Archive for January, 2020

Thousands of women served in God’s kingdom during Medieval times. Women prayed, taught, preached, went on pilgrimages, reigned over kingdoms, founded monasteries, and took care of the poor. Like their female forebears in the Patristic Era these women contributed greatly to the Kingdom of God, not so they could be remembered, but so they could serve the Lord Jesus by serving others.[1]

Women participated in all ministries in the first few centuries of the church. Things really changed for women in the 6th and 7th centuries when women began to be barred from the freedom of ministry that they exercised in the Patristic Era and Early Medieval Era. The main reason was that ideas about women changed. For a number of worldly or unbiblical reasons women’s status was continually lowered until men saw them as impure, sinful, and unable to function in church service. It has taken until the twentieth century for people to realize that women are capable of doing anything intellectual or spiritual that men can do. In fact, women often do better.

Thankfully, the poor treatment of women in the Middle Ages did not entirely stop them from finding ways to follow Christ. One of the chief ways that women were able to serve was in the cloister.  In the monasteries, women would be able to pray, teach, preach, serve communion, study, support themselves and take care of the poor.

Throughout history, even with restrictions placed against them, women have and always will find ways to serve their Savior. Our story this week is about a dedicated servant of Christ whose godly influence changed the lives of thousands. Lioba found a way to honor the traditions of the church while working to further the kingdom of God.


Lioba (710-780)

An aged nun at Wimborne Abbey recognized that the young nun Lioba, whose name means “beloved” would become significant in Christ’s church. Lioba had had a dream and sought an explanation. The aged nun explained, “the person whose holiness and wisdom make her a worthy recipient, because by her teaching and good example she will confer benefits on many people.” She added, that many would “profit by her words and example, and the effect of them will be felt in other lands afar off whither she will go.”[2] The prophecy would come true; Lioba’s ministry would extend all through Germany.

Lioba was born in Wessex, England in 710 AD. As a young girl she was sent to Wimborne Abbey in Dorset to study under the abbess, Mother Tetta. Lioba was a gifted student and earned a reputation as an intelligent and pious scholar. Lioba read and memorized Scripture and applied herself to learning how to minister to others. Early on she showed an ability for organization and leadership that would serve her well later in her life.

In the meantime, the well-known St. Boniface was going throughout all of Saxony, Thuringia, and Hesse (part of modern Germany) spreading the gospel and making many converts. He desired to have places for new believers to worship and study. Because of correspondence with his cousin, Lioba, who was related to him on her mother’s side, he knew that there were many educated nuns in English convents. Lioba and Boniface corresponded for about twenty years. (You can read an example of one of her letters to him at the end of this post.)

Boniface wrote to Mother Tetta and asked if some nuns could come and assist in the work. He was pleased to take the opportunity to use Lioba’s giftedness to spread monasteries all over Germany. This was not only because he and Lioba were related, but because Lioba’s reputation as a wise and devout Christian was known far and wide and Boniface knew that she would win the respect of nuns and monks. His faith in her was rewarded by her many years of selfless devotion.

Mother Tetta sent Boniface some thirty nuns including Lioba. When they arrived at Mainz, on the Rhine, Boniface set them up in a dwelling at Bischofsheim. Lioba became the abbess there and the nuns quickly turned it into a model monastery. Soon the new abbey was filled with people desiring to have a religious vocation. Lioba was a good teacher. The new Christians were taught the “right way”. They quickly absorbed the teaching because Lioba not only spoke the Word of God to them, but she modeled it daily. Though she could be strict about obedience to God’s commands, Lioba was also cheerful, hospitable, and full of charitable works.

Many other monasteries were set up around Germany. Lioba modeled them after the Benedictine rule of life. St. Benedict’s Rule was to ensure that nuns and monks lived a holy life while in the monastery. The three main rules are familiar to us – poverty, chastity, and obedience. Lioba modeled them religiously. The abbots of other monasteries were so impressed with her that they often asked for her advice and guidance.

Lioba was even found at court ministering to royalty. She was uncomfortable there but had formed a friendship with Queen Hiltigard and King Charles. They had heard of her wisdom and the depth of her faith and sought her support. She would go cheerfully when they invited her but would not stay long. She always cared for the work that God gave her in the monasteries and among the poor and would soon return to her life of prayer and service. She had no desire for wealth or earthly possessions.

Sometimes Lioba went to the monastery at Fulda to say her prayers. This was an unusual privilege because it was a male-only monastery. Women were not allowed to enter. Permission was given to her because Boniface had spoken highly of her to the elders and because he had ordered them to bury Lioba there when she died. Boniface loved her for her great wisdom and kindness. Lioba outlived Boniface by twenty-four years. Boniface had gone to Friesland where he was eventually martyred. Lioba was about seventy years old when she died around 780 AD.

In her final years, Lioba spent her time in prayer and visiting the other monasteries imparting her wisdom and exhorting them to follow Christ’s example of love and care for the poor. When she died her body was tenderly and respectfully carried by the monks of Fulda in a procession to their monastery. They were not willing however to open St. Boniface’s tomb to bury Lioba there. Instead they buried her on the north side of the altar which the martyr St. Boniface had built.

Here is an example of one of Lioba’s letters to St. Boniface written in 723. Imagine this young woman, approximately thirteen years of age demonstrating her profound wisdom, spirituality, and grace. (Could any teenager today write this way!)

The letter was written as an accompaniment to a gift. Note the humility as Lioba also sends a small poem that she wrote for Boniface.

To my revered master Boniface, bearing the insignia of the highest office, most dear to me in Christ and bound to me by ties of kinship, I, Lioba, least of the servants of those who bear the easy yoke of Christ, wish enduring health and prosperity. I beg you graciously to bear in mind your ancient friendship for my father, Dynne, formed long ago in the West country. It is now eight years since he was called away from this world, and I ask your prayers for his soul. I recall to your memory also my mother, Aebbe, who, as you know, is bound to you by ties of blood. She lives a life of suffering, bowed down by grievous illness. I am the only daughter of my parents and, unworthy though I be, I wish that I might regard you as a brother; for there is no other man in my kinship in whom I have such confidence as in you. I have ventured to send you this little gift, not as if it deserved even a kindly glance from you but that you may have a reminder of my insignificance and not let me be forgotten on account of our wide separation. May the bond of our true affection be knit ever more closely for all time. I eagerly pray, my dear brother, that I may be protected by the shield of your prayers from the poisoned darts of the hidden enemy. I beg you also to be so kind as to correct the unskilled style of this letter and to send me, by way of example, a few kind words which I greatly long to hear. I have composed the following verses according to the rules of poetic art, not trusting to my own presumption, but trying only to exercise my little talents and needing your assistance. I have studied this art under the guidance of Eadburga, who still carries on without ceasing her investigation of the divine law.

Farewell, and may you live long and happily, making intercession for me.
The omnipotent Ruler who alone created everything,
He who shines in splendor forever in His Father’s kingdom,
The perpetual fire by which the glory of Christ reigns,
May preserve you forever in perennial right.

Lioba joined her friend Boniface in heaven around 779 or 780 AD. The two are forever in the presence of Christ along with the other saints of the Medieval era.

[1] See posts on this blog site from January 22, 2019 through June 4, 2019 for “Women in the Patristic Era”.

[2] Amy Oden, editor. In Her Words: Women’s Writings in the History of Christian Thought (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994). P. 90-91.

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The subject of this blog is courageous women. As I sat down to write my thoughts for the coming year, I made a personal resolution to be more like the women I write about.

It just so happens that my family and I watched a movie about Irena Sendler last night. Irena is one of the many women who have inspired me over the years. Irena put her life on the line to rescue over 2500 Jewish children from the Warsaw ghetto during WWII. I cannot really imagine what it would be like to put my life on the line in order to rescue helpless victims. Would God give me the courage to do it? My prayer is that He would. He certainly gave Irena incredible courage.

To celebrate the New Year I am thanking God for our gift of freedom of worship and life here in our country. I pray that He will continue to bless our country.

I hope you have a blessed New Year. Consider watching the movie about Irena Sendler for encouragement in your faith and life.

MOVIE: The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler

Anna Paquin; Marcia Gay Harden; Goran Visnjic (Actors), John Kent Harrison (Director), 2009.
Other movies have been made about Irena Sendler. I heard that there is even a new one coming out later this year. I am sure I will watch it!!

Here is an interesting site you can go to right now:

► 2:08► 2:08 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZXP5Gvxqgsg


In the meantime – “spoiler alert” – Here is a short account of her life. The movie follows it pretty well.

Irena Sendler – A Woman of Courage and Faith

Though she rescued more than 2500 children and babies from the Warsaw ghetto during WWII, Irena Sendler remained a humble woman taking no credit for her heroic work up until her death, at the age of 98 in May 2008. She said that she wished she had done even more.

Irena Sendler was one of the most courageous women who has ever lived. She not only put her life on the line to rescue Jewish children right under the noses of the Nazis, but she also had to do it in an atmosphere of ambivalence or even hatred from her fellow German countrymen. Many who called themselves Christians in Germany were too afraid to help the Jews. In my last blog posting I asked whether or not doing nothing about the human trafficking problem in our day is considered a sin of omission. Many in Germany during WWII were certainly also guilty of this sin by ignoring the plight of the Jews.

I really admire the way that Irena Sendler went about defying the Nazis. She did not start riots or create anarchy in any way. She merely went about quietly saving the lives of babies and children. We do not have to cause trouble in order to reject wicked laws; it is enough to at least rescue and care for the victims. This kind of love and courage was exemplified in Irena’s life.

Irena Sendler was born in 1910 in Otwock, a town located about fifteen miles southeast of Warsaw. Her father was a doctor and many of his patients were poor Jews.

When the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939 they murdered many thousands. At that time Irena was a Polish social worker. She was able to help many Jews by giving them fictitious Christian names. Others were protected when Irena reported that their homes were afflicted with highly infectious diseases such as typhus or tuberculosis. The Nazis avoided them.

This worked for a while, but in 1942 the Nazis herded hundreds of thousands of Jews into a 16-block area that came to be known as the Warsaw ghetto. The area was sealed off and the Jews were just awaiting death. Eventually their numbers would dwindle to only about 55,000 and then the Nazis would send those remaining to the death camps.

Irena was shocked and sickened. She joined a Polish underground movement and began her efforts to rescue Jewish children.

Irena managed to be able to enter the ghetto legally by getting a pass as a worker for Warsaw’s Epidemic Control Department. She took in as much food, medicine, and clothing as she could, but 5000 people a month were dying. She tried to convince some mothers to let her smuggle their children out.

Irena talked some friends, many only teenagers, into helping her take aid into the ghetto and children out of the ghetto. They hid the children on trams and garbage wagons. Some children left the ghetto in body bags or gunnysacks. At least one child left in an ambulance. Some children lay under the floorboards of a wagon that had a large dog on top whose barking could cover their cries. They led some children out in underground passageways and through the city sewers. They obtained forged Catholic birth certificates so that the children could live safely in the homes that volunteered to take them.

The children were taught prayers and how to behave in a church. In this way they were able to prevent the arrest and execution of those who were brave enough to adopt the children by fooling the Nazis into thinking they were Christians. Lest you think Irena was only proselytizing, she fully intended to unite as many children as she could after the war with their parents. She put the names of the more than 2500 children that she rescued into jars. She then buried the jars in the neighbor’s yard under an apple tree.

The Nazis eventually caught on to what she was doing. She was arrested on October 20, 1943, and imprisoned and tortured. The Nazis broke both of her feet and her legs crippling her for life. Under this torture she never revealed a single name of a co-conspirator or any other people who were helping. By this time there were many children living in convents, but Irena never gave away anyone who was helping the children. The punishment for helping Jews was instant death.

At one point, Irena was sentenced to death, but she was saved at the last minute when the Polish underground was able to bribe a Gestapo agent to set her free.

After the war Irena dug up the jars and tried to search for the children’s parents. Unfortunately, most of the Jewish adults had died in the death camps. The children had only known Irena by her code name, Jolanta, and it was difficult for them to try and find out what happened to their parents. However, there were many happy stories. Years later a man who saw Irena’s picture in the paper called her. He said, “I remember your face. It was you who took me out of the ghetto.”

Irena was a candidate to receive the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, but the honor was not awarded to her. Instead it was given to Al (“I invented the computer”) Gore. The International Federation of Social Workers expressed their disappointment, “However IFSW is deeply saddened that the life work of Nobel nominee Irena Sendler, social worker, did not receive formal recognition. Irena Sendler and her helpers took personal risks day after day to prevent the destruction of individual lives — the lives of the children of the Warsaw ghetto. This work was done very quietly, without many words and at the risk of their lives. “

Truly Irena deserved the award more than the actual recipient. Perhaps in the years ahead this wrong will be righted.

Poland honored her at a special ceremony in their upper house of Parliament. It was very fitting that Elzbieta Ficowska, who was six months old when she was saved by Irena read out a letter on Irena’s behalf: “Every child saved with my help is the justification of my existence on this Earth, and not a title to glory,” Irena Sendler said in the letter, “Over a half-century has passed since the hell of the Holocaust, but its spectre still hangs over the world and doesn’t allow us to forget.”

The world should be grateful for courageous women like Irena Sendler.

I hope you all have a blessed New Year!

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