Do not let a widow under sixty years old be taken into the number, and not unless she has been the wife of one man, well reported for good works: if she has brought up children, if she has lodged strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has relieved the afflicted, if she has diligently followed every good work. (1 Timothy 5:9-10)
St Paul in speaking about widows who need charitable help also describes his idea of Christian behavior for stay-at-home moms. Besides raising their children, they should be engaged in charitable work, helping provide for the needs of others. For St Paul, if these mothers practiced charity and other good deeds, they deserve to be shown charity in their widowhood or old age.
This was a special issue of concern in this culture which had no social security of any kind. Women were often dependent on men for their income and were treated as dependents. In that time, widows – having lost their husband/landowner, bread winner – often had little support and little choice for financial support but to try to remarry. The church invented social security for them – providing care, food and housing for them so that they wouldn’t become homeless or indigent, especially if they became widows but had no children or other family members to provide for them. The Church was not heartless towards those who became poor not to any fault of the person but due to social custom and circumstances. For St Paul, to receive this ‘social security’ these widows had to have demonstrated in their own lives that they were Christian and practiced charity themselves. It fulfills the Christ’s notion that the measure you give is the measure you will receive in return (Luke 6:38).
Charity was understood as being part of the healing ministry of the Church, or conversely healing is part of the charitable work of the Body of Christ. In the above reference, the Church providing for its widows is part of the Church’s work to help the needy, the weak or the powerless. As Orthodox theologian and ethicist Stanley Harakas notes:
So, healing is a practice of the Orthodox Christian faith. But healing the sick is not only giving back health to the ill, it is also making strong those who are weak. Apostolic work requires us to recognize that among us are many who feel weak and inadequate to meet the responsibilities which they must face. The apostolic task requires us to give the helping hand to those who need someone to lean on, and to give strength to those who have need of it. (OF LIFE AND SALVATION, pp 69-70)