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By Marilyn Rouvelas 

Readers of The National Herald last June may have seen Theodore Kalmoukos’ front-page interview with Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia, in which he “welcomed the revival of the order of deaconesses; it was never officially abolished. . . . But if we revive that order today, we could give them new and different functions. . . . What is needed in the Orthodox Church today is a more thorough discussion of the meaning of the ministry of deaconesses.”  

That very discussion will take place at the first U.S. conference devoted to the revival of the ministry of women deacons in New York City at the St. Phoebe Center conference on Saturday, December 6, at Union Theological Seminary.  The conference entitled, “Women & Diaconal Ministry in the Orthodox Church:  Past, Present & Future,” will examine women deacons in the past (speakers:  Valerie Karras and Caren Stayer with Phylllis Zagano responding);  explore possible ministries for women deacons through the lens of service being done in the present [chaplaincy (Clio Pavlantos), spiritual direction (Sister Rebecca Cown), ministry of the word (Susan Ashbrook Harvey), and parish administration and outreach (Ann Marie Mecera);   and discuss why and how the ministry might be rejuvenated (Teva Regula and Fr. Steven Tsichlis).  Paulina Pedas, a high school student, will reflect on her experience  as a young woman. For anyone caring about the role of women in the Orthodox Church, this is a must-attend conference.

Why is this conference happening now?  The issue of the ordination of women deacons has been on the backburner for a number of years, but was moved forward in March, 2014, by His Eminence Archbishop Chrysostomos of Cyprus at the high-level synaxis of the primates of the Orthodox autocephalous churches in Istanbul where they set the date and tentative procedures for the Holy and Great Council of 2016.   He suggested that the position of women and the resetting of the institution of deaconesses should be studied.  This encouraging and courageous statement gave hope to those who have been following this issue for a number of years.  The last wave of optimism was in 1988 at an Inter-Orthodox Theological Consultation in Rhodes convened by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople that included representatives from all the Orthodox Churches to examine the issue in preparation for a Holy and Great Council someday.  That consultation, “The Place of the Woman in the Orthodox Church and the Question of the Ordination of Women,” unanimously affirmed that ordinations had taken place in the past and the order should be revived.  Was ordination by a bishop imminent?   Apparently not; twenty-six years have passed since the Rhodes definitive consultation.  Meanwhile, Women Deacons in the Orthodox Church:  Called to Holiness and Ministry by Kyriaki FitzGerald was published in 1998 by Holy Cross Orthodox Press.  Various conferences have been held primarily in Europe throughout the ensuing years, but the shouts of “Axios” has yet to be heard for a woman deacon.

The issue is complex.  The hierarchs must examine the purpose of the entire diaconate (male and female), both of which have been allowed to whither since the golden age for men in the second and third centuries–the fourth through the seventh for women.   Only recently did the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese start a diaconate-training program at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology.  The question of what would deacons would do is real.  Many are concerned that being a deacon will simply be a fast track for men to priesthood without going to three years of seminary.  That would not be the case for women deacons, as the Orthodox tradition has never ordained women priests.  In addition, for a bishop to ordain a woman would require agreement of the bishop’s synod. 

However, if the Orthodox Church is to put into practice its belief that all human beings are made in the image of God, that both men and women can be genuinely called to serve the Lord and his Church, that the ministry as conceived in the early church includes all three orders of deacon, priest and bishop, then women should be ordained deacons.  In addition our priests and communities need many more loving, compassionate and spirit-filled individuals who are willing to give their service (diakonia) to the Lord and others.

In the spirit of St. Paul who designated St. Phoebe a deacon,  let us welcome women and their special gifts to help build the body of Christ.  I urge you to attend this conference and learn about this treasured tradition.


Marilyn Rouvelas is the author of A Guide to Greek Traditions and Customs in America and founder of  See more details about the St. Phoebe Center  conference on Saturday, December 6, 2014, at Union Theological Seminary, Broadway at 121st from 9:00 am  to 5:00 pm on their Web site



The post First U.S. Conference on Women Deacons to be held in New York City appeared first on The National Herald.

Source: The National Herald
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