Axia Women is a diverse new network by, for, and about Orthodox Women, in the service of Christ. Although we are launching it officially only now, the seeds of Axia were planted a few years ago.
One seed was a petition asking the fourteen Eastern Orthodox primates to make sure that women—who make up at least half the church—were appropriately represented at the Holy and Great Council in Crete. While we didn’t reach that goal (only six of the four hundred delegates were female), the petition itself was signed by some 2000 people in some 60 countries. It showed a diverse groundswell of women and men interested in a variety of representation and service. Not only did bishops and other clergy sign it, the Ecumenical Patriarch studied it carefully, then wrote me a personal letter in reply. His message explained the limitations of what could be addressed at that late stage in the Council’s planning, but also warmly encouraged ongoing efforts in this direction. The petition and its aftermath were important indicators that there is both potential for growth and receptivity for women’s work at all levels of church life.
The other seed was a landmark survey we conducted, targeted mainly at Orthodox women who had received a theological education or who were serving the church at relatively high levels. We learned that many women are doing widely diverse and impactful things in the here and now, sometimes within church structures, sometimes outside of them. We also learned that feel the need to connect with others like themselves, out of interest, a desire for support, or to figure out how to be more effective.
To meet that need, we have created Axia Women, a group of Orthodox Christian women dedicated to raising up one another’s gifts for our own salvation and the well-being of the whole Church. An important part of our work will be to provide information about possibilities and support for pursuing them.
Axia Women formally came into existence on May 11, 2019, at a meeting of our founding board at Fordham University, kindly hosted by the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.
Our board is diverse. We hail from seven jurisdictions across the Eastern and Oriental churches and a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Some are married, some are not. Some of us have degrees in theology, some have MBAs or doctorates. Our ages ranging the 20s through the 70s. Some of us are cradle Orthodox, some are converts. We count seminarians, long-time professionals, full-time mothers, unemployed, and retired among our ranks. Of us all, no one person’s identity intersects exactly with anyone else’s. The magic of diversity meant that we were able to come together as a board within a very short time to tap into our collective experience as Orthodox women—those were the two identities that we held in common. We seek a board that reflects US Orthodoxy, the better to reflect and serve Orthodox women across the country.
Although we say that Axia Women is new, it is also built on the work of our predecessors and contemporaries. It especially builds on the work of WOMEN (Women’s Orthodox Ministries and Education Network), whose board members are counted as our emeritae board members. We also see ourselves as a sister organization to other women’s networks in the US—such as St. Phoebe Center for the Deaconess, Orthodox Women’s Ministries, and St. Catherine’s Vision—that have been doing excellent and important work.
As a network, we will be creating opportunities for women to connect with one another and support one another. We will also be advocating for ways to use our abilities for the good of the church and the wider world. (Worth noting: As I’ve been talking about Axia Women to others, I’ve begun to sense a longing among theologically-trained laymen for a similar organization for themselves. I can only hope that someone decides to build such a thing in the near future.)
Being an organization “by Orthodox women,” our executive, operating, and advisory boards will be constituted by women in good standing in their jurisdictions.
As a network “for Orthodox women,” we intend to be guided and encouraged by the promise and vision of Orthodoxy, so that together we can actualize the dignity and royal priesthood into which we were each baptized.
As a group that is “about Orthodox women,” paradoxically, we are already discovering how little is known about Orthodox women as a US demographic. Most of what is written about us describes ideals or principles; little of it describes our lives as we actually live them in the Church. The survey mentioned earlier was such an eye-opener in that regard: it showed us that a lot of good can come from bringing to light the ways women are serving Christ in the Church. We will be adding a research arm to learn more about who we are, what we do, and what our needs are. That will help us help ourselves grow better into our talents and service.
Our ultimate goal is to do all this in the service of Christ. As we steward our talents, we aim to build up Christ’s body as a whole. We firmly believe that what benefits women will also benefit the men and children of our communities, and flow outward from there to the world as a whole.
You can find us at axiawomen.net. Come, check us out, and tell us a little about yourself: we want to hear who you are.
Patricia Fann Bouteneff is President of the Executive Board of Axia Women.
Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in this essay are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the Fordham-Exeter project leaders, the conference as a whole, or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.