Do deacons in the Eastern Churches preside at worship? Part II
By: Protodeacon David Kennedy
Since it is established according to the liturgical texts that deacons do not preside, that is they do not take the role of the celebrant in the liturgical services if a bishop or presbyter is not present, what then do they do, when no celebrant is present?
When no celebrant (bishop or presbyter) is present the structure of the service generally remains the same, however, the presidential prayers are not taken as they are reserved to the celebrant who presides not only in the liturgy but also in the daily life of the church be it in the diocese, or the parish, or the monastery. These services without a celebrant are known as “Reader’s Services”.
In the Byzantine liturgical services the following is the practice:
- The curtain and the Holy Doors remain closed throughout the service.
- The senior person present: a deacon, subdeacon, or reader begins the service by chanting: By the prayers of our holy fathers, Lord Jesus Christ, our God, have mercy on us. This is in lieu of the usual priestly blessing by the celebrant.
- The senior person present may cense the icons and people with a hand censer at the designated censings. These censings do not take place in the bema or sanctuary.
- The clergy present (deacon, subdeacon or reader) do not done vestments. They are attired in clerical attire according to their rank.
- The presidential prayers, those that the liturgical texts appoint to the priest are not said. This means that the petitions in the synaptes or litanies chanted by the deacon are not chanted. The reason for this is that the petitions of the deacon, along with the presidential prayers of the priest form one integral whole which clearly manifests that liturgical prayer is corporate by nature for the Church is corporate by nature. The Church is a communion of members having different gifts, hierarchically ordered with Christ as its head. The liturgical prayer of the Church is the action of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit giving glory to the Father. It is not about any one order in the Church. It is always a corporate action; it is always the action of Christ. Fundamentally, it is an action in which each member must die to the old Adam who sinned and live to the new Adam who is Christ.
- In lieu of the Great Synapte, Lord, have mercy is chanted 40 times.
- In lieu of the Litany of Fervent Supplication, Lord, have mercy is chanted 40 times.
- In lieu of the Little Synapte, Lord, have mercy is chanted 3 times.
- In lieu of the Aitesis Synapte, Lord, have mercy is chanted 12 times.
- Detailed instructions are given in Chapter 10 of The Order of Divine Services, 2nd Edition (Revised), Saint John of Kronstadt Press, Liberty, TN, 2007. www.sjkp.org
Do individual bishops have the authority to allow deacons to preside?
To answer this question from an Easter Catholic perspective, we need to turn to current canonical sources, especially the Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches issued by the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, January 6, 1996.
In 21, we read: “In every effort of liturgical renewal, therefore, the practice of the Orthodox brethren should be taken into account, knowing it, respecting it and distancing from it as little as possible so as not to increase the existing separation, but rather intensifying efforts in view of eventual adaptations, maturing and working together. Thus will be manifested the unity that already subsists in daily receiving the same spiritual nourishment from practicing the same common heritage.” (Cf. John Paul II, Discourse to participants of the meeting about the pastoral problems of the Catholic Church of the Byzantine rite in Romania (22 January 1994): L’Osservatore Romano, 22 January 1994. p.5; see also in Servizio Informazioni per le Chiese Orientali 49 (1994) 2.
In the Orthodox Churches, as manifested in the liturgical texts, it can be said that deacons do not have a presidential role.
In section 22, we read: “Reference to can. 657, can. 668 § 2 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches indicates the competent authority for the regulation of public divine worship. In the patriarchal Churches, this is the Patriarch with the consent of the Synod of Bishops (which should occur in collaboration with the liturgical Commission of the patriarchal Church [Cf. CCEO cann. 114 § 1 and 124.]). Be it noted that which is established concerning patriarchal Churches is also applicable, from can. 152 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, to the major archiepiscopal Churches. In the metropolitan Churches sui iuris, the competent authority is the Metropolitan with the consent of the Council of Hierarchs. Both cases require prior review by the Apostolic See.”
It is clear from the above that any changes in the received liturgical texts requires a legitimate process, a process that safeguards not only the liturgical heritage but also the communion of the local Churches (dioceses) that are united in a Church sui iuris.
If any Eastern Catholic Church, even by means of a canonically legitimate process as outlined above, deacons were given a presidential role in liturgical services, this would serve to create a liturgical rupture between Catholic and Orthodox Eastern Churches. Such a venture might easily be a neo-Latinism.
Certainly, the norm for liturgical services is to have a celebrant (bishop or presbyter). When there is a lack of presbyters, the simple solution is for the bishop to ordain more presbyters rather than having deacons substitute for presbyters. Quite clearly, the deacon is not a substitute for the presider, either within or outside of the liturgy. We might say that the presider (bishop or presbyter) is an image of Christ as head of the Church, while the deacon is the clearly in relationship to the presider as an agent: one who gets something done on behalf of another. The deacon can act only as an agent; that is as a deacon, if he has a presider to act in relationship to. Thus, when there is no presider at a liturgical service, the deacon does not serve as deacon nor does he substitute for the presider.