A meeting of the Greek Orthodox
bishops of Africa, under the Greek-Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa, met in Alexandria, Egypt, this week under the leadership of Patriarch Theodoros II. Having met on November 15-17, the synod of bishops reported out that it has decided to restore the institution of female deacons (deaconesses) while also establishing a commission to conduct “a thorough examination of the matter." At the synod, Metropolitan Bishop Gregorios of Cameroon presented his report about the potential role of deaconesses.
In a coThis is what official sources of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria report. The potential role of female deaconesses in the missionary work was presented in a report to the synodal Assembly by Metropolitan Gregorios of Cameroon. In the final communiqué from the synod stressed that "the different approaches to the problems of the Church's life are not for us deviations from Orthodox truths, but represent adjustments to the African reality." According to a report from the Vatican’s Fides News Service, “The discussion on the possibility of restoring female deacons and on the potential role of female deacons in the pastoral activities and missionary animation has been open for some time within the Chalcedon Orthodoxy theological institutions.”
The church is commonly called the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria in order to distinguish it from the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria. Members of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate were once known as Melkites, because they remained in communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople after the schism that followed the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD.
In August of this year, Pope Francis established a commission to study the possibility of instituting female deacons in the Catholic Church. Archbishop Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer, a priest of the Jesuit order, is leading the commission. He also serves as secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. "In my opinion," said Ladaria Ferrer online a few days ago "at the moment the Pope wants to make an objective study, not to reach a decision, but to study how things were in the early days of the Church."
The issue of deaconesses has been controversial with the Catholic Church. Advocates for the ordination of women to the priesthood have contended that references to deaconesses in the early years of the Church is evidence that women may be ordained to the priesthood, much to the contrary of centuries of tradition. A member of the pope’s Special Commission for the Study of the Diaconate of Women is an advocate of female ordination to the priesthood. In May of this year, the pope promised a group of female religious that he would appoint the commission. “After intense prayer and mature reflection,” according to a statement in August, Pope Francis decided to set up the commission.
The institution of deaconesses is controversial within the Orthodox churches as well. Observers say that the decision taken in Alexandria is merely to re-open discussion of the issue, rather than the institution of a female diaconate. The word "deacon" is derived from the Greek word diákonos (διάκονος), which is a standard ancient Greek word meaning "servant, "waiting-man," "minister,” or "messenger." Some etymologists believe that the word literally means "through the dust", referring to the dust raised by the busy servant or messenger.
According to the Greek Orthodox Information Center
website, deaconesses in the early Church were the counterparts of deacons. Because baptism involved the total immersion of the unclothed body of the baptized, along with the annointing of their entire bodies with oil, for the sake of decency, male deacons were not permitted to grant the sacrament of baptism to women. Therefore, deaconesses in concert with deacons performed that role.