I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is also a minister (diakonos) of the church at Cenchreae, that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the holy ones, and help her in whatever she may need from you,  for she has been a benefactor to many and to me as well.

-Romans 16:1,2

Feast of St. Gregory the Great and former Feast of St. Phoebe

Although the current liturgical calendar celebrates St. Gregory the Great, famous for his role in the late 6th and early 7th centuries of the Church, September 3 has also marked the Feast of St. Phoebe. The two Church figures provide a striking contrast. There’s St. Gregory, with his high profile role as Pope, doctor of the Church, public administrator, author, and liturgist, with numerous references in history books.

And then there is  St. Phoebe, known by a simple description in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Paul introduces Phoebe as sister, deacon and patron. She is not defined as other women in scripture by her relationship to a man, as is “the mother of James and John” or “Joanna, the wife of Chuza.” She is an independent woman – an autonomy which would have been unheard of at the time, however clearly cherished by Paul. She is also mentioned first in this letter, denoting the esteem in which Paul held Phoebe. 

Deacons are purveyors of Liturgy, Word and Charity. They see what needs to be done in God’s name. Theirs is a ministry of service. Phoebe served as a mother of the ancient Church, preaching the Good News of Christ’s resurrection.  As our Church continues in an ongoing discernment regarding restoring women to the Permanent Diaconate (Pope Francis has established two papal commissions to study the question, and the current Synod is actively discerning it),  let us pray this weekend for the intercession of St. Phoebe, Deacon. Let us pray also that the ways that women continue to tend, serve and coordinate our parish lives may one day be formally recognized and assisted by the grace of a sacrament that was once available to them. 


Saint Phoebe