Liturgical Life, Women in the Church

Orthodox Christian Altar Girl

Published on: January 19, 2024
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Orthodox Christian Altar Girl

The first time I saw an altar girl was in a Roman Catholic Church that I had walked into. During this time, I was going through a crisis as a woman in the church, struggling with the pain coming from experiences of being dismissed, devalued, and pushed out. I remember crying as I was kneeling in a specially designated prayer area of the church that was celebrating Mass. In tears, I looked up toward the altar area and noticed two altar servers. To my surprise, I witnessed a girl of about eight or nine serving with a boy of about eleven years old. At first, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and thought that this must have been a little boy with long hair. But sure enough, I soon realized this was indeed a little girl. I saw the young boy help the younger girl by guiding her to where she should go next. As she looked up at him, he gestured lovingly, encouraging her to do what she needed to on her own. I was mesmerized. This was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen.

I spoke to the Catholic priest about this phenomenon. He told me that within the Catholic Church, there was, at first, much pushback against girl altar servers. However, organically, parishes allowed more and more girls to serve, due to need and desire. At some point, this practice received an official blessing from Rome, and the Church allowed this practice on the grounds that altar service does not always or necessarily lead to the priesthood. I found this to be a good argument considering that not all altar boys want to become priests, sometimes serving with little or no interest at all. Wouldn’t it make more sense to give such a position to a girl who desires to serve God than a boy who has no such desire?

I went home and kneeled in prayer. Lifting my hands and shedding tears, I advocated for my daughter Vera, who wanted to be an altar girl but who had faced much rejection. I beseeched God to make the impossible possible. I asked Him to realize her desire to serve as an altar girl within the Orthodox Church. I also asked Him to strengthen the gravitation she has had towards the liturgical mysteries since she was as young as four (since then, I wholeheartedly committed her life to the service and will of God). And I faithfully asked for Saint Nicholas’s intervention. Amidst my overall sense of hopelessness, I still believed that God would answer my call. He did.

Standing in an Orthodox Church months later, seeing my daughter serve was almost surreal. I had prayed to God to allow Vera to serve in the altar. Now, by watching her serve, Christ showed me that she was honored by Him, loved by Him, and valued by Him—as much as any boy. He revealed to me that she is worthy to be within the Holy of Holies.

I watched her as she helped the priest by bringing him the censor and hot water, and as she held the candle during the Gospel reading. I marveled watching her smile excitedly as she lead the procession of the gifts at the Great Entrance with a giant candle, making the church smile with joy. I noticed her focus her little face as she held the communion cloth while people approached the Eucharist. God made the impossible possible.

 “I got to see Christ closer,” she said. “Me and Him did it together.”

“You and Christ?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. “Me and Christ together. We helped out at this church and it felt amazing.”

“What was the best part of serving?” I asked.

“Praying. The best part was that it felt like my heart was raised to Him.”

“And out of all the activities you had to do as an altar girl, which one was your favorite one?” I asked.

“Holding the candle in the procession. The candle is full of God, and it felt like my heart was crying out to Him while I was holding it, and that He is in me, and that he supports me,” she said enthusiastically as she placed both of her little hands on her heart.

She continued: “It feels like girls have love and strength too. God gave them strength so they need to use it. Other people think girls aren’t supposed to serve in the altar, but I think God would love having girls there.”  

“I agree. I hope that one day we can serve together in love—as mother and daughter,” I said, hugging her. Serving together is now a dream we both share.

God showed me the little boy encouraging the girl altar server that one particular Sunday morning—a sight that gave me hope and an image that will stay forever in my mind. It closely resembled pictures I had seen in Bible books as a child where Jesus physically “points” for women to go and proclaim the resurrection. In essence: to become apostles, to become free to pursue their true vocation and humanity.

As a Church, when we do not recognize the full glory of woman, we fail to fully recognize God Himself. And by proxy, we fail to fully honor and glorify Him. We ought not to be afraid of that which is female—for it comes directly from God. We must also be careful that we do not devalue or push out the Holy Spirit. The Church could flourish through the gifts of our girls, gifts that come from the pure desires of their hearts. It is time we allow girls to participate as altar servers. And as mothers, it is time that we courageously advocate on behalf of our daughters, despite the challenges that may arise. We owe it to them—and we owe it to the future generations of women to come.

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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 editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.

About author

  • Varvara Gulina

    Varvara Gulina

    Graduate Research Assistant at the University of California San Diego

    Varvara Gulina is a daughter of a Russian-Ukrainian Orthodox priest and an iconographer. Ever since she was a very small child, Varvara assisted her father in house blessings, baptisms, funerals, and visiting those who are sick and dying (both in the U.S. and Russia). Varvara also sings, chants, and...

    Read author's full bio and see articles by this author

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Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in the articles on this website are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.

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Public Orthodoxy is a publication of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center of Fordham University