The Primary task of the diaconate is love. The deacon protects the prayer of the priest. The deacon proclaims the Gospel with power and authority, but only if he himself has received the word.
Translated by Dcn. Nicholas Parks
The ordination of one of the members of a Christian parish to sacerdotal rank is an event that concerns to the entire community, and even extends beyond the local community to the whole Church.
Today we performed an ordination to the diaconate. But exactly what is this rank of deacon which the Church — and through her Christ — gives to her servant?
The first deacons were appointed that they might manifest the Church’s compassionate love. The Church is compassion, the Church is love and not anything else — and if she becomes something else, then she ceases to be the Church in all of her fullness. This love must be penetrating, deep, personal, and concrete.
In the first centuries of Christian life, when the entire Church was full of love, she selected people with deep hearts — hearts that were alive — people with pure lives, men of prayer – so that she might make them instruments of her love among the poor and needy, among those experiencing misfortune and grief [Acts 6:3-6].
To be a member of this brotherhood of compassionate love is a great responsibility, for to give we must have a giving heart. We must possess profound compassion and love, so that people can accept our gifts without shame. For when we give with a cold heart or out of a sense of duty, when we are outwardly compassionate but our heart is not moved by love, then he who receives our gift receives also humiliation, pain and insult.
And so our new deacon P. has before him a life-long task. By a life of patient labor, of zealous and attentive work on himself, he is to cultivate a deep and merciful heart that is able to respond quickly and constantly. He must cultivate a heart that never tires, is never disappointed, and is ever filled with Christ’s love, so that that love might pour out through him upon all who need it.
Later, this love that is the deacon’s task was tied by the Church to the performance of her Mysteries. Here the deacon becomes both the guardian of the priest’s prayers and the leader of the prayers of the faithful. He provides the theme for your prayers; answering the petitions which he proclaims, you repeat, “Lord, have mercy,” or give yourselves into the hands of God, saying “To Thee, O Lord,” or confess the truth of the Church’s words, saying, “Amen.”
This love is great: step by step the deacon leads us into the liturgical mystery, drawing us in to its very depths, into those depths which you would not have been able to reach by yourself in your own spiritual life.
But the deacon has another assignment as well: to protect the prayer of the priest. During the divine services the priest should be prayer, he should forget everything, so that he might stand before God as a living candle. All care about the service, even about the actual conducting of the service, is laid on the deacon, so that the priest may give himself to prayer without distraction.
We wish, then, that our new deacon would pray with such depth of spirit that you also would enter fully into the spirit of the divine service. May he lead you by his own prayer, into the depths of the Eucharistic Mysteries, and let him be a man of peaceful heart and peaceful body, able to guard the priest’s prayer so that the priest may stand before God with full attention.
Thirdly and finally, I wish to remind you that the deacon proclaims the Gospel. He is not called to preach in his own words – that creative act which, according the ancient saying makes each priest a fifth evangelist. He is called only to proclaim the word of God. But if he is to proclaim that word with power and authority, and to reach hearts and minds persuasively, then he must first himself receive the word.
He must proclaim it from the depth of his own heart and from the experience of a truly Christian life, as the word of a Teacher whom he understands and to whom he is obedient in everything. Therefore he must all the more attentively pursue the Gospel and live by the Gospel as fully as he can, so that, proclaiming it, he does not proclaim his own condemnation.
May God grant him a pure life and a truly evangelical life that will enable him to fulfill the three tasks of which I have just spoken. As for you, who are attending this ordination and praying during this miracle – the descent of the Holy Spirit on a person, whom he has invested with His power for a service which not one person could dare to take upon himself – you must all continue to pray for him, because we are all brethren and temptations surround us on every side.
Pray for him every day, that the Lord will make him a worthy servant of His Church and that he would in everything follow – as we ask in the prayer of ordination – the first deacon, the Protomartyr Stephen. Pray that he would become like Christ, just as Stephen became like Christ, that he would witness to Christ as Stephen did, and that he would enter into the peace of Christ, as Stephen did when he entered into the glory of God. Amen.