[St. Pachomius Library]


In Græco-Roman society women were (theoretically) under the control of men: their fathers and then their husbands. Widows, thus, occupied an unusual position: women with no male "protectors". Usually this was a disaster: widows were often the poorest of the poor. Middle and upper class widows of means, on the other hand, often used their resources as they chose (in some cases, for the spread of new religious movements like Christianity.)

Widows thus played a major role in the early church, especially since remarriage, although allowed, was discouraged. There is much evidence that widows often joined a quasi-monastic "order" as early as the I Century. However, the distinctive features of this order, and the causes of its eventual disappearence (assuming it was not identical to later monasticism) are matters of dispute.

Unfortunately, in spite of widespread scholarly interest in this topic and its frequent use by both sides in debates about the role of women in the Church (and especially about deaconesses), there is not much currently online.

Norman Hugh Redington

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