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Handmaidens - "The Myrrhbearers" Of The 21st Century
By Lynn Betsanes

This past weekend our parish, St. Luke the Evangelist, celebrated its 20th anniversary in conjunction with the feast of St. Luke. There was much talk of how our work in the church is just beginning. The building is finished, and we are an established church. Now more than ever we are responsible for spreading the "good news" to others and to do good works to the Glory of God and not for our own recognition.

How do we teach our children to go out and do good works and to talk to others of Christ's teachings? I think it needs to start early in their lives so it becomes part of who they are and what they have always known. After all, they will carry on the work of the church when we become too old to do it. It comes from the examples of their parents and families including their church families. Isn't it best to encourage them at an early age to participate in the church by giving them more to do than sit in a chair?

At St. Luke the Handmaidens (the young girls) are my ministry. To me, they are like the myrrhbearing women who were the first to proclaim Christ's resurrection. You don't hear so much about their work as disciples, but they still play a very important role in the church. My job is to direct the Handmaidens in the ways that they can be an active part of Liturgical worship. Girls cannot be altar servers in the Orthodox Church, but they have other duties that are equally as important.

The Handmaidens bring up the offering, take the prosphora and cut it up for the end of the Liturgy. Cutting the bread together helps to establish friendship and camaraderie among the girls. When the girls are tall enough, they are also responsible for holding the cloth during Holy Communion. In doing this, they wear white robes to remind them of the Holiness of the Sacrament, as this job should not be taken lightly. The robes also protect their clothing in the rare instance of spillage. Some parishioners have expressed their preference for the girls' robes because they are less distracting than regular clothing. The Handmaidens sprinkle the flower petals during the procession on Holy Friday and guard the tomb during the hour preceding the Paschal Liturgy. They are the first to receive the Paschal light, as were the myrrhbearing women, to pass on to the people in the church and then follow the clergy in the procession. They wear the white robes for these times as well. Girls who are blessed with musical ability are encouraged to join the choir.

Another way for the girls to be involved is through bell ringing. We have six Russian bells in the bell tower at St. Luke. Some are big, some are not so big. However, all very beautiful when they are rung so that their peal is meant to call to worship and to Glorify God. Every girl is welcome on any given day to come and ring bells with me since we ring from ropes and pulleys on the second level. For safety reasons, we limit the Paschal ringing from the top of the tower to those who have practiced, have permission from their parents to be at the top and are responsible and mature enough to be up there. The girls also assist in helping out with small children on an as needed basis.

Some people feel it isn't fair or that it is chauvinistic not to allow girls in the altar. The girls' roles in the church are different than those of the boys' but they are just as important. It doesn't matter where you stand or what your specific job is, the goal is that the children participate in the Liturgy in some way so they get a feel for doing for others to the Glory of God. These are the seeds for their future good works. If it is a positive experience, it is only natural for them to go out and tell it to others! It is my prayer and I believe it is for many other parishioners, that St. Luke Church continues infinitely into the future. In order to continue growing, everyone must do their part. I can only hope and pray that my small part in the young girls' lives will somehow affect our growth in a way that is pleasing to God.

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