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#419971 04/10/20 03:24 PM
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Christ is in our midst!!

Somewhere I was linked to an article about women being ordained as deaconesses in the early Church. The author, an Orthodox priest or theologian, wrote that the order was reserved to celibate women of the age of 40 or older, whether widows or never married. He also stated some other historical facts surrounding this practice.

Does anyone know where I can find that article?

Bob

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Bob,

I don't know the article but I find the topic interesting. I have read up on the use of deaconesses in the past. From the limited reading I have done on the subject it seemed to me that their use was central to the early Churches Baptism practices. Also, they played a role in the Monastic communities. Since the Church has "Evolved" since those early practices I wonder the need for their ministry? Personally, I have no objection to them being re-instated if it will not cause scandal.

Thoughts?
Ray

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Ray:

Christ is Risen!!

The article I was referring to stated that deaconesses were never a part of the Western Church's practice. It also stated that they were not universally used in the Eastern Churches. The author went on to state that the criteria included that a woman had to be at least 40 years old and a widow or celibate. He mentioned the practice of being present at the Baptism of a woman or female child and of doing catechetical work.

It seems that the debate is whether a deaconess was considered "ordained" or merely "blessed." Some sources say that a deaconess was of the same equivalence as a subdeacon but not vested at the Divine Liturgy.

Being that I have been told that a woman may never enter the altar area in the Eastern Churches, I wonder how advancing this re-introduction of that order would fly with women today. Lay people do many things today that were reserved to different clerical ranks in those early centuries so I wonder what the push is for the re-introduction of this order. (In my own profession, for example, laymen and laywomen act as funeral directors whereas we are told that early Christian communities had people set aside to handle this function.)

OTOH, those Western communities that began with the order of deaconess have ended with women priests and bishops. They have also had a death spiral in terms of membership.

Bob

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Christ is Risen!

Given that I belong to an Oriental Church (Syriac Maronite Church of Antioch), which had deaconesses, but whose use declined over time, as their function was no longer needed. Here are some insight from our tradition:

Cultural Usage of the Word:
-The word deaconess can refer to the wife of a deacon, who usually goes with him, especially when visiting a woman. Just like the wife of a priest is called a priestess, but she is not a priest.

Altar Usage:
-The deaconess is the name of the servicing vessel, which is used to mix wine with water, before pouring it into the chalice; and for cleaning the finger tips of the priest. This vessel is no longer used.

Church Canons:
Deaconess are women that remain chaste, and that are virgins or widows. In certain cases, they are blessed by their bishop, and they dedicate themselves to the service of the Church:

1. Canons:
--Chapter 17, of the 6th book of the Apostolic Constitutions, says: that a deaconess be chosen from among the pure virgins, and if she is not a virgin, that at the least she be a widow of only one man, faithful to the Faith, and of good manners.
-- Saint Epiphanius says: that the deaconesses be married only once, and have kept their chastity after a single marriage, or are virgins.
--The Apostles (1 Tm 5:9): That a widow not be chosen, unless she is at least 60 years old, and that she has had only one husband.
--Council of Chalcedon (can. 15): That a deaconess not be dedicated before her 40th year, and has to be of good conduct. But if she perjures herself, and rejects the grace of God, by marrying after having received the blessing and exercising her functions, then she shall be excommunicated, along with her mate.

2. The functions of deaconesses consists of:
--Handling the proper decorum of women at church; Keeping the doors, by which the women enter the church, and pointing out their place.
--Undressing girls, when they are being baptised. Taking them out of the baptismal font. Clothing them after baptism.
--Anointing the women with the oil of Baptism, and with chrism at Extreme Unction. They wash them after death, and bury them.
--Teaching peasants and simple women, the principles of the Faith, and the rite of Baptism.
--The deaconesses assist as witnesses, when a woman has a discussion with a bishop or a priest or a deacon, in cases of necessity.
--If there's doubt that a girl is still a virgin, the deaconess examines her and judges if it is true or false.
--That the deaconess takes care of female religious in the convents, and of the sacred objects in them.

3. The function of deaconesses which consists of anointing women with the oil of Baptism, or with the chrism of Extreme Unction, was completely abrogated.
-They are absolutely forbidden from approaching the Altar, and from giving Holy Communion to women, even when there is no priest nor deacon.

4. If a bishop wants to dedicate a deaconess, exception being of superiors of convents or in case of urgent necessity, he must first be assured of their chaste life and their science, and obtain about them a good witness conforming to the canons, because a deaconess has to know how to properly direct women in the Church, to teach ignorant women the principles of the Faith, the rules of Baptism, of confession, and of communion.


In our Church, we no longer submerge those being baptised, nor anoint their entire body during Baptism. As for preparing the dead, families took over that responsibility. And in the last 15 years, it has become popular to use a funeral home to prepare the body. Therefore, the need for their functions disappeared centuries ago.


Sincerely in Christ,
keefa

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Christ is Risen!!

keefa:

Welcome to the forum--I see that you are a relatively new member.

That said, thank you for the information you have provided. While it is not the article I was trying to find, it contains all the same information that the author of that now-lost article had referenced.

I will copy this out and save it.

Again, welcome and thank you.

Bob
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Thank you brother, and to all who make this forum possible.

I'm glad you found it useful.

God Bless!


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