By: Protodeacon David Kennedy
Fourth Council of Constantinople — 869-870 Canon 23
No bishop may dispose of the property of other churches, and no cleric may celebrate the sacred mysteries in a church other than his own.
We have also learnt that some bishops, at the request of certain people, have unreasonably made a gift of properties belonging to other churches. Thus they usurp the authority of other bishops, so far as they can. This conduct will clearly bring on them the curse of the prophet who says, Woe to those who add house to house and field to field (Is 5:8) in order to defraud their neighbor, and it has made them guilty of sacrilege. For this reason, this great and universal synod has decided that no brother of ours in the episcopate or anyone else may transact such a wicked property deal, nor, if asked by someone, dispose of any property belonging to other churches, nor install priests or any other clerics in churches that are not under his jurisdiction, without the permission of the bishop responsible for the church in question. Furthermore, no presbyters or deacons, who are consecrated for holy functions, should perform, of their own accord and decision, any sacred functions in churches to which they have not been appointed from the beginning. This behavior is unlawful and utterly alien to the canonical regulations.
Whoever, after this declaration of ours, shall be seen to do any of these things which have now been forbidden, must be excommunicated for a period of time, and the contractual arrangements, whether written or not, must be completely dissolved and abrogated because they were made in contravention of the canons. Likewise, the presbyter or deacon is to be suspended until he withdraws from the church to which he does not belong. But if he ignores the suspension, he must be got rid of completely and dispossessed of every sacred office. (Norman P. Tanner, SJ. Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils. Volume I. Sheed & Ward. 1990.)
(Great Entrance or Transfer of the Gifts at Valaam. The deacon in white with the aer covering his head will be ordained to the presbyterate following the anaphora.)
How does this apply to the diaconate today? Very plainly, one serves where one is assigned. Ordination does not give one a license to do as one pleases or sees fit. Those in orders are first ascribed to a local Church. The deacon is a diakonos for his bishop. He is not a diakonos for the Church in general or a diakonos unto himself. The deacon is one who gets something done on behalf of another. The other is the deacon’s bishop. The deacon does not act without the blessing of his bishop (at least presumed). He does not assign himself to a particular church or ministerial activity; he goes where his bishop sends him and acts according to his bishop’s directives. Ministry is ordered by the apostolic mandate but always within the corporate reality of the local Church, that is the Body of Christ. The bishop presides in the local Church; his deacons serve in liturgy, word, and charity, at his behest. The Church is a communion or persons united in Christ by the power and energy of the Holy Spirit. One enters this communion through baptism and chrismation. If a one of the laity is elected to the order of the diaconate, he is received into that order by the laying on of hands and prayer by the bishop. And he becomes the bishop’s diakonos. A diakonos is one who serves as an intermediary in a transaction; one who gets something done, at the behest of a superior. (Walter Bauer, edited by F.W. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature. 3rd Edition. University of Chicago Press. 2000.)