens to us, exhaustion and all, as a blessing in divine disguise.


Making the most of time

There is a paradox inherent in the Orthodox approach to time. We do not “manage” our time yet we must be prudent and skillful in the way we use our time. We must plan without being a slave of our plans. So, we are back to basics. We need to allow the Lord to flow through us all the time, as best we can. Sometimes we must use the present moment to plan for tomorrow and the long-term future. But, again, it is the Lord doing the planning through us. When we finish the planning we can’t obsess about it or allow the plans to become larger than life. We must be stable in the present moment and flexible enough to change plans as the Lord directs, at a moment’s notice. One saint said she wanted to be a ball on a table top in the hands of the Lord, allowing Him to move her anyway He chose, for His pleasure.

The truth is that we have all the time we need, and abundantly more, to do all that the Lord has us on the planet to do. He gives us our tasks and ministry, and resources with sufficient time. “And my God will supply your every need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:19)

We, however, often have other ideas. Enter stress and dissatisfaction. We make our own stress, in large part.

Ready for virtually anything

We can only be ready for virtually anything if we know what else we have to do and choose to not do. Then we can do or not do what appears in the moment, based on a deep intuition of what the Lord is calling for now. All too often we walk through life responding to the “latest and loudest” voice clamoring for our attention.

David Allen in his interesting book, Ready for Anything, emphasizes a few key points. We need to have some system where we have written down everything we need to do. These are called projects, anything that requires more than one step to accomplish. We also need a list of next action steps, those things that can be accomplished in one action. These next actions can be grouped into categories that make life better organized. We might group together all the next actions which require a computer, or the phone, or when talking with my boss. Then, when we are at the phone or have a slice of free time, we will know what calls we might or might not make on the spot. All this helps us think less about what we need to do.

The brain is a fine instrument for creative thought but a poor container to remember all the outstanding commitments and projects that are ours. When projects and next actions are written down, and backed up, in some trusted system, we can allow the system to remember for us. For computer users, an external hard drive can serve as a trusted backup system. For those who prefer pen and paper (and this number is growing), a copy should be made of all that is written down. A backup is necessary because we must feel free from the possibility that we wrote down everything we need to do and that list got misplaced, or thrown out with the trash, or mauled by a well-meaning pet.

The idea is to free our mind from worry about commitments we have made with ourselves and others. Then we can use our brain for other things. If we try to keep our commitments in our head, like a computer with too much in the memory, the entire system slows down.

We need to take copious notes and be willing to process and organize these notes at least weekly so we have more freedom in the way we use our time.

To be free in the Lord requires that we are as free as we can be from internal baggage and preoccupation. David Allen calls this “Mind like water,” that is, a mind ready to receive the next pebble thrown in and naturally allow the ripples to move out.

Push pause

To let the Lord work through us means that we give him space, and, of course, time. All too often we act reactively. Our responses often take the form of a stimulus-response reaction. Too many times we want to say, “Yes” to all the requests that come our way, and they all may have great merit. But then, one can get so overloaded and overburdened. However, it is not always easy to discern to what we should say “yes” or “no.” It does require growing closer to the Lord, to hear His voice and His direction. Often, we do not go in the direction to which He has pointed. However, we take comfort in the knowledge that He is the Great “GPS”. He is always ready to “recalculate” and reroute us.


One handy suggestion is to push pause as often as we can. We can pause between the stimulus and our response, thereby gaining perspective. The pause itself is usually sufficient to break the reactivity cycle. We can become aware of something else going on besides the unconscious reaction. This is a fine opportunity to try to remember that we are in the holy presence of God.

A way to gain more conscious contact with God is to gently and quietly say, “Jesus.” His holy Name is an expression of belief, adoration, expectation of salvation and unity with Him and all the members of His body. His name is sacred and is a power He asked us to use. “Hitherto you have asked nothing in my name. Ask and you shall receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:23) We need to know that when we use His Name we are acknowledging that we are his disciples. We pause and say His Name, as an act of obedience and surrender of the present moment. We can match this with an awareness of our breathing, centering us more inside our body.

We can simply say the one word, “Jesus,” to transfigure what is in front of us, or in our minds. The name Jesus can be a filter through which our thoughts, words and deeds have to pass to be freed from their impurities. Needless to say, this is severe spiritual warfare. It requires a forgetfulness of the self, a dying to the negative thoughts the ego wants to indulge.


Time manages us because the Lord lives within the time He gives us. So, it is He, through the reality we call measured time, who manages, leads, nourishes and strengthens us. We don’t live life. Life lives us.

Time is our friend, not our burden to endure. We need only remember that we are in the holy presence of God. We can pause and say the Name of Jesus, thereby bringing us into His very life within us. While on earth we have an opportunity to “sanctify time.”

Dr. Albert Rossi is a clinical psychologist who teaches classes in pastoral theology at St. Vladimir’s Seminary. He has a bi-weekly podcast called Becoming a Healing Presence on Ancient Faith Radio. Julia Wickes earned a master’s degree from St. Vladimir’s Seminary and currently lives in St. Louis, MO.

Finding One’s Vocation in Life

By Fr. Thomas Hopko

“God has made us who we are. He has put us where we are, even when it is our own self-will that has moved us. He has given us our time and our place. He has given us our specific destiny.”


When we consider the Orthodox Christian understanding of vocation, several points can be made. The most obvious are the following:

Everyone Has A Calling

Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko

God creates every human being in His image and likeness for everlasting life. There are no mistakes and no accidents. As the saying goes, “God makes no junk.” Everyone, or, in Biblical language, the “many” are called. But not all are chosen. Some are rejected not because they have no vocation from God, but because they refuse to accept their calling.

Everyone has a vocation. And all vocations are “religious.” This does not mean that everyone is called to serve the church in a professional manner; to be a bishop, priest, deacon, monk, nun, psalmreader or church worker of one sort or another. Obviously not all are called to these specifically ecclesiastical ministries. But everyone is called to serve God and their fellow human beings in some form of life which God Himself wills. This “form of life” is not necessarily a job or profession. For example, some people may be called to suffer on this earth and to bear the results of fallen humanity in the most violent manner; to be victimized by disease, disability, affliction; to be the objects of other people’s cares, or disdain. This is their vocation, and they are particularly blessed by God and loved by Christ in its acceptance and fulfillment.

In a word, there is a divine plan and purpose for everyone. There is a “predestination,” not in the sense that God programs His creatures or forces His will upon them against their will, but rather that God knows every person from before the foundation of the world and provides their unique life and the specific conditions of their earthly way which are literally the best possible conditions for them (however unacceptable this may seem to us creatures in our limited and fallen state.) And God works together with each one of us so that, by suffering what we must on this earth, we may attain to life everlasting in the age to come.

Everyone Has The Same Calling

In a certain sense every person has the same vocation, which is to be a saint. We are all called to be saints, to be holy as God is holy, to be perfect as the Father in heaven is perfect. (Rom. 1:7, 1 Cor. 1:2, 2 Pet. 1:15, Mt. 5:48) We are all made to fulfill ourselves as creatures made in God’s image and likeness for eternal life. And we can do so because God not only creates us with this possibility, and indeed, this command; but because He also does everything in His power to guarantee its accomplishment by sending His Son and His Spirit to the world.

Since Christ has been glorified and the Holy Spirit has been poured out on all flesh, there is no excuse for those who know and believe this, and experience it in the life of the Christian Church, not to be saints. Everything possible has been done to secure this. There is nothing more that God can do. All is given and all is fulfilled. The rest is up to us. Whatever the Lord may be doing with other people in other places, some things are certain for Christians, and certainly us Orthodox: We can cooperate with God. We can share His holiness. We can become, as the saints themselves teach us, all that God Himself is by His gracious action in our lives. We can become loving, peaceful, joyful, good, wise, true, patient, kind, compassionate, powerful, pure, free, self-determining… Or we can refuse to cooperate with God, never find our true selves, and perish.

Everyone Has His Or Her Unique Calling

All are called to be saints, but each person is called to do so in his or her own unique way. No two persons are the same. Each one is different. All are called to partake of God’s being and life. All are called to love as He loves, know as He knows, serve as He serves, live as He lives. But each will do it in his or her own specific manner, according to the concrete conditions and means that God provides.

Some will sanctify their lives being married; others will be single. Some will do it in clerical orders; others as lay people. Some will be monastic; most will live in the everyday secular world. Some will work primarily in a physical way, others will work intellectually. Some will be artists, scientists, business people, professionals. Others may have no particular job or profession. And some may be called simply to suffer, while others, in terms of this world, will hardly suffer at all. Some will have many temptations, and will bear heavy burdens because of the sins of the world and their particular inheritance of a fallen, broken, distorted humanity. And some may have to fight destructive memories, imaginations, and passions that seem at times impossible to bear.

While others will be greatly blessed by receiving a highly purified humanity, for which they will especially have to answer before God. For, as Jesus taught, “to whom much is given, of him much will be required.” (Lk 12:48) But each person will have his or her own life to sanctify. And each will answer for what he or she has done. In the eyes of God none is better than the other. None is higher or more praiseworthy. But each must find his or her own way, and glorify God through it. This is all, ultimately, that matters. The rest is details.

The Will To Find God’s Will Is Essential

All that is needed to discover the will of God and to do it is the pure desire to see, to hear, to understand and to obey. God does the rest. When people saw Jesus on earth, and yet did not accept and obey Him in love, the Lord Himself gave the reason, quoting the Prophet Isaiah. He said that the people had eyes but did not see; had ears but did not want to hear; had minds, but refused to understand and be saved. (Is 6:9-10; Mt. 13:13-14, Mk. 8:18; Jn 12:36-41)

To find one’s vocation demands that one really wants to do so. It sounds simple. And it is. But, to quote the Lord once more, “Few there be who find it.” (Mt. 7:14) The reason is that it takes courage to allow the Lord to speak, or rather, to hear the Lord when He speaks, and to follow Him. It is also quite painful. Our own will has to go. Our egocentric desires have to be denied. Our ideas about ourselves have to be abandoned. Our personal plans and projects have to be discarded. Our agendas of action have to be thrown away. We have to say to God: Speak Lord, your servant is ready! We have to respond to God: Let it be to me according to Your word! And we have to mean it. If we do, we will find our way. But if we fight it, and keep craving the things that we want, we will be miserable and unhappy. We will realize, as the song says, that we “can’t get no satisfaction.” For the heart of the human person is made for God - for truth, for love, for life itself, and not for mere “existence” - and is inevitably unsatisfied, frustrated, confused, distressed, angered, bored…until it comes to rest in Him.

We Need Help On The Way

To will God’s will is essential. Without this, nothing can happen. With it, everything. One saint of the desert even dared to say that if a person would will God’s will without wavering from sunrise to sunset, by the end of the day he would be “to the measure of God.” But to will God’s will we need help. We need, first of all, the help of God Himself. This means that we have to pray and to participate in the mystical life of God’s Church. Jesus said, “Ask, and you will receive.” (Mt. 7:7) And the apostle James reminds us that if we do not ask rightly, we will not receive. “You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and you do not receive because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (Jm. 4:2-3) To find our vocation in life we have to pray to God to show it to us, and to guide us into it for His Name’s sake, and ultimately, for our own.

In addition to the direct help of God, so to speak, we also need His help as it comes to us through others. We need the guidance of those who are experienced in His ways, particularly our fathers and mothers in the faith. “Ask your fathers, and they will show you; your elders and they will teach you.” (Dt. 32:7) The saints of the Church love to repeat this line from the song of Moses. To hear God’s voice, to discern His desires for us, to discover His purposes for our lives, we need the help of those who have found Him, or, perhaps more accurately, those who have been found by Him.

We receive this help in the life of the Church, first of all by our participation in the services and sacraments. We find it also in the Bible and in the lives and teachings of the saints. And we find it in the pastors and teachers whom God gives us. God promises that those who seek instruction will never be left without it. He Himself will see to it, as the saying goes, that “when the disciple is ready, the Master will appear.” Without obedience to God’s Word and Spirit in the services, sacraments, scriptures and saints of the Church, we who claim to be Christians will never discover our calling in life. For we will have rejected the means that God has given us to find it.

We Must Be Faithful Where We Are

Finally, we are taught that to discover God’s will for us, we must be faithful to Him where we are, faithful to and in the conditions in which He has placed us. One of the greatest obstacles to the discovery of one’s vocation in life, which is a clear expression of our disobedience and self-will, is the desire to be someone else, someplace else, sometime else. We have all heard people say that if only they lived in another place, or in another time, or with other people…then they could be holy. Or, if only they were married. Or, if only they were not married. If only this, and if only that! We must come to see how sinful such an attitude is, how crazy and deluded. It is simply blasphemy. And it may well be the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit which Christ says cannot be forgiven, for it dares to tell God that our failures in life are His fault for making us the way we are. (Cf. Mt. 12:31; Lk. 12:10)

God has made us who we are. He has put us where we are, even when it is our own self-will that has moved us. He has given us our time and our place. He has given us our specific destiny. We must come to the point when we do not merely resign ourselves to these realities, but when we love them, bless them, give thanks to God for them as the conditions for our self-fulfillment as persons, the means to our sanctity and salvation.

Being faithful where we are is the basic sign that we will God’s will for our lives. The struggle to “blossom where we are planted,” as the saying goes, is the way to discern God’s presence and power in our lives, to hear His voice, to accomplish His purposes, to share His holiness. Jesus said that only those who are “faithful in little” inherit much and get set over much. Those who are not faithful in the little things of life, and thereby fail to accept and to use what God provides, end up losing the little that they have, or - as Jesus says in St. Luke’s gospel - the little that they think that they have, for even that “little” may exist only in their own deluded imaginations. (Cf. Mt. 25:14-30; Lk. 19:11-27, 8:18)

So the summary of the whole thing is this: We must labor to do the smallest good and to avoid the smallest sin in the smallest, seemingly most insignificant details of life. We must accept who we are, where we are, when we are and how we are, and struggle to sanctify our real state of existence by the grace of God; resisting the world, the flesh and the devil and gaining the Spirit of God through Christ in the Church. We must participate in the services and sacraments, be fed on the scriptures and imitate the saints. We must seek out the help of the experienced, and heed their counsel and advice. And we must go to God Himself and say with a pure heart: “Thy will be done! And He will see that we find our vocation and calling in life, and become the saints that he has willed us to be from the beginning.

Questions for Discusion:

What is your reaction to the New Testament statement, “we are all called to be saints?”

What do you understand to be your particular calling or vocation in life?

In what ways can we make ourselves open to knowing what God’s will is for us?

In what ways can a parish encourage those who seem suited for ecclesiastical ministries?

Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko (1939-2015) was an Orthodox priest and theologian of the Orthodox Church in America, Dean Emeritus of Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, noted author and speaker. In retirement, he developed a podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio, “Speaking the Truth in Love”.

Laypersons: Co-Sharers In The Ministries Of The Church

By Albert S. Rossi, Ph.D.

I. Definition

“Come, Lord Jesus” defines the marching orders for every Christian. Our life testifies that the Lord is coming at the end of time, and He is here now. His coming is a future-yet-present event. He is coming yet He is already present, and that defines our life on earth.

Laypersons are members of the “priesthood of all believers” and together, we all constitute the “household of God.”

Since the giving of the Law to Moses, God proclaimed who we are, “You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” 1


Each person has his or her own being, calling, mission, task and duty to perform in the service of Christ. Every person has a “voice” in the Church of God, in union with the bishop and the clergy. St. Peter said, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood.” 2

We are united with the priesthood, the royalty of the Crucified and Risen Christ. The rich and clear notion of laos, lay, in the Scripture is that of a universal priesthood of the People of God. This universal priesthood is consistent with the hierarchical structure of the Church.

At Baptism, our “second birth,” we become warriors and priests of God. The anointing by chrism establishes all the baptized in the same priestly order. From this equality of priesthood, some are chosen, set apart and established as bishops and presbyters.

The Fathers emphasize the triple dignity of the laity. St. Macarius of Egypt said, “Christianity… is a great mystery. Meditate on your own nobility… By the anointing, all have become kings, priests and prophets of the heavenly mysteries.” 3

As kings, we have a royal dignity. This is the conquering part of us, the ascetical part of us. This is the mastery of the spiritual over the material, over the instincts and impulses of the flesh, a transforming of passion.

As priests, we offer thanksgiving and sacrifice. We begin by offering our bodies as a living sacrifice, a spiritual service. 4

As priests, we partake in Christ’s suffering as we accept the inconveniences, failures, and pains of our current life. This is our joy and our victory. As St. Peter said, “But rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed.” 5

As prophets we are initiated into the great mysteries, according to St. Ecumenius. We are prophets because we see what eye has not seen, according to St Theophylactus. According to the Bible, a prophet is one who sees what are the “designs of God” in the world. 6

The lay person is, by definition, one whose whole being, whose entire existence is a becoming, a living theology, theophatic, a luminous place of the presence of the Parousia, God’s coming again into this world. 7

II. Vocation

My vocation is to become who I am.

Who am I? For starters, I am a unique human being, with a personal name before the Lord, a singular set of fingerprints, a grouping of cells that make my body shape and appearance which are mine alone, a one-of-a-kind voice, an unduplicatable history of childhood experiences and life choices. I am uniquely me, growing and maturing into more wisdom and grace. No one in the history of the world is who I am, or ever will be. God broke the mold after fashioning me into existence.

I am also Jesus Christ. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”8Christ is within me, and yet is not confused or absorbed into me. Christ and I are separate, yet united. Christ is more present to me than I am to myself, or than my parents or children are to me. Jesus and I are two, yet one.

First, as a human being, I have the same general vocation as every other human being. I am called to be the image and likeness of God. As St. Maximos the Confessor said, “We are called to be by grace what God is by nature.” This is what it means to be a human being.

Therefore, I am called to be the very Presence of God, every moment of my life. As God is patient, compassionate, kindly, loving, so am I called to be, and can be, by God’s transforming grace.

St Gregory the Theologian said that we are all called to be Christ, with a small “c.” Who is Jesus Christ? Jesus is God walking in sandals. I am called to be Jesus walking in size 10 black oxford shoes, in my place and in my time. I am called to live His presence on earth.

Second, I also have a unique vocation. The great task of my life is to discover, not choose, my vocation. I have only two choices. I can choose God’s vocation for me, His will. That is heaven on earth. Or, I can choose my own vocation, which is called hell. The only real freedom I have is choosing His will or my will.

The Lord has a vocation for me to accept, a life to live, which He needs to complete His Church, His Body on earth. My life has a purpose, a Divine meaning given by God, from all eternity. God doesn’t create accidents, or junk. He created me to carry out a specific, awesome set of tasks to work with Him in saving and transforming the universe.

All this is lived out moment-by-moment, one day at a time. My challenge is to live the “duty of the present moment.”9 If I live each moment in His Presence, trying to do His will and not my own, then life unfolds and I discover my vocation as I live out my days.

III. Implications

Jesus Christ, by the total gift of Himself, has shown us the perfect priesthood. Just as He hung on a Cross, we are called to be co-crucified with Him, by accepting the crosses He gives us to bear. The heart of the Christian life is a total love of God and our neighbor, particularly those who live close to us.

We are called to live a life of love, peace and joy. People often feel unhappy and they don’t know why.10 In truth, unhappiness springs from not choosing to live the vocation God has called us to live, and to pray to live the vocation peacefully.

A. Silence and Prayer

We choose to become a prayerful person by becoming silent and open to the Voice of God. Silence is a choice. We choose the things we want to do. These things, then, order and measure our lives. Someone said that Christians “order and measure” their lives from communion to communion. We might also say the Christians “order and measure” their lives from silence to silence.

Silence, at its best, is God-awareness. We quiet down our outer and inner lives, and listen to God speak. Someone said that when God speaks, His words are like the sound of a flutter of a bird’s wings. We need to be attentive if we are to hear anything.

In the silence of our heart we pray our personal prayer, which in fact, is the Holy Spirit praying within us.

The Fathers tell us that the first thing that often happens is an experience of darkness and resistance. Then, when we persist, peace begins to replace the darkness. The temptations may become more severe, even temptations to stop the praying, but we sin less. The Fathers tell us that, as we continue to pray and live the commandments, go to Church and listen to our spiritual Father, we can expect to become freed from indecision, upset and hesitation. Our will becomes stronger.

We can expect invisible, subtle snares, sent from Satan, precisely because we have up scaled our efforts, and are turning to God. In a sense, we rouse the enemy to action. St. John Chrysostom says that when we begin to pray we stir the snake (living within us) to action, and that prayer can lay the snake low.

We are to “Jump In” and Just Begin

Like swimming, we are to “jump in” and just begin. There is a world of difference between thinking, or talking, about quiet prayer, and actually praying. Like beginning swimmers, we only learn by getting wet.

Bishop Kallistos Ware says that by spending only a few moments invoking the Divine Name each day, we actually transform all the other remaining moments of the day. “By standing in Christ’s presence even for no more than a few moments of each day, invoking His Name, we deepen and transform all the remaining moments of the day, rendering ourselves available to others, effective and creative, in a way that we could not otherwise be.” 11

We are each called to pray, ardently, for our children, family, priest, the Church, country, world. We have a noble and royal vocation, to pray and make an untold difference in the entire cosmos.

Quiet personal prayer, the Jesus Prayer or some other gentle, repetitive prayer, is recommended in the morning, following our prayer rule, for some period of time, perhaps 10 or 15 minutes. If that is impossible, then we pray sometime before noon, or in the evening. This might be called “formal” use of the prayer. The second form of personal prayer is the “free” use of repetitive prayer. This means at any and all other times of the day, or night. This is especially true for the semi-automatic tasks such as driving, doing dishes, walking, being unable to sleep, etc. Quiet, repetitive prayer is notably useful in time of extreme concern or upset.

When we begin to pray, we expend desire and effort. The results are up to God. Real prayer is a gift from God, not the payment for our perspiration.

Every prayer changes the entire universe. Our every prayer, each prayer, actually changes history, the way God created the world, and all else. God is outside time. God is not “waiting up there” for our prayer, and then He acts. All has already occurred in God. We are His co-redeemers.

We don’t pray to get “some benefit.” We don’t pray to reduce our stress, or strengthen our immune system, or lose weight, or add years to our life. On the contrary, we enter prayer to follow Christ, to become open to Him. His way is the Way of the Cross.

Prayer works in the Unseen Warfare as a power/gift from Jesus, given as a function of our ability to receive it. We increase our ability to receive by asking for the increase, and God grants it as He sees fit, in His tender, all sweet and merciful manner.

The layperson is above all a person of prayer, both liturgical and personal. The most repeated prayer in the Orthodox liturgical worship is Kyrie eleison: Lord, have mercy.12 A Christian is one whose entire life cries out for God’s steadfast mercy.

Laypersons are a perpetuation of the epiklesis, the calling down of the Holy Spirit during the Divine Liturgy, sanctifying every inch of the world. Being a layperson, then, is a dignified life, which is messianic, revolutionary and explosive. We are called to transform the world.

Laypersons are eyewitnesses of the Resurrection of Christ. That is the teaching of the Divine Liturgy, and the meaning of the service of Pascha. The Liturgy “re-presents” the death and resurrection of the Lord, making the event present. Before the congregation of laypersons, the mystical death and resurrection occurs. Therefore, we are eyewitnesses of the mysteries of the Liturgy. 13

B. A Life of Peace and Love

Jesus tells us that only by violence can we take the world, but this is a special kind of violence. “The kingdom of God suffered violence, and the men of violence take it by force.”14 This violence is to violently become weak, to violently fight the voice of hatred and retaliation within ourselves. That voice of darkness tells us to hate our enemies, both those on foreign soil and those who disagree with us within our community.

We are called to be violent enough to be able to be gentle and lowly of heart. As it says in Proverbs, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” 15

We are called to live a life of humble love, which is a life lived in heaven, while on earth. That is the opposite of living a life of hell-on-earth. What is hell? Dostoyevsky says that hell is being unable to love. 16 When we are called to choose between using force or not, we can try consistently to choose the path of humble love. There is no greater force on earth than that of humble love, and the proof is Jesus hanging silently, humbly on the wood of the Cross.

We are called to preach the Gospel at all times, everywhere. Sometimes we even need to resort to words, as St. Francis of Assisi said. Our life is our testimony of Christ’s current, vigorous life on this planet, today.

As laypersons, our call is to fully live a life of total, loving union with our loving Savior. Then, when we meet others, for some of them, we will be the only Jesus they will ever meet.

(Reprinted with permission from “Alive in Christ”, magazine of the Diocese of Eastern Pennsylvania, Orthodox Church in America, Spring 2002.)

  1. Exodus 19:6.
  2. 1 Peter 2:9.
  3. Paul Evdokimov, Ages of the Spiritual Life (Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1998), 238.
  4. Romans 12:1.
  5. 1 Peter 4:12.
  6. Evdokimov, 239.
  7. Evdokimov, 239.
  8. Galatians 2:20.
  9. Jean-Pierre de Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1975), 14.
  10. Thomas Hopko, The Lenten Spring (Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1983), 21.
  11. Bishop Kallistos Ware, The Power of the Name (Convent of the Incarnation, Fairacres, Oxford: SLG Press, 1974), 27.
  12. Hopko, 61.
  13. Evdokimov, 241.
  14. Matthew 11:12.
  15. Proverbs 15:1.
  16. Dostoyevsky, 338.

Women’s Role in the Church - The Perspective of a Seminary Graduate, a Mother, and an Educator

By Phyllis Meshel Onest, M. Div.

Is there a role for women in the Church? Is the ordained priesthood “the” role for those seeking to serve Christ? Can one do anything else that is as valuable as leading the faithful in worship? Given the debate and rhetoric in some Christian circles, the responses would be: maybe, yes, no. As one who has grown up in the Orthodox Church, and has an Orthodox theological education, it seems to me that the responses should be: yes, no, yes. Women are called to serve in every area of Church ministry, with the exception of the ordained priesthood. This is limited, for specific reasons, to a small percentage of men.

If we focus on what we cannot have, it’s the “Eve Story” all over again: “You can fulfill everything but this one role.” We can choose to dwell on this one role, as some Christian women do and thereby distort God’s plan, or we can be like the “new Eve,” the Theotokos, and seek to fulfill the role(s) that God offers us.

There is order in the creation. If we have learned nothing else from the Scriptures than this, then we will understand that seeking to live within the order makes for a fulfilled and meaningful life. Seeking to create our own order leads us away from God and all that is good. Given this premise, let us begin with the actions of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Women In The New Testament

In the New Testament Jesus broke the centuries-old barrier that existed between men and women. Although rabbis did not include women in their group of followers, nor offer women spiritual teaching, Jesus visited and taught His friends Mary and Martha, who were also among His disciples. And there were other women among His followers.

St. Paul saw women as loyal coworkers. He depended on them to help spread the gospel. He spoke of consecrated virgins and widows. He wrote that in Christ there is neither Greek [Gentile] nor Jew, slave nor free, male nor female; all are one in Christ.

Phoebe was one of the first to be called deaconess. St. Paul wrote that she was “a helper of many and myself as well.” The role of the deaconess in later years was to help clergy with the administration of baptism to adult women, and to reach out to women in institutions where men were not allowed [prisons, hospices for women, etc.] or where some of the faithful could be scandalized by the presence of men [e.g. bedrooms, isolated homes of the sick or elderly women].

Women Throughout Christian History


Deaconesses survived until the eleventh century, and with some rare examples, even into the 20th century. A prayer in the Apostolic Constitutions says: “honor the deacon as the image of Christ and the deaconess as the image of the Holy Spirit.” Like these two persons of the Holy Trinity, the ordinations of deacons and deaconesses were for two different but equal persons. Different and equal, that is to say, each to fulfill a specific role in the Church, yet equal in the eyes of God.

Women have become saints and have mothered saints. St. Theodota (3rd c.) was the mother of SS Cosmas & Damian; St. Nonna (4th c.) of St. Gregory the Theologian; St. Emilia (4th c.) of St. Basil, St. Macrina, St. Peter of Sebaste, and St. Gregory of Nyssa. Some have been influential grandmothers: St. Leonilla (2nd c.) brought her 3 grandsons to Christ. St. Olga was the pious grandmother of Prince Vladimir of Rus, who had his nation baptized in the 10th century.

Many women have been martyred for their faith. Among them were St. Katherine the Great Martyr, St. Irene the Great Martyr, St. Marcella. The list is endless.

Women have been great teachers. St. Melania (4th c.) taught against the heretic Nestorius. St. Theodora the Empress (9th c.) was instrumental in the return of the icons into Orthodox worship. St. Pulcheria (5th c.), along with her husband, the Emperor Marcian, convoked the 3rd and 4th Ecumenical Councils.

St. Nina the Illuminator, “Equal to the Apostles,” was a missionary, converting the country of Georgia in the early 4th century. St. Mary Magdalene and St. Helena are also identified as “Equal to the Apostles.”

Women have entered the monastic life and offered spiritual direction. St. Xenia (4th c.), a deaconess, was not only the spiritual mother to her monastery, but also to people in the neighboring community. Today we have women monastics who do the same thing here in the United States.

Women In Modern Times

During the Communist years in Russia, the lay people were responsible for preserving the Church’s presence. It was the women, the “babas”/grandmothers, who kept the faith alive, who secretly taught the children and grandchildren and had them baptized. The young women of pre-revolutionary Russia, who later became the “babas,” had godly nuns as their examples. Not only the nuns, but the older laywomen as well, provided a living image of holiness for younger women to follow. God thus prepared them for the sacred task that would be given them. I have read that Stalin knew he could not kill the soul of the Orthodox Church in Russia without exterminating every pious old woman in the land, and even Stalin knew he couldn’t get away with that!

Russia is not the only land graced with the presence of saintly and righteous women. There are stories of the women of Greece, Lebanon, Syria, Romania, Serbia, Egypt and other countries where Orthodox Christians have had to suffer for their faith. All these stories together make up the history of Christian women.

Today, in Greece women are devout teachers of religion. Today, in Romania there are nuns, including many who have recently embraced the Orthodox faith, who are learned and now influence the Church. They offer ministry by serving the people who come for holy days to spend time with the nuns and seek a spiritual life.

Today, in the United States women graduates of seminaries are involved in ecumenical dialogues, teaching in colleges and seminaries, writing, Christian education, music, as theological librarians, in healing ministries, monastic life, iconography, missions, charitable work, and more. There are opportunities for women in nearly every area of ministry: missions, education, healing, administration, evangelism, social services, supporting other women—especially young mothers, monasticism, liturgically as readers, chanters, choir directors and choir members, and finally as wives, mothers, and godmothers. All are seeking to live out their faith as best they can!

An Orthodox Understanding Of The Roles Of Men And Women

Orthodox Christianity affirms that men and women are created equally in the image and likeness of the trinitarian God. Both Adam and Eve participated in “the Fall of mankind.” Both have been redeemed by our Lord Jesus Christ, the “new Adam,” and the Theotokos, the “new Eve.” Both are called to theosis, to deification, that is, to become united with God. And yet total and unequivocal equality does not imply absolute sameness. Femaleness and maleness are part of the varying “charismata” or gifts given by the Holy Spirit to every person.

For Orthodox Christians the ordained priest is the “icon of Christ” or “in persona Christi.” We believe that there is something in the very nature of the male ordained priest which allows him “to be the sacramental presence of the Lord, the mystical embodiment of the Church’s husband and Lord.” Metropolitan Maximos, my former professor and mentor, taught that the priest is the “iconic representation of Christ, the Groom of the Bride, [which is] the Church. The priest is the living icon of the bridegroom.” Ordaining women to the priesthood alters that imagery to that of Bride of the Bride, which we cannot have.

We, as Orthodox, affirm that manhood and womanhood are not interchangeable. Each member of the Body is equally called to live the Christian life as fully as possible. Each has his/her role. It’s all right to have different roles; it does not alter our value in God’s eyes, for no one is unimportant.

Throughout history the Orthodox Church suffered under various persecutors, most notably, the Ottoman Empire and the communists. As a result of these historic situations, the involvement of the laity was minimized. Only in this century has the situation begun to turn around. There is ministry to be done by all since we are all part of the “royal priesthood” [1 Pet 2:9]. The ordained ministry is but one area, and is not a “right,” but a specific calling to certain men, not all men.

My Calling From Christ

Because I am a theologically educated woman, my vision of the Church is a bit different than most. It comes with the territory, as the saying goes. Thus I believe that in addition to encouraging others, women and men alike, to grow in Christ, to serve His Church, my role includes helping others find their place, their niche, where they can minister, given their respective gifts. If we are truly to be the “Body of Christ,” where each part is necessary, then it is also necessary to have each part functioning. It’s no wonder that church workers feel overburdened! Only a portion of the Body is carrying the total weight!

It seems to me that the education of the Faithful of God is the key to many of our concerns and problems, and it is for this reason that I focus more time now to adult education, including the education and formation of Orthodox parents. There are many Orthodox parents wanting, desiring help in developing the parenting skills and insights they need in order to be Orthodox Christian parents.

Women Encouraging Other Women

One very important role that each woman can fulfill is to encourage other women to live out an Orthodox lifestyle in their homes because it requires the help of others in the parish. After all, “it takes a village to raise a child,” and our village is the Church. In many cases there are no grandparents to assist as they once did. Families are separated from their family mentors by distance, and perhaps even faith, since our churches are experiencing an increase of members who have embraced Orthodoxy as adults.

My spiritual father talks about the need for a new generation of “yiayias and babas”/grandmothers who are not afraid to teach the Faith, because the Faith is the most important aspect of their lives. No one else can give this treasure to their children and grandchildren! I agree wholeheartedly.

Finally, Orthodox women rejoice in the fact that the most perfect expression of Christian life and the very image of the Church is a woman, the Theotokos. She was devoted to the service of God. She said “yes” to God on behalf of each of us. She continued to say “yes” as she lived out her life, serving as “mother” to the newly founded Christian Church. Now we, too, are called to be devoted to Christ and His Church. With so many areas of ministry in the Church that are available to women, our only shortage should be the number of women!

Our devotion requires self-sacrifice, faithfulness to the Gospel and the Tradition of the Church, prayerfulness, and the desire to be all that God calls us to be. If this sounds like too big a task, remember Jesus’ words: “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” Matt 11:29-30. Just start slowly and build on the firm foundation that the Church offers us. Allow yourself to be encouraged by another. Encourage others whose gifts are not being used.

Can you envision each member or most members of your parish involved in some ministry of the Church? I can! And what a parish it would be… a piece of the Kingdom that we have yet to see!!!

Questions For Discussion:

What are your charismata/talents/gifts from God, and how are you using them?

Do you use your talents for the strengthening of the Church? If not, how else could you be using them?

Do you see a need in the Church that you or someone you know could fulfill? What’s keeping you/them from getting involved?

Phyllis Meshel Onest, wife and mother of two teenagers, is one of the first woman graduates of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. She is presently Diocesan Director of Religious Education for the Greek Orthodox Diocese of Pittsburgh and editor of the periodical, Orthodox Family Life. She and her family attend St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, Mogadore, OH.


Ministry of Women in the Church - From the Perspective of a Homemaker and a Convert

By Janet Keeney

The Scriptures tell us that we all have ministries. My definition of ministry is service or giving attention to an area of need in the Church. 1 Cor 12:27-31.

How does a woman discover the ministry God has given her? Is it through prayer, through expanding talents and interests, through doing what your priest asks you to help him accomplish, through doing everything others in the Church ask you to accomplish? It can get confusing, can’t it? It can cause one to do nothing and feel discouraged, or do everything and feel “burned out.”

I was one of those women who always used to be telling God how much I was doing for Him. One day, tired and discouraged, I heard God say to me, “I love you for who you are, not for what you do.” This gave the word “ministry” a new meaning for me.

An Evolving Lay Ministry

When my children were young, they truly were a full time job. I believe that the countless hours of preschool years that I spent with my four children, gave them a sense of love, stability and knowledge of God’s faithfulness that has brought them through many temptations in the world. “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6 This daily synergy within my home life, centered around my husband and children, can also extend as a lay ministry of example to the younger women of the church.

Orthodox women have been great defenders of the faith as seen in the lives of the Saints and their ever present testimony. Orthodox women of today are intricately linked to these saintly women who preceded us. We can each carry on the ministry that they began by using our gifts of hospitality, singing, teaching the children, feeding the poor, being there to listen and to guide those who are searching. Small ministries that I began to be involved in at the parish included hosting the coffee hour, baking the Communion bread, and teaching church school.

From my experience I have come to understand the ministry of married women in the Church through the life of St. Gorgonia (Feb. 23), a married woman with four children. (Marriage As A Path To Holiness, St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, So. Canaan, PA, 1994, pp. 142-151.) St. Gorgonia was not separated from God by her marriage. Although she had a husband as her head, she was not separated from her first head, Christ. She rather served in the world according to the human dictates and to the extent God allowed, while dedicating herself entirely to Him.

St. Gorgonia’s example taught me these priorities: God first, my husband second, family third, then the Church, and finally the world. Also everything in moderation helps to maintain a good balance. I must constantly remember to not be so heavenly bound that I am no earthly good.

Learning The Faith Through Teaching Children

As a convert, I began my lay ministry in Orthodoxy by teaching kindergarten in the Church School. I would learn the lesson, then teach the young children and this is how I came to fully know and embrace Orthodox Christianity. Its been seven years now since our whole family, three daughters and our son, even our son-in-law, entered the Orthodox Christian faith. We started seeing many firsts: feast days, baptisms, our daughter’s Orthodox wedding and it was all so glorious, we were like little children, enthralled. My greatest joy was that we all went to church as a family, even our teenager and college student. This indeed was a great miracle.

Helping New Converts In The Parish

As Orthodox women of today, one of the greatest challenges we face regarding our ministry is to be Orthodox Christians first before our own ethnic concerns, and to be open to the new convert. We need to allow a convert to heal and grow, free from judgment and expectations. What an opportunity for ministry there is in just taking the time to nurture and support new converts in their transition to Orthodoxy. Women’s leadership and participation in prayer groups and Bible studies can also help to address this challenge. God is causing a great wonder to take place in this land, and bringing many, such as our family, to the Holy Orthodox Faith.

From a first-hand perspective, my husband and I are presently seeing a great need for a direct effort of spending time with converts. So many times a convert believes that he/she has made a big mistake by entering what seems to be an ethnic arena. We try to be there to tell them “we understand” when they become confused and discouraged. We had no one to do this for us.

When we joined the Orthodox Church, people asked us almost weekly why we were attending the church since we were neither Greek nor Russian. For the first time in our lives, we began studying our family tree to see if we possibly had any Eastern background. For a long time we were not included in parishioners’ social events—weddings, showers, baptisms. We did have the good fortune to be invited to spend Pascha with a family. It was great in that we had no tradition for this, nor any family near by.

God may have allowed us to experience the hurts so that we can be more sensitive to the feelings a new convert can have. We, with prayer, have been filling this need informally by spending time with the new members. We have weekend dinners with the families and become friends.

Converts can be a strength to a parish since their faith is at a high point when they make the decision to search for a more spiritual life. Most converts are not “church shoppers.” They have had a sincere encounter with the Lord and want to bring others to Him. Caring parish members, remembering “the seeds that fall on the ground” from the Lord’s parable, can easily help the roots of the converts to grow deeper by providing a soil of love and concern.

A ministry to new converts has been one that I’ve especially felt called to. To you women who have not come to fully comprehend what your ministry is, keep seeking God’s wisdom. God bless you in your journey. I hope this article helps you to understand that you are probably involved in ministry already.

Questions For Discussion:

What are the positive attributes of being a mother and homemaker full time? Are there drawbacks?

If one cannot be a full time homemaker and has a family, what helpful suggestions make for the best balance between home, the family and work?

Are there ministries that women perform better than men? men better than women?

How does a God-centered life help one in whatever ministry is being undertaken?

Has there been a ministry to new converts in your parish? What has helped them to feel a part of the parish family? What other things might be done to make them feel more welcome?

Do you feel that converts enrich the parish family? In what ways? What problems, if any, do they pose that need to be overcome within the parish family?

Janet Keeney is a member of the Holy Trinity Orthodox Church, Kansas City and director of a Before and After School Care Program for the local YMCA in Kansas City, Kansas.