AskDefine | Define deaconry

Extensive Definition

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 literally means 'through the dust' and is often translated servant or waiter. It is generally believed that the office of deacon originated in the selection of seven men, among them Stephen, to assist with the charitable work of the early church as recorded in Bible verse |Acts|6|KJV. Deaconesses are mentioned by Pliny the Younger in a letter to Trajan dated c. 112. The exact relationship between Deacons and Deaconesses varies. In some traditions a deaconess is simply a female deacon; in others, deaconesses constitute a separate order.
A biblical description of the qualities required of a deacon, and of his household, can be found in Bible verse 1|Timothy|3:8-13|KJV.
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 Bible verse |Acts|8:26-40|KJV; Saint Lawrence, an early Roman martyr; and Saint Romanos the Melodist, a prominent early hymnographer.
The title is also used for the president, chairman or head of a trades guild in Scotland.

Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Anglicanism

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.
While the permanent diaconate was maintained from earliest Apostolic times to the present in the Eastern churches (Orthodox and Catholic), 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 Roman Catholic, Orthodox, 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.

Roman Catholicism

In the years just prior to the Second Vatican Council, the only men ordained as deacons were seminarians, who received the order several months before priestly ordination. Following the recommendations of the council (in Lumen Gentium 29), in 1967 Pope Paul VI issued the motu proprio Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem, restoring the ancient 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. Details about the permanent diaconate are outlined in a 2005 document of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Directory for the Formation, Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States."
The ministry of the deacon in the Roman Catholic Church is described as one of service in three areas: the Word, the Liturgy and Charity. The deacon's ministry of the Word includes proclaiming the Gospel at the Eucharist, preaching and teaching. His ministry at the Altar includes various parts of the Mass proper to the deacon, including being the proper minister of the cup. The ministry of charity involves service to the poor and marginalized and working with parishioners to help them become more involved in such ministry.
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. Deacons may preside at funerals, the Liturgy of the Hours, various services such as Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and they may give blessings. They cannot give absolution, anoint the sick, or say Mass. In the liturgy, it is proper for the deacon to proclaim the Gospel (in fact, a priest, bishop, or even the Pope should not proclaim the Gospel if a deacon is present) 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 in parish or other ministry as their time permits, since they typically have other full time employment. They may also act as parish administrators. With the passage of time, more and more deacons are serving in full-time ministries in parishes, hospitals, prisons, and in diocesan positions. 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 unless approved by the local Bishop. Under some circumstances, however, permanent deacons who have been widowed can receive permission to remarry . (See also clerical celibacy.) The wife of a permanent deacon often is considered a partner in his ordained ministry, leading to the popular concept of "deacon couples." In many dioceses, the wife of the deacon candidate undertakes the same education and training her husband does.
A permanent deacon is not styled "Father" as a priest would be, but as "Deacon," abbreviated variously as "Dn." or "Dcn." This preferred method of address is stated in the 2005 document of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Directory for the Formation, Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States. Although some dioceses use the title "Rev. Mr." (or "Rev. Dr." in the case of Physicians or Ph.D.s) for all deacons, this title is more properly applied to those in the transitional diaconate. The decision as to whether deacons wear the Roman collar as street attire is left to the discretion of each diocesan bishop for his own diocese. Increasingly, dioceses throughout the world are opting for clerical dress to distinguish deacons, who are clerics, from lay ministers.
In the Roman Catholic Church, women are not ordained to the diaconate as women cannot receive Holy Orders. There were women deacons in the early Church, who helped to prepare adult women for baptism, and performed other ministerial tasks. The office of Deaconess existed in the West until about the 6th century and in the East until about the 11th century. There are conflicting scholarly opinions as to whether the women deacons of history were sacramentally ordained, although liturgies for the installation of deaconesses were significantly similar to those for male deacons. Roger Gryson argues that some historical deaconesses received sacramental ordination in The Ministry of Women in the Early Church (Liturgical Press, 1976, ISBN 0-8146-0899-X), while Aimé Georges Martimort argues that no historical deaconesses received sacramental ordination in Deaconesses: An Historical Study (Ignatius Press, 1986, ISBN 0-89870-114-7). Phyllis Zagano presents a contemporary argument for the restoration of the female diaconate that does not depend on a resolution of their debate, but rather details her original argument from systematic theology, canon law, sociology and history in Holy Saturday: An Argument for the Restoration of the Female Diaconate in the Catholic Church (Crossroad/Herder, 2000, ISBN 0824518322).

Eastern Orthodoxy and Eastern Catholicism

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 (Bible verse |Acts|8:38|KJV).
Prior to his ordination, a deacon must be either married or a tonsured monk. Deacons may not marry after being ordained, though some bishops do allow dispensation from this rule as economia. 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. In Slavic practice, a hierodeacon (monastic deacon) wears the simple black kamilavka of a monk (without the rim), but he removes the monastic veil (see klobuk) when he is vested; a married deacon would not wear a kamilavka unless it is given to him by the bishop as an honorary award; the honorary kamilavka is purple in color, and may be awarded to either married or monastic clergy.
As far as street clothing is concerned, immediately following his ordination the deacon receives a blessing to wear the Exorasson (Arabic: Jib'be, Slavonic: Riassa), an outer cassock with wide sleeves, in addition to the Anterion (Slavonic: Podraznik), the inner cassock worn by all orders of clergy. In the Slavic practice, married clergy will often wear grey, while monastic clergy wear black. In North America and Western Europe, a Roman collar is often worn, although more traditional churches tend to shun it.
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.
Depending on local tradition, deacons are styled as either "Father Deacon," "Deacon Father," or often simply "Deacon" or "Father."
Anciently, the Eastern Churches ordained deaconesses. This practice fell into desuetude in the second millennium, but has been revived (not without controversy) in some churches. The Coptic Orthodox Church has begun ordaining women deacons, and 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. After the church ceased ordaining deaconesses, these duties largly fell to the nuns and to the priests' wives.
(See also clerical celibacy.)

Syriac Orthodox

In the Syriac Orthodox tradition, different ranks among the deacons are specifically assigned with particular duties. The six ranks of deaconate are:
  1. Olmoyo (Faithful)
  2. Maudyono (Confessor of Faith)
  3. Masamrono (Singer)
  4. Korooyo (Reader)
  5. Youfadyakno (Sub-deacon)
  6. Msamsono (Full Deacon)
Only a full deacon or Masamsono can take the censer during the Holy Mass to assist the priest. However in the Malankara Church, because of the lack of deacons, altar assistants who do not have any rank of deaconhood assist the priest.


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 who may be married only before ordination, 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 in some dioceses are granted licences to solemnize matrimony, usually under the instruction of their parish priest and bishop. They commonly officiate at Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. Deacons are not able to preside at the eucharist (but can lead worship with the distribution of already-consecrated Communion where this is permitted), nor can they absolve sins or pronounce a blessing in the name of the Church , (however, these last two are often permitted in an indirect form). It is the prohibition against deacons pronouncing a blessing in the Church's name 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, 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.

Lutheran Churches

The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod

The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LC-MS) has special training and certification programs for deaconesses but not for deacons (with the exception of Spanish-speaking seminarians who become deacons (vicars) on their way to ordination as pastors.) Most LC-MS deaconesses are trained at Concordia University - Chicago or one of their two seminaries (St. Louis, MO or Fort Wayne, IN).
Deaconesses assist pastors in human care ministry and other roles with the goals of caring for those in need, reaching women who prefer female leadership and freeing pastors to focus on word and sacrament ministry. Acts chapter 6, verse 2 describes the function of deacons (servants) then and now, "So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, "It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables."
Deaconesses are installed, not ordained, and remain lay women. The word "ordain" is to be reserved for the pastoral office. ("The Ministry: Offices, Procedures, and Nomenclature" A Report of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations of The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, September 1981, p.22)
Under most circumstances, deaconesses and deacons do not preach or administer the sacraments. Special exceptions may be made for deacons (vicars) who are training to become pastors but must be given by the District President in writing.
(A vicar in the LC-MS is a third year seminarian who is doing an internship under a pastor. It should not be confused with the same term in the Anglican communion.)

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Deaconess Community (ELCA/ELCIC)

The Deaconess Community, a community of women serving in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) was formed in 1884. These women, who bear the title of 'Sister,' proclaim the gospel through ministries of mercy and servant leadership on behalf of both Churches for the sake of the world. Since the 1970s the Sisters have been allowed to marry.

Diaconal Ministers (ELCA/ELCIC)

The Diaconate was recognized and rostered by the ELCA in 1993, creating a fourth 'roster' of recognized ministers (the other three being Ordained, Associates in Ministry, and Deaconess) in the churchwide body. The Community is still young, and as such is still being formed as to what styles and forms of ministry a Diaconal Minister pursues, as well as practices and traditions of the same.
Like the Anglican communion, Lutheran Diaconal Ministers are allowed to wear a stole draped sideways from one shoulder, and tied off at the waist, usually with some material left hanging below. Diaconal Ministers (the term "Deacon" is used occasionally, but not officially) are involved in preaching, assisting in worship, leading worship in leiu of an ordained pastor, and other congregational duties; they are, however, primarily called to service outside the church, in fields such as campus ministry, chaplaincy, congregational ministry, counseling, social service agency work, spiritual direction, parish and community nursing, and a range of other avenues. A Diaconal Minister is 'consecrated,' rather than 'ordained.' This ceremony is usually presided over by a Bishop.
Also of note are the Associates in Ministry, a rostered position within the ELCA consisting of laypersons commissioned into positions of service within the church, most often as educators, musicians, and worship leaders. While there is a trend towards combining the Diaconal and Associate ministries, the 'AIM' program continues in its own right, and Associates are spread across the entirety of the churchwide body. AIMs are "commissioned" for service.

The Porvoo Lutheran Churches

The Porvoo Communion is a formally constituted union between the Anglican Churches of Ireland and Great Britain and the Lutheran Churches of most of the Scandinavian and Baltic states. These Lutheran Churches administer Holy Orders in the same threefold Order as the Anglican Communion, with Deacons ordained to their ministry. As a result, the Porvoo agreement allows for a complete freedom of exchange of ministries (of bishops and priests, as well as deacons) between the Anglican and Lutheran churches who are signatories.

Methodism / Wesleyanism

British Methodists

In the Methodist Church of Great Britain, deacons and deaconesses are only created as members of a permanent order called the Methodist Diaconal Order.
Formerly, deaconesses were addressed as Sister, but in recent times (especially since the admission of men to the order) it has become more usual for deacons and deaconesses to be addressed as Deacon or Deaconess respectively.

United Methodists

In United Methodism, the office of deacon is one of two ordained clergy offices, the other being that of the Elder. Deacons are ordained to Word and Service and assist Elders (who are ordained to Word, Service, Sacrament, and Order) in equipping the saints for ministry. Prior to the 1996 United Methodist Book of Discipline, deacon was a term used exclusively for probationary Elders, similar to transitional deacons in other traditions. The current office of deacon has essentially taken the place of the former lay office of diaconal minister. There is also an office of Deaconess for certain commissioned female missionaries affiliated with the General Board of Global Ministries. According to a glossary from the United Methodist Church, a deacon is
United Methodist Deacons will vest much the same as Anglican Deacons, wearing a stole over their left shoulder and fastened on the right side of their waist. This is usually worn over the alb or black pulpit robe. A United Methodist deacon might also wear a dalmatic, although this vestment is a more rare among Methodists.

Other traditions

Deacons are also appointed or elected in other Protestant denominations, though this is less commonly seen as a step towards the clerical ministry. The role of deacon in these denominations varies greatly 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.


Baptists have traditionally followed the principle of the autonomy of the local church congregation, giving each church the ability to discern for themselves the interpretation of scripture. Thus, the views among Baptist churches as to who becomes a deacon and when, as well as what they do and how they go about doing it, varies greatly. Baptists recognize two ordained positions in the church as Elders (Pastors) and Deacons, as per 1 Timothy, third chapter.
There are Baptist churches where the deacons decide many of the church affairs. There are churches where deacons serve in a family ministry only. There are Baptist churches (especially in the United Kingdom, but also in the U.S. and elsewhere) where women are allowed to be deacons; while many Baptist churches would never consider allowing a woman to serve as a deacon.
One example would be the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches, where deacons can be any adult male member of the congregation that is in good standing. Many African American Missionary or National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. affiliated churches have male and female deacons serving as one board and others have two separate boards of deacons and deaconesses. Most often the deacon or deacon candidate is a long-standing member of the church, being middle aged, but younger deacons are often 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 occasion, or lead a prayer service. Their main roles are to accompany the pastor during Communion to hand out the remembrances of bread and wine ( or 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.

Presbyterian Church (USA)

Individual congregations of this church denomination also ordain deacons, along with elders and trustees. Deacons may usher at services, collect monetary offerings at services, discuss congregational business matters, and help with other duties and activities to advance the local church.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

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

Church of Christ

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. The terms for overseers and deacons both focus on function and responsibility. Deacons were people with technical skills who served in the church.

New Apostolic Church

The deacon ministry is a local ministry. A deacon mostly works in his home congregation to support the priests. If a priest is unavailable, a deacon will hold a divine service, without the act of communion (Only Priests and up can consecrate Holy Communion).

Jehovah's Witnesses

Deacons within the Jehovah's Witnesses organization are referred to as Ministerial Servants. They aid the Elders in congregational duties. Like the Elders, they serve as volunteers.


The Greek word diakonos (διακονος) gave rise to the following terms from the history of Russia, not to be confused with each other: "dyak", "podyachy", "dyachok", in addition to "deacon" and "protodeacon".

Scots usage

In Scots language, the title deacon is used for a head-workman, a master or chairman of a trade guild, or one who is adept, expert and proficient. The term deaconry refers to the office of a deacon or the trade guild under a ''deacon.
The most famous holder of this title was Deacon Brodie who was a cabinet-maker and president of the Incorporation of Wrights and Masons as well as being a Burgh councillor of Edinburgh, but at night led a double life as a burglar. He is thought to have inspired the story of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

See Also

Cardinal Deacon


Church of Christ

  • Introducing the Church of Christ. Star Bible Publications, Fort Worth, Texas 76182.
  • 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).

Lutheran Church

deaconry in Catalan: Diaca
deaconry in Czech: Jáhen
deaconry in Danish: Diakon
deaconry in German: Diakon
deaconry in Modern Greek (1453-): Διάκονος
deaconry in Spanish: Diácono
deaconry in Esperanto: Diakono
deaconry in French: Diacre
deaconry in Korean: 부제
deaconry in Croatian: Đakon
deaconry in Indonesian: Diakon
deaconry in Icelandic: Djákni
deaconry in Italian: Diacono
deaconry in Hebrew: דיאקון
deaconry in Swahili (macrolanguage): Shemasi
deaconry in Lithuanian: Diakonas
deaconry in Hungarian: Diakónus
deaconry in Dutch: Diaken
deaconry in Japanese: 輔祭
deaconry in Norwegian: Diakon
deaconry in Norwegian Nynorsk: Diakon
deaconry in Polish: Diakonat
deaconry in Portuguese: Diácono
deaconry in Romanian: Diacon
deaconry in Russian: Диакон
deaconry in Simple English: Deacon
deaconry in Slovak: Diakon
deaconry in Slovenian: Diakon
deaconry in Serbian: Ђакон
deaconry in Finnish: Diakoni
deaconry in Swedish: Diakon
deaconry in Ukrainian: Дяк
deaconry in Chinese: 执事
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