Female Deacon Ordained in Armenian Church in Iran

A female deacon has been ordained in the Armenian Apostolic archdiocese of Teheran, Iran, Agenzia Fides reports. The 24-year-old woman is a lay person not belong to a monastery or religious order. She works as an anesthetist.

“What I have done is in accordance with the tradition of the Church,” said ordaining Archbishop Sarkissian. The Archbishop said also that his decision was intended to “revitalize the participation of women in our liturgical life.”




    1. Joe
      In the editorial section of the National Catholic Reporter [Jan.12-25,2018] “Seeing is believing: Why Catholics need women deacons.” Nicole Sotelo writes:…look to our past to see women who led,starting with the only deacon named in Christian Scripture: a women Phoebe (Romans 16:1). She contends that Catholic women served multiple roles as deacons, priests and bishops. It is a great read and the sky has not fallen!

      1. A few years ago, I wrote a book about the role of women in the RC church.I examined the evidence from Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium. I concluded that women had been deacons, being just as ordained as their male counterparts, in the past and could be again. However they have never been priests or bishops. Any such cases turn out to belong to schismatic groups.
        This follows the OT pattern, where women could be judges and prophets but not priests. (Deborah is the only person in the OT named as both a judge and a prophet).
        We need a clearer understanding of the role of the deacon (it is not just litugical!) and how deacons differ from priests and bishops – not enough space here to cover all that!

      2. Read Gary Macy’s book: “The Hidden History of Women’s Ordination”; half of the book is source material citations…

      3. Jane Coll, if you read Gary Macy’s book, you will see that abbesses served in episcopal roles when they ordained priests within the geography of their monasteries (there were not enough bishops to do it, so Rome authorized it, since they knew the worthiness of area candidates), in the Medieval period. They also presided at Masses within monastery walls, the sacerdotal role. The book is a very fascinating read. One might wonder why male clergy never mentions THIS/THESE parts of Tradition…

  1. There already are Catholic female deacons, with full graduate theological degrees (which can include a full year of preaching class, my MDiv. did), full time ministry residencies for formation, and a requirement of 50 CEUs per year (no male deacons do that) to maintain their status. We just happen to be called BCCs (Board Certified Chaplains, who can “only” be called “chaplains” professionally), whom the Church has chosen not to ordain. Yet.

    1. That is a good summary of the problem we face.
      Do we ordain those who minister? Or do we limit ministry to those who are ordained?

      If we say yes to the first, women will be ordained. If we say yes to the second, ordination will become obsolete, as will ministry and liturgy.

      1. The male diaconate was re-introduced by Vatican II because the cardinals recognised that there were many men in parishes doing diaconal work so it seemed good to give them the help of the sacrament of ordination for this work. – in other words, they ordained those who ministered.

    2. Donna – I used Gary Macy’s book as a source for my own. It is a few years ago and I have forgotten the details but I remember it as being very good. However I do not remember it as describing abbesses ordaining priests or saying Mass. They were certainly very powerful. They probably held what we would now call communion services and would have advised the bishop on the suitability of priestly candidates but no more than that. They played a diaconal role in many ways but do not seem to have been ordained as deacons. Indeed, the rise of nuns and convents was one of the factors in the fading away of the ordained female deacon that existed in the early Church.

      If you could provide the relevant page numbers, I still have the book and would be happy to re-read it.

  2. There are four things to remember with respect to a female diaconate as it pertains to the Catholic tradition:

    1) The office of the deaconess is an Eastern phenomenon, one that never took serious hold in the Western church.

    2) The male and female diaconate are two separate and distinct offices. It has always been the case, even in the East, that the deacon may aspire to Holy Orders, while the deaconess may not.

    3) The use of different terms in the English language for “deacon” and “deaconess” stems from the fact that the early writings made such a distinction. For the latter, the masculine noun diakonos in ancient Greek is preceded by a feminine article, thus rendering a feminine usage, regardless of either the noun or the context.

    4) The recent ordination (cheirotonia) of deaconesses in the Armenian church has been met with divided opinion throughout the Orthodox world. Father Josephus Flavius of the blog Byzantine, Texas elaborates.

    1. Thank you for this comment and perspective.
      I believe each of your points is disputed by some scholars – so I’m sure the discussion will continue.

      1. You’re quite welcome, Father.

        I know for a fact that each of my points is disputed by some scholars. I read them all the time. What I don’t read are answers to my specific challenges. I’m sure the discussion will continue as well. I’m counting on it.

        Thank you for listening, and including my comment.

    2. Concerning aspirations to Holy Orders, one assumes you mean the order of presbyter. Not all deacons may aspire to this order – it depends on their age, education, and potential family matters. If Holy Orders includes the episcopate, then only celibate men may be nominated. In Orthodoxy, the diaconate IS a holy order. Fr. John Chryssavgis recently lectured and wrote to clarify these issues. The diaconate is not inferior to nor below the presbyterate – it is no less an important order, just devoted to specific ministries. Food for thoughts in this discussion – he seeks to strip away the unfortunate stigma of the diaconate as a “required stepping stone” to the normative order of presbyter.

      1. This is an important point, clarified at Vatican II. We think of the sacrament of ordination as a progression from deacon to priest to bishop because that is the normal progression for the individual person. However from a sacramental point of view the opposite is the case. The bishop receives the fullness of the sacrament and can delegate some of his powers to the priest and some to the deacon. In theory, although canon law does not currently allow this, a man can be ordained a bishop without first being either a deacon or a priest – just think of the apostles, the first bishops.

    3. 1) The office of deaconess may not have been as common in the West as in the East but it existed for hundreds of years and only faded out as orders of nuns took over that role.
      2) well, no, they were not two distinct offices. There are ordination rites still in existence in the Vatican libraries for both sexes and they are very similar. Both include the calling down of the Holy Spirit and the laying on of hands. Female deacons could not enter the sanctuary because of ideas on ritual purity (which have now been abandoned) but male deacons could not give the sign of peace to females or visit sick females or baptise females. So, as in any community, men tended to do some things and women tended to do others – if the women were not ‘truly’ ordained, then neither were the men.

      1. “There are ordination rites still in existence in the Vatican libraries for both sexes and they are very similar. Both include the calling down of the Holy Spirit and the laying on of hands.”

        From there the resemblance in the ceremonial tends to change. According to at least one source, Stephen the Protomartyr was invoked for the deacon, but Pheobe for the deaconess. In addition, each wore their orarion (diaconal stole) differently. It was also understood, at least by the end of the first century, that deaconesses could not aspire to what one post-apostolic writer referred to as “the Levitical ministry.”

        I have elaborated on this subject in a piece I wrote nearly six years ago. If the moderator will permit, I include it here.

        Deaconess: A Rose By Any Other Name

      2. Thanks for sharing this – I look forward to reading it.

        I think historical precedent is important, but of course not definitive. Traditions can develop and change and grow, and in fact have for 2,00 years. To do a new thing is sometimes possible.

        There is one important historical precedent, though: an examination of the best available evidence about how undeveloped ministries were in the first century or two, and how their patterns varied from place to place. If we have a sense of how much development in ministries took place in the first two – or four – centuries, and how much the Church assumed a role in gradually discerning and determining the shape of ministries, then we might have a sense of how much the Church can do that also in our day.


    4. With all due respect David but you do not know much about what you are talking about with such authority. Many people incorrectly believe that there are 3 major orders: bishop, priest, and deacon but actually the order of priest and the order of deaconesses comes from Judaizers (who btw were Arians as they believed like Philo of Alexandria (20BC-50AD) and as Talmud records early Jewish belief). The order of deaconesses has it’s origin in the ministering women at the tent of meeting in the OT and widow Anna the Prophetess is a NT example. The order of bishop and the order of deacon comes from Apostle Paul who also taught that Christ is the High Priest and that the Church is (all believers are) a royal priesthood and that Christ is the head of Man (male and female; see Genesis 5:2), and that there is neither male or female because all are one in Christ Jesus, and wrote that Phoebe was a diakonos, that is a deacon. Early Church Fathers mentioned Phoebe as a diakonos, that is deacon, and there is even an ordination rite for females to the order of deacon. Female deacons are equal to male deacons. The order of deaconess as opposed to the order of deacon, of which Phoebe was apart of, had the women deacon/servant minister alongside the priest to help him with priestly duties that pertained to women but they weren’t at the altar like female deacons. There is early historical evidence of this in the early Church. In the Armenian Church there is historical evidence of both female deacons and deaconesses (i.e. women deacons/servants); female deacons are at the altar with male deacons but deaconesses (i.e. women deacons/servants) aren’t. The deaconess (i.e. women deacon/servant) never took serious hold but there are still traces of it among the nuns. Nuns are actually the order of widow yet they have aspects of the order of deaconesses (i.e. women deacons/servants) and female monks, the fact that virgins have been a part of the order when they aren’t supposed to be is proof of the order of deaconess and proof of female monks.

  3. I think all educated people in the church recognise the historical fact of women deacons; restoring women deacons is just a matter of having the good will and sense to listen to the Holy Spirit calling women and ordaining them!

  4. While I find the ordination of a female deacon within the Armenian Apostolic Church interesting (especially as they are specifically named in the “back of the Misellette” as a faith which may approach for Communion in a Roman church, meaning that their Eucharist is recognized as being authentic), what is more troubling is the way Rome treats their male deacons.

    Permanent deacons have always been second-class citizens. Transitional deacons are “Rev Mr” and wear clerical garb, while permanent deacons are simply “Deacon” and do not (with rare exception) wear anything beyond a pin on their lapel. I know a permanent deacon whose spouse passed away and he approached for priesthood and was accepted. All of a sudden, he appeared in clerical attire and I asked him what had happened and he told me that was how he was to now dress. No change in character….just his status. Even advanced seminarians are clerically attired, why not ordained deacons?

    Given the dearth of priestly vocations, I would think it important for all deacons to be clerically attired to give witness to the vocation, and to perhaps evoke interest from someone.

    Let’s straighten out the present male diaconate first, and then talk about ordaining women to serve in it.

    1. Romans only need look and see how their Eastern Catholic brethren treat their deacons–as clergy. And there is no distinction in these churches, deacons are deacons, whether or not they move on to be ordained priests. The same with sub-deacons.

    2. Despite being in favour of ordaining women as deacons, I agree with you that we first need to have a much clearer understanding of the diaconate as an order distinct from the priesthood. Deacons are not ‘second class’ priests but have a ministry of their own. I rather like the theory that the diaconate was created by Jesus when he washed the apostles feet at the last supper and the story in Acts was actually about the creation of the presbyterate. Deacons are there to assist the bishop in his pastoral, practical, caring duties. Priests (who, in modern times, are also deacons,) share in the bishop’s juridicial, sacramental, teaching duties.

    3. The deacons in Chicago decided among themselves (I’m told – all of these decisions were made before I became one) that they would not wear clerical attire, except those who do prison ministry and airport ministry, and that they would not be addressed as Rev. Mr. I can see both sides of the question: on the one hand, those elements do give a public identity to someone who otherwise would seem to be anonymous (which in turn may have its spiritual pros and cons); on the other hand, the lack of such visible and distinctive markers is part of what I view as a pretty healthy lack of clericalism (on the whole, anyway) among deacons.

      You’re right that a number of us have taken to wearing pins, tie clips, and so on with some sort of a deacon-ish symbol on it. Like a cross with a deacon’s stole draped over it. (Folks can google “deacon cufflinks” if that sort of thing interests them.) I don’t wear anything like that, but I’m not much for accessorizing in general. But that some do it points to a desire, either on their part or others’ or both, to have some sort of a visual identifier.

      Of course, we do have distinctive liturgical attire (more visually distinctive when, as is common in Chicago, we don’t wear a dalmatic), and people in our faith communities who see us serving at the altar, the font and so on, and then see us out in the community, know who we are without needing the reinforcement of prefixes and a uniform. And given the ubiquity of social media, chances are good that there are photos cartwheeling around in cyberspace of all of us in our vestments. The people I work with in my day job, most of whom are a thousand miles or more away from me, are aware that I’m a deacon.

      1. Clericalism aside, in a time of few vocations, would not clerical attire lend witness to your work in the church and therefore might evoke an interest from someone processing a latent vocation thought in their mind?

        Not everyone knows that you are an ordained deacon. Perhaps clerical garb might be helpful in this regard.

        Also, are you stating that transitional deacons in Chicago do not wear clerical garb? I find that difficult to believe, as they do everywhere else.

      2. Y’all are probably waiting for your group excursion to Gammarelli to pick your bolts of brocade.

      3. Hello – I am a permanent deacon, and all of the info I provided in my previous comment was about the permanent diaconate. The transitional deacons at our local seminary, Mundelein, aka St. Mary of the Lake, do wear clerical garb, although as a general rule I don’t think transitional deacons (or other seminarians) are very visible to the church or the larger world, so not many folks would see them.

        FWIW, some of the deacons in one of the neighboring dioceses (diocese of Joliet, IL) do wear clerical attire, at least around the parish. On the other hand, the local community network of soup kitchens to which our parish belongs has quite a few Protestant and Evangelical churches as members, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen any of their ministers or pastors in clerical attire. I am not claiming that one way of dressing is better or worse than the other, but rather just noting the cultural trend. Even the larger world of work is getting a bit less “uniform-y”, it seems to me.

        I do see that there could be benefits to having deacons attire themselves more distinctively. I could wish that, as the diaconate is distinct from the priesthood, deacons would develop a distinctive way of dressing as well. Wearing clerical attire would simply compound the misimpression that we’re just Priests Lite. I have no desire to hear anyone’s confession :-).

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