What is Christian Diakonia?

Commemoration of the Miracle of the Archangel Michael at Colossae

Commemoration of the Miracle of the Archangel Michael at Colossae

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.

WHAT IS CHRISTIAN DIAKONIA?

"But Jesus called them to Himself and said, 'You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave--just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give His life a ransom for many" (St. Matt. 20:25-28).

"Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, it is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word. And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas..." (Acts 6:2-5).

[Please note: The qualifications for deacons (lit. "servants") are: (1) having good reputation, (2) being full of the Holy Spirit, and (3) being full of wisdom.]

SERVICE/DIAKONIA

1) To be able to serve God and humanity in the light of the example and teaching of Christ, the Apostles, and the Saints.

2) To be motivated and serve God and humanity in the spirit of sacrificial love (agape), self-giving or self-emptying (kenosis), and faithful fulfillment of the specific needs of others in local and global settings.

3) To be able to identify and serve through the variety of ministries (diakonies) in the life of the Church under the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit (such as teaching, counseling, caring, reconciling, and visiting).

4) To be able to recognize and to fulfill God's call (klesis) through various vocations, professions, and responsibilities in the Church family, and society.

5) To know the meaning of and to live as God's stewards returning to Him in gratitude His gifts of time, talent, and treasure.

(Source: Orthodox Catechesis. Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America)

"While diakonia in Greek thought meant philanthropic care and service to any one in need, in the Hebrew Bible philanthropy simply means service to people of the same race and faith. Philanthropia in ancient Greek literature carries several meaning, but its original means sacrificial love rather than simply kindness, benevolence toward people of the same nation as we find it in later Hebrew literature..."

"...Philanthropia in diakonia, love in practice, became a mark of distinction for the early Christian community. It contrasts to the non-Christian world. Christianity removed boundaries and broke down racial and ethnic fences, proclaiming that "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male or female" but all are one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:38). In its practical application, philanthropy went beyond Jews, Greeks and Romans. It stressed that "love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love" (1 John 4:7-8). God's love requires that men love one another (1 John 4:11). There is no better account of the nature and the fruits of Christian charity than the thirteenth chapter of St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians. Agape is defined as the love of God expressed through the God-made-man event in Christ and as man's love of neighbor, the solvent of hatred of the enemy.

The philanthropic diakonia of the Church in history was greatly influenced by the sacrificial love of Christ (Jo. 3:16) but also his teaching as we read it in St. Matthew 25:31-46. (Source: Origins of Christian Orthodox Diakonia: Christian Orthodox Philanthropy in Church History by Fr. Demetrios J. Constantelos).

Why am I bringing up the topic of diakonia? Simply because I believe there are many within our parish and perhaps throughout the Archdiocese that have not and do not understand what it means to be a Christian diakonos or diakonissa within the local parish.

I have seen the attitude and actions of Greek Orthodox Christians who when they are appointed either by the parish priest or parish council to any official position within the local parish, i.e., members of the parish council, heads of parish ministries, heads of committees, heads of other parish organizations, etc. etc. unfortunately misunderstood it to mean "control" or "power." Of course, it is neither about control nor power. It is, however, about Christian diakonia or service. Neither it is about "authority." The only real authority within the Church is Christ, the Head of the Church.

All of us, from the Metropolitan, Bishop, priest, deacon, lay Christians, are all servants. Servants of Christ, servants of the Church and servants of one another. A Christian servant is a Christian steward. A person filled with selfless love and not a person filled with egotistical ambition to gain honor, personal prestige and hungry for power and control. A kind of tyrant and dictator.

Everyone who believes to be a disciple of Christ must emulate the divine example of our Lord and Savior. The same humility, the same unconditional love for neighbor, the same kind of sacrificial love. In the Gospel of Saint John 12:26 "if anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I Am, there will My servant be also. If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him."

In the Gospel of St. Mark 10:42-45 we read: "And Jesus called them to Him and said to them, 'You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave to all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve..." "Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience" (Colossians 3:12).

In the Gospel of Saint John we read: "You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them" (John 13:13-17).

If you truly desire to know what it means to be a genuine Christian servant, you must turn to the teachings of the Church of Christ. One cannot be an authentic Christian if has never read the Holy Scripture or the holy writings of the holy Fathers and Mothers of the Church. Put your pseudo-pride aside and ask the local Orthodox theologian, your parish priest, just as you would seek the advice of your physician, if you wanted to find out something about your health issues. Why would you trust your doctor and not your priest who has been entrusted by God to serve you, to bring healing to you through the Sacraments of the Church and to guide spiritually and to bring you closer to Him? Why do you run to your priest for his help when your doctor has given up on you or your loved one? Is your priest only good when you are faced with a personal crisis?

Your Orthodox priest is a theologically educated man and a man with an experience of almost a half century. In other words, he is the only specialist in Orthodox theology, except for a very few exceptions, in the local parish.

Be "a good and faithful servant" of God. When one is appointed to serve Christ and the Church, he/she must do it with understanding, with conviction, with meekness, with humility, with a sense of unworthiness, with the fear of God, with faith and with love.

It is a grave sin to abuse, exploit, corrupt, divide and create unrest and turmoil within the Church of Christ. It is also a sin to disrespect your priest and to attempt to usurp his authority within the parish. All of the above actions are evil actions which lead to your condemnation by God. A hateful person is not a Christian or a follower of Christ but an instrument and a servant of the Evil One.

"Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming" (St. Matthew 25:13).

With agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George