The Order of the Diaconate is a permanent order in the Church and an active part of the Metropolitan Archeparchy of Pittsburgh. It is open to both married and celibate men. Deacons represent a great and visible sign of the working of the Holy Spirit through their life of service in the Church. The diaconate is largely a parish-based ministry, but with the additional challenge to broaden its ministries. Deacons are important for the life of the Church and for our Archeparchy. They enhance our liturgical services and provide additional ministry, such as visiting the sick and elderly, assisting in sacramental preparation and helping in other parish ministries. Wives must be supportive of their husbands’ ministry; the candidate’s family can also be greatly enriched by his ordination and service.
The candidate should be motivated by a desire to better help the Church and better serve the community. The diaconate is an opportunity for an ecclesial ministry of service that can deepen one’s own spiritual life and impart a more powerful sense of purpose and place in life.
Formation for the diaconate consists of a four-year academic and formation program which includes a two-week intensive summer program at the Byzantine Catholic Seminary in the month of June, followed by a program of distance learning through guided reading and the writing of papers through the rest of the year. Priest mentors will be assigned to assist candidates during the year.
Growth in self-knowledge is greatly assisted by the help of a wise spiritual guide. Candidates will receive constant spiritual direction with an experienced guide. This will allow each candidate to more carefully discern his call to ordained ministry as well as to grow in his personal relationship with Christ.
Discernment takes place at every step of the program. Initial discernment occurs through the screening of applicants. This includes the necessity of having the recommendation of one’s pastor and the support of one’s wife and family. Ongoing discernment takes place with the director of the program and his staff. Admission to the diaconate program does not necessarily imply eventual ordination. Careful scrutinies will be made each year and written evaluations will be made by the director of the program.
Announcement of these dates are made far in advance to allow the deacon candidate to plan his time accordingly. In order to be totally immersed in the program, the candidate must be free for two weeks to reside at the seminary, where he will prepare himself liturgically, spiritually and educationally – three vital aspects of the Diaconate Program.
A candidate interested in the Diaconate Program should contact his pastor to discuss this interest. Once the candidate receives his pastor’s blessing, he should return the attached application form to the Office of Vocations in order to begin the process of discernment for admission to the program.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How does a man become a deacon?
A: As in all vocations, a man is called by God to become a deacon. Then he goes through an internal and external discernment process. Internally, he considers whether he is suited to this life of service; externally, others from his eparchy consider his suitability as well. If the man believes that he is called to the diaconate, and others who know him are in agreement, he is then admitted to a four-year program of formal study, both academic and spiritual. The Byzantine Catholic Seminary’s Deacon Formation Program, a graduate level course, consists of a two-week summer residential session which is followed by a distance-learning component that takes place throughout the rest of the year.
Q: How did the role of deacon originate?
A: Deacons have actually been around longer than priests. According to the Acts of the Apostles, seven deacons were chosen to assist church leaders (Acts 6:1-7). They were selected to serve primarily in social ministries, to attend to the poor and needy in particular.
Q: Do deacons serve the same role now as they did then?
A: In many ways, yes. However, the liturgical role of the deacon has become highly developed in the Eastern Churches. The Divine Liturgy of the Byzantine Church is most expressive when bishops, priests, deacons, cantors, readers, choirs and ushers each serve their primary roles. So often today, we are accustomed to seeing only the priest celebrate the Divine Liturgy. But the role of a deacon allows priests to be properly presbyteral, that is, to lead the prayers of the Liturgy and lead the assembly in worship. Also, deacons serve liturgical functions such as chanting the litanies, performing the incensations, proclaiming the Gospel and administering the Eucharist, but they have educational and social ministries as well.
Q: What are the criteria for acceptance to the Diaconate Program?
A: According to Archpriest John Petro, Co-Director of the School of Diaconate Studies of the Byzantine Catholic Seminary, the application process places applicants under significant scrutiny, and the approval procedure is rigorous. “Their pastor must approve their candidacy and their wife must support their entering the program. We evaluate their educational background and they sit for an interview with the Vocation Board of the Archeparchy. Candidates are subjected to psychological testing, physical examination and criminal investigation. We also consider their involvement in their local parish life. We consider deacons an important part of the church, so they must be personally and professionally above repute. Not everyone who applies will be accepted, not everyone who is accepted will finish and not all who finish will necessarily be ordained. Ordination depends upon one’s hierarch.”
Q: What is the proper way to address a deacon?
A: He may be called “Deacon” or “Father Deacon.”
Q: What is the proper attire for a deacon?
A: For liturgical services, he wears a cassock with a sticharion (a brocaded garment) and an orarion (stole). When serving in other ministries such as visiting hospitals or other health care facilities, when teaching or officially representing the Church, the deacon normally wears a clerical collar.
Q: Where do deacons serve, and what are their responsibilities?
A: The diaconal ministry is primarily a parish-based service. Since most deacons are married and have families and jobs, they typically serve in their home parishes. They are very involved in the liturgical and the educational life of the parish. In addition to their liturgical ministry, deacons may serve in teaching positions for both adults and children, sacramental preparation for Christian Initiation and for marriage, visiting those who are home-bound or in a health care facility, and they may take the Eucharist to the sick. Much will depend upon the needs of the parish. In addition, deacons are actively involved in wider church functions such as accompanying the Metropolitan or liturgical services during visits to parishes and in the annual Pilgrimage at Mount St. Macrina in Uniontown Pa.