January 27: Lydia, Dorcas, and Phoebe; Witnesses to the Faith

 

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

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About this Commemoration

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.

Collects

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.

Lessons

Malachi 3:16–18

Acts 16:11–15

Luke 8:1–3

Psalm

100

Preface of  Pentecost

Text from Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

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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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8 Responses to January 27: Lydia, Dorcas, and Phoebe; Witnesses to the Faith

  1. Leonel L. Mitchell says:

    I see the method in placing this obbviously worthy commemoration immediately after St. Paul, and Timothy, Titus and Silas, but January 27 IS st. Chrysostom’s Day. and you have displaced him to October.

  2. Dale McNeill says:

    A worthy commemoration indeed. I’ll leave it to greater minds than mine, but I really don’t like this collect. It seems more like reading the biography than praying the collect. I like the points it’s making, just not the way it comes together.

  3. Michael Hartney says:

    Collect. This collect is a jumble of phrases that does not pray well. It needs to be completely re-written. Lydia as ‘business and stewardship’? Phoebe as a deacon (when the bio says we should avoid calling her that) who ‘served many’? That makes it sound as if Phoebe worked in an all-night diner or something.

    Bio: The 3rd paragraph begins about Lydia and then is all about Phoebe. The first sentence belongs with the previous paragraph. And the phrases ‘ local base of operations’ and ‘legal cover’ sound particularly odd when referring to 1st century realities.

    Readings. Phoebe and Dorcas are not remembered in these readings.

    And, I agree with Dr. Mitchell. These worthy women need to be included with the previous day’s men as Paul’s companions and Witnesses to the Faith. Bring John Chrysostom back to January.

  4. Rebecca Lyman says:

    Agreed–this is a highly problematic and poorly written celebration. The historical descriptions seem to continue to separate women from the apostles as a sort of Ladies Aid Society, and then assume Paul’s “inclusive” gospel “undoubtedly” converted Lydia. A mainstream text such as Carolyn Osiek’s “A Woman’s Place” could update the scholarship on these three.
    Yet, why only these three? Where is Junia, who is called an apostle in Romans 16? Where is Prisca and Aquila? Given the difficulty and yet importance of interpreting the evidence about women in the NT, we need to admit this and perhaps have a collective day for women in the NT in their diverse ministries and lives.

  5. Jack Zamboni says:

    I had the same reaction as others to the collect when I used it in Morning Prayer today — it is didactic, not prayerful. This ia problem with some other collects in HWHM, as well. Collects ought not to be used as mini-bios for those being commemorated. When so used, they are functionally addressed to the conrgegation, not to God, as prayer needs to be. I’ve come accross this practice in some non-BCP forms of the Prayers of the People, also, in which it seems that the authors’ desire is to instruct the congregation rather than address God. We can do better than this in TEC!

  6. Steve Lusk says:

    And how about Chloe? In Paul’s Greek she is someone “of whom” one might be in the same sense that one might be “of Paul” or “of Apollos,” or “of Cephas.” (Almost no one translates 1 Corinthians 1:11-12 that way, because translators all know that a woman cannot be the leader of a church, so the English makes it Chloe’s “people,” “family,” or even “slaves” but the “followers” of Paul, Apollos, and Cephas.) Similarly, poor Junia was unsexed because if she was “respected among the apostles,” she couldn’t be a woman. (My NIV study bible has her as “Junias” in the text, with a footnote to the effect that the preferred reading of the text is “Junia,” in which case the rest of the verse must read respected “in the opinion of” — rather than “among” — the apostles.)
    A major strike against both this feast and yesterday’s is that we don’t know very much about any of them. Six sketchy biographies do not add up to two satisfactory feasts. Equal cases could be made for a feast (or feasts) for Chloe, and Junia, and the Ethiopian eunuch, and the Samaritan woman at the well, and the Syrophoenician woman, and the anguished father of Mark 9:17-29, and etc., etc., etc.. I admit a feast for a nameless saint or saints might be hard to preach, even though Ralph Vaughan Williams made it sing well.
    Setting up separate dates for the “companions of Paul” (male) and “witnesses to faith with whom Paul interacted” (female) doesn’t correct centuries of anti-female bias. It perpetuates the problem, and the calendar is not the place to fight this battle, anyway. Either (1) lump all six together as “companions” (even though that creates a very difficult task for the homilist) or (2) drop both feasts (figuring each gets her or his due meed of glory as their names come up in the RCL). Either way, restore John Chrysostom to his proper date!

  7. Philip Wainwright says:

    The bio really makes it sound as though the only important thing about these women is that they are women. The whole first paragraph should be deleted.

    ‘Still would have been marginalized’—delete this too, it’s just not necessary.

    ‘Undoubtedly Paul preached his gospel of inclusiveness to them’—undoubtedly Paul preached the gospel to them, isn’t that good enough?

    ‘Lydia “opened her heart”’—according to Acts, the Lord opened her heart, but it’s not about Him, obviously.

    ‘Provided legal cover for the local church’—what does this mean?

    ‘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’—poor Paul, didn’t know what he was saying, apparently. ‘It would not be too much to call her a “proto-deacon”’—probably what Paul meant to say.

    And ‘hear hear’ to everything said about the collect.

  8. Nigel Renton says:

    Line 1, second paragraph: add “(born at Thyatira, in what is now Akhisar, in western Turkey)” after “Lydia”.

    Line 6, fourth paragraph: substitute “implies” for “infers”. He implies, we infer.

    Line 4, fourth paragraph: substitute “the port of” for “near”.

    Line 7, fourth paragraph: I suggest deleting all after “Paul’s”–not that the comments are in error, but they don’t really belong in a brief bio of three Holy Women, as opposed to a commentary. We should especially beware of Roman Catholic efforts to discredit any possible early precedent for women in ordained ministry.

    It would be great if we knew where and when all of these holy women died, but there is little reliable information, nor of the birthplace of Dorcas.

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