We have recently buried a Serbian woman. At the funeral, which was very large, beside our church singer and me, no more than three Serbs were present. An insignificant person, you would think. I was likely tempted to think that too until I entered the home of one of her sons after the burial. There I heard the tale of a hero, which we had among us that we knew nothing about.
I’ll cut the story short. That woman, who we surrendered to the earth’s dust, was left to be a self-supporting mother to her five vulnerable children at 31 years of age. She invested in them all of her strength, all of her life and the last little grain of hope and joy. She devoted herself to them and she sacrificed for them so they could grow into decent people. Those people, her children, and the multitude of their extended families, grandchildren, great-grandchildren are not with us, the Serbs, because we, the Serbs, were not with them when they needed us the most.
That, however, is another problem and a topic of its own.
Then I found out about her brave accomplishment, I bowed to her sacrifice and I mourned her sincerely. The church relies greatly on the love and kindness of many honest widowed women, who had put their lives to the service of their church. That reliance of the church on those dedicated women, made me think deeper about women, who, after almost a century, spent with a dear man, or even harder and worse, at the beginning of their life together, before their hopes and dreams came true, were left, suddenly, without their life companion, their friend, and the most solid support in their life. Taken by these thoughts, I flipped through the Holy Script and I was amazed by the examples of the human resilience, sacrifice, and honesty.
The most beautiful words ever said about a person, do not pertain to the leaders or rulers, but they pertain to those sacrificial self-supporting women. I can’t help but think that our tradition has put those exemplars from the Holy Script into the lyrics and it has given them the names of mother Yevrosima and other sisters or sisters in law, who inspired generations and generations of mothers with their sacrifice and honesty. It is impossible to define all those countless characters before you.
Saint Elijah, who was chased by the emperors and the powerful people, didn’t seek protection with the other powerful men, but guided by the voice of God, he went to the widow of Zarephath instead. (1 Kings 17) In the times of hunger and suffering, the Prophet found her bent down gathering sticks so she could make the last meal for her only son and herself to eat and then die of hunger. Through the prophet, the Lord saw the generosity and kindness of this poor woman, and He gave enough food to survive to all of them.
Do you remember the poor widow that gifted the Lord with her last two leptas, which were worth more than all the presents of the wealthy men? For all these people gave their gifts out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on. (Luke 21:4).
Everywhere He went, with each step he took, the Lord protected these honest women, the widows. He helped everyone that asked for help. With some He had long conversations while testing their faith, with others, it almost seemed He argued before He poured His grace over them.
He approached the widow of Nain who was burying her only son even though she didn’t ask Him, and He raised him from the dead and He gave back the beloved son to his mother.
The widowhood, if I can call it that way, in the early days of church, was, as an institution, similar if not more important than today’s institution of the Circle of Serbian Sisters. St. Apostle Paul instructed his disciple, bishop Timothy not to register as widows women that were younger than 60 years of age. (1 Timothy 5:9). The Apostle also established other strict regulations, besides life experience, for being enlisted into that society of honourable women. Such woman had to be honest, a wife of a husband, known for her good deeds. If she has brought up her children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has helped those in need, has devoted herself to good deeds. (1Timothy 5:10) With such good deeds she deserved the respect of the whole Church, from the leaders to the last follower. The Apostle advises the bishop to respect the widows, (1 Timothy 5:3) but those who truly are widows (1 Timothy 5:3).
In order that there wouldn’t be any doubt who the true widows were, the Apostle defined it and emphasized it in a very clear way: the true widow who is left alone puts all her hopes in God and spends her days and nights in prayer. (1 Timothy 5:5) The widows, worthy of respect, had to be devoid of flaws (1 Timothy 5:7). For that reason, the Apostle orders that the younger widows are not enlisted, because when the passion takes over and keeps them away from Christ, they want to marry (1Timothy 5:11). “So I want the younger widows to marry, have children, manage their households and not give the enemy any reason to slander.” (1 Timothy 5:14)
The old Church took good care of its honest and respect worthy widows. Тhat concern for widows, gave origins to the institution of church deacons. Their primary task was to wait tables when widows distributed food. (Acts 6, 1-6) St. Apostle Paul, asked the believers to care for their widows so they were not a burden to the church, so the church could take care of the true widows, (1 Timothy 5:16) the ones that had no one to look after them.
This duty to care, the Christian church inherited and assumed from the Old Testament’s Jewish tradition.
“When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.” (Deuteronomy 24:19) The same was said for the olives (Deuteronomy 24:20) and the vineyards (Deuteronomy 24:21).
In the Old Testament we read the touching story of Ruth, a young widow who lived with her mother-in-law, also a widow, and who met Boaz while gleaning in his field and she ties her fate and that of her mother-in-law to the fate of that man. A woman left alone, without her husband and protection, would be left to anyone’s mercy, and anyone could judge her, but God wouldn’t let that happen, He would take her under His protection and He would be the only one to judge her. God said for Himself that He is the father to the orphans and the judge to the widows. God, great and powerful is just to the orphans and the widows. (Deuteronomy 10:18) “Leave your fatherless children, I will keep them alive, and let your widows trust in me.” (Jeremiah 49:11) is God’s message to His people.
Those who assault a self-supporting woman, a widow, assault God Himself. If anyone saddens a widow and she cries to God, God will hear her cry and “my wrath will burn and I will kill you with a sword” the Lord warns them, “and your wives will become widows and your children fatherless” (Exodus 22:23-24) Woe to those who make the widows their spoil, and the orphans their prey. (Isaiah 10:2)
God has never been bitter over someone as He was bitter over those who were building their reputation of honest and decent men while assaulting the unprotected women. “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widow’s houses and for a pretense you make long prayers, therefore you will receive greater condemnation.” (Mathew 23:14)
We are, as Christians, invited to follow the tradition of protecting and helping the unprotected and the orphaned. God calls us to do good deeds, to seek justice, to correct oppression, to protect the orphans, and to defend the widows. (Isaiah 1:17)
And let’s not forget: pure and faultless religion before God and our Father is this: to look after the orphaned and the widows in need (James 1:27) and to do so in a decent and virtuous way, while keeping ourselves free of filth of the world (James 1:27)