The Deacon is to instruct and exhort the faithful.
By: Protodeacon David Kennedy
The ministry of the word is entrusted to deacons both within the liturgy and outside of it. It is given to the deacon to chant the Holy Scriptures, especially the Gospel at the Divine Liturgy. The words of Scripture bear witness to the one true Word of the Father that is Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is fundamental that we never loose sight of the reality that Christians are not “people of the book” but rather encounter and experience the Word of God as a living person, namely, the second Person of the Holy Trinity. The Word of God is not something written on a page but the One Word of the Father spoken from all eternity. He is a life giving and life creating Word. The words of Holy Scripture bear witness and testify to the One True Word, Jesus Christ.
In what ways does the deacon instruct and exhort the faithful?
A: In Liturgical Services:
1. by the chanting of the Holy Scriptures
2. by his bearing and attitude while serving
3. by acting as a model of liturgical participation
4. by acting as an image of Christ as servant
5. by preaching the homily
6. through exhortatory commands, e.g. “Let us be attentive.”
C: By preaching always by the way in which he acts not only within the liturgical services, but especially outside of them. He should be recognized as one who lives in Christ by what he does.
Every deacon must be engaged in the ministry of the Word. It is not acceptable for a deacon to serve only in liturgical services and not be engaged with the ministry of the Word outside of the liturgy. Yet it can be seen that the ministry of the Word is not exclusively about words, for it is in some ways much more about living. This however does not exclude deacons from the responsibility of being properly trained to preach, instruct and teach through the usual modes of delivery.
In order to be a minister of the Word it is necessary to experience the Word in one’s own life. The deacon himself must have been evangelized if he is to evangelize.
Evangelization is the proclamation of the “good news” that the Kingdom of God is at hand. A response is required to this proclamation. Ideally, the response is a “metanoia”, that is a change of mind, a change of attitude, a change of heart. Once a person believes that the Kingdom of God is at hand, that is here and now, a person is confronted with a choice: “Do I live in the Kingdom or not?” If I choose to live in the Kingdom, then I must repent, i.e. I can no longer live in the kingdom of the world if I am to live in the Kingdom of God. These two are not compatible. This is not because God has disowned the world but because the world as experience has fallen into sin. The world is disordered and everything in it, including myself has been disordered by sin.
To be evangelized is to hear in the depth of the heart what Christ has done by means of the Paschal Mystery, and has fulfilled the plan of the Father’s economy of salvation, and accept that one now lives in the Kingdom of God animated and enlivened by the Holy Spirit. But to hear is not enough. The gift of salvation is given but it must also be received. And to receive the gift of salvation requires a change in “life style”. In the pre-baptismal rites, the candidate is asked three times: “Do you reject Satan, and all his works, and all his angels, and all his service, and all his pride?” If I live according to the ways of the world, then I have not rejected Satan and his kingdom. Note that evangelization is the proclamation of Kingdom of God. It is not an instruction in the faith, (strictly speaking this is catechesis), nor an entry into the mysteries (mystagogy). When a person has heard the Good News they must make a choice. The parable of the sower gives the paradigm for evangelization. (Lk 8:4-15) Those who hear the Word of God and persevere have been evangelized. The deacon is to sow the seed wherever he goes. All need to hear the Good News.
Catechesis is directed to those who have already been evangelized. Catechesis is instruction in the faith for believers, for those who have already heard the Good News and have repented. Those who have been evangelized even if not initiated into the Church by baptism, chrismation and the Holy Eucharist should already be living their lives in Christ. They should have adopted the Way: repentance, prayer, fasting, alms giving, and be actively engaged in the spiritual warfare with the unruly passions that lead to sin, namely gluttony, fornication, avarice, anger, sadness, acedia, vainglory, and pride. In all of this, guidance is needed and deacons can be active guides for those seeking to live in the Way.
Formal catechesis is necessary for developing a mature Christian life. It should be founded upon the Holy Scriptures and the teachings of the Fathers, the councils, the liturgical life (which is primary theology), the lives of the saints, and the teaching of the magisterium. Catechesis should encompass not only doctrine, but also the moral life in Christ, the active liturgical life, and prayer. The place for this catechesis is primarily outside of the liturgy, for catechesis is didactic and instructional while liturgy is an act of sacrifice, thanksgiving, anamnesis, praise, repentance, and adoration: liturgy is doxological.
Mystagogy is that preaching that leads one into the mysteries (sacraments). Mystagogy reveals how one has rejected Satan and has put on Christ, how one has been stripped of the old Adam and now lives in the new Adam. Mystagogy makes known through sign and symbol how we “commend ourselves and one another and our whole life to Christ our God”. Mystagogy is an entry into the reality where Christ is “all in all”. (Col 3:11) Mystagogy rather than evangelization or catechesis is the type of preaching most applicable to the homily to be given at liturgical services. Mystagogy should be founded in this: “Let your thoughts be on heavenly things, not on the things that are on earth, because you have died, and now the life you have is hidden with Christ in God. But when Christ is revealed – and he is your life – you too will be revealed in all your glory with him.” (Col 3:2-4)
(Dormition Cathedral, Kremlin, Moscow. Photo: patriarchia.ru)
What do the canons say about deacons preaching?
Can. 608 Bishops, presbyters and deacons, each one according to the grade of his sacred order, have as their foremost duty the ministry of the word of God, which is to be exercised according to the norm or law; the other faithful, according to each one’s aptitude, state of life and received mandate, are to take part willingly in this ministry.
(Deacons should note that the ministry of the word of God is a foremost duty. No deacon is exempt from this obligation, an obligation that should be a joy.)
Can. 609 The eparchial bishop is to supervise the preaching of the word of God in his territory, in keeping with common law.
Can. 610 §1. Bishops have the right to preach the word of God everywhere, unless the eparchial bishop in a special case expressly forbids it.
§2. Presbyters have the faculty to preach where they are legitimately sent or invited.
§3. Deacons too have the same faculty, unless particular law has determined otherwise.
(The particular law of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church states in Can. 75 “Deacons too have the same faculty to preach where they are legitimately assigned.” This is more restrictive than the law for presbyters, which reads “legitimately sent or invited.”)
§4. In extraordinary circumstance, especially to supply for the scarcity of clerics, the eparchial bishop also may give the mandate to preach even in church to other Christian faithful, observing can. 614, §4.
In regards to the homily Can. 614 §4. reads: The homily is reserved to the bishop or priest or, according to particular law, also to the deacon. The particular law of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church states: Can. 76 “The homily is reserved to a priest or also to a deacon with the approval of the bishop.” This means that each deacon needs to be given a faculty to preach the homily unless the bishop has created a general law for his eparchy that allows all deacons to preach the homily.
This raises the question as to when the deacon should give the homily. It seems from customary liturgical practice, the presiding celebrant has as a part of his liturgical ministry, the delivery of the homily, be this at Divine Liturgy, Vespers, Matins, baptism, crowning in marriage, funeral, etc. For the deacon, the homily is not the usual and ordinary part of his liturgical ministry. Yet, there are times when it is appropriate for the deacon to be blessed by the presiding celebrant to give the homily. I might suggest the following in a parish where the usual course of services are followed on a weekend, i.e. Vespers, Matins, and Divine Liturgy that a deacon delivers the homily once per month or about every four weeks. (This is a parish in which there is one presbyter and one deacon.) The reason for such a schedule is that is provides a diversity of charisma to be manifested in the Divine Liturgy. These charismata are given by God and should be allowed to flourish for the building up of the Body of Christ.
(The Holy Protomartyr and Archdeacon Stephen. Photo: source unknown)
What is the necessary training in order to preach?
The particular law of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church states in Can. 1010 §2. If it is a case of a candidate who is not destined for the priesthood, it is permitted to ordain him a deacon only after successful completion of the third year of studies, which is mentioned in CCEO can 354: if, however, it happens that this candidate is admitted to the priesthood in the future, then he must first complete the theological studies and spiritual formation, prior to ordination.
From this canon it can be seen that a thorough theological education, spiritual formation and liturgical training must preceded ordination to the diaconate. Unfortunately, many deacons have been ordained without this education, training and formation. This often impedes the individual deacon’s ability to preach whether in regards to evangelization, catechesis, or mystagogy. Due to the lack of training, education, and formation, many deacons cannot and (should not) fulfill the ministry of the word. It is incumbent upon those that train, educate and form those men who present themselves for the ministry of the diaconate that such training, education, and formation is as a minimum sufficient for the duties that a deacon will undertake. Because there has been an attitude that the diaconate is a mini-priesthood, that it is part-time, etc. there has been insufficient training, formation and education of candidates for the diaconate. The foundation for such an approach has been corrupted and undermines the true and authentic diaconate. Let us remember that many deacons have served the Church as outstanding theologians: Athanasius of Alexandria, Ephrem the Syrian, Gregory the Great, Alcuin of York, etc. The deacon must be trained, formed and educated in such a manner that he can be an effective and enthusiastic minister of the Word.