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Lydia, Dorcas, & Phoebe – Br. David Allen

Acts 16:11-15; Lk 8:1-3

We all know what a significant contribution is made to the total life of the Church by women. But, very little emphasis has been given to the significance of the contribution that women made to the life of the early Church, although it must be obvious to anyone paying attention to the reading of the Epistles and Gospels of the New Testament that women have been very much involved in the life of the Church from the very beginning. To my knowledge it is only within the past 50 years or so that women have been elected or appointed to major roles in the Episcopal Church. 

If we search Church History books and the lives of the Saints we can see women filling big roles going way back in history.

Just in reading the New Testament we can see that a place of women was being recognized during the lifetime of our Lord, as we heard in today’s Gospel. (Lk 8:1-3)   Certainly it continued through the lifetime of St. Paul, who, along with St. Luke gave us most of the information that we have about women being active members and supporters of the Church in those early years.

Today’s feast honors three women whom we can see as having significant enough roles to be mentioned either in the Acts of the Apostles or in Paul’s letters.

Dorcas (or Tabitha in Aramaic,) was among the women in Joppa who became disciples of Peter.  Most of what we know of her we learn just after her death when other women were preparing her for burial.  Peter was at Lydda, near Joppa, and two men were sent to bring Peter to Joppa to the room where they had laid Dorcas out.  Dorcas was well known for her good works and acts of charity.  She was noted especially for making tunics and other pieces of clothing for other people.  When Peter got there he sent all of the women out of the room and knelt down and prayed saying, “Tabitha, get up.”  She opened her eyes and seeing Peter she sat up.  This act brought many to believe in the Lord.  (Acts 9:36-43)

We first meet Lydia at Philippi, a Roman colony in the district of Macedonia, where Paul and Silas, and perhaps also Timothy, had traveled on their mission of spreading the Gospel.  There, on the Sabbath day, at a place of prayer outside the gate of the city by the river where there was a place of prayer they met and spoke with the women who had gathered there.  It was there that they met Lydia, and after baptizing her and her household they were invited to Lydia’s home to stay there.  (Acts 16:11-15)  After some further adventures in that place, and a brief imprisonment, Paul and Silas returned to Lydia’s home, where they encouraged the brothers and sisters of that place, and resumed their missionary journey. (Acts 16:40)

We only meet Phoebe in the closing salutations of Paul’s letter to the Romans, where he commended her to those who should read that letter, calling her a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, and speaking of her as a benefactor to many, including Paul himself. (Rom. 16:1-2)  It has been pointed out that the diaconate had not yet been established as an order in the church at large, but Phoebe might appropriately be referred to as a “proto-deacon”.

Much of what we have read or heard about these three women is reminiscent of my mother and other women whom I have known during my lifetime who were active in the Church. Some of you also have known others who by their participation in the work of the Church have been good examples of Christian living.  We can give thanks for those women and for all others like them in ancient times and in our own times as well.

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11 Comments

  1. Sister Brigid on September 15, 2016 at 15:18

    Some of the best examples of women in the church are those who were the head of religious orders, such as St. Clare of Assasi, the first woman to follow St. Francis. The community under the care of St. Brigid of Kildare was a mixed community of both men and women. And we cannot forget the contributions women have made to the liturgical arts, such as Hildagaard of Bingen who wrote some of the most beautiful music ever composed for the church. She also went out at a “mature age” traveling and preaching the Gospel. Women have always been an important part of the church and it is only in recent times that their contributions are being recognized.
    Sister Brigid
    The Little Sisters of St. Clare

  2. Barbara Stewart on September 15, 2016 at 13:09

    Thank you for this. We rarely hear much about t he women. It is good.

    • Ruth West on September 15, 2016 at 21:55

      Jesus was so accepting of women. I think about his encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. He stated that all are included whether male or female, slave or free, etc.
      Blessed be His name!

  3. Claudia Booth on September 15, 2016 at 11:13

    Thank you, Brother David, for this thoughtful reflection on women’s contribution in the Early church and today. It is very much appreciated.

  4. Mary Lysecki on September 15, 2016 at 10:06

    And then there is St. Mary Magdalene, apostle to the apostles.

    • BettyAnn on September 15, 2016 at 19:43

      And thus the first among the disciples, for her care for her Lord, our Christ.

  5. susan zimmerman on September 15, 2016 at 08:36

    …our Lord “….was in the Temple teaching daily…”, according to the gospels.

    …as usual, women were doing the daily drudgery.

    …long before feminism, the Jewish Chumash (their lectionary), which Jesus taught daily, instructs that Genesis 1 is an ‘ascending’ order of creation, with the creation of the Sabbath being at the very top. Immediately below the Sabbath, is ‘women’ and then the
    male…the 2-eyed ‘snake’ was right up there also until it got tossed downwards.

    …not only can women do the drudgery but it’s reflectively interesting, that after ‘all’ the politics of Jesus’ death that the ‘beloved disciple’ (nor any of the rest) showed up the next day. Only a women who ‘understands’ בִינַה (something of the theoretical) was able to ‘tomb trek’ the morning, following ‘high’ Passover and all the kosher rules surrounding the same (especially the rules of death).

    Based on personal experience, only a women who experienced something of the Absolute of Love of Jesus would dare to show up!

  6. Jean Ann Schulte on September 15, 2016 at 06:50

    Thank you, Brother David, for recognizing these women. My women’s Covenant Group has been using a delightful book for Bible Study: Bible Women: All Their Words and Why They Matter. The author is Lindsay Hardin Freeman. Very accessible, I have used it with teens, young adults and elders as well as my Covenant Group and they’ve all enjoyed it.

  7. Robert on September 14, 2016 at 22:50

    I think that Mary, Mother of Jesus, is the source of all the information we have of the life of Jesus before he started His ministry, Luke 2.19; 2.51: And, also possibly
    later, as She and some of his brothers followed him through some of his travels.

  8. Jane+ on January 27, 2016 at 14:56

    I would gently suggest that Pheobe was no less a deacon than Stephen or Matthias. Both men preceded her, long before orders of ministry were formally established; yet no one bothers with “proto-deacon” caveats for them. They were διακονία, all of them.

    • sallie on September 15, 2016 at 10:14

      Amen

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