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Deacon is a role in the Christian Church which is generally associated with service of some kind, but which varies among theological and denominational traditions. In many traditions, 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), which is often translated servant or more specifically waiter. The office of deacon originated in the selection of seven men (among them Stephen) to assist with the pastoral and administrative needs of the early church. (Acts of the Apostles, chapter 6)

A biblical description of the qualities required of a deacon can be found in 1 Timothy 3. 8–13 (text available at Wikisource in the King James).

Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and AnglicanismEdit

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

In Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox 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 read the Gospel and assist in the administration of the Eucharist.



An Anglican deacon wearing a purple stole over his left shoulder.

In Anglican churches, deacons often work directly in ministry to the marginalized inside and outside the church: the poor, the sick, the hungry, the imprisoned. Unlike Orthodox and Roman Catholic deacons, Anglican deacons are permitted to marry freely both before and after ordination, as are Anglican priests. Most deacons are preparing for priesthood, and usually only remain as deacons for about a year before being ordained priests. However, there are some deacons who remain deacons. Many provinces of the Anglican Communion ordain both women and men as deacons. Many of those provinces that ordain women to the priesthood previously allowed them to be ordained only to the diaconate. The effect of this was the creation of a large and overwhelmingly female diaconate for a time, as most men proceeded to be ordained priest after a short time as a deacon.

Anglican deacons may baptize and solemnize matrimony, usually under the instruction of their parish priest and bishop. Deacons are not permitted to preside at the eucharist, absolve sins or pronounce a blessing (however, these last two are often permitted in an indirect form). It is the prohibition against deacons pronouncing a blessing that leads some in the church to believe that a deacon cannot properly solemnize matrimony. In most cases, deacons minister alongside other clergy.

An Anglican deacon wears an identical choir dress to an Anglican priest: cassock, surplice, tippet and academic hood. However, liturgically, a deacons wear a stole over their left shoulder and fastened on the right side of their waist. This is worn both over the surplice and the alb. A deacon might also wear a dalmatic.

Eastern OrthodoxyEdit

In addition to reading the Gospel and assisting in the administration of the Eucharist, the deacon censes the icons and people, calls the people to prayer, prays the litanies (series of petitions) and has a role in the dialog of the Anaphora.

Diaconal vestments include the sticharion, the orarion, and the epimanikia.

Deacons may not marry after being ordained, but a married man may be ordained a deacon, regardless of whether he remains a deacon or is ultimately elevated to the priesthood.

In addition, the position of protodeacon (senior deacon) is recognized in Eastern Orthodoxy.

(See also clerical celibacy.)

Roman CatholicismEdit

In the years prior to the Second Vatican Council, it was required to ordain seminarians as deacons several months before conferring priestly ordination on them. Following the recommendations of the council (in Lumen Gentium), Pope Paul VI issued the motu proprio Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem, restoring the older practice of ordaining to the diaconate men who were not candidates for priestly ordination. These men are known as permanent deacons; those ordained to the diaconate who intend to proceed to, or are in the process of seminary studies leading to, priestly ordination are called transitional deacons. The permanent diaconate is particularly popular in the United States.

Deacons can administer the sacrament of Baptism and serve as the church's witness at the sacrament of Holy Matrimony, which the bride and groom administer to each other. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (and constant Church teaching), they cannot validly give absolution, anoint the sick, or say Mass. In the liturgy, it is proper for the deacon to proclaim the Gospel and distribute Holy Communion. Transitional and permanent deacons both have the faculty to preach the homily by right of their ordination unless the priest presider retains that ministry to himself in any particular liturgy.

The vestment most particularly associated with the Roman Catholic deacon is the dalmatic. Deacons, like priests and bishops, wear the stole; however, deacons place the stole over their left shoulder and it hangs across to their right side, while priests and bishops wear it around the neck.

Permanent deacons often serve on a part-time basis, and typically have another full time employment. They may also act as parish administrators. In such a case, the deacon would be responsible for most administrative work, while a priest would serve on a part-time basis to perform sacramental duties. With the passage of time, more and more deacons are serving in full-time ministries in parishes, hospitals, prisons, and in diocesan positions. As in Anglican churches, deacons often work directly in ministry to the marginalized inside and outside the church: the poor, the sick, the hungry, the imprisoned.

Married individuals may be ordained as permanent deacons; however, marriage after ordination is not permitted. Under some circumstances, however, permanent deacons who have been widowed can receive permission to remarry. (See also clerical celibacy.)

Deacons in the Roman Catholic Church are styled by adding Reverend to the front of their previous style; for example "Reverend Mister", or in the case of a religious, "Reverend Brother". A permanent deacon is not addressed as "Father" as a priest would be, but "Deacon."

In the Roman Catholic Church, women are not ordained to the diaconate. There were reportedly deaconesses in the early Church, who helped to prepare adult women for baptism, and performed other ministerial tasks, but there is no conclusive evidence that they were ordained.


The diaconate is also an office in many Protestant denominations.

In the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod a Deacon is permitted to minister in both Word (Preaching) and Sacrament (Holy Communion and Baptism). A deacon is a free agent, with no particular call from a church, but is licensed by the district, and is basically a Substitute Pastor.

In United Methodism, it is one of two ordained clergy offices, the other being that of Elder. Deacons are ordained to Word and Service and assist Elders (who are ordained to Word, Sacrament, and Order) in equipping the saints for ministry.

Deacons are also appointed or elected in other Protestant denominations, though this is less commonly seen as a step towards the Ministry. The role of deacon in these denominations varies a great deal from denomination to denomination; often, there will be more emphasis on administrative duties than on pastoral or liturgical duties. In some denominations, deacons duties are only financial management and practical aid and relief. Elders handle pastoral and other administrative duties.

In the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches deacons can be any adult male member of the congregation that is in good standing. Most often the deacon or deacon candidate is a long-standing member of the church, being middle aged, but younger deacons are usually the members of a family that has had several generations in the same church. They are elected by quorum vote annually. Their roles are semi-pastoral in that they fill in for the pastor on occasions, or lead a prayer service. Their main roles are to accompany the pastor during Communion to hand out the sacraments of bread and wine (grape juice) and to set a good example for others to follow. Administrative duties sometimes include oversight of the treasury, Sunday school curriculum, transportation, and various outreach ministries.


For the role of Deacon in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS/Mormon), see Priesthood (Mormonism) and Deacon (Mormonism).

Church of ChristEdit

The role of deacons in this church is also widely varied. Generally they are put in control of various programs of a congregation. They are servants, as the etymology indicates, of the church. They are under the subjection of the elders, as is the rest of the congregation. Their qualifications are found in the New Testament, in 1 Timothy 3:8-13 (Waddey, John; et al. (1981).

The title deacon is becoming obsolete, as many churches are adopting other functional terms such as ministry leaders or team leaders. "Deacon" as a title, has become jargon that no longer communicates the roles that Paul intended. The terms for overseers and deacons both focus on function and responsibility. Deacons were people with technical skills who served in the church.

References (Church of Christ)Edit

Evangelicalism & the Stone-Campbell Movement (William R. Baker, ed. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002) for essays on Church of Christ ecclesiology.

Thatcher, Tom; "The Deacon in the Pauline Church" in Christ’s Victorious Church: Essays on Biblical Ecclesiology and Eschatology (Jon A. Weatherly, ed. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2001). This article was forked from Wikipedia on March 28, 2006.

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