Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Paleo-Orthodoxy: A Brief Look at the Deacon in the Early Church

From the earliest days of the Christian Church the deacon has been intimately associated with the ministry of the Bishop and Presbyters. In the ancient Church of the Apostolic and Post Apostolic age, the Deacon was described as a minister and even preacher of the word. The Deacon prepared catechumens for baptism by instructing them in the basic principles of Christian life and belief, and was the person responsible for making sure aid and food to the poor and distressed were dispensed in a compassionate and responsible manner. In short, it is a service ministry. Scripture gives us the very first exhortation to appoint men to this ministry.
"Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business."- Acts 6:3
The Apostle Paul refers to Deacons in the opening words of an epistle.
"To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons."- Phil. 1:1
He also lists the qualities and virtues which all Deacons are expected to possess and exercise in their ministry. 
"In the same way, deacons are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.....A deacon must be faithful to his wife and must manage his children and his household well. Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus."- I Timothy 3:8-13
Polycarp, a disciple of the Apostle John, writes:
"The deacons should be blameless before the face of His righteousness.They must be the servants of God and Christ, not of men. They must not  be slanderers, double-tongued, or lovers of money. Rather, they must be temperate in all things- compassionate, industrious, walking according to the truth of the Lord."
The witness of the Church Fathers certainly acknowledges the importance of the Deacon's ministry. For example:
"Appoint, therefore, for yourselves, bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord- men who are meek, truthful and tested, and are not loving of money. For they also render to you the service of prophets  and teachers. Therefore, do not despise them, for they are your honored ones, together with the prophets and teachers."- Didache
"It is fitting also that the deacons, as being ministers of the mysteries of Jesus Christ, should in every respect be pleasing to all."- Ignatius
Deacons also have the responsibilities of hospitality and visitation.
"If a poor man, or one of low birth, or a stranger, comes upon you-whether he is young or old-and there is no place for him, the deacon will find a place for him."- Apostolic Constitutions
"You who are deacons, it is your duty to visit all those in need of visitation."- Apostolic Constitutions
Obviously the calling to be a Deacon is one that should not be taken lightly. It is important that we pray sincerely before accepting such a role in the Church, as the Deacon is to be an exemplary "ambassador of God", as Ignatius calls him.

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