The Ordination of Women Deacons in the Syriac Tradition
An ancient Syriac ordination ritual is found in a manuscript of the 16th century (Codex Syriacus Vaticanus, no 19), copied through the care of Joseph, the Metropolitan of India. The content is obviously much older, dating to well before 1000 AD.
The texts are taken from Ritus Orientalium, ed. H.Denzinger, Würzburg 1864; deacon's ordination on pp. 229 - 233; deaconess's ordination on pp. 261 - 262. As the editor explains, the ordination of women deacons is abbreviated, with gaps needing to be filled in from the male deacon's ordination.
Text translated from the Latin and made available on the Internet by John Wijngaards.
|The Ordination (cheirotonia) of Deacons||The Ordination (cheirotonia) of women to be deaconesses|
|(Introductory rites. The ordinands are brought
before the altar.)
The Bishop stands on the pedestal of the altar. The ordinands lie prostrate before him under the sanctuary lamp.
|At the command of the Bishop, the woman ordinand is brought into the sanctuary during the time of the sacred liturgy. The archdeacon presents her to the Bishop. |
|Introductory prayers, during which the Bishop
Teach me, Lord. O Lord, impart your power to these your servants, so that they may perform the mystery of your ministry in holiness and fill them with your grace.
|Introductory prayers, during which the Bishop
Teach me, Lord. O Lord, impart your power to this your maidservant, so that she may perform the mystery of your ministry in holiness and fill her with your grace.
|The archdeacon tells the ordinands to bend the
right knee, and not the left one. The ordinands put both hands to their ears,
with the fingers pointing up.
The Bishop imposes his right hand on the head of the person to be ordained, while extending his left in prayer. He says with a subdued voice: (=ekphorese prayer, first ordination prayer)
|She stands with folded hands and inclined head
and bending forward from her loins, but because of propriety she does not bend
[The Bishop imposes his right hand on the head of the person to be ordained, while extending his left in prayer. He says with a subdued voice: (=ekphorese prayer, first ordination prayer)]
|O good God and King of ours, who art so full of mercies. You are rich in mercy and abound in clemency. In your ineffable goodness, o Lord, you have made me mediator of your divine gifts in your holy Church, so that I should impart in your name to the ministers of your sacred mysteries the talents of the ministery of the Spirit. According to the apostolic tradition which has come down to us through the imposition of hands of ecclesiastical ministry, see, we present to you these servants of yours, that they may become deacons, elected in your holy Church. And that the grace of the Holy Spirit may come upon them, that it may fulfil them and dedicate them to the work of this ministery, for which they are presented, through the grace and mercy of your Only Son, to whom, as to you and to the Holy Spirit we now give glory, honour, recognition and adoration.||O good God and King of ours, who art so full of mercies. You are rich in mercy and abound in clemency. In your ineffable goodness, o Lord, you have made me mediator of your divine gifts in your holy Church, so that I should impart in your name to the ministers of your sacred mysteries the talents of the ministery of the Spirit. According to the apostolic tradition which has come down to us through the imposition of hands of ecclesiastical ministry, see, we present to you this servant maid of yours, that she may become deaconess, elected in your holy Church. And that the grace of the Holy Spirit may come upon her, that it may fulfil her and dedicate her to the work of this ministery, for which she is presented, through the grace and mercy of your Only Son, to whom, as to you and to the Holy Spirit we now give glory, honour, recognition and adoration.|
|The Bishop puts a cross on their heads. They answer: Amen. The Archdeacon says a prayer.||The Bishop puts a cross on her head. She answers: Amen. The Archdeacon says a prayer.|
|Then the Bishop imposes his right hand on their heads, while extending his left hand in prayer. He says [aloud] over their heads (=second ordination prayer):||[Then the Bishop imposes his right hand on her head, while extending his left hand in prayer. He says [aloud] over her head (=second ordination prayer):]|
|Lord, strong and almighty God. You are holy and glorious. You keep the covenant, grace and the truth for those you fear you and who keep your commandments. Through your grace you have given knowledge of the truth to all humankind in the manifestation of your only born Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, a manifestation that happened in the flesh. You have elected your holy Church and established in her prophets, apostles, priests and teachers for the building up of your saints. You have also instituted in her chaste deacons for the glorious ministery of your glorious and holy mysteries. As formerly you chose Stephen and his companions, so now also, Lord, in your mercy grant these your servants the gift of the Holy Spirit, that they may be chosen deacons in your holy Church, and may minister at your altar with a pure heart and a clear conscience. They they may shine in works of justice for the ministery of your life-giving and divine mysteries, and may deserve to receive from you for their pure and holy ministery heavenly reward on the day of retribution, through the grace and mercy of your only Son, to whom as to you and the Holy Spirit we now give glory, honour, acknowledgement and adoration.||Lord, strong and almighty God. You
have made everything through the power of your word, and you hold under your
command the worlds you have created as you wish. You find your pleasure both in
men and women, and are pleased to grant the gift of the Holy Spirit to both.
Now also, Lord, in your mercy elect this poor handmaid of yours to the good
work of the diaconate, and grant her that she may perform this great and
sublime ministery before you without stain, and that she may be preserved
without harm in all the works of virtue. May she instruct the assembly of women
and teach them chastity and [perform] her right and proper tasks. And may she
deserve to receive from you reward for her good works on the great and glorious
day of the revelation of your Only Son, since to him and to you and to the Holy
Spirit are due glory, honour, thanksgiving and adoration.
Was this the full prayer?
The Bishop puts his hand on her head, but not by way of ordination (chirotoniae), but only as a blessing. And says a silent prayer over her.
The note that the Bishop's imposition of hands is only a blessing is obviously a later gloss added by a copyist during a time when women deacons were no longer acceptable. Reasons for this conclusion are:
- It explicitly contradicts the rest of the text, where cheirotonia, laying on of hands, is used in its full, sacramental sense. In the ekphorese prayer the Bishop explicitly refers to the imposition of hands of ecclesiastical ministry.
- The second ordination prayer for the deaconess, even if this have been truncated in later tradition, still refer to the diaconate, the ministery of the Spirit, and so on.
- The parallelism with the ordination of the male deacon would make no sense. Why would the same prayers and laying on of hands be real ordination for a man and only a blessing for a woman?
The person who added the gloss about the laying on of hands being only a blessing, may also have truncated the second prayer of ordination, omitting some phrases, such as a clearer invocation of the Holy Spirit. Even in its present state, the granting of the Spirit is mentioned. It is also clear from the ekphorese prayer.
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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