Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Women Deacons in the East: Tomb Inscriptions, Part III

Currently, I’ve been providing information regarding tomb inscriptions of female deacons in the West as well as the East. At the present time, we have covered women deacons in the West and are attempting to cover the presence of women deacons in the East. This is where Part III will resume.

Next on our list is a limestone inscription from Phrygia in Asia Minor. The limestone is broken into two pieces:

Left side: “Aurelius Antonius, son of Miros, together with his aunt ELAPHIA DEACONESS of the Encratites…[text is broken off]”

Right side: “I, ELAPHIA, DEACONESS OF THE ENCRATITES, have set up this monument as memorial to the presbyter Peter together with his brother Polychronios” (OWEC, 78).

Regarding the limestone:

“In the right inscription, she [Elaphia] alone makes the commemoration, to a presbyter and his brother, both of whose relationship to her is unknown. Since no relationship is stated, it is possible that SHE WAS ACTING AS A CHURCH OFFICIAL to commemorate two brothers, one a cleric, who had no surviving family to do it for them” (OWEC, 78).

What interests me, aside from Elaphia as a deaconess here, is that she is called a “deaconess of the ENCRATITES.” Madigan and Osiek provide information on this interesting group as well:

“The Encratites were a sect of ascetics known from the second century on in the East. Celibacy was an important part of their practice…” (OWEC, 78)

Another inscription comes from a marble sarcophagus near Nicomedia in Bithynia (Asia Minor):

“In memory of EUGENIA DEACON we, the poor people of Geragathis, restored the sarcophagus that we decorated” (OWEC, 81).

This is an interesting one because of those who describe themselves as “the poor people of Geragathis.” According to Madigan and Osiek, “The group could be of a particular place or belonging in some way to a person. Ute Eisen suggests the leader of a house for the poor where Eugenia had worked” (81).

A Nicopolis (Thrace) inscription dated from 538 CE tells of a woman who was patron of a memorial center:

“Here lies EUGENIA of praiseworthy memory, d…[stone broken off], WHO BUILT THE HOUSE (domo[n], i.e., shrine) OF THE GLORIOUS APOSTLE ANDREW in a holy manner, and ended life on June 12 in the first Indiction, in the reign of our godly and reverend ruler (despo[tou]) Flavius Justinianus, eternal Augustus and Emperor, in the twelfth year of the consulship (hypatia) of the noble Flavius John” (OWEC, 81).

Only the first letter of her title [d] is preserved (Madigan and Osiek, 81) so that we don’t know if she was a deacon or deaconess. We do know, however, that she played a role in the construction of a memorial center—so she must have had quite an influence in her community.

The next inscription concerns a woman named Maria of Archelais. The inscription itself was of grey marble stone, with a cross and ivy decoration in the center; the words themselves were written below the arms of the cross. It is a sixth century inscription:

“Here lies MARIA THE DEACON of pious and blessed memory who, according to the saying of the Apostle, raised children, exercised hospitality, washed the feet of the saints, and distributed her bread to the needy. Remember her, Lord, when she enters into your kingdom” (OWEC, 82-83).

Madigan’s and Osiek’s comments are fitting by themselves for Maria’s tomb inscription:

“The inscription contains biblical allusions to 1 Tim. 5:10 in the middle and Luke 23:42 at the end. The allusion to the work of widows in 1 Tim. 5:10 makes it almost certain that Maria was a widow at the time of her death. The title ‘the Apostle’ is frequently used of Paul by writers of this period. Everyone would know to whom it referred. Her title is ‘diakonos,’ and the total lack of mention of any relatives is unusual. It may mean that she had no surviving relatives, or it may indicate HER LEVEL OF IMPORTANCE TO HER CHURCH COMMUNITY. PERHAPS THE COMMUNITY ERECTED HER MEMORIAL” (83).

They also give us insight into Maria’s work as a deacon:

“the description given here from 1 Timothy lists typical works that would be theirs. Raising children may mean not only their own but the neglected or orphaned children of others. Hospitality involved the washing of feet as a sign of welcome and was not understood only as slaves’ work. Feeding the poor was a necessary work of charity that was expected of all. The mention of these specific activities is a biblical allusion and DOES NOT NECESSARILY MEAN THAT MARIA EXCELLED ONLY AT THESE FUNCTIONS” (83).

Maria of Moab has something of historical note to show us:

“Here lies MARIA daughter of Valens, DEACON, who lived thirty-eight years and died in the year 538 [643-44 CE]” (OWEC, 83).

While Maria’s title was abbreviated (dk), leaving us in the dark as to whether she was a deacon or deaconess, we do know that her age is of note. According to the writers, “She was already a deacon at the age of THIRTY-EIGHT, DESPITE THE LOWER AGE LIMIT OF FORTY SET AT THE COUNCIL OF CHALCEDON for ordination of a woman deacon. These frequent discrepancies show that LEGISLATION MAY HAVE BEEN ENACTED, BUT WIDE OBSERVANCE WAS ANOTHER THING” (83).

Maria’s age was two years BELOW the age limit set by the church council, which shows us that rules, although set down in stone, were not implemented as such. And this will be seen also in our future posts regarding women presbyters. Although church councils attempted to undermine women in leadership positions, they couldn’t be at EVERY church to enforce those rules—and that is where churches took advantage of the councils’ lack of access and followed personal convictions. As Madigan and Osiek tell us, councils continued to decree and make their rules, but they couldn’t enforce observance. It seems then, that everyone exercised power in their own spheres.

This will conclude Part III of Women Deacons in the East: Tomb Inscriptions. Having read over these inscriptions, I think what encourages me most is that these inscriptions teach us so much about the women whose names are engraved on them. We’ve learned that women deacons contributed to financial projects, worked in hospitals, took care of orphaned children, had ordinations, etc. What this shows us, however, is that women deacons were a COMMONLY-ACCEPTED thing in the church for quite some time. And this fact should make us pause and ask, “if the early church accepted women leaders, then why have we forgotten this?” It makes me realize more and more each day that “history is written by the victors.” Church councils wrote what they did; but the women, those who served in leadership positions, only have their tomb inscriptions left to tell their story. And, similar to Abel, though they are dead, their lives “still speak” (Hebrews 11:4).

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Women Deacons in the East: Tomb Inscriptions, Part II

There are more tomb inscriptions than those presented in Part I.
This post will start with a mosaic inscription from Patras, Greece—that of Agrippiane:

“The DEACON AGRIPPIANE, most beloved of God, made the mosaic in fulfillment of her vow.” (Ordained Women in the Early Church, 70). [from this moment on, the book titled will be referenced by the acronym “OWEC”]

Kevin Madigan and Carolyn Osiek write:

“Agrippiane is a DIAKONOS who exercised her patronage by paying for a mosaic floor after having made some kind of promise to God, the details of which are unknown. The usual pattern, often practiced by believers of the early Church, is to promise to do something specific if a request has been granted by God. Both clergy and laity could make such vows and were bound to fulfill them. The appellation ‘most beloved of God’ (theophilestate) IS KNOWN IN OTHER CONTEXTS AS A DESCRIPTION OF CHURCH OFFICIALS” (OWEC, 70).

With Agrippiane, when she is called a “diakonos,” the title “most beloved of God” adds to our belief that Agrippiane was a deacon of a church in Greece.

The next tomb inscription is a funerary inscription from Apollonia, Pontus (Thrace):

“Alexandra subdeacon” (OWEC, 70).

According to Madigan and Osiek, the office of subdeacon existed for men, but we have no evidence regarding what the office meant for women. “The title HYPODIAKON on the Greek inscription is an abbreviation either for HYPODIAKONOS or HYPODIAKONISSA, so her actual title could have been either term” (OWEC, 70).

For those whose minds are curious as to what a subdeacon did, you’re in good luck. David Bercot, editor of the work “A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs,” gives us the details of what the office would have required for men:

“In the early church, a subdeacon was an assistant to a deacon, and in some churches he performed similar functions to that of a deacon” (“A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs” by David W. Bercot, Editor. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008, page 635).

So a subdeacon for the deacon was an assistant to the deacon; assistants usually did whatever the deacons needed them to do. This is probably how it worked among the women. They possibly had assistants as well, who did whatever the women deacons needed them to do.

The next inscription concerns a fourth-century inscription found in 1910 in the Peloponnesus, a marble plaque:

“Here lies [________] only child, twenty-three years old, daughter of [________] and ALEXANDRA DEACON, raised and taken in by my father Erenianos in swaddling clothes, in distress and pleas, buried in hope by me. As God wished, I fulfilled this path for her in the fourteenth Indiction, September 13” (OWEC, 71).

We know that Alexandra, mentioned in the inscription, is the mother of the child who died at 23. Alexandra is considered to be a deacon of a church.

The next inscription concerns Anastasia of Palestine. The inscription itself is “a funerary inscription of the Byzantine Period, from the burial caves at the St. George Choziba Monastery, Deir el Qilt in Wadi Kilt, between Jerusalem and Jericho” (OWEC, 71).

“Here lies ANASTASIA DEACON, in the month of February 27, in the 11th Indiction” (OWEC, 71).

Madigan and Osiek tell us that in the place of “deacon” here in the inscription are really just four letters, an abbreviation of the title (DIAK); therefore, we can’t know whether Anastasia was a deacon or a deaconess (OWEC, 71).

The last tomb inscription in this post is from the fifth century, from Delphi (Greece):

“The devoted DEACONESS ATHANASIA, who lived a blameless life decorously, INSTALLED AS DEACONESS by the most holy bishop Pantamianos, set up this memorial. Here lie her mortal remains. If anyone else dares to open this monument where the deaconess has been placed, may he share the lot of Judas the [betrayer] of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (OWEC, 72)

Regarding this tomb inscription, Madigan and Osiek tell us that “this is the only inscription of a female deacon that speaks of her installation as deaconess (Katasthathisa)and gives the name of the installing bishop, probably because of his importance. This verb (kathistemi) is not normally used for ordination and is sometimes contrasted to ordination. It rather connotes official appointment to an office or function…” (OWEC, 73).

Despite Madigan and Osiek’s claim here, I’d have to say that the word “kathistemi” is used in the Greek New Testament for appointment to church office. It is especially used for the first deacons of the early church in Acts 6. When Peter says, “Therefore, brothers, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we can APPOINT to this duty” (Acts 6:4, HCSB), he is telling the church to pick seven men they can install to the office of deacon. In the early church, installment, appointment, and ordination meant the same thing; so I don’t see where the difference lies. At least in the Greek New Testament, “kathistemi” did mean ordination.

This means, then, that Athanasia, the deaconess, WAS ORDAINED to her position. What adds to this conclusion is the fact that we are told the name of the Bishop who ordained her: “installed as deaconess by THE MOST HOLY BISHOP PANTAMIANOS…” If Athanasia was just given a church office that held no significance of ordination, why would a bishop’s name be used here? As we will see throughout the study of tomb inscriptions, there were women who served as “deacons” and did good charitable things, but the name of a bishop was not given—nor were any of the details of their appointment.

This will conclude Part II of our study of tomb inscriptions. As we see, though, women did serve in leadership in the early church. As we progress through the study, I hope that you feel as I do: that much of this material, although true, remains hidden or undiscussed. Something must be done…

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Women Deacons in the East: Tomb Inscriptions

It is now time to add a new section to that of our historical evidence: tomb inscriptions proving the existence of women deacons in the East.
Without further ado, I will now start with Aeria, from an inscription found in 1885 on a stone with a cross in the middle:

“Here rests the ever-remembered servant of Christ, AERIA, who was a DEACON of the holy ones, friend of all. She came to rest in the tenth Indiction in the month of January, being thirty years old, in the year 594. God-bearer [help?]” (“Ordained Women in the Early Church,” page 68).

Madigan and Osiek tell us that the label “friend of all” [panton phile] is a common label used in the fifth and sixth centuries.
We are told that Aeria was a “diakonos.”

Next, meet Agaliasis, whose name was inscribed on a tomb as part of a fourth-century family funerary inscription from the Island of Melos in the Aegean Sea:

“In the Lord: the presbyters worthy of every commemoration, Asclepis and Elpizon and Asklepiodotos and AGALIASIS THE DEACON and Eutychia and Klaudiane, virgins, and Eutychia their mother lie here. Since this tomb is full, I adjure you by the angel located before it that no one dare bury anyone else here. Jesus Christ, help the one who writes this and his entire household” (Ordained Women in the Early Church,” page 68).

Regarding Agaliasis, Madigan and Osiek write:

“Though the deacon’s name is spelled with only one ‘l’ in the inscription, THE NAME IS A COMMON GREEK WORD, ‘agalliasis’ (see Luke 1:47)” (Ordained Women, page 69).

The next piece of evidence comes from a funerary inscription at Philippi in Macedonia:

“Distinguished resting place of AGATHE DEACON and John treasurer and linen-weaver” (OW, 69).

Madigan and Osiek believe that “this brief inscription probably records the burial of a wife and husband. Her title is DIAKONOS. The terms used to describe her husband are disputed. He may have been treasurer or custodian of the church (hypodektos) as well as a worker or merchant in line (othonetos)…HE SEEMS NOT TO HAVE BEEN ORDAINED. This inscription is a rare indication that not all women deacons were virgins or widows” (69).

This inscription shows us that, in some cases, the woman was ordained—while the husband wasn’t! But that would NEVER happen today, according to most conservative evangelicals.

One more tomb inscription will be discussed in this post: that of Agathokleia. The inscription is only a few words:

“Memorial of Agathokleia, virgin and DEACON” (OW, 69).

This inscription comes from Macedonia in the fifth and sixth centuries. Here’s what Madigan and Osiek had to say about the unusual combination of “virgin” and a church office:

“The DIAKONOS Agathokleia is also called a virgin; she is undoubtedly a CONSECRATED VIRGIN…this inscription…shows that the two titles and thus the two functions, virgin and deacon, were considered DISTINCT, yet COULD BE COMBINED” (OW, 69-70).

I will pick up where I left off in our discovery of tomb inscriptions in my next post.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Women Deacons in the West: Church Documents

We have finished our coverage of women deacons in the west via tomb inscriptions and a letter between a Pope and Bishop. Now, we are gonna begin tracing women deacons in church texts. The first church document I will begin with is called the “Testamentum Domini Nostri Jesu Christi,” which is Latin for “the Testament of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Kevin Madigan and Carolyn Osiek provide us with a fitting description of the document:

“The TD is an early Christian church order, depending literarily on some form of Hippolytus’ ‘Apostolic Tradition,’ as well as an apocalypse and other sources. IT PURPORTS TO INCLUDE THE INSTRUCTIONS CHRIST GAVE TO THE TWELVE AFTER THE RESURRECTION, on issues of ecclesiastical order, architecture, daily prayer, and other matters…probably written in Greek in the late fourth or (as Harnack suggested) the fifth century, it survives today in Syriac, Ethiopic, and Arabic” (“Ordained Women in the Early Church: A Documentary History,” page 150).

The texts of the TD have all been translated from Latin to English, so I will only provide the English translation here at the blog site. The parts of the Testamentum that I will address here will be those rules of the TD that mention women deacons. There are other documents regarding church order. To find those, just do a google search.

Now to begin with, let’s look at Testamentum Domini 1.23:

“On the Sabbath let [the bishop] offer three breads as a symbol of the Trinity; on Sunday, four breads as an image of the Gospel.
When he offers the sacrifice, let the VEIL OF THE SANCTUARY be drawn closed, as a sign of the wandering of the ancient people, and let him offer it WITHIN THE VEIL WITH the presbyters, deacons, canonical widows (viduis canonicis), subdeacons, DEACONESSES (diaconissi), readers, [and] THOSE HAVING SPIRITUAL GIFTS (charismata).
Let the bishop stand first in the middle, and the presbyters immediately behind him on both sides; the widows (viduae) behind the presbyters who are on the left side; the deacons behind the presbyters who are on the right side; and behind these the readers; and behind the readers the subdeacons; and behind the subdeacons, the DEACONESSES (diaconissae).”

Regarding the placement of deaconesses behind the veil, Madigan and Osiek write the following:

“The deaconess, WHO HAS ALMOST NO ROLE BEYOND THAT OF GREETING WOMEN AT THE DOOR OF THE CHURCH, is brought within the veil and, though mentioned last, she experiences an ‘upward’ shift, so to speak, and is explicitly brought into the penumbra of the clergy. All are clearly separated from the laity” (152).

I desire to point out some things in rule 1.23 that we just examined. First, notice that the deaconesses are placed BEHIND THE VEIL with the bishop and presbyters. Then, as Madigan and Osiek tell us, the deaconesses are clearly separated from the laity itself. This tells us that deaconesses were considered to be part of the ordained clergy in those days. The fact that women were ordained clergy in those days attests to how women have shifted “downward” in the centuries since; in many conservative theological circles, women no longer have a place as ordained clergy.

Remember what I’ve been saying at the blog? It’s funny how most theological conservatives believe that women have NEVER been ordained; yet and still, we have not only tomb inscriptions but also church documents that tell us otherwise. It doesn’t take much to see that the Church of Christ has disintegrated from what it was in the early centuries following the ascension of Christ.

But I found something else interesting about rule 1.23: not only does it allow women behind the curtain, but also “those having spiritual gifts.” THOSE HAVING SPIRITUAL GIFTS! Did you notice that?

I point out those with spiritual gifts because today, in most churches, since we believe that everyone has a spiritual gift, we tend to let those with spiritual gifts remain among the congregation and sit out in the pews with the rest of the congregation: we don’t allow them behind the pulpit or anywhere near it. Well, in the early centuries of the church, those who had spiritual gifts, such as those of the five-fold ministry in Ephesians 4 (evangelists, teachers, pastors, prophets, apostles) were allowed to go behind the veil as ordained clergy. Teachers would have been included behind the veil, which means that, they were considered to be part of the clergy. It’s funny that many churches consider them to be part of the church staff, but not necessarily part of the ordained clergy. But I think the early church was onto something when they allowed teachers behind the veil—because teachers are the ones feeding God’s people the Word, helping them to understand what God is saying. In other words, teachers are performing a PASTORAL DUTY when they instruct from one Sunday to the next, whether they are teaching youth, men, women, toddlers, etc.!

The fact that the teachers were ordained clergy also tells us something else: that today’s women, including those of Southern Baptist circles who teach only women and children, would have been considered ORDAINED CLERGY in the days of the early church! Actually, as teachers, in some cases, women would have had a greater role as ordained clergy than that of the deaconess!

The Testamentum Domini 1.23 shows us that women were considered to be ordained clergy. The question is, if women of the third and fourth centuries were considered to be ordained, then why has the rule changed today? Why is it that women today are considered in conservative theological circles to be NON-ORDAINED by nature? To presuppose women should never be ordained then, is to go against the views of the early church.

Since we have covered all the material on women deacons in the West, we will continue our discussion of women deacons by looking at tomb inscriptions of women deacons in the East. Keep reading, and feel free to comment or ask questions.