As is evidenced in the numerous interviews and articles in this issue of the Quarterly, many of us are indebted to those women whose work and perseverance have helped to blaze the trail for the participation of women in the life of the Church. For me, one such woman is Sylvia Muntean.
Sylvia was born in 1914, the first of six children, to Romanian immigrant parents who had settled in Farrell, Penn. Her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Dragos, were very "modern" in their approach to raising children - the girls had to learn everything the boys did and vice versa. Because she was the oldest child, she was given greater responsibility within the family. " My father raised me up to be the boss. I was the oldest of six and had to take charge," she recalls. From a young age she worked in the family business, Dragos Coal and Ice. When her father became ill, she was the one who managed the business and, eventually, ran the company after his death.
Her entire family was active in the life of the Church. The parish was blessed to have a young priest, Fr. Nicholas Moldovan and his wife, Domna Preotesa Victoria, who understood the needs of a growing Church. Their work helped to provide the stimulus and the inspiration to get the young people involved. Sylvia became an important part of this by putting her organizational and business skills that she had learned from the family business to work in the service of the Church.
In 1945, she became one of the first church school teachers in the parish. As she reflects, "Many of these children are now in their sixties." Perhaps, because she was always "in charge" of the young people, and because of her interest in their participation in the life of the Church, in 1949 she became one of the founding members of the American Romanian Orthodox Youth (AROY). As a national organization that is "dedicated to faith, knowledge, and good works," AROY was instrumental in organizing the youth of the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America and in supporting the work of building an Orthodox Church in and for America. She served as the auditor for AROY during its first year, and then as National Treasurer for nine consecutive years. She did not take on a higher position within the organization because, as she says, "Women were not allowed to do a lot of things like being a president [at that time]."
As in many fledgling church institutions, money was tight. In addition, the idea of belonging to a national "American" organization was still a new concept for many Romanians - one that was not easily or readily accepted. Many people still had strong ties to the old country. Sylvia says that when the communist government came to power in Romania, "we had to fight politically for the survival of the Church in America. The young people were instrumental in this. They supported our elected bishop, Bishop Valerian." Through the years, these young people of the Church continued to grow together, both in their relationship to Christ and to one another. As they grew older, the Church remained at the center of their lives.
Throughout her life, Sylvia remained steadfast in her attempts to have women included in the life of the Church. She continued her own life of service by serving on the building committee when the parish moved to its present location, the parish house committee, and the parish council, both as president and vice-president. In all of this she was often the only woman. Although it was still uncommon to have a woman in these positions of authority, she says, "Being a woman, I was brazen and the obstacles could not stop me."
This year AROY will celebrate its fiftieth anniversary. Over the years there have been many women and men who have guided the organization. But, as I am one of only three women to have served as National President of AROY, it was the pioneering work of women such as Sylvia - women "dedicated to faith, knowledge, and good works" - for which I am most thankful.