Patriarchate of Alexandria Restores Female Diaconate

This news just in, this morning: The Patriarchate of Alexandria (which is the autocephalous head of Orthodox, Chalcedonian Christians in Africa) officially voted to restore the female diaconate.

Here is the news story.

More information as we receive it. Congratulations to the Patriarchate of Alexandria!


    1. @Jack Feehily:
      Hi Jack,
      At present there are no news stories in English. I used Google translate to read it myself, though readers may have other translation programs they prefer. The Google translation, though establishing the fact that I’ve cited in the post, is really pretty ugly and awkward, so I didn’t want to post the translation — thought it best to link to the original source.

  1. Thanks for publishing this story, Rita. I have two initial reactions:

    1) We all need to adopt a “wait and see” attitude. The patriarchate did not elaborate its decision. We know only that deaconesses are envisioned to assist with mission and that a committee consisting of bishops will take the next steps. How quickly will the committee act? Can we expect that the order of deaconess will resemble the order of the early medieval Byzantine tradition? We just don’t know the answers to these questions; we might have to wait a while to see how this develops.

    2) I find this to be a significant decision. In some sections of North American Orthodoxy, select ideologues are absolutely opposed to a female diaconate because they view it as a Trojan Horse for opening the doors to discussing the ordination of women to the presbyterate. The decision of the patriarchate shows that the vocal North American sector does not represent the mind of global Orthodoxy. Political orthodoxy does not consume everyone. The order of deaconess was restored – this is a restoration of an existing order, not the creation of something new (to the best of our knowledge). There is reason to hope that much good will result from this decision, along with the other decisions of the Alexandrian patriarchate.

  2. To my mind the women’s diaconate (or whatever title is appropriate) has not ever really totally atrophied in the Western Church. I had a vague recollection of Carthusian nuns wearing the stole and proclaiming the Gospel – and Lo and Behold! Google turns out to be friend after all. From the Carthusian website regarding the nuns:

    “After her solemn profession or perpetual donation, the nun can, if she wishes, receive the Consecration of Virgins. This is a special rite where the Bishop gives the nun not only the veil and ring, external signs of an indissoluble union with the divine Spouse, but also the stole. This confers on the recipient certain liturgical privileges the most significant of them being the proclaiming of the Gospel on certain occasions.”

    I am also in between cities and meetings at the moment and do not have access to Rita’s works – has this practice and and its roots back to the beginning of the second millennium featured in discussions regarding the diaconate?

  3. As far as I know, Orthodox Churches generally agree that female deaconate is possible. It has existed over the centuries, and if I remember correctly (I am on a journey and don’t have my books around me…) the Russian Orthodox Church (or was is the Georgian, or both?) wanted to restore it as a ministry in local congregations in the beginning of the 20th century (but then communism came and everything changed for the Church). But the Orthodox Churches today have different opinions whether such “female deacons”/”deaconesses” should actually be ordained in our days. The Church of Greece had a similar declaration a few years ago, but at the same time they decided not to ordain female deacons as long as other Orthodox churches consider this a source for a major conflict.
    Another important aspect is that such deaconesses/female deacons are not meant (and have never been) to have any tasks in regular (Byzantine) liturgy that could be compared to the role of a male deacon in the Roman liturgy. They would only act liturgically in certain services in (female) monasteries, assist at women’s baptisms, bring the Communion to sick women into their homes etc.
    So I see two aspects that might have an impact on the current Roman Catholic discussions, and those impacts go into quite different directions: 1) Female deaconate (as an ordained ministry!) is possible. 2) Within liturgy, female deaconate is not the same as male deaconate. Some (like Cardinal Müller) would now come to the conclusion that the female deaconate is just called deaconate, but is fundamentally different from male deaconate. Others (like the German bishops in their Synod in the 70s) would come to the conclusion, that a female deaconate can be restored and that the Church has a wide range of options what tasks such deaconesses could fulfill.

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