Ordaining Women Deacons

 St. Phoebe the Deaconess
Reports earlier this year on the Internet stated that the Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria ordained some women deacons.   There have been conflicting stories as to what exactly the Patriarch did and whether or not these women were ordained as deacons following an ancient rite or whether the Patriarch had in fact created a new office in the church.  Recently, a number of American and Greek Orthodox liturgical theology professors offered opinion supporting the Patriarch of Alexandria in his decision to ordain women deacons in Africa:   https://publicorthodoxy.org/2017/11/17/support-alexandria-deaconess/ .

While whatever one Patriarchate does always has some implication for all Orthodox, so far no other Patriarch has claimed that they will follow suit and also ordain women deacons.  Although the action of the Alexandrian Patriarch seems controversial to some, he did not do anything forbidden by the Orthodox canons and as the liturgical theology professors note in their letter he is only restoring something that used to exist in Orthodoxy.   Orthodox Patriarchs are not known for being innovative nor for acting unilaterally on such issues.  So one would think he probably sounded out this idea with at least some other Orthodox bishops before doing it.  When it comes to liturgical practices, the Patriarchs are conservative and tend to preserve the current received tradition and rarely try to revive something that disappeared in the past.    The Patriarch’s decision to ordain the deaconesses is reminiscent of how the office of deacon came into existence at the time of the apostles.  There was a need and the Church creatively met the need by creating a new office:

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists murmured against the Hebrews because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the body of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole multitude, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands upon them. And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.  (Acts 6:1-7)

The Church created a new office to meet its current need.   It needs to be noted that it is the ordination of deacons that leads to the first martyrdom in the Church.   St. Stephen one of the first deacons is the proto-martyr of the Church.  Creating a new ministry in the Church created a new category of saint, the martyr.  Orthodoxy claims the Church is founded on the blood of the martyrs.  It was not the apostles who were martyred first, but a deacon.  The Church was glorified by creating the new ministry in the Church.
Time will show us whether this action is being guided by the Holy Spirit and will bring benefit to the Orthodox Church throughout the world and will bear glorious spiritual fruit for the Church.   The restoration of the women diaconate has been discussed on and off in Orthodox for the last 100 years.  The Russian Church was discussing the issue in 1917 before the communist revolution took control of Russia and forced the Church to stop talking about issues that would make the Church more engaging in society.  The Greek Church had a few women deacons at the beginning of the 20th Century ordained by St. Nektarios.   More recently the discussion has been taken up by  the St. Phoebe Center for the Deaconess.    I think such discussion is healthy for the Church.  This is a discussion about restoring an office that once was part of the Orthodox Church.  It is not about creating something that never existed in the Church.  This is not following societal trends, but rather making the Church, the Body of Christ whole.  St. Paul said if one member of the Body suffers, we all suffer.  If we the Church have lost a vital ministry, we all are suffering that loss, and healing the Body and restoring the ministry would be a good thing.  St. Paul writes:
On the contrary, the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those parts of the body which we think less honorable we invest with the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior part, that there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.   (1 Corinthians 12:22-31)
We all need to pray for the Church that God will provide for us the ministries that we need to witness to the world today.  God has appointed us to carry the Gospel to the world, and we need all the members of the Body to be working and working together.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  (Matthew 9:37-38)

The Holy Spirit at Work in Us

“Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. . . . But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were no people but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:4-5, 9-10;  emphases not in the original text)


Every baptized Orthodox Christian receives the Holy Spirit in and through the sacraments of baptism, chrismation and the Eucharist.  How do we show that the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives?


Each Orthodox Christian is called to be part of the holy priesthood.  Priests in general consecrate things – to make them into an offering to God.  In the Church, Bishops consecrate Chrism and men to serve as priests and deacons in the church.  Priest in turn consecrate believers in baptism and also bread and wine to be shown to be the Body and Blood of Christ.   But all believers share in a priesthood in which we each are to consecrate the things in our life – our homes, families, children, jobs, hobbies, meals, friendships, thoughts, words, feelings – everything great and little can be consecrated.  We can make everything we do into a holy offering to God.  The meals we cook, the things we build, or memorize, or sing, or think about – all can be consecrated, offered to God.  If we think we can’t offer it to God, perhaps we shouldn’t be doing it.  But what we choose to do, all of these things we should offer to God, consecrate them to God and for God’s own use so that God will deify them.


Everything we have is a gift from God including our lives, our possessions, our blessings, our talents, knowledge, wisdom, the work of our hands.  So what can we offer to God that is truly our own?  What is truly ours are our wills and our decisions.  We can freely opt to co-operate with God.  We can present ourselves to God  in order to serve Him.  Our free wills belong to us and we can work in synergy with God to accomplish God’s will.  Thus every decision, the countless ones we make in our daily lives are each an opportunity for us to serve God – to offer that moment in our lives to God, to direct our energy toward God.  Our choices are a true offering to God –  not something God predetermines in our lives, but what we can freely offer to God.  Our love is something we can choose to offer to God.  It is something God truly values in us and from us.

The Church’s Mission is Mercy


“Just as God has reached into the heart of death and pain that is part of the human experience of being alive, and has offered its redemptive transfiguration in love through the Cross of the Lord, so too the church, following in the steps of its Lord, is called to meet human suffering with personal courage and communal philanthropy and alleviate the pains of suffering in whatever way it can: physically, morally, or emotionally. This is why the church’s involvement in the social institutions of mercy (hospital and schools) or suffering (prisons and places of enslavement) is a primary element of its mission. Relieving the suffering caused by natural disasters and chronic disease constitutes a major element of the church’s necessary response: a major way of manifesting among society its belief in the glory of the human being as the radiant image of God.”(John Anthony McGuckin, The Orthodox Church, pp 192-193)


Giving Your Attention and a Kind Word

“Likewise, a kind word is more acceptable than a gift. In many cases, you see, attention in word has helped a needy person back on his feet more effectively than a gift. Aware of this, then, let us make no difficulty about meeting visitors; instead, if on the one hand we are in a position to alleviate their poverty, let us do so with love and cheerfulness, not as giving something but as gaining very great advantage. On the other hand, if we cannot do so, let us not be uncivil with them but at least offer them attention in word and respond to them with restraint.”  (St. John Chyrsostom in Homilies on Genesis 18-45, pg. 416)

Serving God Not Just the Parish

Fr. Alexander Schmemann wrote: “And the parish as parish, i.e., as Church has no other task, no other purpose but to reveal, to manifest, to announce, this Living God so that men may know Him, love Him and then, find in Him their real vocations and tasks.” He also wrote: “The parish is the means for men of serving God and it itself must serve God and His work and only then is it justified and becomes ‘Church’. And again it is the sacred duty and the real function of the priest not to ‘serve the parish’, but to make the parish serve God – and there is a tremendous difference between those two functions. And for the parish to serve God means, first of all, to help God’s work wherever it is to be helped.” (Robert T. Osborn in St. Vladimir’s Seminary  Quarterly Vol. 9 Number 4, pgs.187-188, 190)

To be Ruled Well is Typical of the Wise Person

St. John Cassian (d. 435AD) wrote:

“Therefore no one is chosen to rule over a community of brothers, unless, before he himself exercises authority, he has learned by obedience how he should command those who will be subject to him and has understood from the institutes of the elders what he should pass on to the young.  For they declare that to rule well and to be ruled well is typical of the wise person.”

St. John was writing about choosing the leader of a monastic community, but in the church his thoughts apply well to the selection of a bishop as well.  Abbots and bishops are commonly thought of as the ordained leaders of Orthodox communities; persons to be obeyed by virtue of their office.

According to Cassian we learn to command through the humble practice of being obedient.  If we haven’t spent years in the church experiencing that humble obedience, we are not prepared to become Christian leaders.  St. John says NO ONE is chosen to rule over a community who has failed to learn by obedience the wisdom of discipleship.  Obviously in the modern age such wisdom is seen as an ideal for indeed men are put in leadership positions – as abbots, priests and bishops – who have not had the years of experiencing learning the wisdom of discipleship.  We ask them to lead when they don’t understand the very people they are to lead – disciples, because they didn’t spend sufficient time in that role.

Cassian’s wisdom is that before someone can be put in a position which demands obedience of others, they must first learn to live in obedience and learn the value of obedience.  A failure in Christian leadership is often the chosen leader has not in fact ever lived for years in obedience learning the wisdom of that life.  Instead they are put in positions of power and demand obedience without any understanding of how obedience is an act of voluntary love and a way to follow Christ – to be His disciple.  The Christian leader is first of all a servant, imitating Christ’s washing the feet of His disciples, and fulfilling the life of self-sacrificial love as well.

Without living for years in obedience as an act of love, no Christian leader will be able to imitate or exhibit the love Jesus had as leader, Master, Messiah, God’s Son.  It seems in America at least monks can start monasteries and live as abbots without ever having spent years voluntarily serving others.  So they have no sense whatsoever about what Christian leadership means because they have never learned what constitutes being a disciple.  Some in fact seem to be self appointed abbots, starting monasteries without having lived in them.

Both ruling well and being ruled well are signs of the wise person say St. John.

Cassian had it right that the wise man knows how to be ruled – knows the importance of the other brothers and sisters in Christ, and as St. Paul says, that person must do whatever they do in love.    For St. Paul at least such love means  taking into account “the weaker ones” no matter how correct the leader might think he is.

St. John Cassian laments that men “declare ourselves abbas before we profess ourselves disciples.”

That is of course the path of unpreparedness for any who want to be bishops.

Before many a man ever lived as a parishioner, he wants to be bishop over parishes.  Before he has learned to be a disciple, he wishes to be master, despot.

Remember the Twelve, they too jockeyed to sit at the right hand of Christ, and debated which of them was the greatest.  Their concerns earned them serious rebuke from the Son of God.

There is a reality about the Church which is sometimes forgotten.  To enter the Kingdom of Christ, we must be Christian.  One can enter the Kingdom without being a bishop.  But in the Kingdom all must be Christians – disciples of the only Master and only Head of the Church, Jesus Christ.    When one shows that he has not learned to be a disciple, has not learned the wisdom of obedience, then not only is he no real bishop, his own salvation is put at risk.  It is far more loving and merciful for the church to take away the title of bishop from someone so that they can learn to be a disciple, than to try to preserve their episcopacy but cause them to lose entrance into God’s Kingdom.

See also my blogs:  Adventures in Wonderland and Metropolitan Council: What Were You Discussing?

Virtues as Vices and Vice Versa

“… there are many vices that appear as virtues.  For example, greed disguises itself as frugality and wastefulness is thought to be generosity.  Often laziness is accounted kindness and wrath appears as spiritual zeal.  And excessive haste is confused with the efficiency of promptness, while tardiness is taken for serious deliberation.     It is necessary, therefore, that the director of souls carefully discern the difference between the virtues and vices so that, on the one hand, he does not allow greed to take hold of the heart of the [sinner] who appears frugal or, on the other hand, so that he does not allow another to boast of his generosity, when, in effect, he is simply being wasteful.”  (St. Gregory the Great, THE BOOK OF PASTORAL RULE, pp 76-77)

Fellow Workers with God

St. Paul Preaching at Corinth

We are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become manifest; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.     (1 Corinthians 3:9-17)

All Christians are called to love one another, which often translates into being called into ministry and service.  Being a Christian is not a spectator’s sport.  We are in the arena, working with and for God.  We are supposed to be constantly in the process of building up the church (note the words edification and edifice are related!).  We are to come to the Liturgy prepared to work, to do all of the things commanded of us in the Liturgy – to pray, to pay attention, to lift up our hearts, to give thanks to the Lord, to love one another, to listen to the Gospel, to take and eat the Body of Christ, to give praise, to bless the Lord, etc.  St. John Chrysostom put it bluntly: 

St. Paul Inspiring St. John Chrysostom

“‘We hear that some of you,’ St Paul goes on, ‘are living in idleness, not doing any work.’  Even if they were passing the time in prayer and fasting, they would not be doing the manual work of which the Apostle is speaking.

He concludes: ‘Such persons we command and exhort in the name of the Lord Jesus to do their work in quietness and to earn their own living.’

Paul does not say: ‘If they are idler, let the community keep them.’ On the contrary, he demands two things: that they keep quiet, and that they work! “ (St.John Chrysostom On the Second Letter to the Thessalonians in Drinking from the Hidden Fountain – A Patristic Breviary, pg. 279)

Christ did not come into the world to be served, but rather to serve.  Neither should we show up at the Liturgy expecting to be served – we are there to imitate Christ, which means we are there to serve others.

St. Paul’s Backyard (July 2011)

I haven’t posted for a while photos from around our church, so I thought I would offer a few views today as the heat of summer broils us.

The hibiscus have been in full bloom, despite the heat.

Above is a view from the back acreage, across the creek, looking toward the church (which is not visible in the photo).  This was before a windstorm blew through downing a number of trees.  Our parish gardener, Les, continues his labor of love in creating a beautiful landscape in the church’s backyard.

The flowers bloom and thanksgiving is offered to God our Creator.    We are grateful also for Les’ hard work in creating a peaceful garden.   If you can’t get there to walk through it, enjoy this photo-journey.

A pink poppy in late bloom part of the wildflowers Les has established ‘across the creek.’

Above: also in the wildflowers, a purple coneflower.

Of course the flowers as beautiful as they are serve a purpose – to attract pollinating insects so the continuation of the flower’s species is guaranteed.  Creation’s biodiversity is needed for the survival of each species, as all species, including humans are interdependent on this diversity of life, the bio-systems which make up planet earth.  So far as we know, ours is the only planet with the uniqueness of life.  Some scientists keeping searching the universe for other signs of life and for planet capable of sustaining this life.

Beauty and diversity speak to me about a Creator.

The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.  Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.  There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. (Psalm 19:1-4)

“As a deer longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for You, O God.”  (Psalm 42:1)

You can view all of my photos of St. Paul Back Yard starting from January, 2011 at http://www.flickr.com/photos/frted/sets/72157626101966379/with/5931435228/

There click on the “slideshow” button above the thumbnail photos to watch a slideshow.





Pentecost (2011)

Now when the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitudes came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans?”And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? “Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, “Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and  proselytes, “Cretans and Arabs; we hear them speaking in our own tongues the  wonderful works of God.”  (Acts 2:1-11)

“We believe that in the Church the Old Testament prophecy has been fulfilled: ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declare, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh’ (Acts 2:17). God pours out his Spirity not upon just a certain member but upon all His people. All are charismatics since all have received the Spirit as a ‘pledge’ (arrabôn) of the new age to which the Church belongs while still abiding in this old age. The Church is the beginning of the ‘last days’ (eschatai hemerai).
Upon entering, the believer is set apart for ministry in the Church through the sending down of the Spirit. ‘The fullness of grace’ (omnis gratia) has an absolute but not relative, a permanent but not temporary, character, for only charismatics can be members of the Church. The gift of the Spirit that every member of the faithfull receives in the sacrament of initiation is the charism of royal priesthood. In the Church there are no gifts of the Spirit without ministry and there is no ministry without gifts. Through the charisma of the royal priesthood the Christian is call to priestly ministry in the Church.” (Nicholas Afanasiev, The Church of the Holy Spirit, pg. 3)