Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it. (St. Stephen the Archdeacon addressing the Sanhedrin, Acts of the Holy Apostles 7:52-53)
Within this double-edged admonishment of the Jewish ruling priests (and withal their entire temporal institution) lay a grand battle-cry. And immediately thereafter the Archdeacon is set upon by the self-righteous rabble and stoned in an unquenchable rage. But not before this disposition of demons is indicted by the Protomartyr’s resplendent vision of the Master and his blessed fate sealed, as he looks up with illumined face, disclosing the following:
Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.
In the Ancient Patristics Library multi-volume set (accessible at the Hermitage of the Holy Cross) we receive the tradition of this mystagogy from St. Gregory of Nazianzus. Finding much more than the conception developed by biblical scholars that our Lord appears upright in Stephen’s vision only to “welcome him to heaven,” St. Gregory grounds our amazement with this image by placing it squarely within the heavenly sheepfold of the Church. The Master stands as the Great General over His amassing troops. The mystery at hand in St. Stephen’s evangelic vision, then, directs only to the dynamic unity of God’s saving work—the labor of which we actively participate in with upright heart in the Divine Liturgy.
The good servant directed by the Master, then, as he intones the petitions of the litanies that so-named liturgical “master of ceremonies” the deacon (diakon = one who serves) raises his bedazzling stole, the orarion or orar (орарь), in order to commandeer the others of the faithful gathered to “lift up our hearts…unto the Lord.” Servants so directed, then, artfully serve God through the people, cutting through like butter all the demonic and worldly distractions, from alluring cultural icons to the enchanting dross of political charisma, to the passions imposing their claim at the helm of our every moment. Everyone present in the Divine Liturgy becomes a servant of God in and through communal prayer at the direction of the deacon.
The first ordination in the Christian Church takes place in the Book of Acts (6), and it is actually of the first seven deacons. The Holy Diaconate has been named a “ministry of the angels,” while more powerful than the bodiless powers, of course, is that of the Holy Priesthood, the fullness of which is upheld at its highest effect by the Diaconate in Christ. Executive of all liturgical logistics is this elevated servant of the faithful, who only by God’s Grace descended upon him at ordination supports the executive celebrant of the Divine Liturgy, the bishop or priest (or both). From its humble inception of he who waits upon the tables of the apostles at the agape meal, to its no less humble reception of the full trust of the bishop in the likes of St. Athanasius’ heading up the critical supplanting of Arius at Nicaea, the deacon gains a dynamic vitality throughout history.
Today this oecumenical efficacy, if you will, can be found extant in its fullness in what obscure remnants of the divine office consist in the hearts of those most faithful to Holy Tradition—and by this we can only mean that ever-stodgy element of the Body of Christ in the Russian Church. Perhaps historically this fullness was best exemplified by the Patriarch St. Tikhon’s Archdeacon, Fr. Konstantin Rosov, a basso profundo who is best known for his majestic yet subtle step-melody.
The well-known Russian Liturgical Musicologist Ivan Gardner, who listened in church to Rosov from his youth, writes:
[Fr. Konstantin] did not stray from the established traditions of psalm-singing and intonation. Without the slightest hint of dramatics, he was able to convey (but not impose!) the full power of the meaning of the text, through the use of nothing more than minimal shading, testifying to the fact that he did not invent the sounds, he did not repeat them by rote, but they were born of his grasp of the natural power of the text, while at the same time remaining strictly within the bounds of the classic psalm-singing tradition.
In short, the deacon artfully (not artistically) threads together the service, upholding St. Paul’s exhortation of “all things in good order.” A mission statement gleaned from this description might be: To bear up for the faithful rightfully the meaning availing itself only by the Grace of God in Holy Scripture according to one’s living in and through its essence, as the Truth itself, and by means of Holy Tradition.
Upon [listening] we trace an adept, subtle dexterity as the voice moves deftly from, in the first place, the reticence at hand in anything that can be called God-fearing, to a keen awareness and invocation of the indescribable majesty of Christ the Savior and His boundless mercy. Yet what we hear can still be described as within that half-singing, half-reading, unhurried and well-dictioned flow suggested for a good church reader. The tradition of cantillation (ecphonesis) in classic psalm-reading cited in Rosov and others of this tradition is never robotic so as merely to “get through” the text. In proper heteronymous fashion opposed to an ungodly feigned autonomy, harmony with the kliros maintained, any inflection commensurately appropriated, volume stark (so as to awaken souls from their worldly slumber), the aural ascent guides from rung to rung, from Glory to Glory.
To become anything but awestruck of heart perhaps renders one too entrenched in the requisite self-referential anxiety of the world (i.e. the fear of man). For here, the Way of Peace takes heaven by storm. The tempest-tossed know well the narrow path. Too glorious for temporal reduction, the exact moment of the Bright and Holy Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ we can at least recall was preceded by a most-providential earthquake and darkness. So also the unfettering of the heart unto union with God is here enabled by proper and crucial direction in prayer. We thank only God for this gift, of course, if we are ever to receive or witness to it in any aspect.