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Woman Deacon



This provisional translation of the rites for the ordination of Deacons and Presbyters is made from the text in the Mega Euchologion. The rubrics in square brackets are not in the original, but describe the ceremony as it is actually performed.


The Subdeacon to be ordained Deacon stands during the whole Liturgy on the solea in front of the icon of Christ. He holds the pitcher and bowl and the towel for the washing of the Bishop’s hands before the Great Entrance. As Milton says, ‘They also serve who only stand and wait’.


The Deacon to be ordained Presbyter acts as the first Deacon at the Liturgy, even though more senior Deacons may also be taking part in the Liturgy.


The rite for ordaining Women Deacons, or Deaconesses, is no longer in use, though it was still in the printed Euchologia in the 17th century. The present translation is made from Goar, who used the Venetian edition of 1638 for his Euchologion. A number of other versions of the rite can be found in Dmitrievsky’s Eucholgia. Whereas in the early days of the Church women Deacons had a liturgical role in the administration of Baptism and more generally in ministry to the women of the congregation, analogous to that of male Deacons with regard to the men, by the sixth century, as one of Severos of Antioch’s letters, written to an ‘Archimanditess and Deaconess’, makes clear, the female diaconate seems to have been given more as an honour, particularly to abbesses and senior nuns, rather than as a practical necessity, “In the case of a female deacon, especially in the monasteries, ordination is received not so much for the sake of the requirements of the Mysteries, but for the sake of honour only”. The two prayers of the rite, in particular the second, seem to reflect the monastic side of this development. There is, I think, no evidence that women Deacons ever had a role in the Eucharistic rite like that of male Deacons. Canon 19 of the First Council of Nicea seems to imply that women Deacons are not ordained, but are lay people. By Chalcedon the situation seems to have changed, and the extant rite reflects this development.

The ordination takes place at the same point of the Liturgy as that for male Deacons and the principal role of the diaconate as the minister of the Chalice is stressed by the giving of the Chalice to the newly ordained woman Deacon. This clearly indicates that the newly ordained was admitted to the Sanctuary and stood near the Altar. The 14th century canonist Matthew Blastares notes that, ’except for a few things, the ordination of women deacons is to be performed like that for male deacons’. He notes particularly that ‘she is brought to the Holy Table’. The rubrical details in the  older books are few and the actual formula of ordination is not given in full. As a result we do not know how the candidate was described or what her ecclesiastical status was before ordination. I do not think the fact that she only bows and does not kneel has any theological significance.

Proclaiming the Gospel is primarily the task of the Bishop, who is ordained before the Gospel. The Deacon is the most junior minister who is permitted to read the Gospel in the Christian Assembly.

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Archimandrite Ephrem ©

This page was last updated on 03 November 2008