But, perhaps the special commission's members should tread slowly, as some Orthodox clergy and theologians are raising a very...big...red...flag. Details about that group and its well-reasoned position here.
- In February 2017, Theodoros--the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa--appointed 6 "deaconesses" for the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
- Unlike an ordination, the ceremony did not take place during but the conclusion of Mass (the "Divine Liturgy"), as with a ritual commissioning.
- The Patriarch laid his hands on one woman, making her "Deaconess of the Mission." He then prayed over 5 other women using the ritual prayer for someone entering church ministry.
- The Patriarch did not bestow an orarion--similar to a deacon's or priest's stole--upon any of the women, even the "Deaconess of the Mission"--but did invite the 5 to assist in washing his hands. (Subdeacons usually serve in that role at the Divine Liturgy.)
Some facts from Church history:
- For the first 6 Christian centuries, the duties and status of deaconesses varied with time and place, as did the way deaconesses were appointed.
- Much of the ancient Church never had deaconesses and several local councils prohibited their appointment. The early Church Fathers minimized the role, sometimes favoring widows.
- The need for deaconesses did not exist universally, as identical duties were also assigned to widows, laywomen, male clergy, or nuns.
- The role of deaconess arose to protect the modesty of women during the baptismal and anointing rite as well as home visitations when and where males were not permitted.
- Between the 6th and 11th centuries, the role existed for the most part in major eastern metropolitan areas but morphed into an honorific office for pious noblewomen, the wives of men made bishops, and the heads of female monastic communities. By the 13th century, the role had all but died out.
- In the 19th and 20th centuries, proposals and attempts to appoint deaconesses once again failed to receive sufficient support to cause a lasting revival of the role.
The point: In the early Church, deaconesses were created based upon the needs of the women the deaconesses were intended to serve. This role didn't require or include ordination. They were filling an important role of service for a particular group within the Christian community.
Why? They argue:
- God has called them to ministry.
- They have fully prepared for ordination in Roman Catholic seminaries, many of them right alongside their male seminarian counterparts.
- The logical first step would be to ordain suitable candidates as deaconesses.
- This reform of the clergy would demonstrate the Church's openness to the modern world and enable women to share their special gifts--that men do not possess--and in a special ways--that men can't--which would contribute to the Church's mission in the modern world.
Nearly 4 decades ago, a systematic theologian--a post-Vatican II Catholic of the Left--observed to The Motley Monk that although he was completely supportive of reforming the Church's hierarchy and ordained priesthood, the folks in the women's ordination movement were advocating an error:
- Decrying the clerical patriarchy that had excluded women from ordination for centuries, they were actually seeking parity with it.
- Advocates of women's ordination would set themselves apart from and be superior to the laity. How so? Only ordained clerics--whether men and/or women--would continue to serve in the roles of Church leadership that "really count"...not some role of service to a group within the Catholic community. They were appropriating the worst of clericalism to themselves.
In this theologian's estimation, this objective wouldn't reform neither the Church's hierarchy nor the priesthood. No, it would fail to reform either because proponents of women's ordination were putting their self-interest ahead of the Holy Spirit's call to reform.
Argue for reform all they want, those who advocate women's ordination in the Roman Catholic Church really don't want reform of patriarchy, the hierarchy, clericalism, or the priesthood. No, they want to join and be part of the club the seemingly resent so much.
Let the discussion begin...
To access the websites identified in this post, click on the following links: