We have followed with interest the most recent exchanges in the discussion of the female diaconate, its history, and the arguments for and against its restoration in the Orthodox Church today. Before we summarize our own thoughts on these questions we wish to commend the St. Phoebe Center for the Deaconess for its invaluable, ongoing contributions to our common understanding of the issues.
We editors at Orthodoxy in Dialogue agree with each other in the following areas:
- We support a reasoned, informed, methodical approach to the restoration of the female diaconate in the foreseeable future.
- We do not regard deacons and deaconesses as liturgically interchangeable, although there is clearly a natural overlap in the exercise of their servanthood outside the liturgy. (The reduction of the male diaconate to a merely liturgical function must correspondingly cease.)
- We do not support the ordination of women to the priesthood or the episcopate.
- We fail to see how a restored female diaconate constitutes a slippery slope to a female presbyterate or episcopate. We have no apprehensions at all in this regard.
- Yet we do not wish to foreclose the discussion of a female presbyterate or episcopate, because one of two things will result: either we as the Church will come to a better understanding and articulation of why we do not ordain women priests and bishops, or we will conclude that no doctrinal reasons forbid it. (Cf. Acts 5:38-39.)
- We consider as absolutely indispensable an accurate and unbiased historiographical approach to the question of the female diaconate in particular and the role of women in the Church in general. This means that some of us may courageously have to modify what we have always held as “Tradition.” In this regard we commend the St. Phoebe Center once again, specifically for its outstanding “Towards a Reasoned and Respectful Conversation about Deaconesses” which appeared recently on Public Orthodoxy.
- While “A Public Statement on Orthodox Deaconesses by Concerned Clergy and Laity” contains some points with which we might agree, it suffers from an irrational fear of women, a desire to keep them in their place, and a serious confusion of diakonia with “authority.”
We editors disagree with each other in the following area:
- One of us supports the ordination of married women to the diaconate, following the same canonical requirements as male candidates.
- The other supports the historical requirement of celibacy for deaconesses. This would create a network of nuns assigned to parishes in twos and threes to perform a vital ministry of pastoral care in the midst of the world. (Cf. St. Maria of Paris.)
In the coming week or two we hope to follow up with a dialogical article by the editors on the possible roles that we see for 21st-century deaconesses.