DEACON (from the Greek diakonos, a servant), a person who belongs an inferior order of ministers in the Christian Church. Seven were apparently first instituted by the apostles (Acts, chap. vi), which number was retained a long time in several churches.
In the Roman Catholic Church, a sacred minister whose functions are to assist the priest in the liturgical service and in the administra tion of the sacraments;, also in emergencies to baptize, •to preach and to administer the Eucharist. These three functions it is not law ful for the deacon to discharge without ex press authority from the bishop save in case of necessity. But in the first ages of the Church it was the deacon that gave the communion, in both species, to the faithful in the public litur gical service and at their homes in case of sickness. In the present usage of the Church the diaconate is, save in exceptional cases, simply a step toward the priestly state and office and for the deacon as such there is no recog nized place in the economy of the Church.
In the English Church, also, the diaconate is merely a step toward the priesthood, and the deacon's duties are all in the way of assisting the priest. He preaches only by episcopal per mission, and he cannot consecrate the elements of the Lord's Supper, or pronounce the absolu tion. No person can be ordained deacon before he is 23 years old, except by dispensation from the archbishop of Canterbury. The office of deacon in other churches varies considerably, and some, of course, have no functionaries bear ing this name.
In the Methodist Episcopal churches, the junior order of priesthood, the novitiate being first ordained a deacon, and then after a time, if satisfactory conditions have been ful filled — such as progress in grace and gifts, and the probation of character — elevated to the full priesthood or eldership — the latter the highest order in the Church —the bishops oc cupying not a superior ecclesiastical order, but holding a merely supervisory office.
In the Presbyterian churches, the orders here are teaching elders, or ministers, ruling elders, generally called simply elders (these two orders looking over the spiritual affairs of the con gregation) ; and deacons (now gradually being displaced in many places by managers), to at tend to the more secular matters.
In the Congregational, Baptist and other churches, deacons are spiritual officers ranking immediately after the minister, and looking af ter both the spiritual and the temporal concerns of the congregations. In the Eastern churches the office of deacon as it existed in the early Church has been preserved with slight modifi cations. Consult Hort, 'The Christian Ecclesia) (London 1897) ; Lindsay,