Canon Law concerning Altar Service

I am curious as to whether anyone knows of specific Canon Law in the Coptic Orthodox Rite that speaks to Altar service; Specifically, the number of "deacons" serving in the Altar, the rank of said "deacon," and their respective roles and duties. If such exists, can someone provide the text, the source from which they found said text, and any other useful information that can be provided. I am also curious if HHPT2 and/or the Synod have expressed any specifications as to standardize the diaconate service among the whole Church as this seems to be a common problem in many parishes and dioceses who define general diaconate roles in many different ways. 

In Christ.


  • This is being researched currently by the hierarchy. Archdeacon Cyril Antonious (Anba David's deacon) is doing a full study of the issue. There was supposed to be a vote on the rules for chanter/psaltos this month in the Holy Synod meeting, but that meeting has been postponed.

    Anba Youssef has expressed a wish that only subdeacons and above serve in the altar. And that deacons manage finances while priests manage pastoral care.

    Anba Serapion has expressed a wish that chanters stand with the rest of the congregation, that all male church servants be readers and pass a theological exam/qualification, and that there also be a blessing for female "readeresses" who do not necessarily read but are female servants. HG has already postponed the ordination of a reader in his diocese pending a test of theological soundness.

    But, yeah, we can expect to see movement on this issue soon.
  • edited November 2015
    It seems that the Holy Spirit is working throughout our Church on this subject. Many hierarchs, clergy, and laymen are independently putting effort into this topic, in hopes of restoring the diaconate, liturgically pastorally, and administratively. Within the last year, I've seen multiple blogs, lectures and efforts taken to at least get the wheels turning. 

    I'd like to share that I'm a graduate student at St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary. I've writing my MA thesis on the subject of the diaconate in the Coptic tradition. I will be looking at the historic canons, the current ordination texts and the development of the responsibility of the deacon in the parish and diocese over time. I'm doing a lot of my research now, gathering the texts that I will study, but the bulk of my work will be done next semester. 

    My hopes are to restore and revitalize a permanent diaconate that creates a needed balance to the ministry of the priest and volunteers in the parish, hoping to increase the quality and quantity of service offered in the Church, reflecting the ancient practices. Currently, the diaconate either doesn't exists, or is done at a minimum by very old men, or is a stepping stone to the priesthood and this impacts the Church on several levels and it deserves to be well studied and fix. 

    May God use all these efforts in unison to bring about helpful change. I hope to turn my thesis into a book to further inform and aid in the process of restoration. Please remember me in your prayers. 


    PS please don't mind my cheesy username, I've had my account on here since middle school :)

  • we now have a full deacon in uk!
  • edited November 2015

    Very refreshed to hear someone is making an effort to study the diaconate of the Coptic rite due to its ambiguity throughout time. It becomes integral that the traditions of the diaconate are standardized in an effort to further strengthen the unification of parishes and dioceses alike throughout the world. It is especially prevalent in the Church outside of Egypt in order to, as you said so very well, "reflect the ancient practices." I also agree with your assertion that the diaconate doesn't exist as of late; currently, there is no formal training, serves no specific purpose other than aid in Eucharist (speakng from my own personal accord), and lacks in unity. On a broader scale, the ranks of chanters, readers, and subdeacons alike have lost all meaning in the Church and serve virtually the same purposes (again, speaking only from my own experiences). I pray for the restoration of diaconate and the ranking of the diaconate. In the meantime, I also hope that Diocesan bishops, the Holy Synod, and HHPT2 can create a framework that would serve all dioceses alike to further the unity of the ever globalizing Church.

    In Christ.
  • @SMBM

    Thank you for the encouragement and your words. I agree with you; a standardization of the roles and responsibilities of the deacon need to be made so that we can move forward and restore the diaconate. I also agree that this really needs to happen in the diaspora, especially in the West. I don't see our parishes offering adequate ministry where a parish of 200-300 families is only served by 1-3 priests and no other full-time characters. For example, I don't see 60-70 high school students at a larger parish being handled only by Sunday school servants who have families, jobs and lives; the quality will just never be up to par. I think we could really benefit from theologically trained servants and deacons to serve alongside the priest, especially in bigger parishes, to give bigger attention to the things we should be investing in, in the ministry. 

    Also, I'd like to make a small note on my post. Of course, the diaconate isn't completely extinct. There are some deacons who are doing great work and slowly bringing back the correct role of the deacon. For example, Archdeacon Cyril here in NY is a great example, among other through the Coptic Church. I only meant that it's so rare to find a fully function, long-term or permanent deacon. Forgive me for my generalizastion. 
  • Would we be seeing Deacons replacing the roles of the General Bishops in the foreseeable future?
  • I really just need a re-definition of the duties of sub-deacons in our Church....
  • @SMBM

    The Coptic Church is not and can never be a "globalising" Church, despite all the rhetoric to the contrary.

    I don't think so.
  • @minatasgeel

    I don't believe the traditional definition of the subdeacon is still prevalent today.

    In terms of the Church growing throughout the globe - then yes, it is globalizing.
  • @SMBM

    The problem with insisting on top-down uniformity from a Synod in Egypt as a necessary condition for a united global Coptic Church is that it completely ignores our sister OO Churches, and implies that either they are not the Church, or that there is more than One Church.
  • edited November 2015

    I don't think there is anything wrong with top-down uniformity from the Coptic Synod whose purpose, to my knowledge, is to make decisions for the congregants concerning rites and matters of the Church in an effort to unify the Church. This includes matters pertaining specifically (but not limited) to the Coptic Church as well as other OO Churches (with their discretion, I'm sure). If this is not their purpose, what exactly is it that the Synod should be deciding upon or do, and can you support said claim? I also don't think I ever implied that other OO Churches are not part of "the Church," I'm not sure where I insinuated such. Perhaps since I did not make this distinction clear in an earlier post you misunderstood me when I spoke concerning "the Church." I simply think it's only logical that the Coptic Synod make decisions concerning the standardization of the Coptic diaconate for the Coptic congregation rather than sole parishes and dioceses making their own decisions that sometimes conflict with each other. It might not be the sole "necessary condition for a united global Coptic Church" however I do believe it is integral and vital for unity in an ever growing Coptic congregation and diaconate service throughout the world. However, in the event that you disagree with this, I'm curious as to what you believe should be done concerning the diaconate if decisions are not made at the Synod level?

    In Christ
  • @SMBM

    Of course it is the role of the Synod to set these kinds of guidelines.  All I was disagreeing with is the kind of language you are using and the ecclesiology it implies.  You seem to be implying that the current popular thinking that the Coptic Church is a global Church which can therefore just ignore fellow OO in the diaspora and set up parallel competing dioceses in the same city is normative for the Christian Church.  I agree that this is the current reality and we have to make the best of the situation we find ourselves in (i.e. even if we have to rely on a Synod in Egypt for every little detail in America - which should not be the case - let's at least petition said Synod to make the right decisions), but you seem to be taking it a step further by implying that such a situation is normative.
  • @qawe

    I'm only speaking in regards to the diaconate service. Nothing else. Again, not sure but where am I implying that we should ignore fellow OO in the diaspora? I never spoke to setting up competing dioceses either so I'm really confused by those assertions. I just said the Synod should make a decision concerning the diaconate. I guess if other OO Churches have Canon Laws concerning Altar Service and the diaconate we can use those if that's the point you're making. However I do agree the Church in Egypt has little knowledge on how to make decisions concerning the Church in, say the U.S., however what kind of message is it sending if the Synod can't even make decisions concerning standardization of the diaconate service across the board? I'm only implying this: Synod makes decision concerning diaconate -> parishes and dioceses abide by these decisions -> everyone doing the same thing = unity in regards to diaconate. I am not trying make this bigger than it is. Just want the diaconate service to be the same everywhere. I have not, or at least have tried not to speak to anything else but this issue alone. I'm sorry if the language I've used previously has insinuated otherwise.  
  • @SMBM

    Agreed completely.  It's not right that ignorant/lackadaisical parishes should just be left to make up their own pseudo-orthodoxy.
  • @SMBM:
    I don't believe the traditional definition of the subdeacon is still prevalent today.

    I have to disagree. I think bishops have been giving that rank to many older youths with the spread of deacons (readers or chanters) in that age range, specifically outside Egypt and within Egypt where there is a structure for deaconship or where deacons take on some form of noticeable service. 
  • edited November 2015

    But that's a very UNtraditional definition.  A subdeacon is supposed to be an assistant to the deacon in the altar (censer, utensils, etc) and outside the altar (dogs, heretics, etc).  The first job is now performed by chanters and the second by the priests, in both cases not very well.

    Most subdeacons manage to attain that lofty "grade" of "deacon" (which they are not) owing to a high competence in hymnology.  But this is the role of the chanter.

    This is all completely backwards!

    This blog post gives a lot background into the origin of many of the ranks of the diaconate, though not sure how entirely credible it is but it certainly sheds light as to the disparity between the ranks of the deacon in the ancient Church juxtaposing it to today. 

    I know that in my parish, many discussions have come about as a result of this matter. Praying that the Church comes to a standard conclusion on the matter.
  • I am going to reiterate what I learned from another forum: It is a protestant mindset to believe we must "return" and bring back any ancient rite, whether it is the diaconate or specific actions of the diaconate. Liturgical scholars have show over and over again that liturgy (and by extension ecclesiology) is an organic being that evolves through methodological norms. Ignoring this datum and failing to recognize the methodological norms is a sign of a misinformed, egotistical, heterodox, and plainly stupid way of thinking. 

    Take the following hypothetical situation as an example. Suppose after much research we find in the year X of the 3rd century, there was a rubric or a patristic father who said (full) deacons can only be females 16-20 years old and in year Y of the 10th century, we find another explanation that says full deacons can only be males 16-20 years old. The current practice ordains retiring men 50+ years old into the diaconate. Are we supposed to bring back the diaconate to men 16-20 years, females 16-20 years old, or keep it men 50+ years old? 

    The current trend among Copts is to return to the oldest, most ancient practice solely based on the age of the practice - which in this hypothetical scenario is female deacons 16-20 years old. This is really no different than some protestant sects who claim that Christians must speak Hebrew and Greek to return back to first century AD Christianity. This is no different than most protestant sects who accuse the Orthodox of falling away from the ancient message of love in the gospel and they (the protestants) are returning back to true Christianity. (This is how they justify female bishops and female priests.)

    From a theological, pastoral, ethnic, intercultural, modern understanding of Orthodoxy, it would be borderline heretical to return to this hypothetical diaconate practice. Once we divorce a methodological liturgical understanding of the liturgical rites from Orthodox practice of the current milleu, we give license to a plethora of Coptic "fatwas".  By fatwa here, I mean "self-proclaimed religious explanations that are based on individual preferences", not religious and spiritual studies based on Christian phronema - which is the Church. Bringing back the Coptic diaconate because it's old is one such fatwa. Claiming that deacons will offer proper pastoral care for moderate to large parishes because the short-handed, overworked priests have failed is another fatwa. Then there is my favorite fatwa of all: "6 year old chanters are not deacons because they turn the diaconate into a day care center", says those people who can't define what a deacon is to begin with.

    My comparative liturgical research on the diaconate in post-Vatican II and the Russian Orthodox Church shows that the Roman Catholic, the Russian Orthodox and the Coptic Orthodox churches have completely divergent understandings on the role of the deacon, the theology of the deacon, the use of the deacon, the abuses of the deacon, etc. What one church finds as a diaconate abuse, another church finds as an ancient practice. What one church finds as a theological and scriptural foundation of the diaconate, another church finds as completely irrelevant in their understanding of the diaconate. If such diversity occurs now among different apostolic churches, how much diversity do you think you will find among the ancient Coptic Church and the modern Coptic Church? Just as it is ridiculous to have the Roman Catholic Church adopt the diaconate theology and practices of the Russian Orthodox Church, it is equally ridiculous to have the modern Coptic Church adopt the ancient Coptic practices of the diaconate. 

    This does not mean we sit back and let abuses happen. What this does mean is that we actually have to define what is normal and what is an abuse. As Fr Athanasius al Makari said, there are only 3 ways to justify a liturgical practice: (1) liturgical history, (2) patristic writings and (3) Church canon. And if one finds an abuse in these three points, it is the duty of the higher ecclesiastical order (the synod) to address the issue over many, many years. Yet individuals are trying to catalyze a change in the diaconate without knowing any liturgical history, without having patristic writings internalized into their Coptic theology or translated adequately into a useful modern language, and without even knowing where to find any Egyptian canons. This is all done in the name or mindset of "correcting" something we don't even know if it is broken. This explains why different bishops are advocating completely different "solutions" for the diaconate. Ever ask yourself why?
  • @remnkemi

    I agree with everything you have to say. In the event that there is Church Canon concerning the diaconate it is up to the Synod to address the matter and come to a respective conclusion. This does not necessarily mean going back to ancient practices and it does not mean a complete restructuring of the diaconate. I think many individuals try to catalyze change in an effort to not necessarily bring the diaconate back to ancient practice, but as to organize the framework, which may have an adverse affect. It's rather difficult to accept the fact that many bishops advocate different "solutions" for the diaconate. Praying that the Church comes to an agreement on the matter.

    Thanks for your input. 

    In Christ.
  • There is a series of articles on the diaconate and minor orders here:
  • These series of articles by canadox only prove my point on Coptic fatwas. In the article "What is a Deacon?", the definition for a deacon is "The deacon is a father, example, and leader to the congregation in all social, charity and administrative matters."

    Such an oversimplified definition speaks nothing of the liturgical role of the deacon, which we know is well documented in liturgical history. (Refer to Fr Moses' blog about diaconal response.)  The article claims that liturgical matters belong to the priest and not the deacon. It also divides the diaconate and the presbyterate on spiritual matters, giving the role of spiritual matters to the priest. Are we to believe the deacon is not spiritual, or not authorized to teach spiritually? The scriptural evidence of St Stephen spiritually teaching those who gathered a council to dispute with him (Acts 6) and those who stoned him (Acts 7) contradicts the division of spiritual matters. 

    Contrasty, there is nothing in liturgical history, patristic writings, or canon law that a deacon is a leader in social matters (even if we could define it) and administrative matters. How can we claim the deacon is a leader in social and administrative matters without any evidence? 

    The article spends most of its time discussing social responsibilities. Visiting the sick and being part of the community we are told are examples of social services the deacon is responsible for. Being part of the community and living the gospel are clearly commandments for all baptized Christians in the gospel and patristics, not simply the diaconate (Luke 10:37, Mat 6, Mat 19:21, Rom 6:4).  Then the article talks about social matters among the congregation, such as visiting the needy and carrying communion to the sick? Is there any evidence that the deacon was assigned to carry communion to the sick? Is it independent of the priest? The article seems to advocate for a distribution of the communion independent of the priest. The Church canons and ordination rites only give permission for the deacon to hold the chalice, nothing else. 

    Regarding charity, the article mentions nothing about charity. Does the definition of the deacon mean the deacon is a leader of charity or love? Does this mean financial charity or social love? Is this even quantifiable? 

    I can go on and on. The matter is not as simple as this article portrays. Additionally, the article completely ignores any theology and merely opines what the diaconate should be based on the author's preference. 
  • The biggest issue i Find is the coptic church ordains cantors who arent even old enough to understand the faith or traditions. I disagree with ordaining children to any rank of diaconate. Its flat out wrong, whether minor order or major. I remember when I was made a cantor (I am training to be a professional opera singer at university), i felt it was rediculous that the averae age of those being made cantors was 7. The other thing that bothered me is that during the liturgy they wouldn't shut up behind the iconostasis. 

    I like the fact that the coptic church allows laity behind the iconostasis, as its how it would have been in the early church before the iconstasis went up. However, dont muck around and disrespect the faith. 
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