The Disappearing Deaconess: How the Hierarchical Ordering of Church Offices Doomed the Female Diaconate

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The Disappearing Deaconess examines not just the history of deaconesses but also patristic teaching on male and female and the evolution of ministries within the early Church to conclude that

the order of deaconess was inherently problematic for early Christians because it appeared to elevate women over men in the hierarchy of the Church, contrary to Christian beliefs about both the natural order and the divine economy.

The Disappearing Deaconess also includes two important appendices addressing proposals to reinstitute the order of deaconess and the larger issue of male and female as understood by the Orthodox Church. The first is “A Public Statement on Orthodox Deaconesses by Concerned Clergy and Laity,” signed by fifty-seven Orthodox clergymen and lay leaders. The second is the author’s remarks at a conference on “Renewing the Male and Female Diaconate” organized by the St. Phoebe Center for the Deaconess, held in Irvine, California, on October 7, 2017. These remarks set forth a theological basis for the distinction of male and female as the key to understanding many gender issues, including the exclusion of women from clerical orders.

“Not since Martimort's publication on the topic of deaconesses have we seen such historical and theological clarity on a topic that remains largely misunderstood. In this time of gender confusion and speculative theology, we need the clarity found in the pages of The Disappearing Deaconess.”

—Very Rev. Dr. Chad Hatfield, President, St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary

“Once in a while one finds a book on a controversial topic that is both slim enough to read and comprehensive enough to cover the topic thoroughly and fairly. Protodeacon Mitchell’s book on women deacons is such a volume, combining sound scholarship, deep discernment, and high readability. It is the sort of book that busy parish clergy wish they had at home by the pile, so that when a parishioner asks about the topic they could simply hand them a copy and say, ‘Here, read this.’”

—Fr. Lawrence Farley, author of Feminism and Tradition 

“A cool and balanced appraisal of a lost ministry. The contemporary debate on deaconesses will have to consider the evidence and interpretation in this short and thoughtful book.”

—Fr. David Pratt, Georgetown University

“Protodeacon Patrick’s work is a welcome addition to the Church’s conversation. He carefully discusses known facts with reasonable questions, free of ideological agenda. If you want to think soberly about this topic, this is a must read.”

—Fr. Stephen Freeman, Glory to God for All Things


BRIAN PATRICK MITCHELL has a PhD in theology from the University of Winchester and is a protodeacon of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. He has been a cabinet-level speechwriter, the Washington bureau chief of Investor’s Business Daily, a spokesman for a major oil-and-gas company, and an infantry and counterintelligence officer. He is also the author of seven books on politics and religion, including a work of political theory that has been used to teach politics at Yale, entitled Eight Ways to Run the Country; an epic historical romance set in the early fourth century, entitled A Crown of Life; a scholarly analysis of the place of deaconesses in Christian tradition, entitled The Disappearing Deaconess; and, more recently, Origen’s Revenge: The Greek and Hebrew Roots of Christian Thinking on Male and Female. He has appeared on scores of television and radio shows, including CBS’s Face the Nation, ABC’s Nightline, NBC’s Today, and CNN’s Larry King Live, and he has been a guest speaker at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, the University of Connecticut, the University of Pennsylvania, George Mason University, Catholic University of America, Rose Hill College, and Holy Trinity Orthodox Seminary. He has also spoken often at annual meetings of the Academy of Philosophy and Letters, of which he is a member and former board member.