Through Mary All Women Are Blessed

Through Mary, a special blessing descended upon all women, and Proclus sets out to determine this by using biblical characters as examples:

‘Thanks to her, all women are blessed. It is not possible that woman should remain under her curse; to the contrary, she now has a reason to surpass even the glory of the angels. Eve has been healed; the Egyptian woman [Hagar] has been silenced; Delilah has been buried; Jezebel has fallen into oblivion; even Herodias has been forgotten.

Today, a list of women is admired: Sarah is acclaimed as the fertile field of the peoples; Rebekah is honored as the able conciliator of blessings; Leah, too, is admired as mother of the ancestor [Judah] according to the flesh; Deborah is praised for having struggled beyond the powers of her womanly nature; Elizabeth is called blessed for having carried the Forerunner, who leapt for joy in her womb, and for having giving witness to grace; Mary is venerated, because she became the Mother, the cloud, the bridal chamber, and the ark of the Lord.'”

(Luigi Gambero’s Mary and the Fathers of the Church, p. 256)

Mother of All the Living Ones

The man called his wife’s name Zoe (Life), because she was the mother of all the living.  (Genesis 3:20)

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As we in America honor our mothers today, we remember that it is through women that we come into the world.  Women have a unique role to play in the life of the world and are involved in God’s life-giving nature in a way that men cannot be.  Even the life-giving incarnation of God, required a woman for our salvation.  Males had no direct role in the incarnation itself, except to be in need of it for salvation.  So motherhood itself is a necessary part of the salvation of every human being.  Males cannot be saved without a woman, which is why all Christians should also honor, Mary, the Theotokos.  As St Elizabeth shows in her own praise of Mary as  “she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?   (Luke 1:42-43)   Elizabeth was overwhelmed that the Mother of the Lord should visit her.

30107253080_7ee0ce7d69_nHowever unique and great the role of motherhood is in the continuation of the human race and in the salvation of all humans, motherhood is not the only role women play in the life of the church.  The ability to give birth is a unique role for women, but not the only role for women in the Church.  Obviously the entire history of women monastics shows us that child birth is not essential for the salvation of women.  There are many women who are saints in our Church, who were never mothers, nor even tried to be.

Women, including mothers, have the same path to salvation as men: through holiness.  There are women Disciples of the Lord such as the Myrrhbearing Women.  There are women who are proclaimed Equal to the Apostles (such Photini the Samaritan Woman and Helen the mother of Constanine).  There are women who are titled Evangelizers   (such as Nina of Georgia  but also God chose women to serve as the first Evangelists – the Myrrhbearing Women carried the message to the male Apostles).   In the Church calendar of saints there are women martyrs, confessors, ascetics, women prophets, deacons, teachers, rulers and monastics.

So while motherhood is a unique role for women in God’s creation and in the Church, it is not the only role for women.  And few women are glorified as saints just for being mothers. The women saints of the Church are generally recognized for all the other roles they played in the life of the Church.

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Mothers like all women can know the Lord.  They can be saints and disciples because they can be imitators of Christ.  Mothers give us life, but they can also be examples of how to love and live for eternal life.   Giving birth is a natural thing, which may be why it is not always the way to holiness.  We are a pro-life Church, and we honor our mothers because they show the sanctity of life in their pregnancies, in giving birth and in their rearing of children.  Mothers reveal a unique relationship between themselves and the infants to whom they are giving life as well as to the life-givingness itself.   Mothers are the human element in the birthing process.   Mothers can be examples not only to their children, but to all women and men of how to follow Christ (Titus 2:3-4), to be His disciple, to experience His presence every day in the most mundane circumstances, in the most natural way.  Jesus in fact says everyone who does the will of God becomes His mother (Mark 3:33-34).  The holiness of motherhood lies in doing God’s will.    And the children of believing mothers are considered to be holy (1 Corinthians 7:14) based on the mother’s faith.

Be blessed like Rebekah

In giving birth to us, in giving life to us, our mothers make it possible for us to experience God, to be in God’s presence.  For this alone, we should thank and honor our mothers.

God’s Plan and the Need for Women

One thing from the Christmas Gospel narrative caught my attention this year:  God values Mary as much as the Father values His Son.   Here is the Gospel Lesson,  Matthew 2:13-23 (with my emphasis added to the text) –

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.” When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.” Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: “A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

Now when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.” Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee. And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, “He shall be called a Nazarene.” 

God wills and wishes to protect and save not only His Son, the Christ child, but also the Child’s mother, Mary.  God did not just need Mary for her womb.  God does not discard Mary after she gives birth to Jesus.  God values Mary as a person.  He didn’t just use Mary to accomplish His will, He loves and cares for her.  God orders Joseph to protect and care for not only Jesus but also Mary, the mother of Jesus. God repeats this in the Gospel lesson perhaps because God knew all too well that for some men, women’s lives don’t matter.   God knew Joseph had already contemplated divorcing marry quietly so God keeps reminding Joseph that Mary is as important for salvation as is Jesus.

The Gospel story as we well know was written in a very male dominated society.  Once Mary served God’s purpose and gave birth to the child, God and Joseph could easily have dispensed with her.  Joseph had been told in a dream that the child conceived in Mary was of God, and of value to God.  Joseph could have disposed of her and attempted to use the child for his own gain both with God and with the Jewish nation.   Or he could have tried to take the child himself to curry God’s favor. But he doesn’t.  He protects both Jesus and Mary.   Joseph apparently can see that Mary is just as important to the Lord as is His Holy Child.

God works salvation – the union of God and humanity, of divinity and creation, in Mary’s womb.  But God values Mary and sees females as an essential part of His plan for salvation.   Women are essential to salvation history.  The salvation of us all is dependent on a woman, Mary, but also on all women because they give birth to us all.  Women add something to salvation and make the salvation that God wants to accomplish possible.  Our salvation in Christ was not possible without women.  Salvation could not have begun without a woman, Mary, to be the mother of God (nor for that matter without all of the ancestral woman who gave birth to the forefathers of Christ).  In Mary the healing of all humanity begins when God unites Himself to humanity in the incarnation in Mary’s womb.

For the Church this means that women are equally valuable to men in bringing salvation to more people and to new generations.  The Church itself needs to recognize the role of women in the life of the Church, and the importance of all women, not just mothers, for bringing the Gospel of salvation to all the world.

St Paul in his evangelical enthusiasm writes:  “I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).   One thing he didn’t become was a woman.   And St. Paul could not by himself bring salvation to all people.  That is the purpose of the Church as the Body of Christ.  WE are to become all things to all people so that by all means some are saved.  We, the Church, need women in ministry to fulfill our task of taking the Gospel to all nations and all peoples.

Mary’s role in the Church, in the history of salvation, did not end with her giving birth to Jesus Christ.  Her role continued in the life of the Church, and God willed her to be protected so that her entire life could be ministry for the life of the world.  All of us, men and women, are to imitate her to bear Christ in our lives so that God’s plan for salvation can be proclaimed to every man, woman or child who exists or will ever exist.

Be An Example

“But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ. He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”  (Matthew 23:8-12)

“A brother asked Abba Poemen, ‘I am living with some brothers. Do you want me to be in charge of them?’ The elder said to him, ‘No. Do your own work first, and if they want to survive they will provide what is needed themselves.’ The brother said to him, ‘But it is they themselves who want me to be in charge of them.’ The elder said to him, ‘No. You must become their example, not their legislator.’”

An example like that does not draw attention to himself. Only those who wish will follow.

“A young man came to see an old ascetic to be instructed in the way of perfection. But the old man said not a word to him.

The other asked him the reason for his silence. ‘Am I your superior to give you orders? Do what you see me doing if you like.’ From then on the young man imitated the ascetic in everything and learned the meaning of silence.” (Olivier Clement, The Roots of Christian Mysticism, pp. 145-146).

 

St. Elizabeth the New Martyr

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In the Winter 2017 issue of THE WHEEL there is an article about St. Elizabeth the New Martyr, one of the members of the Russian royal family who was murdered in 1918 by the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution.  After the assassination of her husband, Elizabeth committed her energies and her wealth to establishing an order of sisters of mercy – nuns dedicated to the service of the needy people of Moscow and Russia.   Her goal was to establish women’s monasteries not based in what had become the traditional form of women’s convents in Russian Orthodoxy, but rather an order which was far more active in ministering to the poor.  She felt her order of women would far better attract educated women to serve the Church.  She conceived her ideas at a time when some in the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church were also for the first time in centuries beginning to rethink the role of women in the Church.  In fact as the Russian Orthodox Church began to envision a separation of the Orthodox Church from the tsartist state at the beginning of the 20th Century, many ideas were being considered for the Church to fulfill its role in society and to shake off the shackles which had been imposed on the Church since the time of Peter the Great.

The article in THE WHEEL is written by Elena and Nadezhda Beliakova, “St. Elizabeth the New Martry: The Quest to Restore the Order of Deaconess.”  Despite the article’s title, the Beliakovas point out:

It should be noted in passing that Elizabeth was against the restoration of the liturgical function of deaconesses that existed in the early church because, as she put it in an explanatory note on the purpose of the convent:

“The conditions of Church life have changed. The consecration of the ancient deaconesses was necessitated by their participation in the baptism of adult women, the announcement of the baptized, and the old ritual of Communion, when a woman could enter the altar area.  Today, this is no longer needed, but there is a need to preach the Christian faith and help others following the example of the ancient diaconate on behalf of the Church and for the sake of Christ.”

St. Phoebe the Deaconess

I find a couple of things interesting in St. Elizabeth’s comment.  One thing is she acknowledges that changing historical conditions in the world as well as in the Church necessitate that the Church itself has to change, adapt, evolve to deal with these changes.  The reality of historical change had, at least in St. Elizabeth’s understanding, changed the needs of the church and its ministries.  Women deacons were less necessary since the baptism of adult women had virtually disappeared from the Church.  That would seem to mean that in our current day where the baptism of adults has become more frequent again and necessary because there are many adults who were never baptized as infants or in the Orthodox Church, the time is here for the church to again adapt to the changing historical realities.

Another point is that St. Elizabeth comments that there was a time in Orthodox Church history when women approached the altar to receive Holy Communion.  A practice of excluding women (and lay men for that matter) from approaching the altar for Communion is a change that happened in the Church.  It is not the oldest Tradition of the Church.  The received Tradition reflects changes that occurred in the life of the Church – the received Tradition, at least liturgically speaking, is not part of the unchanging nature of Orthodoxy.  Piety and practice have changed over time for many reasons.  The Church can always examine those changes and those reasons and decide that for its current mission – for its catechism and evangelism – that liturgical practices need to change again.  This may mean going back to the older way of doing things, or altering the received Tradition to better reflect the nature of the Church and its mission and message to the world.

Another comment in the article that I found interesting came from Metropolitan
Vladimir (Bogoyavlensky), Chairmen of the Department of Church Discipline.   In a report which was written specifically about the restoration of the order of the deaconess, Metropolitan Vladimir notes:

Even though we know from church history that in ancient times deaconesses mostly served as members of the clergy, we also know that the nature of women’s ministry has always conformed to the needs of the Church in each historical period.

His comment that deaconesses served as members of the clergy in the early church stands out to me.  There are many today who deny that very point and say the women deacons in the early church were exactly not part of the clergy of the Church.  Metropolitan Vladimir does see them as being part of the ordained clergy of the Church.  His comment that “the nature of women’s ministry has always conformed to the needs of the Church in each historical period” is also fascinating.  It would indicate that any discussion about women’s ministry in the Church should focus on what the current need of the Church is.  If we have need of specific women’s ministry in the 21st Century Church, which I think we do, then we should be able to establish it without much resistance from the Church.  The role of women in 21st Century Western society is very different than it was in traditional Orthodox cultures and in the past.   Women today are educated, have careers and take common leadership roles throughout society.  This in itself seems to necessitate that the Church open not only the discussion but the opportunities for women’s ministries today.

God Fearing Women?

So they [Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome] went out quickly and fled from the tomb, for they trembled and were amazed. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.  (Mark 16:8)

The myrrhbearing women come to the tomb of Christ in the early morning of the Sunday following his crucifixion and burial.  According to Mark’s Gospel after being told by a young man (whose clothes apparently caught their attention as they describe them with some detail) that Jesus was risen from the dead, they say nothing to anyone “for they were afraid.”  But afraid of what or who?  And why?

The women disciples of Jesus weren’t afraid to be at His crucifixion as St. Mark reports:

There were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome, who, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered to him; and also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem.  (Mark 15:40-41)

The women disciples of Christ were at the crucifixion, while on the other hand it is said of the male disciples:  “And they all forsook Jesus, and fled.”  (Mark 14:50)  The women disciples were not afraid to be at the cross of Christ.  One of the Pentecostarian Hymns (3rd Thursday, Vespers) says: “After following in the steps of serving Him with devotion, O Myrrhbearers, you did not forsake Him even after His death…” Unlike the male apostles who had!

On the morning of the great Pascha, it is the women disciples of the Lord who come to the tomb of Christ:

Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. (Mark 16:1-2)

Where are the men disciples?  Mark doesn’t tell us much about them but John tells us that same day: “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews…”  (John 20:19).  The men disciples are trembling in fear behind closed doors – hiding, while it is the women who are out and  brave enough to pay homage to their crucified Lord.   The male chosen apostles are engaged mostly in self-preservation, which is no virtue in the spiritual Tradition of Orthodoxy.

The women disciples of the Lord were not afraid to be at His crucifixion, though the men disciples were.  As another Pentecostarian hymn (3rd Thursday, Matins) says: “Bearing myrrh for Your burial, the women came secretly to the tomb at early dawn.  They feared the hatred of the Jews and the strength of the guard, but courage conquered weakness.”   The women disciples courageously conquered their fears, still wishing to serve their Lord even after His crucifixion, while the men disciples were not being manly but rather remained fearfully in hiding.

So what are we to make of Mark’s statement that the women disciples were so afraid that they didn’t want to tell anyone the Gospel they heard?  They weren’t afraid of the Romans at the crucifixion or of the Jewish leaders for they were willing to be at the cross and were willing to go to the tomb of Christ.  They didn’t fear their fellow Jews as the male apostles did.

One wonders if they were perhaps afraid of the men disciples –  afraid of how they would be received, believed and treated.  How was it possible that the almighty and all knowing God would chose to reveal His power, His salvation, His plan and His will to a group of nattering women rather than to those who imagined themselves sitting at the right and left hand of God?   Indeed, Luke reports:

Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told this to the apostles; but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.  (Luke 24:10-11)

The male apostles were incredibly disrespectful of the women disciples of the Lord, dismissing their Gospel as an old wive’s tale.  These women who provided for Jesus and the males disciples out of their own means (Luke 8:3) find these same males as insufferable ingrates.    Jesus, as He often did during His ministry, severely rebukes His chosen male disciples for their failure to believe and their behavior toward the faithful women:

“Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they sat at table; and he upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.”  (Mark 16:14)

Though Mark originally reports the women were too afraid to tell anyone about the empty tomb and the resurrection, obviously they overcame their fear.

The Scriptures are silent about whether the male apostles ever apologized to the women disciples of the Lord for their treatment of them and for their disbelief.  This is a silence that has existed for centuries in the Church, it has become part of the sad tradition of the Church.  Women faithfully ministered to Christ, yet were often curtly dismissed by the male members of the Church, silenced and marginalized.  And the male leadership has continued to remain silent, not offering an apology for such behavior toward those women or any other who remained faithful disciples even when the male apostles and their successors abandoned our Lord.

In a Church which bases itself in its faithful “spending the remaining time of their life in repentance” (from the prayers of the Liturgy), it is amazing how hard we find it to actually practice repentance and asking forgiveness and having metanoia.  Church leaders are ever loathsome to have to apologize.   Women disciples have often been marginalized in the Church like the Myrrhbearers, silenced and deprived of the diaconate which the Apostles themselves recognized for women.  Even St. Paul recognized women deacons.  The male clergy could today recognize this and do what we are called to do and repent.  Consider the words of yet another Pentecostarian hymn (3rd Wednesday, Vespers):  “Hearing the joyful words of the angels sitting in the tomb of the Word, the women who had run there with good intentions knew that the purpose of their group would be changed.  No longer will you carry myrrh!  Instead, you will preach to the apostles: “He who was hidden in the earth is risen from hell!” Initiate them into the mystery of Him who became man for us!”

It was women who initiated the male apostles into the Mystery of Christ’s incarnation and of His resurrection, not the other way around.  The office of every male clergy of the church stems from the ministry and message of the Women disciples of the Lord.  That is how God ordained it!  The women Christians taught the male apostles how hard it would be to convert the world to Christ.   They taught them that they would have to be incredibly reliable witnesses if they ever wanted the world to believe anything they said.

Women Disciples of the Lord

3rd Century Christian theologian Origen commenting on Romans 16:1-2 notes that the Myrrhbearing women were not the only females to have served the Church.  Women continued serving in recognized offices in the Church throughout the early centuries of Christianity.

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you  may receive her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may  require from you, for she has helped many and myself as well.’ [Romans 16:1-2]

This passage teaches us, with apostolic authority, that women were appointed to the ministry of the church. Paul describes Phoebe, who held office in the church of Cenchreae, with great praise and commendation.   He lists her outstanding deeds and says, she has helped many, ready whenever they were in difficulty, and myself as well, in my troubles and my apostolic labors, with full devotion.

I would compare her work to that of Lot; because he always offered hospitality, he merited to receive angels as guests. Similarly Abraham, who always went out to meet strangers, merited that the Lord and his angels would stop and rest in his tent. In the same way, Phoebe, since she offered and provided assistance to everyone, merited to become a benefactor of the Apostle. This passage provides two lessons: women served as ministers in the church and those appointed to the ministry of the church should be benefactors to many and through their good services merit the praise of the apostles. The passage also encourages Christians to honor those who commit themselves to good works in the church; whether they serve spiritual or fleshly needs, they should be held in honor.” (J. Patout Burns Jr., Romans: Interpreted by Early Christian Commentators, Kindle Loc. 7510-18)

Purity of Heart

“Amma Sarah said, ‘If I prayed God that all people should approve of my conduct, I should find myself a penitent at the door of each one, but I shall rather pray that my heart may be pure toward all.’ Amma Sarah did not seek the approval of others; likewise, she remained nonjudgmental in her attitude toward others and their own journeys toward God. As in any other time in church history, there were strong personalities in Sarah’s day, but she did not follow fads. She sought to remain true to her own simple path toward God.” (Laura Swan, The Forgotten Desert Mothers, pg. 39)

St. Mary Magdalene, Holy Myrrhbearer and Equal to the Apostles

On July 22 we commemorate the Holy Myrrhbearer Mary Magdalene, Equal to the Apostles.  Two hymns from the Praises of Matins honoring her are listed below.

YOU LOVED THE CREATOR OF ALL GOOD,
WHO IN HIS COMPASSION MADE OUR NATURE LIKE GOD.
YOU ZEALOUSLY FOLLOWED HIM, MARY, OBEYING HIS DIVINE COMMANDS!
COMING TO THE TOMB OF THE DELIVERER WEEPING,
YOU WERE THE FIRST TO SEE THE DIVINE RESURRECTION.
YOU WERE REVEALED AS A MESSENGER OF THE GOSPEL AS YOU CRIED:
REJOICE, FOR CHRIST IS RISEN!

AFTER THE DIVINE PASSION AND FEARFUL RESURRECTION OF THE SAVIOR,   YOU HASTENED ON YOUR WAY AS A GLORIOUS DISCIPLE OF THE WORD.           YOU ANNOUNCED EVERYWHERE THE PRECIOUS WORDS OF THE GOSPEL, DRAWING INTO YOUR NET MANY LED ASTRAY THROUGH IGNORANCE.

The Samaritan Woman (1994): Women Disciples of the Lord

Sermon notes for THE SAMARITAN WOMAN

May 29, 1994         John 4:5-42

Christ is risen!

Today we have reached the 5th Sunday after Pascha. Our Sunday Gospel lessons continue to look at the reaction of different people to Christ and how they came to believe in him. We have heard the stories of Thomas the Apostle, the Myrrhbearing Women, the paralytic man, and today’s lesson is about the Samaritan woman. Next week the lesson is about a blind man. The gospel lessons tell us about how different people become disciples of Christ.

If you notice the pattern, the lessons are about first a man (Thomas), then women, (The Myrrhbearers), then a man (the paralytic), and then again today a woman.

Today, I want for just a few minutes to make a comment about the role of women in the church. This is a topic which causes much controversy today, and usually focuses on the ordination of women to the priesthood. I do not intend to focus on that part of the controversy, since I cannot add anything new to the debate, and I do not ordain others, so no matter what I or you might think, we cannot resolve it anyway.

There is one interesting note to this. In the history of the Orthodox Church, we find women in almost every role in the church. There are women who are called disciples such as the Myrrhbearing Women referred to as the women disciples of the Lord. There are women in our church who are called equal-to-the apostles such as Helen, mother of the Emperor Constantine, and Nina of Georgia.  There are women evangelizers, which include Nina of Georgia, as well as the Myrrhbearers. And we must remember that Christ picked women to be the first to know of the resurrection, so they were the first evangelists to proclaim that Christ is risen. There are in our church’s history women martyrs, confessors, ascetics, women prophets, deacons, teachers, rulers, monastics. And perhaps even more significant, women have been recognized as saints in every one of these roles. Women have occupied almost every position in church life and been recognized as saints in those positions. I said almost every position, for in the history of our church, despite the exalted role of the Virgin Mother, and of the women disciples of the Lord and of all the other women glorified as saints in the church, there are no women who have been gloried as saints as either priest or bishop. In fact, despite a few claims today, there are no indisputable accounts in the history of the church of women serving as priest or bishop. And that is one of the major reasons today that the Orthodox Church does not ordain women today.

Now, as I said, I do not intend to wrestle with issues of ordination because I cannot resolve them. What I do want to comment on is a much simpler fact. When we read the New Testament, and when we look at the lives of saints, we come to understand that what is most important in our salvation is that we become faithful disciples of Christ, like all those people of the Gospel lessons. However it is that we come to know Christ, the truth is we all are being called to be his disciples, each of us whether male or female are asked to believe that Jesus is God’s Messiah. Our salvation, eternal life, is linked to our relationship to Jesus who is the Son of God. Our own ability to become one of God’s saints is linked to our personal willingness to be Christ’s disciple, to do as Jesus teaches us, to love and to forgive. We do not become saints by becoming ordained. No one is saved by being a priest. All of us are saved by our relationship to Jesus Christ, by becoming his disciples, by being part of the body of Christ. It is in this context that I believe St. Paul said that in Christ there is neither male nor female, neither Greek nor Jew. In Christ all of these distinctions are unimportant, because all of us are asked simply to love God and love neighbor, to love as Jesus loved us. And that aspect of being a disciple is equally accessible to all of us.

We see vividly in the Gospel lesson of the Samaritan Woman, the tensions between men and women. The woman is surprised that Jesus speaks to her publicly, because this was not considered proper behavior. Besides of course the fact that Jews would not normally accept food or drink from Samaritans. Yet Jesus speaks to her most respectfully and about the most theological things, even though her reputation is quite sordid having had 5 husbands. Jesus accepts her as an evangelist for himself, he allows her to be both disciple and preacher.

Again the male-female tensions are apparent when the disciples see Jesus speaking with this women, because this was not customarily accepted behavior. But Jesus taught those disciples to open their eyes to see the fields ripe for harvesting. He was asking them to see even their relationships with Samaritans and women in a new way. For all who are called by Christ are called to be his disciples, to be co-workers with one another on the road to the kingdom of God.

Our Lord Jesus Christ did not leave for us an exact picture of how the Church was to be structured. He left us with teachings on how to be his disciples, to be co-workers with one another in building up this Church. He taught us to what degree we are to love one another, to what extent we are to forgive one another, how we are to love God. He revealed to us what God is like, so that each of us in our turn might become god-like.

We will accomplish this task only to the extent that we help each other, and pray for each other. Amen.