DEACONESSES (aneilIce, ministne, viduce, s'irgines, episeopce, presbyters'), female ministers or servants of the church or Christian society in the time of the apostles (Rom. xvi. 1). They co-operated with the deacons, showed the women their place in the church-assem blies, assisted at the baptism of persons of their own sex, instructed those who were about to be baptized as to the answers they, should give to the baptismal questions, arranged the again or love-feasts, and took care of the sick. In the 3d c., it seems to have been also part of their duty to Christian females who were suffering impris onment, and to be hospitable to such as had come from afar. In very early times, they were consecrated to their office.by ordination in the same manner as other ecclesiastical or spiritual personages; later, however, they were inducted into their office by prayer without the imposition of hands. Until the 4th c., the D. had to be either maidens widows who had been only once married, and 60 years of age; but after the council of Chalcedon, the age was fixed at 40. Their assistants were called sub-deaconesses.
After the 6th cĄ in the Latin church, and after the 12th c., in the Greek church, the office of deaconess was discontinued; but the former has retained the name. In monas teries, for example, the nuns who have the care of the altar are called deaconesses. In the Reformed church of the Netherlands, also, those elderly females are called D. who take care of lying-in women and of the poor. The advantages resulting to a Christian community from such an order are too obvious to require exposition. It has been a serious misfortune to the church at large, that the office has been allowed to fall into disuse; and the wide-spread institution at the present day in the churches of Great Britain and America of ladies' district-visiting societies, Dorcas societies, etc.. satisfac torily shows the necessity of practically supplying, to some extent at least, the want of this primitive office. There is a movement going on at present for the introduction of the order of deaconesses into the church of England.