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History

A BRIEF HISTORY OF DEACONS IN THE ORTHODOX CHURCH


INTRODUCTION

The ministry of deacons (diaconate) has been an essential part of the Orthodox Church since the time of Christ until the present day. The following brief history will describe the diaconate’s origins in the Apostolic Age, the robust Golden Era in the second and third centuries, a more restrained period and gradual decline in the centuries that followed, the contemporary restoration efforts and suggestions for getting involved today.  

We pray that after learning about the diaconate, you will be motivated to help reinvigorate this little understood and underutilized ministry of male and female deacons, so that the needs of the faithful in our Orthodox communities can be met even more effectively and the diaconate itself can be restored to its rightful place as part of the “royal priesthood” of laity, deacons, priests and bishops described by St. Paul in his Epistles.

While service is the hallmark of all levels of the royal priesthood, only deacons, priests and bishops are formally ordained in the Orthodox Church, and each of these ministries has its own distinct calling.  According to John Chryssavgis, author of the definitive book, Remembering and Reclaiming Diakonia: The Diaconate Yesterday and Today, “the role and function of the deacon is one of service--always in the context of love and concern—within the community. . . . the role and function of the priest as one of sacrifice--always in the light and joy of the resurrection. . . the role and function of the bishop as the center of unity--always in the service of truth and teaching. . .”[fn]John Chryssavgis, Remembering and Reclaiming Diakonia: The Diaconate Yesterday and Today (Brookline, MA:  Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2009), 98.[/fn]  For the needs of the community to be met by its ordained ministry, all levels should be complete and functioning. Unfortunately the diaconate today is not at its full potential for historical reasons, but with a sustained attention, a revived diaconate that utilizes the many gifts of both men and women who have been called by God’s grace and properly trained can bring new vitality to the Body of Christ.

DEACONS IN THE APOSTOLIC AGE – FIRST CENTURY

Diakonia:   Service in Humility

In all its glory and mystery, the precious Body of Christ has been manifested for two thousand years in the faithful who comprise the church (i.e. what Orthodox theology refers to as the “Church Militant”).  These faithful constitute the royal priesthood of laity, deacons, priests and bishops who are called to serve their God and each other for the life of the world.  The Greek word for service, diakonia (from which the words deacon and diaconate are derived), has rich connotations in the Orthodox Church, referring first and foremost to the service at the Last Supper by Christ himself in answer to his disciples who wanted to know who among them should be considered the greatest.  Christ answered:  “he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs, as he who serves.  For who is greater, he who sits at the table or he who serves?  Is it not he who sits at the table?  Yet I am among you as the one who serves.”  (Luke 22:26-27)  In his humility, Christ then is the first deacon or minister, “one who serves.”

The First Deacons 

Deacons began serving the church shortly after Pentecost. According to the Book of Acts in the New Testament, the first deacons in the church were selected by the Holy Apostles themselves to assist them with widows:

Now in those days when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution.  Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, ‘It is not desirable that we should leave the world of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business, but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.’  And the saying pleased the whole multitude.  And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, who they set before the apostles; and when they had prayer, they laid hands on them. (Acts 6:1-6)  

The seven chosen men became known as The Seven, and St. Stephen First Martyr is considered the prototype for the diaconate. With the Apostles’ recognition that they needed assistants to help with the growing church, the diaconate as a ministry in its own right was begun with the appointed Seven and continued to flourish and grow with the help of both dedicated men and women.  St. Paul extolled the ministry of St. Phoebe Equal to the Apostles, the prototype for women deacons, in Romans 16:1: “I commend to you Phoebe, our sister who is a deacon of the church in Cenchrea, that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saint, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many of myself also.”

Qualifications and Duties

Qualifications for a deacon are first listed in 1 Timothy 3:8-13:

Likewise deacons must be reverent, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy for money, holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience. But let these also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons, being found blameless.  Likewise, women [deacons] must be reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things. Let deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.  For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a good standing and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus. 

In St. John Chrysostom’s commentary on these verses he points out that these same virtues apply to “women deacons as well, as this order is also in the highest degree necessary, useful and proper in the church.”[fn]Homily 11 on 1 Timothy. (PG62,553 CD). [/fn]  These texts basically convey that the underlying premise to the diaconate ministry (and, by extension, to all Christians) is holiness and purity of life--spiritual, psychological as well as physical.

Other references in the New Testament reveal the variety of service deacons performed including assisting bishops, educating, and baptizing.  Philip catechized and baptized the Ethiopian (Acts 8:5); the close relationship between bishops and deacons is related in Philipians 1:1:  “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.”  Author Kyriaki Karidoyanes FitzGerald in her definitive book, Women Deacons in the Orthodox Church:  Called to Holiness and Ministry, describes a number of early women deacon saints, including St. Tabitha the Merciful who did good deeds and giving to the poor and St. Lydia who converted many to Christianity through proselytizing.  Although the word “deacon” is not used in the New Testament to describe these women, the Orthodox Church honors them with the title of deacon after each of their names.[fn] Kyriaki Karidoyanes FitzGerald, Women Deacons in the Orthodox Church:  Called to Holiness and Ministry (Brookline, MA:  Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1998), 4.[/fn]

THE GOLDEN AGE OF DEACONS--SECOND AND THIRD CENTURIES

Following the death of the Apostles, the church continued to grow, and it was difficult for bishops and priests to be everywhere; therefore both male and female deacons were crucial to spreading and maintaining the continuity of the faith, especially in the local communities in many parts of the known world. Since public churches, as contemporary Christians understand them today, did not exist because Christianity was illegal until the fourth century, adherents met in catacombs, homes and secret churches.  After the church was freed from pagan imperial persecution, for reasons of public propriety, the cultural norm was to separate many of the activities of men and women, so male deacons assisted men and female deacons ministered to women, especially with adult baptisms that were common at the time.

Early church writers provide a glimpse of the varied work deacons performed.  One of the most positive supporters of the diaconate was St. Ignatius of Antioch (early second century) who wrote in his Epistle to the Philadelphians:  “Everyone should hold the deacon in as great respect as Jesus Christ!  For the deacons are fellow ministers or co-ministers in liturgy, in the word, in charity, in administration, and in authority.”  Special insight regarding deacons appears in the Didascalia Apostolorum, an important document written around 230 delineating how the early church functioned.  Those serving in the diaconate performed a wide-range of activities such as helping with the ill, poor and elderly, carrying the concerns of the laity to the bishop, keeping order in the services.

This period of persecution before the Ecumenical Councils is referred to as the Golden Age for deacons, but this applies primarily to the men who served.  The most active period for women deacons was the fourth through the seventh centuries, the period immediately following centuries of captivity of the church from the oppressive yolk of discrimination imposed on Christians by pagan Roman authorities.

THE DIACONATE AFTER THE GOLDEN AGE— FOURTH  CENTURY TO PRESENT

Canonical Restrictions

Despite persecutions, Christianity continued to grow in a pagan world and was finally recognized as legal with the Edict of Milan in 313, a letter signed by Roman Emperors Constantine I and Licinius that proclaimed tolerance of all religions in the Empire. However because there were serious doctrinal issues dividing the Christian community, in 325 Constantine convened the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea to resolve differences, develop a creed, and write canons, including some relating to deacons. 

Canon 2 that specified that a deacon must be in good standing with the faith, and Canon 3 that he not live in the same house with a woman other than his wife or relative. Canon 18 stated that deacons should enjoy the honor and respect of the laity, but should not administer the Eucharist to priests nor receive the Eucharist before the bishop and priest.  The text of Canon 18 illustrates the growing tension among deacons, priests and bishops: deacons should “remain within their proper place--. . .”  Chryssavgis in Remembering and Reclaiming Diakonia explains that this canon “marks both the historical climax of diaconal development and the commencement of a decline in the diaconal order.”[fn]Chryssavgis, Remembering and Reclaiming Diakonia, 59.[/fn] Other local and ecumenical councils promulgated rules and regulations regarding deacons throughout the centuries.

Ministry detailed in Apostolic Constitutions

The diaconate is more clearly defined in the Apostolic Constitutions (375-380), a document (influenced by the Didascalia written ca 230) consisting of eight treatises that details some of what we know about the diaconate: qualifications, responsibilities, and ordination rites for both women and men.  The language of these early references to ordination refer to the broad ministry of the diaconate without giving specific duties, emphasizing instead the individual’s relationship with God and the virtues to be attained and sustained (for more detail see “Ordination Rites below). Qualifications mentioned in the Apostolic Constitutions parallel those in the New Testament relating to exemplary character, good family relations, holiness and faithfulness.

After ordination, female deacons worked collaboratively with male deacons.  Both ministries of men and women were typically related to the bishops, with the deacons acting as mediators between the bishops and the laity.  Women practiced an evangelical ministry of educating adult women in the faith before baptism and then assisted with their baptisms, made pastoral visits to sick women in their homes, kept order among the women in church, acted as spiritual mothers, and headed monasteries. Deacons were often designated to serve as emissaries or ambassadors of bishops, even representing them at synods, ministered to the ill and helped with sacraments and the liturgy.  In the liturgy the deacon calls for the community to be attentive and leads the petitions to God, like an angel who goes between heaven and earth; and the orarion (stole), the distinctive vestment worn by deacon, is likened to the wings of an angel.  Throughout the centuries, and in response to various needs, the ministries of male and female deacons were adapted to serve in a variety of ways, while still making present the ministry of Christ as one who serves.

Deacon Saints

Because Christianity was illegal, many of the deacon saints of the Golden Age in the second and third centuries became martyrs, such as St. Stephen First Martyr and St. Apollonia of Alexandria Virgin Martyr.  While the diaconate may not have been as robust in the fourth century and beyond, there are examples of outstanding men and women deacons through this time period whose lives exemplify the range of service deacons practiced (listed in order of deaths):

St. Athanasius the Great (d. 373).  According to tradition, he participated in the First Ecumenical Council, using his gifts of intellect, persuasion and writing to influence beliefs about the nature of Christ that became part of the Nicene Creed.   Later  he was elevated to Patriarch of Alexandria.

St. Ephraim the Syrian (d. 373).  A theologian and prolific writer, he composed many hymns and wrote prose and poetry that helped define the faith, such as “The Prayer of St. Ephraim,” the most famous prayer of Great Lent.

St. Nonna (d.374).  The mother of St. Gregory the Theologian and wife of Gregory of Nanzianzus is praised for both raising her son in a pious Christian household and also praying for and instructing her husband (who did not grow up in the church), but later became a bishop. Shortly after his ordination she was ordained a deaconess, engaging in charitable work while continuing to be a model mother and wife.

St. Macrina the Great Teacher and Abbess (d. 379).  Elder sister of Ss. Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa and Peter Sebaste, she helped raise, educate and spiritually guide her siblings and then founded and directed a convent in Pontos.

St. Olympias (d. 408). The most famous woman deacon, known for her charitable giving, founded and headed a monastery, supervised women deacons at St. Sophia Cathedral in Constantinople, evangelized and taught newcomers, acted as a spiritual mother, and gave trusted advice to St. John Chrysostom. 

St. Paschasius of Rome (d.512), St. Gregory the Great writes in his Dialogos that St. Paschasius wrote several books on the Holy Spirit and that he was a “man of sanctity” who was kind to the poor.

St. Romanos the Melodist (d.556) Ordained a deacon in Beirut, he traveled to St. Sophia Cathedral in Constantinople and by a miracle received the gift of composing hymns to become one of the greatest hymnographers in the Orthodox Church.

St. Irene Chrysovalantou (Ninth century).  At an early age she became a monastic at the Monastery of Chrysovalantou in Constantinople, and provided an example of extreme piety by praying all night with raised hands.  She was ordained a deacon at St. Sophia, and became the abbess of the monastery where she was a spiritual mother who taught, healed, and blessed many of the faithful.

Perhaps the churches in Constantinople, the seat of the Byzantine Empire, best understood and utilized the diaconate ministry. The famous Third Novel (a collection of laws) of Emperor Justinian (482-565) specified that the great Hagia Sophia Cathedral should have 425 clergy, including 100 male and 40 female deacons.  To this day the Ecumenical Patriarchate located in Istanbul (Constantinople) is well known for its full use of deacons in many capacities. 

A Dwindling Ministry

Gradually the scope of the ministry of the diaconate narrowed, with more emphasis on the liturgical role for men at the expense of more diverse responsibilities. This development is closely related to the consequence of incorrect assumptions related to the deacon’s ministry in worship as being more “cultic” and ”superfluous decoration.”  In addition men were increasingly ordained a deacon and then a few days later ordained a priest.  The order still remained, however, and was vibrant in certain areas and churches.

The order for women was not eliminated by a canon or a council, but its decline was even more dramatic than the men’s. FitzGerald in Women Deacons in the Orthodox Church speculates that the decline happened for various reasons, including the following:  1) As infant baptisms increased, women were not needed to assist with the baptism of adult women.  2) There may have been reaction against early “Christian” Gnostic sects that advocated the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopacy. 3) The rise of Islam and its even stricter separation of males and females may have influenced society, especially after the fall of the Byzantine Empire to the Muslim Ottomans in the fifteenth century.  4) After the fall of the Byzantine Empire many Orthodox scholars fled to the West and were influenced by the Western Church that had relegated the male diaconate to an inferior ministry with only a liturgical role and temporary stage before ordination to the priesthood.  Some local councils in the West condemned ordination of women deacons altogether.   5) The third and fourth-century canons banning women from the Holy Altar because they menstruate (and are therefore impure physically and spiritually) regained prominence with commentaries by three twelfth and fourteenth century theologians.  However, they acknowledged that some women in the previous centuries had been allowed in the altar area.[fn] FitzGerald,  Women Deacons in the Orthodox Church, 134-147.[/fn](See “Frequently Asked Questions—“Would women deacons be permitted behind the iconostasion?”]

By the late Byzantine era ordination of women deacons in the Eastern Church was rare, and the ministry of the female deacon virtually ended; the ministry of male deacons continued, but in a limited way.  However the ordination rites for both ministries remain in the rubrics books, describing the sacred potential and the timeless calling of this blessed ministry of service to God and the community.

Ordination Rites for Women and Men

The first mention of ordination rites for deacons occurs in the Apostolic Constitutions, except for a brief mention in the Apostolic Tradition of St. Hippolytus of Rome in the third century. These rites solidified in the Codex Barberini in the eighth century and the Constantinopolitan Euchologia in the ninth--foundational texts that contain prayers and directions for conducting religious services are still used today.  The language of the Byzantine sacraments of ordination refers to the broad ministry of the diaconate without giving specific responsibilities, instead emphasizing service to God and the community.  

The ordination rites for men and women are remarkably similar: Both 1) take place within the context of the liturgy at the same time in the sanctuary before the holy altar; 2) are conducted by a bishop in the presence of clergy; 3) use similar invocations and prayers, including referencing the first prototype deacons, St. Stephen First Martyr and St. Phoebe of Cenchreae. For example, at the end of the ordination sacrament the bishop recites the following prayer with his right hand on the man’s head: “Do you also, Master, preserve this man--whom, through me, you have deemed worthy to elevate to the ministry of the diaconate--in all godliness, holding fast to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.  Grant him the grace, which you granted to Stephen your first martyr, whom you also first called to the work of your diaconate.”  Interestingly one of the prayers in the woman’s rite deals directly with the calling of women to serve the Lord: “Sovereign Lord, who does not reject women offering themselves and desiring to minister in your holy houses in accordance with what is fitting, but rather receives them into an order of ministers; bestow the grace of your Holy Spirit also upon this your servant who desires to offer herself to you and fill her with the grace of the diaconate just as you gave the grace of your diaconate to Phoebe whom you called to the  work of ministry.”   4) At the end of the sacrament, the bishop vests the deacon by bestowing cuffs for the wrists (epimanikia) and an orarion, a narrow stole that flows down the front and the back from the left shoulder.  Men are given a ripidion (small fan) signifying his readiness to serve within the context of the liturgical service.  At various times throughout the liturgy the deacon moves the stole to various positions, facilitating freedom of movement for what is to come next in the service. These actions somewhat resemble the movement of angel wings and symbolize the role of mediator between heaven and earth.

As the ministry of the female deacons varied through history under numerous contexts, certain sections of the Orthodox church demonstrated a confusion about deaconesses’ receiving ordination to major orders (cheirotonia) like male deacons.  The church affirmed the validity of this ordination rite at an official Pan-Orthodox Consultation in Rhodes in 1988 entitled “The Place of the Woman in the Orthodox Church and the Question of the Ordination of Women.”[fn]The Place of The Woman in the Orthodox Church and the Question of the Ordination of Women (Minneapolis:  Light and Life Publishing Company, 1990), 17-19.[/fn] (See “Frequently Asked Questions—Were women ordained or appointed deacons?”)

RESTORATION OF THE DIACONATE TODAY

Meeting the Needs

Why should the diaconate be revived in its fullness today if the church has functioned for centuries without a robust diaconate ministry?  Simply, stated, the needs of the people of God never have been, nor are they today, ever static. Today in numerous places, there is a dire need for “additional laborers,” a vibrant third ordained group of “bonus” ministers who would be persons of prayer and who are called by the Holy Spirit to minister to others. Shouldn’t the church ministry be striving to function at the level and potential envisioned by the Apostles, St. Paul, and the early church fathers and mothers?  For the ministry of our Lord and Savior to reach its full potential, shouldn’t all of those who are called, tested, and qualified be given the opportunity and support?  For the three-fold ministry of the church to be full and complete, all three orders--deacons, priests and bishops--must be vibrant and healthy.  The church today deserves no less.  As Timothy Ware writes in The Orthodox Church:  “There is a pressing need in contemporary Orthodoxy for the diaconate ministry to be rethought and reinvigorated.”[fn]Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church. 1963. New Edition (London:  Penguin Books, 1997), 292.[/fn]

What can deacons do today that would fulfill their individual calling to serve the church?  In practical terms, deacons can help priests and bishops who carry very heavy loads in meeting the needs of the faithful.  The present needs and service parallel those of the past:  proselytizing, educating, theological dialogue, writing, social service, charity, administration, pastoral care, assisting with sacraments (including the Divine Liturgy and taking Holy Communion to shut-ins), preaching, counseling, spiritual guidance, and service in monasteries.  Each community would assess its needs and the special gifts of the deacon and prayerfully consider current training programs that are offered.  (See “Becoming a Deacon”).  According to a survey entitled “Evolving Visions of the Orthodox Priesthood in America” taken by Alexei Krindatch for the Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute in 2006, sixty-two percent of priests say they would be interested in having deacons serve with them.[fn] Alexei Krindatch, “Evolving Visions of the Orthodox Priesthood in America:  A Study Report,” Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute, Berkeley, CA, 2006, Tab. 29, p. 56, www.orthodoxinstitute.org/file/evolvvisstudrepwebpost.pdf [/fn]

The qualifications today parallel those of the New Testament that call for a candidate to be “reverent . . . holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience . . . .  blameless.  . . . [of] good standing and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 3:8-13)  Candidates should undergo extensive self-examination regarding their calling, appropriate diaconal education, guidance from respected clergy, and evaluation before being ordained by their bishop.  Both a candidate’s priest and bishop must be confident about the sincerity of the calling, integrity and qualifications of the candidate.  

Many other practical questions have to be addressed:  Should deacons be paid?  Can churches afford them?  If deacons are not paid, how do they balance their non-church work and service to the church? How to encourage men to honor their ordination to the diaconate and not use their positions as a “shortcut” to ordained priesthood that normally requires an advanced degree or a graduate degree from an Orthodox theological seminary? How to educate the laity, priests and bishops about the validity of the diaconate, dispelling the misunderstanding that it is simply a stepping stone or apprenticeship to the priesthood or a super acolyte?

Contemporary Church Programs

An effort to revive the diaconate in the United States is underway in the Orthodox Churches.  The following four churches have diaconal training for those interested in serving as deacons: 

*American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese (Readers/Deacons Formation Program) 

*Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese

(St. Stephen’s Course of Studies)

*Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

(Special Program for the Diaconate) 

*Orthodox Church in America 

(Diaconal Vocations Program) 

Orthodox churches without programs refer candidates to one of the above.    

Ordaining Women Deacons

Reviving the diaconate for women has its own special history and challenges.   In Greece in 1911 Bishop Nektarios ordained two nuns on the island of Aegina in Greece. Some skeptics questioned whether these were genuine ordinations or merely appointments, resulting in confusion and controversy.    (See “Frequently Asked Questions—Were women ordained or appointed deacons?”)  In 1954 a report by Professor Evangelos Theodorou, University of Athens School of Theology who has made the issue of women deacons his life’s work, said a few monasteries in Greece had appointed deaconesses, and from 1951-53 the Church of Greece ran a graduate school for lay deaconesses in Athens, but the school was eventually absorbed into the School of Social Work. 

In the United States in 1953 Archbishop Michael of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA) tried to recruit women candidates for the order of deaconess to be trained at St. Basil’s Academy in Garrison, New York; however, families were reluctant to let their daughters travel far from home.  GOA Archbishop Iakovos in his 1960 Clergy Laity address called for the establishment of a school for deaconesses; he subsequently called for the school once again in 1962, but it went unheeded. 

On the international scene, sixteen years later in 1976 in Romania Orthodox scholars gathered from around the world to study the issue of whether women could be ordained and the female diaconate revived. Additional conferences were held in 1980 (St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary, New York); and, according to FitzGerald in Women Deacons in the Orthodox Church,  “The most authoritative call for the restoration of the order of the women deacons came from the Inter-Orthodox Theological Consultation held in Rhodes, Greece [in 1988].  Convened by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, this symposium brought together official representative from all the Orthodox Churches to study ‘The Place of the Woman in the Orthodox Church and the Question of the Ordination of Women’. . . . The Consultation formally and unanimously advocated the restoration of the order of women deacons.”  It also resolved the issue of ordination vs. appointment in favor of ordination.[fn]Kyriaki FitzGerald, Women Deacons in the Orthodox Church, 160-162.[/fn]  Seven years later in 1995 His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew stated in two interviews:  “There is no canonical difficulty in ordaining women as deacons in the Orthodox Church,” and “it is important to watch for ‘the signs of the times.’”(Matthew 16:3)[fn] Ibid.,168-9.  In 1997 Timothy Ware wrote again in The Orthodox Church:   “In the Christian east [female deacons] were blessed with the same prayers and according to exactly the same rite as male deacons, so there are sound reasons to place them on the same sacramental level.”[fn]Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church, 292.[/fn]

Despite these positive statements and the fact that in recent decades monasteries have ordained deaconesses for life within the confines of their communities in Greece, no lay woman as been ordained for ministry to serve within a local diocesan or parish context.  Women deacons would be ordained by bishops, but unless the bishops discern and respond to the “signs of the times” from those communities that strongly desire this ministry, nothing will happen.  

Revival of the ordination of women deacons faces special challenges:  1) A fear that if women are ordained deacons, they will demand to become priests;  2) confusion whether women should be allowed in the altar area because of third to fourteenth-century canons that banned them because of the physical and spiritual impurity caused by menstruation.  (See “Frequently Asked Questions—Would women deacons be permitted behind the inconstasion?”);  3) uncertainty regarding the liturgical role of women in the liturgy.  It has been suggested that this last issue be resolved today by each individual bishop in consultation and communication with their brother bishops and the church generally.

Women were a part of the early diaconate as recognized in scripture, lives of the saints, and by early Church Fathers such as St. John Chrysostom, and the Apostolic Constitutions.  Further there is no theological preclusion of women as reportedly acknowledged in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, most frequently in 1988.  Therefore, as Chryssavgis wrote in Remembering and Reclaiming Diakonia, “inasmuch as the Eastern Orthodox Church proved to be the exceptional cradle of the female diaconate through the centuries, restoring the female diaconate will invariably be an important consequence of remembering and reclaiming the diaconate itself.”[fn]John Chryssavagis, Remembering and Reclaiming Diakonia, 19.[/fn]

CONCLUSION:  “WITH GOD ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE”

This brief history shows the long tradition of the diaconate to be one of varied service and engagement--from the robust Golden Era in the second and third centuries with many deacons, the more restrained engagement in the centuries that followed, the gradual decline, and contemporary restoration efforts.  Yet, throughout this complex history, the ordained diaconate has not disappeared, but retains respect as a full ministry, although misunderstood.  In each Divine Liturgy today, the faithful pray twice for the diaconate along with the entire royal priesthood:    “For our Archbishop, for the honored order of presbyter, for the diaconate in Christ, for all the clergy and the people, let us pray to the Lord.”

The question is how to restore the diaconate to complete the fullness of the royal priesthood of laity, deacons, presbyters and bishops.  Fullness includes ordaining into the diaconate all who are genuinely called, qualified, and prepared, including both men and women.  Their service will be varied according to the needs of the community and their own gifts.

How can this be accomplished?  “With God all things are possible.”  (Matthew19:26).  Those inspired by the Holy Spirit may help with the revitalization of the diaconate in many different ways. We encourage you to get involved!