Ordination to the Diaconate:
The Right Reverend Gregory Orrin Brewer, Bishop of Central Florida, will ordain David Mark Svihel, and three others, to the Sacred Order of Deacons on Monday, the eighth of February, 2021, at 7 p.m., at the
Cathedral Church of Saint Luke, Orlando, Florida. Your prayers are requested. You are most welcome to participate via livestream at: StJohnsSav.org/ordination.
The Making of a Deacon:
Men called presbyters (Greek for “elders”) were community leaders in Israel along with the chief priests and scribes. In the New Testament church, leadership lay first with the apostles, “emissaries”, those who were sent by Christ as his chosen witnesses; but we also hear of presbyters ordained by the apostles, together with bishops (Greek for “overseers”) and deacons (Greek for “servants”). The relationship between these offices or functions is not very clear in the New Testament; and indeed the precise distinction of bishops and presbyters has never fully been resolved; but in the post-apostolic church a pattern soon emerged, of a single bishop as chief pastor of the church in each city (the “monarchical episcopate”), who shared in pastoral government with a college of presbyters (or “priests” as the term came to be known in English); and was assisted by deacons. The diaconate is the first degree of Holy Order; the priesthood is the second; and the episcopate is the third; but a priest does not cease being a deacon, nor a bishop ceasing being a priest, when they are admitted to the higher grade of ministry. (Deacons made with a view to ordination to the priesthood are known as “transitional” deacons, whereas those who do not advance to the priesthood are known as “vocational” deacons. Both terms are inaccurate: all deacons are vocational, and those advanced to the priesthood do not cease to be deacons).
But what is a deacon? Deacons have a special ministry to the needy (based on the ministry of the seven in Acts 6:1-6), and they have a proper role in the liturgy, as indicated by the stole they wear (on a diagonal over alb or surplice), and the dalmatic at a solemn eucharist. The proclamation of the gospel is their prerogative; they may preach and baptize if so licensed by the bishop, but may not absolve, bless or administer the Lord’s Supper – all of them acts of pastoral authority, not of diaconal service. There we perceive the importance of the diaconate even when “transitional”: because it shows that any governing authority in the church is grounded in what we too casually call “ministry” or “service”. This primacy of humble service is grounded in the teaching of Christ himself. “Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them”. Those who are great in the eyes of the world throw their weight around, and lord it over others; they thirst for recognition, influence, and power. “But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45). Greatness in God’s kingdom, Jesus says, is found in the work of a “minister” or servant, one who acts for the good of another. The Greek word for ministry is “diakonia” – the root of the English word “deacon”. Thus even the governing authority of presbyters and bishops, the church’s shepherds and pastors, is grounded in the servant ministry of the Lord.
The idea of ‘servant ministry’ or ‘servant leadership’ is a well-worn cliché. ‘Community service’ is a standard requirement of most college applications: though work done for your own benefit (to burnish your CV) is as much self-advancement as it is “service”. Something more radically selfless is required of those called to the diaconate of Christ’s Holy Catholic Church:“We preach not our-selves” says the apostle, “but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5). It is because Christ is among us “as he that serves” (Luke 22:27), that they may be set free from self-concern for service in his Church. “Blessed are those servants”. GGD
The photo is courtesy of St. Luke Cathedral in Orlando, FL. This essay was published in the St. John’s Parish Paper for Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021. If you have questions or topics for a featured story, please send them to Rector Gavin Dunbar.