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Reflecting on March 8 - International Women's Day

March 8 - Commemorating Clara Zetkin or Matrona of Moscow?

Saint Matrona of Moscow

March 8 poses a unique dilemma for those of us with a devout Orthodox Christian background and a "Soviet" childhood. This date is International Women's Day and often sparks contrasting views among the faithful, especially when juxtaposed with secular holidays. Take for example New Year's Eve, which falls during Christmas fasting. There is a tendency among some to firmly reject these secular dates, preferring to highlight Orthodox celebrations instead. The sentiment, "You have New Year's Eve - we have Christmas," captures this divide. While this stance may seem logical to some, it also raises questions about whether drawing such lines aligns with divine intent.

Over time, many of us have come to terms with the grandeur of New Year's celebrations, recognizing that participating in festive gatherings, even during a fast, doesn't necessarily compromise our faith. Opting for a simple salad over more lavish fare allows us to maintain our spiritual discipline while ensuring family harmony. Then, as the festivities wind down, we can quietly slip away to attend the night service at our church. But the situation with March 8 isn't as straightforward.

Clara Zetkin's demonstration

The day, humorously referred to by some as a memorial to Clara Zetkin, carries varied significance. For some, it's a rare acknowledgment of women's roles beyond mere labourers. Others contrast this secular holiday with Orthodox observances, a comparison that is relatively new. My reflections on March 8 aim to explore these nuances and invite others to share their perspectives on reconciling this day with our Orthodox faith.

Reflecting on March 8 brings a flood of fond memories to my mind, mostly from a time when I innocently believed "Klarazetkin" was merely an odd name for a street in Minsk. My family embraced International Women's Day with open arms, marking it a special day off. The routine was delightfully predictable: my sister and I, waking up leisurely around 10 AM, would join our dad for a trip to the market. There, amidst the hustle and bustle, we'd pick out treats and, invariably, tulips or daffodils—whichever caught our fancy that day. Returning home, we'd present our mother with flowers and handmade cards, receiving little gifts from Dad in exchange. Our rounds didn't end there; next, we'd visit our neighbour Aunt Luda and her daughter Lenka, exchanging greetings and gifts courtesy of Uncle Tolya and Kostik. The day culminated in a feast with guests, laughter, singing, and dancing. Despite the presence of alcohol, my lasting impression is one of genuine festivity and a sense of occasion, with mothers and daughters joyfully taking center stage.

Mum and daughter

The anticipation for March 8 began even before the actual day, especially at school. Dressed in our best, complete with bows and white aprons, we girls would be momentarily excused from the classroom. As we waited outside, barely containing our giggles, the boys would stealthily place gifts on each girl's desk. In high school, these gifts typically included flowers and store-bought items. However, in our younger years, creativity knew no bounds. I vividly recall how Sergei, a classmate, crafted a matryoshka doll card for me, ingeniously using blister pack cells for eyes, complete with movable pills painted like pupils, which humorously animated the matryoshka's gaze. That card was a treasure to me. On that day, the boys seemed to stand a little taller, their demeanour infused with a newfound gravity and politeness, as if they had matured overnight.

Reflecting on March 8, I've always cherished it not as a political statement or an anti-religious stance but as a day filled with joy, gifts, and the celebration of womanhood, devoid of any emancipatory connotations. Historically, yes, the day's roots are intertwined with movements against "kitchen slavery," but for us, it was about joy, the blossoming of spring, and heartfelt connections.

International Women's Day

As I've grown closer to the Church, I've pondered the relevance of March 8. Today, as the Church's presence flourishes, many are reminded of the Feast of the Myrrh-bearing Women. Yet, does this awareness diminish the importance of March 8 for me? My answer leans towards the preservation of this day's warmth and affection. I continue to extend my sincerest wishes to the women in my life on this day, not as an acknowledgment of "Emancipation Day" but as a celebration of spring, femininity, and beauty—a tradition eagerly anticipated by many.


Curiously, March 8 aligns with the Orthodox calendar's commemoration of St. Matrona of Moscow, adding a layer of spiritual significance to this date. This alignment offers a unique perspective, intertwining secular and sacred commemorations.

Drawing inspiration from St. Matrona's life, I've encountered guidance that resonates deeply, advocating for self-restraint and the mindful embrace of womanhood for the betterment of those around us. This advice shapes my wishes for all women on March 8—to harness their nurturing, empathetic, and creative capacities for the good of their community and to foster peace, inspiration, and enlightenment.

Happy holiday to all the remarkable women out there!

Julia Goiko

March 08, 2024
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