The St. Phoebe Center for the Deaconess advocates for the reinstitution of the ordained order of deaconesses for the benefit of the Orthodox Church today. We also appreciate that this is a significant issue that prompts a range of opinions, and we consider it to be part of our work to promote empirically grounded conversation.
Unfortunately, distortions and misrepresentations of the historical record, as well as fallacies about the interest in renewing the female diaconate, have been propagated by some of those opposed to deaconesses. Furthermore, when making their case, some detractors misunderstand and misrepresent the ecclesiology, history, and theology of the Church.
Correction of these errors is necessary for honest dialogue. By no means exhaustive, this article by the St. Phoebe Center Board provides solid historical and theological information about the diaconate by theme. We undertake this project with humility, knowing that while we offer up our own efforts, the Holy Spirit is also at work. Continue Reading...
The reinstitution of the ordained female diaconate in the Orthodox Church today would result in a much-needed and transformative outpouring of women’s gifts into the Church and into the world.
In order to appreciate the positive potential of the female diaconate, we must understand the absolute parity of women and men in the eyes of the Orthodox Church. The Church has always understood men and women to be equally created in the image and likeness of God, even if its broader cultural surrounding was highly patriarchal. As such, statements like this from Saint Basil were nothing short of radical: “The natures are alike of equal honor, the virtues are equal, the struggle equal, the judgment alike” (On the Human Condition). This thinking is representative of early Church Fathers, including Gregory of Nazianzus and Clement of Alexandria, and amounts to a rejection of any hierarchical understanding of the relationship between men and women in the Roman world. Indeed, this understanding of women and men as equal in their creation by God is one of Christianity’s great gifts to the world. Continue Reading...
It is a very happy time for many Orthodox Christians across the globe since the order of the female sub-diaconate was re-installed in Alexandria, Egypt by Patriarch Theodore of the Greek Orthodox Church of all of Africa this past February 2017, where he ordained five women to the female diaconate (although without laying on of hands, that is cheirothesia not cheirotonia). Although overly due, this historic event in our modern day gives many hope that the Church at large is heeding the pastoral needs of its people. Female deacons existed in the Orthodox Church, and has been kept in some of the Oriental Orthodox Churches, as Dr. Petros Vassiliadis’ mentions regarding the revival of the female diaconate this past November.
The role of women in the Church is, of course, broader than an ordained female diaconate. Indeed, men and women across the Christian world have thought more seriously about the role of women in the church in recent decades. They understand the pastoral benefit conferred to the entire community when women are more integral in the life of the Church.
Contrary to what many may assume, active roles for women is the Church’s Tradition. Continue Reading...
Opponents of women deacons in the Orthodox Church advance two principal arguments: the “natural and economical order of male and female”; and the conviction that women deacons will lead inexorably to a series of other unwanted changes in Orthodoxy.
Advocates against the ordination of women to liturgical or even non-liturgical functions argue that there is a natural order of male and female, by which God intended that women be subordinate to men. This natural order theory calls into question a fundamental principle of patristic anthropology, the ontological equality of men and women. This principle is expressed very forcefully in Discourse 37 (6-7) of St. Gregory of Nazianzus, in the context a discussion on chastity and adultery. Gregory writes notably:
The wife who takes wicked counsel against her husband’s bed commits adultery, and thence flow the bitter consequences of the laws, but on the contrary the man who takes a prostitute against his wife suffers no sanction. I do not accept this legislation; I do not approve this custom. It is men who laid down these laws, and this is why this legislation is directed against women. […] God does not act thusly, but he says: “Honor your father and your mother” […] Notice the equality of the legislation: one and the same creator of man and woman; one dust for both; one image; one law; one death, one resurrection. […] Christ saves both through his suffering. Did Christ become flesh for the sake of the man? He did this also for the sake of the woman. He died for the man? The woman is also saved by his death.
The Center of Ecumenical, Missiological and Environmental Studies “Metropolitan Panteleimon Papageorgiou” (CEMES) has recently published the Proceedings of its international conference on “Deaconesses, the Ordination of Women and Orthodox Theology”, both its English version and the Greek version.
The book is dedicated to the Patriarch of Alexandria, for his decision to revive the order of Deaconesses, and it was presented to him in the margin of this year’s conference of Orthodox spirituality in Bose Monastery, Italy. The Patriarch expressed his thanks and requested the Orthodox theologians to continue to support his mission.
In the meantime, a “Response to Monastic Objections by a Deacon of the Orthodox Church” was circulated, after its author read a letter from an Orthodox monastery that objects to the decision of the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Alexandria to revive the order of deaconesses a year ago. The letter ended as follows: “In my humble opinion, as a deacon of over three decades, the setting and situation experienced in the missionary Church of Alexandria is arguably the most appropriate and providential context for instituting women readers and restoring women deacons. This would not necessarily create a new tradition or institution (θεσμός) in the Church, as critics maintain. It would actually serve as the application of hierarchal discernment and dispensation in specific missionary circumstances where the Church faces pressing challenges and unconventional needs. And that is surely the most justifiable and just response to the Christian Gospel”. There were also rumors that some missionary agencies, probably related to that monastic community, have even threated to stop supporting the African missions!
As a result, nine of the most prominent Orthodox liturgists (Emeritus Professor Evangelos Theodorou, of the Theological School of the University of Athens, Alkiviadis Calivas, Emeritus Professor of the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, Paul Meyendorff, Emeritus Professor of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, George Filias, Professor of the Theological School of the University of Athens, Panagiotis Skaltsis, Professor of Theological School of the University of Thessaloniki, Stelyios S. Muksuris, Professor of the Byzantine Catholic Seminary, Nicholas Denysenko, Jochum Professor and Chair of Valparaiso University, Phillip Zymaris, Professor of the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, and John Klentos, Professor of Graduate Theological Union), issued the following statement, Continue Reading...