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Some Words of Advice to Future Deacons

In the Orthodox Church laymen do not suddenly become priests. We first we have to live the life of a layman. Then we may be tonsured readers, then ordained subdeacons and only then deacons. Several years or indeed a whole lifetime may lie between each of these orders.

Thus, most remain laymen all their lives. Many readers or subdeacons remain readers or subdeacons all their lives. And if we are deacons, we may also remain deacons for the rest of our lives. This depends not on our own feelings or some self-seeking sense of ‘vocation’. It depends on the needs of the Church. The Church does not need us. We need the Church. The cemeteries are full of self-important people who thought that the Church needed them.

Readers and subdeacons are considered to be servants of the Church. Deacons and priests are considered to be servants of the Sacred, of the sacraments. Readers and subdeacons never use their titles, except at communion when they are addressed as such. Deacons are known as ‘father deacon’, priests as ‘father’. But generally they do not themselves use these titles, at least in formal contexts. Others call them that. In formal contexts (for example, when addressing a bishop) a deacon calls himself ‘deacon’, a priest ‘priest’.

The Greek word ‘deacon’ means ‘servant’. And that is what he is. And a priest is ‘an elder servant’, a bishop is ‘an overseer servant’. All are servants. The minimum ‘canonical’ age at which a man is ordained deacon is 25, priest 30 and bishop 35. When a man is tonsured reader, he can still marry. But a subdeacon cannot marry after ordination.

If a married subdeacon is ordained deacon, his wife is, in Greek, known as ‘diaconissa’ which in English is in fact deaconess. If a married deacon is ordained priest, his wife, in Greek, is known as ‘presbytera’, in Russian as ‘matushka’ or mother. In other words, since the wife will be affected by ordination, her opinion is sought before her husband is ordained. She shares in both the grace that he receives in ordination, but also in the cross that he receives.

If a man is soon to be tonsured or ordained, he does not talk about it. As it is said, the devil has ears. Any candidate for tonsure or ordination should be very careful not to speak of it, for the time before ordination is a time of great temptations – the devil will do his utmost to prevent ordination. Immodesty or making the event into some sort of social occasion suggest that he is not a suitable candidate in any case.

Ordination is a responsibility, not a privilege. We do not conceive of ordination in terms of ranks, of clericalism, of ‘glory’. The deacon’s first responsibility is to clean the altar and to look after the altar lamps. He gets vestments and books ready before services. He serves food and drink at table. He may also have to look after the church dustbins and/or clean the toilets. He should be down on his knees cleaning. If he does not do this, he will soon go wrong, as we have seen in the past. The concept of privilege or superiority betrays a false mentality, not that of the Church, but that of the world, of the gentiles and their thirst to lord it over others.

The deacon should not be preoccupied with his outward appearance. No-one was ever saved because of the length of his beard, hair or cassock. The deacon, like the rest of us, should be preoccupied with only one thing, the cleansing of his heart and so humility. The rest is vanity and he will suffer greatly for his vanity.

Archpriest Andrew

Martyr Isidore of Chios
14/27 May 2010

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