Friday, May 17, 2024

Met. Saba: "May God protect us from replacing Orthodox unity with an Orthodox union."

Metropolitan Saba (Isper) posted this article today entitled "What is the goal?" on the topic of the so-called "deaconess" issue wherein a woman was "ordained" to be a deaconess in Africa. This differs from the status quo in Alexandria where women were set aside as deaconesses in a non-liturgical role. They vested her like a deacon and had her communing people. All to the surprise of not only the world, but from the patriarch's letter, from the patriarchate as well. You can read more about that here

Internet response to this has ranged from "Finally our day has come!" to "Maranatha!" from the people you would assume would say which. For my part, Orthodox unity right now seems to be hanging on by a thread. We are one event from a de facto dissolution of the Assembly of Bishops as a functional body.

We can only hope more jurisdictions are similarly disposed to speak publicly on this as His Eminence was. One thing is for certain: putting your head in the sand and pretending like it is not happening or that it will go away is not going to resolve this even a little bit.

(AOCANA) - During Holy Week, ecclesiastical media reported news of the ordination of a liturgical deaconess in one of the churches in Zimbabwe, Africa, affiliated with the Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria. I won't delve into the subject of ordaining a deaconess. That's a matter I'll leave to theologians and synods, for now. In this article, I'll simply raise some questions stemming from this event. Such an event requires Orthodox consensus, as any ecclesiastical action outside Orthodox consensus and unanimity poses a danger and leads to undesirable consequences. How much more so a matter as sensitive as this, especially at this time, would be considered a step towards the ordination of women to the priesthood.

There is no doubt that a deep and faithful study of the Christian heritage, especially the Orthodox one, and the pastoral needs required by the Church in today's world, is urgently needed for this topic. However, resorting to individual decisions remains more dangerous than any step its proponents might perceive as beneficial to the Church. Theological studies require scientific honesty and objectivity, not manipulation of information to serve personal agendas. Here, the role of the pure saints, not just scholars and researchers, is highlighted, lest we negate what we have been saying for centuries, that theology is the experience of God's presence, not just rational or philosophical thinking.

My deliberations stem from a concern for Orthodox unity, which I see in danger due to the absence of dialogue among the churches and the spread of individualism within them, to the point where the fear of following the footsteps of Protestant-type individualism is imminent. May God protect us from replacing Orthodox unity with an Orthodox union.

The existence of deaconesses in the early Church needs further clarification. Our historical information does not confirm that all churches witnessed the service of deaconesses, but rather some, especially large churches and in major cities. Moreover, the distinction between the service of deaconesses and the service of widows also needs further exploration. Our available information indicates that the service of deaconesses included several aspects, such as guarding and overseeing the women's section in the church; according to the social custom in the past, women and men each stood in designated areas of the nave. Also, deaconesses assisted women in baptisms, such as anointing their bodies with oil. Furthermore, deaconesses may have been responsible for teaching women, but not all scholars agree on this. In the fourth service, based on the social tradition of the past, deaconesses accompanied women when they needed to meet with the bishop, as it was forbidden for a bishop to meet with a woman alone.

There came a time when this ministry fell into disuse in the Church. We do not know the exact reasons for its disappearance. Don't we need studies to show the reasons why? Don't we need to clarify its fields of service before adopting it in our churches? Is its acceptance consistent with Orthodox tradition and understanding of the ordained priesthood? Can it be limited to educational service and service of love in all its forms? What are the boundaries between this ministry and the ministry of the faithful (laity)? What are the motives behind giving it a liturgical role? Why is this role necessary?

If this type of service is authentic, should we demand it, and does the Church really need it? To what extent do we demand it as influenced by humanistic and feminist movements? What is motivating the Church to activate its pastoral service: theological thought or worldly thought? How does the Church respond to the faith, moral, and humanitarian challenges facing today's societies? On what basis does the Church build its pastoral programs, social or theological?

Moreso, what is the effect of accepting deaconesses and female priests in non-Orthodox churches that have adopted this phenomenon? Has this acceptance increased their spiritual and numerical growth, or the opposite? Is accepting deaconesses a first step towards accepting priestesses? What would be the effect of having male and female priests on the spiritual and theological concept of the priesthood? To what extent does this contribute to the secularization or degeneration of the priesthood and considering it a religious function? What is the psychological effect of having both sexes around the Holy Table?

Where will the Orthodox Church end up if each church continues to adopt what it deems appropriate without consulting and agreeing among all Orthodox churches? Where is the collective spirit that distinguishes Orthodoxy? What about the unity of the Faith? And what will unite Orthodox Churches if practices without unanimous agreement begin to appear here and there?

Do those who applaud the emergence of deaconesses think about the future of Orthodox unity? How do we know if we are allowing the Holy Spirit to work and create new talents? How do we know if we are limiting It within the framework of our limited thinking? Are we submitting It to our personal desires and visions?

I won't add any more questions here, although they would be necessary if we truly want to be honest, faithful, and pure in every work we do in the Church. The pain from what is happening stifles me.

I hope that some of these questions encourage a few sincere, honest, and humble persons to pause before proceeding with individualism that increases divisions and creates new schisms.


  1. "We are one event from a de facto dissolution of the Assembly of Bishops as a functional body."

    If the most recent interview by Elpidophoros doesn't do it, I actually legitimately don't think anything will.

    IMHO having the Assembly of Bishops as it stands right now with Elidophoros as the head is actually doing much more harm than having no Assembly at all.

    Not only Orthodox unity in America is hanging by a thread, but obviously worldwide Orthodox unity is hanging by a thread. According to OrthoChristian, Bulgarian hierarchs have now concelebrated with the OCU.

  2. Perhaps the goal of ordaining a female deacon is simply to have a deacon that is not going to be a priest. It is true that the position of deacon for males is often seen as a stepping stone to the priesthood. That's one reason why it is often difficult to keep male deacons.

    While there is at least some historical basis for the ordination of women as deacons, there is no historical basis whatsoever for the ordination of women as priests. It's not fair then to presume that the goal of a female deaconate is the eventual ordination of women as priests.

    1. The service of ordination of a reader virtually declares that the minor orders are stepping stones to the priesthood.

      That said, there are plenty of permanent deacons. At least in the AOCANA.

  3. What separates a priest from a deacon? Once you allow for the distribution of communion and preaching and all the rest, why not?

    1. As you know, a deacon liturgically only assists the priest or bishop. Without the priest or bishop's presence and blessing, a deacon can only serve reader services and use a layman's censer. Without a priest or bishop, no swinging censer, no Divine Liturgy, no Gospel. That's a big difference.

      I believe a deacon would also need the specific blessing of a priest or bishop to distribute the reserve gifts independently for sick calls and certainly for communion at Divine Liturgy.

  4. "There is no historical basis whatsoever for the ordination of women as priests."

    This "assurance" was given to Traditionalist Anglicans years ago, and it turned out to be utterly worthless.  Once the line has been crossed on "lesser orders," there is no stopping.   Many of the sharp voices in opposition are grey-haired former Anglicans who remember quite vividly the insulting gaslighting they received in the form of the above statement.

    The women's ordination movement is relentless.   They play the long game, and will hold as many "symposiums" and "webinars" as they need to, in order to weaken the opposition of the hierarchy or sway enough "important" laity/hierarchs to their side to force the issue.   It is quite fair, Joseph.   In fact, to imply otherwise would mean ignoring the last few decades, where those who said the above were sidelined and forced out of their Churches (often becoming Orthodox).    It's the same game that the Rainbow ideology played with "Gay Marriage."    

    "I'm for Civil Unions, but against Gay Marriage."    Remember that?   "All we want is tolerance."   I remember that, too. 

    Metropolitan Saba said it all.    Like Archbishop Anastasios of Albania, a voice in the wilderness.   Axios!  

    1. David, are you suggesting that the Bishop of Zimbabwe was somehow bowing to pressure from his flock to ordain a woman? Where are the female diaconate "webinars" and "symposiums"? Well, they're not coming from Zimbabwe.

      The Bishop of Zimbabwe was fulfilling a particular need in order for the local church to continue it's mission there and "stay the same". The Orthodox Church does make changes in order to stay the same.

      Sure, the Anglicans did bow to ideological pressure to ordain women, but I don't see this being the case in Zimbabwe.

    2. Metropolitan Seraphim is on the advisory board and long involved with the St. Phoebe Center. Carrie Frost wrote a glowing account of the "ordination" on Fordham's Public Orthodoxy portal.

      What to make of that?

    3. By the way, the Crete Council specifically addressed the problem of civil unions, saying "civil marriage between a man and a woman registered in accordance with the law lacks sacramental character since it is a simple legalized cohabitation recognized by the State, different from a marriage blessed by God and the Church". It also stated that "The Church does not allow for her members to contract same-sex unions or any other form of cohabitation apart from marriage".

    4. Yes, I am aware of Bishop Seraphim's "involvement" with the St. Phoebe Center, but I would hardly describe that relationship as being a source of "pressure" for the Bishop of Zimbabwe.

    5. Who said anything about pressure? He is clearly aligned with the St. Phoebe Center's agenda, otherwise he wouldn't be formally involved with them.

      You may not see a problem, but I (and lots of other people) do.

    6. For my clarification: "The Bishop of Zimbabwe" and "Metropolitan Seraphim" is one and the same person? In otherwords, "The Bishop of Zimbabwe" who ordained this women is "on the advisory board" of the activist group promoting this (anthropological) theological innovation?

    7. To be honest and frank Mr. Lipper, your argument is delusional at best, and objectively absurd. His activism *in a western cultural context* makes his and his patriarch's claim to be only concerned about local/parochial conditions unbelievable. They are Big Fat Liars and you are a fool if you believe them.

  5. As to our hosts point about Met. Saba's "questioning", it simply is the status quo - the status quo of Orthodoxies inadequate ontology in the western/modern world. "Questioning" is not good enough, because "questioning" but continuing in communion with those who promote anthropological innovation is de facto accepting the innovation...

    1. Jake, female deacons in the Orthodox Church are not an innovation. Even though some people have a problem with females as deacons, what would (or could) be the possible basis of breaking communion with a bishop who ordained a female a deacon?

      All the objections that I am reading, including Metropolitan Saba's, are really against women being ordained priests, not against women as deacons.

      Deacons are helpers. That is why God created Eve, as a helper to Adam:

      “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” Genesis 2:18

    2. After almost 30 years now as a communing "member" of 'canonical Orthodoxy' (chrismation in 1996), I am no longer in communion with you. Women's ordination is the canary in the coal mine so to speak for just how secularized a body has become in spirit - the spirit of "the age", which is mostly a theological anthropology.

      What is the fruit of Ortho-doxia as an ontology - a way of life - if it can not keep this spirit and confusion expressing a rejection of the differences (spiritual, physical, psychological - in every significant way) between men in women in general, and the ordained orders in particular? Ortho-doxia is only the beginning - it has to express itself in an ontology as lived by the believers and their institutions - in this case "the Church". Women's ordination is a failure of a failing body as an institution sure, but more importantly as a spiritual embodiment.

      Since their is no Russian church anywhere near me, I might as well join the continuing Anglicans now, as they have (limited) women's ordination and about 90% Ortho-doxia, without the ethnic captivity and deep ignorance of the culture and it's anthropology/history...

  6. Joseph,

    First, Christ is Risen!  (First and always).

    The issue here is that Metropolitan Seraphim didn't ordain/appoint/tonsure a deaconess.  He "ordained" a female deacon.   Basically, dressing a woman up as a MALE DEACON and having her do what the Deacon does.    THAT is the scandal.   There is sharp disagreement in the Church on how a deaconess would function in the 21st Century, seeing how the office died a thousand years ago, and its main promoters today are supporters of feminist ideology masquerading as "pastoral concern."   

    When Alexandria declared its intention to revive the office, part of that formal declaration was a commitment to a detailed study of how the office functioned in those times, answering the question of why the office died, and RECOMMENDATIONS on how it might be revived (with Alexandria taking the lead), All of which was to be presented to the rest of the Church.   The Alexandrian Synod has presented nothing of its findings, nor is there anything for the other Churches to react to other than photos of a woman serving as a deacon, and a bland, insulting statement of "mind your own business" and "trust us."   It is that belligerent, unilateral activity that Metropolitan Saba is reacting to.  Ordination is a PAN-ORTHODOX concern.

    Many people (me included) were open to the idea of deaconesses.   I see it now as a Trojan Horse, and am firmly in the OXI column.  The hand of the St. Phoebe Center was all in this mess.   What Metropolitan Seraphim did has all but guaranteed that the deaconess issue is DOA outside of Africa (And maybe in Africa as well, if enough Greeks get scandalized over it).  The non-Greek Churches were suspicious of the whole thing to begin with, and this act has confirmed their suspicions (with the Russian Exarchate in Africa reaping the benefits).  The Ecumenical Patriarchate is not going to risk a major schism in the Diaspora (and possibly Greece itself) over this issue (with the hostility against Archbishop Elpidophoros at a fever pitch, pushing this issue will blow up the Assembly and push "conservative parishes" in the GOA to other Jurisdictions----those darn "Ephramites"!).

    As I said before, they moved too far, too fast.   Doing so would only be a negative for Alexandria.   I honestly don't understand why they chose to do something like this, at perhaps the worst time.

    1. David, is the baptism and chrismation of women somehow a lesser sacrament? No, of course not. The deaconess' hands become the "male hands of the priest" for the baptism of women. This is simply what a deacon does, becomes the hands and voice of the priest. The role of deaconess for female baptism was done historically so as not to create the scandal of priests touching women.

      Creating scandal seems to be the only real objection that I can find against females being ordained today as Orthodox deacons.

      Why is it scandalous though? There is no actual ontological argument made against female deacons. Eve was created to help Adam. Women naturally have a diaconal role. All I'm hearing is the circular objection that female deacons are scandalous, well dammit, because they're scandalous.

    2. Joseph,

      The priest's hands are an "extension" of the Bishop's, using that language, are they not?  Using your reasoning, what is preventing the ordination of women as priests or bishops?   It's the same "logical conclusion" that the Anglicans reached, the end of the rabbit hole that began when they compromised on the lower offices.

      NO, a woman's baptism is not inferior, but there are different roles for men and women.   Our host asked you about this directly as well.

      They want women priests.   That is the ultimate goal.   Period.   Father John Whiteford (whatever you think of him) pointed out this very thing in his writing on the AFR symposium on the subject.  All of the deaconess advocates dodged the question of women priests.   They won't say the quiet part out loud, because the Overton Window hasn't shifted enough.   But, we all know what the end game is.  Full Women's ordination is the mission.   Period.   To say otherwise is naivety or deception.    It is a red line for A LOT of people.

    3. David, discussing this subject with Mr. Lipper is a vanity. Mr. Lipper and the vast majority of secularized "thinkers" in Orthodoxy (and all the rest of Christianity) do not know where their presuppositions come from. They are "true believers" in a modern (usually neo-Kantian) theological anthropology, and are not only unaware of this but also incapable (for diverse reasons including psychological disposition/talent, poor education, etc.) of critiquing their presuppositions. They say things like "Women naturally have a diaconal role..." as if it were simply true and obvious - and it is to them because they *see* the world and God and man in exactly this light, and have not idea that it is not a traditional Christian way of perceiving and believing.

      This is why Met. Saba's "questions" are also a vanity - it presumes a common ground of 'charisma' and perceiving where such "questioning" (i.e. dialogue) can be fruitful. In the end it is spineless, only action (words made real - embodied) is a fruitful response, but neither he nor the rest of canonical Orthodox leadership is capable of such action as they are not prepared for the sacrifice...

  7. David and Jake, in the limited Orthodox tradition and history of ordaining women to the diaconate, there has never been the suggestion that it was intended as a pathway towards an ordained female priesthood. There simply is no Orthodox tradition or history of ordaining women to the priesthood.

    Yet Metropolitan Saba and others are making a "dread slippery slope" argument based on what has happened in Protestant churches, their eventual ordination of female priests and bishops. Is Orthodox tradition, canon law, and ecclesiology really not that much different than Protestantism? Unfortunately, that is what Metropolitan Saba and others seem to be alluding to.

    I fully recognize that people are going to be scandalized by female deacons in the Orthodox Church, and that is probably a good enough reason in most cases not to ordain them. Yet, I think there should be room for exceptions. Perhaps in Africa this works, but maybe not in Massachusetts or California.

    1. The Metropolitan's 'slippery slope' argument is accurate. Those of us who were mainline Protestants before becoming Orthodox (I "converted" from the Episcopal church in 1995) have quite literally seen this all before. This sort of reasoning is precisely how the whole thing starts, and there is no doubt in my mind that this is what the Fordham crowd is aiming for.


    2. The Orthodox Church has had instances of females ordained to the diaconate since apostolic times. In 2000 years, it has never led to one instance of a female deacon being ordained to the priesthood. There is a line there.

    3. The disingenuousness of that last statement is astronomical.

      There were no feminist activists in the 9th century. Seriously?

      This conversation is at an end. Fortunately, the vast majority of the Church is a firm "NO." If the Fordhamites want another schism, that is on their souls.

    4. David, if an Orthodox bishop somehow ordains a woman as a priest, that would definitely cause schism. That would be a complete break with the entire history and tradition of the Church going back to the creation of Eve.

      However, with this recent ordination of a woman to the diaconate in Africa, do I hear any calls for schism? Nope. None.

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  8. It didn't start that way in the Anglican/Episcopal communion either, nor in the other mainline denominations that eventually ordained women as priests. You never see the whole camel at first, only its nose.

  9. This will be my last post:

    One important thing to note----Metropolitan Saba didn't address the issue of deaconesses as an institution in his message, as he (rightly) wants to leave that question to pan-Orthodox Synodal discussion.  

    His entire point is that HOW this "ordination" happened was all wrong.  Alexandria offered no explanations, no preliminary findings, nothing at all (which is what the rest of the Church was waiting for).   A lone Metropolitan (with formal ties to the St. Phoebe Center) just went ahead and did this, with the blessing of the Alexandrian Patriarch (?)   I think it is Metropolitan Seraphim's involvement with the St. Phoebe Center that has many questioning the "pastoral necessity."

    The Process of Ordination is a pan-Orthodox concern, especially on this issue.   Alexandria has acted in violation of the principles of Synodality.  The actions of the Moscow Patriarchate don't give Alexandria the right to act in an equally bellicose and unilateral way.   His Eminence Saba's whole message is a lament, that Churches are just doing whatever they want now, the Canons, Fraternity, and Previous Agreements be damned.   The Ecumenical Patriarchate refuses to call a council because it doesn't want its decisions subject to pan-Orthodox judgement.   Moscow refused to allow the Ukrainian Question to be submitted to a Pan-Orthodox mediation, because it didn't want to submit ITS decisions to Pan-Orthodox judgement.   And now,  Alexandria just went ahead and did what it wanted, telling the other Churches that "they don't have to do the same----mind your own business."

    Orthodoxy Unity is in jeopardy, and there is no one culprit.   The Ecumenical Patriarchate can't hold the conciliar process hostage to preserve whatever privileges it thinks it has.  Moscow can't continue to gaslight and threaten Eastern Europe for wanting autocephaly (or threaten other Churches with an Exarchate as well if they don't play ball).   Romania is asserting itself quite forcefully in Moldova, Southern Ukraine and in Western Europe (as theirs is the largest Orthodox Church by numbers as a "diaspora"), and now Alexandria thinks it has the right to just suddenly declare that women can be deacons, to heck with what the other Churches think.

    Lord, have mercy.

    1. "...Metropolitan Saba didn't address the issue of deaconesses as an institution in his message, as he (rightly) wants to leave that question to pan-Orthodox Synodal discussion...the process of ordination is a pan-Orthodox concern, especially on this issue...His Eminence Saba's whole message is a lament, that Churches are just doing whatever they want now...Orthodoxy Unity is in jeopardy, and there is no one culprit..."

      To add to this, I would say there are two main culprits: an ecclesiology, both "canonical" & cultural (even "spiritual") based on the assumption of a Roman Empire. I have spoken about this many times. Orthodoxy was isolated/insulated (Slavic & Ottoman) from the fall of the Roman Empire until about a 100 years ago. Now that it has been thrust into the modern world of nation states and globalized secular cultural, it's inept "synodality" is quickly being shown for what it is, and national and progressive desires are overwhelming any sense of unity.

      I admit I am disappointed that the orthodox convert intelligentsia and mindset seems to be surprised at the disarray (a fiction really) of Orthodox synodality and ecclesiology. In large part my generation (of orthodox converts) drank the cool aid so to speak, even though the mature "cradle" members of the parish were usually more circumspect and realistic about it.

      Orthodoxy has not had EC for 1300 years, and there is no realistic basis to even begin to have one in the next 100 years. The Justice League (consisting of comic book characters) has as much *substance* as any so called "Holy and Great Council" maintained by some Orthodox when it comes to any truly ecumenical, catholic, universal synodality & unity to matters of theological anthropology....

  10. David B. and everyone else, I want to remind you that this female ordination has been a long time coming. Met. Antony of the UOC-USA revealed (in an unguarded moment to us seminarians) that the this topic had been discussed by the Pat. of Alexandria (I suspect informally but I don't know) at the Greek synaxis on Crete, and based on the twinkle in his eye he was in favor. The actual "ordinations" that took place six months later were somewhat stillborn, but this latest one is not and is only the first.

    The progressives play a long game - they have momentum and every other advantage on their side. They have already "won" in a sense in that most orthodox believe and live their anthropology...

  11. My spiritual father has always told me that it is a good thing to want to be ordained a deacon (that is to be a servant and helper), but it is not a good thing to want to be ordained a priest. The ordained priesthood is simply not for everyone. It is a cross to be accepted, but not to be asked for.

    At the same time, men and women do not need to be ordained as deacons to serve and help. Men and women already receive communion in the church with the titles of "servant of God" or the "handmaiden of God". Yet, bishops and priests often need help liturgically, and that help may require ordination. It is up to the bishop to decide.

    The female diaconate mostly fell into disuse, but it was never abolished. The reasoning for its disuse is that adult baptism no longer became the norm. That trend appears to be changing though. Perhaps in our paganized and secular world there has become a need again for a female diaconate.

    1. My simple observation is that adult baptisms seem to be outnumbering infant baptisms in many Orthodox parishes in the U.S.. At the same time, the world is increasingly becoming less Christian and more secular, and really more pagan. We are living in a world that increasingly resembles that of the early Church.

      While priests might not baptize naked adults anymore, I think there is increasingly a concern about the liability that male priests, deacons, and bishops have with laywomen. Please forgive the example, but I remember such was the undoing of Bishop Matthias Moriak (memory eternal!). In that context, I have to wonder if a female diaconate that mostly deals with the women of our particular time would be helpful.

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