It is true that Diakonia (διακονία) literally means “service,” and among its 36 mentions in Holy Scripture, we see a range of uses, from service, to ministry/administration, to attendance, to relief, to St. Paul’s own characterization of his office. In the organicity of time in the Church it has come to be used to refer to the “diaconal art”, or the service of the deacon.
By this is not meant “art” in the sense of the productions or mediations of an individual’s creative whim, but rather we could say the spiritual purpose, direction, or ministry of the deacon in and through the Divine Services—diaconal art in the sense of the diaconal craft and ethos.
St. Germanus of Constantinople sets out in his Eighth Century work “On the Divine Liturgy” a particularly stark image which cuts to the chase in allegorical fashion in the following:
The deacons, images of the angelic powers, go around with thin wings of linen oraria as ministering spirits sent out for service. The embroidery on the arms of their robes show the bonds of Christ… The embroidery on the sides of their robes show the blood which flowed from the side of Christ…
The angel wearing white approaches the stone of the tomb and rolls it away with his hand, pointing with his garment and exclaiming with an awed voice through the deacon, who proclaims the resurrection on the third day, raising the veil and saying: ‘Let us stand aright’ — behold, the first day! ‘Let us stand in fear!’ — behold the second day! ‘Let us offer in peace’ — behold, the third day!…
The fans and the deacons are in the likeness of the six-winged seraphim and the many-eyed cherubim, for in this way earthly things imitate the heavenly, transcendent, the spiritual order of things.
It is this “order of things” (Corinthians I:14:40) that is key for the attainment and maintenance of diakonia, and thus the depth of the prayerfulness of the service. Nothing unnecessary, extra, and nothing omitted, and beholding the terrible power of God in what aspect is allowed of the servant, beauty may erupt forth. This beauty serves as the sufficient condition of the service — the necessary component being the order.
Therefore, diakonia emerges as the pivotal condition for the possibility of the full reception of God’s blessing of the service as such. In this way, diakonia is service.
We then turn to the more common reception of diakonia as some call to engage in all manner of humanitarian charity work or aid, to join in with the global chorus of Western guilt-distribution at the behest of materialism. No. This it is not. It is not to colonize further the aims of those who call for universal good in the name of the human species and secular fabrication of “rights” in place of God-given moral order revealed and preserved by the Holy Tradition of the Church.
Humanitas, in fact, as a basis for moral action constitutes not only idolatry, but the pinnacle of radical evil, or evil committed en mass while believing it to be good. God already sees and loves everyone as equal, so to double this over with the violent (i.e. logico-ethico-political force) sentiments of the “peace-mongering” humanitarian and attribute autonomous rights to the global citizen cancels it out with a gratuitous self-entitlement of one’s own making.
No, the “awed voice” of the deacon attests to the Truth at the point in the Liturgy cited above, announcing the coming Anaphora, that with fear and trembling, that we offer up service authentically only in the Church, to the Lord, and in the world, to our Lord’s image in the person of our neighbor. The words are attributed to St. Michael the Archangel, commanding the army of faithful angels to continue as such at the fall of Lucifer and the unfaithful angels. The deacon’s delivery here can often be found correspondingly to include some extra trepidation, new pitch, or step-melody.
The faithful are to be absolutely still and quiet from this point on in the Liturgy, with any movement or speaking being absolutely necessary to the service. The Holy Mystery of the Eucharist, the Bloodless Sacrifice, offered up to God on behalf of all and for all, is executed during the Anaphora at no one particular temporal point of which we may conceive. The entire service, and for a full reception of the feast, the full cycle of services (of which the Liturgy is the culmination), proves absolutely necessary.
When we think of diakonia as service, we perhaps do best to consider life in the Church as service at the higher levels of union with God (e.g. saints, martyrs, venerable ones), for, as has been said, it is also not enough to strive after veritas or the truth as measured by human virtues alone.
For this higher consideration, I propose one simple Psalm verse, often heard chanted for Prokeimenon verses by the deacon:
Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. (116:16)
Because it is a question for the deeply pious — “What shall I render unto the Lord for all that He hath rendered unto me?” — even an entire life in service and repentance to the Lord in His Church is not seen by the pious one as enough to render him or her worthy of salvation.
Thus, it is seen as perhaps the least one can do to give one’s life for the Lord Jesus Christ. Commenting on this verse, St. Augustine of Hippo writes, “He purchased it by His Blood, which He first shed for the salvation of slaves [viz. servants of God], that they might not hesitate to shed their blood for the Lord’s Name; which, nevertheless, would be profitable for their own interest, not for those of the Lord.”
That is, the Lord does not need or benefit from our sacrificial love in return for His, but the noetic vision in one’s heart when fully focused on union with God such that one serves with one’s whole life at any cost and above all else the Lord, and is ready at once to give one’s own life in His Holy Name, constitutes a most endearing event of a life in Christ. So let us offer up in gentle vigilance (nepsis) our very hearts unto the Lord over and against all of the poisoned arrows of the “woke” nihilist modern global terrain set against us.
Ten Year Memorial of the Holy Martyrdom of Priest Daniel