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Severus of Antioch (465 – 538)

by John Wijngaards

This Monophysite bishop who was exiled from Antioch, wrote letters from Egypt to his communities in Syria. Though he is part of the Syriac tradition of the region, he knew the Greek customs well. Moreover, his writings show that his own churches were also familiar with the diaconate of women. Among his letters, four were addressed to individual women deacons: Anastasia, Jannia, Eugenia and Valeriana.[1] The last two excerpts are from a text written by some ‘holy fathers’ (534 AD?) who stood under the authority of Severus, which is the reason why the text is also attributed to him.

Letter 49. The practice of devout women, who live in their own homes, being ordained deacons is very common. It is spread, if I myelf say so, over the whole world.[2]

Letter 62. In the case of women deacons, especially in convents, ordination is performed less with regard to the needs of the mysteries than exclusively with regard to doing honour. In the cities, however, women deacons habitually exercise a ministry relating to the divine bath of regeneration for the sake of women who are being baptised.[3]

Canon 9. The custom of the East, namely that the superiors of convents of nuns are women deacons and distribute the sacraments to those who are under their authority, should be preserved everywhere where there is a woman deacon, as long as no pure priest or male deacon is present in the place where the sacraments are dispensed. But if a pure priest or male deacon are at hand, then the superiors should not distribute [communion].[4]

Canon 11. The ordination of a woman deacon will take place according to the custom of the country. Moreover, it is a known fact in the East that the bishop puts a horarion on the shoulder of the ordinand, as he does for the male deacon[5]


1. Severus of antioch, A collection of letters, ed. E.W. Brooks, Paris 1920, pp 245-88, 443-4; E.W. Brooks, The Sixth Book of the Selected Letters of Severus, London 1903, vol.2, 363-71.

2. Letter 49; Brooks, Sixth Book, vol. 2, p. 139.

3. Letter 62; Brooks, Sixth Book, vol. 2, p. 193-4.

4. I. Rahmani, ‘Chapitres qui furent écrits de l’Orient, leurs questions furent presentées aux saints Pères et elles reçurent les résponses suivantes’, Studia Syriaca 3 (1908), pp. 5-33; here p.33.

5. Rahmani, ‘Chapitres’; see also about the text in Bar Hebraeus 7,7: A. Vööbus, Syrische cononessammlungen, Corpus scriptorum christianorum orientalium, vol. 319 pp. 400-552.