brought great wealth to upper-class families, especially in the Byzantine part
of the Roman Empire which was ruled from Constantinople. Many Hellenist women
lived in luxury. People, belonging to all classes of society, offered
themselves to the Church for instruction and baptism.
At baptism, catechumens were
stripped naked and
anointed from head to toe. Where adult women were concerned, it was obvious
that a woman deacon would be more appropriate for this ministry than a male
deacon or priest. That is why almost every parish had an ordained woman
In his book the Spiritual Meadow 6th-century
Joannes Moschus tells the amusing story of a priest who preferred to anoint the
women catechumens himself. It reveals the attitudes of the time, and testifies
to the ministry of women deacons.
central Byzantine emperor during this century was Justinian who reigned
for almost 40 years (527-565). In his famous
Justinian Code of Law he also laid
down the organization of the Church. Various provisions seek to regulate the
behaviour of women deacons.
"Whatever we have decreed
about the venerable [male] clerics, we want also to apply to the God-pleasing
deaconesses . . . In age they should neither be young, nor in their flowering
which could easily lead to transgressions, but from those who have passed their
middle age and who are, in harmony with divine rules more that 50 years old.
Only then they merit sacred ordination (Novella 6, 6, § 1-2).
from painting by Alma-Tadema (1836-1912)