By: Protodeacon David Kennedy
In the liturgical texts and in documents we meet a variety of terms that refer to the deacon. Having a solid grasp of them helps in understanding what is being addressed.
Deacon: From the Greek diakonos meaning:
1. one who serves as an intermediary in a transaction, agent, intermediary, courier
2. one who gets something done, at the behest of a superior, assistant
From the Greek diakonia meaning:
1. service rendered in an intermediary capacity, mediation, assignment
2. performance of a service
3. functioning in the interest of a larger public
4. rendering of specific assistance, aid, support
5. an administrative function, service as attendant, aide, or assistant
From the Greek diakoneo meaning:
1. to function as an intermediary, act as go-between/agent, be at one’s service
2. to perform obligations without focus on intermediary function (a): perform duties, render assistance, serve (b): of attention at meals wait on someone at table
3. to meet an immediate need, help
4. to carry out official duties, minister in cultic context
5. Act 6:2 poses a special problem: care for, take care of
Source: F. W. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000).
The 3rd edition of Danker differs considerably in the definitions for these terms from the 2nd edition. This is due to the work of John N. Collins, Diakonia: Re-interpreting the Ancient Sources (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990).
A less expensive and more summary version of Collins’ work is Deacons in the Church: Making connections between old and new (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 2002).
Hierodeacon: This refers to a deacon who is a monastic.
Protodeacon: Literally, the first deacon. It seems that this term was used originally in monasteries to refer to the deacon who took the first place in liturgical services. This is no longer how it is used but rather it refers to a senior deacon from the diocesan clergy (married or celibate). It is usual to find protodeacons in large churches and cathedrals. Deacons are raised to this “rank” in the diaconate by a bishop at the time of the Little Entrance. The Greek term for this is cheirothesia ceiroqesia “the laying on of hands”. It is used for the minor orders while cheirotonia ceirotonia “stretching forth the hands” is used for the major orders.
(Protodeacon Joseph Jarostchuk. Photo: Eastern American Diocese, ROCOR)
THE OFFICE USED AT THE ELEVATION
OF AN ARCHDEACON OR A PROTODEACON
He that is to be elevated to be an archdeacon/protodeacon is led by a protodeacon and a deacon to the bishop in the centre of the nave, where the bishop stands, at the time when the Little Entrance is made with the Gospel Book. The candidate bows to the waist three times before the bishop, and then bows his head. And the bishop sitting makes the Sign of the Cross three times with his hand on the candidate’s head. Rising the bishop lays his hand upon the candidate’s head. And when the deacon says, Let us pray to the Lord, the bishop says this prayer:
O Master, Lord our God, who have bestowed upon our race the archdiaconate, granting through your unspeakable providence, that they who are endowed with it may order and serve your Divine Mysteries as lesser ministers: endow with this grace of the archdiaconate/protodiaconate this your servant, N., and adorn him with your virtue, to stand at the head of the deacons of your people, and to be an example of good to those who are under him. Cause him to attain to a ripe old age, that he may magnify your glorious name, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.
Then the bishop makes the Sign of the Cross upon his head, saying:
Blessed is the Lord: The servant of God, N., becomes an archdeacon/protodeacon, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
And the bishop laying his hand upon his head, exclaims:
And the choir sings:
And they enter the altar according to the established order.
It is worthy of note that the same prayer is used for the making of both protodeacons and archdeacons. The substance and meaning of the prayer does not change regardless of the title. This elevation of rank is bestowed on a deacon by a bishop through a blessing (what the West would term a sacramental). Unless, the protodeacon or archdeacon is ordained to the presbyterate, he will remain in this rank for life, as it is not directly associated with an office. It has no term.
The example of good to which protodeacons and archdeacons are called should be a ministerial example in the diaconal functions of liturgy, word and charity.
This rank is an honorific and it confers no more than liturgical precedence upon the deacon who receives it. Generally, liturgical precedence, which is established for good order is determined by date of ordination. He who is ordained first (chronologically) has liturgical precedence. Thus a deacon ordained November 22, 1990 has precedence when serving with a deacon ordained December 15, 1990.
Protodeacons/archdeacons take liturgical precedence before deacons, and among them the rule of date also applies. This is simply because there is no jurisdiction among deacons. Deacons do not usually have jurisdiction over other deacons, although it might occur in extraordinary circumstances.
The use of the following insignia may be granted to protodeacons: the double or extended orarion, the purple skoufia, and the purple kamilavka. According to the current usage among Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox the insignia is granted as follows:
Deacon: wears the single orarion and no head covering in church (the bishop may grant the deacon the use of a black skoufia made of cotton or wool for use outdoors)
The skoufia and kamilavka of an archdeacon, since he is a monastic are black and they are not given as honorifics.
Archdeacon: Literally, the chief deacon. This term first appears in De schismate Donatistarum about AD 366 and is attributed to Optatus of Melevis. He speaks of the Archdeacon Caecilian of Carthage who later becomes bishop of that diocese in AD 311. (PL., XI 916; 775.) It appears that this title was used for the chief assistant to the bishop.
Based on the work of A. Amanieu, Dictionnaire de Droit Canonique (Paris: 1935. Vol. I, cols. 948-1004.), this office developed in the Roman Church in the following stages:
- The executive agent of the bishop up to the 7th century.
- The vicar of the bishop in the 8th and 9th centuries.
- A prelate rival to the bishop from the 10th to the 13th centuries.
- A dignitary in canonical chapters from the 14th centuries to the present.
- An honorary title given to a vicar general in some dioceses.
From the beginning, the deacon in the East has served the bishop in the external and temporal matters of the church while the fitting role for the presbyters has been to serve the spiritual needs of the faithful especially in the Holy Mysteries and by giving counsel to the bishop.
The office of the archdeacon develops in Byzantium according to the following outline:
- In the early 4th century the archdeacon is responsible for the discipline of the clergy and laity; he is the administrator of the temporal and material goods of the church; he is the confidant to the bishop; after the death of the bishop, the archdeacon administered the diocese.
- The Council of Chalcedon in Can. 26 requires that the bishop appoint an economos and this weakens the authority of the archdeacon in economic matters. Often the economos was another deacon.
- Later the office of the syncellus (he might be a deacon or a priest) diminished the archdeacon’s role as confidential minister to the bishop.
- From the 6th century, offices such as the chartophylax, the sacellarius, the sakellion, the skeuophylax reduced the archdeacon role to essentially an honorary office. Frequently, these offices were filled by deacons.
- The office of the archdeacon is restricted to liturgical ministry where he takes precedence and prepares the clergy for there liturgical roles.
- In Constantinople there were two archdeacons, one of the patriarch and the other of the imperial court.
- Currently, the Great Archdeacon of Constantinople heads the Archdeaconry which is part of the Chancellory. http://www.patriarchate.org/patriarchate/jurisdiction/administration/chancellory
The archdiaconate has survived in various forms in the Constantinopolitan tradition to the present day. In most Churches of the Constantinopolitan tradition an archdeacon is a deacon taken from the monastic clergy. The Russian Orthodox Church following the restoration of its patriarchate in the 20th century and beginning with the Great Archdeacon Constantine Rozov, bestowed the title archdeacon on the patriarch’s deacon regardless of whether the deacon was a monk or a diocesan cleric. The Orthodox Church in America adopted this practice in the late 20th century. Thus, one will find archdeacons who are monastics and those who are not. However, only deacons fulfill this role and it is not to be assumed by presbyters.
For the Eastern Catholic Churches, section 78 of Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches states, “Moreover, it is not appropriate to confer monastic titles, with the associated insignia and attire, to secular clergy. This applies even more so to married clergy.”
Hussey, J.M., The Cambridge Medieval History, Vol. IV. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967.)
Kollaparambil, J., The Archdeacon of All-India. (Kottayam 10, Kerala, 1972.) This study has survey of the archdiaconate in the various Eastern Churches.
Pokusa, J.W., A Canonical-Historical Study of the Diaconate in the Western Church. Doctoral Dissertation. (Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms International, 1979.) This study has a most thorough examination of the office of the archdeacon.