The Southern Regional Chapter of St. Phoebe Center hosted a program, “Restoring the Holy Orthodox Tradition of Deaconess” at St. Katherine Greek Orthodox Church, in Falls Church, VA, on May 28, 2015.
Over forty people from Romanian, Greek, OCA, Antiochian, and Russian parishes in the Washington area and Richmond, VA, attended. Participants shared their enthusiasm, concerns and questions in a lively discussion after the presentations.
The conversation and planning next steps will continue on Thursday, July 16, 2015.
Two recaps of recent women deacons conferences were presented: Matushka Alexandra Safchuk (St. Mark Orthodox Church, Bethesda, MD) read the summary prepared by Lena Zezulin (Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. John, Washington) of the St. Phoebe Center Conference, December 6, 2014, in New York City. Marilyn Rouvelas (St. Katherine Greek Orthodox Church, Falls Church, VA) recapped the conference held by the Center of Ecumenical, Missiological and Environmental Studies in January, 2015 at Thessalonki, Greece.
Christina Jatras and Dionne Manos (Protection of the Holy Mother of God Orthodox Church, Falls Church, VA) who had attended the St. Phoebe New York conference, joined Matushka Alexandra and Marilyn for a panel discussion with the audience. The discussion included concerns about what women deacons could do today to serve and meet the needs of the Church, why the Church stopped ordaining them, what liturgical role women had in the early Church, and whether ordination to the diaconate might lead to ordination to the priesthood. The panelists explained that the ordination of women deacons is not a pathway to priesthood, but a restoration of a historic ministry. It was pointed out that the definitive Inter-orthodox Consultation on “The Place of Women in the Orthodox Church” at Rhodes, Greece, in 1988, concluded that women could not be ordained priests, but could be ordained deacons.
Attendees wanted to know the process for getting women ordained, and it was pointed out that ordination is by a bishop who would need to have the approval of his synod before doing so. One of the benefits of ordination is that a deacon is accountable to the bishop. The discussion showed that this ministry is entering new territory and will entail extensive dialogue among the bishops, priests, deacons, diaconate program directors and laity to determine how these women could serve the church today, the required qualifications, and how they would be educated and trained. The document, Dialogue, not Demands: Engagement Suggestions from St. Phoebe Center was used as a basis for discussion about next steps.
Exploration, discussion and planning will continue at the next meeting on July 16, 2015, in Arlington, VA. For more information on this meeting email mrouvelas