When Chanters Don’t Chant: How We’ve Lost Sight of the Meaning of “Deaconship” in the Coptic Church

WhenChantersDon'tChantUpdate 6/1:

Looks like the Holy Synod may actually address the matter of chanter ordinations, if I’m reading the following correctly:

From copticworld.org article regarding the May 2015 Holy Synod meeting: “Committee of Pastoral Care and Service: 1- Review the regulations of chanters and celibate consecration for a vote next November.”

https://www.copticworld.org/articles/4745/

Original post:

“I am not a deacon!” That is what I asked a room full of “deacons” to say during a meeting that included the entire gamut of “deacons” from my parish, young and old alike.

“Repeat after me. I am not a deacon!” I exclaimed. Many participated, but there were a few who had an eyebrow raised while responding, and some who did not want to utter a word (and after the meeting, some expressed that they were actually quite offended).

I walked up to the young kids, pointed to one of them and asked, “I am not a deacon, but I am a ???”

Someone blurted out: “Chanter!”

“Yes, that’s right,” I said. Then I pointed to someone older, and asked, “I am not a deacon, but I am a ???”

Understanding better the point of my question, he excitedly responded, “Reader!”

Why all of this? Because the truth is, there is a systemic issue in the Coptic Church that has skewed the meaning of “deaconship,” and I earnestly pray for improvement. But first, we need to see the problem.

THE FIRST DEACONS’ QUALIFICATIONS AND THEIR PURPOSE—SERVING TABLES

We have lost sight of what the purpose of an actual “deacon” is. In the Coptic Church, we erroneously refer to chanters, readers, and subdeacons, all with the title “deacon,” yet none of them are. And unless you think that the words the bishop prays during the service to establish all of these ranks are in vain and useless, then we have completely lost sight of the actual role of each. But this is not just about roles.

This is about the basic purpose of a deacon as established by the apostles and the actual meaning of humble and obedient service. In Acts 6, the first bishops of the church were facing a problem. Too many people, and too much to do. One of the tasks the bishops were involved in was the daily distribution of goods and/or food to the people, including widows which were often left out. So they sought out men with the following qualifications to assist them in carrying out that service in the church:

  • “men of good reputation”
  • “full of the Holy Spirit”
  • “full of … wisdom”

And the bishops said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables…. [rather], we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word,” while we hand off the service of serving tables to the deacons!

st-stephen

Depicts St. Peter consecrating St. Stephen as a deacon, and St. Stephen assisting in the daily distribution, by Fra Angelico, 15th century.

Serving tables. That was the deacon’s role. Notice, “prayer” was designated to the bishops. Serving the people’s needs, and serving widows, that was for the deacons. Where in any of this do we see the primary role of a deacon to be standing in front of a congregation, leading the worship service, singing hymns, reading scripture in liturgical assemblies? Obviously, over time, the needs of the Church changed from needing individuals to serve tables to other roles (less service-oriented I would say): chanters, readers, subdeacons.

But the transition was gradual. From serving tables, it seems the next major step in the evolution of a deacon’s role was to serve the Eucharist with the priest and/or bishop. Ignatius of Antioch teaches us that by his time deacons were “dispensers of the Mysteries of Jesus Christ” (Letter to the Trallians 2:1–3 [c. AD 110]). Hippolytus of Rome recites the words of ordination by a bishop, to include the deacon’s role to “offer in Your holy places the gifts which are offered to You by Your chosen high priests” (The Apostolic Tradition 9 [c. AD 215]). The Council of Nicea issued canon 18, which expressed the same role for deacons (c. AD 325).

Eventually, other needs presented themselves. Thus, the lesser roles of chanters, readers, and subdeacons were established. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, those roles are called “minor orders.” The rank of deacon, priest, and bishop, are referred to as “major orders.” Ignatius of Antioch was the first Church Father credited for clearly identifying the three major orders. And only for these major orders does Ignatius teach that “apart from these there is no Church” (Letter to the Trallians 3 [AD 110]). This is why they are called “major” orders, as opposed to the minor orders which are just that: minor.

THE PROBLEM TODAY: SEEKING THE TITLE, NOT THE SERVICE

What usually happens today is parents volunteer their (often unwilling) children to be appointed to the rank of chanter, and commonly with very little difficulty the priests and bishops comply with their request. It appears that many parents see this as as a mark of honor, or religious dignity, rather than a service; such a mindset unfortunately teaches kids to think of their role in a similar way, so I hope that parents will teach their children from a young age that this is a service and a responsibility, not an honor. St. Paul teaches us that even the appointment of “novice” bishops can lead to them “being puffed up with pride” unless they have learned adequate humility first (1 Timothy 3:6); how much more difficult is it for children to keep from being prideful if we do not do our part to always reinforce their role as true, humble servants.

Understandably (and you really can’t blame the kids for this), many of the kids that are appointed at this young age do not participate hardly at all in chanting. At such a young age, it is therefore not surprising and totally expected to see the kids with

  • closed mouths,
  • extremely bored,
  • looking at their watches every few minutes,
  • asking when liturgy is going to be finished,
  • saying they are standing there only because their parents want them to be, etc.

Is this what we want? Are we going about this in the best way? (And this is not limited to just kids, but adult chanters too often stand but do not chant, or barely participate in chanting.)

And then, when I saw a recent special on the national U.S. television broadcast called “60 minutes” about the Coptic Church, which included a very brief depiction of what appeared to be young chanters across the globe in Egypt not chanting, but just lying over and sleeping on the pews and not participating in the service (pictured above), I was reminded of my disappointment at the dilapidated condition of worship roles in the Coptic Church. [Note, the kids pictured above look like angels and their parents are probably angels too, so be sure that no offense was intended, and for that reason I blurred out their faces to obscure them. 60 Minutes displayed the image above in their video clip, presumably with permission of the parents]. 

“Put me in the altar!”

The altar, the source of the Mysteries to be distributed, is the domain of the priest, bishop, and deacons. We don’t have many deacons in the Coptic Church today so the Church has customarily allowed other minor orders to assist the priest and/or bishop in the altar. The role of altar servants today is not so much to worship, but rather proclaim directives for the congregation (look towards the east, pay attention [a.k.a. “let us attend”], stand with the fear of God and listen to the Holy Gospel, pay attention in the wisdom of God and recite the creed, pray for this or that reason, etc.).

Sadly, kids and parents get upset when their child hasn’t “served in the altar for a long time.” What message do we send to these kids when we support that mindset? It is almost as if serving in the altar is like performing in a play. “Give me/my son a lead role!”

Fortunately, the kids in my parish have proven quite impressive in their willingness to change their mindset. They used to come to me and ask to serve in the altar, and although I would usually accommodate them, I would also teach them: “You shouldn’t ask to serve in the altar. You are like a soldier, or like an angel. When you are needed, you will be called upon to serve.” And now, hardly a single kid ever asks to serve, but genuinely await their turn in obedience to the service. The message I want us all to send to the kids is simple: If your role is to serve, your goal is not WHO serves but simply that the service is COMPLETED. That means if you are NEVER asked to serve in the altar, your thought should not be, “How come I haven’t been put in the altar!” but rather should be, “If I’m needed I’m ready to serve in whatever manner is sought of me.”

Serving in the altar is problematic for young kids for another reason. We cannot expect them to understand what they are declaring to the people, which is their primary role these days. Many of them can’t even read, or read well, yet we call upon them to stand in the altar to tell the people, “Worship God in fear and trembling” and “In the wisdom of God let us attend [i.e., pay attention].” Couldn’t (and/or shouldn’t) such solemn statements come from someone older, with more understanding of what they are asking the congregation to do (and even then, many of the older servants don’t even understand)? Thankfully, I’ve heard unconfirmed murmurings regarding only permitting readers and above to serve in the altar, which would be a helpful step in the right direction.

“I want to be a reader!”

Another troubling matter which evinces an improper understanding of true service is when many of these same chanters, who have been reinforced over time to think that their role provides them a means of displaying themselves in front of the congregation for their own glory, go and seek higher ranks. “When are you going to make me a reader?” “I want to be ordained a subdeacon.” Oh how many times I have heard these sorts of questions asked. Such questions are absolutely in contradiction with the spirit of service and the manner that the apostles tell us deacons should be chosen: they told the “brethren” to “seek out from among you [deacons]” (Acts 6:3). Thus, it is not something an individual should aspire to become, but rather a service that is to be given. Even Christ Himself did not seek High Priesthood, but it came to Him, as St. Paul says: “For every high priest [in the Old Testament] taken from among men is appointed for men in things pertaining to God … So also Christ did not glorify Himself to become High Priest, but it was He [i.e., the Father, who chose Him]” (Hebrews 5:1, 5).

WHAT ARE WE TO DO?

There seems to be two prevailing views:

(1) Keep appointing chanters at a young age, in spite of their inability and unwillingness to actually perform their duty.

(2) Appoint chanters only after they have shown a willingness and ability to chant, and also exhibited an understanding of the meaning of service.

Irrespective of which view you ascribe to, H.G. BISHOP YOUSSEF WARNS parents and those appointed to the minor orders as follows:

TO MINOR ORDERS:

“I want to relay some advice to the many deacons [primarily referring to the minor orders] who have been ordained but do not use this service. Deaconship is a gift from God and if you are ordained a deacon, then you are required to use this gift. Because, in the last day, you will give an account of your stewardship (“There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and an accusation was brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. So he called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.’”—Luke 16:1-2; see also 1 Cor. 9:17, Col. 1:25). Many people are ordained deacons while they are young and as they grow older, more and more stop serving as deacons. I want to tell you that you will give an account before God on the last day. That is why if you are called to deaconship, then you must use it…. Otherwise, what will you say before God?” (Commentary on Romans 12:7)

TO PARENTS:

“I want to advise you on another matter tangential to this point: do not push your children to be ordained. Maybe they are not ready. Some parents just want their children to be ordained so that they can declare (in their hearts and outwardly) that their son is an ordained deacon. And then if your sons do not serve as deacons although they have been ordained, you know what you have done for them? You pushed them into something for which they will be accountable and responsible before God even if they were not ready for that responsibility. That is why parents must think soberly before making the decision of ordaining their children as deacons; on the flip side, if children are ordained, then parents need to encourage them to use this gift wisely and faithfully.” (Commentary on Romans 12:7)

The monk Antonious being ordained by Pope Cyril VI as Bishop Shenouda, bishop of education. He later became Pope Shenouda III, 117th Patriarch of the Church of Alexandria.

The monk Antonious being ordained by Archbishop of Alexandria Cyril VI, as Abba Shenouda, bishop of education. He later became Pope Shenouda III, 117th Patriarch and Archbishop of the Church of Alexandria.

OBEDIENCE AND SERVICE TO THE BISHOP – FOUNDATIONAL ROLE OF THE SERVANTS

The pinnacle responsibility of every single minor and major order servant is to humbly and obediently serve the bishop’s every need exactly as they wish (and that means also serving the priests appointed by those bishops). The bishop is the church overseer (the literal meaning of the word bishop in its original Greek—ἐπίσκοπος, episkopos [epi means over, skopos means seer]). He oversees everything, but can’t be everywhere, so he needs priests and all the other orders of the church to help him. To serve in a manner contrary to the bishop’s desires is contrary to the role of church orders. Look at what the bishops of the council of Nicea said regarding this:

“Let the deacons remain within their own bounds, knowing that they are the ministers of the bishops and the inferiors of the presbyters” (Canon 18 [A.D. 325]).

Ignatius of Antioch tells us:

“Indeed, when you submit to the bishop as you would to Jesus Christ, it is clear to me that you are living not in the manner of men but as Jesus Christ, who died for us, that through faith in his death you might escape dying. It is necessary, therefore—and such is your practice that you do nothing without the bishop, and that you be subject also to the presbytery.”

What then do BISHOPS in the Coptic Church specifically assign the minor orders to do when they appoint them? Let us turn to the words of the appointment service rite itself:

CHANTER/CANTOR (A.K.A. ψάλτης, psaltis in Greek)

Their role is to chant. Not to serve in the altar, not to read the readings of the church, not to make their parents proud by standing up on the “stage” in front of the “audience” and “performing.”

The bishop prays over the individual to be appointed a chanter as follows:

“O God our Lord, who raised Heman and Asaph to chant in Your holy places [1 Chronicles 15], and granted David the prophet to chant with psaltry and harp and the ten lyre … We ask You O Lord, to give your grace to Your servants so that they may do the work of the chanter in Your Holy Church, and that they man sing unto You: hymns, chants, and spiritual songs from their hearts to the Lord….

“Grant them the ability to chant unto You with understanding, so they may chant from the depth of their hearts in the spirit of prayer and worship. Grant that they may serve You with all their hearts, by filling their mouths with praise and singing Your hymns. Accept their chants as a sweet savor before You….

“Remove from them the spirit of pride, showiness, and boasting. Make them good servants.”

READER (A.K.A. αναγνώστης, anagnostis in Greek]

The reader was meant primarily to have the capability and responsibility of reading the Scriptures both in and particularly out of church, preaching the word and teaching others from these Scriptures. They were also the first rank allowed to “touch the vessels” (which can be understood to include the role of washing the vessels on the altar used in the service of the Eucharist; unfortunately, that is not what happens in the Coptic Church today, as chanters are commonly the ones performing this function).

“We  ask and desire, our Master Lord God the Pantocrator, to accept Your servant ( … ) reader in Your church. Grant him Your truth and reverence in his worship of You. Make him worthy to touch the vessels …

“O God who is generous and great in Your gifts, who granted Your church the various ranks for Holy service, and Your servant whom You have called to be a reader, graciously fill him with every wisdom and understanding to read your divine saying. Protect him from error in his worship. Perfect him in Your talents….

“Shine now on Your servant ( … ) who stands before You to be taught from Your holy sayings, the Old and New Testaments, preaching Your commands to Your people and teaching Your pure words …

“Grant him a humble heart so that he may read and learn in order to edify his listeners….

“As you did with Ezra, … grant him wisdom and the spirit of prophecy to read Your holy words to Your people in an unblemished fashion.”

The bishop then directs his remarks directly to the reader and says:

“My son … you ought to learn every chapter in the Holy Books … which have been entrusted to you so that you will preach them to the people. This is a great act. You have to be as an illuminated light on a tower house so that you may fill and satisfy your congregation with your readings.

“When the people see your good growth and progress, they may recommend you for the higher rank …”

SUBDEACON (A.K.A. υποδιάκονος, ypodiakonos in Greek) 

Many people think this is just a “step below” a “full deacon” (as is often the term used) and thus signifies a higher degree of authority and honor and deference deserved during worship service, almost akin to that of a deacon. Wrong! If anything, this is the most humbling of all the services as it relates to one particular function: standing at the doors of the church and making sure heretics and animals do not enter the church, and also ensuring the catechumens and anyone who cannot partake of the Mysteries to leave when they are commanded so (which is a liturgical practice that is no longer followed in the Coptic Church; in the Eastern Orthodox Church, the announcement for catechumens to depart is still made, but depending on the jurisdiction and locale, the extent to which this is followed varies). They were also to turn the lights on in the church (or light the lamps, etc.), and perform any other service designated to them by the deacon or the priest. See what the bishop says:

“We ask You now our King to shine your light on Your servant ( … ) who was presented to become subdeacon by those who attested him. Fill him with Your Holy Spirit to stand at the sanctuary door and light the house of Your prayers.”

Then the deacon (or head deacon of the deacons—the archdeacon) of the church is supposed to command the subdeacon as follows:

“Whatever is commanded of you do. Be a follower and a helper to the deacon. Assist the priest and the deacon in the service. Watch the doors of the Church, which is the house of God. Do not permit any cattle or dogs or heretics to enter. During the holy service when the deacon says, ‘No catechumens are to stand in the church nor a non-partaker to receive the Holy Mysteries,’ be sure to guard the church safely for you have been entrusted to touch the holy vessels that are used in the holy service.” [Note: while this is no longer said in the Coptic Church, it is interesting to note that whenever there is a major feast service in the Cathedral in Cairo where many non-Christian attendees from the government are present, all of those attendees usually leave at about the same time this liturgical pronouncement used to be made.]

I pray that if you are

  • Parents, you teach your kids these things and hold off on asking that they participate as a chanter until they have displayed an understanding, aptitude, and willingness to actually serve as intended; they should also exhibit a humble attitude regarding their responsibility to serve.
  • Chanters, please chant, with understanding.
  • Readers, please make sure you read the Bible, and preach the word particularly outside of the church, or at the least in Sunday School and among your friends, and live the Scriptures. At minimum, when called upon to read a passage during the liturgy, read it beforehand and ensure you not only know how to pronounce all the words, but also that you understand what it is you are saying; this way you will not just be delivering a bunch of words but rather enunciating in a manner that reflects the actual meaning of what you are reading.
  • Subdeacons, while technically the exact duties of the subdeacon are generally no longer applicable, focus on the principle of service behind this role and think of ways to truly serve the priest and deacon: for example, make sure to seek out for yourself the humblest of tasks, such as taking care of the books, or cleaning the church, or anything else that the church needs; also, make sure you are there early to turn the lights on, and prepare whatever other things are needed for the liturgy (the water and wine, turning on the presentation devices that are used these days, etc.).

I also ask that everyone please speak to your bishops, seeking that they improve the condition of the minor and major orders of the Coptic Church. And at the very least, teach and apply as much of the above in your own local parish, so we do not practice our rites ignorantly and in vain, but that all things are done in order and with reason.

_________________________

FURTHER READING:

Text of the Major and Minor Order Ordination Rite in the Coptic Church

_________________________

SOURCES:

Eusebius, Church History.

Text of the Ordination Rite in the Coptic Church.

http://oca.org/questions/divineliturgy/catechumens-depart

http://orthodoxdelmarva.org/faq.html

 

46 thoughts on “When Chanters Don’t Chant: How We’ve Lost Sight of the Meaning of “Deaconship” in the Coptic Church

  1. Great article! A very decent attempt at research. Some of the points are very well supported with a good choice of quotes. We need to figure out what’s wrong with the current system of the diaconate to be able to reform it. I, and many others who share my views, believe that young ‘boys’ shouldn’t be allowed into the minor orders. Not until they come of age and understand the tasks & responsibilities required of them.

    Thank you for shedding some light on this topic & for research. Much appreciated.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. The minor orders also had age requirements… H.H. Shenouda crossed his bounds when he code to bring children into the minor orders. The requirements are that three minor orders of the diaconate MUST attend EVERY service, another issue being too be addressed, how can a child unable to drive make such a promise?!? They must show version character befitting a member of the diaconate as you alluded to above. How can that be seen in the so developing character of a child? H.H only resulted in making a mockery of these offices which are to be reveared…

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    • Columbcille, before that fierce attack on HH Pope Shenouda, I urge you to check the history of the first church, many of the young saints and the young-aged Martyrs too were serving in the church some as deacons, like St. Abanoub of Neheesa, St. Shoura, young St. Mina, St. Wannas of Luxor, and many more.
      correct me if I am worng, but, there is no specific law about the age of ordination of the Deaconate order, also, why are you suggesting driving a car for attending all the liturgies, while they (the young Deacons) can ride with their parents, or walk to the church if they live close enough, so, I ask you to suggest your “opinions” without attacking the orders of the church, St. H.H. Pope Shenouda, I mean.

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      • Albert, if you have made a dedication to attend every service, you can’t be Dependant on others to get you there because it is inevitable that they cannot get you there every time.

        I will dig around for the agree requirements again, but the Church has decided 15 or so years to be the first minor order, this allows for the basic gibberish character if the individual to be seen and they must confor be on line with the charge of a character for the diaconate.

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  3. There is also the requirements that H.H. disregarded in his invention of this novelty… Age requirements for each office, the attendance, and the actual dedication to the office.

    Any order of the church is required to attend EVERY service… How can a child unable to drive make such a promise? The youngest order being changer at age 15, ironically being the age of a permit license…

    Chanters, vested in plain white Tonia, are expected to learn every tone and hymn of the Church… I’ve only net a couple that do.
    A Reader, vested in a Tonia with a embroidered cross, is to be someone of capability to reach being the first office capable of teaching… These servants are not properly capable of teaching in the Church.
    A Subdeacon, vested in embroidered Tonia with a”belt”, are the ONLY minor order allowed at the altar, the belt of the subdeacon and the stole of the deacon being linked to the priestly stole. They are expected to be able to know their places and parts in the liturgy and the readings expected of them.

    Not only this but the original purpose of the diaconate was to alleviate some of the troubles of the priest, then bishop… I know too many priests who gave full right to be burned out, only God knows how they haven’t yet. Most of what the congregation demands of them is hardly anything specific to a priest and are things that the diaconate should take charge of…

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  4. The problem in addition to what is mentioned above is that the chanters according ti the rubrics of the church are “Congregation” but they don’t understand or realize that and believe they have or deserve some sort of special status. They forget they are to facilitate the singing of the hymns for the congregation and not that they are a self enclosed choir. Honestly I am torn about having chanters because in some churches I have seen them have an inhibitory effect on the congregation keeping them from actually serving their role in the rites of the church.

    Also the loss of north/south antiphonic singing which I’ve seen occur in my lifetime, where now you have a “soloist” and people (if one is lucky usually respond to him. Chanter is not a even a proper rank of the diaconate since is not a rank of the minor orders. It starts with reader as stated in the rites of ordination of the reader that, to praraphrase, is the first step of Holy Orders.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Your comment regarding the chanters seeing themselves as a “self-enclosed choir” really strikes a chord with me. I remember once I asked the chanters at my church: “If your job is to facilitate worship, but the congregation knows a hymn so well they don’t need you to help, would you be willing to stop singing and let them sing alone?” I knew the answer before their eyes gave it away. It perturbs me that the “congregation” chanters often see themselves as the LEADERS of the congregation, rather than being PART of them. Yes, leading the worship is needed many times to keep everyone together. Fine. But how many times have I seen the chanters sing in a manner that stifles the participation of the group, and instead serves their own desire to project themselves, as if on a stage performing. The reason we do not face the congregation when we sing is because we are PRAYING WITH THEM to God, not performing a song for the congregation to enjoy. If chanters are actually SERVANTS to the congregation, they will submit to what is good for them, rather than serving their own interests.

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      • Pope Theo had corrected a few of pope Shenoudas errors I think he is vigilant for proper orthodoxy, I think a return, not do much reform, to proper diaconate is essential! Fr Peter says that “rising” stars not old enough for diaconate can stands as acolytes at the doors assisting the elderly to their seats and finding people to help viziers during the services, through generic service they can grow the spirit of servitude for when they curse to take the step into ordination… I think it’s a great idea

        Liked by 1 person

  5. An interesting essay. When new to Orthodoxy I was quite confused by the functions embraced by ‘deacons’. Sadly it is not confined to the OC, but found frequently when boys are ‘expected’ to serve or sing when they have little understanding or inclination. Interestingly, Rome has gone through a similar experience, at one time restricting the ordained diaconate to candidates for the priesthood, with lesser duties carried out by laity, albeit wearing cassock and surplice/cotta. Post Vatican 2 the diaconate was re-established, though not with the degree of success that had been hoped for, and the old minor orders were also revived. As far as I can see this has now petered out, and indeed the appointment of ladies and girls for liturgical service has presumably made this irrelevant. At least Orthodoxy has not countenanced this latter development, not for anti-female bias, but clear theological reasons. It will be interestng to see if the Coptic bishops modify their approach after reading this article.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for sharing your comments. I wish I knew more about the practice of deaconship in other Orthodox Churches and the Catholic Church, to see what we can learn from them and also what to avoid. If there’s ever been a time to make improvements in our Coptic Church, it is now with Pope Tawadros II. For example, I have never in my life heard of a liturgical reading being changed by the Synod, yet that is exactly what happened recently and we had a new reading for new year’s liturgy. I would love to see some tender love and care shown to the state of “deaconship” by the bishops. Nearly every time the altar servant tells me to “pray for the hegumens, priests, deacons, subdeacons, and the seven orders of the church of God,” I think about the state of deaconship and pray that it will change. May God bring it to the hearts of those with ability to improve it to do just that.

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  6. That is not mentioning the resulting misogynistic superior clique thats is so dissociated from mystery of spirituality and focuses on the accuracy of the tune. The problem is that infestation of superficiality is nourished by the clergy further cementing the skewed ideas of righteousness.

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    • Agree with you … following the “right tune” has its place, but the overbearing rigidity that leads to disputes and anger over others not following the “right tune” while completely losing sight of the purpose of the service is saddening. Most of us have grown up seeing this, and I just could not stand it. You teach me about love, and humility, and service, yet where is that in your chanting? Of course, I don’t want to make over-encompassing statements that imply EVERYONE is like this, or that clergy are always fostering this… But it is prevalent, and by the response I’ve seen to this single post, it has really touched a deep wound in many of our hearts.

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  7. Drivel. Absolute and utter drivel. Obviously written by someone who has never been overwhelmed by a desire to see a love of worship and service sprout in the life and capture the imagination of young children. If you have never succeeded in seeing this, then it is your own fault, senior deacon; don’t try to project onto these innocent angels. You are such a high and mighty deacon… make sure you don’t let those disinterested little children into your ranks. None of this is particularly well researched. It can be found in the opening pages of any edition of the Deacons’ Service Book. As someone who has progressed through all the minor orders over much of the past 40 years, I can tell you you have completely misconstrued many parents’ desires for their children, as well as the aspirations of those children. You have also misrepresented the intention of the Church in admitting children to the minor orders. The commitment to attend every service is required of the major orders, not the minor; and yet, worship is not about rules that shame people into a particular routine. In fact, that is the very opposite of what worship should be. And you forget that in the enunciation of ordination of cantors, the bishop exhorts them to learn the hymns and rites of the Church. If they are expected to know this before admission to the order, what is the purpose of the exhortation? I can see that you have some serious problems in the service of your parish. Please do not extrapolate them onto the rest of us. “Let the little children come to me and do not forbid them, for of such is the kingdom of God.” If you do a little more “research” I’m sure you’ll be able to find Who said that. He didn’t say teach them this or that first, then let them come. He wants them “warts and all”. Noisy, impatient chatterboxes, lying distractedly by the Altar in perfect harmony with the angels. This innocence is something you have lost, and it is such a shame. Baptism of children was also something that wasn’t regularly practiced in New Testament times; perhaps you would like us to go back to ensuring that all those presenting for baptism must be able to comprehend every article of faith before they are admitted to the body of Christ. Your pride and self-absorption is disturbing.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. @John,
    I love the article. But one point that I think could use further examination is the place of subdeacon. I don’t know that it’s accurate to say that their role no longer exists. Yes, their role started out guarding the women’s door while the deacon guarded the men’s door. This is why there is a canon forbidding them from wearing a stole. A subdeacon is not a lower rank of deacon, but a deacon’s assistant. Just like an executive assistant is not a kind of executive, but a secretary, a subdeacon is not a kind of deacon. But very early on the role of the subdeacon moved inside the Altar, assisting the deacon where their service came to be. Around this time the subdeacon was granted a stole, and in fact the exact same stole as the deacon. The difference was that the deacon wore the stole over the left shoulder, and before Communion tied it back so it was out of the way, lopped over the shoulders making a cross at the back. The subdeacon always wore it in this tied back way, they never had the authority to hold it up and intone the deacon’s response. Their role was to be the hands of the deacon and assist him inside, not to take his place. Are you sure that Reader is the first order allowed to touch the vessels? I think it is subdeacons who had this role of cleaning them, as their place is inside while the reader’s is outside.

    That said, the subdeacon’s role is inside. And in the absenes of deacons in our parishes, the subdeacon is the only one who belongs in the altar, assisting the priest. While this role has been taken over by chanters and readers, and even more than that role, most of the role of the deacon, this doesn’t mean being a subdeacon is a small thing. It’s a loftier and harder service than that of the chanter and the reader. Chanters have to know the hymns, and Readers have to know the Bible very well, and read well with understanding so the hearers can understand. But the subdeacon, while mostly silent with little to do that is as difficult by worldly standards, has to lead an upright life, and be worthy to enter the altar. This is why similar marriage rules to what priests and deacons have to follow apply to subdeacons, they are held to a very high standard to be in the altar. The should also be competent in the roles of chanter and reader, very knowledgeable in the Gospel, the faith, and the rites, able to serve by making sure the chanters and readers are well organized and competent to carry out their tasks. Especially if no deacon is present to direct this, the responsibilities of the subdeacon should actually be quite great.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jonathan! I really appreciate your very insightful comments. This is a great forum for me to learn, not just me to share what I’ve come across.

      I agree with you completely… I didn’t mean to say the subdeacon role doesn’t exist, but that most of the specifically named tasks are no longer applicable, but the general role of assisting the deacon and priest is absolutely still intact. Very good point you make. Also, I did not intend to say the subdeacon was “lower” than the rest of the minor orders, but rather… if their role is to serve the deacon and the priest, and do any task whether mundane or lofty, then maybe we should reconsider the common perception that a subdeacon is to be seen like the “head” of the deacons… like a “deacon”… given prominence and deference like that of a deacon. They are a servant firstmost… so if the priest decides that they should do something aside from serving as the “head chanter” in the front of the church, then that is wholly acceptable. I just don’t think the first thing that should come to mind is that their first role is to be “above” the deacons… their first role is to serve the priest, no matter what that entails. Of course, you can say that about anyone, but the title of subdeacon today, with so few deacons to accompany those who are given this rank, may confer the perception of them being a “deacon” who just doesn’t wear black… But I am in total agreement with you. Very good point you make.

      Regarding the “touching the vessels” matter… I’m as confused as you. EIf the subdeacon should be touching the vessels, then either the prayer rite for the appointment of a reader is inaccurate in its current form, or its mention of the reader being able to touch the vessels is possibly to be understood in some other way (maybe they are a “backup” who can help if needed, or maybe they were able to touch the vessels but their main function was some other time… not sure to be quite honest).

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  9. I think that the issue of tonsure also needs to be considered.

    I think one of the comments mentioned that chanter is just a layman and reader is the first order of deaconship. I don’t think this is quite an accurate way of phrasing it. Besides nit-picking that the word is diaconate, not deaconship, I don’t think it’s accurate at all to say that a reader is the first rank of deacon. What the rite says is that it is the first order of priesthood. This confuses us because we use the word priest very sloppily. This does not at all mean the first order of presbyter. It means the first order of clergy, of those set aside to serve the church.

    Before being made a reader, the candidate is given the clerical tonsure (when the bishop cuts their hair). This signifies that they have been set aside for the service of the Church, they are now among the clergy. Within that clerical tonsure, one is then ordained to a service: reader, subdeacon, deacon, presbyter, or bishop. The first two are minor orders, and the second two are major orders. The major orders are the priesthood, and the minor orders are assistants to the priesthood, and are said to be first ranks of priesthood in that they are set aside as clergy to serve, but not in the more specific sense of the priesthood. They have the placing of hands, not the laying on of hands.

    This makes it all the more absurd that chanters, outside the clerical tonsure, have been changed to be considered deacons and to have a normative place inside the altar.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Jonathan! John and I talked in the side about some of those same points, in fb on my walk where I shared this we have also gotten into the debate if the ordination of the chanter. I’ve only seen this done once and it was by the laying if hands which as I understand IS ordination, the other party confessed that is correct but not the proper practice as they are not supposed to be ordained, do you know if they have always been done so by the laying if hands? Feel free to chime in on my fb too

      http://Www.Facebook.com/Anthony.r.dougherty

      Liked by 1 person

      • See the intro here:http://orthodoxwiki.org/Ordination

        The placement of the hands is the same. But the intention is different. The eo have come up with technical terms to differentiate. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying people are ordained to minor orders, or ordained to major orders. Rc’s use the word consecrated, but that means set aside, the same as ordained. Just word games to express the truth that being ordained a reader is something very different from being ordained a deacon or presbyter.

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  10. @AnonymousSubdeacon, your need to resort to ad hominem attacks betrays the weakness of your position.

    Adult converts to Christianity have always been required to believe the faith before being baptised, and children have always been baptised on the promise of their parents to bring them up in the faith. Baptism makes them Christians, but this potential must be actualized.

    The practice of the Church has always been to select worthy men to serve as chanters, readers, and subdeacons. While there have been exceptional cases in histories where younger teenagers have been worthy of these offices, it has never been the norm to select from this age group, let alone to ordain all 6 year old males. The purpose of these orders is not the salvation of the individual, but service to and for the sake of the community, for the sake of the salvation of all.

    The deacon should stand reverently, as an example to all, and his service, directing the congregation to worship rightly should aid them in their spiritual attendance to the Liturgy. We have flipped this around and made the congregation to suffer and be distracted from prayer while a 6 year old butchers a response, arguing that somehow this will aide in the salvation of the 6 year old. This is not a role of service anymore, but of being served, and the culture of entitlement among the ‘deacons’ is plain to see, and an obvious consequence of this reversal of roles. You claim that requiring candidates to be worthy before being ordained is tantamount to requiring babies to know the faith before being baptised falls flat. The purpose is different. Why don’t we just ordain all children presbyters, or bishops, to be an even bigger aide in their salvation? They can always be brought up in their service.

    Making children think their deacons is not our tradition. It is a very modern experiment. It was only approved by the Synod in 1992, and experimented with in the West from the 1970’s. By its fruit it can be seen to be a failed experiment.

    Your argument that the text of the rite supports ordaining children and bringing them up to know the hymns is a circular argument. The decision to ordain children was made, and then the rite of ordaining them was written, so of course it is written in such a way to support this process. But it is a modern text, and that it supports this doesn’t make that our tradition.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Pingback: H.G. Bishop Youssef’s Views and Vision Regarding Deaconship | ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN MEETS WORLD

  12. @AnoymousSubDeacon I couldn’t have said it better myself.

    John, I always love seeing my generation reading, researching and writing about the faith. You’re absolutely right that the church is missing a big component of Deaconship, and it’s missing just that: servitude. When was the last time the deacons at your church did something for the local community? Do your deacons (who are “deserving of the order” get together once a month to serve at a homeless shelter or visit the elderly at a nursing home? I’d be willing to bet they have a deacon’s meeting at least once a month to practice for the next feast.

    As a Chanter in the Orthodox church and a member of an academic college fraternity, I am consistently amazed that as a frat guy I have more opportunities to volunteer with my community than I ever did growing up as a deacon in the church. The opportunities to be of service exist… and they are unrelated to the age of the servant.

    If the Holy Synod should reform anything it should be to include a requirement for servitude to the community in the requirements of the order of deaconship. After all, what good are our prayers and rites if we do not continue our Savior’s mission. “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”

    This judgment about who is and isn’t deserving of deaconship is deplorable. Judging the children for falling asleep or not understanding every precept of the faith before becoming a deacon is absurd.

    Can you honestly tell me that your mind has never wandered once during liturgy? Can you tell me that you understand every precept of what it means to be a deacon or every precept of the faith? If serving in the altar causes children to enjoy going to church more and makes them excited, then the church should be all for it. In these times, when attacks on Christianity occur every day and children are taught by their teachers at school that our beliefs are false, should we not encourage the building of a foundation in the hymns, rites, and prayers?

    In one of the comments you wrote, you said “May God Be Glorified”. God is glorified every time a child is ordained in his service. This type of self-righteousness is pervasive within our church and is exactly what pushes people away from the church and Christ. It is easy to get caught up in the motions of our tradition and forget the purpose of them in the first place. After all, there is a group of people in the bible who were too busy testing Jesus with the “law” to hear his message.

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    • See now THAT is rubbish.

      You complain that the diaconate didn’t fulfill its original purpose, which I wholly agree with you needs to change, look at the lecture I have to our deacons. But then attempt to promote children in the diaconate?!? Tell me how is a 7 year old expected to assist an elderly parishioner get to her appointments? How can they visit the hospitals and pray with the sick? It’s got this very reason they are unacceptable as they are dependant on others!

      But don’t expect the holy synod to change much, after all Copts are becoming papists and the Pope is disregarding the decisions the synod makes…

      Like

    • Thanks for sharing your view. I’m sorry you find my view deplorable, and consider it judgment. Maybe I can persuade you to reconsider that what I propose is neither, but rather a desire for deferring to the original purpose of deaconship? You say the following: “If serving in the altar causes children to enjoy going to church more and makes them excited, then the church should be all for it.” Let’s apply that sort of logic to other things. “If serving as a priest causes children to enjoy going to church more….then the church should be all for it.” “If serving as a cook during liturgy in the kitchen ….” etc. The view you present is inconsistent with the purpose of deaconship as established by the apostles, and as delivered to us by the Church in its earlier years. We don’t make kids physician assistants just to make them enjoy being doctors.

      In fact, I believe that many children do NOT enjoy going to church when forced to stand and chant. They tell that to me all the time. “Serving” (aka, standing and being bored) is not exciting for most of them. What they do enjoy is standing with their friends, talking, sitting, but not chanting. There are MANY other ways to make church enjoyable for kids–why dilute a SERVICE for the sake of a very small handful that happen to enjoy it but can’t perform it? And this leads to them growing into older deacons who do not respect deaconship… they show up and do not actually do anything, and haven’t spent any time learning much about their role or the church. They see it as an entitlement rather than a privilege. And often it engenders much pride.

      I’m not saying people have to be perfect in lack of distraction and perfect in knowledge… Just that by placing someone in a service position they cannot perform, we dilute the value and the fruit of the service. I propose giving the kids an opportunity to stand in the front row of the congregation and train them for several years about the foundations of the service they seek to participate in (e.g., obedience, actual service beyond the church, understanding the liturgy, etc.). That would bring them to church! That would make them feel like they have a duty. That would make them appreciate that what they are being asked to do is something.

      In any case…. God bless you and Merry Christmas!

      Like

  13. @Columbcille The answer is EDUCATION not EXCLUSION. You’re absolutely right that a seven-year-old is dependent on others to fulfill his duties, but that doesn’t mean he should be excluded from service. The responsibility falls on the elder “deserving deacons” presumably folks like yourself. Senior Deacons should be mentoring these young children and driving them to go pray for the sick in the hospitals. Senior Deacons have a responsibility to foster their relationship with god and the church and to educate them. In fact, I was blessed as a young child to have deacons that were much older who were willing to drive an hour out of their way to ensure that I could be at church or to visit a member of the congregation that hadn’t attended in a while and would teach me hymns on the drive. Blaming children for not having the wherewithal or ability to execute their service is insane.”You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”- Matthew 23: 24 There does exist a gap between a child’s ability to serve and the service, but that gap should be bridged by elder deacons not have a line drawn through it.

    The failure, my friend is not on the children but on us elder deacons.

    “They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.” -Matthew 23:4

    If you spent as much time preparing lectures and holding meetings as you do mentoring and spending time with these children and facilitating their service, they would be more engaged in the liturgy.

    “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.”- Matthew 23:23

    John, I will follow this post with my response to your comment. Merry Christmas to you and Columbcille and may God bless both of you!

    Like

    • No he’s excluded by tradition, there is no place for children in holy orders, and every parent and priest that had asked these children as such is going to be held responsible for the broken vows as will the kid. You are pushing them to sin, that’s just downright evil!

      No not like myself as I am not part of the diaconate because I cannot fulfill the requirements and duties expected of one. So instead of dishonoring the office like so many liberal Copts prefer I accept that I am not to be in such a role.

      There is a proper praxis of the church. The youngest one was allowed to be in minor orders was like 13, this was a young adult back then. Do if you wanted to scale it the youngest one should be according to the praxis of the church is 20ish. Holy orders of any rank are not a costume club, nor are they Orthodox cub scouts… Those who are FOUND worthy of the roles are presented with the opportunity.

      Like

    • The problem is that you’re thinking in terms of exclusion… i.e. the default is to include everyone, and an exclusion is bad… But the default has never been to include everyone. It has been for worthy individuals to be called to serve as needed.

      You say we cannot exclude boys from the diaconate. Why can we from the presbyterate and the episcopate, but not the diaconate? Perhaps you say yes, exclude from the diaconate, but not from the minor orders. Why? When have the minor orders ever been for all, not to be excluded from, rather than for those called to specific services?

      If we cannot exclude the buys, and it is right to include all rather than just to ordain those worthy and called to serve… then why can we exclude girls?

      It is good that “elder deacons” helped you to go to church, and to visit those who needed visiting… But did you have to be a deacon to do that? Is going to the church and visiting those in need only for the deacons and not all Christians?

      I’m sorry, but your position doesn’t seem to make much sense, and certainly isn’t consistent with the historic norms in Orthodoxy, or the canons.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I wrote an incredibly long response to John but from the responses posted while I was writing, I realize my efforts are futile and I’m just wasting time at this point.

    I can only hope that at some point you are all able to leave your ivory tower and look past your historic norms, canons and laws to see the Christ they were created around.

    “Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces. And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets. “

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    • I have no interest in imposing a Law. I am no teach of any such Law. We have to hold fast to our tradition, and have to express it in each generation, not just be bound to what has come before. But what has come before, our tradition, is our life. It is our tie to the faith and practice Christ handed down from His Apostles. If we just want to cast it off and do whatever we want uncritically, then we might as well join the a Protestant Church.

      Imagine people started ordaining women priests and girl deacons today, and in a few decades it was all most people were used to, and someone came along and said, “I get that this has developed and you’re used to it, but maybe we should take a minute and consider whether this is consistent with Orthodox, and will bring good fruit, because I don’t think it is or does”. Would cry “beware teachers of religious law! I can only hope that at some point you are all able to leave your ivory tower and look past your historic norms, canons and laws to see the Christ they were created around”. (Or, in other words, I like this and I don’t want to have a civil, rational discussion about it, so I’m going to call you names).

      I remember what it was like just a little over a decade ago, when the ‘rights’ of children (male only) ‘deacons’ were not quite as entrenched as they are now. I see how much more chaos, and in my opinion and observation, how much more harm there is to the kids today. I see all the other Orthodox jurisdictions, who don’t do this nonsense. I see how much more respect and reverence there is, and my young son sees it too, and asks why we aren’t like that. I want better for him. I’m not arguing for some ideal out of a book long forgotten from practice, because I like to teach others. I’m arguing for what is normal, against a very recent and localized abnormality among the Copts, for the sake of my sons.

      John’s been very calm, open to discussion, respectful. I hope I have too. Those opposing his post have been disrespectful, and resorted almost immediately to personal bashing and accusations, rather than calmly and respectfully discussing. Who then is trying to impose a “law” (of their preferences) by force? The emotionalism and immediate resort to personal attacks betrays the weakness of your position.

      Liked by 1 person

    • You want to this random scriptures of? I was raised protestant I can walk all over you in that arena…

      Fact is there is a proper order, that is part of the design of God. “A God of order not confusion”. We need to honor what is right and be obedient otherwise” unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of God”. Bring obedient to the praxis of the church “If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land”. Recognizing that the God, by the holy spirit, leads the church through the council’s and Holy Fathers; we understand that the praxis and canons are in fact the commands of God. “If you love me, you will follow my commands”, “he who follows my commands abides in me” etc etc etc etc…

      Long story short, NO! Merry Christmas

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  15. Pingback: 10 More Words We Copts Mispronounce | ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN MEETS WORLD

  16. you are totally wrong. Nowadays, everyone trying to show that face which is defending the Coptic church without caring for the salvation of people. This sleeping young kid is better than one who is playing around in the crying room. This sleeping young deacon is better than one is crying for eating before communion. Any rules in the church has to respect the saying of Jesus Christ “Let those young kids come to me and don’t stop them”. If you cut those down and wait until they come into age where they understand what is the deaconship, then you will loose to get them to have that habit of praying the liturgy as at an older age, it will be harder to convince them to start this habit. You are caring for rules and you are not caring for bringing up kids in the bosom of Jesus. You are almost like “pherises” who jesus said about them ” they didn’t enter neither allowed anyone to enter”. Too many following the same way like you. Jesus said “I need mercey not a scarify” and you are doing vice versa.

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    • Nah Christ warned about this foolishness, that one should count their cost. All of the officers make vows before God, and they will be held accountable for their sloth and failure to fulfill them… And your verses have zero relevance to the matter, no one is stopping them from coming to Christ, we are not allowing them to fill roles to which they are unqualified. Next you’ll say not letting them be priests is wrong LOL

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  17. First, I’d like to thank John for taking the time to research, write and respond to all the comments on this post, God bless your service. I can see it’s been a heated argument and I’ve had several of these heated arguments recently, which is why I’m curious to see what other people think.

    To start off, I am of the opinion that chanters should only be ordained at a later age. I might even go as far as saying 12-13 is still a tad young. This is based on personal experience and the current problems I see today in deaconship.

    Reading through the comments on this post, I realized that those who are in favor of ordaining very young chanters have linked their acceptance into the service to their acceptance to Christ, which is totally wrong. Just because a young male is not accepted into the minor orders at the age of 6, doesn’t make him rejected by Christ or the Church. Christ said: “Let the children come to Me”, not “Let the children be Apostles”.

    Second, I find the word “worthy” associated to any service of the Church is inaccurate. Whether minor or major, at least speaking for myself, I don’t consider myself worthy to enter the Church, let alone be a chanter. So the question is not a question of worthiness, but rather of suitability. In the ordination of the chanter, the church gives him the responsibility of learning the hymns. Granted, he doesn’t have to know all the hymns, but he has to learn them. How many youth have we seen starting to learn hymns at the age of 6-7-8, but by the time they are in high school, they are completely uninterested or simply don’t have the talent. Is not learning hymns wrong? Absolutely not. I know of many saints in my parish who don’t know any hymns and will enter heaven far before me. However, let us not place the responsibility on his shoulders if he’s not interested. Why impose this on him, if it is optional!

    Why don’t we teach our kids hymns from a young age, and bring them to church early and teach them what service in the altar means, and what does standing as a chanter imply and raise them in the fear and love of God, and should they express an interest in their teenage years, let them by their own will and accord take on the responsibility of learning and then ordain them as chanters.

    I find the “pride” issue in chanters partly originates from this mindset that some parents have when wanting to ordain their young children: “give him a service in order to attach him to the church”. WRONG! Attach him to the church, then give him a service. What’s the difference? When I give him a service in order to attach him to the Church, then I am not implementing in him the concept that he needs the Church, not the other way around. When I give him a service in order to attach him, well once the service is taken away from him or it’s being taken care of by someone else, then there goes his attachment to the Church. And if all chanters viewed the Church as a place they need and not a place they provide their services in, then we wouldn’t have fights over tune, tone, speed, microphones, etc. If I do not consider myself worthy to be there in the first place, then I would stand in fear thanking God He hasn’t thrown me out because of my many sins.

    Sorry for the long post, just curious to see if I’m the only one who thinks like this. Pray for me.

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    • Hello!
      So I’ve been thinking and worked on a system that I think would be best and acceptable by all.

      Most other churches reserve the actual office of chanter for essentially a leader of the choir, I would like to see a similar approach I’ll lay out in a few points here:

      1. Reading the consecration of our chanters they are the only office not ordained, indeed only until recently they were never identified as anything other than laity and never even wore the tonia traditionally. As such they have no place to be on the platform before the royal doors.

      2. I would like to see choirs stand just before the platform. Then men and women can be part of the choir, again just as in other jurisdictions. I would then like to reserve the office for ones who are capable of instructing and leading the choir, which leads the congregation.

      This would, I feel, allow women who feel left out be able to participate just as in other jurisdictions of the church, children who truly want to participate in the choir can then do so without holding a lifelong vow to God which they likely will forget and not follow. Lastly it would follow the canonical norms we’ve seen with the offices maintaining their proper requirements.

      Liked by 1 person

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