Sunday, October 08, 2006

Rome, Women and Holy Orders (kinda)

Ben over at Western Orthodoxy has a pretty disturbing piece up on the very quiet but pronounced expansion of the role of women in the Latin Church. It would seem they are discreetly being given the authority to do just about everything except actually pronounce consecration at Mass (and presumably absolution in confession). One very interesting comment from the article which I commend to the reader in its entirety is...

"The Orthodox Church (both Eastern and Western rite) has a similar service, in which a Deacon leads a worship service, then communes the faithful with "Presanctified Communion" (or "Reserved Sacrament"). However, the person leading the modern RCC worship is -- a woman. At this point, a baptized Roman Catholic woman may exercise nearly all the parish functions of an ordained deacon in the traditional Church. One wonders what it might do to the ecumenical dialogue if Orthodoxy knew Rome had created female deacons by stealth?

A conservative Lutheran professor of mine once asked, "How can the Roman Catholics hope to avoid female ordination when they have altar girls?" How can they possibly avoid it now that they have stealth priestesses?"

I do not agree with the last word in the above quote. Not even the most liberal bishops in the Roman Church have gone that far... yet.. But, there is not a shadow of a doubt in my mind that there are many who want to. It is likely that the only thing holding them back is the Vatican. This whole situation is of course unthinkable in Orthodoxy. Female ordination is not even a controversial subject over here. At the risk of sounding polemic, this begs a serious question. What has happened to the sensus fidei of the west that this is possible? And can we Orthodox seriously entertain even the remote possibility of communion with a church whose adherence to one of the most basic tenants of the Apostolic Faith (at least below the level of the Vatican) has become highly questionable?


Steve Hayes said...

Well, part of the reason I became Orthodox was when the Anglicans did something similar. In 1979 the Church of the Province of Southern Africa at its synod received a report urgin g that the diaconate be abolished because a lay minisater could do everything that a deac on can du, and then immediately afterwards proposed that women be ordained to the diaconate.

As a result a Commission was set up to look into the diaconate (I was a member) and it had neetings over the next three years, flying pweople around the country at great expense. When it presented its report to the next synod, the synod refused top discuss the report, but neverthe;ess decided to ordain women to the diaconate, a ministry it believed should not exist and didn't want to know anything about.

When it was announced that the first female deacon would be ordained, I left.

Anonymous said...

What about the Church in Greece's recent decision to start ordaining deconesses?

John (Ad Orientem) said...

The deaconess in Orthodox tradition is a female lay person who performed certain non liturgical functions in the church. In some cases these functions could not be done by priests due to social and religious conventions at the time. The First Council of Nicea (325) stated that deaconesses did not receive ordination to Holy Orders. Their function in the early Church was not the same as that of male deacons who were considered ordained clergy with very definite liturgical functions. Although rules and practice undoubtedly varied from time to time and place to place, it seems that the main role of the deaconess was to help with the catechizing of female catechumens. They also helped with various charitable acts and probably assisted priests with Baptisms and Chrismation of female converts since it was forbidden at the time for a male to touch a naked female not their wife. In all cases the priest recited the appropriate words of the sacrament while the immersion was likely performed by the deaconess.

It is a mistake to suggest that deaconesses ever died out completely. Although their numbers have been few, the Russian Church and also the Church in Japan have had some into modern times. The formal decision by the Greek Orthodox Church to revive this lay office is controversial since there seems little specific reason for it. All of the functions that were performed by deaconesses in the ancient church are performed by lay persons of both genders today with the exception of assisting at Baptisms and Chrismations which are rarely conducted in the nude. In the rare case where a female adult is to be baptized in the nude it is still the custom for a female lay person or monastic to assist the priest by performing the immersion. This lay office as it has always been understood in Orthodoxy can in no way be compared to the extraordinary powers being given to women in the Roman Church in modern times. No Orthodox jurisdiction in North America currently has deaconesses, although the lay office which exists in the Greek, Russian and Japanese Churches is fully canonical. I hope this helps.