Orthodox Church Reintroduces Women Deacons

By Clark, Catherine | National Catholic Reporter, March 24, 2017 | Go to article overview

Orthodox Church Reintroduces Women Deacons


Clark, Catherine, National Catholic Reporter


Kyriaki Karidoyanes FitzGerald was an 18-year-old theology student when a priest at Hellenic College Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School in Brookline, Mass., thrust a book into her hands. To her surprise, it was on ancient female deacons.

"The priest told me, 'You're going to translate these [books],'" FitzGerald recalled of the volumes by a prominent Orthodox theologian who studied the history of ordained women.

FitzGerald, now a professor at Holy Cross, has carved a niche studying the role of women deacons and has worked for the right of women to be ordained.

That prospect may now be a giant step closer to reality, since the Patriarch of Alexandria, who presides over the entire Orthodox church in Africa, followed up on his 2016 decision to reintroduce women deacons and in February appointed six nuns to be subdeacons within the church.

In a symbolic ceremony, the patriarch blessed the women and used other religious symbols to effectively restore women's ordination within Orthodoxy The move follows years of discussions within different branches of Orthodoxy on whether to reinstitute women deacons, and it comes at a time of growing interest around the issue within the Greek Orthodox church, the largest Orthodox denomination in the U.S.

James Skedros, dean of Holy Cross seminary and professor of Orthodox history, believes appointing female deacons will have a positive impact by showing people that "there are plenty of ministries in the church that women can and should participate in."

"When we see that happening to a woman, even if it's in Alexandria, that's a powerful image for us Orthodox."

While women in several Protestant denominations have succeeded in becoming ordained ministers, their sisters in Eastern Orthodox Christianity and the Roman Catholic church continue to push for recognition and acceptance. While the Orthodox church says its theology has not changed in centuries, the role of women members is now in flux.

As the executive director of Saint Catherine's Vision, a religious organization dedicated to women's ordination, FitzGerald has awaited this moment for almost 40 years.

For decades, she has teamed up with other Orthodox Christians to serve the community

Unlike a priest or a bishop, who presides over worship and Communion, a deacon cannot lead. A priest or bishop must bless deacons before they can lead collective prayers, read from the Bible or give Communion.

According to Skedros, the African appointment is not technically an ordination, but it may be a step in that direction.

"It's very significant because the Church of Alexandria has identified particular ministries in their church for women," Skedros said. …

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