After the first ordination of a woman in Zimbabwe

Patriarch: Many questions about the ordination of female deacons remain unanswered

Alexandria - The Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria decided years ago to revitalise the old office of deaconess: The first woman was recently ordained in Zimbabwe. This caused a worldwide sensation – now the patriarch is speaking out.

Published  on 13.05.2024 at 12:11  – 

The Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria still sees open questions regarding the ordination of women as deacons. However, the patriarchate is fundamentally in favour of the ordination of female deacons, according to a statement published on Friday. "The mission in Africa needs women deacons, especially for pastoral care and the baptism of adult women as well as in special cases such as widowhood in male-dominated societies, where widows would otherwise be excluded from social and church life," the statement said. The patriarchy spoke out after the consecration of Angelic Molen by Archbishop Serafim of Zimbabwe caused a worldwide stir and was the subject of controversy within the Orthodox Church.

The church is well aware of the position and ministry of female deacons, as described in the New Testament and in the early church canons, the patriarchate's statement continues. However, it must be pointed out that deaconesses were never appointed in liturgical functions, but as ordained women who were involved in general pastoral and liturgical tasks for women, where women would otherwise be excluded from church life. "As societies developed, matured and recognised the rights of women, the institution of the deaconess was no longer needed. However, there is evidence that this institution existed and that it is still part of the church's 'spiritual armoury' to deal with similar situations in particular local circumstances," the statement continued.

Archbishop Serafim also comments on his ordination of deaconesses

In Africa today, similar questions arise about the role of women as in the early church. For this reason, the Synod of the Patriarchate of Alexandria decided in principle in 2016 to revive this office. "However, this decision requires further consultation to finalise individual details, such as clothing, the nature of the ministry and the liturgical position of deaconesses in the life of the church today." These consultations have not yet been finalised.

Archbishop Serafim also reacted to the discussions surrounding his ordination. In the statement, which is available to the "Orthodox Times" newspaperthe metropolitan emphasised that he had already informed the Patriarch of Alexandria in 2022 of his intention to ordain a woman as a deacon. He received permission from him in 2023. In his statement, Serafim refers to the ordination rite of St Nektarios of Aegina, who ordained women at the beginning of the 20th century but was unable to establish a tradition in the Orthodox Church of Greece. The Archbishop also points out that the ordination of women is in the context of the significance of Mary, the Mother of God, in the history of salvation.

Precedent without binding force for other local churches

Although the ordination of a woman is a precedent, it does not bind other local churches. The Archbishop regretted the confusion that had arisen and announced that the ministry of female deacons would be further defined by the Patriarchate's Synod through framework regulations. The Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and the whole of Africa had already decided in 2016 to admit women to the diaconateas was customary in the early church. In 2017, the first women in the Democratic Republic of Congo first women were ordained as subdeacons in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Unlike the subdiaconate, the diaconate belongs to the higher orders according to Orthodox understanding and is sacramental. The office of deaconess has a long tradition in Orthodoxy. It was never formally abolished, but from the Middle Ages onwards it was no longer practised by the majority. There have been repeated endeavours in the various Orthodox churches to revive the diaconate for women.

The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and the whole of Africa is in the tradition of the third patriarchate of the early church. St Mark the Evangelist is regarded as the founder of the Patriarchate of Alexandria. With around 250,000 believers in Egypt and other African states, it represents a minority and is headed by Patriarch Theodoros II. (fxn)