An Orthodox Journal of Cross-Cultural Theology, Dialogue and Mission

The institution of Deaconesses in the light of the contemporary mission work of the Orthodox Church

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Αbstract of a paper presentation at an International Symposium

by Evangelia Voulgaraki

The institution of Deaconesses is generally studied either from an historical point of view or in terms of the Church order for the ordination of Deaconesses and their exact liturgical role, and since it is recognized as a primitive tradition of the Church, a nostalgic tone tends to dominate the discussion. A discussion of the reasons for the negative historical development of the institution is always timely as is a study of the expediency of the reestablishment of the institution today.

In this presentation we will examine the matter from the point of view of mission and the external witness of the Church and, looking beyond the Western world and its present phase of de-Christianization, we will give especial emphasis to Africa where the Patriarchate of Alexandria is undertaking an important initiative.

We will highlight the special needs of the local communities in Africa as they have been articulated in the presentations by the Metropolitans of the ancient Patriarchate and we will refer in a critical way to the reactions of those parties that from outside impede the exercise of a healthy missionary activity in Africa under the pretext of offering aid, the nature and terms of which lead to another kind of neo-colonial dependency and entirely undermine Orthodox ecclesiology.

Moreover, taking into account the common concern of missionary bodies and of the local churches for witness and service that is evidenced by the deep commitment of the African dioceses to works aimed at growth and development we will emphasize the importance that can derive from greater support for women and from the support of the Church by women.

We will argue that a more feminist approach to theology would restore balance to Christian anthropology in conditions of very specific inequalities which affect women most particularly. Furthermore, it would also act to re-establish healthy sociability and community life which have suffered particularly from Africa’s sudden encounter with the modern world. Such an emphasis can heal in a gentle, gradual and largely painless way serious issues of a moral nature that remain unresolved by other means, such as, for example, those created by traditional African polygamy. Equally, it responds to violence against women and the high frequency of femicide, while giving clear direction to the question of growth and development and to the alleviation of poverty.

Moreover, in the case of Africa, just as in that of the western world, we consider that the peculiar form of apartheid against women in the Church environment is entirely opposed to the way in which young women especially understand their mission and role in life, to the detriment, and indeed neglect, of the saving mission of the Church and its resonance in contemporary society.

Translated by father John Raffan

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