By: Protodeacon David Kennedy
(2) Synod of Neocaesarea, canon 12, AD 314-325
"If any one be baptized when he is ill, forasmuch as his [profession of] faith was not voluntary, but of necessity [i.e. though fear of death] he cannot be promoted to the presbyterate, unless on account of his subsequent [display of] zeal and faith, and because of a lack of men."
(Archdeacon Andrei Mazur reading the diptychs at the Great Praises during Pontifical Divine Liturgy. This occurs just before the diaconal ecphoneis unto ages of ages, prior to Holy God.)
It is somewhat puzzling that this canon that makes no direct reference to the diaconate or deacons, appears in the footnotes. Why is it there, and how is it related to the matter at hand? The canon addresses the situation in which one enters life in Christ by baptism when ill out of fear of death. During this time period, it was not uncommon for many to postpone baptism for years, as baptism required a radical change in life style. It required death to the old Adam in order to live in Christ, the new Adam. Many where not willing to commit to a life of non-violence, chastity, humility, meekness; a life of death in Christ in order to rise with Christ. Many where not willing to have an identity that says, I have been crucified with Christ; it is not I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal. 2:20) Unwilling to make these words of the Apostle their own, they postponed baptism till late in life and death-bed baptisms were not unknown.
This canon promotes prudence in choosing the presbyters of the Church. No one should be ‘promoted’ to the presbyterate unless he has demonstrated his faith. Something much more is required than baptism out of fear of death. One must have a true and genuine desire to live life in Christ. One must come to Christ freely. Repentance should not be born out of fear but out of an authentic desire to live in Christ. Thus, it is also necessary to be seen to live a virtuous life and to avoid all vices. Time tests the believer.
Possibly, those who added this footnote to Section 17 of Orientalium ecclesiarum thought that nothing less should be required of candidates for the diaconate than for those for the presbyterate. It should be noted that in the early 4th century the diaconate had not yet become a testing ground for the presbyterate. The diaconate was a permanent order. There was no need to progress through the diaconate to the presbyterate. Direct ordination to the presbyterate was the normal practice.