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In 1972, at the Archdiocese Convention in Los Angeles, California, His Eminence Metropolitan Philip stated, “We must realize once and for all that women have a definite ministry in the life of the Church. Very often we have the tendency to confine women’s role to the kitchen. Both the Old and New Testaments testify beyond doubt to the important role which women played in the history of salvation. Time does not permit me to speak in detail about Ruth, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachael, the Virgin Mary, the Ointment-Bearers, the Deaconesses and many others who ministered to the church and Christ. I propose, therefore, that a NATIONAL SISTERHOOD OF CHARITY be organized in the Archdiocese.”With much foresight, he asked Helen Rihbany* to explore the need for a “National Sisterhood” of women in the Antiochian Archdiocese. Helen took a survey of all the North American parishes, which included parish priests, chapter presidents and members of the Archdiocese Board of Trustees. This massive undertaking took a whole year. She compiled the results of her work into a report, and presented it to Metropolitan Philip. In 1973, her tireless efforts laid the foundation for the formation of the “Antiochian Orthodox Christian Women of North America,” known at that time as AOCWNA.
In 1973, Interim Officers were appointed by Metropolitan Philip at the Archdiocese Convention, in Atlanta, Georgia. They were President, Pauline Maloof*; Vice President, Shamseh Dalack*; Treasurer, Nellie Mackoul*; Recording Secretary, Elaine Karram*; Corresponding Secretary, Jacqueline Shaker*; Public Relations, Helen Rihbany*; Spiritual Advisor, Very Rev. Fr. Michael Simon*; and Legal Advisor, Very Rev. Fr. John Badeen.
A year later, in 1974, at the Archdiocese Convention in Montreal, Canada, the delegates elected the Interim Officers to serve as the elected Officers, with Pauline Maloof as President. By virtue of her office she also became a member of the Archdiocese Board of Trustees. Initially all
of the officers came from the same region, with the exception of Helen Rihbany who came from New England. The Coordinators were Shamseh Dalack* (Project), Gladys Laham (Cultural), Elaine Saliba (Humanitarian), Helen Sahadi* (Membership), Pearl Nahass (Religious), and Nellie Mackoul* (Finance). There were six regions at that time, with each one taking a turn. The term of office was one year. The officers could choose to succeed themselves after one year, if they wished. At the Archdiocese Convention in Montreal, the organization became official with the adoption of the Constitution. Fr. John Badeen, who served as Legal Advisor, was asked to prepare the By-Laws. The By-Laws were completed and distributed to the Regions on April 16, 1975. Each region elected its own officers. Dues were twenty-five dollars per chapter and the project for that year was “The Commission of Continuing Pastoral Education and Spiritual Vocation.” The amount raised was $8,665.05, which included a $1,000.00 donation. At that time, there were sixty-three chapters.
The purpose of the Organization was Christian leadership, awareness and commitment; the encouragement of a sense of fellowship; the expression of love and service; and charitable deeds. The foci were Religious, Humanitarian, Projects and Cultural. During this time the first tri-fold brochure was printed and distributed. It featured the purposes of the organization, and highlights of their meetings, which included their project for that year. Guideline manuals were written and distributed on the subjects of the Religious, Cultural, Humanitarian, and Projects foci, and Membership and Finance.
In 1976 a new slate of officers was elected to the first two-year term. March was chosen as Women’s Month, Kh. Joanne Allen* wrote our Antiochian Women’s Prayer, an official Crest was designed and approved for a banner to be displayed, and an instructional Retreat Manual was distributed.
During the Fifth Anniversary, President Elsie and her sister Laurice Kaleel presented the first North American Board (NAB) AOCWNA gold pin of the Theotokos to all past and present officers, chairpersons, or coordinators and Regional Presidents, who have served on the NAB. This practice continues to this day, and the pin is very generously donated by the Kaleel Family.
In 1987, the officers were chosen from all “corners of the Antiochian Archdiocese.” Throughout the years, we have been asked to raise monies for many other projects, such as the Balamand Seminary, Missions, Orthodox Media, Antiochian Village, Married Seminarians, Patriarchal Charities, the West Coast Chancery, St. George Hospital, the Heritage and Learning Center, Balamand University and the Bishop’s Endowment Fund, IOCC, Balamand University Housing, Theological Education, and orphanages. (We raised over a million dollars in seven years for the Orphanage Endowment Fund.)
From 2005 to 2008, our Project was the Retired Clergy Fund. Metropolitan Philip challenged us to raise five hundred thousand dollars in five years, and we did so in four. We then continued to raise funds for Children with Special Needs, the Convent of St. Thekla at Antiochian Village, and the Antiochian Village Tornado Relief Fund.
At the Archdiocese Convention in Houston, Texas, Metropolitan Philip challenged us to raise two hundred thousand dollars for our project for 2013 – 2014: “Helping the Orphans of War in Syria.” Over the course of forty years, the Antiochian Women have raised over two million, seven hundred thousand dollars. In 2005, elected officers were allowed to succeed themselves for two more years, for the very first time. With the blessing of His Eminence Metropolitan Philip, the acronym “AOCWNA” was changed to Antiochian Women.
We have wonderful religious publications, Sophia and DIAKONIA, an all-encompassing Membership Handbook, a DVD presentation entitled, “Holy Women of the Orthodox Christian Church,” an “Acts of Mercy” Membership Handbook, a DVD presentation entitled “Yes We Do” (shown at the Archdiocese Convention in Chicago), an updated Antiochian Women’s brochure, a Spiritual Aids Bookmark (reformatted from the Spiritual Aids handbook, written in 1976 by Kh. Claudette Hanna), and the “I Am An Antiochian Women” stickers.
We also continue our involvement in the “Treehouse Ministry” and “Operation Lace-Up,” and remember our Widowed Clergy Wives at Christmas, with a card, note and small gift, and again on their birthdays. We provide the Antiochian Women’s Scholarship, and donate a thousand dollars to the Clergy Wives Retreat to ensure that any seminarian’s wife who faces financial challenges but wishes to attend may do so. We remember our married seminarians with a gift of five hundred dollars at Christmas.
These are just some of the many things that our Antiochian Women have accomplished. Under the leadership of these wonderful women who have served over the past forty years, their boards, and the guidance of our spiritual advisors, the Antiochian Women have continued to thrive and achieve many things, as we work together in God’s vineyard.
On behalf of the North American Board of the Antiochian Women, and on the occasion of our Fortieth Anniversary, we extend our deepest gratitude to His Eminence Metropolitan Philip for his vision and foresight in founding this wonderful organization in 1973: “A Sisterhood Serving Christ Through Serving Others.” We pray that God may bless and watch over Metropolitan Philip and grant him many years.
Violet K. Robbat, President,
Antiochian Women North American Board
* Memory Eternal