Responsive image
Nederlands/Vlaams Deutsch Francais English language Spanish language Portuguese language Catalan Chinese Czech Malayalam Finnish Igbo
Japanese Korean Romanian Malay language Norwegian Swedish Polish Swahili Chichewa Tagalog Urdu

The Bessarion Manuscript

also known as Grotta Ferrata, gr. Gb1,
the Patriarchal Euchologion
or as the George Varus manuscript

The Ordination of Women Deacons in the Byzantine/Greek Tradition

This manuscript, containing a ritual ‘used by the Patriarch’, is found in the Greek monastery of Crypta Ferrata. It was written at Constantinople itself in around 1020 AD. George Varus, a priest from Crete, had given it to Cardinal Julian of St. Sabina during the Council of Florence (1438 - 1445 AD). The rites contained in the text are very old, certainly not later than the 7th and 8th centuries AD. (Compare the text with the Barberini gr. 336 manuscript!)

A definitive edition of the Greek text has been done by Miguel Arranz, L’Eucologio Constantinopolitano agli Inizi del Secolo XI, Editrice Pontifica Università Gregoriana, Rome 1996. The text here published can be found on pages 153-160.

The manuscript had first been published and translated into Latin by John Morinus, in Commentarius [sic!] de Sacris Ecclesiae Ordinationibus, publ. Kalverstraat, Antwerp 1695; here pp. 63 - 65. John Morinus says in his introduction: “This is a very ancient codex, almost 700 years old . . . ”

The Bessarion Manuscript (Grottaferrata gr. Gb1)

Text translated from the Greek, and made available on the Internet, by John Wijngaards.

In the original text, the ordination of the male deacon and the woman deacon are described separately. I publish them here side by side to show that the two ordinations are substantially the same.

‘Prayers at the ordination (cheirotonia) of a deacon’ ‘Prayers at the ordination (cheirotonia) of a deaconess’
After the sacred offertory, the doors [of the sanctuary] are opened and, before the Deacon starts the litany ‘All Saints’, and after the prayer ‘his mercies’ has been said, the man who is to ordained Deacon is brought before the Archbishop. And when the ‘Divine Grace’ [statement] (see text) has been said, the ordinand bends only the right knee. The Archbishop puts the sign of the cross on his forehead three times, keeps his hand imposed on his head and prays: After the sacred offertory, the doors [of the sanctuary] are opened and, before the Deacon starts the litany ‘All Saints’, the woman who is to ordained Deacon is brought up [before the Archbishop]. And after he has said the ‘Divine Grace’ [statement] (see text) with a loud voice, the woman to be ordained bows her head. The Bishop imposes his hand on her head , makes the sign of the cross on it three times, and prays:
“Lord our God, in your providence you send the working and abundance of your Holy Spirit on those who through your inscrutable power are constituted liturgical ministers to serve your immaculate mysteries, please, preserve, Lord, this man whom you want me to promote to the Deacon's task [leitourgia of the diaconate], in all seriousness and strictness of good behaviour, that he may guard the mystery of faith with a pure conscience.
And give him the grace which you have given to Stephen your first martyr.
And after having called him to the work of your ministry, in your good pleasure make him worthy to perform the degree [of responsibility] you entrust to him.
For those who perform it well, will acquire for themselves a high degree.
Make your servant perfect, for yours are the kingdom and the power.”
“Holy and Omnipotent Lord, through the birth of your Only Son our God from a Virgin according to the flesh, you have sanctified the female sex. You grant not only to men, but also to women the grace and coming (from above) of the Holy Spirit. Please, Lord, look on this your maid servant and dedicate her to the task of your diaconate, and pour out into her the rich and abundant giving of your Holy Spirit.
Preserve her so that she may always perform her ministry (leitourgia) with orthodox faith and irreproachable conduct, according to what is pleasing to you.
For to you is due all glory and honour.”
The Archdeacon now makes the intercessions, as stated before. Meanwhile the Archbishop keeping his hand on the head of the ordinand, prays as follows: After the ‘Amen’, one of the Deacons now makes the usual intercessions. Meanwhile the Archbishop keeping his hand on the head of the woman to be ordained, prays as follows:
“God, our Saviour, with incorruptible voice you have foretold it, you announced that he would be first who would perform the ministry of the diaconate, as is written in your holy Gospel: ‘Who ever wants to be first among you, must be your servant [diakonos]’, please, Lord of all, fill this servant of yours whom you have made worthy to enter the ministry [leitourgia] of Deacon, through the lifegiving coming of your Holy Spirit with all faith, charity, power and holiness.
Now, Lord, look upon this man. For grace is given to those you deem worthy, not by the imposition of my hands, but by the visitation of your rich mercy, so that, purified from sin, he may on that fearful day of your judgment be presented to you without guilt, and receive the reward of your unfailing promise.
For you are our God, God of mercy and salvation, and to you we give glory, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. ”
“Lord, Master, you do not reject women who dedicate themselves to you and who are willing, in a becoming way, to serve your Holy House, but admit them to the order of your ministers [leitourgôn].
Grant the gift of your Holy Spirit also to this your maid servant who wants to dedicate herself to you, and fulfil in her the work and the office of the ministry of the diaconate, as you have granted to Phoebe the grace of your diaconate, whom you had called to the work of this ministry [leitourgia].
Give her, Lord, that she may persevere without guilt in your Holy Temple, that she may carefully guard her behaviour, especially her prudence and chastity.
Moreover, make your maid servant perfect , so that, when she will stand before the judgement seat of your Christ, she may obtain the worthy reward of her good conduct, through the mercy and generosity of your Only Son.”
And after the ‘Amen’, the ordinand’s scarf [phenolis] is taken from him and [the Archbishop] imposes the stole [to horarion] on him. He kisses him and hands him the holy fan and makes him fan the holy gifts when they are exposed on the [altar] table. The Archbishop puts the stole of the diaconate [to diakonikon horarion] round her neck, under her [woman's] scarf [maphorion], pulling the two extremities of the stole towards the front.
When [at the time of communion] the newly ordained has taken part of the sacred body, the Archbishop hands him the holy chalice. He in turn makes all those who approach him take part in the sacred blood. When [at the time of communion] the newly ordained has taken part of the precious body and blood, the Archbishop hands her the holy vessel. She accepts it and, without distributing it to others, puts it back on the holy table [of the altar].

An analysis of this ordination rite shows that the ordination of the woman deacon is the same as that for the male deacon, and undoubtedly sacramental.

Introduction? Overview? Manuscripts? Search?
Full documentation on all the ancient
Women Deacon Texts
is now available in print!

Wijngaards Institute for Catholic ResearchThis website is maintained by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research.

The Institute is known for issuing academic reports and statements on relevant issues in the Church. These have included scholars' declarations on the need of collegiality in the exercise of church authority, on the ethics of using contraceptives in marriage and the urgency of re-instating the sacramental diaconate of women.

Visit also our websites:Women Deacons, The Body is Sacred and Mystery and Beyond.

You are welcome to use our material. However: maintaining this site costs money. We are a Charity and work mainly with volunteers, but we find it difficult to pay our overheads.

Visitors to our website since January 2014.
Pop-up names are online now.

The number is indicative, but incomplete. For full details click on cross icon at bottom right.

Please, support our campaign
for women priests
Join our Women Priests' Mailing List
for occasional newsletters:
An email will be immediately sent to you
requesting your confirmation.