In the gospel accounts of Luke and John we meet a woman named Martha, who together with her sister and brother, are friends of Jesus. In the home of Martha, Jesus and his little band of disciples were welcomed with gracious hospitality.
Of the two gospel narratives featuring Martha, the one most often remembered is that of Luke, where Martha and Jesus 'have words': …Jesus, tell my sister sitting at your feet to help me prepare this meal;… Martha, worry and distraction are stressing you; come here and sit awhile… .
We also meet Martha in the gospel of John, where Jesus' relationship with this family is touchingly revealed: …If you had been here my brother would not have died; …show me where you have laid him; …and Jesus wept… . At the graveside of her brother, a profound conversation between Jesus and Martha leads to a proclamation of faith like unto Peter's: "I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world". Jesus responds to this act of faith by Martha with the words, "I am the resurrection and the life".
Through time, as the cult of Martha developed, the images of maturity, strength, common sense, and concern for others predominated. As folklore and art capture in legendary form the life of Martha, two stories of some significance are noteworthy. In the first, Martha was among a small group of Christians expelled from Palestine after the death of Jesus. Sent off in a boat without a rudder or sail so that they might perish, providence intervened and the little band of Christians landed in Marseilles. Here Martha set about to share the Good News with the people of her newfound home. The second story relates that in the region of Aix, a fierce dragon roamed the village terrifying the entire community. Holding a cross in her hand, Martha sprinkled the beast with holy water. Placing her sash around its neck, she led the tamed dragon through the village. In the early days of our Congregation, both of these stories became part of our reflection on the life of faith and service of our patroness.
In the early fifties a new image arose. Martha, as depicted in statue, stands erect carrying a jar of oil, symbolic of the service of healing, of hospitality, and of blessing. In December, 2005, Tatiana Vartanova, a Canadian iconographer of Russian origin, completed her commissioned work of creating a sacred icon of Saint Martha, our patroness. In the unveiling ritual, Sister Theresa Parker, Congregation Leader, prayed, "May this sacred image be an aid and support in our prayer as it radiates what is beyond word and image. May this icon of our patroness call our hearts to the abiding presence of the Divine Mystery."
In reflecting on our Martha history we readily discover that Saint Martha holds a pivotal and sacred place in the heart of our Congregation. In choosing to live the Martha way of life, we are inspired by her loving relationship with Jesus, her spirit of welcoming hospitality, her courage in the face of difficulties and her compassionate presence in service to all.