By: Protodeacon David Kennedy
Do deacons in the Eastern Churches read the scripture to the faithful?
The general answer to the question is yes, but what part of scripture he will read, will depend upon the liturgical rite of the Church sui iuris. The scripture can be read both within and outside of the liturgical context. It is my intention to focus here on the liturgical context at present.
Rather than reading the scripture, it would be better to say that the scripture is chanted, as the “said liturgy” is a Western phenomenon. The manner of executing the chant varies from Church to Church, even within the same liturgical rite, e.g. the chanting of the gospel in the Greek Church is not the same as the chanting of the same text in the Ukrainian Church, although both follow the Byzantine rite.
(Archdeacon Andrei Mazur chanting the gospel at Paschal Divine Liturgy, Christ the Savior Sobor, Moscow, 2011. White vestments are worn for Matins and red of Divine Liturgy by the Moscovites at Pascha. Notice the ripidia held over the gospel book. Photo: pariarchia.ru)
In the Byzantine and Armenian rites, the chanting of the gospel at the Divine Liturgy is assigned to the deacon, but in the other rites at present, it is given to the priest. Among the Russians and Ukrainians, it is not unusual when two or more deacons serve for the 2nd deacon chants the Apostolos (one of the epistles or the Acts of the Apostles). In the Byzantine rite, the deacon usually chants the prokeimenon (a responsorial psalm) at Vespers and Matins, although these psalms are properly assigned to the cantor. In practice, it is not unusual for deacons to fulfill the role of the cantor in a limited manner.
Prior to chanting the gospel, the deacon asks for a blessing from the main celebrant and the gospel is carried from the altar by the deacon to the ambo where it will be chanted. Both lights and ripida accompany the gospel in order to honor it. Before asking for the blessing to proclaim the gospel, the deacon censes the gospel on the altar along with the icons in the sanctuary, the iconostasis, the priest and the assembly.
(This photo is from Christ the Saviour Sobor in Moscow, Sunday of Pentecost 2011. The archdeacon stands in the centre of the nave facing the East. He has just received the blessing to chant the gospel and is intoning: "A reading from the holy gospel... The subdeacons and servers carry lights (trikerion and dikeriion) and ripidia, along with the patriarchal pastoral staff, processional cross and candle. Notice, the cuffs on the trikerion and dikerion bearers; a sign that they are deacons. When the archdeacon begins to chant the gospel proper, those holding the ripidia and trikerion and dikerion will face inwards, and the ripidia will be held over the gospel book. Photo: partriarchia.ru)