Last week, Fordham University’s Orthodox Christian Studies Center hosted a panel on “The Female Diaconate and the Orthodox Church” at its Lincoln Center Campus in Manhattan. There was a strong turn-out for a chilly February evening, mostly of students and people from area churches. Unlike a similar event I attended in Philadelphia last March, the overall vibe was open and curious, and questions flowed thick and fast after the presentations.
There were three panelists from St. Phoebe Center for the Deaconess’s board, Teva Regule (PhD), Carrie Frederick Frost (PhD), and Kyra Limberakis (MTS). They were introduced by Sarah Riccardi-Swartz, the current fellow at Fordham’s OCSC. As the panelist gave their short presentations and the questions flew, we received a a holistic view of the diaconate and the benefits that a wholehearted and unstinting revitalization of the order could create for the Church. I think we can all agree that there’s little need for a female diaconate if all the new women ordinands would be doing is similar to the reduced role that most male deacons undertake today. But instead, we received a vision of a church whose members are cared for pastorally, energetically, joyfully, thoughtfully, and wisely—by a revitalized female AND male diaconate--in a way that few of us can ever have experienced--but would welcome.
I hope that they will continue to offer this symposium around the country. If you’d like to learn more about the possibilities of what a deaconess could do for your parish—even if you’ve never considered such a thing, or even if you’re deeply skeptical about having a woman serving in such a role--consider inviting them to your parish. Wherever you end up on the issue, you will have been given a lot to think about. You can make your request to https://orthodoxdeaconess.org/mission-vision/contact-us/.
Patricia Fann Bouteneff is president of Axia Women.