It is well known to all that the Orthodox Church has "fathers." We are constantly reminded of their presence and power. For example, every Divine Liturgy ends with the familiar prayer, "Through the prayers of our fathers. . . ."
Much less well known is the fact that our Church also has "mothers." Reminders of their existence and influence come very few and far between. Our "mothers" do not appear in the liturgical petitions of the Divine Liturgy. Yet Orthodoxy has thousands of "mothers." They are the women saints whose names are inscribed on almost every single day of our liturgical calendar. With the notable exception of the Theotokos and a handful of major figures, however, our women saints are generally ignored.
More glorious and powerful than all the angels and saints, Mary is, of course, the first "mother" of the Orthodox Church. Her presbeia (intercession) forms a dominant theme in countless hymns and prayers in which Orthodox Christians sing her praises and appeal to her maternal love for help and protection.
In addition to the Theotokos, the Church also has many other noble "mothers." The four evangelists record the discipleship of loyal women like Saints Mary Magdalene, Martha and Mary of Bethany, and the Myrophoroi (myrrhbearers). According to the Gospels, women were first at the cradle and the first at the Cross.
Likewise, the book of Acts and the Epistles furnish evidence of women's activities and leadership in the early Church. They served as founders of churches, as deacons, apostles, teachers, preachers, and prophets. Thus, our Church commemorates, among others, St Hermione, healer and prophet; Saints Thekla, Apphia, Iounia, Priscilla, Mariamne, and Photeine, apostles who spread the word of Christ in a pagan world; Saints Olympias and Suzanna, deacons in Constantinople and Palestine, respectively.
Martyrs constitute the largest category of holy "mothers." By their sacrificial deaths these theophoroi (godbearing) women insured life for the Church. Along with hundreds of their sisters, the Great Martyrs Katherine, Barbara, Marina, Eirene, Christine, and Euphemia "imitated the death of Christ" and paid blood tribute to their Church. From the first persecutions of Christians, and in every crisis, women have defended Orthodoxy with their lives; Saints Anna, Theodosia, Maria, and Anthousa in the religious struggles of Byzantium during the eighth and ninth centuries; Saints Philothei, Chryse, Kyranna, Akylina, and Argyre during the four hundred years of Turkish rule in Greece.
Like the "fathers," the "mothers" enjoy rights of intercession in heaven. With confidence, therefore, the Orthodox faithful may address prayers and petitions to female saints, our "mothers." Likewise, many "mothers" possess miraculous powers, and are distinguished as thaumatourgoi (miracle-workers). To mention just a few examples, Saints Zenais, Sophia, Asklepias, Athanasia, Elizabeth, Potamia, and Sebastiane are called thaumatourgoi. The synaxaria1 recount their many miracles.
The existence and significance of "mothers" in the Church should surprise no one. Christ not only welcomed women to equal discipleship, He also commissioned a female disciple, Mary Magdalene, to be the first apostle, the first to proclaim the Resurrection. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit baptized with fire both the women and the men.
In fidelity to Christ's teaching and praxis (practice), the primitive Christian Church recognized no inequalities or discrimination on the basis of national origin, social condition, or sex. The Church governed itself according to the baptismal creed quoted in Galatians 3:28: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
It seems, therefore, that there is no tradition or theological reason for excluding our "mothers" from liturgical prayers. Why can we not say, for example, "Through the prayers of our fathers and mothers, Lord Jesus Christ, our God, have mercy and save us."