I love the special liturgical ministry of the deacon and the way that active deacons contribute to the life of the community. In this short article, I try to give form to this love. It is true that deacons are not “necessary,” but they sure are a blessing to their priests and parishes! – Fr. Anthony
Here are five reasons (in no certain order) I love serving with (good) deacons:
1) Liturgically, the interplay of tones, words, and actions between the deacon and the priest witness to how a diversity of roles and attributes can be united by purpose (more so when we add the people and chanters) and the beauty that is obtained with this interplay is done well. The “liturgical dance” of diverse participants within a parish Divine Liturgy is the essence of “Church,” something that the presence of a deacon makes more obvious.
2) Again liturgically, the actions of the deacon reinforce (i.e. teach through example) how we should act in and out of liturgy. It is true that “our thoughts determine our lives,” but it is also true that repetitive actions help determine our thoughts (and the instincts that drive them). Every diaconal action is ritualized; over time, this plants the seed (perhaps even unconsciously) within the viewer’s mind that all of our actions can and should be intentional, kenotic, and God-centered.
3) It is a blessing to have a concelebrant in the altar at every service. Serving with a deacon who has submitted himself to the reality of the Divine Liturgy and has really fallen in love with it (and God, of course) is an intimate and beautiful experience. This is true of serving with anyone, lay or ordained, but the liturgical dialogues and actions the priest and deacon share assume and glorify this intimacy. On “off days” (and I daresay I am not the only priest to have such days), a good deacon will gently keep you focused and out of trouble.
4) Good deacons do more than serve the liturgy well; they serve well, period. Each of our deacons is active in the parish and community. For example, Deacon Paul’s primary non-liturgical ministry is visiting shut-ins and the sick. Experienced and discrete deacons can also serve as good confidants and advisors. They can be the priest’s eyes, ears, hands, and mouth.
5) Deacons are part of Orthodox history, theology, and liturgy. Perhaps this is just the convert in me, but I am still in awe when I am in the presence of bishops. No matter how much time I spend with them, I love to bask in the awesome glory of their office. It is similar when I am with deacons. It is not just the specific deacon that I serve with, but the diaconate itself (and, perhaps, all the saints who have held the office well).
I know that neither the Divine Liturgy nor any other service, nor even parish life in general require the presence of a deacon. I am also aware that the office has been abused both personally (as when deacons serve poorly and/or overstep their bounds) and institutionally (as in Imperial Russia, when they were “chosen” for their position by virtue of their voice or their unsuitability for the priesthood); but I also know that serving with a good deacon (good deacons!) makes me a better priest and that having deacons does the same for our parish.