The only reason we know about these women is because of some letters by Chrysostom which have been preserved…But there are certainly many other women who have made invaluable contributions to the church, although they may never be remembered in this life.
Some time ago, I wrote about Olympias, a widow of noble birth who became one of John Chrysostom’s greatest supporters. But she was not alone. She lived in a community of women near the Great Church in Constantinople – in fact, only a wall separated their home from the bishop’s residence. Each of these women is worth of our attention.
We know some of them by name. Three sisters, Palladia, Elisanthia, and Martyria, were related to Olympias and, like her, were appointed deaconesses. When, after Chrysostom’s exile and death, Olympias was exiled, she left Marina in charge of the community. Later, Elisanthia took her place.
A noblewoman from Bithinia, Nicarete, joined the community after her husband died and after suffering an unjust confiscation of many of her goods. She devoted the rest of her property to help the poor. She is also remembered for healing many who would not be healed by conventional medicine. Apparently, she refused Chrysostom’s offer to appoint her as a deaconess.
When Chrysostom received the verdict that condemned him to exile, he called three of the deaconesses – Olympias, Pentadia, and Procla – as well as another woman, Salvina, to the baptistery, asked for their prayers, and instructed them to respect his successor, as long as he was properly elected and not seeking power. The women’s weeping at the news was so loud that Chrysostom asked a presbyter to escort them to their home, to avoid attacting the attention of the people outside.