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Vatican Manuscript, gr. 1872

The Ordination of Women Deacons in the Byzantine/Greek Tradition

This manuscript from the Vatican library, covered in white parchment, was written before 1100, according to Jean Morin who inspected it. The manuscript is incomplete. Moreover, the diaconate service reflects the practice of a later date as far as male deacons are concerned, e.g. in the reading of the ordination statement from a piece of paper. The ritual for ordaining women deacons was obviously copied from a older text (compare with the Barberini gr. 336 and Grottaferrata gr. Gb1 manuscripts), but incorporates some later changes; e.g. a priest, instead of the (Arch)bishop, hands her the chalice.

The manuscript has been published and translated into Latin by John Morinus, in Commentarius [sic!] de Sacris Ecclesiae Ordinationibus, publ. Kalverstraat, Antwerp 1695; here pp. 78-81.

Text translated from the Greek & the Latin, 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.

‘The Order to be observed in the Ordination (cheirotonia) of Deacons whose age we have fixed at 25 years’ ‘Prayer at the Ordination (cheirotonia) of a deaconess’
After the sacred offertory, when the doors [of the sanctuary] have been opened and when the Archdeacon has proclaimed: ‘His mercies shall be . . .’, before the Deacon starts the litany ‘All Saints’, the man who is to ordained is brought by the Archdeacon to the holy table on the right side of the Bishop. The Archdeacon hands the Bishop a written paper. And with the Archdeacon calling out: ‘Let us pay attention!’, the Bishop reads what is written on the paper to all listeners who are standing around. After the sacred offertory, the woman who is to ordained Deacon is brought before the Archbishop.
This is what he says: ‘Divine Grace, which always heals what is infirm and makes up for what is lacking, promotes so-and-so, this most devout Subdeacon, to be a Deacon. Let us therefore pray that the grace of the Holy Spirit may descend on him.’ And after the exclamation, he says the ‘Divine Grace’ [statement].
While all say ‘Lord, have mercy’, the ordinand bends the right knee before the sacred table. The Archbishop puts the sign of the cross on his forehead three times, and holding his hand imposed on his head, prays in this fashion: And while she only bows her head, the Archbishop imposes his hand on her forehead , makes the sign of the cross on it three times, and prays thus:
[the ordination prayer is not found in the manuscript] “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 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 in the orthodox faith and irreproachable conduct. Grant her to always perform her ministry (leitourgia) with orthodox faith , according to what is pleasing to you.
For to you . . . .”, and-so-on.
Afterwards the Archdeacon begins appropriate intercessions, in a low voice, but in such a way that the Deacons around him can hear him and respond. ‘Let us pray the Lord in peace. For heavenly peace. For her. For our father and Archbishop so-and-so, for his priesthood, help, perseverance, peace, health and the works of his hands, and for so-and-so who has now been promoted to be a Deacon, for his health we pray the Lord.’ ‘That the merciful and people-loving Lord may give him a sincere and incontaminated diaconate, let us pray the Lord.’ ‘For the most devout [Emperor], for the city, for liberation and for all our Christian brethren. Help, o most holy and immaculate Mother of God.’ Afterwards the Deacon recites the aforesaid diaconal prayers [=the intercessions].
Afterwards the Bishop imposes his hand on him, praying: And the Bishop, still holding his hand over the head of the woman that was ordained, says as follows praying:
“God, our Saviour, with immortal voice you have foretold to your Apostles and announced to them first the ministry of the deacon, and-so-on . . .
(in a loud voice)
For you are our God, God of mercy, etc.” [sic!]”
“Lord, Master, you do not reject women who dedicate themselves to you and who are willing, just as you have ordered, 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 office of the ministry of the diaconate, as you have granted this grace to your hand maid Phoebe, whom you had called to the work of the ministry [leitourgia].
Give her, Lord, that she may persevere without guilt in your Holy Temple, that she may carefully guard her behaviour, especially her modesty and chastity.
Moreover, make your maid servant perfect , so that, when she will stand before the judgement seat of your Christ, she may be found worthy of your excellent company and may receive the reward for it from you, through the mercy and humanity of your Only Son.”
Afterwards he puts a stole [horarion] on him. And having kissed him, he hands him the holy fan and puts him near the holy table. Then the Deacon who stands in the ambo says: ‘Remembering all the saints . . . . ’ Afterwards he puts the stole of the diaconate [to diakonikon horarion] round her neck, under her [woman's] scarf [maphorion], arranging the two extremities of the stole towards the front. The Deacon who stands in the ambo then says: ‘Remembering all the saints . . . . ’
When the time for communion comes, the newly ordained receives as first among the Deacons communion of the sacred mysteries from the ordaining Bishop. He is the first to receive from the hands of the Bishop the bread and chalice. When however the Patriarch has communicated and all the others [clergy], the newly ordained distributes communion to all the people. After they have all received communion, he returns to the sacred table. When [at the time of communion] she has received communion, the priest hands her the chalice. She accepts it and, without distributing from it to anyone, puts it on the holy table and leaves.

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.

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