The St Nina Quarterly

Article excerpt

Bringing Together a Community of Orthodox Christian Women

As Orthodox Christians we believe that human beings -- men and women -- are created in the image and likeness of God. Because we also believe in the Trinity, a divine community of Persons, we believe that in order to be truly human, we must be community. As Sister Nonna Harrison states in her article, "The Holy Trinity as a Model for Human Community",

   ... to be made in the image of God is to be made in the image of the Holy
   Trinity; like the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, human beings are
   persons. This means that we are free and are able to know and love others,
   but it also means that our belonging to the community of humankind, our
   relatedness to other people, is at the very root of who we are.

      This provides a model for the ideal human community, in which people are
   united by mutual love, they work together in harmonious consensus, and the
   equality and dignity of each person is respected.(1)

What a beautiful and life-giving understanding of the human community and our part in it! Throughout history many women have played an important role in helping to build and sustain the Christian community: the Virgin Mary who gave birth to Jesus the Christ; the myrrh-bearing women of the gospels who were the first disciples to witness to the risen Christ; and the many women saints who, throughout the ages, have used their gifts to proclaim the good news to the world.

We have a rich history of women's participation in the community of the church. Unfortunately, much of this history is not known to many Orthodox Christian women and men. Of course we worship the trinitarian God in the Divine Liturgy, but the God of "inter-relationship and shared love"(2) is sometimes hidden by practices that are more reflective of cultural biases and outdated understandings of women's participation in that shared love, than of the genuine theology of the church. As Elisabeth Behr-Sigel, a well-known French Orthodox theologian, has written about the reality of the church today:

   Here is juxtaposed and joined the liberating message of the gospel and
   archaic taboos, a theological anthropology both spiritual and personal, and
   the misogynistic stereotypes inherited from patriarchal societies.(3)

This has led many women who truly love God and his church to a sense of isolation and loss of connection with the church. As one of the readers of the St Nina Quarterly wrote:

   I thought I was the only person who felt as I did -- felt a piece of
   myself, of my faith missing in the Orthodox church. To know there are
   others who feel the same -- but are also doing something to find those
   missing pieces, the history that was never told to us as young women
   growing up in the church ...(4)

This sense of isolation and loss is hard to quantify precisely because it is so often experienced in isolation. In discussions with friends I have met through my work in the church, many of us admitted that, although we love Christ and his church, we sometimes experienced a similar sense of frustration and even loss. We agreed that we needed a vehicle that would enable us to share our thoughts and feelings as women in the church, to study the faith, and ultimately to find our salvation within the church as members of the community of believers. There were others who did not necessarily share our feelings of frustration or loss, but who thought that a journal focusing on women in the Orthodox church was needed. It was at that time that the first seeds of what was to become the St Nina Quarterly were planted.

We started as a small group of women who, through friendship and a growing women's network, had found one another. Some had known each other for years and others were meeting for the first time. Many of us had studied at seminary and had earned advanced degrees in theology. …