Orthodox Church Ordains First Deaconess in Historic Ceremony

(RNS) — For years, the Patriarchate of Alexandria and Africa has intensified its efforts to establish the female diaconate. © Religion News Service

In a historic move, the Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and all of Africa ordained the first deaconess in the global Eastern Orthodox Church in Zimbabwe on Thursday, May 2. The ordination of Angelic Molen at the St. Nektarios Mission Parish near Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, marked the culmination of years of efforts to revive the female diaconate in the Church.

Metropolitan Serafim, the Archbishop of Zimbabwe, officiated the ordination ceremony on Holy Thursday, just days before Orthodox Easter. Molen's responsibilities as a deaconess will include assisting priests in liturgical services and sacraments, as well as addressing the specific needs of parishes in her country.

The decision to revive the female diaconate has been met with both support and controversy within the Orthodox Church. Advocates see it as a return to an ancient tradition that existed in the Church's early days, while critics view it as a departure from Orthodox hierarchy and tradition.

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(RNS) — For years, the Patriarchate of Alexandria and Africa has intensified its efforts to establish the female diaconate. © Religion News Service

Molen's ordination sets a precedent for other branches of the Orthodox Church, according to the St. Phoebe Center for the Deaconess, an advocacy group for the revival of the female diaconate. The Patriarchate of Alexandria and Africa has intensified efforts to establish the female diaconate on the continent, recognizing the growing need for priests and deacons in African parishes.

However, some Orthodox Christians, like Dr. Jeanne Constantinou, doubt that Molen's ordination will inspire similar actions in other churches. Changes in the Orthodox Church are slow and are typically guided by tradition, making widespread acceptance of the female diaconate unlikely.

The decision could also deepen divisions within the Orthodox Church, particularly in light of recent controversies such as Patriarch Kirill of Moscow's support for Putin's invasion of Ukraine. Molen's ordination may prompt some churches to recognize her while others do not, potentially leading to further fractures within the global Church.

Despite these challenges, advocates like Dr. Carrie Frost of the St. Phoebe Center argue that reviving the female diaconate is essential for the Church's mission of service and love in the world. Molen's ordination represents a significant step forward in this effort, paving the way for greater inclusion and participation of women in the Orthodox Church.

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