century, the persecution of Christians flared up again a number of times. The
recurring outbreak of the plague was usually blamed on Christians. Emperor
Decius decreed in 250 that Christians who did not sacrifice to Roman gods
should be tortured or put to death.
attitude towards women by Church leaders at the time can be gauged in the
actions of Dionysius, the Bishop of Alexandria (247-265).
In a letter
addressed to Fabius, Bishop of Antioch, he describes the martyrdom of Apollonia
whom he calls: 'elder virgin' [Greek: parthénos presbûtis;
presbytera]. Though this term reminds us of
'presbuteros=priest', historians say it probably meant she served her community
as a 'deacon'. She was, in fact, remembered in the liturgical calendar as a
Few records have been kept, either in
literature or on tomb stones of the activity of women deacons. This is, no
doubt, due to the reduced and at times hidden life of Christian communities in
those days of persecution. The few names we know come to us through the
liturgical calendar of saints.
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