A Call for the Rejuvenation of the Ministry of the Ordained Deaconess

Editor’s note: St. Catherine’s Vision issued the followed press release on November 25, 2014.

A Call for the Rejuvenation of the Ministry of the Ordained Deaconess” has been published by St. Catherine’s Vision, an international, Pan-Orthodox fellowship of Orthodox women theologians and other lay servant-leaders.

The document is addressed to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the Secretariat of the Great and Holy Council. It is being widely distributed for prayerful reflection by hierarchs, clergy and laity.

“A Call for the Rejuvenation of the Ministry of the Ordained Deaconess” affirms that the ministry of ordained deaconesses is part of the Church’s tradition. The rejuvenation of the order can be of great benefit in many places within the Church today as it has been through history. This apostolic ministry may become a witness in those many places that thirst for the outreach of Christ, the “One Who Serves” (Luke 22:27).

“A Call for the Rejuvenation of the Ministry of the Ordained Deaconess” reaffirms the understanding of the order that was unanimously stated at the historic Pan-Orthodox Conference at Rhodes, Greece in 1988.

The Rhodes Statement says: “The apostolic order of the deaconess should be revived. It was never altogether abandoned in the Orthodox Church though it has tended to fall into disuse . . . The revival of this ancient order . . . would represent a positive response to many of the needs and demands of the contemporary world”.

The “Call” recognizes that recent discussions regarding the ministry of deaconesses can be traced across the Orthodox world at least to the early 1800s. Within this context, St. Nektarios ordained two deaconesses in the year 1911.

More recently, the proposal for the restoration of the order of the deaconess has been led by emeritus Professor Evangelos Theodorou of the University of Athens. Since the 1940s, much of his scholarly writing has been devoted to the study of the Byzantine ordination rite of the deaconess and her ministry. He has led the cause for the restoration of the order of the Deaconess.

Professor Theodorou and other Orthodox theologians have shown that the historical evidence for the order of the deaconess reaches back to the apostolic period where St. Paul speaks of St. Phoebe, the deacon (Rom. 16:12). Throughout the Byzantine period, there are extensive examples of ordained deaconess who contributed greatly to the life of the church. Among these are: St. Olympias, St. Nonna, St Gorgonia, St. Theosevia, and St. Irene of Chrysovalantou.

“A Call for the Rejuvenation of the Ministry of the Ordained Deaconess” says that today this ministry  would benefit the life of the Church. The deaconess, in the ever-expanding needs of the local church, under the direction of the bishop, would assist in areas such as pastoral care, education, mission, and philanthropy. She would also expand the outreach of the church particularly through evangelism and witness as well as care for the sick, destitute and unchurched, bearing further witness to the values of the Gospel in the wider society.

The “Call” also recognizes that the ministry of women should be expressive of the teaching of Christ expressed in Scripture and Tradition. It cannot be influenced by other false and demeaning views of women. Here, the text cites the Rhodes Conference which says: “The Church must re-examine potential data, views and actions, which do not agree with her unshakable theological and ecclesiological principles, but have intruded from outside and, being in fact perpetuated, may be interpreted as demeaning toward women.”

In presenting their “Call”, the leaders of St. Catherine’s Vision say: “It is our hope that this call for the rejuvenation of the ministry of female deacons, or deaconesses, will prayerfully and sincerely be considered by our hierarchs, who serve as our Fathers in the Lord, prior to convening for the 2016 Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church. This document also is being distributed throughout the entire Church for edification, consultation and prayer.  The text bears witness to the many examples of holy women throughout Church history who have been filled with “the grace of the diaconate” and who inspired St. John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople, to declare, “this order is also in the highest degree necessary, useful and proper in the Church”.

Saint Catherine’s Vision (SCV) is an international, Pan-Orthodox fellowship of women theologians and other lay servant-leaders addressing contemporary concerns from an Orthodox Christian perspective. Founded with hierarchical blessing in 2001, SCV is an endorsed organization of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America.  St. Catherine’s Vision has produced two books on women saints, Encountering Women of Faith, Volume I and Encountering Women of Faith, Volume II. Most recently, SCV sponsored a major Conference on Divine Compassion and Women of the Church: Theological Perspectives. Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia was the keynote speaker.

The entire text of “A Call for the Rejuvenation of the Ministry of the Ordained Deaconess” can be found at www.saintcatherinesvision.org or directly downloaded as a PDF here.

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