Update: Deaconesses in Alexandria

The web site of the Patriarchate of Romania has posted a news article reporting the consecration of five deaconesses for missionary ministry in preparing candidates for Baptism, and catechesis. Patriarch Theodoros II performed the consecration of the deaconesses on February 17.

The news report does not describe the details of the rite of ordination (or consecration). Readers might consult Paul Bradshaw’s Ordination Rites of the Ancient Churches of East and West for historical patterns, keeping in mind that the Church of Alexandria may have its own liturgical variant distinct from the Byzantine.

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15 comments

  1. Wow, the pictures are great too!
    With all the caution and outright denials we heard at the time this decision was made, it certainly was not long before it was put into practice. I think they already knew they had a plan, and this was the green light.
    I wonder what the basins and pitchers are all about.

  2. I think it is clear from the photo gallery that they are not, by any means, “female deacons”. The Patriarch is in one photograph shown laying his hands on them but they are at the throne far outside the altar. They are not even vested as deacons.

    1. @Carlos Antonio Palad:
      Here’s a more immediate source http://www.patriarchateofalexandria.com/index.php?module=news&action=details&id=1242

      He [the Patriarch] also consecrated the Catechist elder Theano, one of the first members of the Missionary staff in Kolwezi, to “Deaconess of the Missions” of the Holy Metropolis of Katanga and read the prayer for one entering the “ecclesiastic ministry” for three Nuns and two Catechists, in order for them to assist the missionary effort of the Holy Metropolis, particularly in the Sacraments of Baptisms of adults and marriages, as well as in the Catechetical department of the local Church. Note that it is the first time in the history of Missions in Africa that these consecrations have been done.

  3. I am hesitant to draw any firm conclusions on the deaconesses based on the photos. We simply do not know how the Alexandrian Patriarchate envisioned the ordination rite, not to mention the content of the ministry. I also think it’s too early to assume that the Alexandrians did not have their own local variant of the rite, as one of the oldest apostolic sees. If they call them deaconesses, then they are deaconesses: this is their right as a local Church that is not dependent. on another patriarchate.

  4. It’s hard to know for sure what is going on, as others have said, but the lack of diaconal vestments is certainly suggestive. While it has largely died out, Anglicans have had deaconesses, as well, starting in the 19th century. They had no liturgical role that I’m aware of, but worked in hospitals and mission fields until falling into desuetude with the advent of professional nursing and social work programs. I wouldn’t confuse it with the movements in the 70s forward to ordain women into the same diaconate in which men are ordained.

  5. I would guess the ewer and basin is symbolic of the role in baptism for which they have been consecrated. I wonder in the sixth picture what is the function of the lady in blue next to the Patriarch and apparently holding a richly decorated book? ( a liturgical book?)

    1. @Anthony Hawkins:
      I thought of that too, but I can’t figure out why the Patriarch would be washing his hands in that bowl if so. They appear to be pouring the water on his hands.

      The book does look like a liturgical book because of its rich decoration.

      One detail from the story that I found interesting is the women deacons’ mission with respect to marriage. Will they officiate at them I wonder.

    2. @Anthony Hawkins:
      If you look at pictures 4 and 5, you can see what the basins are for. As in the Byzantine Orthodox ordination of a sub-deacon, after the bishop prays over him, another sub-deacon puts a towel over his head and gives him a basin and ewer with which to wash the bishop’s hands. Once he is done, he then stands in front of the icon of the Theotokos at the iconostasis (with the towel over his head). Fr. Deacon Nicholas maybe able to speak to this further, but that is what I remember from ordinations to sub-diaconate I attended.

      1. @John Kohanski:
        I was a subdeacon for about 45 minutes, before ordination to the diaconate. I stood in front of the icon of Christ after I washed the bishop’s hands. My best sense is that this ordination resembles Byzantine ordination to the subdiaconate – a living, minor order. But I’d want to see the ritual text, too.

  6. It’s important for Roman Catholics not to impose a “western” layer of interpretation over the Alexandrian ordination of deaconesses. Patience will eventually tell us the significance of the liturgy and office. Certainly there will be Roman Catholics from all lengths of the candle who will want to spin this event for their ideological ends. I’m simply fascinated by what just happened. Still, I’m going to wait and have the significance explained to me by clergy, scholars, and the Alexandrian faithful. Let this be for most, including me most certainly, a fruitful abandonment of prejudices. Please let this event not descend into a petty fight akin to about how to tie Father’s maniple correctly.

    1. @Jordan Zarembo:
      I appreciate your comment very much, and would add only that this news is already causing an ideological tussle about gender politics among Orthodox in the West. I’ll have a lot more to say about this in the next two weeks.

  7. Wise words, Jordan.

    I am also mindful of how difficult and dangerous it may be for mission in some lands where the Christians are a persecuted minority or otherwise a target. These women are signing on for something we don’t know and we can hardly imagine the circumstances that they may have to face. The metropolitan spoke passionately about martyrdom. This may not have been a rhetorical excess.

    Pope Francis recently said that women have courage. May these women have the courage they need to remain faithful to their calling and mission, whatever the details of their consecration.

  8. Obviously you aren’t referring to Alexandria, MN, though after filming Fargo in neighboring Brainerd, I guess anything in these wild and woolly hinterlands is possible, and most likely no one would know it. When asked recently about the ordination of deaconesses, the Archbishop of Baltimore is reputed to have said, ‘What a beautiful concept, how could I oppose it?’ Well obviously he has done, on the old ‘Jesus never had a dog’ principle. And he does have a woman priest in his Archdiocese working with Immigrants. Isn’t the New Testament rich in details about women in their varied ‘ministries’ of service, whereas it says nothing about the ordination of anyone. It also says very little, apart from one reference on Calvary, about ‘going to heaven’, but plenty about the kingdom taking root on earth. If a woman can clothe and feed her family, plan 14 meals in advance, hold down a full time job and do the laundry and house cleaning, I think she has already met all the qualifications for diaconal service.

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