The Holy Order of the Deaconate is the third and lowest rank
in the hierarchy of orders in the Orthodox Church, being subordinate
to the episcopate and presbyterate. The deaconate is a hierarchical
order of 5 ranks: Archdeacon, Deacon, Sub-deacon, Reader, Psalter.
It is considered as the extended arm of the priesthood as the priesthood
is the arm of the episcopate. The term "deacon" is derived
from the Greek diakonos which means "servant".
Establishment of the Deaconate Rank
The general rank of deacons originated at the time of the apostles,
when the apostles were not able to attend to every small need of
the believers. "Now in these days when the disciples were increasing
in number, the Hellenists murmured against the Hebrews because their
widows were neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve
summoned the body of the disciples and said, 'It is not right that
we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore,
brethren, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full
of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this duty. But
we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.'
And what they said pleased the whole multitude, and they chose Stephen,
a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus,
and Nicanor, and Timon and Parmenas, and Nicolus, a proselyte of
Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and
laid their hands upon them" (Acts 6:1-6).
Qualifications of Deacons
St. Paul clearly stated the qualities of deacons: "Likewise
must the deacons be grave, not double-tongued, not given to much
wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; holding the mystery of the Faith
in a pure conscience
. Let the deacons be the husbands of one
wife, ruling their children and their own houses well" (1 Tim
Duties of Deaconate Ranks
St. Paul referred to the deacon in his epistles as one who performs
both temporal and spiritual services. The spiritual duties are primarily
during Liturgies, which may not be performed if the deaconate are
not present. The following is a brief summary of the general duties
of each of the deaconate ranks, beginning with the highest to the
The Archdeacon is the head of all ranks of the deaconate. He is
a deacon, who is additionally charged with making all necessary
arrangements for church services, assigning various tasks to deacons,
sub-deacons, readers, and psalters; safekeeping of church books,
vessels, and vestments; ensuring that charity is received by the
needy; acting as a liaison on behalf of the bishop; and participating
in recommending candidates for the Holy Orders, playing a role also
at the ordinations.
The Deacons help the bishop and the priests by preparing the bread,
wine, water, vessels, candles, books, and the Sanctuary for the
Liturgy. During the Divine Service itself, the deacons are to keep
order in the Church, assist the priests and bishop, hold the chalice
of the Blood of Emmanuel, and guard the Holy Mysteries during Communion.
The deacon is to also teach, distribute money to the needy, visits
and comforts the ill, widows, orphans, and prisoners.
The Constitutions of the Apostles states: "The deacon does
not bless. He does not give a benediction, but receives it from
the bishop and the priest. He does not baptize. He does not offer
(sacrifice). However, when the bishop or priest has offered, the
deacon gives it to the people, not acting as a priest, but ministering
to the priests." In this manner, the deacons "receive
the imposition of hands not unto the priesthood, but unto the ministry",
and hence are the "eyes and hands" of the bishops and
The Sub-deacons are the helpers of the deacons, as the title implies;
the Greek word "epideacon" means the helper or assistant.
Sub-deacons may be young men who have excelled in their role as
readers, having learned and truly lived the teachings of the Holy
Scriptures which they read to the congregation during the Divine
Services. The sub-deacons guard the doors of the church during the
Divine services so that there is no disturbance caused inside by
The rank of Reader is given to men who are able to read well out
loud to the congregation. In order that the reader reads well, he
must understand what he is reading, not only for the sake of adequate
reading, but also for the duty of teaching. Therefore he must constantly
read in the Bible and expand his knowledge, not in theory, but in
practical living the words of God as well as dedicate part of his
time to reading the explanations of the holy Church fathers. The
reader is permitted to help in the preparation and arrangement of
the vessels before and after the Divine Liturgy, as the prayers
of ordination indicate.
Psalters are the chanters during the Divine services. The title
"Psalter" is derived from the Coptic word psaltis, from
which is derived the word "psalm," because the psalms
are the chanted praises to God. Psalters are to learn the hymns
chanted in the various services throughout the year. The learned
hymns ought to be chanted by the psalters in a harmonious prayerful
tune to God so that the listeners are touched and inspired to also
pray with depth of heart.
Regardless of the rank, each individual must not lust the honor
of a higher rank, but rather strife to perform his duties in the
best of his abilities to please God. The service of each member
must follow the footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ who "came
not to be served but to serve, and to give His Life as a ransom
for many" (Mt 20:26-28). Those who offer honest service to
the Master are rewarded as His loyal servants: "If anyone serves
Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be
also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor" (Jn 12:26).
May we hear His tender voice that is full of loving-kindness saying:
"Well done, good and faithful servant, you were faithful over
a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into
the joy of your Lord" (Mt 25:21).