Zimbabwean woman becomes first Deaconess in Eastern Orthodox Church

The Archbishop of Zimbabwe, Metropolitan Serafim, left, ordained Angelic Molen at the St. Nektarios Mission Parish near Harare, Zimbabwe, Thursday, May 2, 2024. Photo: St. Phoebe Center Facebook/Annie Frost
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In a groundbreaking event held on May 2, 2024, the Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and all of Africa ordained Angelic Molen as the first deaconess in the global Eastern Orthodox Church. The ceremony, conducted at St, according to the Neos Kosmos report.

Nektarios Mission Parish near Harare, Zimbabwe, marked a significant milestone in the Church’s history and its efforts to reintroduce the female diaconate.

Metropolitan Serafim, the Archbishop of Zimbabwe, presided over the ordination ceremony on Holy Thursday, just before Orthodox Easter. Molen, expressing her initial apprehension about entering the altar, found solace and confidence after receiving blessings from Metropolitan Serafim.

“At first, I was nervous about going into the altar, but when Metropolitan Serafim blessed me to enter the altar as part of my preparation this week, those feelings went away, and I felt comfortable. I am ready,” Molen told Religion News regarding her ordination.

The decision to revive the female diaconate within the Orthodox Church has sparked debates among Orthodox Christians. While some perceive it as a return to an ancient tradition, others view it as a departure from Orthodox hierarchical norms. The Patriarchate’s move to ordain Molen is seen as a bold initiative that could set a precedent for other branches of the Orthodox Church.

Molen’s ordination aligns with the Patriarchate’s broader agenda to address the shortage of priests and deacons in African parishes. As a deaconess, Molen’s duties will involve assisting priests in liturgical tasks and attending to specific parish needs in Zimbabwe.

The St. Phoebe Center for the Deaconess, an advocacy group promoting the revival of the female diaconate, hailed Molen’s ordination as a pivotal moment for the Church. They emphasized that restoring the female diaconate could cater to the needs of women in congregations and alleviate the burden on overworked priests.

Dr. Carrie Frost, chair of St. Phoebe’s board, remarked in a press release, “Being the first to do anything is always a challenge, but the Patriarchate of Alexandria has courageously chosen to lead the way with Metropolitan Serafim laying his hands on Deaconess Angelic.”

However, not all members of the Orthodox Church perceive Molen’s ordination positively. Dr. Jeanne Constantinou, a retired professor of Biblical studies, expressed skepticism, suggesting that changes in the Orthodox Church occur gradually and may not lead to widespread acceptance of the female diaconate.

The Patriarchate’s decision to ordain Molen also raises concerns about potential divisions within the Church, particularly in light of heightened tensions within the Orthodox world following the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Molen’s ordination could deepen existing fault lines, possibly resulting in further divisions within the Church.