Speakers at the Seventh Annual Orthodox Christian Women (OCW) held in Montreal on March 7th were Joanne Abdallah and her husband Fr. John Abdallah from Pittsburgh. Observing the harmony with which Joanne and Fr. John shared their joint presentation was an educational event in itself. There was no hierarchy in the order of speaking, just a shared task that they seemed to enjoy doing together. At each step, the speakers solicited the involvement of the approximately seventy participants gathered in St. Nicholas Antiochian Church for this pan-Orthodox occasion.
The theme of this year's conference was, "Building the Household of God," and focused on looking for a means of sanctifying the home and making it into God's household.
First, the speakers invited the audience to enumerate the names that we give God. Some of our images of God leave us feeling quite vulnerable. It is a function of the Church to help us correct these images, to let us see the God who can forgive "seven times seventy times." "Seven" in the Scriptures is a number which means "everything." So seventy, or ten times seven, means ten times everything, multiplied by everything.
We learn about God at home, and we take it back to Church. What we get in the home affects what goes on in Church. We learn about God in Church and it goes home with us.
There was an interesting exchange about the role of the school to teach about God. The speakers feel that teaching about God in school is a double-edged sword. In school, the children may not hear about the same God that the Orthodox are talking about, our God, Trinity in the flesh, Who manifested Himself to us.
The second step in building God's household - raising the walls. On the basis of Revelation 3:20, Joanne asked: do we want to eat with God? What can we do to experience God's presence in our homes throughout the day? The audience participated in building a list: an icon corner, a visible bible, showing love, making everyone feel welcome, hospitality, providing a healing place, and having a family rule of prayer. Joanne suggested having a prayer basket, a beautifully decorated basket containing short scripture passages and prayers.
Step three in building God's household - securing the roof. Joanne said: in order to let God into our life we must make room for Him, which means we must take better care of ourselves. We were invited to do some problem solving on overcoming obstacles in ourselves. The speakers gave us the Beatitudes - rules, blessings, teaching, ways to experience the kingdom of heaven - accompanied by a modern meditation on each one. For example, which one is closest to our growth in God right now and what is the cost of following it? Then Fr. John spoke of pride and self-love - pride as a refusal to see one's limits in terms of time, money, and energy. Budgeting your time and understanding your limits allows you to be a better steward. We must take care of ourselves before we take care of anyone else, including children, spouses, and elderly parents. It is a matter of asking what God's perspective is; what is God's will. If you take time in the morning to pray, you will find time to do the things that have to be done during the day.
Joanne came to this conclusion: when we have no sense of self, we need to be busy, busy in order to feel that we are someone. We are running from who we are by needing to be busy.