H.G. Bishop Youssef’s Views and Vision Regarding Deaconship

BishopYoussef-DeaconsTalk-1

His Grace Bishop Youssef spoke to the “deacons” (term used loosely, see here for more on this) at our parish regarding his vision for the future of deaconship.

He recognized that the structure of framework of deaconship today in the Coptic church needs improvement. In his view, subdeacons, deacons, and the archdeacon, should really be much more involved in administrative activities to assist the clergy, as was the deacon’s role at their founding as indicated in the Book of Acts (Chapter 2), where their role was created for the purpose of “serving tables” while the bishops focused more on the “word of God” (Acts 6:2).

BishopYoussef-DeaconsTalk-2

The “triangle” drawing you see that he drew on the board in the image above shows how His Grace views the hierarchy of roles. The bishop is responsible for shepherding the flock and teaching the word. Priests report to the bishop and are in charge of pastoral care. Deacons report to the priests but also ultimately report to the bishop, and they are supposed to be servants rather than simply chanters as seems to be the quintessential role of deaconship these days.

His Grace is aware that over time chanters leave their role and stop dressing and participating in chanting as they were originally assigned. He mapped out a typical example of what happens: at 6 years old a person is assigned to be a chanter, by 16 how many of those chanters are left? What about when they turn 30?

He also sees the issue of the diminution of the reverence of the altar by allowing any ranks of the minor orders to enter, when in the past it was relegated usually to just “full” deacons. As a step in the right direction, His Grace did express a wish that in the future more sub-deacons are appointed and that there be a requirement that only sub-deacons may serve in the altar.

In the end, I was quite pleased to see that at least this is on His Grace’s mind and heart. I think we all need to press our bishops more and request improvement to deaconship.

There really should be a centralized Global Deacon Committee that is under the direct guidance of the Holy Synod or some Synodal committee or member. They should be responsible for things such as:

  • Communicating with all minor orders and the diaconate,
  • Setting guidelines,
  • Emphasizing distinctions in roles, with a focus on service and not just chanting
  • Improving upon our understanding of the services rendered
  • Informing of changes/variations to rites,
  • Fixing deviations of rites or other matters
  • Offering spiritual resources,
  • Alerting to upcoming events, etc.

In today’s day and age, this can be easily accomplished. Anyone close with any members of the Synod?  Share this idea with them!!!

19 thoughts on “H.G. Bishop Youssef’s Views and Vision Regarding Deaconship

  1. Great article and I am entirely supportive of a restoration and renewal of the diaconate. I’m not so in favour of more centralisation. In almost all areas of the life of the Church the Diocesan Bishop is the proper authority. We do not and should not develop further, a Roman Catholic Papal model.

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  2. “His Grace did express a wish that in the future more sub-deacons are appointed and that there be a requirement that only sub-deacons may serve in the altar.”

    Does this mean that the Church is definitively moving away from the idea that subdeacons are not to marry after ordination?

    “Of those who have been admitted to the clergy unmarried, we ordain, that the readers and singers only may, if they will, marry.”
    Canon 26 of the Holy Apostles.
    http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf214.xvii.iv.html

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    • I don’t know if subdeacons were around back then, were they? That may be why they were left out and also gives a reason for why that rule shouldn’t be applied on them. The only three ranks of the major orders are deacon, priest, and bishop. And it seems marriage restrictions are applicable upon the deacon rank and above.

      For some food for thought see this: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14320a.htm

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      • Well, that link is RC, so many of the concepts/ways of thinking are a little foreign to us, e.g. a subdeacon is not a “valid” “sacrament”, etc.

        If you look at the link I posted, subdeacons are mentioned throughout the document. So it seems to me that that canon certainly includes subdeacons.

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      • Interesting. Well then, with the same authority the church exercised in forbidding married bishops although biblically permissible, they may similarly do away with the ancient custom for subdeacons.

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      • I don’t see why the thought of restricting the sanctuary to subdeacons implies allowing subdeacons to marry… Unless we’re assuming the subdeacons will still be 6 year old kids. Why could not mature married men be chosen to serve as subdeacons to assist the deacon in the altar, as was the custom in ancient times?

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      • I agree with you @canadox, but I think re-marriage should be permissible. Imagine a 20 year old, just married, widowed at 22. Why would we restrict them? I can understand restricting a priest, and deacons, because it is the rank of priesthood. I can’t imagine a deacon or priest “dating.” But a servant of the deacon? Why not. why lay upon them more burdens than necessary?

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      • I did not say that it would be wrong to choose to allow subdeacons to marry. It is a question to be wrestled with. I just said that the Syedna’s desire, as you’ve reported it, does not seem to me to have anything in it that implies that decision has been taken.

        Reasons against: Well, why did the fathers of the early Church choose to apply this restriction to subdeacons? Was it because entering the altar area was considered so holy that high standards be placed on those chosen? Do we have less respect for the altar today? I’m not saying we have to do it because that’s what the father’s did so we have to… But we should also not just dismiss what they did and should consider their example very carefully. Also, I feel we have less respect for the ideal of one marriage. We don’t have “until death do us part,” though I think we’ve picked up that mindset without noticing. Remarrying after a spouse dies is a sin, because marriage is eternal. The ideal is to be faithful to one’s spouse beyond the grave. Remarriage is allowed as a lesser sin that the alternative for people who can’t bare it. But it does not seem unreasonable to me that a subdeacon is an example to the people, and should be expected to be faithful to his wife even after her death, and if he cannot bear that, should step down from such a position of being an example to remarry. Finally, what’s wrong with subdeacons dating? A subdeacon is not just a glorified altar server. They should be a respected leader in the congregation. They should be serving in the altar because they are a servant to the congregation, not the other way around. Such service is more easily rendered, especially to the whole congregation and not just young me, with the help of a wife and the maturity of a married man.

        Reasons for: as you say, it is a pastoral decision of the bishops.

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      • Gotcha, but one question: re-marriage is a sin? I know it is often frowned upon. There’s even a Synaxarion story that glorifies the idea that it is wrong to remarry. But since when? Who said it was a sin? I think the marriage topic actually deserves a lot of study as I don’t think our concept of marriage today and the sacrament is the way the apostles thought of marriage. But I’m just curious how you came to your conclusion that remarriage is a sin. In the Coptic Church I believe we have a wedding rite specifically for a second or later marriage.

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      • The rite of the second marriage is a penitential rite, without crowning, asking for the forgiveness of sin, and often was followed by a period of penance before being admitted back to Communion. Why would the Church give a penitential rite if it were not a sin that needed repentance?

        I think the real issue here that makes it strange to say it is a sin, is that we have a different understanding of what sin is.

        Sin is not “doing something wrong” or “breaking a law”. It is not a legal guilt that has to be repaid, as in the west. In Orthodoxy, sin simply mean falling short of the mark. Like an archer that had a great shot and hit the target, but not the center of it. Is it a bad thing? no. Could it be better? yes. Of course completely missing the target and accidentally killing a spectator would be a bad thing…

        The ideal is for one to be faithful to one’s spouse beyond the grave. If one falls short of this ideal, and remarries, they are falling short of that ideal, and therefore sinning. But the Church recommends that we sin in this case if we would burn otherwise and fall into a greater sin. Better to miss the center of the target but get on the target, than to try so hard to hit the center that we miss entirely. Clergy though are held to the standard of not sinning in this regard, and if they are unable to do so, must step down as examples to the people before remarrying. So when I say “it’s a sin”, that doesn’t mean “you shall not do it” or even “you shouldn’t do it”. Maybe one should rather than do worse, but with repentance in their hearts knowing they are falling short.

        The fact that the service of a second marriage is so penitential seems to indicate that it not just a matter of missing a loft ideal, but a serious failing (though better than the alternative). If we look at the case of divorce, there is sin in failing to keep the marriage together, and then there is sin in remarrying, in giving up on the marriage. In the case of the departure of a spouse, there is no sin in failing to keep the marriage together, that is beyond control, but there is still the choice to give up on the marriage, even when separated by the grave for a time, and marry another, rather than remain faithful.

        Again, I’m not speaking about guilt and rule breaking. I’m speaking about being less than perfect, when we are called to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. We must repent daily because we fall short of perfection daily (and every moment). This repentance should not be wallowing in grief, but begging mercy to progress towards Him, so that falling and getting up, falling and getting up, we do not despair, but slowly, slowly progress towards union with Him and Christian perfection.

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  3. I agree with H.G. Bishop Youssef for the most of his sermon, but I have some concerns regarding only ordained deacons or subdeacons serving in the Sanctuary. As H.G. knows we are struggling to keep our children and youth to love God, the Church and the service and unless they become familiar with and practicing the sacramental way of life they will drop out before they become real partakers of the Mysteries and the sacraments of the Church. We should have an older rank serving in the sanctuary with the younger generation and with deacons of lesser ranks. He should be teaching the new generation how to stand in the fear of God and in reverence while serving in the most holy place. God bless all servants.

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      • Great article!

        Here is the answer from the article, reproduced here for ease.

        Answer: This is not the role of a deacon. Deacon means servant, not served. The purpose of making a man a deacon is to serve the community and assist in the salvation and growth of the people, not to give the man a carrot to be good. When we see 6 year olds completely butchering responses, the people are serving that kid, enduring distraction from prayer from the deacon who is supposed to lead them in prayer, so that that kid may feel attached to the Church. But is this goal even accomplished? If it is such a good thing for the boys, so necessary for their salvation, then how can we give it to them and withhold it from the girls? This is not fair. And is it really such a good thing for the boys? No, those who are “successful” deacons, learning the hymns, being relied upon, are faced with terrible temptation to pride, and are distracted from praying. Those who are not chosen feel slighted since it has become a right. This is all backwards. Men should learn to persevere in praying first, and be chosen for it, rather than have to grow up trying to learn to pray with the weight of everyone’s eyes upon them. This is especially true in the falls of youth. How many have felt unable to stand as a servant in front of everyone, when a servant should be an example, but as a teenager they have fallen into pornography, fornication, drugs, clubbing, and all manner of evil? So they are driven away from the Church, which has lied to them and told them they are an example to be held up before the people. It would be better for them to be raised in the Church knowing they are sinners, and only those who have really overcome be proclaimed as worthy examples.

        By your fruit you shall know them. How can we look at icons of holy deacons, such as St. Stephen, who is present in all of our churches, and then look at the mass of youth at the front of the Church, many of whom have posted photos of their clubbing exploits the night before, who are now texting and sleeping behind the iconostasis and in front of everyone, and think that this is meet and right? How can we fail to see that pushing these boys into “being deacons” is harmful to their souls and sacrilege to the altar that is supposedly being served?

        – See more at: http://www.canadox.ca/?p=86#sthash.DI2pp7Hx.dpuf

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  4. Thank you for the article. I appreciate all your articles, which are in the spirit of love and edification. I was just wondering, do you happen to have an audio or video recording of HG’s talk regarding deaconship?

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    • Thank you. Please pray for me. Unfortunately, while the talk was supposedly recorded, and I asked for a copy of it and hoped to share it, the person who made the recording said some glitch occurred and all we had was a portion of the preceding talk, but not this one. I was quite disappointed but tried to share what I could.

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