Posternak Andrey, priest

The older women in the Early Church

Posternak Andrey (2022) "The older women in the Early Church ", Vestnik Pravoslavnogo Sviato-Tikhonovskogo gumanitarnogo universiteta. Seriia II : Istoriia. Istoriia Russkoy Pravoslavnoy Tserkvi, 2022, vol. 104, pp. 11-26 (in Russian).

DOI of the paper: 10.15382/sturII2022104.11-26


The article contains the analysis of the term «the older women» (πρεσβύτιδες, presbyterae) in the Early Christian Greek-speaking and Latin traditions. In Eastern communities the older women have been honored since apostolic times for their pious life and advanced age, which brought them closer to the position of church widows. Perhaps the old women and widows in general represented one order of women who received material assistance from the Church, catechized young women, prepared them for baptism. The name of the older women «presbytides» did not become, unlike the concepts of «deaconesses» and «widows», the designation of women’s institutional ministry although there was a tendency to this, as it was evidenced by the controversial 11th canon of the Laodicean Council. In the Early Church women’s ministry was considered as a whole one, but in the areas it was called differently as the min-istry of the older women, widows and deaconesses. That is, it was outside the established terminology, also because it was not closely connected with the liturgical functions of women. It is not completely clear what women’s ministry in Western communities was, since in cases which we are talking about older women («presbyterae»), early medieval Western authors have already definitively confirmed that this was either the wife of a presbyter, or a woman of a strict lifestyle, in fact a religious who watched over the order and cleanliness in the church, as well as baked wafers for Communion. The evolution of wom-en’s ministry in the Church, primarily in its western part, demonstrated the impossibility of its further institutionalization and convergence with liturgical ministry.


older women, πρεσβύτιδες, presbyterae, widows, deaconesses, women’s church ministry, Early Church


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Information about the author

Posternak Andrey, priest

Academic Degree: Candidate of Sciences* in History;
Academic Rank: Associate Professor;
Place of work: St. Tikhon’s Orthodox University for the Humanities; 6/1 Likhov pereulok, Moscow 127051, Russian Federation;
Post: Dean of the faculty of History;
ORCID: 0000-0003-1310-3503;
Email: posternakav@inbox.ru.

*According to the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) 2011, the degree of Candidate of Sciences (Cand.Sc.) belongs to ISCED level 8 — "doctoral or equivalent", together with PhD, DPhil, D.Lit, D.Sc, LL.D, Doctorate or similar.


The reported study was funded by RFBR, project number 21-011-44125\21 «Latin Ecclesiastical Tradition of the 4th – 7th centuries in the Modern Scientific and Theological Context»