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Deacon (Greek διάκονος or διάκος) is a role in the Christian Church that is generally associated with service of some kind, but which varies among theological and denominational traditions. In many traditions, including Eastern Orthodoxy, the diaconate is a clerical office; in others, it is for laity.

The word deacon (and deaconess) is derived from the Greek word diakonos (διάκονος),[1] which is a standard ancient Greek word meaning "servant", "waiting-man," "minister" or "messenger."[2] One commonly promulgated speculation as to its etymology is that it literally means 'through the dust', referring to the dust raised by the busy servant or messenger.[3]

It is generally believed that the office of deacon originated in the selection of seven men: Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, Nicolaus and Stephen, to assist with the charitable work of the early church as recorded in the book of Acts.

A biblical description of the qualities required of a deacon, and of his household, can be found in Timothy 3:8-13.

Among the more prominent deacons in history are Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr; Philip the Evangelist, whose baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch is recounted in Acts 8:26-40; Saint Lawrence, an early Roman martyr; and Saint Romanos the Melodist, a prominent early hymnographer.

Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism

The diaconate is one of the three ordained offices in the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Anglican churches. The other two offices are those of presbyter/priest and of bishop.

While the permanent diaconate was maintained from earliest Apostolic times to the present in the Orthodox and eastern Catholic churches, it gradually disappeared in the Western church (with a few notable exceptions) during the first millennium. The diaconate continued in a vestigial form as a temporary, final step along the course to ordination to the priesthood. In the 20th Century, the permanent diaconate was restored in many Western churches, most notably in Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.

In Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, deacons assist priests in their pastoral and administrative duties, but report directly to the bishop. They have a distinctive role in the liturgy, their main tasks being to proclaim the Gospel, preach, and assist in the administration of the Eucharist.

Eastern Orthodoxy

In addition to reading the Gospel and assisting in the administration of Holy Communion, the deacon censes the icons and people, calls the people to prayer, leads the litanies and has a role in the dialogue of the Anaphora. In keeping with Eastern tradition he is not permitted to perform any Sacred Mysteries (sacraments) on his own, except for Baptism in extremis (in danger of death), conditions under which anyone, including the laity, may baptize. When assisting at a normal baptism, it is often the deacon who goes down into the water with the one being baptized.

Prior to his ordination, a deacon must be either married or a tonsured monk. Deacons may not marry after being ordained. According to the canons of the Orthodox Church, a married deacon must be in his first marriage and his wife must be Orthodox.

Diaconal vestments are the sticharion (dalmatic), the orarion (deacon's stole), and the epimanikia (cuffs). The last are worn under his sticharion, not over it as does a priest or bishop. In the Greek practice, a deacon from the time of his ordination wears the "doubled-orarion", meaning it is passed over the left shoulder, under the right arm, and then crossed over the left shoulder (see photograph, right). In the Slavic practice, the deacon wears a simple orarion which is only draped over the left shoulder. In the Greek practice, he wears the clerical kamilavka (cylindrical head covering) with a rim at the top.

As far as street clothing is concerned, immediately following his ordination the deacon receives a blessing to wear the Exorasson, an outer cassock with wide sleeves, in addition to the Anterion, the inner cassock worn by all orders of clergy.

A protodeacon (Greek: πρωτοδιάκονος: protodiakonos, "first deacon") is a distinction of honor awarded to senior deacons, usually serving on the staff of the diocesan bishop. An archdeacon is similar, but is among the monastic clergy. Protodeacons and archdeacons use a double-length orarion even if it is not the local tradition for all deacons to use it. In the Slavic tradition a deacon may be awarded the doubled-orarion even if he is not a protodeacon or archdeacon.

According to the practice of the Greek Orthodox Church of America, in keeping with the tradition of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Great and Holy Mother Church of Constantinople, the proper way to address a deacon is "Father" (Source: Companion to the Greek Orthodox Church, published by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America: )Depending on local tradition, deacons are addressed as either "Father", "Father Deacon," "Deacon Father," or simply as "Deacon", if addressed by a Bishop or other member of the Episcopacy.

The tradition of kissing the hands of ordained clergymen extends to the diaconate as well. This practice is rooted in the Holy Eucharist and is in acknowledgement and respect of the Eucharistic role members of the clergy play in preparing, handling and disbursing the divine and lifegiving body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ during the Divine Liturgy, and in building and serving the Body of Christ, His Church.

Anciently, the Eastern Churches ordained deaconesses. This practice fell into disuse in the second millennium, but has been revived (not without controversy) in some churches. Saint Nectarios of Pentapolis was reputed to have ordained a number of nuns as deaconesses in convents. It should be noted that historically, deaconesses were never considered to hold the same position in the hierarchy as deacons. Deaconesses would assist in anointing and baptising women, and in ministering to the spiritual needs of the women of the community, but would not serve within the Holy Altar. After the church ceased ordaining deaconesses, these duties largely fell to the nuns and to the priests' wives.


  1. "deacon" The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition, 2000
  2. An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon, Liddell, Henry George and Scott, Robert, 1889, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2007-10-18, isbn=0199102066
  3. Eric Partridge "Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English", Greenwich House, New York, 1983, isbn=0-517-414252

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