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Canons of the seven ecumenical councils

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16.

 Since in the Book of Acts the Apostles instruct us to appoint seven Deacons, the Fathers of the Council held in Neocaesarea have thus clearly asserted in the Canons they promulgated that there must be seven Deacons according to the Canon, even though the city be a quite big one: witness the Book of Acts. In the course of fittingly harmonizing the sense of the Fathers with the Apostolic saying, we discovered that their words in this connection did not pertain to the men serving as ministers to the mysteries, but to those attending to the needs of the table, the text of the Book of Acts being as follows: “And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Hellenists against the Hebrews, because their widows were being neglected in the daily ministration. Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples to them and said, We do not like to forsake the word of God to serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of a good reputation, full of Holy Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint for this task. We will apply ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word. And their assertion pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Par-menas, and Nicolas an Antiochian proselyte; whom all they set before the Apostles” (Acts 6:1–6). In the course of interpreting this passage, John Chrysostom, the teacher of the Church, dilates thus: “It is to be marveled that the multitude did not split apart in choosing the men! that the Apostles were not frowned upon by them! It is to be wondered what sort of dignity of office they possessed, and what sort of ordination they received. This is something that needs to be learned. Was it the ordination of Deacons? we well might wonder. But then, that is not in the churches. Or was the arrangement one of Presbyters? So far, though there had been no Bishop, but only Apostles. Hence, I opine, it is plain and obvious that neither the name of Deacons nor that of Presbyters is appropriate.” Resting upon these words, therefore, we too proclaim that as respects the aforesaid seven Deacons they were not selected to minister to the mysteries, according to what has been said in connection with the previous interpretation of the teaching, but, on the contrary, that they were selected to serve the common need of the Christians then gathered together; and that they continue to be an example to us, as they actually became, of philanthropy and diligence in regard to the needy.

(c. XV of Neocaesarea.)

 

Interpretation.

This Canon corrects, or rather improves, c. XV of Neocaesarea. The latter decreed that there should be but seven deacons, and not more, even in the largest city, as recorded in the Book of Acts. The Fathers of the present Council, therefore, say that after comparing the interpretation given by the Fathers with the assertions concerning these seven deacons contained in the Acts of the Apostles, they found that these deacons were not ministers (or deacons) of the Mysteries, but of the (dining) tables. For the Acts say: “In those days, because the Christians had multiplied, the believers among the Greeks (or according to others among the Jews who accepted the Old Testament, not as provided by the Hebrew original, but according to the Greek translation of it), because at the daily service (or ministration) of the common dinners then being given their widows who had need of them were being ignored.” At the suggestion of the Apostles, therefore, the multitude selected these seven deacons by name, men full of Holy Spirit, and held in good repute by all; and appointed them to serve at table, while the Apostles busied themselves in prayer and the service of teaching. In interpreting these words, after first marveling that that multitude did not split apart on account of such a selection of the deacons, others wanting this man, and others wanting that man, divine Chrysostom goes on to say that those deacons did hold the office of either deacons or presbyters of the Mysteries, since such offices had not yet been created in the Church, owing to the fact that the Church was then in her initial, and infantile, so to speak, stage. Hence these Fathers, in agreement with divine St. Chrysostom, hereby proclaim that these deacons, as we have said, are not deacons of the Mysteries, but of the common need and of the mess tables of the Christians of that time,[146] who became an example to us of philanthropy and care which we ought to exercise in behalf of the poor. Not only did these Fathers not follow the instructions of the Canon of the Council held in Neocaesarea, but even of the Emperors preceding them Justinian appointed a hundred deacons, and Heraclius more than a hundred, in the great church. And in general all churches have the number of deacons and of clergymen apportioned to their requirements.[147]

 

 




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