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Deaconesses in Europe and their Lessons for Americ

The deaconesses who are in the Lord


combining the different references we obtain a tolerably clear picture of the deaconess and her duties. She must be a "pure virgin," or "a widow once married, faithful, and worthy" (Book vi, chap. xvii). Her special duties were as follows:

(a.) She was a door-keeper at the women's entrance to the church. This was an ancient service, dating back to the oldest times.[7] Ignatius died a martyr's death not long after the beginning of the second century, and in a letter which bears his name is written, "I greet the doorkeepers of the holy doors, the deaconesses who are in the Lord."

This guardianship was maintained not only in times of persecution, but as a matter of order and discipline in times of peace.

(b.) She showed women their places in the congregation, being especially bound to look after the poor and strangers, giving each due attention.

(c.) She instructed the female catechumens. She also visited the women's apartments, where male deacons could not enter, carried messages to the bishops, and acted as a missionary. Teaching was an important part of the duties of the early deaconesses.

(d.) The deaconess had certain duties in connection with the baptism of women that were considered important and indispensable.

(e.) In times of persecution she visited those who were

oppressed or in prison, and ministered to their bodily and spiritual needs. She seems to have been less endangered in performing these acts than were men. Lucian alludes to the service of these devoted women in prisons. She also cared for the sick and sorrowing, being especially "zealous to serve other women."

(f.) On occasion she was a mediator when there was strife in families, or among friends. Both to deacons and deaconesses "pertain messages, journeys to foreign parts, ministrations, services." The ever-to-be-remembered journey of Phebe to Rome, when a whole system of theology was committed to her keeping, was quite within the sphere of her duties. It has also been said that to them was given the safe-keeping of the holy books in periods of persecution. The enumeration of these principal duties implying so many lesser details helps us to understand that "deaconesses are needed for many purposes" (Book ii, chapter xv). The deaconess was ordained to her work, as is attested by a great number of authorities.[8] "It was because men felt still that the Holy Ghost alone could give power to do any work to God's glory that they deemed themselves constrained to ask such power of him, in setting a woman to do Church service."[9]

The following beautiful prayer of ordination, attributed to the apostle Bartholomew, bears within it certain proofs of the very early existence of the ceremony, as well as of the order of deaconesses:

"Eternal God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Creator of man and women, who didst fill Miriam and Deborah and Hannah and Huldah with thy Spirit, and didst not disdain to suffer thine only-begotten Son to be born of a woman; who also in the tabernacle and temple didst appoint woman-keepers of thine holy gates, look down now upon this thine handmaid, who is designated to the office of deaconess, and cleanse her from all filthiness of the flesh and of the spirit, that she may worthily execute the work intrusted to her to thine honor, and to the praise of thine Anointed, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be honor and adoration forever. Amen."

The allusion to the creation of man and woman, to the women in the Old Testament who were called to special service, as well as to Mary, the mother of the Lord, while no reference is made to the women of the apostolic Church who were so highly commended, and held in veneration as worthy of all imitation, go to prove that the origin of this prayer was so near the time of the apostles as to be almost contemporary with them.

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