The role of women is clear in the New Testament. For example, St. Phoebe was a deaconess who helped St. Paul (Rom 16:1-2). Priscilla and her husband Aquila welcomed Apollos and explained to him the way of the Lord; this was evangelism (Acts 18:26). St. Thecla was a deaconess and disciple of St. Paul, who assigned her to serve in her original homeland. She spent all her life in service and faced many tribulations and persecution, but the Lord saved her every time. The Coptic Church commemorates her on the 23rd of Thoout.
The service of consecrated deaconesses in church was abolished in the 13th century. Due to the urgent need for the service of women in church, His Holiness Pope Shenouda III decided to revive this rite on the Feast of Pentecost in 1981, by consecrating a large number of deaconesses to serve in churches in Cairo. Even earlier than that, during the time of His Holiness Pope Kyrillos VI, His Grace Bishop Athanasius had begun consecrating women as “serving nuns.” Today many bishops have consecrated sisters for the service within their dioceses.
According to God’s calling for her, and under the guidance of her spiritual father the Bishop, a Consecrated Sister may serve in various ways:
- Serving children, girls, and women according to their needs, including those in need of spiritual care and guidance
- Helping with Sunday School service and activities for children and females
- Serving in a church childcare center as well as serving orphans
- Serving in various church social services, such as serving widows, the Brethren of the Lord, or the sick
- Serving in nursing homes and looking after the needs of the elderly
- Visiting sick women, in their homes or in the hospital, and giving them a word of comfort, as well as speaking the word of God. She represents the church in caring for them and tells the priest about cases in need of Communion or visitation
- Serving handicapped females to help them live a healthy life both spiritually as well as psychologically
- Supervising women’s activities in church and administrative departments at the church or bishopric centers
- Supervising youth (female) homes, where girls are in desperate need of accommodation and care
- Helping the priest during the Baptism of adult women and organizing the seating of women in church and those coming for Holy Communion
- Counseling services
- Sewing services