Παρασκευή, 14 Δεκεμβρίου 2018

THE DISAPPEARING DEACONESS: HOW THE HIERARCHICAL ORDERING OF THE CHURCH DOOMED THE FEMALE DIACONATE


Brian Patrick  Mitchell


The Disappearing Deaconess
How the Hierarchical Ordering of the Church Doomed the Female Diaconate
 Brian Patrick Mitchell March 10, 2017
ABSTRACT Arguments for reviving the order of deaconess in the Orthodox Church have empha-sized historical precedent for the existence and ordained status of deaconesses in the ChurchÕs first millennium, on the assumption that since the Church once had deaconesses, it can have them again. This assumption, however, fails to take into consideration evolutionary changes in Orthodox ecclesiology that account for the fe-male diaconateÕs disappearance and therefore discount both historical precedent and putative need as justifications for its revival. This study will demonstrate how an in-creasingly hierarchical ecclesiology doomed the order of deaconess by forcing it into conflict with Christian beliefs about the natural and economical order of the man and the woman. The study will first summarize what is known about deaconesses in the early Church, weigh various explanations for the decline and disappearance of the order, survey early Christian teaching on gender to provide a broader context for un-derstanding the female diaconate, then trace the hierarchical evolution of Church or-ganization Ñ from the many more or less informal offices mentioned in the New Tes-tament to the emergence of the clerical orders we know today, with increasing em-phasis on the distinction of clergy and laity leading to the concept of ÒhierarchyÓ as understood by the Pseudo-Dionysius. Together, Christian beliefs about gender and the ChurchÕs hierarchical evolution are sufficient to explain why deaconesses were never universally accepted throughout the Church, why their duties were always very limited, why other duties were not found for them when they were no longer needed to assist in baptism, why they were never very numerous even where they were known, and why the Church eventually stopped ordaining them.