Friday, November 10, 2017

Women's Diaconate

The Didascalia of the Apostles written c. 230 CE discusses the women’s diaconate at length. The bishop appointed a woman for the ministry of women because there were homes to which he could not send a male deacon, and in many other matters the service of a female deacon was needed. 

The bishop looked on the male deacons as signs of Christ and the female deacons as signs of the Holy Spirit and gave them a prominent place in the church hierarchy.  Women deacons were also mentioned both at the Council of Nicea in 325 CE and the Council of Chalcedon of 451 CE which decreed that women should not be ordained until they were 40 years of age.

In the 6th century Emperor Justinian I appointed male and female deacons throughout his territories in the East and the West including the Hagia Sophia where one hundred men and forty women served as deacons.  This practice continued at least into the tenth century. 

A manual of ceremonies written during that time designated a special area for deaconesses at Hagia Sophia. Those elevated to the office of deaconess typically were wealthy women who were supporters of the church. In many cases they founded religious communities of chaste unmarried women, widows and virgins.