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Rom 16:1 “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess of the church at Cenchreae, that you may receive her in the Lord as befits the saints ...”
A deaconess is a woman officially responsible for such duties as the baptism of women, where she assisted the deacon. Deaconesses were present at interviews of women with bishops, priests, or deacons. They instructed women catechumens, kept order in the women’s part of the church, and took care of poor and sick women.
The ancient Jews had great respect for women’s formidable powers of attraction. To prevent temptation, they separated the men and women at prayer services, a practice that Orthodox Jews continue to this day. The early Jewish Christians were accustomed to that approach, saw wisdom in it, and continued it in the early churches. To prevent undue temptation, they arranged for women committed to the Church to work with the church women.
The crucial difference between deacons and deaconesses were that the deaconesses were never ordained in Holy Orders. They were assistants.
Assisting at baptisms was the only work done by deaconesses related to a sacrament. Over the centuries, adult baptisms became fewer. Deaconesses began to arrogate to themselves the work of men in Holy Orders. Several regional councils abrogated the office of deaconess, and eventually it disappeared.
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