March is Women’s History Month, when we particularly witness women’s vital roles in our past, including in the Orthodox Church. These stories deserve our attention and appreciation, but let’s not just look to the past, let’s also look to the future. Let’s make history.
Let’s make history by ordaining women as deaconesses in the Orthodox Church once again.
The conversation around deaconesses in the Orthodox Church over the last half century has been about what and why, and—to some degree—when. It’s time to move to the question of how.
The Church ordained women as deaconesses for over half of its history and never abolished the order which faded over time for many reasons. Roles of deaconesses varied based on place and era and included diakonia, service, in the form of ministering to other women, taking the Eucharist to women at home, liturgical service, helping with baptism, catechesis, and philanthropy. Deaconesses are an indisputable and rich part of our history.
I arrived in Volos a day early so my family could get settled into our Airbnb and immediately felt a certain hesitation about the days ahead. As a priest of the Orthodox Church in America pastoring and preaching in a parochial, domesticated way for 30+ years, I am used to depending on easily accessible basic scholarship to do my job. But the prospect of a four-day, 330-speaker academic gathering left me ambivalent about the coming flood of arcana, doubtful about my ability to absorb even a part of it, and skeptical about its relevance to my own church habitat.
National and diocesan church gatherings have, in my experience, been a mixture of dreary-but-necessary institutional housekeeping mixed with occasional “calls to the ramparts” to defend against, or to attack, perceived antagonists to our baptized identity. This energizes local churches, even as I think it patronizes the shrewdness of liturgy and scripture. But as the charming downtown of the small port city filled up with arriving hierarchs and their fluttering entourages, and with the robes and lanyards of lay and clergy delegates bringing an intangible energy and ethos to the waterfront, I suddenly had the sense of a church arriving for work.
Early on March 9th, the Georgian population learned that the Georgian Dream party announced the withdrawal of the draft on transparency of foreign influence. It was on March 7th that Parliament of Georgia, with a majority from the Georgian Dream party, passed the first reading of the controversial law on “foreign agents” (any organization receiving funding from abroad!). The law would limit freedom of the press and of non-governmental organizations, destabilize civil society by limiting contacts with the Western partners, and block potential for the country’s Euro-Atlantic expansion, and most importantly, safeguard the ruling party’s chance of winning elections in 2024.
Two days of protests followed, with thousands of people gathering in front of the Parliament, where police and special forces were mobilized against the demonstrators. First-day clashes ended with some people being injured and many detained; most of the protesters suffered from tear gas or the strong stream of a water cannon. Despite that, the next day more people went out, people of all ages, but the young dominated the scene. Thousands of angry citizens protested against the potential change to Euro-Atlantic choice of the nation.
Today, among those who are in opposition to the Georgian Dream, there is disagreement on the question, “How did we get here?”
On February 16, the second face-to-face meeting of initiative groups of clergy and laity of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) and the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) was held in Sophia National Sanctuary Complex in Kyiv. Its final appeal we published on Public Orthodox earlier. Now we follow up with the impressions and comments of one of the participants from the UOC.
For the first time, the meeting began with a moleben, a common prayer in the church. We prayed for the unity of Orthodoxy in Ukraine, for Ukraine and its defenders, for victory, and for all who suffer the sorrow and pain of war. Before the official part started, we had time to socialize and get acquainted. It was the first time we were joined by authorized representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC): officers of the Department for External Church Relations and the Kyiv Theological Academy. At the beginning of the roundtable, each participant (about 30 people, the largest part being the UOC group) briefly outlined his expectations. Speeches were delivered by two representatives of the church “initiative groups” (hereafter an “IG”) and the head of the State Service of Ukraine for Ethnic and Religious Affairs (DESS), Victor Yelensky. All three addresses are published. Elena Bogdan, former director of the DESS, also participated in the meeting as a co-organizer and moderator of the first meeting. It was the initiative of the IGs to invite the DESS to join our discussions.
The following common points were expressed in the addresses by the representatives of the Churches:
A call to refrain from condemning each other and from hostile rhetoric;
The goal of the dialogue should be unification, a unifying Council;
Concrete steps leading to this goal are necessary;
The goal of the meeting is to appeal to both Churches to begin an official dialogue.