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The commemoration of these three devout women follows directly on the observance of three of Paul’s male co-workers in the Lord. It is a reminder that though the first century was a patriarchal time from which we have very few women’s voices, the apostles and indeed the whole early church depended on women for sustenance, protection and support.
Lydia was Paul’s first European convert. She was a Gentile woman in Philippi who, like many others, was attracted to Judaism. As what the Jewish community called a “God-fearer” she was undoubtedly accorded respect by the Jewish community, but still would have been marginalized. Paul encountered her on a riverbank where she and a group of women had gathered for Sabbath prayers. Undoubtedly Paul preached his gospel of inclusiveness to them and Lydia “opened her heart” and, together with the whole household of which she was head, was baptized.
Lydia was a prosperous cloth-merchant and a person of means. She was able to lodge Paul, Timothy, and other of his companions in her house, which Paul used as a local base of operations (Acts 16: 11-40). Phoebe was the apparent patroness of the Christian community in Cenchreae near Corinth. She is the first person mentioned in the long list of Paul’s beloved associates in Chapter 16 of Romans. Paul refers to her as a “sister”, as a “deacon” and as a “patroness” or “helper” of many. In other words, Paul includes her as part of his family in Christ and infers that she has housed and provided legal cover for the local church. Paul’s use of the word “deacon” should be used with caution since the diaconate as an order had not yet developed in the church, but it does suggest the kind of ministry out of which the notion of ordained deacons developed. It would not be too much to call her a “proto-deacon”.
Dorcas (Tabitha in Aramaic), was a revered disciple in Joppa who devoted herself to “good works and acts of charity.” When she fell ill and died, the community sent for Peter who came and after prayer, revived her (Acts 9:36-42). Though we have no record of the words of these three women, the apostolic testimony to their faith and their importance to the mission of the early church speaks for itself.
i Filled with thy Holy Spirit, gracious God, thine earliest disciples served thee with the gifts each had been given:
Lydia in business and stewardship, Dorcas in a life of charity and Phoebe as a deacon who served many. Inspire us today to build up thy Church with our gifts in hospitality, charity and bold witness to the Gospel of Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
ii Filled with your Holy Spirit, gracious God, your earliest disciples served you with the gifts each had been given:
Lydia in business and stewardship, Dorcas in a life of charity and Phoebe as a deacon who served many. Inspire us today to build up your Church with our gifts in hospitality, charity and bold witness to the Gospel of Christ; who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Preface of Pentecost
Text from Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.
We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?
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