In recent years, there has been an increasing awareness for the need for women’s ministry in the Coptic Orthodox Church at large. Putting aside debates regarding the Christian Orthodox understanding of women’s purity, there is an overarching desire for women’s role to be discussed, defined and implemented overall in the context of the Church.
After the First Orthodox Women’s Conference held in London in 2015 supported by the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, where a variety of topics were discussed by Orthodox scholars regarding both men and women and the life of the Church, there has been a strong response to promote women’s active participation in the Church on a further level. No, I do not refer to ordained ministerial orders (although in the future we wish to discuss the order of the female diaconate as it was practiced in the early church for several centuries); I speak about how women – young, single, married, grandmothers, — all ages – can actively participate in the services of the Coptic Church without being limited to the ministry of Sunday School.
So the question to be asked is, what is then the role of women in the Orthodox Church today? How do we ‘figure these things’ out?
This can only be answered when we begin to understand the ‘how’ of this query. How can we as living members of the Body of Christ discover our calling and function in the Church at large? How can we as the Church continue to be relevant in a constant, changing world without compromising our doctrine and Tradition?
To answer this, we must first know and understand thoroughly what is Orthodox doctrine and Tradition. (Tradition I refer to as that which has been passed down through the revelation of our doctrine- such as the divine liturgy, sacramental prayers, icons, hymnology; Tradition here does not refer to on-going cultural and societal changes that are inflected and reflected in the living Church- such as the change of language used during the liturgical services of the Church; ie English, French, Italian and so on, used in the living Churches throughout the world today).
Second, we each have a responsibility to discover and unravel our personal calling in the Church. As living members, we have received through grace the Holy Spirit in our baptism. In the sanctified waters of baptism we were immersed in, we vowed to die and rise with Christ. And as we died, we received this new life in Christ and this life is sanctioned by the Holy Spirit.
As Orthodox Christians, our senses and joints are anointed to indicate the work of the Holy Spirit moves and guides every act, thought and word from our entire being (this is depicted as we are anointed on our foreheads, our senses, our joints).
The Holy Spirit is thus He who guides us daily. He guides us towards an intimate communion with the Trinity. This intimate communion accompanies our calling that God desires and reveals to each one of us uniquely. Each of us have been stamped with a divine purpose in this life and He leads us into discovering what this purpose is in the Church and in the world. He continually, without fail, yearns to reveal to us this way, day by day, step by step, and teaches it through different ways and means – through a whisper, a spiritual guide, from the voice heard in our inner heart through prayer… and/or many more splendid ways, if we are attentive and willing to listen.
But, how exactly?
Christ tells us very clearly before His death that He will never abandon us to ‘figure these things’ out on our own:
However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.
There is a promise.
He will tell you things to come. No, I do not mean that a bow-tied scroll making its way through the clouds with bright lights, dropping into our laps will magically take place; but in His own way – as He wishes and knows best, He will guide us into all truth and speak to us the way in which we should go – whether we turn to the left or turn to the right. (Isaiah 30:21)
The Church has placed the Gospel passage of John 16 in the Book of Hours (3 rd hour) for our daily reading intentionally: it is a reminder that the Holy Spirit is alive in us – living, dwelling and guiding us. This promise is not whimsical or temperamental; it is life-giving, edifying, and real.
And so, for each of us to discover our calling we also have a responsibility to receive it – to search, to listen, to be open to this journey of the Trinity revealing Himself to us and guiding us. Our responsibility as living members in the Body of Christ is that we must actively participate as members; we are not mere bystanders in receiving this call and gift of the Holy Spirit from the day of our baptism – we must be attentive to this call daily.
Sometimes we want it handed down to us easily, like that scroll dropped from above, but like many beautiful things in life we want to achieve, we must consciously and actively work towards our goals. The schools we choose, our educational paths, our careers, our life-partners (or way of celibacy), where we live, with whom we spend our time with—these are all active choices we make in our lives. Many of these choices, if not all, require daily calculations and contemplative decision-making or our lives would come to an awkward standstill. Whether we are focusing on finishing up our degrees, progressing in our careers, or maintaining a healthy, loving relationship, we make choices that contribute to our calling from many aspects in our life.
It is not much different with our call as a baptized living member in the Church. Thankfully, we are graced to having it easier for our spiritual call since we have the promise of the Helper who will tell us things to come. We must work to have this intimate communion with the Trinity to know personally what He desires from us and what is instilled in us for our divine purpose.
I personally am unable to tell you what is your specific calling (although I wish we could), but we as the OWM have the hope in His promises and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that by His grace we may be catalysts in helping each living member to discover, search, and be attentive to the divine calling they have received. And this can only be done with each person’s willingness to share in their responsibility in believing the Holy Spirit will tell us things to come. As we search out our passions and desires for our careers in this world, we must also discover our passions in the living Church and seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit to fulfill this calling.
Just as your high school counselor may guide you into making the best career options, we must also seek spiritual counsel in the Holy Spirit – whether it be our spiritual guide, father of confessor, spiritual mother or father, entrusted mentor, and/or parent, along with our prayerful life. God will provide what we need if we trust and ask Him. Let us not underestimate this power and gift of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us and desires to reveal Himself to us.
Time will fail to tell of the countless prophets, disciples, saints and living members until today who trusted that God will guide and tell them things to come.
Abraham left the entirety of his life behind in Midian from a single promise from God and did not know where he was going. Yet he believed God would lead him, and He did. Moses tried to turn away from the call but God persisted and told him He would never leave him and show him wonders. And He did. Elijah feared for his life from King Ahab and Jezebel and even wanted to live no longer because of the burdens of his life. But God comforted him and continued to guide him.
And so it goes with all the prophets and saints of the Old and New Testaments, the disciples, the apostles – and all those living members throughout the history of the Church – those known and unknown, whom God works in each one of them, and guides them as they diligently seek Him.
We must remember this journey is unique and different for everyone, yet at the same time, we all seek the same goal of salvation and edification for the Church at large, through which we contribute to our very calling for and to one another. And we must remember that it is our responsibility to pursue this calling with which we were called (Ephesians 4) – as He has given us the grace and His promise He will personally teach and guide us. God Himself is our personal tutor and the Church is present with the Holy Spirit to aid us. What a divine gift!
With heart-felt prayers that we each find our calling with which we were called,
Founder of OWM