Women Deacons are technically Ordained Ministers

Women Deacons link all the way back to Phoebe, a female deacon in the New Testament. Phoebe was mentioned by name, and there were countless other female deacons just after the time of Jesus. A Deacon is the same as an ordained minister since they can officiate marriages, perform wedding ceremonies, and other clergy functions in which ordination is required. Deacons are actually ordained in an ordination ceremony. Below is a photo of women deacons being ordained in Armenia, near where the first Christians (such as Phoebe) lived. Asia Minor / Turkey is considered the cradle of Christianity (Israel the birthplace) and Armenia, a land full of the descendants of those ancient Christians, is right next to Turkey. They still ordain women. Very cool.

The Women Deacons of the Armenian Church

July 6, 2013 By 

Hours after this story broke, about the head of the CDF’s remarks on women deacons, the item below popped up in my Google newsfeed. I think it opens a window to a part of the Christian world many of us in the Latin church don’t know about.

The story recounts a talk given last month in Illinois by the historian Knarik O. Meneshian, who gave some of the background behind women deacons in the Armenian Apostolic Church:

“Women deacons, an ordained ministry, have served the Armenian Church for centuries. In the Haykazian Dictionary, based on evidence from the 5th-century Armenian translations, the word deaconess is defined as a ‘female worshipper or virgin servant active in the church and superior or head of a nunnery.’ Other pertinent references to women deacons in the Armenian Church are included in the ‘Mashdots Matenadarn collection of manuscripts from the period between the fall of the Cilician kingdom (1375) and the end of the 16th century, which contain the ordination rite for women deacons.’

“The diaconate is one of the major orders in the Armenian Church. The word deacon means to serve ‘with humility’ and to assist. The Armenian deaconesses historically have been called sargavak or deacon. They were also referred to as deaconess sister or deaconess nun. The other major orders of the church are bishop and priest. The deaconesses, like the bishops and monks, are celibate. Their convents are usually described as anabad, meaning, in this case, not a ‘desert’ as the word implies, but rather ‘an isolated location where monastics live away from populated areas.’ Anabads differ from monasteries in their totally secluded life style. In convents and monasteries, Armenian women have served as nuns, scribes, subdeacons, deacons, and archdeacons (‘first among equals’), as a result not only giving of themselves, but enriching and contributing much to our nation and church. In the 17th century, for example, the scribe and deaconess known as Hustianeh had written ‘a devotional collection of prayers and lives of the fathers, and a manuscript titled Book of Hours, dated 1653.’

…To appreciate more fully the role of the deaconess in the church, Father Abel Oghlukian’s book, The Deaconess In The Armenian Church, refers to Fr. Hagop Tashian’s bookVardapetutiun Arakelots… (Teachings of the Apostles…), Vienna, 1896, and Kanonagirk Hayots(Book of Canons) edited by V. Hakobyan, Yerevan, 1964, in which a most striking thought is expressed:

If the bishop represents God the Father and the priest Christ, then the deaconess, by her calling, symbolizes the presence of the Holy Spirit, in consequence of which one should accord her fitting respect.

“Over the centuries, in some instances, the mission of the Armenian deaconesses was educating, caring for orphans and the elderly, assisting the indigent, comforting the bereaved, and addressing women’s issues. They served in convents and cathedrals, and the general population…

“Mkhitar Gosh (l130-1213), who was a priest, public figure, scholar, thinker, and writer, ‘defended the practice of ordaining women to the diaconate,’ Ervine writes, and she adds that in his law book titled, On Clerical Orders and the Royal Family, Gosh  described women deacons and their specific usefulness in the following words:

There are also women ordained as deacons, called deaconesses for the sake of preaching to women and reading the Gospel. This makes it unnecessary for a man to enter the convent or for a nun to leave it.

When priests perform baptism on mature women, the deaconesses approach the font to wash the women with the water of atonement behind the curtain.

Their vestments are exactly like those of nuns or sisters, except that on their forehead they have a cross; their stole hangs from over the right shoulder.

Do not consider this new and unprecedented as we learn it from the tradition of the holy apostles: For Paul says, ‘I entrust to you our sister Phoebe, who is a deacon of the church.’

Read more.

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Katia is a consecrated independent sacramental bishop. She directs the online Esoteric Mystery School and Interfaith Theological Seminary. Check it out at NorthernWay.org.

3 thoughts on “Women Deacons are technically Ordained Ministers”

  1. I am in complete agreement that the early church featured women in roles of clergy. They obviously did!

    This is why historical criticism of the bible can be so useful.

    From such studies we learn that the “Pastorial Letters” of “Paul” were almost certainly *not* written by Paul, but were much later texts. By then the male-domination was coming back to the fore, and *this* is why we see women being told to essentially sit down and shut up – just the *opposite* to Paul’s actual position!

    Spiritually speaking, women’s roles in the clergy as every bit as valid as the roles men play in the clergy.


    I do wish at least some of this modern scholarship would make it into the main stream churches.


  2. Wow, Erik, you touched an interesting point about St. Paul – women shall not speak in church – yes, it seems that St Paul is not the author of those words, but they have been included under his name.

    So, women should not go to confession ? …if they are not allowed to talk in church….

    I would like to see a comment on this by a Christian priest/ pastor?

  3. Hi Jenny,

    Sorry I didn’t see your post until now. As there have been no attempts to address your questions, I’ll give it a go as a newly ordained Old Catholic priest (Jan. 25, 2013).

    Women not speaking in church / Confession

    I’m just going by memory here, but I recall no reason to believe the sacrament of confession / penance was in place as early as the writing of the pastoral letters. This was a later development, growing out of Church Tradition. And at the time Paul wrote these letters, there was no “Church” let alone Church Tradition.

    Some may dispute this point, saying all the sacraments go back to Jesus, and therefore have always been in place. My opinion is this is revisionist history.

    We may make such as argument for the celebration of the Eucharist (Holy Communion) and I think we can build a case for the sacrament of anointing for healing, as that has a long standing tradition dating back in the ancient Hebrew traditions.

    But neither the bible nor Church Traditions were dropped into our laps in well defined, developed forms. Both are an organic process of growth; growth which took place over centuries.

    So the specific answer would be there was no implied connection at that time. The so called pastoral letters of Paul are generally dated to some time around 60-65 ce. Individual confession may not have become common until as late as the 11th century (which became Roman Catholic canon law in 1215, at the Fourth Council of the Lateran, according to my Internet search).

    But this is really somewhat of a technical point, and not very important in the greater scheme of things.

    I think the implied questions are of much greater importance!

    Is there any reason to think women ever were treated equally in the early Christian tradition?

    Yes. Read the letters of Paul – his authentic letters, not those written in his name but by another person. We find Paul speaks well of women, and they are included in his understanding of the ministry, as deacons and what not.

    The authentic letters of Paul are our earliest Christian writings. They are our best sources of information regarding the early church.

    Should women be treated equally?

    Most certainly, yes!

    Even when the New Testament says otherwise?


    We must bring our minds as well as our hearts to bear when engaging in biblical interpretation. The Hebrew bible and the Christian New Testament books were written during a clearly male-dominated period of history. This is obvious to us. But that does not mean it is desired behavior at this time.

    Spirituality matures over time. This is true of us as individuals as well as cultures.

    Bottom Line

    If a given biblical interpretation or Church Tradition demonstrates Love, it is showing us how to live our lives to the fullest meaning. As Bishop Spong says: love wastefully!

    Jesus got it right when he said it all boils down to one thing: Love. Love God; love others. I would add, love yourself (in a healthy way, not as an egotist; which one will note will fails to meet the previous standards of fulfilling the commandment to Love).

    Among the most difficult things to do is love those who hate us and treat us poorly. But Jesus says this is our standard of behavior! It can be extremely difficult, and we will fail at times. But each moment presents a new opportunity.

    So when you face a situation requiring discernment, measure it (or them) by the Fruit born. (Another of Jesus’ admonishments.)

    Ignore as best you can the bad fruits. Eat of the good fruits.

    Steer toward that which brings more love into into your heart, and through you, into the world at large.


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