Women in the Armenian Church: The First Acolyte


On the Ordination of the First Woman Acolyte

The following article was submitted to “Side by Side” a publication (circa 1980’s, now defunct) addressing isses of women in the Armenian Church. Article c. 1988 Fr. Vazken Movsesian

On the Ordination of a Woman Acolyte

A few years ago, during a discussion session at an ACYO Religious Retreat a question was asked concerning the role of women in the Armenian Church. Little did I suspect at the time that a wonderful growing experience would unfold for our congregation at the St. Andrew Armenian Church in Cupertino, California.In response to the question, scriptural and canonical references to women in the Church were cited and the Armenian deaconesses in Turkey, Iran and Georgia were remembered. It was at that moment that a young college student named Seta Simonian asked if she could join the deacon’s training program at our parish. I welcomed her.

She trained for eight months with other candidates, all men. After completing the regular course of study, in December 1984 His Eminence Archbishop Vatché Hovsepian, Primate of the Armenian Church Western Diocese found her to be worthy and ordained her as an acolyte of the Church. To our knowledge, Seta became the first woman in America to receive the 4 minor orders of the Armenian Church. Following her ordination Seta executed her duties along with male counterparts at the Holy Altar.

As other young Armenian women, Seta had sang in the choir and served in the ACYO. However, she wanted to express her love for Christ and His Holy Church in a different manner.

From the very beginning of her training Seta understood that her experience would be different from her male classmates. As her ordination neared we were apprehensive. Would the people accept a woman at the altar? If so, how? Especially considering the complexion of our particular parish (mostly first generation Armenians, who are often thought to be more “traditional”), what would their reaction be?

When we speak of women in the Armenian Church or any idea which is uncommon for our Church we make two fundamental mistakes in our thinking. First, even though we know better, we limit our Church traditions to our immediate circumstances. That is to say, if something or some expression does not exist in our church today, such as women serving as deacons, we then assume that it is not traditional. Unfortunately we continue to reason that the admission of these ideas into our church is going against tradition. However, upon studying scripture, Holy Traditions and Church history, it becomes evident that women have always been active participants in the worship life of the Church. Therefore, a church with women serving as acolytes and/or deacons today, must in fact be considered “traditional.”

The second mistake we make is we do not give enough credit to our Armenian faithful. Our true communicants are open to instruction. This was the case in our parish after the traditions were explained and supported through articles and sermons.
Seta was accepted from the first day of her ordination. The people applauded and encouraged this young servant of God in her Christian journey. Some even recalled deaconesses they had seen oversees. Some relayed lost dreams they had of serving the Church. In every case the comments were supportive. Along with the compliments, Seta would also receive constructive crticism and suggestions as did her male counterparts. It told us that the congregation accepted her in her new role.

Seta’s ordination was a special event not only in her life but in the life of our entire community as well. We thank our Primate Archbishop Vatché Hovsepian for giving our community this opportunity to grow. It is a step toward one day realizing a woman deacon. It is the Church who benefits, which means we all do.

~Fr. Vazken Movsesian

Read Also: Seta in her own words


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