by His Eminence Archbishop Stylianos Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in Australia NATIONAL CONFERENCE ON ‘WOMEN OF THE
Sydney, January 23-25, 2005
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia – the furthest geographical
region within the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate
– this year records 30 years since the providence of God
and the unanimous decision of the Holy Synod in the Phanar (3-2-1975)
elected the speaker Archbishop oftheGreek
Orthodox Church in the fifth continent, which was at that time
experiencing exceptionally turbulent conditions.
those who know ‘first hand’, i.e. from direct experience and ‘truthful
sources’, the entire historical journey of this literally ‘martyric’ Church
of Australia, the past thirty years are commonly regarded as the most creative
chapter of its development in God.
we shall not of course spend our time here on an evaluation of the overall
work that has been carried out over such a long period of time.
any rate, an honest and systematic account of relevant ‘actions’ and ‘omissions’
continues to take place every four years at our Clergy-Laity Congress. That
is the highest official podium within the Greek Australian community, from
where the responsible Archbishop, together with his co-workers (Clergy and
lay, men and women) reports, with total transparency and complete substantiation,
his personal testimony concerning the common life of the Church, in
the presence of all interested persons or officials, both near and from afar.
this National Conference on the sole theme ‘Women of the Church’, which
takes place for the first time with – let us admit – inexcusable delay, our
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia would like to say completely symbolically,
yet in the most official way possible, an enormous ‘thank you’ to the modern
heroines of the Faith.
refer here mainly to the women of the Ladies’ Auxiliaries, together
with the Presvyteres, educators and Sunday School teachers
who have contributed in the most silent yet creative way to the collective
Church effort of the past 30 years.
contribution and example that the Women of the Church have given selflessly
and cheerfully in all endeavours of our Archdiocese is – in a word – the deepest
prayer, in parallel to the official worship within the Church.
male workers and Celebrants in the various institutions of the Archdiocese,
recognise and acknowledge that, without these tireless ‘bees
of God’ working for the common good in our community, our lives would
be not only poorer. They would be literally inconsolable! (Translation:
anyone possibly imagine them absent from Families, Schools, Welfare Centres,
caring institutions (Nursing Homes, Aged Care facilities, Homes for children
with special needs), or from Child Care Centres and every other charitable
form of service towards the manifold needs of fellow human beings at every
should be immediately pointed out that no-one is more obliged and in a position
to confess, with sincere gratitude, due appreciation on behalf of all
faithful of our local Church, than the Archbishop who is speaking to you at
is first of all his responsibility to state here also the deserved praise
and commendation of the Church, just as it was his fatherly pride and
joy for so many years to see the countless efforts and sacrifices made by
the Women of the Church, while never expecting any recognition, except as
a blessing from God, who alone is just and knows our hearts.
order to evaluate properly – at least within the framework of this special
Conference – the multi-faceted and sacred task undertaken by the three
mentioned representative groups of Women of the Church (the members of the
Ladies’ Auxiliaries, the Presvyteres and Deaconesses,
as well as the Educators and Sunday Schools teachers), it will
be necessary to comment more extensively on the contribution of each, with
the use of appropriate examples.
however does not mean that we are attempting to compare or contrast
the overall work of one category with another. In the spirit of the Christian
Gospel and ethics, such a divisive approach would not only be inexcusably
futile. It would be, to a greater degree, an evil and audacious overturning
of the ‘merit-ocracy’ proclaimed by Christ Himself, when He told His disciples:
“whoever wishes to be first among you must be your servant” (Matt.
if the contribution of all three categories of women whom we have gathered
to honour can be condensed and identified with the words ‘service’
and ‘philanthropy’, then the act of cooking food and preparing sweets
for charitable fundraising, or selling tickets for these events, is not at
all less significant than being a supportive Presvytera in the purely pastoral
work of her husband in the Clergy – thereby giving at the same time the first
example amidst the activities of the Philoptochos Ladies’ Auxiliary
– or teaching the fundamental truths of the Faith and our universal culture
in Sunday School or other primary and secondary schools of the Church.
us begin, then, with the evaluation of the work of the Women of the Church
through the Philoptochos (Ladies’ Auxiliary), which is inevitably very
broad in scope and undefined, encompassing as it does all possible cases of
selfless and discreet assistance towards our neighbour in need.
because the names and descriptions we use in this cunning age
have lost their original meaning (to the point where they are sometimes used
improperly and express the exact opposite of the intended meaning in
the word’s etymology), it would not be superfluous to make a brief clarification
concerning two words used in the current terminology of the
refer here to the words ‘poor’ (ptochos) and ‘philanthropy’.
these terms define etymologically the vast, as well as sacred, field of action
on the part of the ‘Philoptochos Sisterhood’, as our Church has formed
and institutionalised it.
is obvious that the term ‘Sisterhood’ applied to a multitude of members who,
in other social settings, are normally called a ‘Society’, ‘Association’,
‘Club’ or ‘Fellowship’, first of all declares by its very name the sacredness
of the bond between the members.
until this point, the relevant term employed by the Church does not encounter
an open reaction from socio-political or other movements which, due
to their ideology or even their self-centred strategic interests, are
in undeclared rivalry or systematic (yet hidden) opposition
to the Church.
the philanthropic work of the Ladies’ Auxiliaries is sometimes questioned
or even underestimated, perhaps out of misunderstanding or prejudice, not
only by those who are on the outside, but strangely also by the very
people whom they systematically assist. This stems from certain unforeseen
and unadmitted ‘innuendo’ created by the word ptochos, as well as by
the adjective philoptochos which sounds somewhat paternalistic.
cause of misunderstanding lies precisely in this ‘overlapping’, which is why
we should explain it sufficiently in this Conference on the specific topic.
the Church, the term ptochos (poor) has a totally different meaning
to that understood by society in general, which mainly thinks in terms of
economics and commerce, i.e. ‘superficially’ or, as we say today, ‘secularly’.
Christian Church in this world, in accordance with the Gospel of Christ, is
concerned – and is obliged to be concerned – with the everyday needs
of the human person (a striking example of this is the establishment of the
institution of Deacons which is described in the Acts of the Apostles, cf.
Acts 6:2). No matter how true this may be, however, it must be stated that,
for the Church, the ptochos is not primarily the person who is deprived
of certain material goods (clothing, shelter, food and anything else
necessary for a respectable existence).
for the Church, means every person in general, in whatever time of need. Ptochos
therefore is anyone who is not ‘self-sufficient’. Anyone who feels in need
of something (whether tangible or not is irrelevant), on account of which
he or she feels helpless and unhappy. And as we have mentioned, every
person can find themselves in that position at some stage or another! Only
God is totally ‘self-sufficient’, which is to say in need of nobody and nothing!
as human beings are – more or less – in constant need of material, mental,
spiritual and other supplies, especially when we do not feel ‘sheltered’ by
the invisible presence of God, i.e. by the power of Faith.
this very reason we chant during the Service of the Blessing of the Loaves
(Artoclasia): “The rich have become poor and hungry, but those who
seek the Lord shall not be without every good thing”.
everything we have recalled so far, it becomes apparent to all that, while
the multi-faceted work of the Philoptochos Sisterhood normally commences from
the direct material or social needs of individuals and families,
it soon discovers beneath material deprivation the one, great deprivation,
which isnone other thanour fellow human being! It is
the person whom the paralytic sought so anxiously at the Pool of Siloam, when
saying to Christ: “Lord, I have no one…” (Jn 5:7).
other words, a fellow human being is sought who will willingly listen
to another’s troubles, keep company, respond to small or large questions,
inspire optimism and hope among the disheartened and distant, the ‘alienated’
all these usually ‘unaccounted’ needs of wounded human dignity are dealt with
in appropriate devotion and care - not however as a so-called
‘favour’ of the Good Samaritan, nor as the ‘charity’ of the rich and powerful
- but as self-understood solidarity and love of neighbour (qualities
that are treated with respect first of all by the women of the Church), then
we have an unexpected miracle. Then appreciation is spontaneously formed with
the grandest ‘frugality’ of the consoled soul. As the Greek saying puts it:
word alone has filled me, so
you can eat your bread”
the above comments, we can of course say to those who are perhaps affected
or annoyed by the term ‘philanthropy’ (as supposedly being anachronistic
and worn out), that they may rightfully turn it into ‘anthropofilia’,
if that satisfies them more fully. It is in this sense, at any rate, that
the Ladies’ Auxiliary understands it.
us now turn briefly to the particular contribution of Presvyteres and Deaconesses
in the general mission of the Church.
mentioned earlier that the Presvytera and Deaconess, as the wife of a Clergyman,
cannot realistically be detached from the forefront of service in all the
initiatives and duties of the Philoptochos Sisterhood.
there are occasions on which the Presvytera feels compelled to be the first
to give the good example of humility. She therefore steps in to do
the work of an absent member of the Auxiliary, quietly and without fanfare.
Or else she may gladly assume responsibilities which might appear unexpectedly,
in order to avoid delays or, worse still, unfavourable comments and complaints.
the major and irreplaceable role of the wife of a Clergyman is to be a ‘golden
link’, not only between the women of the Church, but above all in terms of
access towards her husband himself, who has general pastoral responsibility
towards all the Parish and Church community.
role, however, is especially difficult and delicate, in terms of avoiding
the erroneous impression that the Presvytera leads the Priest ‘by the hand’
or, worse still, ‘replaces’ him – especially if she is sometimes by her very
nature more dynamic, or possibly more equipped educationally or socially.
in an average Christian lay couple, the woman tries to truly complement
the work and responsibilities of the man, rather than be a ‘rival’
(which only creates difficulties for him), how much more necessary is the
unspoken balance in the Clergyman’s own family! In such a setting, neither
the Presvytera nor the children should cause others to stumble or make unfavourable
comments that are unfortunately never absent from human society, which includes
superficial, envious or overly critical faithful as well.
if it is true that the family home is the ‘realm of the woman’, who due to
her nature and central position there can foresee, monitor
and accordingly coordinate intra-family relationships and harmony,
then the achievement and success in God of having a Priest’s
family as the primary example for all other Christian families to emulate,
belongs first and foremost to the Presvytera.
is also however an almost ‘unconsidered’ contribution that the Presvytera
makes: while she gives of herself directly and very personally to
her husband in the Clergy, so as to support and encourage him in the more
difficult moments of his pastoral work, this naturally affects subsequently
the spiritual peace and stability of the whole Parish, and sometimes
is not only that the Priest’s wife assumes, almost by herself, all the cares
of the family and the children in particular, who unfortunately rarely
find the chance to even see or hear their Priest-father when he returns home
exhausted after the day’s endless requests and problems, whether arising from
the congregation itself, or from the organisations in the broader community
where he is constantly called to give a witness to the Gospel and his responsible
conscience. In the family home of the Priest, the main asset is the calm,
level-headed and clear mind of the Mother, Sister and Wife
(as the Presvytera is all three at once), being the most suitable and wise
person the Priest can converse with. Together with the Presvytera, he will
try to find the proper solution to problems, which can only be evaluated (according
to their severity) in an atmosphere of complete trust and unselfishness.
put it succinctly, if the Parish Priest – as the spiritual father of the flock
in his care – is the ‘last refuge’ which every troubled and afflicted faithful
person tries to reach for like a ‘lifesaver’ in the midst of the trials of
this world, or if he is at least a close friend to whom one can open one’s
heart with its fears, joys, guilt or hopes, then he himself also needs a ‘last
refuge’. To take refuge here means to allow ‘breathing space’ for a while
from the overwhelming problems, in order to continue pastoral service for
the sake of his brothers and sisters.
us not forget that the spiritual giant, St
Paul himself, found it necessary to confess: “Who is weak, and I am
not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I am not indignant?” (2 Cor. 11: 29).
could say, then, that the relief which the Father Confessor provides as the
closest and surest ‘refuge’ of the soul, by accepting the burdens that his
flock place upon his stole, is somewhat similar to the spiritual relief which
the Presvytera provides him, by listening to his own pain and reducing his
burden with unreserved affection and loving understanding.
this point a clarification must be made in order to avoid a major misunderstanding:
In saying that the Presvytera’s spiritual relationship to her husband is approximately
the same as his role among the faithful who confess to him, we do not mean
that the Priest can convey and reveal to his Presvytera the problems
and sins that are confided in him! These are strictly safeguarded secrets
that the Confessor is forbidden to divulge. To not respect the confidentiality
of Confession throughout his life is one of the most frightful sins a
Confessor can make, and is directly related to the “sin against the Holy Spirit”,
which Christ said will never be forgiven (cf. Matt. 12:31).
on to the contribution of Teaching and Catechism, as carried
out by Women of the Church, we must first of all recall how Christ
Himself evaluated this field long before us. He drew a parallel and almost
equated this with the work of Parents themselves!
teach someone the truths of life and science is not simply a form of ‘assistance’
or an incidental ‘service’. It is more like giving birth to that person once
again. Birth into a world that is broader, better and more
noble than the real world around, with its increasing slyness on the part
of fallen man.
is therefore a task that is not only difficult and highly responsible, for
both the present and future. It is also a task that goes beyond
the human, such that it is almost unheard of!
speaking, only God Himself could be considered a ‘Father’ and ‘Teacher’
at the same time, as the only authentic source of both life (Father)
and truth (Teacher). And this is what Christ categorically stated to
His disciples, saying “Call no one your father on earth, for you have one
Father – the one in heaven” (Matt. 23:9), and immediately following “Do not
be called teachers, for one is your Teacher, the Christ” (Matt. 23:10).
it is clearer than the sun that the purpose of this austere language used
by Christ could not possibly be to undermine respect towards one’s parents,
nor to condemn or discourage teaching in general and catechism
in particular. Christ did not do away with the Mosaic Law to “honour your
father and your mother” (Ex.
the strictness shown by Christ concerning the use of the terms ‘Father’ and
‘Teacher’, had (and will always have) the aim of highlighting the incalculable
value and the greatest responsibility that should be felt by
all who have had the fortune of becoming parents, or of being a teacher and
educator, no matter in which level of education.
course, one could say that these Biblical comments concerning the mission
and responsibility of parents and teachers sound very theoretical and
idealistic. It is a fact that the modern world has unfortunately become,
almost by definition now, a world of apostasy and self-destruction. This is
why it does not accept to be ‘tutored’ to any extent in the truths of divine
Revelation, while these same truths remain for the Church ‘non-negotiable’.
us, an authentic response to each issue relating to human instruction can
only be given – through their daily experience – by those who are first of
all dedicated parents and teachers, in each historical period.
And we all know that such ‘testimonies’ have been recorded for centuries in
writings that are considered to be classics of worldwide literature.
me here to share my personal estimation and admiration for the enormous
feat undertaken, particularly today, by parents, teachers and catechists,
in their effort to teach others, with the use of a characteristic example:
will briefly tell you what I had written – even before meeting her in person
– to the well-known Child Psychologist of Athens, Mrs Anthe Doxiadi-Trip,
of the pioneering institution called ‘The Little Garden’ (for emotionally
the 1980s, the Athenian magazine ‘Gynaika’ published a brief selection
of articles written by Mrs Doxiadi under the title ‘As a Mother to a Mother’.
Her small book had the same title. I read with interest about the perceptive
and wise observations she made concerning how people ‘react’ to their
environment at every moment, from babies onwards. And although I was still
in hospital after a serious back operation, I hastened to do the following,
almost as a reflex reaction:
a)I wrote to the author herself on the very
day I finished reading her book, with admiration and appreciation, admitting
that, according to my humble opinion, her booklet could have been called ‘A
Manual of Human Formation’! The modest response I received from the insightful
scholar and mother was the beginning of a sincere friendship that has continued
to this day, not only with herself, but also with the extended family of her
legendary father, the town-planner Doxiadis.
b)I requested the Book Centre of our Archdiocese
to order at least 100 copies of the small but precious book.
c)I wrote an Encyclical letter to all our Priests
recommending that they definitely obtain a copy and read it, in addition to
bringing it to the attention of others, especially Presvyteres, teachers,
Sunday School catechists and, above all, mothers.
that which verifies more formally the general admiration and acknowledgement
of us all for the multi-faceted work undertaken by the Women of the Church
in our Archdiocese, and in the Greek Australian community as a whole, is this
very Conference, which was organised especially for them.
this purpose, we could think of no lady more appropriate to invite from Greece, to honour the ladies of our Church through
her presence and keynote address, than Mrs Alexandra Mitsotakis-Gourdain,
who is conducting major humanitarian work in the so-called ‘Third
humanitarian dynamism of this young woman has been deservedly reported and
promoted in reliable Greek and foreign language media outlets, highlighting
the almost ‘missionary’ dimension of her efforts which knows no borders.
shall soon hear her speak about the programmes that our officially invited
guest is developing within ActionAid.
our part, we express above all our congratulations and warm wishes for the
unimpeded continuation of her noble ambitions well into the future, and we
thank her for responding to our invitation so willingly, in spite of her many
travel commitments – particularly after the recent disaster in S.E. Asia.
addition, the fact that another distinguished lady, Her Excellency Professor
Marie Bashir, Governor of NSW, gladly accepted to perform the Official Opening
of our Conference proceedings, expresses no less honour to the Women of the
Church. We therefore thank Her Excellency also most warmly for her presence
and relevant address, accompanied by her husband Sir Nicholas Shehadie, an
Orthodox and valued friend of our community for many years.
are two further events taking place in the framework of our Conference which
should briefly be mentioned, as they are both part of the message we would
like to convey to the public in general, which has to do with how we
appraise the active role of the Women of our Church.
refer, on the one hand, to the special anthology of poems titled ‘Mother’
and to the official Opening of the sacred Monastery of ‘Holy Cross’ (Mangrove Mountain), on the other.
should point out that the bi-lingual collection of poetry ‘MOTHER – A moving
reflection of God’ contains the successful translations of American friend
Peter Constantine, while ATF Press of the Australian Theological Forum has
taken the initiative of publishing it through Mr Hilary
Regan, an ecumenically-minded theologian and friend of Orthodoxy.
official book launch of the mentioned anthology was made yesterday by another
special lady – indeed a Roman Catholic Nun and scholar – who is a friend and
co-worker in our Theological
College, Dr Vivienne Keely. That event had a highly
symbolic significance: a Nun comments with such sensitivity on poems that
pay tribute to the Mother, in a book that is interspersed with artistic features,
from the image of a ‘pregnant’ cloud to various other forms of the female
in nature and the animal kingdom, as well as in humankind, culminating in
the Theotokos herself. All underline in a moving way the close proximity of
spiritual and physical Motherhood.
express thanks and congratulations to the Organising Committee of the Conference,
Chaired once again by His Grace, my Assistant Bishop Seraphim of Apollonias,
as well as to all who have collaborated honourably from among our Parish-Communities
throughout Australia, especially the hosting Parish-Community of St Euphemia,
your Archbishop, I have an obligation to make a necessary clarification in
order to avoid misunderstanding: the fact that we restricted the formal participation
in this Conference of ‘Women of the Church’ to representatives of the Ladies’
Auxiliaries and the major institutions of the Archdiocese, does not mean that
we underestimate or forget the work and valuable contribution of other women’s
groups in the Greek Australian community, especially organisations such as
AHEPA, the Greek Young Matrons’ Association – with its generous
support of Church institutions – the Hellenic Lyceumetc. For
this reason, representatives of the media, whom we also thank for their co-operation,
are requested to give due consideration to the ‘representativeness’ of this
could not imagine a more sincere or condensed form of praise on my behalf
for the contribution of women in our lives, than the poem ‘Magnificat’, which
I had written way back on April
3, 1989. It was published in my collection of poetry Nostalgia Parametron
(Athens, Domos publications, 1990).
thanking each of you for your attention and patience, allow me to conclude
with that characteristic poem.