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Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Disabled God

Towards a  Disability Theology

There is an essential question that frequently rises to the surface as I sit in church , any church , where are all the people with disabilities.It  is not a specific church but multiple churches over some 35 years of working in the field of persons with disabilities.There is a dissonance between who I know is in the community and who is not in church. Naively  when churches were being required to become more wheelchair accessible,we     thought that would solve a large part of the problem. It did allow more accessibility to a long time church members who had found the stairs a challenge, but overall I could see no major increase in the numbers of wheelchairs or persons with visible disabilities in the pew. There was not an increase in families with children or young people with special needs attending in large amounts in any specific place. Many parents had told me how hard it was to find a church where they could have the needs of their child met and often left the very churches which should have risen to meet their needs, disillusioned and weary from the rejection they felt at each new attempt to find acceptance for their child so they could worship together for one hour,once a week.

Opening a group home where part of the job requirement was to find a church home for four youth with multiple barriers in wheelchairs ,we experienced firsthand not only what it was like to find a warm and friendly church home for even one of them , yet alone doctors who would serve their needs, friendly neighbours, and school systems that had the resources to take them in. The experience of what it was like to find a church home where they welcomed was a transformational experience and not only for the clients but also for the staff and the people of the church. It became such a positive experience that it left me with a life time question of why? here and why not other places, including the church I attended . Eventually the why resulted in a class for adults with cognitive disabilities but it was soon lost in the demands of building a newer bigger fully accessible church.

Slowly over the years as all churches became wheelchair accessible the physical barriers could no longer be used as the reason why?. What then was the reason and why did it seem to be endemic across a wide expanse of churches with a very few recent few exceptions. It was a question that stayed unanswered . As people do not usually attend a variety of denominational churches to notice the similarity , most people just assume this is what is normal for their church and that is how it is. My search for a denomination that more fit my changing theology and a cross country move put me in a number of different churches. Consistently the same token few people with disabilities, showed up on Sunday morning church, whether it was a Catholic, Anglican, Pentecostal, Mennonite or other evangelical church. The two exceptions I found were Reformed churches that had a very active interest in this kind of work as a ministry, and a very progressive church called Fresh Wind. It seemed that these churches had something different in their theology from other churches. It was a question I would have left unanswered had I not had a dream.


 The dream was one of those life changing kind of transformational dreams that in the midst of a long search set me on a new path. I woke with the words "disability theology " in my head , new words with no knowledge of the meaning and sat down at my computer to see what kind of information would come up.My frame of reference for persons involved in theology and disabilities were Jean Vanier and Henry Nouwen . They had both challenged and comforted me with warm and kind thoughts that wrapped themselves like a wonderful inspirational blanket.


 Disability Theology is more like a sharp kick to the posterior. It rattles your comfort tree , it challenges all your well held belief systems , it tells you why there are so few disabled people in church. It exposes the theological and models and practices we had become so familiar with and never challenged. It teaches us that the idea of an autistic Jesus who I had met in my dream, was not some far flung almost sacrilegious idea but perhaps closer to a workable model then we dare to imagine.It took me places I had never ventured to go and left me in new and uncharted territory .

 Taking a course a Directed  Studies course in Church Traditions I had wanted to learn a bit more about Contemplative prayer and how perhaps I could connect my growing interest in contemplative prayer with Social Justice interests in the 21 century.  It took me out into the Desert and sitting for a long time with the Desert Fathers. The Fathers call us to prayer and silence. They used what we would consider extreme means of little food, little sleep, living in a place far removed from society with few resources to come away with God and pray. They used the psalms that worked its way by memory and repitition to work its way deep into their interior being and change their hearts. To guard their hearts from the onslauhts of evil and temptation they wrestled with in the desert. The Father realized that they first had to wrestle with their own interior darkness before judging the sins of others . When seekers came to hear a wise word from a Desert Father the words were marked with simplicity, unconditional love and a deep humility of their own limited abilities to rise above sin without the continual help of God. The Desert Fathers call us to interior change. Reading them one can get lost in the extremes of fasting, and competitive ascetic practices but when they finally speak it is interior change they desire." Stay in your cell and your cell will teach you all you need to know", is a common message throughout the directions from Desert Fathers to seekers. If we spend time with God and look deeply into our own lives with an openess to change what will happen in our "cell" is a call to repent. To change ,to a heart change. This is where the message of the Fathers meets with my search for how to bring Church tradions into the a social justice focus is my first call is to heart change. To repent.  

Where did the idea of the” perfect” person in the church come from . In his book the Theology of Down Syndrome Dr. Yong discusses how we view the perfectness of Adam and Eve within the garden and when cast out of the garden they encounter evil, disease , hardship and death. It seems that the perfect things close to God are within the Garden and the evil and dark things are outside , Over the years the church seems to have developed this idea of keeping things they view to be impure or less than perfect out. Some of this idea came from something called the Levitical Ban. The Levitical Ban was used in the selection of the lambs for sacrifices and the selection of priests. Only pure unblemished, whole not crippled lambs could be offered as sacrifices. This idea carried across into the selection of priests. This was Jewish law. The same rules seemed to carry over into the selection of priests in the corporate church, based on the idea that Jesus was the able bodied pure unblemished lamb selected for the sacrifice of the cross. The Levitical selection for priesthood stated that only men could be priests. He had to be between 25-50. He could not be blind, defective, hunchbacked or a dwarf. Injuries would make him ineligible. A skin disease or crushed private parts disqualified him to serve .( Leviticus 21). It puts the healing locations of the disabled in the New Testament in a whole new light. You start to notice that Jesus was healing the disabled outside the temple. 

 The Disabled God

Nancy Eiseisland in her book  The Disabled God suggests three models of disabilism in theology.

Model One 

That disability is a punishment for wrongdoing “and mars the divine image in humans has often banned those with disabilities from positions of leadership and  stigmatized them for their lack of faith. Having had a friend who was a paraplegic she had once told me that this was one of the irritating things about going to a church where people believed in healing. Sundays started to feel like she had somehow failed by not having enough faith to be healed or that it caused people who were praying for her a kind of spiritual discomfort because she did not get up and walk from her wheelchair. That she still continued to go at all was a credit to her faith and tenacity to stay a part of the community she had been with before a devastating accident.


Disability as Virtuous suffering
Eiesland defines that as “suffering that must be endured in order to purify the righteous. Teaching that encourages passive acceptance of social barriers “and obedience.

Disability as Charity
Charity. “For Persons with Disabilities at times means creating justice . It subverts justice when it segregates Persons with disabilities and keeps them out of the public eye rather than empowering them as full, social economic and political participants. “

The Image of God

The idea of the broken or disabled body marring the image of God runs runs into difficulty when we see Christ on the Cross and after his resurrection when he showed his glorified body to his disciples. The Last Supper and the words of the Eucharist say “ This is my body that is broken for you.”  The Lamb of God is a broken lamb. Christ appeared after his death by crucifixion bearing in his body the marks of a Roman crucifixion. His hands were pierced, his side was pierced, his feet were pierced and his closest female friend did not recognize until him till he spoke her name. This is not a  unspotted physically whole person we are to worship in the resurrected Christ. This is in fact a disabled Jesus. Again his friends did not recognize him on the road to Emmaus , and did not recognize him until he broke the bread the symbol of his broken body on the Cross. Christ tried to tell us time and time again in his healing of the sick, the lame and the blind. In fellow shipping with the outcasts . Touching the lepers. Healing women who were considered the dregs of society. The majority of the time we see Christ performing a great miracle there are Pharisees and Saducees in sharp contrast enraged and actively hostile that Jesus has upset their system and healed on the Sabbath day. In thinking about this it seems Jesus healed a frequently on the Sabbath Day, with the spiritual leaders in proximity. Scripture records these healings across all four gospels. In all instances Christ was healing people who had some form of disability outside of the temple of the day. Levitical Ban?

 The early Church

The new church in Acts 3 continues with the one of the early miracles by Peter and John outside the temple with the healing of the Blind man. The famous words “Silver and Gold have I none but what I have I give you in the name of Christ rise up and walk. “ This stir of the crowds disturbed the Pharisees and Saducees of the time and netted Peter and John. a beating being thrown into prison. Again the tension between the standards of the church of the day and the call of the gospel in the hands of the apostles. Again the blind man is sitting outside of the temple. Have we moved very far in 2000 years of Christianity. The early church provided deacons to take care of the widows and the orphans and make sure a fair distribution of food was made to the poor. Christ had left them with the admonition that when you feed the hungry, clothe the naked and minister to the prisoner, you indeed minister to Christ himself.Church History shows that we have done just that. Outside the church almost all early social justice kinds of activities were rooted in activities started by the Church.

 In each era of the church there are voices within the church that call the church to minister to the needs of the less fortunate St.Anthony of the Desert one of the earliest of the Desert Fathers headed the call of the gospel to sell all he had and give to the poor and went off to become establish the quintessential model of a desert Father.  In the writings of the desert Fathers we find they bring themselves into a oneness with the poor and marginalized by becoming like them and giving their resources away so they can identify with the poor. In inhospitable parts of the country such as the desert a lack of hospitality to others could result in certain death, so hospitality has long been a standard of the desert.  The poor” are also often the disabled who for physical reasons cannot work. In the writings of John Chryssavigis (Theology of Disability ) Abba Agathon cared for a man with cerebral palsy and served him as requested. At the end of the story the disabled man said" Agathon you are filled with divine blessings in heaven or earth". Raising his eyes Agathon saw no one at all it was an angel of the Lord ." His hospitality to the poor and disabled had resulted in his serving"an angel unawares". 

Pilgrims
Travelers to Jerusalem and the Holy Land were taken care of in hospitals that were started by religious orders and many of these travelers would have disabling conditions early pilgrimages to the Holy Land
One of the earliest orders was that of the Knights of St. John where the St. Johns Ambulance history comes from. Paula the friend of Jerome who wrote the Latin Vulgate started both a hospital and a convent to care for travelers who had become disabled by sickness near Bethlehem. In the Orthodox church deacons we have sainted women who cared for the poor. St. John Chrysostom homilies rich in gospel truth called the rich to live simpler lives , set aside their extravagant lifestyles and care for the poor and disabled in their midst. St. John having spent years learning from the Desert Fathers was a key bridge between the move from living a life geared to social justice in solitude or remote communities to meeting the needs of the less fortunate in city centers. He supported social justice causes that were not popular and his clear stand won him enemies.He drew the displeasure of the Empress who had been a donor to his causes and found himself banished to the far ends of the Empire. His letters to Saint Olympia a wealthy noblewoman turned nun encourage her to continue her good causes and care for herself and others.    

Monastic Traditions
Hospitality became a key factor in the development of monasteries and the rule of St. Benedict in the early 400’s discusses entertaining strangers and pilgrims as Christ. Monasteries developed infirmaries and herbal gardens to treat not only the monks but also to treat the travellors and strangers who came knocking at their door for refuge. In female monasteries there were women from royal families, women who felt called to be nuns and women who sometimes had nowhere else to go and both were served by the monastery and served in it. Hospitals for the sick grew from these traditions many of them started from religious orders. Cathedrals in this time had pilgrimages and relics that drew pilgrims and the sick for the healing powers of the relics . The wide spread practice of incense in the church although a sacred concept carried over from Jewish temple worship had a practical application in churches with so many pilgrims present. Still lepers and people with certain disfiguring diseases, and disabilities that were confused with demonic possession were not welcomed in the church. As people did not understand how disease was spread, knew little of the reasons for hygiene and held superstitious beliefs as truths exclusion of those that were different from the community was rooted in fear and lack of knowledge.

St.Francis and St.Clare 

        In the middle of this fear and lack of knowledge, deep poverty and sharp classes differences between the peasant poor and the elite rich, rose the mendicant Orders. St.Francis the son of a wealthy merchant, heard the call of God to repair the church of his day. His actions to gather a group of men to repair one church resulted in the creation of a communities of both male and female Franciscan followers who lived a life of  poverty and care for the poor and disabled. Francis is famous for calming wolves, preaching to the animals and being a man of piece. One of his touching stories that was a pivotal moment in his ministry was his kissing of the Leper. Lepers were not touched in this time and kissing one was unthinkable but Francis met this Leper in the place of his need and in doing so met Christ in the Leper.This idea of Christ being the met in the " Leper" the poor and the stranger is a constant that carries through to Franciscan ministries to modern times. 

Saints in the City

 Modern luminaries such as Mother Theresa, call us to meet Christ in the poor and disabled. Mother Theresa states that when she serves the poor she serves Christ. To Mother Theresa the poor are the disabled, the dying the disenfranchised persons of society. She echoes the history of the Saints of the past and calls us from our comfortable pews to what she would call the ministry of the Gospel.She calls us just as we are, from where we are to meet that need in front of us. One person at a time. For her that one person is Christ. No matter what disguise He wears. The poor, the disabled , the lonely, the homeless, the dying. They are all Christ.

Although Mother Theresa does not answer my question of where are all the persons with disabilities on Sunday morning she does tell me what to do. She skips the academic models, dances past the politically correct language , and leaves pondering social service agencies in the dust.She was called while riding on a train , she had few resources, was confined by the restrictions of her order,and faced overwhelming needs. When faced with the current cuts in spending to persons with disabilities, huge rending holes in service needs, and economic cutbacks in all areas of government social spending , the action of one person would seem meaningless. What could I do in the face of such great need. Yet all these people. The great saints and luminaries of the past, the liberation and disability theologians of the present meet in one clear point. We create change one person at a time. If the present question of my life is a why is something the way it is. If the answer to that question is not satisfactory . Perhaps we are the one to change it. One person at a time.

References.
Creamer Theology of Disability
Eiesland Nancy The Disabled God
Young Amos. Theology of Down Syndrome.

 Start of the Paper on Disability Theology

There is an essential question that frequently rises to the surface as I sit in church , any church , where are all the people with disabilities. As I work for a large agency and a school I am familiar with the number of persons with Disabilities in the community and that is just persons with a cognitive disability I see very few of in church on Sunday morning. It is not just a specific church but multiple churches over some 35 years of working in the field of persons with disabilities there is a dissonance between who I know is in the community and who is not in church. Initially when churches were being required to become more wheelchair accessible I naively thought that would solve a large part of the problem. It did allow more accessibility to a few seniors who had found the stairs a challenge, but overall I could see no major increase in the numbers of wheelchairs or persons with visible disabilities in the pew. More disturbing I did not see an increase in able-bodied family members with children or young people with special needs attending in large amounts in any specific place. Many parents had told me how hard it was to find a church where they could have the needs of their child met and often left the very churches which should have risen to meet their needs, disillusioned and weary from the rejection they felt at each new attempt to find acceptance for their child so they could worship together for one hour, once a week. Opening a group home where part of the job requirement was to find a church home for four youth with multiple barriers in wheelchairs ,we experienced firsthand not only what it was like to find a warm and friendly church home for even one of them , yet alone doctors who would serve their needs, friendly neighbours, and school systems that had the resources to take them in. The experience of what it was like to find a church home where they welcomed was a transformational experience and not only for the clients but also for the staff and the people of the church. It became such a positive experience that it left me with a life time question of why here and why not other places, including the church I attended , which eventually started a class for adults with cognitive disabilities . Slowly over the years as all churches became wheelchair accessible the physical barriers could no longer be used as the reason why?. What then was the reason and why did it seem to be endemic across a wide expanse of churches with a very few recent few exceptions. It was a question that stayed unanswered . As people do not usually attend a variety of denominational churches to notice the similarity , most people just assume this is what is normal for their church and that is how it is. My search for a denomination that more fit my changing theology and a cross country move put me in a number of different churches and still the same token few people with disabilities , showed up on Sunday morning church, whether it was a Catholic, Anglican, Pentecostal, Mennonite or other evangelical church. The two exceptions I found were Reformed churches that had a very active interest in this kind of work as a ministry, and a very progressive church called Fresh Wind. It seemed that these churches had something different in their theology from other churches. My question however in the why not for everyone else was still unanswered.

         A dream one night of meeting an “autistic like” Jesus woke me with two new words “disability theology”. Wondering if this a real something or like Scrooge I was suffering from some late night snacking, I Googled in  these new words and found myself on the cutting edge of some of the latest thoughts on the same question I had been asking all these years.  Folks like Jean Vanier and Henry Nouwen had challenged and comforted me , and I had wrapped their warmth and kind thoughts around me like a wonderful inspirational blanket. Disability Theology is more like a sharp kick to the posterior. It rattles your comfort tree , it challenges all your well held belief systems , it tells you why there are so few disabled people in church.  It exposes the theological and models and practices we had become so familiar with and never challenged.  It teaches us that the idea of an autistic Jesus is not some far flung almost sacrilegious idea but perhaps closer to a workable model then we dare to imagine.

Let’s explore then in my attempt to answer my “why  question” and the challenge of my dream to discover how” disability theology” could  assist me on my journey.
Where did the idea of the” perfect”  person in the church come from . In his book the Theology of Down Syndrome Dr. Yong discusses how we view the perfectness of Adam and Eve within the garden and when cast out of the garden they encounter evil, disease , hardship and death. It seems that the perfect things close to God are within the Garden and the evil and dark things are outside , Over the years the church seems to have developed this idea of keeping things they view to be impure or less than perfect out. Some of this idea came from something called the Levitical Ban.  The Levitical Ban was used in the selection of the lambs for sacrifices and the selection of priests. Only pure unblemished, whole not crippled lambs could be offered as sacrifices. This idea carried across into the selection of priests. This was Jewish law. The same rules seemed to carry over into the selection of priests in the corporate church, based on the idea that Jesus was the able bodied pure unblemished lamb selected for the sacrifice of the cross. The Levitical selection for priesthood stated that only men could be priests. He had to be between 25-50. He could not be blind, defective, hunchbacked or a dwarf. Injuries would make him ineligible. A skin disease or crushed private parts disqualified him to serve .( Leviticus )***
Nancy Eisland in her book ++++ suggests  three models of disabilism in theology.
 That disability is a punishment for wrongdoing “and mars the divine image in humans has often  banned those with disabilities from positions of leadership pr stigmatized them for their lack of faith. 
Disability as Virtuous suffering
Eisland defines that as “suffering that must be endured in order to purify the righteous. Teaching that encourages passive acceptance of social barriers “and obedience. 
Charity.  “For PWD at times means creating justice . It subverts justice when it segregates PWD and keeps PWD out of the public eye rather than empowering them as full, social ,economic and political participants. “

The idea of the broken or disabled body marring the image of God runs  runs into difficulty when we see Christ at the Last Supper, On the Cross and after his resurrection when he showed his glorified body to his disciples.  The Last Supper and the words of the Eucharist say “ This is my body that is broken for you,” “ Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the World “. The Lamb of God is a broken lamb. Christ appeared after his death by crucifixion bearing in his body the marks of a Roman crucifixion. His hands were pierced, his side was pierced, his feet were pierced and his closest female friend did not recognize until him till he spoke her name. This is no pure unspotted physically person we are to worship in the resurrected Christ. This is in fact a disabled Jesus. Again his friends did not recognize him on the road to Emmaus , and did not recognize him until he broke the bread the symbol of his broken body on the Cross. Christ tried to tell us time and time again in his healing of the sick, the lame and the blind. In fellowshipping with the outcasts . Touching the lepers. Healing women who were considered the dregs of society.  The majority of the time we see Christ performing a great miracle there are Pharisees and Saducees in sharp contrast enraged and actively hostile that Jesus has upset their system and healed on the Sabbath day. In thinking about this it seems Jesus healed a frequently on the Sabbath Day,  with the spiritual leaders in proximity. Scripture records these healings across all four gospels. In all instances Christ was healing people who had some form of disability outside of the temple of the day. The disabled people were not inside the temple. Levitical Ban?
The new church in Acts 3 continues with the one of the early miracles by Peter and () outside the temple with the healing of the Blind man. The famous words “Silver and Gold have I none but what I have I give you in the name of Christ rise up and walk. “ This stir of the crowds disturbed the Pharisees and Saducees of the time and netted Peter and () a beating being thrown into prison. Again the tension between the standards of the church of the day and the call of the gospel in the hands of the apostles. Again the blind man is sitting outside of the temple. Have we moved very far in 2000 years of Christianity.
The early church provided deacons to take care of the widows and the orphans and make sure a fair distribution of food was made to the poor. Christ had left them with the admonition that when you feed the hungry, clothe the naked and minister to the prisoner, you indeed minister to Christ himself.

Over the centuries the church took up this view and started works of charity . In each era of the church there are voices within the church that call the church to minister to the needs of the less fortunate.
In the writings of the desert Fathers we find they bring themselves into a oneness with the poor and marginalized by becoming like them and giving their resources away so they can identify with the poor. In countries where there is no social services network “the poor” are also often the disabled who for physical reasons cannot work. In the writings of John Chryssavigis  (TheoDS) ## Abba Agathon cared for a man with cerebral palsy and served him as requested. At the end of the story the  disabled man said Agathon you are filled with divine blessings in heaven or earth. Raising his eyes Agathon saw no one at all it was an angel of the Lord .  
This is how the monastics moved in hospitality to follow the scriptures that by entertaining s

Travellers to Jerusalem and the Holy Land were taken care of in hospitals that were started by religious orders and many of these travellers would have disabling conditions early pilgrimages to the Holy Land
…. some had entertained angels without knowing it.
The monastic traditions of the early desert were deeply rooted in the desert idea of hospitality both from scriptural tradition as well as from the immediate needs for people travelling and living in harsh territory. Hospitality became a key factor in the development of monasteries and the rule of St. Benedict in the early 400’s discusses entertaining strangers and pilgrims as Christ.
Monasteries developed infirmaries and herbal gardens to treat not only the monks but also to treat the travellors and strangers who came knocking at their door for refuge. In female monasteries there were women from royal families, women who felt called to be nuns and women who sometimes had nowhere else to go and both were served by the monastery and served in it. Hospitals for the sick grew from these traditions many of them started from religious orders. Cathedrals in this time had pilgrimages and relics that drew pilgrims and the sick for the healing powers of the relics . The wide spread practice of incense in the church although a sacred concept carried over from Jewish temple worship had a practical application in churches with so many pilgrims present. Still lepers and people with certain disfiguring diseases, and disabilities that were confused with demonic possession were not welcomed in the church.

      

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Friday, November 25, 2011

Discovering Disbability Theology

To discover the world of Disability Theology I would like to invite your to take a mini five second survey of your church next Sunday morning.Gently like prayer beads use your fingers to count the number of wheelchairs and people with visible disabilities in the pews. You can even cheat and add the couple of kids you know are in the Sunday school if you need to.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Early Church Deaconess St. Olympia and Friends





Lately I have been reading the life of St.Olympia (368-404)  and role as a Deaconess and friend to John Chrysostom one of the great Church Fathers. There are seventeen letters extent between St. Olympia and John and that is a long way into their friendship after he was exiled and she fell into a deep depression in his absence. The fact that these letters were written in the fourth century and are important enough to still be held in the memory of the church are some indicator of the importance given to anything written by St. John. Unfortunately rather true to form for women of that period we do not have anything left written by St. Olympia. We do however have a a wonderful story of her life. St. Olympia was born to a wealthy and noble family and gifted with beauty and intellect. She was married young  and widowed early. Such was her family status that the Emperor wanted to marry her a man of his selection and she refused. One does not refuse an Emperor without impunity and he moved to hold all her possessions until she was thirty if she did not comply. She replied from her desire to be a celibate woman dedicated to the Lord that he had saved  her the trouble of having to dispose of all her goods and follow Christ. Eventually seeing the model of her life he returned her family wealth. She used this wealth liberally over her life to support monastics in distress, build a hospital, feed the poor,assist her convent for some 250 sisters and contribute to some of the similar causes favoured by St. John. The whole clergy of the church seemed to be in line for a portion of her generous donations and in one their letters St. John cautions her on the extend of her generosity as she is so free to give it all away and leave nothing for herself or her convent to support itself. 


The role of a Deaconess in the early church had a very specific purpose for being. One of their primary reasons for being was to perform roles that would put men or women at moral risk. The first duty was that of the Baptism of women. Catechumens in the early church were baptized in the nude and had the sacred oil of baptism rubbed on their bodies.Then after baptism they were robbed in a white gown and presented to the church. Obviously  rubbing oil all over the bodies of naked women was not the appropriate role for male clergy. So thus the deaconess. She also visited the houses of women who were alone, and an interesting note in orthodox church history mentioned the deaconess would preside at the doors of the church and keep out women of undesirable reputations. How some of the Harlots of the Desert"  who gained entry into churches during festivals and special events and were converted by hearing the word preached got past some of these female door keepers is an additional mystery of the church. The role of the deaconess performing acts of mercy and assisting in the behind the scenes  preparations of the liturgy, and the further training of female catechumens is rather universal across the descriptions of the deaconess role in the church. History has kept the memory of the deaconess in written record on tombstones in church literature and in the records of the liturgical ordination of a deaconess at the altar of the church.


 Coming from a church tradition with southern states roots where deaconesses were licensed as preachers, prayed for the sick, founded churches, and performed major missionary endeavors the role of the deaconess of the early church was a further confirmation of their important role in the church.  My surprise was finding the whole role of a female deacon greatly controversial in the Catholic church, not so popular an idea in some Orthodox churches and in broad dispute in others. It is only recently that the Catholic church had approved married permanent deacons. Male deacons. Apparently women can do all the roles assigned to a deaconess, care for the altar behind the scenes, become Eucharist ministers and take the Eucharist to the sick, perform deeds of charity and mercy, train the catechist, and raise large amounts of money for worthy causes but to be ordained to this as a calling is not on the list. Nuns are called to be consecrated to God and often fulfill these roles in the church but even they do not have the same ordination to the deaconess role that was present in the early church. However women have circumvented in some many ways the restrictions of some of the early women in the church as to jobs outside the church      they could perform. We have become professionals in roles such as social workers, nurses, doctors, lawyers, teachers and managers of NGO's. These help meet the needs of the poor and women at risk in society as the early deaconess did but they lack in secular society the spiritual direction that would also come with this role.               


The path to the altar to be ordained to perform these roles as a recognized vocation in the Church still seems to be barred by rules and regulations that mired in directives about "Jesus being male" and " all his apostles were male ". Other reasons are Tradition. I struggle with this as a woman with a brain. Tradition seems to reflect the opposite in women like St. Olympai. When found both in scripture and tradition we find women present in the group that helped support the apostles, at the cross , the tomb , the Resurrection and at the fall of Pentecostal fire. We find them present in letter of commendation by Paul as having churches meeting in their house and in their roles in the very infant church. Then again here they in the memory of the church , at the same time as the great councils of the church were being resolved, during the times we gained such essentials as the Nicene Creed, and the freedom of the Church in the Roman Empire to be a legal church we find the Deaconess. The Eastern Orthodox church has kept more of their names in the memories of the celebration of their liturgies and the life of St.Olympias is celebrated on Dec. 17. The Catholic Church has recognized her as one of the 140 Colonnade Saints surround St. Peter's square. Kudodos to Bernini. 


Some good links for Olympia and the roles of the deaconess are listed below:
   http://monasticmatrix.usc.edu/monasticon/?function=detail&id=4998