October 31, 2018

Deacons

Duties | Requirements | Guidelines | The Church House of God

During the times of the Apostles, there was a persisting need for this duty to fulfill the Apostles’ service and to complete the work of preaching. This is why our fathers the Apostles chose seven deacons, among them St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr. The deacon’s role at that time consisted of visiting and serving the orphans and widows, and distributing contributions over the needy, while the Apostles devoted themselves to prayer and preaching (Acts 6:3-4).

A. Duties [1]

  • He is the lowest member of the Priesthood who functions to assist the celebrant at the Holy Altar. As such he assists in many liturgical functions, including:
    • Carrying the Wine during the offering of the Lamb,
    • Processing around the altar during the Pauline Epistle and Praxis, while carrying the cross and reciting the inaudible responses of the deacon
    • Reading of the Holy Gospel (with the permission of the priest)
  • He says the responses of the litanies prayed by the priest, guiding the congregation in their prayers.
  • He maintains order and quiet in the church, to ensure that the congregation stands with reverence and respect.
  • He assists the priest in visiting the congregation at home.
  • He provides the names of the sick, needy,[2] and those who offered gifts[3] to the priest to remember them on the holy altar.
  • He may assist the priest in placing the prospherine over the altar after the Thanksgiving prayer as Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus buried the Body of the Lord (Jn 19:38-40), and removing it as the two angels at the tomb (Jn 20:12; cf. Lk 24:23)[4]
  • He maintains the cleanliness and order of the altar, tabernacle, vessels.

B. Requirements 

  • Only those deacons ordained within the diocese may serve as deacons. If he is ordained outside the diocese he cannot without the express permission of the bishop of the diocese.[5]
  • He is fully consecrated, wears the robe, and grows his beard as a sign of his consecration.
  • Thus, canons that apply to the priest also apply to the Deacon since he is a member of the clergy.
  • For example, he could not marry after his ordination and must be the son of the first marriage.[6] If his wife dies, he may not remarry.
  • Some canons even regulated the number of deacons within each church.[7]
  • The following speaks to the qualities of the Deacon chosen for this important and strict duty in the church,
    • “Deacons likewise must be serious, not double-tongued, not indulging in much wine, not greedy for money; they must hold fast to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them first be tested; then, if they prove themselves blameless, let them serve as deacons…. Let deacons be married only once and let them manage their children and their households well; for those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and great boldness in the faith that is in Christ Jesus” (I Tim. 3:8-10,12-13).
    • “It should be that the choosing of deacons – as it is written – be by the mouth of two or three witnesses; and they should be tested in all services and should obtain the approval of the congregation. Each should be married to one wife and have raised their children in righteousness. They should be kind, humble, not rebellious, not hypocritical, and not driven by anger, for anger casts out wisdom. They should not take by appearance according to richness so that they must not oppress the poor. They must not be of those who drink wine excessively, and they must be diligent for good works. They should stand by the brethren with special needs, and incline to those needy to fulfill their debts…” (Apostles 15).
    • “Let the deacons be blameless like the bishop. Let them be given great honor and be considered as one of the clergy of the church. They should be depended upon in the service of the Church, without seeking the glory of men.” (Ibn el-Assal)

C. Guidelines: Rubrics and Rites for Serving in the Altar

In addition to the rubrics mentioned in the Divine Liturgy Book of the Diocese, the deacons should be aware of the following:

  • Lighting Candles: candles should not be lit while kneeling, because the light should be held up high as an announcement to the people. Candles should be put out before kneeling. Instead, candles should be lit in the following occasions:[8]
    • During the selection of the Lamb, until the priest pours the water in the chalice during the Offering of the Lamb. During the Offering only the deacons who carry the wine and water cruets light candles; and only the deacon with the wine crosses his hands.
    • During the reading of the Holy Gospel (one on each side).
    • At the beginning of the Institution Narrative, Prayers, until the deacon responds, “Worship God in fear and trembling.” Then, they extinguish the candles and worship.
    • At the beginning of the Fraction Prayer until its conclusion. Candles should not be lit before the fraction when the priest says “The Holy Body” because deacons should be kneeling.
    • From “The Holy for the holies” until the beginning of the Confession (“Amen, Amen, Amen, I believe, I believe, I believe…). During the confession, all deacons should be kneeling down except for the deacon who says the Confession. The deacon stands across the altar facing the priest holding the cross in his right hand, with a candle in his left hand and a corporal (lefafa) in between.
    • After the deacon’s confession prayer, a second deacon lights a candle to guard the Holy Blood, after he takes communion. If the priest goes outside the altar to commune someone unable to enter the altar, a deacon carries a candle and escorts priest.
  • Extinguishing Candles: Deacons should not blow them out especially after receiving communion.[9]
  • Moving Candles. When priest points to the bread and chalice, the deacon should not move or point his candle toward the bread or chalice. Candles are for veneration not pointing. [10]
  • Deacon Responses[11]
    • The deacon’s responses and instructions should be heard and obeyed as if they are from the angel of God, not because of his personal piety, but because he speaks as one of the ministers of God.[12]
    • Deacons serving the sanctuary must use the Divine Liturgy Book of the Diocese, or in electronic form (like iPhone).
      • In order to give everyone a chance, deacons should alternate the responses. Each deacon will know when his turn is coming, and there should be no need to coordinate doing so with emphatic hand gestures, or talking in the altar.
      • No instructions should be given during the Divine Liturgy, but deacons should wait until afterward to discuss the liturgical rubrics.
      • Deacons serving in the sanctuary should not participate in congregational responses but should focus on the diaconal responses.
  • Respect of the Altar
    • Deacons should not lean on the altar at any time.
    • Deacons should be focused on the Holy Sacrifice during the Liturgy at all times.
    • The altar is the East. Those who are serving in the altar should face the altar at all times, and not look at the congregation.
    • He doesn’t allow anyone to enter into the sanctuary who does not belong.
  • Movement in the Sanctuary
    • Deacons should enter the sanctuary with the right foot on the right side of the altar, and exit with the left front from the left side facing the sanctuary. They should not pass through the front of the sanctuary through the royal doors but should enter from the right door except for the deacon carrying the cruets of wine and water during the Offering.
    • Deacons should not enter the sanctuary using the royal door.
    • Should not move or talk inside the sanctuary.
    • The deacon closest to the censor (on the right) should take care of it so that the deacon on the left will not have to cross to the other side of the altar.
  • Procession of Incense
    • During the procession of the incense inside the sanctuary, the deacon carries only the cross (not the Bishara) while he is saying (inaudibly) the responses of the three litanies.
    • The deacon closest to the censer (on the right) should bring the censer.
  • Confession and Communion
    • Deacons who says the confession should take communion immediately after the priests, then he stands at the main entrance of the Altar (The Royal Door), facing the Altar. After all of the deacons receive Holy Communion, he then walks backwards in front of the priest so that he is facing the Holy Body and Blood at all times.[13]
    • When the deacon proceeds to Holy Communion he should not cross himself.
    • The deacon should not prostrate after receiving Holy Communion
    • The deacon is the guardian of the Holy Body and should always stay next to the Holy Body, to ensure that no pearls fall.
    • If the priest communes a sick person outside of the sanctuary, The deacon who prayed the “confession” should remain guarding the Holy Body at the altar, while carrying the Cross, the candle, and the corporal in between; while another deacon escorts the priest while carrying a candle to the sick person.
    • As the priest communes the people, he says “The Body of Emmanuel our God.” The person receiving communion should reply by saying “Amen,” but NOT the deacon standing by the priest.
    • After distribution to men and women, upon returning to the altar, the deacon will stand at the north side of the altar and take communion again if needed. Each time he takes communion he is to circle the altar and return to his position in the north, not in the west of the altar.
    • After the Lamb is administered and consumed, the priest shows the empty paten to the deacon who, as a witness, confirms that nothing remains by declaring, “Hail to the Cross” (ⲭⲉⲣⲉ ⲡⲓⲥⲧⲁⲩⲣⲟⲥ), then the celebrant completes the phrase, “of Jesus Christ.”
    • If the deacon is to commune the Precious Blood, he is to wash his hands like the priest(s) and bishop(s).
    • Deacons should not put away the service coverings (altar set) until after the priest has released the angel
  • After Communion After the end of the liturgy, the deacon (with help of other deacons or Sub-Deacon) reorganizes the altar and returning it to its original state (e.g. wrapping the vessels, disposing of the water and the contents of the censer, the lights, etc.)
  • Ordination Prayers and Vestments
  • The Deacon is ordained by the apostolic laying of the hands, where the bishop lays his hand on the candidate, and he recites with the priests who accompany him the special prayers of ordination.[14]
  • He wears the bastrasheel (orarion) as a symbol of the humility of the Lord, who washed the disciples’ feet.[15]
  • During ordination, the bishop places orarion on left shoulder (ϫⲫⲟⲓ).

The Church House of God

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Guidelines for the Deacon

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[1] Many of these rules were mentioned in “The Collection of Safawy Ibn el-Assal” written in the thirteenth century, which sheds light on the importance of the deacon’s duty in the Church.

[2] Ibn El-Assal says that the deacon should also visit the widows, the orphans and the needy, then inform the bishop of their needs. He would help distribute assistance to them.

[3] Receives gifts and offering of congregation in private room in the western entrance of the church, “deacon’s room” before they enter the church. Recording the names of those who offered gifts, as well as those on behalf they were offered, presenting them to the priest to mention silently during the Litany of the Oblations during the Divine Liturgy. “The deacons write every day the names of those who have given offerings, whether they are alive or departed, so that they may be remembered during the readings and prayers” (Didascalia, Canon 35)

[4] Deacon Severus, “Notes on the Diaconate,” citing George Bp. of the Arabs, Commentary on the Eucharist, p. 17; Ibn Sabbāc, al-Jawharah al- nafīsah, 65; Gabriel V, al-Tartīb al-ṭaqsī, 195; Pseudo-Sawīrus, Tartīb al-kahanūt, 13.

[5] See Canons 15 and 16 of Nicaea.

[6] See for example, canon 17 of the Apostles, Canon 12 of St. Basil, and Canon III of Constantinople III.

[7] The number of deacons that a church could ordain was decided upon in the Council of Nicaea: “They should ordain as many deacons at the church needs; however, not more than seven that live on the service of the altar, and the rest are volunteers” (Nicaea 62). While Nicaea typically had 20 canons in most manuscripts, the Arabic version contains 80 canons, including this one.

[8] Fax sent by His Eminence Metropolitan Serapion to the Clergy of the Diocese on July 29, 2008.

[9] Diocese of Los Angeles Clergy Meeting, St. Mary Victorville, August 7, 2014.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Diocese of Los Angeles Clergy Meeting, St. Mary Victorville, August 7, 2014.

[12] Saint John Chrysostom, Comm. on 2 Thess., ser. 3.4. In his Commentary on Second Corinthians, (ser. 2.5), Saint John Chrysostom is especially frustrated with those who ignore the instructions of the deacon to pray.

[13] Fax sent by H.E. Metropolitan Serapion to the Clergy of the Diocese on July 29, 2008.

[14] See Canon 53 of the Apostles 53.

[15] As St. Isidore of Peleusium writes in the 5th Century the deacons’ orarion: “The linen vestment [ὀθόνη], with which the deacons serve in the holy places, calls to remembrance the humility of the Lord, when he washed the feet of the disciples, and wiped [them]. As for the omophorion [ὠμοφόριον] of the bishop, which is of wool and not linen, [it] signifies the fleece of the sheep, when, having gone astray, the Lord sought, and lifted upon his shoulders. Epist. Lib. I. Cap. 136, Hermino Comiti (PG 78:271-272) (CPG 5557). Yet from the 11th-14th centuries it undergoes a complicated development. Around the 11th century or later, deacons wore a special covering (ballin), Yet Pope Gabriel II (1131-1145) stressed to have clergy uncover their heads during liturgical prayers.

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