The recent decision of the Greek Orthodox to ordain women as deacons has been largely unreported, but the move may have an impact on the role of women in the Roman Catholic Church, writes Phyllis Zagano in America magazine (Feb. 7).
Without much fanfare or press coverage, last fall, the Orthodox Church of Greece voted to restore the female diaconate after more than one thousand years [the decision does not directly affect the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in the U.S., and women deacons would have more limited roles than men]. While women deacons had virtually disappeared by the ninth century, “the facts of their existence were well known and discussion of the restoration of the female diaconate in Orthodoxy began in the latter half of the 20th century,” according to Zagano.
The revival of the order of deaconess in the Church of Greece was expected to begin in the winter of 2004-2005. The Armenian Apostolic Church has retained a female diaconate into modern times. Since the Catholic Church accepts the validity of the sacraments and orders of both churches, Zagano writes that women deacons may turn out to “be the most progressive idea the Orthodox Church can bring to the world.”
While recent documents from Rome attempt to rule out female deacons, they have not sought to pronounce authoritatively on the issue (as in the case of women priests). “It is becoming increasingly clear that despite the Catholic Church’s unwillingness to say yes to the restoration of the female diaconate as an ordained ministry of the Catholic Church, it cannot say no,“ Zagano concludes.
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