Sunday, September 6, 2009

Coptic Church Restores Female Diaconate

On June 9-10, 2009, the annual meeting of the Oriental Orthodox-Roman Catholic Consultation met in New Rochelle, New York, and discussed "the diaconate in the theology and practice" of the attending church bodies.

According to Deacon Dennis ( "Father Shenouda Maher Ishak spoke on behalf of the Coptic Orthodox Church, which counts the diaconate as one of seven clerical orders. The deacon has such an indispensable role in the liturgy that a priest is not allowed to celebrate the Eucharist without one. Others of lower orders may assume this role if a deacon is not present. Coptic deacons are not allowed to baptize, but in the early centuries had a prominent role in devotional censing. They are not allowed to marry after ordination. At present there are very few full time permanent and professional deacons in the Coptic Church, since almost all of them are called to higher orders. The Coptic Church is now in the process of restoring the female diaconate in three orders: the female reader for women (now called "devoted one"), sub-deaconess (now called "assistant deaconess") and deaconess. The Coptic Holy Synod has made it clear that deaconesses may not in any way participate in service of the altar or sacerdotal service. The rite of initiation into the female diaconate is performed by a bishop without the laying-on-of-hands but with a signing of the cross three times over the candidate. In their ministry they are to work exclusively with women and children. They assist at the baptism of women, visit sick women in hospitals, supervise women's activities in parishes, and clean the church building except for the sanctuary area which they may not enter."

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