Questions regarding the restoration of Women Deacons:
Need for resurrection?
1. Why did the Church end the practice of women deacons? If it is such an important part of the Church, why was it allowed to become extinct? Perhaps there was something in the practice the Church finally found unneeded, unnecessary or unacceptable. (see #3 below)
2. Why do we need women deacons today? Is it just to satisfy the feminist's desire for “shared power" in the Church? Is it just to make women feel more important? Are not women who aren't deacons important already? What does the ordination -if the original women deacons were really ordained to major orders- bestow on women that they so desperately need? What void or gap are they going to now be able to fill upon reception of their ordinations? Aren't women already performing their functions in the Church without this ordination? What is the pressing need in the Church to restore this practice? Or is all of this just for political correctness?
3. Is it not true that years ago they were needed because men and women were Baptized in the nude? Men did not want the temptation of looking at women's nakedness while Baptizing them, so the women deacons were needed. Similar reasons led to the practice of women deacons also catechizing the female catechumens or neophytes. Isn't true that this situation no longer exists? Men now Baptize and catechize women without the need for a woman deacon.
Argument from former practice:
4. Why does the fact that there were women called "deacons" in the early Church justify having them today? There were many things in the early Church which we don't have today, i.e. public confession of sins. The Church did away with many of these practices for a reason. So, just because the Church once practiced this, does this necessarily mean she has to today?
5. Proponents of women deacons seem to assume that women were ordained to major orders. Yet the Council of Nicea seems to contradict this (cf. Canon 19).
Finally, I have seen no persuasive statement on why the Church's decision to let this practice fall into disuse, should be reversed. Everything I see in its defense is based on what seems to be political or feminist reasons. I don't think the Church should govern herself based on such political interests.
If someone knows of the needs in the Church to revive the office of deaconess, I'd be open to hearing it.
Let me know,
Posted By: Chtec
Re: Deaconesses - 05/16/04 11:56 PM
Doesn't the Armenian Apostolic Church still have a few deaconesses? I even recall seeing a book on this topic that featured an old photograph of an Armenian deaconess, replete with ripidion.
Now, some of my personal thoughts:
I don't know if one can say the Church made a decision to stop ordaining deaconesses. We can say it fell into disuse, but there are no canons or synodal decisions of which I am aware that prohibit this office. An argument against it based on the fact that the office fell into disuse over the centuries would also mean such things as the frequent reception of Holy Communion, for so long not the norm in either the East or the West, was a decision of the Church and thus was not something that needed restoring. (I mean, there were saints and holy individuals who only received once a year... what makes us any more special or different than them?)
As you noted, one reason the deaconesses existed was to minister to women. Yes, earlier societies were more segregated and didn't allow for the intermingling of men and women, but there is a certain wisdom and propriety in the earlier practice of having a deacon to minister to men and having a deaconess to minister to women. We know that men and women often work differently, think differently, react differently, have different problems and concerns, etc.
Overall, we need to examine the place of the diaconate in the church. Does a deacon primarily exist to wave his orar and hold a diskos on his head, or to serve God's people? (Yes, I do believe that a deacon has a liturgical role, and I am NOT downplaying that.) If a deacon exists to minister, then why can't the deaconess be restored?
Saying that women already do these roles and thus the order of deaconess is superfluous would be like saying that men can read the Scriptures and serve in the altar without chierothesia, and thus no man needs to be tonsured a reader or made a subdeacon. First, ordaining someone to a ministry gives some recognition within the church for the work the person has done and continues to do. Second, this recognition is extended into the community at large, allowing the ministry to be extended beyond the confines of the church community. The title "deacon" or "deaconess" may give a bit of an official capacity to the individual, something that "man/woman who volunteers at our church" just doesn't have.
Whether the deaconess was a "major" order or a "minor" order or the ONLY order to which women were ordained is really not the issue.
Maybe I will write more later...
Thanks for your response. I've been wanting to see some good reasons for the restoration of Deaconesses. I'm still waiting on this. If I did see the reasons why we need them today, I might myself fully support the idea.
"An argument against it based on the fact that the office fell into disuse over the centuries would also mean..."
Please don't misconstrue what I wrote. This was not my argument at all. I did not argue that if a practice falls into disuse it is -ipso facto- rendered permanently useless. I only suggested it as a possibillity which others don't seem open to entertaining.
I argued against those who say that if something was done before, this automatically means it should be restored. What I wrote was that this is not necessarily the case. There are numerous ancient practices of the Church which no one wants to restore.
I'm open to restoring anything for a reason. I'm just waiting to see the reasons.
As for the Armenian Church. The last I heard, a couple of bishops (e.g. the Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople) were seroiusly threatening to ordain some deaconesses to begin restoring the office. Such a statement would leave me to believe that it hasn't been restored yet.
I agree with you about the need to re-examine the role of the deacon in the Church. Yet you ask me "why shouldn't they be restored," which leads me back to my original question: "Why should they be?"
"Saying that women already do these roles and thus the order of deaconess is superfluous would be like saying that men can read the Scriptures and serve in the altar without chierothesia, and thus no man needs to be tonsured a reader or made a subdeacon."
reply: No, it isn't like saying this. The obvious difference is that we still have readers and subdeacons, yet we don't have deaconesses. The Church obviously recognized the need to maintain one and not the other. Its like an ecclesiastical natural selection.
So far, what you have told me is that the real need here is for recognition of women and to make them seem more official rather than as volunteers. Interesting. Its not the knock down explanation I would've liked, but there's some merit there. What other reaons are there?
Posted By: John Gibson
Re: Deaconesses - 05/19/04 08:18 PM
Thought that I would put my two cents in. When I converted to Catholicism, I found this article. I give you guys the link so that you can look at it. Personally, since I have never researched it, I am unsure on the author's research, but I present it to you for some information.
John From EWTN\'s Website - A rose by any name
Posted By: theophan
Re: Deaconesses - 05/20/04 01:53 AM
There is an excellent book that comes highly recommended on this subject: “Deaconesses: An Historical Study.” It strives to be objective and is very detailed. You can find it at Eighth Day Books, Wichita, KS.
It seems that this order flourished in the more eastern parts of the undivided Church and seems to have been developed for the particular reasons already cited: holding female infants and helping adult women during Baptism, as well as touching their bodies during Chrismation, catechizing female members of the Church, and keeping order in the women's sections of the church when men and women were segregated during worship. I hardly think that we want to return to those customs that necessitated those functions.
My own theory is that the Church came to the realization that women do not defile a man during worship and that a man is not defiled by touching a female infant. With the passing of large numbers of adult converts—as the bulk of society were already members of the Church from infancy—there was no need to worry any longer about the possibility of temptation from seeing adult women. So the passing of deaconesses into history may have been a development of economia.
It also seems that the deaconess was equivalent to the subdeacon, an order subject to the direction of the parish deacon but not equivalent to the deacon himself. I don't think that those calling for the restoration of women deaconesses want that either. I can't seem to find any evidence that this order was ever a vested order that had public liturgical functions beyond the assistance with the baptism of females.
The thing that those calling for women to become deacons cannot abide, however, is that there seems to be no historical evidence that women entered the altar during the Liturgy, preached, or read the Gospel—that is, that they had a public, prominent role during public worship.
On another thread, Alex mentions the Pauline Epistle and the Apostolic Canons of Jerusalem in regard to priests. Perhaps there is additional information there.
Posted By: Chtec
Re: Deaconesses - 05/20/04 02:46 PM
There are a couple other books that have come out in recent years:
Women Deacons in the Orthodox Church
Kyriaki Karidoyanes FitzGerald
Published by Holy Cross Seminary Press
The Female Diaconate: An Historical Perspective
Matushka Ellen Gvosdev
Published by Light and Life Publishing Company
Also, the title of the book I mentioned in my previous post:
The Deaconess in the Armenian Church: A Brief Survey
Fr. Abel Oghlukian
Published by St. Nersess Seminary Press
I have not read this last book about the Armenian Church. I have read the other two.
Posted By: Chtec
Re: Deaconesses - 05/20/04 02:54 PM
Here is a link to the Byzantine "Order of the Ordination of a Woman Deacon," translated by Archimandrite Ephrem Lash. http://www.anastasis.org.uk/woman_deacon.htm
Posted By: Mike C.
Re: Deaconesses - 05/20/04 03:17 PM
Yes, we have them today. They are called nuns.
Being a liturgical illiterate (although at home I style myself a "Domestic Reader"
), it seems to me that this service is all about the ordination of a woman Deacon rather than Deaconness.
Father Ephrem even states that there is no distinction between the genders concerning the grace that is conferred (?)
Could you explain this? Does the Orthodox Church ordain female Deacons who are separate from the order of Deaconnesses?
It is fairly clear that, at some point and at some place, women (or a woman) were serving at the altar. That is why the Holy Ecumenical Council issued a canon against it. There is no indication if these women (or woman) were deaconesses or deacons, to use the very appropriate distinction mentioned above. However, it was clearly in contradiction to the Tradition and was thus banned.
It also seems clear that deaconesses were widely used and accepted in the early church. The evidence for a female deacon serving liturgically as a male deacon is far more scarce. In any case, the canon mentioned above prohibits the latter.
Female deaconesses would be a good thing, as no doubt they were in the early Church (we hear of no great contention regarding their practices). For sure, they reduced the causes of gossip and temptations to scandal [Oh, that priest visited the young widow at her home and stayed for 40 minutes!!!!]
But the times being as they are today, reestablishment of deaconesses would so clearly appear to be a bow to the feminist forces outside of and inside of the Church. It would have to be done in a way that clearly speaks to the contrary.
If it were desirable and necessary to renew the deaconesses, I would think that the bishops would:
(1) Educate extensively on what the historical role of deaconesses in the church was and how the renewed order would fill those or other needs.
(2) Clearly and publically reject feminist principles. Affirm that men and women are neither better nor worse than the other and are of equal value in God's eyes, but are also very different and ergo certainly not equal (meaning the same).
(3) Affirm ALL of the other canons regarding the roles, responsibilities, and special conditions placed specifically upon men and women, including those currently being abandonded by some bishops and theologians.
(4) Select the first deaconesses from amongst our holy monastics, that exemplary models would be available to those married deaconesses which might follow.
All of this would be done only by consent of the respective Holy Synod, and preferrably with the concurrence of neighboring synods or even an Ecumenical Synod.
Posted By: theophan
Re: Deaconesses - 05/21/04 12:55 AM
The question is what would a deaconess do? What duties would or should she be delegated?
There seems to be a conflict between what people who think the office should be restored and for what purpose they want it restored and what the Fathers restricted the office to be and do in the ancient canons you mention.
In western societies, women can be catechists, teachers, do home visits, etc. They don't need ordination to do that. Similarly many men do the same things as deacons do--except preach and read the Gospel at the Liturgy. I understand that the liturgical role of the deacon is much greater in the Byzantine and Oriental Orthodox and Catholic Churches. My point is that it may not mean anything to ordain deaconesses at this time if there is no public liturgical role that includes preaching--and that is what most of the people advocating the restored office want, as a first step to the priesthood. Most of these folks see the path taken by the Episcopal Church in the 1970s as the way they hope the pattern will be.
Those who are arguing for deaconesses are arguing for women to be equal to deacons, be ordained in the same manner, and to have the same functions. To quibble about history is something that they want to dismiss out of hand. Somewhere someone who wants to push the issue would have the deaconess doing deacon duties. There is, for example, a principle in the Latin Church that when something goes on for a period of time it then takes on itself the force of being permitted legally. That is how so many abuses came to be adopted as normal practice.
So it seems to me that the issue of what it is we want deaconesses to do needs to be addressed before anything else. You cannot have someone ordained and then left a sinecure.
In my view, deaconesses would not have a function in the making of the offering at the Divine Liturgy as the male deacons do, but could have some liturgical functions:
1. Assist at the baptisms of females. Baptism is a form of liturgy.
2. Visit the sick females, especially in their homes, bringing to them the eucharist for the forgiving of sins and for life everlasting. When necessary to have male clergy for such a visit, such as for Holy Unction, the female deaconess would accompany him.
3. Some types of counseling are best given by members of the same sex. These deaconesses, if able as counselors would be appropriate to do such.
In the same way that a good Presbytera/Matushka exercises a leadership role amongst the women of the parish, I would expect the deaconesses also to exercise a similar role.
Ordination or Tonsure marks a member of the community as having a special role for which they are to be held accountable, paid or unpaid. This does not mean that others are prohibited from all of these roles.
I serve as a tonsured Reader and for that they may and should call me to account. However, I occasionally preach or read the Gospel (in Albanian due to a specific need), but these duties are assigned temporarily or on a case by case basis, so to speak.
I know another tonsured Reader who is asked to read some Little Litanies in Slavonic due to a specific need. He also preaches sometimes or reads the Gospel in Russian.
When I'm not available to read the Gospel in Albanian, we have a respected woman, a teacher, read it. The same is true with the Russian and Georgian readings.
What the Ordination or Tonsure does is make such activities a permanent responsibility. The capability to perform (and perform the duty well) on a regular basis becomes the responsibility of the Ordained or Tonsured to maintain.
Also, the canons often spell out specific obligations for the clergy which are stricter than those for the non-ordained or non-tonsured laity. The penalties for violating these responsibilities usually involves being deposed, especially if an immediate correction is not made.
For violation of other responsibilities, spelled out in the canons and applicable to both laity and clergy, the laity may suffer excommunication while the clergy suffer deposition for the first offense and excommunication for any subsequent offense. (We are speaking of very serious offenses.)
By ordaining women as deaconesses (if the hierarchy at some point finds this to be necessary) they would be making sure that those so ordained would be held accountable for their responsibilities, would be trained and perform the duties well, and would be removable (deposable) if necessary.
Posted By: theophan
Re: Deaconesses - 05/22/04 12:37 PM
My brother, you posted
"In my view, deaconesses would not have a function in the making of the offering at the Divine Liturgy as the male deacons do,"
That's precisely one of the things that those in the West who are demanding the restoration of this order also demand. They make their demands based on the adopted language of equality and non-discrimination that follows so much of the secular political agenda.
Then you list
1. Assist at the baptisms of females. Baptism is a form of liturgy.
How would this work? Again, those advocating want this to be a vested person. So the question would inevitably arise as to why someone who looks like someone else (because of their vestments) cannot have the same functions everywhere, including the Liturgy.
2. Visit the sick females, especially in their homes, bringing to them the Eucharist for the forgiving of sins and for life everlasting.
In the Latin Church we already have had this type of thing going on for over 20 years. However, we do not segregate. I oversee probably two dozen people who visit the sick, homebound, and in nursing homes. Some are men and some are women. We go to meet those of the opposite sex, commune them each week, spend some time, and let them know that they are not forgotten or far from the community's mind.
3. Some types of counseling are best given by members of the same sex.
As for counseling, we leave that to the professionals. We have many professionally trained people in the parish who can be contacted by the pastor to do this type of thing.
"In the same way that a good Presbytera/Matushka exercises a leadership role amongst the women of the parish, I would expect the deaconesses also to exercise a similar role."
We have had many empowered women in my parish for over 35 years. Some have chaired the parish council. Some bring business, legal, and financial experience that others do not have. Others form and direct committees when they see new needs arise.
I also serve my parish in a variety of liturgical and support roles. Each year my pastor has renewed permission for me to continue from the bishop. At any time I can be removed, as can anyone else involved in ministry. It seems to be far easier to do so in this fashion and not to have the scandal of having to remove someone through a formal canonical process.
One of the reasons that our bishops give for not ordaining or tonsuring men to any minor office is that the Latin Church forbids women from going through the same procedures. Many have taken the feminist position that the equality mentioned above demands such treatment be the same.
So, I guess we're back to my original point. In an atmosphere where no one wants to hold anyone else accountable, how do we ensure against abuses? In the Latin Church in the United States, at present, many of the functions you mention are already being filled without ordination. The limited functions mentioned in the canons are regarded as an affront to women's dignity because they are so limited. And those pushing for the restoration of this order see it as a break in the wall that has kept women out of the clergy ranks for the last 2000 years. It might be good to remember that there are already places where women regularly preach and read the Gospel--without permission--and that the push is on through a restoration of the deaconess order to regularize it.
I see your point, as it comes strictly from a man committed to Tradition as it has been lived in the Byzantine Church. On the other hand, I am looking at this through the eyes of one who has studied both worlds and lived in both. The Latin experience looks at such a move as something that would have to be made uniform across the whole world to avoid chaos and scandal. We don't have the equivalent of tonsure for minor orders. We call it ordination for whatever order we raise a man to, whether minor or major. We've also got a language and perception problem in the English-speaking world. We have had a long period when it has become custom to drop feminine endings for words that denote the same function: actor/actress, deacon/deaconess, etc. No one would long be able to make the distinction between what one was able to do and the other not. So at this stage of the game, I really believe that this would cause more confusion and harm than good.
P.S.: My daughter was just treated to a lecture at her Catholic university by a nun who wants to be a priest. And this long-term roadmap is exactly the way she thinks this will be accomplished: first get the door open to a vested deaconess serving at the altar and then when people are used to it start beating the drums again for a move up one more notch. This nun allegedly held up the example of the Episcopal Church in the 1970s that I mentioned above as the road they hope the whole Church will take. I believe that this should be decided by the undivided Church and made uniform across the world since we now live in a smaller world than the one that put across our ancient canons.
See more here
Dear Bob (Theophan),
You raise many good points, observations shared by many conservatives like myself.
I never envisioned the ordained/selected Deaconness as vested for the offeratory role. Just this Sunday, we sort of nicely expelled a young altar boy from the sanctuary as he was trying to serve half-way through, but wasn't vested at all.
In the baptisms, the female deaconnesses descended into the water with the newly-illumined.
I think that I'm just trying to outline the appropriate parameters within which the role of the Deaconness might be properly restored (if the hierarchs see a need for same).
With the current tensions created by feminist forces, as you pointed out, I'm not expecting any changes soon.
Posted By: theophan
Re: Deaconesses - 05/24/04 08:17 PM
I believe that we two are on the same page. Perhaps my points haven't been as well articulated as I wished.
I understand that the deaconess descended into the font with the adult women. But my point is two-fold: how many adult women are baptized in the Byzantine Catholic or Orthodox Churches in a given year; and would you want someone ordained to have the occasional baptism? Could you hear the secular media if someone ordained decided to go to Dan Rather and do a story on discrimination against women?
I think that for the order to be restored we have to decide what it is we are restoring and what it is we want to restore it for.
When I was an undergraduate, a colleague who had been raised Baptist asked to be received into the Orthodox Church. He had never been baptized. They closed the church Sunday afternoon to everyone except the priest, his matushka, the other sponsor, and this candidate. He was baptized in his underwear--his story. He stood up in the large copper font that the church had and had the water poured over him because the church had no font big enough for an adult. So if a woman had to be baptized, would it be any different? There wasn't enough room for another person in that font with this guy.
I stress that this and a few small other duties would soon wear thin for a woman who had an education and was raised in a western culture where such seemingly minor duties would be quickly viewed as both demeaning and discriminatory.
So beyond the woman herself one has to wonder about the potential damage to the Church Herself. Would this actually hurt the overall evangelization effort in a culture that so badly needs Christ and His Message?
Beyond that, why can the sponsor not go down into the font with the candidate if that is necessary?
I have read that the role of deaconess never really caught on in the Western Church. I suspect that it may have been the Church's reaction in the East to cultures that still today see women as defiling a man when he is at prayer or worship. Look no further than the Arab reaction to the female American soldiers being near naked Iraqi men.
I guess I'm looking at the "why" behind the action and the office and trying to link it to the culture in which it was born and disappeared as a point of comparison to our culture which takes such a radically different approach to the way men and women relate.
Posted By: OrthoMan
Re: Deaconesses - 10/14/04 06:24 PM
Apostolic Constitution compiled c. 390:
7.431 - Ordain also a deaconess who is faithful and holy for the ministrations towards women for sometimes the bishop cannot send a deacon (who is a man) to the women, on account of unbelievers. You should therefore send a woman, a deaconess, on account of the imaginations of the bad. For we stand in need of a woman, a deaconess, for many necessities. For example, in the baptism of women, the deacon will anoint only their forhead with the holy oil. And after him, the deaconess will anoint them. For there is no necessity that a woman should be seen by the men.
7.494 - A deaconess does not bless, nor does she perform anything belonging to the office of presbyters or deacons. Rather, she is only to keep the doors and to minister to the presbyters in the baptising of women, for the saake of decency.
7.410 - Let not any woman addresss herself to the deacon or bishop without the deaconess.
7.457 - Let the deaconess be a pure virgin. Or, at the minimum, let her be a widow who has been married only once and who is faithful and well esteemed.