Posted by: Fr Chris | October 31, 2022

Ask A Priest 3 – Eastern Questions

Why is daily Mass common but not daily Divine Liturgy?

Actually,  daily Divine Liturgy is quite common among Byzantine Catholics, but less so among Orthodox. It’s not found in certain regions like the Middle East where hostile Muslim rule often made frequent celebration of the Eucharist dangerous. Just gathering for weekly celebration could be risky in times of Islamic fundamentalism.

In large towns of Eastern Europe, daily Divine Liturgy was ordinary among the Orthodox into the 16th century. Then it was rejected as “Catholic” during the controversies over the reunion of the Churches in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Some Orthodox traditions teach that a married priest and his wife cannot be intimate before the celebration of the Eucharist, which is a revival of the Jewish purity laws.

Another reason for its decline in Orthodoxy was the reception of Holy Communion by the laity. Many Orthodox people would only approach the altar at Christmas, Easter, Dormition, and maybe SS. Peter and Paul, after the four fasting seasons were completed.

Finally, the complexity of Byzantine-rite services means that ideally a church had a priest, deacon, and cantor at every service. In the villages where most people lived that was simply impossible.

Why do Byzantine Catholics say “Amen” after the words of institution?  

“Amen” is a Hebrew word which simply affirms a blessing. It shows up in Deuteronomy, Numbers, Psalms, Isaiah, etc. In Christian prayer, Jesus used it repeatedly to emphasize a particular teaching or saying and appears 77 times total. It was added into early Christian worship. When we say it in the Liturgy, we are simply affirming our belief that through the power of the Holy Spirit the bread and wine are now the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

Can women become deaconesses?

Yes, and the missionary work of the Greek Orthodox Church in Africa has revived that order. Deaconesses are important in the African and Asian societies where men were restricted in their ministry to women for cultural reasons. Also, deaconesses were needed to anoint the naked bodies of women and girls coming to baptism in the ancient Church.

They were responsible for charitable work among women and giving religious instruction to them, and supported by the Church. While in the Byzantine Church the deaconesses are known to have had their own ordination ritual, walked in the Great Entrance procession in Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, received Communion inside the sanctuary, and took Communion to sick women, they did not have a liturgical role whatsoever. Deaconesses could not preach or confer baptism. So, the current push in certain Roman Catholic circles for deaconesses is actually not pushing for a restoration of the original order, but to have women serving at the altar next to the priest like a deacon. That is simply NOT what deaconesses were in the past or in modern Orthodoxy; cf. Didascalia Apostolorum (circa 240); Epiphanius of Salamis, Panarion (375); Constitutiones Apostolorum (circa 380).

Eventually deaconesses merged into the communities of celibate women which maintained the works of charity and education. This happened especially with the spread of infant baptism, and the acceptance of priests and deacons ministering directly to women in the Eastern cultures. This order did not exist in most of the Latin Church, though it endured in Rome itself into the 700s, but again, they had no liturgical role whatsoever.  

Deaconesses exist now in the Greek Orthodox Church in Greece, Zaire, East Africa, and in the Ethiopian Church. Read more about what’s happening in the Orthodox Church here at the Saint Phoebe Center:

Deaconesses in Ethiopian Orthodox Liturgy:

Armenian Apostolic deaconess

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