Sr. Katrina, a nun of New Skete, passed away on August 13th after a long struggle with pancreatic cancer. I spent a few brief moments with Sr. Katrina the week before, and had one rather stunning conversation. I went in to speak to her after liturgy on Sunday the 3rd. Two girls visiting New Skete with their family were asked by Br. Stavros to assist during the liturgy. They carried candles in the procession, held a communion cloth. As always, I was both delighted and sad to see them serve. While I know in my head that it really should be normal for girls to serve, it just never feels normal, it is always exceptional. I was reflecting during liturgy on how strange it is that we Orthodox, who go on and on about how important icons are in appealing to our visual sense when it serves us in condemning Protestant austerity, completely ignore/deny/reject the visual importance of live female bodies, flesh and blood images of God, in and around the altar. Or rather, how we deny any negative affect as a result of their absence. We like to point to the Theotokos as if her presence is enough. But in my effort to live with my Church, I forget too, I forget how powerful it is to SEE it not just think about the participation of women.
Later that afternoon, I went to visit Sr. Katrina, unsure of what to share with someone whose lucidity was hit or miss due to morphine, pain, and weakness. So, I told her about the girls serving, and that I really missed seeing it when I was away from New Skete. I told her what it was like to be reminded of just how normal this should be, and how sad that it is so exceptional. Sr. Katrina, who I wasn't sure was hearing or understanding, suddenly said, "I want to serve" and reached out her hand. I took it, and the only response I could come up with seemed trite but true: "Well, soon, you will get to serve all the time." She smiled and girpped my hand quite hard for someone about to die from pancreatic cancer. I went on to tell her about my conversation following the liturgy with Sr. Rebecca, when Sr. Rebecca said that a liturgy in which girls serve brings heaven and earth closer together. I told her (through tears) that soon she gets to do what these girls did but that she gets to do it for the rest of her life, and that she gets to pray for us. I told her that sometimes, when we ask for the intercessions of the saints, I imagine that the saints and the Theotokos in particular pray for things we don't expect, or rather, that some in the church might not expect. Like the full participation of girls and women. She smiled at that too. And I asked her to pray for us, for women, and for the church. Sr. Katrina, being a little in and out, said she was worried that she wouldn’t remember. I spoke for a bit more about my day, the liturgy, and since she seemed tired, I said goodbye. I asked her again to remember to pray and then told her that I was sure she wouldn't forget that. She smiled again. And I cried.
May her memory be eternal!