Sep
02
2015
churchdeaconscover

Unorthodox Deacons

All that wears white isn’t deacon

Have you ever played an intense game of broken telephone where the sentence gets hilariously transformed by the end of the turn? Well, I sometimes feel like we play a long game of broken telephone with some of our church traditions – one that spans generations.

What’s the word?
The word deacon gets thrown around regularly – and is quite often misused. Let’s start with the basics; the word itself, “Diakonos” in Greek, by definition means servant. Literally, “dia” means “thoroughly” and “konis” meaning “dust”. It’s used to say “the one who kicks up dust”, describing  servants coming and going in a hurry thus stirring up dust.
The word itself doesn’t help much in understanding how it’s used today. There’s quite a disconnect in who we qualify as deacons and what the service was intended for – so I made the handy dandy infographic below to outline how things ought to be.

Note how I said ought to be. I realize that sometimes the need to bend the rules a little arises especially in small congregations – but the exceptions can become the norm and the actual tradition gets lost in time.  Which is totally happening right now. We ordain 6 year old “deacons”, confusing them as to what the word means, how much weight it carries, and what’s expected of them.

This visual just scratches the surface (and is a work in progress)– for more in-depth articles check this one, and this one  OR check this one out specifically for readers, and this one for details on subdeacons. For now, let’s look at what we’re supposed to be teaching our children so they can understand their service and do their parts during the liturgy with respect and diligence – not just kickin’ up dust. 😉

Note: I will be updating this with a few more orders – priest, bishop…etc.
Orthodox Church orders
Again, I get that this isn’t how things are in our churches today. If you want to take one thing away from this, it’s that the Church held altar service to the highest standards (i.e. celibacy if the sub-deacon/deacon isn’t married before ordination) and that the term deacon we throw around today is being severely misused. Understand that these ranks aren’t ones of prestige – but are different functions of service that are needed by the church. Know the difference, call chanters chanters and readers readers, teach our children the expectations of each service – and we’ll be one step closer to putting an end to this not-so-fun game of broken telephone.

17 comments

  • Hey buddy! So the reader actually doesn’t wear a stole, the chanter Tonia should be plain white, where the readers Tonia has an embroidered cross and the sub deacon wears the deacons belt :) great work though!!!

    • So funny story, after drawing them all out and seeing how different things ARE from how things OUGHT to be – I had to find a happy medium.

      In Coptic churches, the practice nowadays is for the readers to wear stoles, except they do so in a different style than the sub-deacon. I guess I left that in so it can – even vaguely – resemble what we do today but still push towards a better understanding.

      I didn’t know about the Tonia variation though!

        • It’s against the canons for a subdeacon to wear a stole… Calling it a belt when it’s obviously a stole is pretty much just acknowledging that we know it’s wrong but we’ll do it anyway :) But it’s been happening for long enough it’s unlikely to change. Unfortunately, it’s pretty much the same thing with readers now. We can call it a belt if we want… But it is what it is. I’m all for readers laying aside their stoles. When I used to serve I didn’t wear one. But I think Mike’s layout is a great compromise, pushing towards order, and accepting where we are.

          • Alexandrian tradition had been shown to use the deacons belt for a very long time… I haven’t found a record yet that hasn’t shown them… Also the role of the office of the subdeacon has changed since that canon… Subdeacon is no longer a door keeper but now assists the deacon in his service at the altar which the stole is connected to… So yes it’s not perfectly proper, but is tied to the service of the role…

            The readers however hasn’t been an ancient tradition but had only been for what 80 years?

          • That to me is the key though… The change in scope. The subdeacon ceased to be a doorkeeper, and became an assistant in the Sanctuary. When they went inside the Sanctuary, they received the stole that previously had been banned to them. Today, the Reader goes inside, so why wouldn’t the same logic apply? The ancient canon says that the reader should not wear an orarion and so clad read. It doesn’t say they shouldn’t wear one when they go inside, because it would be nonsense to say so since they didn’t. If we want to take away the Reader’s orarion, we should also take them back out of the Sanctuary. It doesn’t seem to me to make much sense to remove the orarion, but leave them inside, doing more even than subdeacons were tasked with when they were granted a stole… The EO as well sometimes allow readers to wear stoles when they are tasked with serving inside.

            Now, I’d be all for either removing them from the Sanctuary and removing the stole, or else greatly reducing the scope or practice to less than the subdeacon for what they do inside and removing it… But it doesn’t make much sense to have zero differentiation in role, and worry about the stole.

            Maybe it would be clear to say the Reader wears a stole like this and helps the subdeacon help the deacon inside… But did neither of these until modern times?

          • Jonathan no readers do not go inside, that is not part of their office… There issue is people aren’t ordaining deacons and sub deacons…. There should NEVER be a reader at the altar

          • “Jonathan no readers do not go inside, that is not part of their office… There issue is people aren’t ordaining deacons and sub deacons…. There should NEVER be a reader at the altar”

            Why not? Originally subdeacons did not go inside, then the Church changed their role, and they did. Did the Church have the authority to change the role of the subdeacon, but not the reader?

            Bishop, Presbyter, and Deacon are the major orders, the priesthood, handed down from the Apostles. We can never modify a minor order to replace them. We can’t mess with them (though even there there has certainly been development, with presbyters becoming heads of communities, chorebishops roles changing, etc.)

            But the minor orders are instituted by the Church for the sake of order. They have a much broader range of development. If the Church wanted to merge the orders of subdeacon and reader into one order, that would be well within the authority of the church to do.

            The EO had taper bearers for a very long time. Less than subdeacons, assisting in the Sanctuary. They eventually merged them with the order of Reader, which is why they have Readers inside as a matter of course. The Copts for a long time have had readers assisting inside. The church has the authority to give them a role of assisting inside, just like the church has the authority to give the subdeacon a role inside.

            Certainly, as things stand now, the norm and proper thing would be for a parish of any maturity to have a presbyter and a deacon, assisted by a subdeacon, with readers reading outside only. But if there are too few subdeacons, especially at a smaller or less mature parish, pulling readers in to hold tapers in the processions is well within the authority of the Church.

            If all the various traditions have readers, or non-ordained altar servers filing this role, and not just as a modern thing, but for a very long time, perhaps it is less than ideal, but it certainly is not outside the authority of the Church. The current Copts practice of having minor orders take the place of the deacon, a minor order, and thinking they are kinds of deacons, is a departure from Orthodoxy and is outside the authority of the Church to change what has been passed down from the Apostles.

          • “Why not? Originally subdeacons did not go inside, then the Church changed their role, and they did. Did the Church have the authority to change the role of the subdeacon, but not the reader?”

            Fallacy Jon you’re better than that… Sub deacons do not need extra assistance… The just need to be ordained…

            “Bishop, Presbyter, and Deacon are the major orders, the priesthood, handed down from the Apostles. We can never modify a minor order to replace them. We can’t mess with them (though even there there has certainly been development, with presbyters becoming heads of communities, chorebishops roles changing, etc.)

            But the minor orders are instituted by the Church for the sake of order. They have a much broader range of development. If the Church wanted to merge the orders of subdeacon and reader into one order, that would be well within the authority of the church to do.

            The EO had taper bearers for a very long time. Less than subdeacons, assisting in the Sanctuary. They eventually merged them with the order of Reader, which is why they have Readers inside as a matter of course. The Copts for a long time have had readers assisting inside. The church has the authority to give them a role of assisting inside, just like the church has the authority to give the subdeacon a role inside.”

            When a need arises yes, but there is no need except for bishops to fall in line…

            “Certainly, as things stand now, the norm and proper thing would be for a parish of any maturity to have a presbyter and a deacon, assisted by a subdeacon, with readers reading outside only. But if there are too few subdeacons, especially at a smaller or less mature parish, pulling readers in to hold tapers in the processions is well within the authority of the Church.”

            Exceptions of necessity aren’t being discussed and gave no place in the topic of propriety and rule…

          • “Fallacy Jon you’re better than that… Sub deacons do not need extra assistance… The just need to be ordained…”

            I’m afraid I’m not better than that, and the fact that if I agreed with you it would increase your estimation of me does not change my opinion, so I’m afraid we’ll just have to agree to disagree :)

          • Well you’re agreeing with me in the past didn’t make me like you more just respect the way you got there from adherence to traditions of the Church… 😉

  • Actually, in my (Coptic Orthodox) church, the readers do not wear stoles. Perhaps it might be better to just say the truth and not a “happy medium”, especially if the right practice is followed in some areas (whether deliberately or by coincidence). If I show this to readers from my church it may be counterproductive and they may all start wearing stoles!

    In my church, stoles are worn from subdeacon and up, however the subdeacon wears it in the style of the reader.

      • That IS quite awesome.

        You know what though – you guys are right, the infographic should really reflect what’s correct, not a happy medium. 😀

        Mind you it will be quite jarring for some when they realize how we treat these orders now is far from the original intent – but that’s kind of the point isn’t it. 😛

        I’ll update the drawing when I get to researching priests and bishops and adding them in – for now I’ve to work on an illustration for Abba Poemen, as his feast day is tomorrow. :)

        • Like I said you should have seen the faces lol they kept looking to our priest like “wait really?!”
          Thank God since my lecture many have taken it to heart and a great amount of change has occurred in my parish

  • No Reader in any church I have care of wears a stole. Only a tonia. In my mission circumstances and before I have other ranks it is necessary for me to sometimes be assisted by a Reader. But this is exceptional. I would wish to have a full Deacon assisting me, with several Subdeacons assisting him. The Reader should read the lections, and I think I agree with Jonathan that there is merit in the Reader being vested as a suitably dressed layman.

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