August 31, 2023

Homilies on the Commonwealth of the Church - The Deacon (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

 The Commonwealth of the Church

The Deacon

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

The Deacon is the first rank of the Priesthood, that is, it is the introductory rank, which means first one becomes a Deacon, then one becomes a Presbyter and then a few of the Presbyters are elected Bishops.

In the ancient Church, as described in the Acts of the Apostles, the rank of Deacon was introduced. It is written in the sixth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles that, because the number of the first disciples increased, complaints began to appear from the Greek-speakers that their widows were overlooked by the Hebrew-speakers during the distribution of daily food. Then the Apostles considered that it was not good to leave the preaching of the word of God and to engage in the ministry of tables. Thus, they urged the Christians to find seven men who are full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom they will appoint to do this work.

When the Christians heard this word, they chose seven men, among whom was included Stephen who was "full of faith and the Holy Spirit", whom they brought before the Apostles, who in turn, after praying, placed their hands on their heads (Acts 6:1-6) and ordained them.

We see in this event the first ordination of Deacons. It is observed that the Christians, at the prompting of the Apostles, chose the men, while the Apostles ordained them, placing their hands on their heads, so there is a clear distinction of roles between the Apostles and the Christians. The Apostles do not choose for the Christians to ordain, nor do the Apostles ordain without the choice of the Christians after the exhortation of the Apostles.

Then, the essential qualifications to become a Deacon are also recorded, that is to say, he must be "full of the Holy Spirit". If we analyze what this phrase means, one can understand how one is introduced to the Priesthood. For someone to have the Holy Spirit and to be "full of the Holy Spirit" means that he must have a sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit, which is expressed with great love for God, with noetic prayer of the heart and with theoptia (the vision of God).

We see this in the Protodeacon Stephen, who, when he was in front of the Sanhedrin, saw the glory of God, that is, the Light of God, and Christ standing at the right hand of the Father and his face was shining like the face of an angel (Acts 7:55-56 and Acts 6:15).

Also, the selection of Deacons was not an act of selection and appointment, but of ordination, which is a Mystery. This is the meaning of the phrase "they stood before the apostles, and when they prayed, they laid hands on them" (Acts 6:6).

Of course, it must be specified that the purpose of the Deacons' ordination was to serve in the daily distribution of the necessary food, in the "ministry of the tables", which means that all the works done in the Church are sacred and blessed. And the work of ministering to the material needs of Christians requires people who have the Holy Spirit and many other spiritual conditions, as we see in the Epistles of the Apostle Paul (see 1 Tim. 3:8-10).

Thus, Deacons minister to Christians, but they also minister to Bishops and Presbyters. Of course, other duties were added, such as ministering at the Holy Altar and assisting the Bishops and Presbyters in the Divine Liturgy and the Mysteries of the Church.

In the ancient tradition of the Church, it is clearly seen that the Deacons had a ministerial work, as written in the "Apostolic Constitutions". According to them, the Deacon does not bless, he does not give blessings, but he receives blessings from the Bishop and the Presbyters, he neither baptizes nor offers the Divine Liturgy, but he gives the divine Communion to the people. The Deacon has no blessing to offer a sacrifice or to baptize or to give a small or great blessing. Thus, the characteristic feature of the Deacon is to serve and help the Bishop in the liturgical field and in the field of philanthropy.

The Deacon, as described in the "Apostolic Constitutions", is the "ears and eyes and mouth, the heart and soul" of the Bishop. He is characterized as the eyes of the Bishop, because he watches over the observance of order and faith. He is characterized as the ears of the Bishop, because he conveys to the Bishop the requests and complaints of the faithful. He is the mouth of the Bishop, because he preaches on his behalf and conveys his decisions to the people. And he is the soul and heart of the Bishop, because through him the needs of the poor are felt and through him the Bishop responds to them.

Today we see the Deacon doing his work during the Divine Liturgy, during which he reports the requests of the faithful to God, as he also proclaims the sacred Gospel, as a minister of God, but also transmits the divine Communion to the Christians who have prepared suitably to receive communion of the Body and Blood of Christ.

It is a great honor to be a Deacon of the Bishop and the Presbyters, but also to minister to faithful Christians. The Deacon is in the middle between the people and the Bishop and the Presbyters. He does not complete the Mysteries, but participates and ministers in the Mysteries, especially in the Mystery of the Eucharist, like the Angels. After all, this is also what his orarion shows.

Because the Deacon ministers to the people, that is why Saint Ignatius the God-bearer writes that he is "in the type of Christ", because Christ ministers to the salvation of people, while the Bishop is "in the type of the Father".

In our days, the lack of many Presbyters to stand before the Holy Altars of the Parishes has contributed to the lack of Deacons. All Clergy first become Deacons, but in a short period of time they rise to the rank of Presbyters, so the rank of Deacon is usually considered as a rank and time of preparation for someone to become a Presbyter.

This contributed to the disappearance of the rank of Subdeacon, which belongs to the lower clergy and was created to replace the Deacon in some liturgical acts, not all, but also to help the Deacon in his work, such as guarding the doors after the catechumens left. That's why the ordination of the Subdeacon takes place outside the Holy Altar, where he gives the High Priest water to wash his hands, and that's why he says: "Those who are faithful". That is, after the catechumens and the sinners left the Holy Temple, the faithful remained in the Temple and this is officially announced to the Bishop, with "Those who are faithful", and he offers him the water to wash his hands and begin the Divine Liturgy.

It is a great work to serve God and Christians.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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