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Greek Orthodox restore female diaconate - 'Grant Her Your Spirit'

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  • Fr. John-Brian
    From: emrys@globe.net.nz [mailto:emrys@globe.net.nz] Sent: Wednesday, February 02, 2005 9:23 PM To: OrthodoxNews-owner@yahoogroups.com Grant Her Your Spirit
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      From: emrys@... [mailto:emrys@...]
      Sent: Wednesday, February 02, 2005 9:23 PM
      To: OrthodoxNews-owner@yahoogroups.com



      'Grant Her Your Spirit'

      America (americamagazine.org), Vol. 192 No. 4, February 7, 2005

      By Phyllis Zagano

      The Holy Synod of the Church of Greece voted in Athens on Oct. 8, 2004, to
      restore ordination of women to the diaconate. All the members of the Holy
      Synod-125 metropolitans and bishops and Archbishop Christodoulos, the head
      of the church of Greece-had considered the topic. The decision does not
      directly affect the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, which is an
      eparchy of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. The Greek
      ecclesiastical provinces of the Ecumenical Patriarchate received their
      independence from Constantinople in 1850 and were proclaimed the
      Autocephalous Church of Greece.

      While women deacons had virtually disappeared by the ninth century,
      discussion of the restoration of women in the diaconate in Orthodoxy began
      in the latter half of the 20th century. Two books on the topic by Evangelos
      Theodorou, Heroines of Love: Deaconesses Through the Ages (1949) and The
      "Ordination" or "Appointment" of Deaconesses (1954), documented the
      sacramental ordination of women in the early church. His work was
      complemented in the Catholic Church by an article published by Cipriano
      Vagaggini, a Camaldolese monk, in Orientalia Christiana Periodica in 1974.
      The most significant scholarship on the topic agrees that women were
      sacramentally ordained to the diaconate, inside the iconostasis at the
      altar, by bishops in the early church. Women deacons received the diaconal
      stole and Communion at their ordinations, which shared the same Pentecostal
      quality as the ordination of a bishop, priest or male deacon.

      Despite the decline of the order of deaconesses in the early Middle Ages,
      Orthodoxy never prohibited it. In 1907 a Russian Orthodox Church commission
      reported the presence of deaconesses in every Georgian parish; the popular
      20th-century Orthodox saint Nektarios (1846-1920) ordained two women as
      deacons in 1911; and up to the 1950's a few Greek Orthodox nuns became
      monastic deaconesses. In 1986 Christodoulos, then metropolitan of Demetrias
      and now archbishop of Athens and all of Greece, ordained a woman deacon
      according to the "ritual of St. Nektarios"-the ancient Byzantine text St.
      Nektarios used.

      Multiple inter-Orthodox conferences called for the restoration of the order,
      including the Interorthodox Symposium at Rhodes, Greece, in 1988, which
      plainly stated, "The apostolic order of deaconess should be revived." The
      symposium noted that "the revival of this ancient order should be envisaged
      on the basis of the ancient prototypes testified to in many sources and with
      the prayers found in the Apostolic Constitutions and the ancient Byzantine
      liturgical books."

      At the Holy Synod meeting in Athens in 2004, Metropolitan Chrysostom of
      Chalkidos initiated discussion on the subject of the role of women in the
      Church of Greece and the rejuvenation of the order of female deacons. In the
      ensuing discussion, some older bishops apparently disagreed with the
      complete restoration of the order. Anthimos, bishop of Thessaloniki, later
      remarked to the Kathimerini English Daily, "As far as I know, the induction
      of women into the police and the army was a failure, and we want to return
      to this old matter?"

      While the social-service aspect of the female diaconate is well known, the
      Holy Synod decided that women could be promoted to the diaconate only in
      remote monasteries and at the discretion of individual bishops. The limiting
      decision to restore only the monastic female diaconate did not please some
      synod members. The Athens News Agency reported that Chrysostomos, bishop of
      Peristeri, said, "The role of female deacons must be in society and not in
      the monasteries." Other members of the Holy Synod agreed and stressed that
      the role of women deacons should be social-for example, the care of the
      sick.

      The vote of the Holy Synod to restore ordination of women to the diaconate
      under limited circumstances may be the most progressive idea the Orthodox
      Church can bring to the world. The document only gives bishops the option,
      if they wish, to ordain senior nuns in monasteries of their eparchies.
      Bishops who choose to promote women to the diaconate will use the ancient
      Byzantine liturgy that performs the same cheirotonia -- laying on of
      hands -- for deaconesses as in each major order: bishop, priest and deacon.
      Even so, some (mostly Western) scholars have argued that the historical
      ordination of women deacons was not a cheirotonia, or ordination to major
      orders, but a cheirothesia, a blessing that signifies installation to a
      minor order. The confusion is understandable, since the two terms were
      sometimes used interchangeably, but other scholars are equally convinced
      that women were ordained to the major order of the diaconate. The proof will
      be in the liturgy the bishops actually use. At present there is only one
      liturgy and one tradition by which to create a woman deacon in the Byzantine
      rite, and it is demonstrably a ritual of ordination for the "servant who is
      to be ordained to the office of a deacon."

      Even the document on the diaconate issued by the Vatican's International
      Theological Commission in 2002 admits that "Canon 15 of the Council of
      Chalcedon (451) seems to confirm the fact that deaconesses really were
      'ordained' by the imposition of hands (cheirotonia)." Despite the pejorative
      use of quotation marks here and elsewhere in the document when historical
      ordinations of women deacons are mentioned, this Vatican commission seems
      unwilling to deny the history to which the Church of Greece has now newly
      returned. Further, the Vatican document points out that the practice of
      ordaining women deacons according to the Byzantine liturgy lasted at least
      into the eighth century. It does not review Orthodox practice after 1054.

      The rejuvenation of the order of deaconess in the Church of Greece is
      expected to begin during the winter of 2004-5. The contemporary ordination
      (cheirotonia) of women provides even more evidence and support for the
      restoration of the female diaconate in the Catholic Church, which has
      acknowledged the validity of Orthodox sacraments and orders. Despite the
      distinction in Canon 1024-"A baptized male alone receives sacred ordination
      validly"-one can presume the possibility of a derogation from the law, as
      suggested by the Canon Law Society of America in 1995, to allow for diaconal
      ordination of women. (The history of Canon 1024 is clearly one of attempts
      to restrict women from priesthood, not from the diaconate.)

      In fact, the Catholic Church has already indirectly acknowledged valid
      ordinations of women by the Armenian Apostolic Church, one of the churches
      of the East that ordains women deacons. There are two recent declarations of
      unity-agreements of mutual recognition of the validity of sacraments and of
      orders-between Rome and the Armenian Church, one signed by Paul VI and
      Catholicos Vasken I in 1970, another between John Paul II and Catholicos
      Karekin I in 1996.

      These agreements are significant, for the Armenian Apostolic Church has
      retained the female diaconate into modern times. The Armenian Catholicossate
      of Cilicia has at least four ordained women. One, Sister Hrip'sime, who
      lives in Istanbul, is listed in the official church calendar published by
      the Armenian Patriarchate of Turkey as follows: "Mother Hrip'sime
      Proto-deacon Sasunian, born in Soghukoluk, Antioch, in 1928; became a nun in
      1953; Proto-deacon in 1984; Mother Superior in 1998. Member of the Kalfayian
      Order." Mother Hrip'sime has worked to restore the female diaconate as an
      active social ministry, and for many years was the general director of Bird'
      s Nest, a combined orphanage, school and social service center near Beiruit,
      Lebanon. Her diaconate, and that of the three other women deacons, is far
      from monastic.

      The future Catholic response to the documented past and the changing present
      promises to be interesting. The tone of the International Theological
      Commission document reveals an attempt to rule out women deacons, but the
      question is left remarkably open: "It pertains to the ministry of
      discernment which the Lord established in his church to pronounce
      authoritatively on this question."

      It is becoming increasingly clear that despite the Catholic Church's
      unwillingness to say yes to the restoration of the female diaconate
      as an ordained ministry of the Catholic Church, it cannot say no.

      Prayer for the Ordination of a Woman Deacon

      O Eternal God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Creator of man and
      of woman, who replenished with the Spirit Miriam, and Deborah,
      and Anna, and Huldah; who did not disdain that your only-begotten Son should
      be born of a woman; who also in the tabernacle of the testimony, and in the
      temple, did ordain women to be keepers of your holy gates-look down now upon
      this your servant who is to be ordained to the office of a deaconess, and
      grant her your Holy Spirit, that she may worthily discharge the work which
      is committed to her to your glory, and the praise of your Christ, with whom
      glory and adoration be to you and the
      Holy Spirit for ever. Amen."

      -Apostolic Constitutions, No. 8 (late fourth century)


      Phyllis Zagano is adjunct associate professor of philosophy and religious
      studies at Hofstra University, Hempstead, N.Y., and author
      of Holy Saturday: An Argument for the Restoration of the Female Diaconate in
      the Catholic Church (Crossroad, 2000).

      Copyright © 2005 by America Press, Inc. All Rights Reserved. For information
      about America, go to www.americamagazine.org. To
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