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.