Source: St. Phoebe Center for the Deaconess
Our September 1 Zoom event ran overtime which meant we were not able to answer all of the excellent questions posed by participants. We are pleased to be able to answer those questions here.
Reasons Against Deaconesses
Q: What are the reasons against having women Deacons in the Church? To me it’s a Win-Win situation!
A: We agree that women deacons are win-win! We addressed common concerns or objections in a recent article: “Toward a Reasoned and Respectful Conversation about Deaconesses,” Public Orthodoxy, April 2018.
Possibilities for the St. Phoebe Network
Q: When I joined the St. Phoebe network I thought it was going to be a social type network. How can we St. Phoebe networkers find each other and support each other?
A: Thank you for this suggestion. We are developing the St. Phoebe Network over time, as we have the capacity to do so, and we welcome suggestions like this. One way to cultivate the local community around the issue of deaconesses would be to organize a group with the help of our study guides. We’d also love to hear more from you. Would it be desirable to, for example, hold regional webinars that are more social than structured?
Deaconesses in Serbia
Q: I’ve heard that the Serbian church came into being (as Orthodox) after the female diaconate was already obsolete so they’re not really aware of it as a part of the church’s history. Do we know of or have any resources for gathering support for the revival of the female diaconate in the Serbian Orthodox church?
A: We don’t know the answer to this question, but SPC is in the process of engaging with international church leaders and scholars so we hope to soon have a better sense of the status of revival around the world.
Places Ready for Deaconesses?
Q: Are there some countries that are more “primed” for this conversation than others??
Q: Well, as we all know, the structure of the Orthodox world is complicated, with its local, autocephalous churches. In the past, there have been times when the Church of Greece made moves towards deaconesses. Deaconesses were recently consecrated in Africa, in the Church of Alexandria, which surprised many people. The Ecumenical Patriarchate has recently endorsed deaconesses in its document “For the Life of the World: Toward a Social Ethos of the Orthodox Church” (see §29 and 82). In some ways, American jurisdictions of the Orthodox Church might be in the best position to move towards deaconesses, but the Holy Spirit is at work and we don’t know for certain.
How was the Female Diaconate Terminated?
Q: Is there data on who disenfranchised us of this office and when?
There was never an official end to deaconesses; no official ban, no formal disenfranchisement; the order faded away over time probably for a combination of reasons. Historians have suggested several possible reasons, including an increase in concern with female “purity” which lead some to argue that women were not eligible to be ordained; the possible influence of restrictive roles for women in Islam during the Ottoman Empire; and the changing of ways of worship to a more monastic way of liturgy which did not include deaconesses. See Valerie Karras’s article “Female Deacons in the Byzantine Church.”
Chaplains and the Diaconate
Q: The church has blessed/ recognized Orthodox women chaplains in hospitals and hospitals, can the discussion move on the deacons from this example; our efforts to promote formal roles for women.
A: St. Phoebe Centers believes that it would build up the body of Christ to acknowledge the work of women in all sorts of ministerial capacities (including chaplaincy) and to tonsure women into the “minor” orders of sub-deacon, reader, and chanter. However, we also acknowledge that not all women working in diaconal ministry may feel called to be deaconesses, and we also acknowledge that these roles for women are not a substitute for ordination of deaconesses.
Corresponding with Bishops and the Assembly of Bishops
Q: I have been a priest for a half century and am really pleased to know that there is an organization of folks across the spectrum interested in making this a reality. For many years, I was aware of the voices of those like Presbytera FitzGerald addressing this issue, but to know the circle of concern has expanded is a real blessing. It would be a good idea for the faithful to write to the chairman of the Assembly of Bishops, and then write to their own bishops with this appeal. The AOB meets and the bishops to talk to each about what they are hearing from their faithful.
A: Thank you for the encouragement and suggestions. We regularly consider how best to communicate with our hierarchs—be it through the Assembly of Bishops, synods, or with individual bishops. We also are increasing our presence at church events—councils, conferences, etc. We also hope that events such as this one will offer information and inspiration for anyone who wishes to talk to their hierarchs about the need for deaconesses today.