Holy Order of Deaconess

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In keeping with the most ancient tradition, the Nazarani Church ordains women to the order of Shimshona (Aramaic: שימשונא). Although this word translates into English as "deaconess" it is not the same rank as a male-deacon, but is instead a unique Aramaic title which is given to those women who practice ministry in the church.

The role of the deaconess is to serve as the bishop's right hand in dealing with the needs of the women of the church. Unlike the role of priests the role of the deaconess is political, since priests serve an altar, but deaconesses serve an entire community. Thus the shimshoni are one rank higher than that of the priests, directly answerable to the eshaera (Aramaic = "bishop").

The 9th Chapter of the Didascalia says in part, "the bishop sits for you in the place of God Almighty. But the deacon stands in the place of Christ; and do you love him. And the deaconess shall be honored by you in the place of the Holy Spirit; and the presbyters shall be to you in the likeness of the Apostles..." And so the rank of the Deaconess is essentially equivalent to that of Corepiscopa and Rabbans in the ranking of the clergy.

The Shimshona and DiqShimhona fulfill the important function of baptism and ministry to women in the church, midwifery, and the education and baptism of women and girls, as heads of communities, and in the incredibly important role as ministers and spiritual counselors.

The deaconess may conduct the Prayer of the Covenant, and other non-sacramental services of the church. However, due to the special place of women in Nazarani thought, deaconesses may not conduct the sacraments directly.

They often serve as educators, and stand as heads of religious households and congregations, and serve in other important ministerial roles which do not require that they perform directly sacramental functions. And so strictly speaking the Shimshoni are liturgically comparable to deacons, standing at the Skinta (Aramaic = “place of wisdom”), rather than participating at the altar. However the subtle intention of the Aramaic words should not be mistaken for the intentionally degrading rank of deaconess in the western churches, or with the all-male ‘diaconate’ of the Greeks, Russians and Copts; but as something more; a great blessing from God.

The subordinate (training) rank is DiqShimshona (Aramaic: דקשימשונא) which translates as "subdeaconess", and which the church considers to be ranked canonically above a male-deacon or samash.


The Council of Jerusalem

The Didascalia, which is the official Book of Orders from the first council at Jerusalem held in 50 A.D. gives the following "on the appointment of Deacons and Deaconesses: Wherefore, O bishop, appoint thee workers of righteousness as helpers who may co-operate with thee unto salvation. Those that please thee out of all the people thou shalt choose and appoint as deacons:? a man for the performance of the most things that are required, but a woman for the ministry of women. For there are houses whither thou canst not send a deacon to the women, on account of the heathen, but mayest send a deaconess. Also, because in many other matters the office of a woman deacon is required. In the first place, when women go down into the water, those who go down into the water ought to be anointed by a deaconess with the oil of anointing; and where there is no woman at hand, and especially no deaconess, he who baptizes must of necessity anoint her who is being baptized. But where there is a woman, and especially a deaconess, it is not fitting that women should be seen by men:? but with the imposition of hand do thou anoint the head only. As of old the priests and kings were anointed in Israel, do thou in like manner, with the imposition of hand, anoint the head of those who receive baptism, whether of men or of women; and afterwards - whether thou thyself baptize, or thou command the deacons or presbyters to baptize -- let a woman deacon, as we have already said, anoint the women. But let a man pronounce over them the invocation of the divine Names in the water.? And when she who is being baptized has come up from the water, let the deaconess receive her, and teach and instruct her how the seal of baptism ought to be (kept) unbroken in purity and holiness. For this cause we say that the ministry of a woman deacon is especially needful and important. For our Lord and Savior also was ministered unto by women ministers, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the daughter of James and mother of Jose, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee [See: Matthew 27:56], with other women beside. And thou also hast need of the ministry of a deaconess for many things; for a deaconess is required to go into the houses of the heathen where there are believing women, and to visit those who are sick, and to minister to them in that of which they have need, and to bathe those who have begun to recover from sickness."


Clothing

The house dress of the Deaconess shall be a white koopayam with white undergarments, with an optional purple sash, white lace head veil, and a wooden pectoral cross. If the Deaconess is also a nun, then she shall wear a white iskima, with twelve stars like the rabban instead of the white lace head veil.