by H.G. Bishop Mettaous
The rites of ordaining a deaconness.
In the early church there were deaconesses helping the Apostles, and later they served with the bishops and priests in various services. Initially, the service was only available to widowed women over the age of sixty. The Apostolic Canons imposed a condition that deaconess must be virgin, or widow, and over the age of sixty.
St. Paul cared about the subject of widowed deaconesses in the first church and wrote about them in the fifth chapter of his first epistle to his disciple Timothy. According to our teacher St. Paul, the conditions for a successful deaconess are:
Examples of these successful deaconesses are: Phoebe, who was commended by St. Paul for the church of Rome, “I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church of Cenchrea, that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also” (Romans 16:1,2).
She wrote the epistles to the Romans, as dictated by our teacher St. Paul, and carried it to the believers in Rome.
We also hear about other deaconesses, and a disciple of St. Paul, called Tekla. She believed, was baptized and became a disciple of St. Paul who assigned her for service in Iconia, her original homeland. She faced many tribulations and torture, but the Lord saved her every time, she spent all her life in service. Then when she was eighty years old, she secluded herself for meditation, then peacefully passed away in old age, after a long and faithful service.
The Greek Sixaxarium praised her saying, “Hail to St. Tekla who was martyred without shedding blood!” The Coptic church celebrates her death on the 23rd of Tut every year. The blessing of her prayers may be with us. Amen.
From the thirteenth century, the service of consecrated deaconesses in church was abolished, but due to the urgent need for the service of women in church, His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, decided to revive this rite, on the Feast of Pentecost in 1981, by consecration of a large number of deaconesses for the service of Cairo churches. Today, many bishops have also consecrated deaconesses for the service within their dioceses.
During the Holy Synod meeting on the feast of Pentecost in 1992, the Synod established certain rites and conditions, pertaining to the order of Consecration for the Consecrated Deaconess. The following are some points:
It is well known that the rank of deaconess in church is not a priestly rank. There is no Priesthood for women. St. Mary the mother of the Incarnated God and the Lady of the heavenly and earthly did not have any priestly rank, although she was a spiritual mother for the apostles and was accompanying them in service.
The ranks of deaconesses are similar to those of deacons that is Ognostis, Epideacon, and Deacon, corresponding to Consecrated, Assistant Deaconess, and Deaconess.
The rite is called the ‘Rite of Consecration of the Consecrated.’
The consecration, which is done by a bishop, is performed without the laying on of hands, which is different from priestly ordinations.
These prayers take place in a private mass for women as their service is not for the entire congregation, but for a specific sector of them.
Unlike the deacons, their prayers do not take place after the Reconciliation Prayer, so they are not considered as priestly dedication.
Consecration takes place after the morning raising of incense, and starts by the bishop saying, “...(name), Consecrated / Assistant Deaconess for ... "
The consecration of a Deaconess is accomplished by the bishop saying: “We call you (...name) a deaconess for the Holy Coptic Orthodox Church of God.” But for the rank of Consecrated and Assistant Deaconess, the words “We call you” are omitted.
The signs of the cross are done without mentioning their consecration for a particular church.
If there is a meeting for children or women, she may teach, but cannot teach men in church or a common meeting attended by men. This is according to the commandment of our teacher St. Paul, “And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man but to be in silence” (1 Timothy 2:12).
In private masses for nuns or consecrated women, they are not permitted to read the epistles, only the priest or deacon may do so.
Consecration of the consecrated is done by the bishop, and the priest has no right for consecration in his church without the knowledge of the bishop, as the bishop is responsible for the consecration, not the priest.
The person approaching for consecration reads the appropriate undertaking, then stands before the sanctuary bowing her head humbly.
1. Undertaking of the Consecrated and Assistant Deaconess
“I the weak ... request my acceptance in the way of consecration for the Coptic Orthodox Church, undertake before the altar of God, and before our father His Holiness Pope ... / His Grace the Metropolitan / His Grace the Bishop, to commit to the commandments of the Holy Bible and the Coptic Orthodox dogma, practicing the Sacrament of Confession and Communion, striving in spiritual life, faithfulness in responsibility, good dealing with others and submission to church leadership, represented by His Holiness Pope ... / His Grace Metropolitan / His Grace the Bishop ...”
“For as I receive the blessing of being dressed in this garment, ... today, the ...(date) do undertake that the continuation of my dressing is conditional to my commitment to the way of consecration to the end, by the grace of God.”
Bowing her head, she asks, “Please pray for me. Absolve me, and bless me, my master Your Holiness Pope ... / Your Grace Metropolitan / Your Grace Bishop.”
This is followed by the Lord’s Prayer and the Thanksgiving Prayer.
The bishop then says the following prayers:
2. The Prayers
“O Lord, wise in His counseling, who created human beings in Your likeness and image: male and female, He created and blessed. We ask You Lord hear us and have mercy upon us.” All respond, “Lord have mercy.”
“Lord who granted sonship to Mary the sister of Moses and Aaron, and to Deborah, Kalda, Anna daughter of Phanuel, and allowed Philip the preacher to have virgin
daughters who prophesy, we ask You Lord hear and have mercy upon us.” All respond, “Lord have mercy.”
“You who poured Your Holy Spirit on men and women altogether and gave them talents of the Spirit ... We ask You Lord hear us and have mercy upon us.” All respond, “Lord have mercy.”
“Lord who permitted Mary Magdalene to tell Your saintly Apostles about Your glorious resurrection and who allowed Phoebe to become a deaconess in Your Holy church ... as You allowed in the past, Lord allow today, those in Your service, and make us worthy to fulfill this service without falling into condemnation before You, and pour the grace of your Holy Spirit upon them by the grace and compassion ...”
“Lord God who does not reject women who come forward by the divine will to serve with good intention, and call them Your servants. Grant the grace of Your Holy Spirit to Your maid servants, these who will to give themselves to You, to fulfill Your service, as You granted the grace of this service to Your servant Phoebe, whom You called for work in Your church, so she was a helper to Your servant St. Paul the apostle … Pour on them Your holy gifts, by the grace and compassion...”
“O eternal Lord, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, look now to Your maid servants, those called for the service of consecration. Give them the Holy Spirit and purify them from all blemishes of body and soul, to be worthy to fulfill the work which You give them.”
“Glory and worship are due to You and Your Only Begotten son and the Holy Spirit forever. Amen.”
“O Lord, Holy Almighty God, who sanctified women by the birth of Your Only Son from the Virgin St. Mary, we ask You Lord ...”. All respond, “Lord have mercy.”
“You who granted the grace of the Holy Spirit, not only to men but to women too. Now Lord look unto Your maid-servants, call them to service and pour upon them the gift of Your Holy Spirit. Keep them in the Orthodox Faith to accomplish Your service continually, without blame according to Your joy. Glory, honor and worship are sent to You O Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” All respond, “Lord have mercy.”
“O Holy God on high, looking to the humble, You who chose the strong and weak, and dignified those in humbleness, Lord send the grace of Your Holy Spirit to Your maid-servants empower them by Your righteousness, so that if they act by Your commandments, and serve in the house of Your holiness, they become Yours, vessels gifted for Your glorification. Grant them power O Lord, to act joyfully according to Your teachings that You drew as a rule for their service. Lord give them the Spirit of meekness, power, praise, bearing and patience, so if they carry Your yoke with joy and struggle patiently, they will be granted the crowns of service.”
O Lord who knows our weakness, perfect Your maid-servants to serve women, visit the patients and those who do not come to church, serve the poor and needy, help on the Baptismal day of adult women, teach the catechumens, organize women in church, empower them for edification and good example. Sanctify them and enlighten them. Give them wisdom, as You are blessed and glorified O Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” All respond, “Lord have mercy.”
“Lord listen to our prayers and send the blessing of Your Holy Spirit to them, to accomplish Your service without falling into condemnation, and become an example of holy life. Bless them Lord whom You bought by Your Precious Blood ...” All respond, “Lord have mercy.”
The deacon begins, “From the Lord we ask ...”, and the Bishop completes the prayer, “For the peace of the holy, universal. Apostolic church”, followed by the response, “Lord have mercy.”
Deacon: “From the Lord we ask...”, Bishop: “For the service of women in church, and poor sick and catechumens”, all respond, “Lord have mercy.”
Deacon: “From the Lord we ask...”, Bishop: “For those coming forward for the service of consecration, commanded from those presenting them, for the Lord to grant them grace and power, bless their service as He blessed Phoebe before”, followed by the response, “Lord have mercy.”
“And finally, make us worthy to pray thankfully, ‘Our Father who art in heaven ...’”
Then the bishop makes the sign of the cross (without laying of hands), three times, saying each time: “(...name) consecrated for the holy Coptic Orthodox Church of God, In the name of the Father ...”, then blesses the service garments (making the sign of the cross on them three times) for them to be clothed.
The Bishop then says the following commandment :
“Blessed daughter know that the Lord chose you for the service of consecration for the Holy Church, keep the commandment. Watch always to be blameless, to keep the consecration garment undefiled. Fill your mouth with praise, be always in the fullness of grace through the Holy Sacraments. Be obedient to your father the bishop, and whoever guides you into the way of God. Keep faithfully the dogma and the service to which you are entrusted from the church and may the Lord empower you by His grace, and count you amongst the wise virgins, the blessed brides of Christ.”
At the end of the Mass, they receive the Holy Communion.
The consecrated person may be promoted to an Assistant Deaconess after at least five years from the date of the Rite of her consecration. Her good manners, obedience, dedication, service and experience are considered with the extent of the efficiency of her work and readiness for the completion of the way of consecration.
If her promotion to an Assistant Deaconess is approved, the following Rite is performed for her:
Rite of Consecration of an Assistant Deaconess
Consecration prayers are performed after the matins (morning raising of incense in a private mass attended by women only.
Those called for consecration read their special undertaking, previously noted, before the door of the sanctuary, bowing their heads humbly. The bishop prays a thanksgiving prayer, then they stand together while he raises the incense, then starts the prayers of consecration as follows...
“O Master, Almighty Lord, wise in His counseling, powerful in His deeds, who created man in His image and likeness, created them male and female and blessed them.”
“We ask and entreat Your goodness O lover of mankind, to accept and bless Your maid-servants coming forward to You humbly, and make them worthy for the service of consecration for the rank of assistant deaconess to help the deaconess with several services specified for them, to serve You with faithfulness and purity to the last breath... By the grace, compassion and love of mankind …” All respond, “Lord have mercy” three times.
“O God who gave sonship to Mary the sister of Moses, Deborah and Kalda and Anna daughter of Phanuel, and poured on them the talents of the Holy Spirit and made them worthy to serve You an acceptable service. Accept Your maid-servants and pour upon them the talents of Your Holy Spirit, to live a life of consecration and community with all love, peace and faithfulness, and help the deaconesses in the women’s service. Accept their service as a fragrance of incense before You, as You accepted the service of wise women dedicated for the service of the tabernacle, whom You arose their hearts by wisdom so they waved by their hands and brought blue and purple scarlet yarn and fine linen thread necessary for the tabernacle (Exodus 25:37). Keep them by Your right hand from the tribulations and traps of Satan, enemy of all righteousness... By the grace, compassion and love of mankind…” All respond, “Lord have mercy” three times.
“O Master Lord Jesus Christ our God, who was incarnated from the Virgin and holy saint Mary and made her Queen of the heavenly and earthly. You who accepted the service of the women who followed You, believed in You like Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jacob and Joses, the mother of Zebedee’s sons, Joanna the wife of Chuja, and Susanna and many others who provided for You” (Matthew 27, and Luke 8).
“You who accepted the service of the spikenard that was made by Mary the sister of Lazarus, and You praised her and defended her” (John 12).
“You who accepted the two mites of the poor widow, and praised her as she faithfully gave all that she had, her whole livelihood” (Mark 12).
“You who sent Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to preach Your Saintly apostles of Your Glorious Resurrection.”
“You who filled the daughters of Philip the preacher by Your Holy Spirit and granted them the grace of sonship and accepted the service of Phoebe, the deaconess of the church of Canchrea, and Tekla the disciple of Your great apostle Paul.”
“Accept the service of Your maid-servants, grant them the grace of the Holy Spirit, and purify them from all blemishes of body and soul to accomplish reverently the service that the church gives them.”
“Keep them in the Orthodox faith to fulfill Your service blamelessly according to the joy of Your goodness as glory and honor are due to You for ever Amen.” All respond, “Lord have mercy”, three times.
“O Holy God living on high and looking to the humble, look now from the loftiness of Your heaven to Your maid-servants. Empower them by Your truth. Keep them by Your grace. Bless them by Your Holy Spirit to walk in Your service faithfully and joyfully according to Your goodness.”
“Grant them the spirit of humbleness, chastity, purity, power, endurance, bearing, meekness, to endure joyfully Your holy yoke, and fight patiently in the struggle placed before them. And when they have fought the good fight, finished the race and have kept the faith, finally there is laid up for them the crowns of righteousness that are incorruptible and undefiled and that do not fade away... By the grace, compassion and love...” All respond, “Lord have mercy” three times.
The bishop then makes the sign of the cross on them three times (without laying of hands), saying “...(name) an assistant deaconess in … In the name of the Father ...” He them makes the sign of the cross on her garments three times before she dresses in them.
They then receive the Holy Communion at the end of the Mass.
The assistant deaconess is promoted to deaconess after five years of her consecration as assistant deaconess. This promotion is done according to her good manners, obedience, dedication, experience in service, the efficiency of her work and her readiness to complete the way of consecration to the end, with the commitment for the life of virginity or widowhood to the last breath. The promotion to the rank of a complete deaconess is decided by the high committee of affairs of consecrated women.
If the bishop and the committee of affairs of consecrated women agree to promote her to a deaconess, the following Rite is performed for her:
The Rite for Consecration of a Deaconess
The prayers of consecration are performed after the morning raising of incense (matins) in a private mass attended only by women.
Those called for the rank of deaconess read their special undertaking, then stand before the Sanctuary reverently and humbly.
The bishop prays the Thanksgiving Prayer and raises incense, before beginning the following prayers from the Apostolic Canons ...
“O Eternal God Father of our Lord and God Jesus Christ, Creator of man and women, who filled Mary, Deborah, Anna and Khelda by Your Holy Spirit, and did not disdain that Your Only-Begotten Son Jesus Christ is born of a virgin”
“Now look upon Your servant standing before You, chosen for deaconship. Fill her with Your Holy Spirit. Purify her from every blemish of body and soul.”
“Honor unto You and Your Christ who is with You, and the Holy Spirit, glory and worship forever, Amen”*.
(*The words put together by His Holiness Pope Shenouda III when he consecrated some deaconesses at Pentecost on 14/6/1981).
“O Lord wise in His counseling, who created humans as male and female, created both of them in His own image and likeness and gave them the same blessing and authority over all creatures.”
“Lord who granted sonship to Mary sister of Moses and Aaron, Deborah, Khalda and Anna daughter of Phannuel, and allowed Philip the preacher to have ten virgins who prophesy.”
“You who poured Your Holy Spirit upon men and women together and gave the woman spiritual talents like men.”
“O Lord who sent Mary Magdalene to preach Your saintly apostles of Your glorious Resurrection and allowed Phoebe to become a deaconess in Your Holy church.”
“As You allowed in the past Lord, please allow the woman to share in Your service today and make us worthy to accomplish this service without falling into condemnation before You, and pour the grace of Your Holy Spirit upon Your maid-servants. By the grace and compassion ...”
“O Lord God who does not reject women who give themselves - by the approval of the divine will – to serve in Your holy places, but allowed them to be called Your servants. Give the grace of the Holy spirit to Your maid-servants, those who will to give themselves to You to accomplish Your service, as You gave grace of this service to Your servant Phoebe whom You called to work in Your church, so she became a helper to Your servant Paul the apostle.”
“Pour upon them Your holy talents, by the grace compassion and love ...”
”O eternal Lord Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Creator of man and woman, who filled Mary, Deborah, Hanna and Khalda of the Holy spirit, who did not disdain for Your Only Begotten Son to be born of a woman. In the tabernacle and the temple You appoint women to guard Your holy doors. Look now upon Your maid-servants, those called for the service of deaconship. Grant them the grace of the Holy Spirit, purify them from every blemish of body and soul, to accomplish worthily the work given to them. Glory and worship are due to You and Your Only Son and the Holy Spirit for ever, Amen.”
“O Lord, Almighty, Holy God who sanctified women by the birth of Your Only Begotten Son from a virgin.”
“O Lord who granted the grace of the Holy Spirit not only to men but to women too.”
“Now Lord look at Your maid-servants, call them to the service and pour unto them the rich talents of Your Holy spirit. Keep them in the Orthodox Faith fulfilling Your service continually without blemish according to Your goodness. Glory, honor and worship are due to You O Father, Son and Holy Spirit. O Holy God looking towards the humble, who chose the weak and strong and dignified those in humbleness. Send Lord the grace of Your Holy Spirit to Your maid-servants. Empower them by Your truth, so if they obey Your commandments and serve in the house of Your holiness, they become honorable vessels for Your glorification. Give them power, O Lord, to rejoice according to Your teaching that You made as rules for their service. Grant them Lord, the spirit of humbleness, endurance, power and patience so if they carry Your joke with joy and enduring the fight, they may have the crowns of service.”
“Yes, Lord who knows our weakness, perfect Your maid-servants to praise in Your house and serve women, visit the sick and those absent from church, serve the poor and needy, help adult women for Baptism, teach the catechumens and organize women in church. Empower them for edification and good example. Sanctify them. Enlighten them. Encourage them. As You are blessed and glorified, O Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
“Lord listen to our prayers and send for them blessings from the Holy Spirit to accomplish their service without falling into condemnation, and give an example for holy life.”
“You who gave Anna daughter of Phanuel to spend eighty four years in her widowhood serving blamelessly in the temple. Give Your maid-servants to keep their vows before You, to live in chastity and purity, in obedience to Your commandments and in faithfulness to the service. Grant them to live as brides for You only by the grace of Your Holy Spirit. Amen.”
From the Lord we ask:
“For the peace of the Holy, Universal, Apostolic church (from the Lord we ask), for the service of women in church, the poor, the sick and the catechumens.”
“For those widows and elderly virgins coming forward for the service of deaconship, commended by their churches, for the Lord to grant them grace and power, bless their service as He blessed the service of Phoebe before (From the Lord we ask)”...
“At last make us worthy to pray thankfully, ‘Our Father who art in heaven....’”
Then the bishop makes the sign of the cross three times on each deaconess (without laying of hands), while saying: “We call you (...name) a deaconess in the Holy church. In the name of the Father...” , then blesses the specific service garments (by making the sign of the cross on them three times before they wear them). They then attend the mass and receive the Holy Communion.
Service of Deaconesses in the Church
The deaconess can perform many services in the church, such as: