Frank Henderson's Page on Liturgy and Medieval Women

Icon of The Three Unmercenary Women

J. Frank Henderson
© 2004

A Personal Story
Description of the Icon
Liturgy of Blessing
Photographs of the Blessing Liturgy
Image of the Icon of The Three Unmercenary Women

A Personal Story

In anticipation of my 70th birthday on July 15, 2003, my wife Ruth suggested that she commission the creation of an icon as her gift – if I would choose a subject. She was thinking of Iconographer Heiko Schlieper, whom we had come to know over the previous ten years or so. He had spent seven years covering the entire interior of St. George’s Ukrainian Catholic Church here in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, with icons and gold leaf. Our mutual friend, David Goa, had introduced us and invited us to St. George’s a number of times to visit Heiko and see how the work was progressing. Heiko also created a series of icons for the exhibit Anno Domini: Jesus Through the Centuries at the Provincial Museum of Alberta in 2000; this exhibit was curated by David Goa.

Ruth contacted Heiko, and he invited us to his apartment for supper; David Goa was also present. After the fine meal that Heiko had prepared, we moved to his studio to discuss the commission. I knew that I wanted one or several women as subject, and had been attracted not only by the “women’s (north) wall” in St. George’s Church, but also by two icons that he had contributed to the Anno Domini exhibit. One of these was “Job’s Wife,” about whom I had once written a short article (“A Feast of Christ and Saint Sitis,” in Liturgy: Christ Reigns [Liturgical Conference, Washington DC], vol. 13, no. 2, Spring 1996, pages 68-73).

The second icon Heiko had contributed to the Anno Domini exhibit was “The Three Unmercenary Women”, a subject with which I was not familiar prior to the exhibit. These were three holy women in church ministry; the specification “unmercenary” meant that they did not require payment for their services. Two are depicted as nuns; the third I tend to think of as a deaconness – though these terms are anachronistic for the period when they are thought to have lived (1st – 2nd century). I decided to choose The Three Unmercenary Women as the subject of Heiko’s commission and Ruth’s gift, both because of its great beauty and as an expression of my personal commitment to the ministry of women in the church today.

Heiko then described the process involved in creating the icon, including the preparation of the “frame” from carefully chosen heart wood, joining three pieces together with alternate grain to reduce warping, repeatedly coating it with gesso and then sanding it. We chose a size of 113/8 x 13 1/4 inches. He said that the icon would be classically Byzantine in design, with colors of Ukrainian/Russian schools of iconography. (He had previously informed us that he disdained being called a “writer” of icons; he painted them.)

The completed icon was delivered in time for my birthday – what a fine and loving gift, for which I am deeply grateful.

In our home, the icon of The Three Unmercenary Women rests on an easel that stands on the flat top of a credenza. Underneath is a cloth runner printed with Ukrainian design, with small candles on front and to one side. Accompanying the icon on the credenza surface is a wooden plate of African woods, on which is placed bread and salt – traditional symbols of hospitality. Nearby there is a framed piece of rare Turkish lace or tatting, symbolizing perhaps the mysteries of the web of life.

On the wall behind the icon hangs an original print by the New York artist – and friend – Luba Lukova, The Three Matriarchs – Sarah, Rebecca, and Rachel. This had originally been created for the cover of my book, Remembering the Women (Chicago: Liturgy Training Program, 1999) but was not included among the art printed within the book itself. Luba was kind enough to prepare this print for us. The two sets of women go well together, as do the two styles of art.

While we were waiting for the icon to arrive, it occurred to us that we should have a liturgical celebration of blessing the icon and blessing God for the icon, according to the rites of the Eastern churches. To find a date when everyone we wanted to include was available took some time; however, and we finally celebrated the blessing in March 2004. This liturgy is given below.

On the occasion of the Blessing, Heiko and David supplied further information about this icon. Though the two sisters Zeinaida and Philonella, and the individual woman, Hermione, were known in Byzantine hagiography – though rather obscure – they had not previously been brought together as a group. This idea arose out of conversations between David Goa and Archbishop Lazar of St. Ostrog Monastery in British Columbia (whom Ruth and I had met during some of his visits to Edmonton). They decided that such a composition would support and encourage women in ministry in the church, and Archbishop Lazar asked Heiko to created such an icon for his monastery. It was this icon that I had seen in the Anno Domini exhibit; mine was only the second time this subject had been painted. What a rare privilege!

Description of the Icon

The following description is taken from the museum catalogue for the Anno Domini exhibit:

David J. Goa, Linda Distad, and Matthew Wangler,
Anno Domini: Jesus Through The Centuries: Exploring the Heart of Two Millennia.
Catalogue of an exhibition held at the Provincial Museum of Alberta.
Edmonton, Alberta: The Provincial Museum of Alberta 2000.

The icon is shown on page 113. The accompanying text, on pages 113-114, was written by His Eminence Archbishop Lazar Puhalo and David J. Goa.

Three Unmercenary Women
Heiko Schlieper 1931 –
New Ostrog Monastery

The Orthodox Church recognizes a category of saint called “the unmercenary physician.” These people were trained medical doctors who devoted their lives to the service of the poor and to an ascetic Christian life. Most of them were martyred. It is an almost forgotten fact that the first three of these unmercenary physicians were women. Two of them, tradition teaches, were cousins of Apostle Paul, studied medicine in Tarsus, and purchased a mineral spring cave which they turned into a clinic. The sisters, Zenaida and Philonella, also founded a convent. A number of small men’s communities also grew up around the area, and Zenaida became a spiritual mother to many of the monks. Philonella was the founder of gynecology and spent much of her life striving to separate medicine from magic and bring it toward pure science. Saint Hermione was a daughter of Philip the Deacon, who was one of the seven deacons mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles. She was both a prophetess and an unmercenary physician. She founded a series of hostels for the ill, with a palliative-care orientation. Because these women had been practically forgotten, Archbishop Lazar of the Canadian Orthodox Church sought to have an icon made of them. Iconographer Heiko Schlieper offered one as a gift to the New Ostrog Monastery.

The association of Christian teaching with healing is rooted in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ healing of physical, mental and spiritual diseases. Jesus has been called “The Great Physician” through our own day by many Christian traditions, including some in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries which placed a special emphasis on this aspect of his ministry. This aspect of Jesus’ ministry is carried into Byzantine medicine and permeates the hagiography of the saints. Scholars have pointed to the use of the inherited Greco-Roman tradition of medicine, particularly Hippocrates and Galen, by the physician saints of the Church. They also contributed to the development of medicine throughout the Byzantine period and we have references to the writings of such medical authors as Meletios the Monk, Leo the Physician, Symeon Seth, Theophanes Chrysobalantes, Nicholas Myrepsos and John Aktouarious to mention only a few of them. There were substantial contributions as well to health care with hospitals, medical specializations, pharmacology, and surgery, all of which were on a rather high plane in the Byzantine world.

Physicians are depicted in ancient artistic works holding boxes such as the ones shown in this icon. They were used for medicines and for various instruments, and the few examples that survive are made of bronze, wood, and ivory. They often bear the image of Asklepios or Hygieia from Greco-Roman mythology, and later Christian examples show a cross or the Healing of the Blind Man, one of the acts of Jesus recorded in Matthew 9:27. The earliest examples of doctor saints in the fifth to eighth centuries show them carrying leather pouches of a size and shape similar to those shown in this icon.

Additional information may be found online under the title Lives of the Female Unmercenary Saints at [from archived page].

Liturgy of Blessing

This liturgy was celebrated in the home of Ruth and Frank Henderson in March 2004.
Ukrainian Catholic presbyter Stephen Wojcichowsky presided and his spouse Maria Wojcichowsky assisted as cantor and acolyte. Participants, besides Frank and Ruth, included Heiko Schlieper, David Goa, Anna Altman, Margaret and Denis Haughey, Clair Dowbiggin and Leo Klug, and Marnie and Derek Gomez; Marnie also took photographs. The liturgy was chanted.

Prayer for the Blessing and Sanctification of Icons

Priest: Blessed is our God at all times, now and forever, and unto ages of ages.

People: Amen.

Priest: Glory to You, our God, glory to You.

People: Heavenly King, Consoler, Spirit of Truth,
who are everywhere present and filling all things,
Treasury of blessings and Giver of life:
Come dwell within us,
Cleanse us of every stain
and save our souls, O good One.

Priest: Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us.

People: Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us.

Priest: Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us.

People: Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit...

Priest: ... both now and forever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

People: Most Holy Trinity, have mercy on us: Lord, wash away our sins:
Master, pardon our transgressions:
Holy One, look upon us and heal our infirmities for Your name’s sake.

Priest: Lord, have mercy (3 times)

People: Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit...

Priest: ... both now and forever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

People: Our Father,
Who art in Heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

Priest: For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and forever, and unto ages of ages.

People: Amen.

Priest: Lord, have mercy. (6 times)

People: Lord, have mercy (6 times)

Priest: Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit...

People ... both now and forever, and unto ages of ages, Amen.

Priest: Come, let us adore our King and our God.

People: Come, let us adore Christ our King and our God.

Priest: Come, let us adore and bow down in worship before the Lord Himself - ...

People: ... Jesus Christ, our King and our God.

Psalm 51

Priest: O God, have mercy on me in the greatness of Your love;
in the abundance of Your tender mercies wipe out my offence.

People: Cleanse me from guilt and free me from my sin
for I am well aware of my faults and my sins haunt my mind.

Priest: It is You alone I have offended,
I have done what is evil in Your sight.

People: Wherefore You are just in Your deeds
and triumphant in Your judgment.

Priest: Behold I was born in iniquities;
a sinner when my mother conceived me.

People: But You are the Lover of Truth;
You teach me the depths and secrets of Your wisdom.

Priest: Wash me with hyssop and I shall be pure;
cleanse me and I shall be whiter than snow.

People: Let me hear sounds of joy and feasting;
the bones that were afflicted shall rejoice.

Priest: Turn Your face away from my offenses
and wipe off all my sins.

People: A spotless heart create in me, O God,
renew a steadfast spirit in my breast.

Priest: Cast me not afar from Your face,
take not Your blessed Spirit out of me.

People: Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
and let Your guiding Spirit dwell in me.

Priest: I will teach Your ways to the sinners
and the wicked shall return to You.

People: Release me from death, O God, my saving God,
and I will joyfully sing Your justice.

Priest: O Lord, You shall open my lips
and my mouth will declare Your praise.

People: Had You desired sacrifice, I would have offered it,
but You will not be satisfied with whole-burnt offerings.

Priest: Sacrifice to God is a contrite spirit,
a crushed and humbled heart God will not spurn.

People: In Your kindness, O Lord, be bountiful to Sion;
may the walls of Jerusalem be restored.

Priest: Then will You delight in just oblation, in sacrifice and whole-burnt offerings.

People: Then shall they offer young bulls upon Your altar.

Priest: Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit...

People: ... both now and forever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Priest: Alleluia. Alleluia Alleluia! Glory to You, O God.

People: Alleluia Alleluia Alleluia! Glory to You, O God.

Priest: Alleluia Alleluia Alleluia! Glory to You, O God.

Troparion of the Holy Images

People: (Tone 4).
We bow before your sacred image, O gracious Lord,
and beg forgiveness for our offences, O Christ our God:
for You, of Your own will, deigned to ascend the cross in your human nature
to deliver from bondage to the enemy those whom You created
Wherefore we gratefully cry out to You:
Through Your coming to save the world, O Saviour
... You have filled it all with joy!

Reading from the Holy Scriptures

Priest: Let us be attentive. Peace be to all. Wisdom! Let us be attentive!

People: How manifold are Your works, O Lord.
In wisdom You have made them all.

Priest: Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God You are very great.

People: How manifold are Your works, O Lord.
In wisdom You have made them all.

Priest: Wisdom!

Reader: A Reading from the letter of St. Paul to the Philippians.

Priest: Let us be attentive.

Reader: Brothers and sisters . . . Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Priest: Peace be with you, Reader.

Reader: And with your spirit.

Prayer of Invocation

People: Lord Almighty, God of our ancestors in faith,
glorified and worshipped in the Holy Trinity,
whom neither mind can comprehend nor word have power to express,
whom no one has anywhere seen,
of whom we only learn from the Holy Scriptures,

thus we believe and thus we confess You to be God:
the Father without beginning
and Your only-begotten Son
and Your Spirit equal in sovereignty.

As in the Old Covenant in Your appearing to Abraham and Sarah in the likeness of three angels, so subsequently after the incarnation from the ever-virgin Mary of the only-begotten Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ,
Appearing in the baptism by John in the Jordan,
In the radiant transfiguration on Tabor,
And the most glorious ascension on the Mount of Olives,
You showed us the image of the Most-Holy Trinity.

You also taught us to reverence the icon of our Lord Jesus Christ not made by human hands, made miraculous by His image on the handkerchief and sent to Abgar, King of Edessa, and with it healing him and many others of various diseases.

So, too, You have not rejected but accept the icons and likenesses
of those who worthily served You.
And now, You Yourself look upon this icon
which Your servants have designed in honour and glory of
You, one God glorified in the Holy Trinity,
Your only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ,
The most pure and most blessed Mother, Our Lady,
the Mother of God, and ever-virgin Mary,
And to the memory of Your saints Zenaida, Philonella and Hermione.

Bless and sanctify it:
Give it the power of healing and of driving away all the snares of the devil.
Grant that all who zealously pray before it may be heard.
Confer on it the mercy of Your love for humanity,

And grant to it Your grace,
For You are our sanctification, and we send up glory to You,
to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,
both now and forever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Prayer of Blessing and Sanctification

Priest: O, Lord without beginning, unseen and unattainable, who of old ordered in the Old Covenant the likeness of the cherubim in wood and gold and embroidery to be fashioned in the ark of testimony and in Solomon’s temple, and now accepting not only the icons made in memory of Your acts of salvation and divine manifestations for the sake of humankind in honour and glory of Your most holy name, but also not rejecting those designed in memory and imitation of Your saints who worthily served You, hear our humble prayer: bless this icon and sanctify it, and grant it grace and power to drive away the demons and heal all infirmities, for You, O Christ our God, are the blessing and sanctification of all things, and we send up glory to You together with the Father without beginning, and with Your Most Holy, good and life-giving Spirit, now and forever, and unto ages of ages.

People: Amen.


Priest: This icon is sanctified by the grace of the Most Holy Spirit and through the sprinkling of this holy water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

People: Amen

Priest: This icon is sanctified by the grace of the Holy Spirit and through this anointing with holy oil, in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

People: Amen.


God grant them many years, many happy years.
God grant them many years, many happy years.
May they be blessed with health and salvation.
God grant them many happy years.

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The Icon in Context The Icon in Context
Icon of The Three Unmercenary Women
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The Icon in Context
Frank Henderson, Ruth Henderson, Heiko Schlieper, Stephen Wojcichowsky Heiko Schlieper, David Goa
Frank Henderson,
Heiko Schlieper,
Ruth Henderson,
Stephen Wojcichowsky
Heiko Schlieper, David Goa

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