of women flourished during this century.
The Council of
Chalcedon (451 AD) decreed that a woman shall not receive the laying
on of hands as a deaconess under forty years of age, and then only after
searching examination". This shows that the diaconate was unmistakably a common
ecclesiastical ministry acknowledged by the universal
In the Hagia Sophia
Cathedral of Constantinople at this time, forty women deacons ministered under
the leadership of Bishop St John Chrysostom.
Olympias headed the women deacons at the catherdral. During the bishop's
struggle with the Emperor Olympias took his side. Correspondence between the
bishop in exile and Oplympias has been preserved. In his letters John addressed
her as 'the reverend Deacon Olympias, loved by God'.
There is even evidence that
in some parts of the Church, such as the South of Italy, women functioned as priests in their local parishes.
Deacons 400 - 500
The active ministry of thousands of women deacons during this
century is attested to by numerous literary and archeological evidence .
On the tombstones, relatives
or parishioners record the excellent services of the women deacons who baptised
catechumens, cared for children and for the sick, shared their bread with the
needy, 'welcomed strangers' and 'washed the feet of the saints' [i.e. of every
person they met].
evidence to accept that from the 2nd to the 6th centuries AD, some women
functioned as priests in the South of Italy and in Sicily.
A tombstone mentions 'Guilia
Runa, priest'. Another inscription of the 5th century records the life of 'Leta
Presbitera': "Sacred to her good memory. Leta the
Presbyter lived 40 years, 8 months, 9 days, for whom her husband set up
this tomb. She preceded him in peace on the day before the Ides of May". The
epitaph refers to a presbyter Leta, having died at just over forty, for whom
her husband had set up a tomb; this inscription comes from the catacomb of
Tropea, a small town that has offered the most consistent epigraphical and
monumental documentation of Paleochristian Bruttium.
Contrary to the
official sanction of the women's diaconate, ministry by such female priests was
not universally accepted in Church. In 494 AD Pope Gelasius I wrote to the
Bishops of southern Italy: We have heard with impatience that disrespect
for sacred things have come to this level [among you] that even women are
tolerated to administer at the sacred altars and that a sex which is not
competent deals with all the matters which have been entrusted only to the
service of men.
Dear visitor, you are welcome to use our material. However: building up and maintaining this site costs money. We are a Charity and work mainly with volunteers, but find it difficult to pay our overheads. Please, become a Friend or support us with a donation. Also, as some of you recommended to us, we are exploring how to generate income by advertising. Please, support us in this effort and send us your suggestions. John Wijngaards