The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa is to reinstitute the ancient order of women deacons, in order to better serve the pastoral needs of the Patriarchate, which serves the entire continent of Africa.
The Patriarchate of Alexandria is currently meeting for its two-day synod, where participants led by Pope Theodoros II, Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa, are discussing “The very essential African issue: Ecclesiastical Marriage in African Affinity."
A group of nine prominent Greek Orthodox liturgists – who describe themselves as active and emeriti professors of liturgics and liturgical theology at various theological schools and seminaries in Greece and the US – has since issued a statement in support of the move.
“The reinstitution of the female diaconate does not constitute an innovation, as some would have us believe, but the revitalisation of a once functional, vibrant, and effectual ministry in order to provide the opportunity for qualified women to offer in our era their unique and specific gifts in the service of God’s people,” they write on their blog, Panorthodox Cemes.
The group point out that the restoration process requires that the role and functions of the deaconess be “identified, properly defined, and clearly stated”. They also suggest that the public attire and the method of assignment and removal of the deaconess must be addressed.
In May last year, Pope Francis told an international group of women and men religious that the Catholic Church needed women’s voices, input, and experiences.
He went on to say that although women could be appointed as heads of some offices of the Vatican curia, that would not be enough to “recover the role” that women should have in the Catholic Church.
What was important was ensuring that women had a voice and are listened to because the Church needs their specific richer, stronger, and intuitive contributions, he said. He added that the Church needed the “feminine genius”.
Francis also told the International Union of Superiors General (UISG), who were meeting in Rome in May 2016, that it was unclear to him what role female deacons had played during early Christianity. "It would do good for the church to clarify this point," he said in comments reported by the National Catholic Reporter.
However, although permitting women deacons would be seen as a possible first step towards priesthood on board a papal flight in November last year, Pope Francis told journalists he thinks the Roman Catholic church's ban on priestly ordination for women will continue forever, saying his predecessor Pope John Paul II's declaration on the matter "goes in that direction."
"On the ordination of women in the Catholic church, the last word is clear," Francis responded, before mentioning John Paul's 1994 apostolic letter banning the practice, ‘Ordinatio Sacerdotalis’. "It was given by St. John Paul II and this remains."
PICTURE: The Holy Synod of the Hierarchs of the Alexandrian Church