We must do three things to create authentic community: feel at home with the God who is within us; develop the gifts God has given us to the best of our ability, with an honest sense of our own limitations, so they bear fruit to the community; and intentionally establish a spiritual community that seeks out and welcomes the diverse fruits of all. Our faith and our praxis must be nurtured in a supportive environment, and we ourselves must intentionally provide that environment for each other in our communities.
When we actualize the good possibilities that God has created in us, we are freely choosing to act in accord with His will for us, and are using our free will (autexousion) authentically. To do this we sometimes must give up our own expectations that our communities must become just what we want them to be. We also become free to love others into the fullness of their being, valuing their gifts, paying attention to their needs, and encouraging their efforts, until they mature to the point where no human encouragement is needed, but only God's. In so doing, we receive and we give peace and satisfaction, a sense of belonging, a sense of home one to the other.
Our faith requires and demands our praxis. Our praxis reveals and fulfills our faith. Our communities provide the fertile ground, warm sun of support, and life-giving rains of spiritual refreshment in order for both faith and praxis to be born, grow, flourish and mature. In authentic community, we have learned to feed each other with encouragement, support, and sometimes a loving corrective. Then an interesting thing happens. When we feed each other, our community thrives, and we ourselves are well fed.
The WOMEN's network is working to bring our Orthodox women from all backgrounds together in authentic community, feeding one another with understanding, acceptance, and support for each other in our diversity. This becomes especially important for women whose local communities are not ready to provide support for the unique fruits of our spiritual life as women. Being Orthodox does not automatically mean we all agree on everything, just that we agree on the basics of the faith as unchanging. In some settings, women's active role in parish life and leadership is presumed. In others, it is not.
As Chair of WOMEN, I feel it is imperative that the more "liberal" and "conservative" Orthodox women get to know each other; the women with American backgrounds and the women from traditionally ethnic Orthodox backgrounds; the women of America and the women of former communist countries. We have different needs, different socio-cultural realities, different challenges, but the same guiding faith unites us all in how we approach solutions to the problems in our societies. It is important that we listen to and learn from each other, in a welcoming community of unconditional love.
WOMEN is not an umbrella organization. Rather, I see it as a beautiful quilt, offering just enough loving connection to allow the fruits of each woman's faith and praxis to be celebrated by the entire Orthodox community. Without a community to love them into visibility, to nurture full faith and praxis, the ideas, expressions of faith, and hopes for spiritual fulfillment within women's spiritual hearts have too often in the past been harshly denied, until they shriveled up and were blown away. For women in those situations, the WOMEN's network can provide a surrogate community for sustenance. The ultimate goal, though, is to provide support for women engaged in building authentic community in their own parishes and the Church at large.
May God grace us each with spiritual vision to see our growing edges, and with true communities to openly welcome each person's unique gifts as life sustaining, both for them, and for their communities. May the timid learn to trust in God's belief in them and God's presence in them.
May the tyrannical learn to fear God's wrath with them and respect God's presence in others. May we rid the temple of our communities of both moneychangers and barren fig trees. And may we walk amiably together into the new millennium as one holy community, celebrating Christ's gifts and challenges to each of us, worshipping together the undivided Trinity, and lovingly calling each other into the full discovery and expression of our free will in harmony with God's will for us. As the coffee mug on my kitchen table proclaims, "Who you are is God's gift to you. What you do with it is your gift to God." To that Orthodox Christians must add, community.