Week One WWII Ration Experiment

How did the first week of my month-long WWII ration challenge go? Let’s do a wrap up!

What did I cook?

We keep a vegetarian/vegan household, so doing with less/no meat wasn’t a struggle. I did miss having a couple more eggs as comfort protein. For the first two thirds of the week, I had made vegan dinners, which then became my lunches. I used recipes I would normally prepare, but maybe hadn’t cooked in a while. I also had a leftover red lentil curry from the weekend (compliant to the rules) that we ate up. Here’s what I made:

Bara Brith tea bread

Drew likes a sweet baked good nibble in the morning with his coffee while his porridge cooks. I made Wartime Bara Brith, with raisins and currants I already had on hand. The jar of marmalade has now become my jam ration for the month. Breakfasts for me included toast with peanut butter and porridge with homegrown blackberries.

Blackberries from the garden.
Lentil Stew with Sweet Potato Mash, homegrown greens and homemade whole wheat bread

By Friday, I realized I still had an egg and nearly all of my cheese ration left! I’ve always wanted to try Carolyn’s Homity Pie and, boy, that was lush after simple fare. I still have two portions left.

Homity Pie

I also employed a strategy suggested by the Ministry of Food for every adult to consume 1 pound of potatoes, prepared in any form, a day. I had trucked out last Sunday to our BJ’s bulk food warehouse and bought two, 10 pound bags of taters, one red and one yellow. Husband eats potatoes & beans for his work lunches. So I roasted about three pans of spuds in the course of the week between us two.

Potatoes ready for roasting

What was easy or surprising?

I thought I’d run out of sugar and oil, but I didn’t, there were a few ounces of each left. I liked that there wasn’t a steep learning curve in adopting new recipes. I didn’t feel all that deprived. On Friday, I even had a couple squares of chocolate and a gin & tonic to unwind and it was enough to feel lavish.

We ate more bread. I bake a batch of three whole wheat loaves (a future post on my process for that). We normally go through 1 or 1.5 loaves in a week. We had plowed through two loaves by Saturday. I baked on Sunday. Let’s see how long that lasts!

I was also surprised just now with rounding up the trash in the house – we regularly put out two kitchen bags worth a week, plus whatever goes into the recycling. This past week, we only filled one kitchen can! I think this is due to my not having any takeout or extra processed food containers. I wonder if the trend of less trash will continue.

What was hard?

I did have a planned lunch with a friend – which then rolled into an evening out with hubby. I went overboard with frozen custard in a waffle cone, corn chips, and half a beer. We call that having a snarfle. I bounced right back on Sunday and ate on plan all day. The modern world is still out there to pull us in.

What else did I do?

I banned my phone from the table, which I was successful at about half the time. Gentle nudges from my husband helped remind me to put it down! I read several interesting articles from the Smithsonian Magazine, which is a perennial gift from my parents. I also listened to vintage radio broadcasts from the 1940s, now found on YouTube, and speeches from Winston Churchill or the Roosevelts. I started the summer reading program for our public library, to track minutes of reading towards earning prizes. We tried to analog more – going to the gym, going for walks around the neighborhood, going on a long hike on Sunday. I can feel my quality of life going up.

Getting a little meta here, I figured out why I like lifestyle challenges. This feels like playing a game: there are rules, a set period of time, an element of pretend, reflecting on wins and failures, seeking out rewards, community interaction with other people sharing a similar experience. At the end, you can ‘go back’ to regular life, but you’re never quite the same afterwards. You’ve proven to yourself that you can choose differently and maybe what you did during the challenge is better than your normal baseline life. Do challenges feel like play to you?

The WWII Ration Challenge Month Introduction

As a historian, I have become deeply nerdy about certain aspects of world events. The rationing systems in Great Britain and the United States during WWII is one of those fascinations for me. As you can see, I bought multiple books, both reproduction and originals, filled with recipes and detailed stories. I follow blogs, video channels, and groups where modern people try out the ‘ration diet’ for various lengths of time. They recreate the recipes (which usually turn out edible!) and try other limitations imposed during wartime.

My ration related book collection

So when Carolynn, at The 1940s Experiment blog, put forward a month-long challenge starting on June 13th, I thought to myself…

Can I hack it?

We keep a vegetarian/vegan household already. As Orthodox Christians, we follow a calendar of fasting seasons, one of which, the Apostles Fast falls within the month of the challenge. This means I won’t be noshing on eggs or dairy for several days. I know one can still eat unhealthily and extravagantly on a vegan diet which is why the added layer of the Ration Challenge would be good for me, both physically and spiritually.

The British ration rules are generally along these lines, with some variation during the entire span of the era, 1940-1952. I chose the vegetarian ration, as there is a swap for meat for more cheese & egg. The following is for one person, per week:

  • Sugar, 8 oz
  • Cheese, 6 oz
  • Loose tea, 2 oz [roughly 24 tea bags]
  • Margarine, 6 oz
  • Other cooking fat, 2 oz
  • Sweets (candy/chocolate), 12 oz per month
  • Jam/Jelly, 8 oz per month
  • Milk, 3 pints
  • Dried Egg Powder equal to 12 eggs per month
  • 2 fresh eggs per week

What was not on ration: fresh vegetables, fruit [except imports like bananas or tinned pineapple], potatoes, and whole wheat bread. Other foods, like legumes, rice, spices, etc, were available, but on points so that limited what one could get per month.

The caveats, aside from the religious variation we have going on in our household, are as follows:
I have a friend who gives us free eggs 1-2x a month. I will use those, when able, instead of powdered egg. I won’t go buy any. I will just depend on her kindness. I also have a pantry with a sturdy amount of legumes & grains. I won’t need to buy any for the month. I will try tracking how much we use from storage and compare to the points allotted for the month. Peanut butter is also a staple item I am not sure where it falls on the ration (probably points). Again, I have plenty of that on hand, but I won’t get too dependent on it as a sneaky way to get more fat.


  • I need some structure and awareness around how much I am spending on food. I am beyond blessed in resources to where I don’t even think about a food budget. I just get whatever I want to prepare. I will share how much I spend a week which will serve as my mirror.
  • I got a bit fluffy over the course of the first half of the year. Up 5 pounds since New Years! I am 5’4 and around 155. I could lose 15-20 pounds and land squarely in a healthy range.[Of course that won’t happen in a month, but this could be the start of something better!]
  • I want to be cognizant of waste, both of food & packaging, and how I engage with convenience foods. Again, I don’t think of cost, I just think about what I want when I want it. This is not within my ideals of living more sustainably and locally.


  • Follow the Vegetarian ration diet for one month.
  • Have a shopping preference plan: my vegetable garden produce first, then local fruit & veg, then only USA grown produce. Nothing green imported. Limit canned goods of exotics, like pineapple or olives. I will investigate local dairy options.
  • No prepackaged snacks. Bye bye corn chips.
  • Record my expenditures.
  • Sundays after church we have a Coffee Hour, where families take turns bringing a snack spread to share. I won’t count this within my ration but I won’t go bonkers either.
  • Limit dining out to three occurrences. This will probably include my birthday later this month, something to celebrate the 4th of July, and one other freebie lunch on my own.
  • Choose contemporary recipes from my book collection and Carolyn to try each week.

Extras, to get into the spirit of the exercise:

  • Put limits on phone/internet usage. I want more headspace to use towards reading, the increased food prep, and writing.
  • Watch a vintage movie once a week with my husband.
  • Visit the local history room at the library to learn more about how WWII affected life here.
  • No spending on clothing, household extras, or hobbies.
  • Continue victory gardening work.
  • Be mindful of energy and water usage. Hang up laundry to dry, take shorter showers, turn off lights.

Will my husband participate?

Yes and no. As a vegan, he already has a fairly strict personal diet, according to outside eyes. He prepares his own breakfasts and lunches, that usually do not include any added fats and have an abundance of veggies & fruits. He eats pretty much the same thing every day for those two meals. I prepare dinners most of the time and also do the grocery shopping. Where we overlap, then, is where I will keep to the vegan ration plan. I won’t exclude his precious bananas or impinge on his coffee consumption.

And as the Brits love to say, “Let’s give it a go!”

Seven Holy Women Book

Seven Holy Women, Conversations with Saints and Friends
Seven Holy Women: Conversations with Saints and Friends

Our book project with Ancient Faith Publishing went to press today! The release date is set for October 20, 2020. This has been a year-long labor I have shared with 6 other women to bring forth both a book and a virtual retreat. I am so honored to have been included in the project! What could be a better way to inaugurate the Ecclesiastical New Year?

My personal goal is to continue building my writing skills through this long-neglected blog. Thank you for your patience in waiting for your unworthy servant to get her writing act together. Here is to many new joys in the journey!

Letters from the Homefront

White violets in bloom near our home

Dear Friends,

A theme I have studied in history is how communities and individuals handle times of need imposed from outside events, like the Great Depression, world wars, plague, and famine. How do we stretch what we have to make it fit what we need? How do we band together to help keep our communities afloat? How do we care for the least of our brethren, especially when even the strong are suffering? I read diaries, like Nella Last’s War, or old magazines, like Kitchen Klatter, fascinated with the responses of families to times of upheaval. Thrift, ingenuity, service, hard work, gratitude for daily bread, commitment to neighborliness were all traits which brought families through. Those times are no longer the faded memories of grandparents – they are upon us now.

As we face a global pandemic the likes of which humans have not seen for 100 years, we are asked to make our lives small and our interactions with outsiders few. Many have used war-like terminology, likening what we must do to slow down the spread of disease to what our ancestors achieved in world wars. Yes, there are ‘battlefields’ in hospitals, with valiant medical professionals who are risking their lives so that victims can survive. There are many unsung heroes who have kept open stores, distribution centers, run transportation, and operated essential utilities. The front lines, however, to stop death run squarely at our front doors. We choose life for ourselves and for our neighbors through staying home.

To hearken back to our roots, while using modern technology, I want to write ‘letters’ to you through blog posts so you can see what we are doing here in our little home front. Melinda Johnson thought this would be a great theme for the #blogtown community; I hope the idea will catch on. I have more time to write now, as many others do as well. Let’s encourage each other to choose the good in our little monasteries, for the love of God and our neighbor this Lent.

Love in Christ –
Anna Neill

The Whirl of Gaiety

After such a tremendous first date, with hearts thumping and brains buzzing with excitement, our hero and heroine could not help to plan a next adventure. They had to wait. A week. The tailor is also an Assistant Scout Master. His troop had summer camp that following week in the sticks of North Carolina. He packed up his gear, including his cell phone, for those brief interludes when he could reach a service area and text out his adventures to the lady. Thus the week passed, with the librarian sighing and giggling with her phone like an infatuated school girl. They hatched plans for another date the following Saturday, when the tailor would return from the wilds.

For this date (and I won’t outline every date, unless you want more), we headed out to lunch, then to the North Carolina Museum of Art, and closed the evening with a homemade dinner at Anna’s place. The dress theme was 1950’s retro, as you can see below. Funnily, there was a Lolita meet up at the museum that day. Their group gushed about how cute we were and took pictures. The most memorable part of the museum visit, for me, was when Drew took us aside to sit in front of a large 17th century painting of the Virgin Mary. It was a moment of kinship and of blessing.

Marcus Aurelius photobomb!

For dinner, I made my old standby – lentil soup, which well nigh everyone likes, along with homemade whole wheat bread. Drew jumped in to help peel & chop the veggies. He marveled at how I just knew how to cook without a recipe. The old adage goes, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. He told me several months later that he knew that night I was ‘the one’. Ladies, if you want my lentil soup recipe for a date night, just ask!

As for my knowing whether this vegan, Catholic, historical tailor was also the one I had hoped & prayed for, that took a few months for me to figure out. On that second date night, I told Drew that I was excited to be with him and truly happy to spend time with him, however, I was like a nervous woodland creature. Because of my past, I was very, very cautious. I had to take time to build trust. No sudden movements. No loud noises. Lots of treats. I also had the Theotokos watching out for me, so, there could have been the heavenly, “No!” at any moment.

Drew, to his immense credit, knew exactly what to do to achieve this ‘life time merit badge’. He calmed my fears that we would go slowly and just enjoy getting to know each other. Since that day, he called me his ‘trash panda’ or raccoon, which is rather true. I like snack and can get myself into mischief.

About two weeks later, Drew asked if he could visit my Church. My parish is like a large, boisterous Italian family. I said, “You are brave!” He jumped in with both feet. After the second liturgy, he was helping wash dishes from coffee hour. He began reading books, listening to podcasts, and asking my priest questions. We spent time discussing the similarities and contrasts between the Catholic and Orthodox faiths. My parish family accepted him with open arms. Every day that passed, I could see that my prayers were being answered with a ‘YES’!

History Nerd Who Likes to Play Dress Up

I was off to the races in the dating app that evening, swiping left countless times and only swiped right a few times. I had little expectation anyone who caught my eye would even respond. When you are nearing 40, the odds may be good but the goods are odd. Then I found a profile that made me swipe right immediately. Blue eyes. Tweed suit. WWII Navy uniform. Intro tag line: “History Nerd Who Likes to Play Dress Up”. He had joined the app on the same day, also with the same low expectations of finding anyone interesting.

Mr. History Nerd and I began chatting the next morning. We shared witty and flirty repartee. (Mr. Darcy and a wet linen shirt were mentioned.) We also quickly broached two important topics. He said he was Catholic and Vegan. I said I was Orthodox and was mostly Vegan. When those phrases went past in text…I thought to myself, “This could work. This could actually work.” A new relationship would ‘work’, of course, if the Theotokos would allow it. I made an my usual intercession, “Protect me, Mother of God!” I also put in a few heartfelt phrases of a plaintive child that wanted to keep a found kitten. “Please, let me keep him!”

On Friday, we hatched a plan to meet on Saturday afternoon, at his workplace, which is a historic site and open to the public. If we didn’t hit it off, at least I saw a new history place and I was in a safe zone. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. If He asked what he should wear – I replied, “A suit!” At this point, dear readers, let me share an important detail: He likes to dress up because he is a historical tailor. Another incredibly fantastic point of commonality! The suit, then, was a dark green wool worsted affair, with a cravat and cuff links, circa 1770, comfortable for a gentleman in all weathers. I wore a modern linen and skirt outfit I had made.

We spent a lovely & sultry July afternoon talking and touring the grounds. He brought down original examples of waistcoats from his collection that I could look over and we geeked about the construction details. By the end of his work day, he asked if we could have dinner at the local Greek restaurant? Why yes, that would be great! While at dinner (not wearing his 18th century suit, just regular street clothes), he said something that made me about choke on my falafel. He described how he became close to the Virgin Mary when he had converted to Catholicism a few years previously. Big Glaring Neon Sign. Silent prayers began to ascend, “OH PLEASE THEOTOKOS! He is SO CUTE.”

The Tailor

After dinner, we still had time before he had to skitter off to his part-time gig. Would I like to take a little walk in the community park? Why yes, I would. We drove over separately. I arrived first. As he pulled up, I got out of the car, close the door, and made a cry of dismay, “EEEEK!” I had locked my keys inside. One of the best uses of money is a AAA membership, let me tell you. I called them up to get help, while feeling deadly embarrassed. To this day, he found this to be an ‘adorkable’ moment, on of many I seem to do. We took a couple turns around the park…and held hands. Alas, alack, he had to leave me, still waiting for AAA to bail me out…which didn’t take long. On my way home, I stopped by his coffee shop, where he gave me a London Fog and another hug. I drove eastward in a romantic swoon…

[This was just the first date! How does this end?!? Check back again tomorrow for part three…or maybe this needs another 7 installments…]

Happily Ever After Takes Work

We all love a happy ending to a story, with all the threads of action tied up a neat bow. We have confidence the beloved characters will continue on in our imagination with everything they deserve in life. Villains receive justice. Broken things are renewed; curses are broken. A village rejoices. True love comes to those who wanted it most.

In the last 18 months, I have been living a real-world fairy tale. Characters in fairy tales rarely write it out as it happens. They don’t know quite how it will turn out and who wants to be a disappointment? At some point, however, there has to be a period at the end of the sentence, a chapter, when you can tell the story to the satisfaction of everyone. We all know, however, as we are still alive to tell the tale, that it goes on and builds and twists and gains even more details. I learned that happily ever after is HARD WORK. That is where I have been instead of writing – making the life where I can write again.

If you had asked if I were happy in life when I began writing for the Brown Dress Project, I would have said yes. I was happier than I had been in a long time. I had career direction, an avenue for creative outlet, an amazing church family, friends, and a well-organized life. I didn’t hate myself or brooded on the past. I liked this version of Anna. She was a better person.

Yet, I was lonely. Even worse – I was lonely without having hope of it ever going away. All my attempts at remedying the situation had come to naught. The Orthodox dating scene, especially for older singles, is slim chance to none. From my tiny perspective, the happy life I had was all I would get. In order to fend off despair, I had to stop all romantic activity completely.

I turned my focus to prayer, especially in building a relationship with the Theotokos. I asked her for two things. First, protect me from the situations or people I should not associate with. Second, show me who I should get to know. As with any mother, the overwhelming word she used was, “NO!” It was uncanny – usually within 24-48 hours – an interesting scenario would quickly go sideways. I felt like I was three years old again. All the “No”. Nothing fun. Nobody. For a year.

On the 4th of July, 2018, I was bored, at home, on a day off. I baked cookies for a friend. I decided to join a dating app. My cynical nature told me the best I would experience was maybe a nice dinner and a handshake. My hopeful nature thought, well, perhaps you could find a companion to go see museums and theater shows. Just do fun things? No pressure? Add some spice to life? There had to be someone out there who wouldn’t mind my peculiar nerdiness. I certainly did not expect what came next…

[Thanks to Melinda Johnson for kicking off the #bloginstead three day challenge! I needed a way to just get started again. Stay tuned for the rest of the story tomorrow and Friday.]

Book Review for A Daily Calendar of Saints

As with many working Orthodox folks, I try to use the 15 minutes in the morning while I eat toast to read an uplifting section of literature. Now, at 6:00 am, this sinks down into my subconscious mind like crumbs from the toast into the bottom of my tea cup. If you ask me at noon what I had read, 50/50 chance I wouldn’t readily remember. I keep at it with the hopes some of the benefit will ‘stick’ better than jam on my fingers.

My usual reading choice is the Prologue from Ohrid, by St. Nikolai Velimirovich, a profound exposition on the daily Scripture readings and saints. I treasure many of St. Nikolai’s homilies and reflections, as is evidenced with all the flags sticking up from the top of the two volumes. At times, though, I find it a bit too much to digest first thing in the morning. What else could I read that is a smaller tidbit than the Prologue?

Enter A Daily Calendar of Saints by Fr. Lawrence R. Farley, recently released through Ancient Faith Publishing, which generously supplied me with a copy to review. The paperback book is rather simple and straight-forward. Each day there is one or two saints with one or two biographical paragraphs each. That’s it. No homilies or Scripture meditation. The language used to write the biographies is at an accessible level (middle school range) and lends itself well to reading aloud. I thought Fr. Lawrence chose a good range of saints, from well-known to the less familiar. He also had a balance between men and women (though there is always more room for women saints, hint hint.)

I used the book for a solid month before writing this review to see how it would flow with my daily routine. My benchmark was, “Who was the saint for today?” asked at lunchtime. If I could answer it with confidence – then I knew that 5 minutes spent looking at their biography was just enough information for my early morning spiritual multivitamin.  I recommend you try it, with a librarian stamp of approval. Rating – 5 Cups of Tea.

Juliana of Lazarevo and Remembrance

As an archivist, I was, and still am, fascinated with how people are remembered in the future. A few years ago, I had the unique privilege of working with a large mass of personal & professional papers from a single influential family in a small town. Their ancestors had lived in the same house for over 140 years and their attic was a proverbial treasure trove. They didn’t throw away anything that pertained to themselves – they just stashed it upstairs! I discovered the intricacies of relationships, like a play unfolding before me in the scraps of silverfish nibbled paper. Local historians know their cast of characters but we often do not understand how they behaved towards each other or what they liked to eat. Finding these tidbits of memories was like panning for gold in the dusty boxes from an antebellum brick house on Main Street.

Through the endless sorting of papers, I was able to piece together the life of a young woman, who died at age 29, a person whom we only knew from her name and two dates on a headstone in the family plot. She had a full life – was able to attend a finishing school for ladies in the 1870’s, taught in local grade schools, enjoyed reading the classics and current literature, and went on excursions with her friends. Along with her letters and essay books, the family donated a trunk of clothing, the unpacking of which was a somber but thrilling chore for a material culture historian. In the trunk were the black and grey shaded accouterments of Victorian mourning garb from 1882, the year Miss Emma died. The expense shown in the jet buttons, the parasol, the silk shawls, the custom dresses, was a visible sign to the world of how bereaved the family felt at her loss.

When handling her personal effects, I often reflected on the nature of the survival of memory, of whether Miss Emma had any idea the contents of her writing box would be read three generations later. The remarkable gift of love and stability – or some may argue – a lazy neglect from her future relations gave us a peek into a rare story, an ordinary life. Ordinariness is easily lost. Peasant linen clothing was worn to shreds and then eventually turned into paper. Wooden houses burn down. Small traditions die out with families. The real struggle for social historians is finding the examples and explanations for why a thing or an image exists. We have to accept some questions may never be answered.

When teaching the girls in my parish about women saints, I wanted to include an ‘every day’ saint – one who, from outward appearances, was ordinary to her time and place, but lived a holy life nonetheless. When I read about St. Juliana of Lazarevo, I found a saint, who, but for the loving attention of her son, would be unknown to us today. She was a pious soul from early childhood, being orphaned and left with relatives who did not understand her ways, she kept a practical faith. She cared for the sick and sewed clothing and burial shrouds for the poor. A fellow nobleman fell in love with her and brought her into his parents’ household. Juliana quickly showed her skill in managing a burgeoning home, having given birth to ten sons and three daughters. Her in-laws turned over the keys to her for the estate.

Juliana suffered deep sorrow when six of her children died from plague. Her desire was to retire from the world to the monastery. Her husband, Yuri, encouraged her to stay with the family and see their remaining children grow into adulthood. So, Juliana stayed at Murom and re-doubled her ascetic efforts. After her husband died, Juliana did not go to a monastery but decided to stay in the world, living in poverty because she gave away her inheritance to the poor. Even during famine, she made sure to have bread to give to beggars which was, “sweeter than anything they had ever tasted.” Several years after her death, Juliana’s relics were found incorrupt and streamed myrrh that brought healing to many.

There are several themes I could have taught from St. Juliana’s life – her practical holiness, her obedience to the path of salvation within marriage & family life, her charitableness from a position of inherited wealth – all of which are foundational lessons. What I found most fascinating is the gift of remembrance St. Juliana received within the life of the Church as an otherwise unremarkable woman in her time and place. Her son, George, praised her in writing, which, at the time in early 17th century Russia, was a rare task and this writing was preserved after his death, providentially, at the time his mother’s relics were found incorrupt.

For Orthodox Christians, remembrance is the task of the living. I heard it said, that even in the darkest times of the Communist era, when no service books survived in a town, priests could rely on the grandmothers to know the liturgical prayers by heart. We have a vast family ‘attic’ of written collections in a hundred languages of saint’s lives and the liturgical functions of the Church. The akathists teach us through rhythm and song the lives of the saints. In most countries where Orthodoxy has grown, the majority of people are literate and can have access to all these materials in their native language. While the printed word ‘outsources’ memory to a certain extent, it has never replaced the inherent nature of our faith tradition, that which is taught by example, what is sung by the elders and repeated by the young. Paper, vellum, and stone are trustworthy to an extent, but only so far as the people who value them. Living in the Church of the martyrs, we know all too dearly how quickly the elements burn. Our strength in Christ is our collective memories, to keep the Word alive in speech and deed, that no man or element can destroy.





Saint Lydia and Influence

st.lydiaWhat makes for an influential life? Why do you listen to certain people and not others? What sort of human qualities do you admire? These questions have occupied philosophers and religious people for all of civilization. How we define social power, outside of the brute strength of the sword, depends a great deal on when and where we live. There are a few universals: wealth, birth, physical appearance, sex, and character are the five main determinations of influence. For most societies, who your parents were and how much money or property you inherited delimited your social circle and how you could operate in that circle.

Lydia of Philippi had a rather unique standing in her time and place, as a woman and as a merchant. She was mentioned as being a ‘seller of purple cloth’ in the Book of Acts, who had settled in Philippi. Thyatira, in what is now Turkey, was the center for purple cloth production. Tyrian purple was once known in the Grecco-Roman world as is Belgian chocolate or Swiss watches today. Creating purple dye was a rare and labor intensive process, using thousands of snails, that once crushed and cooked with other chemicals, created an intense color not produced through any other process. It wasn’t until the 1850’s when the first synthetic dye, aniline, was accidentally invented, that the color purple was no longer a status symbol of wealth.

Lydia must have been born or married into the trade, as with many skills, the secrets of making the perfect shade of dye was closely guarded. Being a merchant in luxury trade also granted esteem in the community. Lydia had to know the social intricacies of the wealthy and also the technicalities of what was physically possible in creating the dyed textiles. The merchant was often in the precarious position of saying, “No, we cannot provide what you want, when you want it” or “It was a bad year for snails, so the price will be much higher for wool.”

The Church remembers Lydia and her household as the first converts in Europe. Remarkable also was her being a woman of prestige, who took the risk of believing in the messiah preached and sheltering Paul after his arrest. St. Luke mentions several times in Acts when a convert had status through wealth or birth. One might view this notation as a means of adding legitimacy to the newly formed faith. “Look, so-and-so joined, therefore, we are correct.” Yet, this is not what the early Church thought. Their understanding was, “Look, this woman has taken a great risk. She heard of Christ and his Kingdom, counted the cost, and went ahead!” We all have ‘loss’ in the world for being a Christian. What St. Luke noted and what other hagiographic details take into account, with wealth, beauty, and status, is those in position of them choose to no longer use it as self-indulgent power.

Having made that choice, Lydia, and saints like her, have a second fork in the road. Do I give away my wealth? Do I stay where I live or go elsewhere to spread Gospel? Do I shun married life thus keeping virginity and beauty for Christ? Or do I stay here, keep my trade and my marriage, and build the Church? Lydia chose the latter. She was already known for her devotion to God and to prayer. She knew the influence she possessed and chose to use it for the sake of the Gospel of Christ with the people she knew already. In the epistle written a few years later to the Philippians, St. Paul recognizes the people he met as, “…my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown”. Lydia was a key role model for the believers who joined the Church, being the first to welcome St. Paul and showing hospitality.

Most of us, in varying degrees, are like St. Lydia. We stay in our professions and our towns to use what influence God has given us to love our neighbors. As Marcus Aurelius writes in his Meditations, “Anywhere you can lead your life, you can lead a good one.”  It may not be the great influence of robing governors in purple, but we each have a means to communicate through our goodness and humility to everyone we meet.


Tyrian Purple –


History of Thyatira –

More on Lydia –