Holy Mothers of Orthodoxy


Eva Catafygiotu Topping

Martyrs and Apostles: Saints for February

February may be the shortest month in our calendar. But its list of Orthodox woman saints is far from short. I have counted at least 36 names. It is also an impressive list. Because they illustrate various significant roles of women in the church, these women saints deserve recognition and honor.

Most or them are martyrs, women like Fausta, Anatole, Asklepiodote, and Theodoule whose sacrificial deaths insured the founding and survival of Greek Christianity. Throughout the Christian era hundreds, even thousands of women have paid blood tribute to the church, from the holy martyrs Perpetoua and Agatha (February 1st and 3rd, respectively) in the early centuries to the neo-martyrs of later times. Hosia Philothei, the aristocratic Athenian abbess died on February 19th, 1589, the victim of a brutal beating at the hands of Turks. Later, Holy Martyr Kyrana "the most virtuous," died for her faith in Thessalonike on February 28th, 1751. When the Turks kidnapped her, Kyrana's parents fled and hid. She endured prison and torture alone. Although no one questions women's equality in martyrdom, women have yet to enjoy equality in the life of their church.

During this month, however, the Orthodox Church also honors women other than the martyrs. For example. on the third, Anna the Prophet is commemorated; on the twenty-eighth, the ascetics Marana and Kyra; on the eleventh, Theodora the Queen "who established Orthodoxy." In 843 A.D. after the death of her husband, this Byzantine empress reversed his religious policy, called a council and restored the veneration of icons in the church. Without the courage and loyalty of many women to Orthodox traditions and teachings during the religious struggles of the eighth and ninth centuries the triumph of Orthodoxy in 843 would not have been possible.

Furthermore the February honor roll of women saints is striking for the large number of women apostles which it includes. No less than six women apostles of the early church are listed: Priscilla (February 13th); Mariamne (February 17th); Apphia (February 19th); Iounia (February 22nd); Photeine (February 26th); Nympha (February 28th). Except for Saints Mariamne and Photeine the others are all identified by St. Paul as apostolic women who exercised leadership in the primitive church.

Named six times in the New Testament, Priscilla is the most important of these women. St. Paul, who claims for the apostle the highest place among church leaders (I Corinthians 12:27), identifies Priscilla as his able co-worker (synergos), a missionary and accomplished Christian teacher, and with her husband, the Apostle Aquila, the head of a church community in their house at Corinth (I Corinthians 16:19). There is no evidence that she was in any way subordinate either to Paul or to her husband. She was at least their equal. St. John Chrysostom was, in fact, impressed that Paul greeted Priscilla first, before her husband. Nympha (Colossians 4:15) appears to be the leader of the community that met at her house Likewise, Paul singles Apphia (Philemon 1-2) as the leader and head of the church which met in Archippos' house at Colossae. Iounia, along with Andronikos, was saluted by Paul as an "outstanding" (Romans 16:7) apostle. St. John Chrysostom shared the apostle's admiration of Iounia: "Oh, how great is the devotion of this woman that she should be accounted worthy of the title of apostolos (Apostle)."

Called by church fathers and hymnographers "apostolos" and "isapostolos," St. Photeine entered sacred history in John 4:1-39. She is the Samaritan woman at the well with whom Christ discussed theology and to whom he revealed, for the first time, that He is the Messiah. Believing in Him, she then ran to share the revelation of God with her follow citizens. Persuaded by her, the Samaritans become the first converts to Christ and the woman becomes the first by her, the Samaritans became the first converts to Christ and the woman becomes the first apostle. After the Resurrection, Photeine preached the Gospel first in Africa and then in Rome, where her apostolic career ended in martyrdom, as had the careers of several male apostles.

St. Mariamne, the sixth woman apostle commemorated in February, is nowhere mentioned in the New Testament, unlike the other five. Yet tradition has preserved the memory of her apostolate. After the death of her brother, Philip, whose missionary work she had shared, she undertook an independent mission to Lycaonia. There she successfully preached the word of Christ. And having baptized many, Mariamne the apostle died in peace.

Neglected and unknown to most of us, these six women apostles nevertheless bear witness to the prominence and authority of women as leaders in the early years of the church. Sts. Priscilla, Nympha, Iounia, Apphia, Photeine and Mariamne, along with other women like them, were not silent, submissive and subordinate members of the Christian body. The contrary is clear from the New Testament. St. Paul acknowledged women's equal worth and dignity and welcomed their full participation in the life and work of the Church, as apostles, deacons, preachers, teachers and prophets. Two thousand years later, the Church should do no less.

St_Anna St Perpetua

St. Anna the Prophetess
Aug. 28

St. Perpetua
Feb. 1

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