The Liturgical Functions of Consecrated Women in the Byzantine Church
Karras, Valerie A., Theological Studies
WOMEN CONTINUED TO PLAY active and ecclesiastically recognized liturgical roles in the processions, vigils, and services of the Byzantine Church even during and after the decline of the ordained female diaconate by the late twelfth century. (2) The Byzantine Church, following historical Christian tradition, (3) excluded women from the ordained orders of the presbyterate (priesthood) and the episcopate based on an anthropology of separate and unequal roles for the sexes, (4) and grounded biblically in the Pauline prohibition against women speaking in church (l Corinthians 14: 34), and particularly on the deutero-Pauline injunction against women teaching (1 Timothy 2:11-12), the latter argued as a result of woman's role in the Fall from grace in the Garden of Eden. The argument from 1 Timothy 2 was used, for example, by the late fourth/early fifth-century archbishop of Constantinople, John Chrysostom, specifically to justify the exclusion of women from the priesthood. (5)
However, the biblical injunctions against women speaking and teaching were not, even in apostolic times, interpreted as a complete exclusion of women from all liturgical and pastoral functions, including charismatic preaching and ecclesiastical offices. For example, the context of 1 Corinthians 14:34 clearly indicates that the "speaking" that was prohibited to women was of the question-and-answer variety, since the following verse instructed women to ask their husbands at home if they needed to know something. That the injunction was contextual is further supported, only three chapters earlier (1 Corinthians 11:5), by Paul's directing women who prophesy to cover their heads. "Prophesying" was, of course, public preaching, particularly on moral issues, and the office of prophet was a charismatic office of the early Church. (6) As for 1 Timothy, chapters 3 through 5 outline the qualifications and responsibilities of various clergy or officials in the church community. Among those discussed by the writer of the pastoral epistle are two groups of women: Widows (1 Timothy 5:1-16) and female deacons (1 Timothy 3:11) (7). The consecrated, or "enrolled" (1 Timothy 5:9), order of Widows (8) disappeared, judging from the lack of extant evidence, sometime after the middle of the sixth century. (9) In their lifestyle, their spirituality, and their pastoral and liturgical roles, though, they provided important links to two other women's orders on the rise from the late third or early fourth centuries: female monasticism and the ordained order of female deacons. (10) Moreover, the liminal nature of the Widows--"enrolled" or consecrated, and with certain liturgical functions, but not ordained (11)--prefigured the nature of consecrated or enrolled women serving similar functions in the Byzantine Church.
In the early Christian period, the various ordained and consecrated orders and informal roles that women played in church life reflected a variety of needs and concerns, including: (1) performance of pastoral and liturgical activities serving the needs of women in the community, particularly those needs created by the restrictions of Eastern Mediterranean societies that segregated and secluded women; (12) (2) recognition of women's historical contributions to the ministry of Christ and to the apostolic Church; (13) and (3) formal ecclesiastical acknowledgement of the contributions of contemporary women, especially those with money and influence. (14) Many of these needs and concerns, such as the baptizing of adult women converts and the conveying of the Eucharist to the homes of housebound women, were met through the order of the female diaconate. With the apparent demise of that order, these continuing needs and concerns had to be met in other ways.
In the Byzantine period, there were women who usually bore some sort of formal ecclesiastical title and who were organized more or less formally into consecrated or ordained orders. These consecrated women functioned in public settings, either associated with the metropolitan church, or, in one case, with a male monastery that provided for liturgical participation by the faithful, both male and female, of the surrounding neighborhood. …