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They became the natural intermediaries between the celebrant and the people.Inside the Church they made public announcements, marshaled the congregation, preserved order, and the like.An attempt has recently been made, though regarded by many as somewhat fanciful, to trace the origin of the diaconate to the organization of those primitive Hellenistic Christian communities, which in the earliest age of the Church had all things in common, being supported by the alms of the faithful.For these it is contended that some steward ( oeconomus ) must have been appointed to administer their temporal affairs.
They were to welcome the poor and aged and to take care that they were not at a disadvantage as to their position in church. With the reading of the Gospel should also probably be connected the occasional, though rare, appearance of the deacon in the office of preacher.These they placed "before the Apostles ; and they, praying, imposed hands upon them." Now, on the ground that the Seven are not expressly called deacons and that some of them (e.g. Stephen, and later Phillip ( Acts 21:8 ) preached and ranked next to the Apostles, Protestant commentators have constantly raised objections against the identification of this choice of the Seven with the institution of the diaconate. Compare, for example, both with the passage from the Acts with 1 Timothy 3:8 sq., quoted above, the following sentence from Hermas (Sim., IX, 26): They that have spots are the deacons that exercised their office ill and plundered the livelihood of widows and orphans and made gains for themselves from the ministrations they had received to perform. For they are not deacons of meats and drinks [only] but servants of the church of God . We seem, therefore, thoroughly justified in identifying the functions of the Seven with those of the deacons of whom we hear so much in the Apostolic Fathers and the early councils.But apart from the fact that the tradition among the Fathers is both unanimous and early -- e.g. Established primarily to relieve the bishops and presbyters of their more secular and invidious duties, notably in distributing the alms of the faithful, we need not do more than recall the large place occupied by the agapae, or love feasts, in the early worship of the Church, to understand how readily the duty of serving at tables may have passed into the privilege of serving at the altar.Outside of it they were the bishop's deputies in secular matters, and especially in the relief of the poor.Their subordination and general duties of service seem to have been indicated by their standing during the public assemblies of the Church, while the bishops and priests were seated.
A few years later (1 Timothy 3:8 sq.) he impresses upon Timothy that "deacons must be chaste, not double tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre, holding the mystery of faith in a pure conscience." He directs further that they must "first be proved : and so let them minister, having no crime", and he adds that they should be the husbands of one wife: who rule well their children and their own houses.