Liturgical angels

Daily Reading for October 12

The range and variety of intermediary functions of the deacon have been emphasized in recent studies of diakonia. Ormonde Plater, for example, notes that in the liturgy the deacon “embodies two symbols, servant and angel” and recalls from the New Testament the image of the four living creatures guarding the altar of heavenly liturgy, as seen in Revelation 4. Thus the deacon, Plater tells us, is not only a liturgical table waiter but a liturgical angel—a guard and messenger, one who manages and conducts transactions with the outside.

In one of the earliest patristic references to deacons, Ignatius of Antioch, in his letter to the Philadelphians, indicates that one of the deacon’s functions is to serve as a messenger outside the liturgy, traveling between the churches of distant cities:

News has reached me that the church at Antioch in Syria is at peace. Consequently, it would be a nice thing for you, as a church of God, to elect a deacon to go there on a mission, as God’s representative, and at a formal service to congratulate them and glorify the Name. (Philadelphians 10)

Bishop Richard Grein has recently generalized the go-between status of the deacon in this way:

I like to think of deacons as people on the boundary, that is, on the boundary where the church and the world interface. On this boundary they sometimes face the world to speak the message of the Gospel. Other times they face the church to speak on behalf of the world. In this their task is to keep the boundary open to exchanges between church and world.

The media of those exchanges are matter/energy (for example, bread and wine) and information (money, words, pictures). Whenever the church is in transaction with the world, there is diakonia and there should be its deacons.

From “Serving Intermediary” by Frederick Erickson, in Diaconal Ministry: Past, Present and Future, edited by Peyton Craighill (North American Association for the Diaconate, 1994).

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