Q & A with Fr Job, installment VIII:
Question: What does the word “deaconess” mean?
Answer: Deaconesses (Greek diakonissa, servants) in the first centuries were women who dedicated themselves to service in church. The origin of this service goes back to apostolic times. The holy Apostle Paul, in the Epistle to the Romans, mentions the deaconess Phoebe. According to apostolic directions, deaconesses were chosen from among chaste virgins or widows who had been once married, faithful and God-fearing. According to the directions of the Council of Chalcedon, deaconesses were to be at least forty years old and to be accepted after intense examination. There were forty deaconesses at the Great Church of Constantinople under the Emperor Justinian. They prepared women for Baptism, helped the bishop at the Baptism of women, and in his place anointed parts of the body with the exception of the forehead, and cared for charity directed towards women. The service of deaconess ended in the East towards the thirteenth century, and in the West in the ninth century.