Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Apostolic Constitutions

The Apostolic Constitutions reference female deacons several times and are the earliest church documents to do so.  The early church recognized the need for deaconesses for many occasions such as in the baptism and anointing of women so the conferring of the Sacrament might be done with decency.

Deaconesses, widows and virgins were afforded special status in the church.  “Those which were then first-fruits, and tithes, and offerings, and gifts, now are oblations, which are presented by holy bishops to the Lord God, through Jesus Christ, who has died for them. For these are your high priests, as the presbyters are your priests, and your present deacons instead of your Levites; as are also your readers, your singers, your porters, your deaconesses, your widows, your virgins, and your orphans: but He who is above all these is the High Priest.  (Book II Chapter XXV)

Deaconesses were honored in the place of the Holy Spirit and served as mediators between women and male members of the clergy. “And as we cannot believe on Christ without the teaching of the Spirit, so let not any woman address herself to the deacon or bishop without the deaconess.”  (Book II Chapter XXVI)

Widows and virgins were placed under the authority of the deaconesses. “The widows, therefore, ought to be grave, obedient to their Bishops, and their Presbyters, and their Deacons, and besides these to the Deaconesses, with piety, reverence, and fear; not usurping authority, nor desiring to do anything beyond the constitution.” (Book III Chapter VII)

They were not subservient to Presbyters, but under the direct authority of the Bishop. “We do not permit Presbyters, but only Bishops, to ordain Deacons, or Deaconesses, or Readers, or Servants, or Singers, or Porters. For this is the ecclesiastical order and harmony.  (Book III Chapter XI)

Deaconesses were ordained to active ministry to women who were sick and in need of anointing.  They were given authority to carry messages, to travel, to minister and serve freely.   They were acknowledged as justified, righteous and faithful servants of the Church.  (Book III Chapter XIX)