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September 3, 2016

Saint Phoebe the Deaconess

St. Phoebe the Deaconess (Feast Day - September 3)

Saint Phoebe did not belong to any official calendars of the Greek Churches until after 1956, when the Small Euchologion put out by Apostoliki Diakonia mentions her without any further information. Her inclusion on this day, however, in the Slavic Churches may be due to Roman Catholic influence, which commemorates her on this day (Sept. 3).

As for who this Saint Phoebe is, we read about in the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Romans (16:1-2), where he writes: "I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, that you may receive her in the Lord as befits the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well."

From this passage we can ascertain the following: Phoebe was a notable woman in the church of Cenchreae, near Corinth, and she was entrusted by Paul to deliver his letter to the Romans. In writing from the church that almost surely met in her home, Paul refers to her both as a deacon (Gk. diakonon masc.) and as a helper or patron of many (Gk. prostatis). This is the only place in the New Testament where a woman is specifically referred to with these two distinctions. Paul introduces Phoebe as his emissary to the church in Rome and, because they are not acquainted with her, Paul provides them with her credentials.

Phoebe's exceptional character, noted by her status as a deacon and patron may be the reason Paul sent her to Rome where she delivered the letter to Rome. By referring to Phoebe as a patron, Paul solicits the attention and respect of the leaders in Rome's church, which also included other women, namely Priscilla [Rom. 16:3], Mary [Rom. 16:6], Junia [Rom. 16:7], and Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis [16:12].

Diakonos and Prostatis

Diakonos: The Apostle Paul used the Greek diakonos (διάκονος) to designate Phoebe as a deacon, a transliteration of the original Greek, it is the same word as used elsewhere by Paul to refer to deacons. The word deacon in Paul's writings sometimes refers to a Christian designated to serve with the overseers of the church, while it more often refers to "servants" in a general sense. In the letter to the Romans, apart from the debated case of Phoebe, it always refers to "servants" in the generic sense, as opposed to a church office.

Prostatis: The Apostle Paul used the Greek prostatis (προστάτις) — translated as "benefactor" in the NIV. The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon translates it: a female guardian, protectress, patroness, caring for the affairs of others and aiding them with her resources.

Both the Greek term diakonos (possible meaning "servant" in a generic sense) and the Greek term prostatis (possible meaning "patroness" in the sense of being someone who provides financial resources or legal support) may refer to activities, which are not connected to church ministry at all. Translation therefore must be based on context. It has been suggested, that Paul quite unlikely would have referred to somebody as his spiritual leader, since he was leading the mission to the Gentiles. Certain passages in epistles attributed to Paul seem to forbid women's leadership in the church (e.g. 1 Tim 2:10-14, 1 Cor 14:34-36).

"Likewise the Women"

While some scholars believe Paul restricted the office of deacon to men, others dispute that assertion. For example, when describing the qualities that the office holders called "deacons" must possess, Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 3:11 that the gynaikas (Greek for "women") hosautos (Greek for "likewise"), translated "likewise the women," are to be "worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything." The "likewise" indicated that the women deacons were to have similar qualifications to the men deacons (see also the Apostle Paul's use of the term "likewise" in Romans 1:27, 1 Cor. 7:3,4,22, and Titus 2:3,6).

Nothing else is known of Saint Phoebe outside her New Testament reference.

Apolytikion in the Third Tone
Enlightened by grace and taught the faith by the chosen vessel of Christ, thou wast found worthy of the diaconate and didst bring Paul's words to Rome. O Deaconess Phoebe, pray to Christ our God, that His Spirit may enlighten our souls.

Kontakion in the Second Tone
Paul proclaimed thee a protector of many, and thou didst become his helper. Hearken to those who approach thee with faith, and who cry out to thee with love: Rejoice, glory of Corinth and pride of Achaia; rejoice, thou lamp of Cenchreae; rejoice, O Deaconess Phoebe.