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The Diaconate in the New Testament

Deacons are mentioned throughout the New Testament in the Gospels, Book of Acts and
the Epistles of St. Paul. The following texts are the most prominent.

Christ as Diakonos

As always, it is Christ’s example that inspires and informs both clergy and laity in their
service to the church and community. Christ as servant is the formational basis of the
ordained diaconate:

"And Jesus called them to him and said to them: 'You know that those who are
suppose to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise
authority over them. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be
great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you
must be slave of all. For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve,
and to give his life as a ransom for many.'” (Mark 10:42-45)

"And he said to them, 'The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and
those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so among you;
rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who
serves. For which is the greater, one who sits at table or one who serves? Is it not
the one who sits at table? But I am among you as one who serves.'”
(Luke 22:25-27)

"And he sat down and called the twelve; and he said to them, 'If anyone would be
first, he must be last of all and servant of all.'” (Mark 9:35)

The First Seven Deacons

As the Christian faithful multiplied, the apostles turned to others for help in spreading
the good news and ministering to others. Although the word “diaconia” does not appear
in the following text from the Book of Acts, it is acknowledged by the Church that these
were the first deacons to be appointed.

"Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists
murmured against the Hebrews because their widows were neglected in the daily
distribution. And the twelve summoned the body of the disciples and said, 'It is
not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.
Therefore, brethren, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of
the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this duty. But we will devote
ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.' And what they said pleased
the whole multitude, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy
Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and
Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they
prayer and laid their hands upon them." (Acts 6: 1-6)

St. Stephen became the prototype and patron saint for male deacons, and the seven
ordained men have become known as The Seven.

The Instructions of St. Paul

St. Paul’s instructions to the early churches in his epistles significantly impacted both the
formation of each individual Christian and the formation of the church itself. In these
texts he commends Phoebe, a female deacon, and later specifies the qualifications for a
deacon.

"I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess of the church at Cenchreae,
that you may receive her in the Lord as befits the saints, and help her in whatever
she may require from you, for she has been a helper of many and of myself as
well." (Romans 16:1-2) St. Phoebe became the prototype and patron saint for female deacons.

Qualifications for a deacon are first listed in 1 Timothy:

"Deacons likewise must be serious, not double-tongued, not addicted to much
wine, not greedy for gain; they must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear
conscience. And let them also be tested first; then if they prove themselves
blameless, let them serve as deacons. The women likewise must be serious, no
slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things. Let deacons be the husband of
one wife, and let them manage their children and their households well; for those
who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great
confidence in the faith which is in Christ Jesus." (1 Timothy 3: 8-13)