Diaconate Service; Historic Meeting with HH Pope Tawadros II and North American Diaconate Service (post1/2018)

The first meeting since the revival of the rank of the diaconate between the Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria and the 38 Deacons and their wives from different areas in North America took place on Tuesday the 15th of Touth 1735 AM, 25th of September, 2018 AD. Coinciding with the commemoration of the translocation of the body of St. Stephen the Archdeacon, 38 deacons were gathered at this historic meeting, coming from New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Illinois, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ontario, Canada. 

The meeting began with an introduction from Fr. Bishoy Lamie Mikhail, the servant of the deacons, discussing the history of the diaconate in the area. Deacon Medhat Wassef, the Deacon in St. Mark Jersey City was ordained in 1954 by Metropolitan Lukas of Manfalut and Abnoub and Deacon Atef Moawad, the deacon in St. Mark Church in Chicago, was ordained in 1994 by Metropolitan Domadios of El Giza. The first ordination in New Jersey was Deacon Hanna Ibrahim in 2006 by HG Bishop David. The years 2015 and 2016 saw a rapid increase in the ordination of deacons due to the need of helping in the liturgical services, but in addition, the deacons wanted to revive the rank according to Acts 6: 1-7 and Matthew 25: 34-36. With the increase in the number of ordained deacons, HG Bishop Karas started the first organizing meeting in May 2015 with the Deacons of St. Mark Church in Jersey City, setting the organization of meetings, conferences and the study topics. Then the organization continued during the service of HG Bishop Angelos as a Papal Exarch and now HG Bishop David as the Papal Exarch.

Deacon Antony Mansour from St. Mark Church in Jersey City, who witnessed this period and had the blessing of coordinating the service with the deacons in St. Mark Church, spoke about the quarterly deacons meeting and the annual conference. It is a duty here to give thanks to the churches who hosted these meetings: St. Mark Church in Jersey City, St. Mary in East Brunswick and St. Antonious and St. Mina in East Rutherford. The topics for the first conference, held in October 2016 were: The role of the deacon in the service of the Holy Liturgy, the tasks of the deacon and his roles, the common service between the priest and the deacon, and the spiritual life for the deacon. The speakers were: HG Bishop Karas, Hegomen Shenouda Maher and Hegomen Athanasuis Farag. During the first conference, we discussed the Church Canon Law regarding the rank of the deacons, during the second one we discussed how we can go from what is written in Canons and the Bible to the practical field in the immigration land. In April 2018, forty deacons gathered to hear about: how to deliver a sermon, the deacon and the inner life, the deacon and the service, the service of visiting the sick, the service of outreach, the Diaconate service in the sister Churches and how to benefit from them, the visitation of the prisoners, the work of the role of the deacon through a study to the liturgical prayer of his ordination, the Church in the mind of the Fathers, and the teaching about the Lord Christ in the Liturgical prayers. The speakers were: HG Bishop Karas, Hegomen Tadros Malaty, Hegomen Moises Boghdady, Hegomen Athanasius Farag, Hegomen Angelos Sarkis (via video conference), Fr. Basilios Sobhy (via video conference) Deacon Athanasius Faltas. Also in this conference the deacons shared their services so others could benefit from the different ideas in different places. The quarterly meetings discussed: the service of the deacon, the life of consecration, meditation on the life and the sayings of St. Anthony, and the heresy of Apollinarius. The speakers were: HE Metropolitan Tadros, HG Bishop David, HG Bishop Karas, Hegomen Abraam Sleman, Hegomen Athanasius Farag. Deacon Soliman Ayoub.

The following part of the presentation to His Holiness included two main models for the services of the deacon, one inside the Church, the other outside the Church with the surrounding community. Deacon Mina Aziz from Archangel Michael, and St. Mina in Staten Island (Diocese of New York and New England) spoke about the revival of the Diaconate Room in the Church, where all ideas, resources are to be brought to the deacons of the church who in turn plan, organize the service in a way that it complete each other and not to overlap with the Liturgical services, also making needs assessment for the families who just arrived or in need of any service from the Church or the government. The second model was the services with the community, Deacon Phlopater Abd ElMessih from St. Mary Church in East Brunswick showed how the service for the homeless started and how the spiritual component was introduced to the service as well as the materialistic service. Also he explained how the elderly gathering changed to a spiritual meeting, where they started to study the Bible together.

The next section of the presentation showed the nine current services served by the deacons in different areas: Classes for Pre-Cana, homeless, prison ministry (noteworthy here to thank Hegomen Abraham Azmy for issuing the clergy ID in a speedy time so that the deacons can freely visit these facilities with a Church ID), writing and translation of books, outreaching the youth and the families, the family meetings, elderly and visiting the sick. Some services had fewer deacons involved because they need a certain talent like writing and translation, while others like visitation have a high number of participants. His Holiness commented that the service of the translation and writing needs to have more participants as we need to translate many of our Church books.

Some of the recommendations from the conferences and the quarterly meetings included: the Diaconate service can revive the praying of the Vesper’s praises and the evening raising of Incense, Midnight prayers, also they can outreach all the other ranks of the Diaconate service and the preparation the catechumens for the baptism. Diaconate service also can work with the family in the following aspects: outreach, preparation for marriage classes, family meetings, resolving family issues, especially the older deacons by their life experience, the new comers, caring for the orphans and the widows especially from the spiritual aspects, preparing the families who have newly born child to the Liturgy of the Baptism, follow-up with the families after the baptism of the child.

Last point in the first part of the presentation discussed upcoming events and future work. The third conference for the Deacons will be held on 5th – 8th May 2019, and HH Pope Tawadros II is going to speak via the video conference. The conference will be hosted by the New York and New England Diocese under the auspices of HG Bishop David. The website for the Diaconate service, http://northamericadiaconateservice.org/ was launched. The website is open by registration and available only for the bishops, priests and the rank of the deacon. The website has a section where the deacons can share their services so they benefit one another.

It was recommended that during the ordination of the deacon, the bishop may explain what is his role, and how the priest can benefit from service of the deacon. HG Bishop David explained that currently there is overlap between the service of the priest and the service of the deacons. But by the reviving of this service the priest will be focusing on his service and the deacon will be of a great help to the Bishop and the priest. HH Pope Tawadros II, advised that the summary of this presentation to be added in AlKeraza magazine and granted a special space for participation in every AlKeraza magazine.

The second part of the meeting contained the Apostolic word from HH Pope Tawadros II. HH read for us Eph. 4: 1-12 and mentioned seven tasks from the above passage which outline our service:

1 – Do preach: Our basic task is to offer the work of salvation and evangelism. You may visit a patient or a prisoner or a case.... Preach, offer a saying, offer a verse, offer the stories about miracles of Jesus.

2 – Do retreat: Specify periods of private retreat in which you feel that you are alone with God. This is what St. Paul the apostle did after his call, he retreated at the desert of Arabia.

3 – Do preaching: A sermon is defined as in reference to the preaching of Christ and repentance. A lecture is defined as stating variable information. Do present teachings out of your own lived experience. Be an open Bible ready to be read by the people, as though the Bible is incarnated in you.

4 – Be vigilant: Leave laziness and always be conscientious. Lack of activity is an infirmity of the current modern life style. (HH cited a famous Egyptian proverb “movement is blessing”).

5 – Be tolerant: Service without fatigue has no taste. (HH cited St. Paul’s verse "For you, we die all day."

6 – Do work: continuous movement.

7 – Make complete: Christ does not love the unfinished work, and on the cross said "It is finished."

You are doing the service by the motivation love and not because you will be providing a report. HH exchanged gifts with the deacons and their wives, and a group photo was taken. The bishops, priests, deacons and their families were honored to share in this historic day with His Holiness