Δευτέρα, 30 Οκτωβρίου 2017

DEACONESSES AND ORTHODOX THEOLOGY



Professor Theodorou's article on "Deaconesses and Orthodox Theology", posted in romfea... translated into English

Sixty-five years ago, in 1949, in my book entitled, Heroines of Christian Love: The Deaconesses through the Centuries, and more than sixty entire years, in 1954, with my doctoral thesis on the Ordination of Deaconesses, I have sown a few seeds that afterward flourished, thus highlighting and promoting the issue of the ordination of deaconesses.

Today, Roman Catholics and Orthodox do not have deaconesses. Deaconesses are in various Protestant, Old Catholic, Anglican communities. We have not yet this traditional institution, but it is auspicious – promising I would say – that there is a huge movement in all the Orthodox Churches and Roman Catholic to revive the institution of Deaconesses. Today they sound more and more voices are heard in favour of reviving the institution of Deaconesses and their ordination. In Orthodoxy I would like to remind you the courageous efforts by the Apostoliki Diakonia to establish many years ago the School of Deaconesses, print my first book Heroines of Christian Love, and spread the idea for the renewal of this old institution of the Church. Not to mention, of course, the numerous Inter-Orthodox Conference, which focused on this issue, and particularly and above all the Pan-Orthodox Conference of Rhodes, convened by the care and under the auspices of the holy Ecumenical Patriarchate, which showed the need for the revival of the institution of Deaconesses.

The presence among the speakers of my colleague and old friend Dr. Zagano underlines the huge traffic that takes place in America to renew this diaconal institution. Dr. Zagano with her books and other publications make frequent reference also to my own works on this issue. Like Prof. FitzGerald in the Greek Orthodox Church in America, Dr. Zagano within the Roman Catholic Church has become an apostle of the revival of this institution. And in Europe there is a huge movement in this direction, especially in Germany. There are reports, there are cardinals, there are Theological Schools, there are doctoral dissertations, seminars, etc., All of which are pushing to revive the institution. And enough women are already prepared to become deaconesses, and all of them are waiting for the approval of the Vatican to authorize the ordination and their accession to the active diaconal service of the Church.

I am sure, though, that the distinguished speakers in the various sessions of the conference will highlight anything that advocates revival of the institution of ordained deaconesses, indicating at the same time the difficulties and obstacles that must be left aside.

Allow me now, to say a few words on this issue. I will not of course bring owls in Athens. I will not say anything new, but repeat some of what I have written and said these past sixty-five years. I will only highlight a few key points that should perhaps be identified and addressed during the conference.

Deaconesses existed undoubtedly in the Church of the apostles. It is well known what St. Paul the apostle wrote about the existence of Phoebe, a deacon in the Church of Kechreae, near Corinth, whom he extols in the Letter to the Romans. But up to the end of the 4th century AD we have not ordination prayers, i.e. texts that show how was the ordination in the various ranks of the clergy in the Church. Since the end of the 4th century, however, in the Apostolic Orders a special rite for the consecration of Deaconesses, similar in form and content to that which exists for all the upper and lower clergy ranks. At that time, of course, no distinction was made within the Church between upper and lower clergy.

The rite of ordinations says: Prayer or epiclesis on the ordination of Bishop, then Prayer and epiclesis on the ordination of Deacon, then of Presbyter, then of Deaconess, Subdeacon, Reader etc. And the blessing and grace of God is sought to send the Holy Spirit to consecrate the deaconess and the other ordained.

But from the 5th century AD onwards the ordination rite developed and became more extensive, and I would say, triumphant. We notice that for the ordination of Deaconesses requested again within it God's blessing and grace to send the Holy Spirit to make the ad valorem becoming deaconess a servant and celebrant of the Church.

Thus, for the ordination rite of deaconesses there are two longer prayers of consecration, similar to the other ranks of the upper clergy, that of the bishop, the presbyter and the deacon. In both of these prayers what was stressed is that God gave his blessing and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, not only to men but also to women, and asked God to send his Spirit to sanctify the deaconess. This is done in both prayers. In between the prayers for peace are inserted, where again the Church prays υπέρ της νυν προχειριζομένης to become worthy of the office, which is called to serve.

Careful study of these ordination rites both morphologically and in terms of content leads to the following conclusions:

1. While in these described ordination rites the laying on of hands of the so called lower clergy, i.e. the singer, the reader, the sub-deacon, were performed outside the sanctuary and not during the Eucharistic Liturgy, and without singing: “the Divine grace that always heals the patient etc.,” to the deaconesses in the process of ordination, like as to upper clergy – bishop, presbyter and deacon – two prayers were heard. And we can describe that the deaconess standing before her ordination in front of the Beautiful Gate, her head being covered with a maphorion, and when the time comes she is transferred to the altar, where she is ordained by the Bishop with laying of his hands on her head, invoking the Holy Spirit to make her worthy for the service she is about to undertake.

It should be noted that the invocation prayer: η Θεία Χάρις η πάντοτε τα ασθενή θεραπεύουσα, (the Divine Grace that always heals the patient), which is heard in the ordinations of the senior clerics and of deaconesses is a feature of only the senior ordinations. It is never heard during the laying on of hands of the lower clergy.

From this evidence it becomes obvious that during the ordination of deaconesses all the essential elements of the ordination of a deacon are present. The deaconess is vested, like the deacon, with diaconal orarion and she communes at the time of Holy Communion, like the deacon, inside the Holy Sanctuary, taking the Holy Grail from the hands of the Bishop and placing it on the altar.

One would normally expect that with the expansion and more elaborate ordination rites and ceremonies of the deaconesses, like those of all the priests, that the deaconess would be relegated to the lower clergy. The Church however took her and put her ordination together with those of the higher ordinations of the upper clergy.

All these explain why in the canonical orders of the Church the female deacons have many tasks related to the diaconal sacramental priesthood. They certainly did not have the tasks of the presbyters, but we should not forget that neither the deacon had, because he never performed sacraments.

2. Also the following topic should be investigated: Both the so-called Syrian Teaching, the 3rd c. AD Didaskalia, and the Apostolic Orders, of the late 4th century, reveal a hierarchy of degrees of priesthood. Higher stands the bishop, who is the symbol of God the Father, followed by the deacon as a symbol of Christ, then by the deaconess as a symbol of the Holy Spirit, and only after them come the presbyter as symbols of the Apostles. This hierarchical arrangement must be explained: why is she Syrian Teaching of the Apostles and Apostolic Orders place in the deaconesses even before the presbyters.

3. It should be noted that in the canonical rules of the Church the deaconesses are mentioned within the ranks of the clergy. The 1st, the 4th, and the Quintsext Ecumenical Councils all have special rules for the ordination of deaconesses.

The subsequent civil law, which we know represents the Church practice of the time, and in particular the Corpus Juris Civilis, the famous Codex Justinianus, incorporates deaconesses in the clergy. It has an arrangement with the inscription: "on bishops and priests", where it also places deaconesses. Then we have the Nouvellae, the Neares, as we call them, of Justinian, which frequently mentioned women Deacons. The 6th Nouvella e.g. has the characteristic title περί του πως δει χειροτονείσθαι τον επίσκοπον" (how the bishop should be ordained), which refers to the bishops, the presbyters and the deacons, male and female. We also have the 3rd Justinian Nouvella, which determines the number of the clergy in various churches, stating that the number of the clergy serving in Hagia Sophia are: 60 priests, 100 deacons and 40 deaconesses.

4. It should also be borne in mind that in the Orthodox Church against the various doctrinal or canonical expressions developed later, the primacy belongs to the earlier advanced primary liturgical experience and practice of the Church which is “das gebetete Dogma”, i.e. the praying Doctrine, expressed in the liturgical prayer.

Let us also recall the well known Latin expression: lex orandi lex est credendi, i.e. the Law of Faith is associated with the Law of Worship. For this reason all opinions of refusing the ordination of deaconesses are simply unwarranted. It is testified in the liturgical texts, and the dogmatic expressions for various ranks in the priesthood are later than these liturgical texts. Therefore, these liturgical texts of the Church should not be overlooked.

We should also never forget that while the Ecumenical Councils, as we said, recognize the ordination of deaconesses, no church doctrinal decision exists to date that repeals the ordination of deaconesses. This potentially is still valid in the Church.

And it seems that survived throughout history in some monasteries: until the days of St. Nektarios, this saint of 20th century ordained deaconesses on the island of Aegina; until the penultimate Archbishop of Athens, the late Archbishop Christodoulos, ordained a deaconess in a convent of the Metropolis of Demetrias.

5. We must distinguish between the “diaconal” sacramental priesthood and the “hierurgic” sacramental priesthood. All senior clerics have  a sacramental priesthood, but some have special gifts and functions. The deacon cannot do what a priest does. The deaconess, like the deacon, has no have operational tasks, but this is the division which the Church makes according to the different gifts. But the priesthood is one and always presupposes the descent of the Holy Spirit and such priesthood undoubtedly the deaconesses have.

6. Some say that today there are not many devout female persons to be ordained deaconesses, while there are plenty fine women who in different parishes perform many diaconal services, especially in the field of solidarity and charity. But we must not forget that in the history of the Church there were always devoted women. Remember the immense work of John Chrysostom, who had next to him not only the Saint Olympias, but many deaconesses whose names are known: Sylvina Pentadia, Procla, Amproukle, Saviniane, Elissanthia, Palladia, Martyria, and many others.

What we must struggle is the awakening of the Church, in order that in a time of crisis, like the present one, the diaconal service is not limited to soup kitchens and various other ministerial departments, but remember that one of the main tasks is to care for Christ in the person of suffering brothers.

A great Roman Catholic theologian, Karl Rahner remarked that “in the future the Church will either become diaconal or will cease to exist”. Of course, this was a rhetorical exaggeration, because the Church has not only diaconal services, but liturgical, missionary, preaching, tacking etc. too. What Rahner wanted to emphasize was that the Church must be awakened and undertake bold diaconal services in society. Perhaps the Pope Francis today moves in this direction on the part of Catholic Church. And the Patriarchate of Alexandria’s initiative to revive liturgically the order of deaconesses is extremely significant.