POSTERNAK A.V. The Ministry of Deaconesses in Byzantium and Projects for Its Reconstruction at the Pre-Council Conference in Russia 1906

DOI: https://doi.org/10.15688/jvolsu4.2021.6.26

Andrey V. Posternak

Candidate of Sciences (History), Associate Professor, Dean of the Faculty of History and Philology,

St. Tikhon’s Orthodox University,

Ilovaiskaya St, 9, Bld. 2, 109651 Moscow, Russian Federation

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https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1310-3503


Abstract. Introduction. The order of deaconesses in Byzantium was formed by the time of the Council of Chalcedon in 451. The idea of the institutionalization of the women’s ministry was revived in the new conditions in Russia of the 19th – early 20th century because of the need for Church reforms.

Materials and methods. A comparative analysis of the ancient order of deaconesses and the project of its reconstruction in Russia allows us to determine characteristics of the ministry and status of deaconesses that depended on the specific living conditions of the Church. The deaconesses in the Byzantine Empire were ministers of the Church: the bishop ordained widows or virgins between the ages of 40 and 60. Deaconesses kept chastity, had property rights, were assigned to a parish, helped priests at the baptism of women, and were subordinate to clergymen. By the 12th century, the female order in Byzantium disappeared, however the honorary title of deaconess could later be worn by the prioress of female monasteries. The Russian Church has never had deaconesses, but in the 19th – early 20th century projects were discussed for the reconstruction of this women’s ministry which was actively developing in the protestant tradition. The Pre-Council Conference in 1906 developed a draft of Church reforms, including the rules for orthodox deaconesses, who could be elected from active parishioners, not nuns. It was assumed that these women were supposed to keep order in the Church, help the priest in the parish, at the baptism and catechumenate of women, help the sick and the needy, in the so called “inner mission”. However, the undeveloped status of deaconesses as new ministers of the Church did not allow this project to be implemented.

Results. The order of the deaconesses that disappeared in Byzantium and the attempt to restore it in Russia show that a stable institutionalization of women’s ministry took place only at a certain period in the history of the Church which needed it.

Key words: deaconesses, women’s ministry, Byzantine Orthodoxy, Russian Orthodox Church, Pre-Council Conference in 1906, “inner mission”.

Citation. Posternak A.V. The Ministry of Deaconesses in Byzantium and Projects for Its Reconstruction at the Pre-Council Conference in Russia of 1906. Vestnik Volgogradskogo gosudarstvennogo universiteta. Seriya 4. Istoriya. Regionovedenie. Mezhdunarodnye otnosheniya [Science Journal of Volgograd State University. History. Area Studies. International Relations], 2021, vol. 26, no. 6, pp. 352-364. (in Russian). DOI: https://doi.org/10.15688/jvolsu4.2021.6.26.

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The Ministry of Deaconesses in Byzantium and Projects for Its Reconstruction at the Pre-Council Conference in Russia 1906 by Posternak A.V. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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