By: Protodeacon David Kennedy
(3) Synod of Sardica, canon 8, AD 343
“Greek: Bishop Hosius said: This also let your sagacity determine, that — inasmuch as this was decreed in order that a bishop might not fall under censure by going to the Court— that if any have such petitions as we mentioned above, they should send these by one of their deacons. For the person of a subordinate does not excite jealousy, and what shall be granted [by the Emperor] can thus be reported more quickly. All answered: Be this also decreed.
Latin: Bishop Hosius said: This also your forethought should provide for— inasmuch as you have made this decree in order that the audacity of bishops might not labour [or, be observed] to go to Court. Whosoever therefore shall have or receive petitions such as we have mentioned above, let them send these [each] by a deacon of his, because the person of a minister is not an object of jealousy, and he will be able to report more quickly what he has obtained.”
Canon 8 of the Synod of Sardica directs us to a diaconal function that seems for the most part to have completely gone into abeyance. The deacon functions according to this canon, as an ambassador or apokrisiarios for his bishop at the Court of the Emperor in Constantinople. In the 5th century Justinian made it a requirement that the bishops send ambassadors to the Court in order to prevent them from neglecting the pastoral care of their flocks. Patriarchs and metropolitans also received aprokrisiarioi especially from their suffragans. At times this was a full time ministry for a deacon, for the most important episcopal sees maintained residential ambassadors at the Court. Pope Gregory the Great when he was a deacon represented the Church of Rome at the Court from about A.D. 578-86. The rational of this canon for appointing a deacon to the position of ambassador appears to focus on the vice of jealousy. It also protects the bishop from the censure of the Court, something that might be less likely to fall upon a deacon as the ambassador of his bishop. This canon clearly puts a focus on the diakonos as one who gets something done on behalf of another, one who acts as a messenger or representative of another. This understanding of the deacon could easily be recovered and the function restored, so that a bishop or in most circumstances the parish priest if assisted by a deacon, could be free to focus more on the ministries of the word and liturgy and less on the administrative tasks of the diocese or parish.