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Author Topic: Diaconate in the theology and practice of our churches  (Read 1157 times) Average Rating: 0
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Thomas Daniel (Reji)
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« on: July 26, 2003, 07:16:28 AM »

As our members shown interest in the topic of Deacons, I like to post a recent news regarding Diaconate in the theology and practice of our churches

Deacons Focus of Oriental Orthodox-Roman Catholic Consultation,
June 9-10,in New Rochelle, New York

WASHINGTON (June 26, 2003) -— The annual meeting of the Oriental
Orthodox-Roman Catholic Consultation took place at St. Nersess
Armenian Seminary in New Rochelle, NY, June 9 and 10, 2003. It was
chaired jointly by Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, New York, and the
Right Rev. Chor-Bishop John Meno of the Syriac Orthodox Church of
Antioch.
The main topic for discussion was the diaconate in the theology and
practice of our churches. On June 9 the Consultation heard a brief
presentation from each church participating in the dialogue. During
the first millennium all our churches experienced deacons as vital
ministers with a special emphasis on social and administrative
duties, working very closely with the local bishop. But in most cases
by the beginning of the second millennium the diaconate had become a
transitional state that was required before priesthood ordination.
There is also a common understanding that deacons share in the
sacrament of Holy Orders along with priests and bishops, but there
have been unique developments in each tradition.

Father Simeon Odabashian of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian
Church noted that while his church technically prohibits marriage
after ordination to the sub-diaconate, this rule has generally fallen
into disuse and deacons are allowed to marry up to the point of their
priestly ordination. Deacons play a central role in the Armenian
liturgy, which requires the presence of at least one deacon at the
Eucharist, daily offices and sacramental services. The ancient social
role of deacons is being revived in the Armenian Church in America,
where they train children, train altar servers, visit the sick, and
take on responsibilities in parish administration. There are now both
permanent and transitional deacons in the Armenian church, and some
cases of deacons in charge of parishes where no priest is available.
More intensive training programs for permanent deacons are now being
planned. The ordination of women to the diaconate through the laying-
on-of-hands by the bishop is also known in the Armenian Church, but
it has almost died out in recent years. There are plans in Armenia
and elsewhere to revive this ministry. Historically this was a local
phenomenon never dispersed throughout the church, and women deacons
always had a range of duties more narrowly defined than that of men
deacons.

Father Shenouda Maher Ishak spoke on behalf of the Coptic Orthodox
Church, which counts the diaconate as one of seven clerical orders.
The deacon has such an indispensable role in the liturgy that a
priest is not allowed to celebrate the Eucharist without one. Others
of lower orders may assume this role if a deacon is not present.
Coptic deacons are not allowed to baptize, but in the early centuries
had a prominent role in devotional censing. They are not allowed to
marry after ordination. At present there are very few full time
permanent and professional deacons in the Coptic Church, since almost
all of them are called to higher orders. The Coptic Church is now in
the process of restoring the female diaconate in three orders: the
female reader for women (now called "devoted one"), sub-deaconess
(now called "assistant deaconess") and deaconess. The Coptic Holy
Synod has made it clear that deaconesses may not in any way
participate in service of the altar or sacerdotal service. The rite
of initiation into the female diaconate is performed by a bishop
without the laying-on-of-hands but with a signing of the cross three
times over the candidate. In their ministry they are to work
exclusively with women and children. They assist at the baptism of
women, visit sick women in hospitals, supervise women's activities in
parishes, and clean the church building except for the sanctuary area
which they may not enter.

Father Michael Tekle Mariam Greene offered a presentation on the
diaconate in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. Deacons are very
numerous in Ethiopia, and play a prominent role in the parishes where
they serve. Their numbers in Ethiopia increased dramatically during
the decades of Marxist rule in reaction to state-sponsored atheism.
The function of deacons is primarily liturgical. At least two deacons
are required for the celebration of the Eucharist. They prepare the
components of Holy Communion and ensure that the correct prayers of
the day are sung. But deacons also have a wider role in the
community: they participate in the education of parishioners, teach
in Sunday School, and are increasingly involved today in training new
candidates for the diaconate. The order is made up predominantly of
young men who serve as deacons until marriage, after which most are
ordained priests. In the Ethiopian diaspora they often teach young
people about Ethiopian traditions and language. Although there is
mention of women deacons in ancient Ethiopian texts, there are none
in the church today.

Very Rev. Raban Eugene Aydin spoke about the evolution of the
diaconate in the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch. Today the Syriac
Church has five orders within the diaconate: archdeacon, deacon,
subdeacon, lector and chanter. Deacons are ordained by the bishop,
serve primarily on the altar, and assist the priest in the
celebration of the liturgy. Some teach and instruct the faithful or
carry out charitable work. Each archdiocese may have one archdeacon
who is called "the right hand of the bishop," working closely with
him in administrative and liturgical duties. Deaconesses were well
known in the ancient Syriac church, and the bishop laid hands on them
in the rite of ordination. In the sixth century they poured the wine
and water into the chalice, read the Gospel in gatherings of women,
placed the incense, washed sacred vessels, lit the candles and
cleaned the sanctuary. By the end of the seventh century their role
was already being restricted and, some scholars would later assert
that the ordination of deaconesses was of a different nature from
that of male deacons. The ancient order for the ordination of
deaconesses is still used today with some adaptation in the Syriac
Church, but women are ordained only to the order of chantress, the
lowest of the diaconal orders. Their role is to sing liturgical hymns
in the church and to teach children in Sunday school. His Eminence
Metropolitan Mor Cyril Aphrem Karim added that the ancient rite of
ordination of deaconesses left out some sections that are present in
the rite for the ordination of male deacons, including the invocation
of the Holy Spirit over the candidate. Otherwise the wording is
almost the same. The deaconesses had no authority in the sanctuary,
but fulfilled some duties there in the absence of a priest. They
could give communion to women and children, and assisted in the
anointing of women at Baptism.

Father Anthony J. DeLuca commented briefly on the practice of the
Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church in India, which is linked to the
Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate. In the Malankara tradition the apostles
were regarded as deacons and sometimes Christ as well. There is some
evidence that the women called deaconesses in ancient times were
actually the wives of deacons. Until fifty or sixty years ago
deaconesses in the Malankara Church were the wives of priests, and
assisted with the anointing of women at their baptism.

In a presentation of the diaconate in the Maronite Catholic Church,
the Rev. Chorbishop John D. Faris summarized the statutes concerning
deacons and subdeacons in the pastoral handbook of the Eparchy of St.
Maron (Eastern United States). Almost all the permanent deacons in
the Maronite Church today are in North America; this may be due to
the fact that most married deacons in the Middle East can proceed to
ordination as priests. The statutes outline the duties of subdeacons
and deacons, and the eparchy's very successful formation and
ministerial programs. Subdeacons can enter marriage but deacons
cannot.

Paulist Father Ronald G. Roberson then gave a presentation on the
diaconate in the Latin Church. In the West the diaconate declined as
a permanent office in the second half of the first millennium and by
the seventh century had become a transitional step for candidates for
the priesthood. The Council of Trent (1563) mandated a restoration of
the office but this was not carried out. Pope Pius XII expressed
openness to the idea but it was only at the Second Vatican Council
that the diaconate was restored as a permanent order in the church.
The official restoration was carried out by Pope Paul VI in the 1967
document, Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem. It specifies that deacons may
assist at liturgical celebrations, administer baptism, distribute the
Eucharist, bless marriages in the absence of a priest, preside at
funerals, read the Gospel and preach, and assume charitable and
administrative tasks. Married men over the age of 35 can be ordained
to this permanent office; they may not marry afterwards. This new
ministry has spread rapidly in the church. Today there are about
28,000 world wide and 13,764 in the United States. The possibility of
ordaining women to the diaconate is still an unsettled question in
the Catholic Church. Latin rituals for ordaining deaconesses exist
from as late as the 10th century, but the precise sacramental nature
of these ordinations has not yet been determined authoritatively.
There are recent indications that the Holy See intends to continue
the exclusion of women from this office.

On the morning of June 10, Deacon Anthony Cassanetto, the director of
the Permanent Diaconate Formation Program in the Archdiocese of New
York, joined the meeting. He offered an overview of the program
currently in place in the Archdiocese. The program emphasizes
understanding the diaconate primarily as an order of service. It aims
to be spiritually enriching, pastoral in orientation, theologically
sound and well-integrated, and adapted to local needs and resources.
The program focuses on developing a diaconal ministry devoted to the
Word of God, the liturgy, and charity/justice. The great majority of
the candidates are married men, and their wives must sign a statement
permitting their husband to enter the process before they will be
admitted to the formation program. It is a rich and intensive program
with a total of 1,263 hours of formation over a four-year period.

The members of the Consultation also had an opportunity to exchange
information about major events in the lives of their churches. These
included the appointment of Bishop Brian Farrell as Secretary of the
Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and of Archbishop
Angelo Amato as Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith, developments in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, a new patriarch
of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, the document Reflections on Covenant
and Mission issued by a Catholic-Jewish dialogue group, the 1700th
anniversary of the dedication of the Cathedral in Holy Etchmiadzin
and the upcoming visit of a delegation of US Catholic Bishops to
Armenia, the Preparation of the Catholic Church-Oriental Orthodox
Churches International Joint Commission for Dialogue, the progress of
the Anglican-Oriental Orthodox international dialogue, the situation
of the Coptic Orthodox Church, the visit of Pope Shenouda III to
Armenia, and the continuing division among Oriental Orthodox in
India.

During the meeting the members of the Consultation participated with
pleasure in Armenian morning and evening prayer in the chapel of St.
Nersess Seminary. The next meeting of the Consultation was scheduled
for June 7-8, 2004, at the Cardinal Spellman Retreat House in Bronx,
New York. It will focus on the evangelization ministries of our
churches.

The United States Oriental Orthodox-Roman Catholic Consultation was
established in 1978, and is sponsored jointly by the Bishops'
Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the USCCB and
the Standing Conference of Oriental Orthodox Churches in America. In
1995 it published Oriental Orthodox-Roman Catholic Interchurch
Marriages and Other Pastoral Relationships, which includes pastoral
guidelines for marriages involving the faithful of the two communions
as well as ample documentation about the development of our
ecumenical relationship in recent decades.

http://www.usccb.org/comm/archives/2003/03-133.htm
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