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Liturgical Diaconia

Dr Alexandros Papaderos


Biblical and Theological View of Diaconia

From the history of the term 'diakonia' itself, it is clear that the ancient world's scale of values was reversed by Christianity and new ideals established.

The secular Greek idea of diakonein (waiting at table and, in its extended sense, providing for the maintenance of life) was associated with an inferior human activity unsuitable for all but slaves. But when related to the polis (service of one's country, city, or to the State as a statesman, with a view to doing the service entrusted to him and not to dominate), to the cosmos (in the sense of everything the human being, as microcosm, must do so as not to disturb the unity and harmony of the whole world, the macrocosm) and to God (e. g. the wise man as God's servant, instrument and witness, in Aristotle and Hellenism), the term diakonia took on a broader meaning which found an echo in early Christian writings and in the patristic literature. But in the sense of a sacrifice of oneself for the sake of the other, the term diakonia still had a long way to go: to rule rather than to serve was still what best befitted man. "How can a man who has to serve someone possibly be happy?" asked the Sophists.

In Judaism, on the other hand, the notion of service was strongly influenced by the oriental spirit, according to which it was not demeaning to perform services for another, least of all when that other is a great lord and even God Himself. It is significant that the LXX, which does not use the word diakonein, employs the term douleuein or, for Hebrew words referring to the cult, the terms leitourdein and latreuin. There are many examples of a helpful attitude to the neighbor in the Old Testament. But in late Judaism the supreme command of love to the neighbour (Lv. 19:18) tended to fade into the background and, as a result of the contrast drawn by the Pharisees between the just and the unjust, was eventually almost completely obscured. Service came to be practiced more as a work which is, meritorious in God's sight and less as an act of sacrifice.

Into this pitiless world came the Gospel as the Good News of God's great love and mercy. To demonstrate and attest this love to all men is the task of Christian diaconia.

The term diakonein is sometimes used in the N.T. in its original sense of waiting at table. But at the same time it undergoes a radical change of content.

Firstly, the verbal connection made in Hellenistiñ Judaism between service and self-service was completely abandoned. On the natural' scale of values, the one who sits down and is waited on at table has more 'standing' than the one who serves him. 'But I am among you as one who serves' (Lk 22:27); precisely as He who, though Lord of the Kingdom of God (v. 29), voluntarily assumes the role of servant, thereby turns upside down the human style of values and shows the way to true greatness which is not the way of the princes and rulers of this world (Mk. 10:42; Mt. 20:25) but the way of the cross which He himself travels: 'If any of you wants to be great, he must be the servant of the rest; and if one of you wants to be first, he must become the slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served; he came to serve and to give his life to redeem many people' (Mk. 10:43-45. Cf. the story of the feet-washing). This is certainly not just the establishment of a new pattern of ethical behaviour, a new 'law' whose fulfilment would be nothing more than a 'service which brings death' and condemnation. What Jesus seeks rather is a 'service of the Spirit', a 'service by which men are innocent', which surpasses in glory anything known in the past (2 Cor. 3:7-9).

Diakonia thus becomes a basic Trinitarian-christological-ecclesiological and eschatological concept. As love of the neighbour, diakonia is the fruit of God's love: the love of God to humanity which, in Jesus Christ, has revealed the type of the true deacon through kenosis and cross; and the love of man to God which is measured in service to the neighbour.

True diaconia, therefore, can only be properly understood in terms of God's mercy (eleos) and only properly be exercised by the power of God's mercy (eleos). In a world which, as I have said, is pitiless, its primary purpose is to communicate an atmosphere of mercy (eleos); the kind of atmosphere we experience in our liturgical life. The Kyrie eleison of the congregation which permeates every act of Christian worship as a constant dominant theme expresses its confidence in God's unspeakable mercy, His grace and favour, His goodness and faithfulness, the mercy, compassion, blessing and philanthropy whose 'fullness' we have experienced and are to communicate to others. Just as the creation of the world and of humankind is an expression of God's mercy (eleos), so too the restoration (apokatastasis, paligenesia) and the redemption (soteria, lytrosis), the whole economy of salvation, are due to the mercy (eleos) of God towards which the congregation too is eschatologically oriented, looking for the eleos of its Lord (Jude 21). The Church prays for the Jews that God may have mercy on them [1]. Christians show mercy to pagans in the hope of winning them to Christianity [2]. St. Isaac the Syrian would later describe eleemosyne as 'the ardour of the heart's love for the creation, for the animals, for man, indeed, even for the devil!' Human beings are to drink this pure wine until they are drunk with it and then really live!

In this universal atmosphere of love, of course, diaconia is neither simply a distribution of alms nor welfare service, though this too is certainly recommended frequently in the NT as a sign of genuine love. But the term diaconia actually becomes the very essence of all Christian love in action (service in relation to all human needs) as well as the essence of genuine discipleship (unity of diaconia, obedience and witness). The fact that the very first deacons did not refrain from preaching altogether (Stephen!) and that even the apostles continued to consider works of love as their task (e.g. the organization and delivery of collections, 2 Cor. 8:19-20) shows the unity of preaching and service, and the essential correlation of ministries in the life of the Church. Sharing one's daily bread and offering the Gospel as the bread of life are inseparable!

It is in this sense that diakonein takes place in the congregation and with a view to its mission to the world. It is in the life of the congregation that the one Spirit distributes charisms and ministries (1 Cor. 12) in order that the members of the Body may in unity care for one another, share each other's joy and burdens, for the upbuilding of the Church. Every charisma is given for a specific service, bestowed by God in the richness of His grace and exercised only by the power of the Spirit, in the one Lord. No charism and no diaconia has any arbitrary existence or any independent function, any more than does any member of the Body. No member can ignore the whole body or claim to represent or lead it alone. Nor is any diaconia to be despised or relegated to the margin by the others [3]. Finally, the various diaconia are not meant to foster any kind of works-righteousness or self-glorification. They are to be employed exclusively to the glory of God through Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 4:10f.). Unless this eschatological dimension is kept steadily and clearly in view, the servant of God is in grave danger of becoming the diakonos of Satan (2 Cor. 11:14) and of sin (Gal. 2:17).

I wish to draw attention here to one final aspect of diaconia, in the light of the choice of the first seven deacons (Acts 6). When thinking of this appointment of deacons, we tend to dwell on its importance in relieving the apostles of part of their burden; the apostles were to devote all their energy to preaching. But the aspect of that choice seems to me especially relevant today. As you remember, the Hellenistic widows were then being overlooked at mealtimes, i.e. when the daily distribution of food took place Probably under Pharisaic influence (the Jew could not eat at the same table with those who did not observe the law, i.e. with 'sinners') , discrimination and marginalization betrayed their presence in the early Church! It is therefore important to understand the decision of the Christian community correctly; it filled all seven 'places' with Hellenistic disciples In other words, with representatives of the oppressed minority! This was a radical decision: 'For the committing of this service to the Hellenistic Seven surely implies rather more than a purely external release of the leaders of the community from administrative duties' [4].

Understood in this sense, diaconia became the final and exclusive criterion for admission into the heavenly kingdom and to fellowship with God (parable of the Last Judgement, Mt. 25:31-46): Christ identifies himself with the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the prisoner.

'Listen, you nations, listen carefully, you Christians! It is not with his own voice that the Lord speaks but through the mouth of slaves …' Basil the Great, PG 31, 324.

The development of the diaconal ministry and the shift of emphasis from the social to the liturgical cannot be discussed here. The ministry of deaconesses will be referred to later on.

Let me conclude this brief survey by way of summary with a final remark. As discipleship of Christ, Christian diaconia means action on behalf of Christ's brothers and sisters, those whom this world regards as the 'least', action even including the sacrifice of one's life. 'To serve the neighbor, Christ, or God, is one and the same thing. The resultant fellowship with the Father is the reward of such service' [5].

Historical Testimony

We must first of all examine the history of our own Church and see how our forebears responded to the biblical commission to service in the course of the centuries.

In view of the cultural differences which exist, it is doubtful whether Orthodoxy itself is able today to offer a single common answer to modern social questions. The only thing we can say with safety is that the entire body of Orthodoxy is permeated and the Orthodox communion shaped and held together as a single unity of life and meaning, by one formative principle which constitutes a unifying factor.

Elsewhere I have described this formal principle as the liturgical principle [6]. I would like to retain this description here, convinced as I am that it expresses the quintessence of the Orthodox awareness of itself, of humanity and the world. I realize, of course, that when isolated from the total context such concepts can be misleading and even degenerate into mere clich?s and fashionable slogans (as e.g. with the terms "eucharist", "spirituality", pleroma, "doxology" and so on, and more recently with the term "conciliarity"). But I believe we can use this term "liturgical" to show why and in what sense every Christian diaconia to the world, to culture, to politics, to human beings, must be a liturgical diaconia.

By 'liturgy' I do not simply mean any specific cultic act but a definite life style which, while certainly rooted and focused in the Eucharistic liturgy, also embraces the whole life of the person. For Orthodox Christians, liturgy in this sense means 'bringing the heavenly into the earthly, in the way that John Chrysostom suggested when he heard the singing of the heavenly choirs and the harmonies of an eternal song in the very midst of the things of time' [7]. But at the same time liturgy is the elevation of the earthly into the heavenly places, the fulfilment of every immanent creaturely thlos (goal) and its transfiguration by grace. In this Eucharistic liturgy the destined sanctification of humanity and the cosmos, and therefore their consummation and fellowship with God (theosis), are realized through the self-offering of the incarnate Logos, in anticipation of the eschatological hope.

The main characteristic of liturgy, understood and experienced in this way, is its catholicity. By its very nature, the ecclesiological concept of catholicity is christological concept. When St. Ignatius says 'wheresoever Christ Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church' [8]. He is certainly referring to the hypostatic union of Christ with his Body the Church and to its unadulterated and intact pleroma.

Without entering into a discussion of this pleroma, I would like to formulate here the main thesis of this address:

In the context of the Church's liturgical understanding of humanity, world, society and history, any division between verticalism and horizontalism is not merely absurd but actually heretical!

It is just as absurd and heretical as the distinction (in the sense of divorce) between salvation history and world history, between the cross and resurrection, between the divine and human nature of Christ or of the Church, or between faith and works. It is high time we stopped playing the one off against the other! This is a game in which there are only losers!

One of the things for which we are most indebted to the church fathers, particularly to the Cappadocians, is the way in which they overcame these dualisms and established firm standing ground for us and for our dealing with earthly problems. Starting from the biblical theology of creation, from Christ's incarnation, death and resurrection, and on the basis of confidence in the 'new ktisis' ('new creation') and the metamorphosis of transfiguration of the cosmos by the power of the Spirit, they exorcised the demons from the ancient world picture with its distorted dualistic approach. This enabled them to wage a successful struggle against ancient philosophies of nature, against the Stoics and the Gnostics, and to equip us with spiritual weapons to enable us, too, to continue the struggle today against modern dualisms against deism, pantheism and materialism. This patristic view of the world and history was aptly summed up by Metropolitan Ignatios of Latakia at the Uppsala Assembly in his address on the main theme. He stressed that:

  • the structure of the world is dialogical in the proper theological sense of the Logos;
  • the structure of the world is also diabolic in the proper theological sense of the word;
  • the structure of history is Pascal, in the proper theological sense of the "passage" from this world to a new creation; and
  • the present structure of history is already a parousia-structure, in the proper theological sense of the Presence (parousia) of God-with-men [9].

How then can we possibly let ourselves be seduced by ancient and modern heresies, by succumbing for example to the dichotomies already mentioned and thereby asserting that the 'secular' is irrelevant to salvation, including in the term 'secular' such things as hunger and illiteracy, injustice and the absence of peace and freedom!

Are we to forget the fundamental trinitarian and christological decisions and therefore soteriological, social and ethical decisions - of the early ecumenical councils? Are we to be deceived by the dualism of the Nestorians (divorce between the divine and the human) or by the monism of the Monophysites (absorption of the human by the divine)? The Church, on the contrary, has firmly maintained the theandric nature of Christ and frequently testified that any divorce here would certainly end up in heresy, as certainly as would any confusion or change! In my view, this sense of catholicity and unity is of fundamental importance. For only as we have this sense of catholicity and unity will diaconia keep the whole human being in view of the midst of the totality of factors and conditions of our earthly existence and only by this sense of catholicity and unity can we preserve the necessary balance and correlation in our practical deployment of the ministries and charisms in the Christian community for the life and upbuilding of the Church and for the salvation of the world.

Microdimensional and Macrodimensional Diaconia

By microdimensional diaconia I mean all the concrete measures taken by the Church to remedy the concrete distress of individuals and groups by concrete means. I include here, above all the charitable institutions and organizations which, as is well known, the Church began very early to create in order to deal effectively with human needs of various kinds There is no need for me to describe these charitable activities in detail, but three points should be kept in mind in our discussions:

Firstly: most of these charitable institutions were established in the neighbourhood around the church as an extension of the sacred altar to include concrete human distress and, indeed, as something central to the life of the whole Christian community, since charitable work is also its task and not the sole responsibility (monopoly!) of the bishop or the clergy.

Secondly: the Church always showed remarkable flexibility, great freedom, alertness and inventiveness in abandoning old methods and patterns of charitable work and employing new ones depending on the needs and conditions at any given time.

Thirdly: the Church did not regard charitable activity as its own exclusive privilege or as a bone of contention and occasion of tension between itself and the State and society but on the contrary sought to encourage both State and society to assume their responsibilities for people in need; it was always the Church's concern to permeate with the spirit of mercy (eleos) the entire machinery of government and society (administration, legal system, legal practice, police and prison services, social organizations). This last concern of the Church, especially, constitutes part of the social activity which we have labelled 'microdimensional diaconia'. Certainly, the Church realized that, however vital and impressive its microdimensional diaconia might be and however clear a sign of the vigour of the Christian community, this service could never even approximately deal effectively with the social needs requiring to be met. Besides this, the Church had a much broader conception of its diaconal task right from the beginning; understanding it as a macrodimensional diaconia as well, and this in three directions:

  • as the development of a fellowship of solicarity;
  • as a mission with a diaconal dimension; and
  • as a commitment to social justice and liberation.

Development of a Fellowship of Solidarity

In the liturgical life the Christian experiences in a quite special way his or her personal participation in the koinonia of the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12). He knows that he is called not to order his life around some 'law' or to carry our certain 'commandments' but rather to rise to a new way of living, in Christ: to be crucified with Christ (Gal. 2:19), to be raised up and made alive by Him (Eph. 2:6) to put on Christ like a garment (Gal. 3:27), to share as a child of God in the inheritance of God (Eph. 1:5; Rom. 8:15; Eph. 1:14; Eph. 1:18; Col. 3:24; 1 Pet. 1:4). He therefore knows he is incorporated into a worldwide fellowship.

From this liturgical sense of catholicity and unity have sprung the great currents which have permeated the whole earth, shaping cultures and establishing communities.

In the liturgy the Orthodox Christian learns, for example, that he or she does not stand in the presence of God as an individual, concerned only with his or her own justification (Augustinian-Reformation anguish of mind). On the contrary, he (she) stands as a person who exists in loving interpersonal communion with fellow human-beings and therefore with God, in harmony with the basic principle of Orthodox soteriology and social ethics which may be represented diagrammatically as follows:

My movement in love towards my fellow-human 'Thou' is in fact possible because God has taken the initial movement in love towards me, a movement to which I can only respond via my neighbour (Mt. 5:23-24) [10].

'As I was reading the holy Gospel, I also came across the place where our Christ says that no Christian man or woman can care for him or herself alone or how he or she can be saved, but must also care for the brothers and sisters that they may not be damned' [11].

The spiritual room in which the individual also feels accepted and safe is neither the bliss or damnation of the individual but the transfiguration of the creation and the theosis of the whole humanity.

'We were all in Christ and the common prosopon (face) of humanity is raised again to live towards Him' [12].

This security in the Eucharistic koinonia of the universal fellowship of humanity has particularly profound consequences for social diaconia, when diaconia means far more than just the distribution of charity. From a purely empirical sociological analysis it is easy to show how wisely the Church adopted ancient forms and patterns of social life and filled them with new meaning or else created new structures (mostly with their source in liturgy) in order to meet various needs. Solidarity - the main characteristic of these structures - still remains intact to a large extent in the cities even today, despite the corrosive effects of the urbanization and rationalization of human life. Let me give a few points to illustrate this form of macro dimensional diaconia.

Suffering transfigured

Secure in the eucharistic fellowship of solidarity, there is no longer any need for the human being to bear suffering or joy in isolation and loneliness. As you know, the form of the liturgy preserves certain elements of ancient drama. But what was presented as inner longing and inner tension in the mystery cults is here revealed as the reality of the new creation, as the victory of the cross over death, as the expression of resurrection. A theology of illuminated suffering, expressed poetry, music and architecture symbolizing the economy of salvation, helps the Christian to find a deeper meaning in his own suffering and humbly and confidently to bear both personal and collective suffering in the light of the cross, resurrection and eschatological hope.

Here you experience the great compassion of Christ and of God 'who became what you were that you might become what you were not' [13]. Here we see Christ 'crowned with glory and honour because of the death he suffered' (Heb. 2:9), sharing our 'flesh and blood', destroying the devil who had the power over death (Heb. 2:14), setting free all those who were slaves throughout their lives because they were afraid of death (Heb. 2:15), as their faithful and merciful High Priest in his service to God (Heb. 2:17), as the 'great artist of suffering', as Chrysostom calls him [14]. For the Christian community, therefore, the path of suffering martyrium of Christ and his saints remains the permanent sign of the unlimited solidarity of God with his people all their pain and distress and his gift to them of his Spirit whom we experience above all as the great Comforter (Paraclete). Without this confidence, it would be almost impossible to explain the endurance and patience of most, indeed of all, Orthodox peoples in face of the often cruel calamities which have marked their several histories.

With the security of the same fellowship of solidarity, Christians learn as brothers and sisters to bear each other's burdens (Gal. 6:2). Above all here the strong learn to bear the infirmities of the weak (Rom. 15:1). For Christians live on the basis of their acceptance by Christ and must also themselves live by the acceptance of others (Rom. 15:1) , without distinction, without restriction and unconditionally, so that the Gentiles may learn to praise God for his mercy (Rom. 15:9). Thanks to this new ethos, as is well known, a rich variety of forms of voluntary solidarity and mutual aid have been developed for the relief of distress in all sorts of situations, and not only distress of a material kind: 'The primary eleemosyne is zealously to rebuke the brethren' [15].

What institution would ever have been able to shoulder spiritual or material needs or needs of any kind, had not the Spirit of mercy (eleos)produced this fellowship of solidarity and the security it affords!

But important as the diaconia in suffering is, the diaconia in human joys is just as important (1 Cor. 12:26; Rom. 12:15; 13:6). It is perhaps easier for a human being to bear suffering alone than to rejoice alone! Within the fellowship of solidarity, however, no one need to be shut up alone in a private sphere. Indeed it is impossible for anyone to do so, since the personal is also at the same time the supra-personal fellowship.

In this connection it should be emphasized very strongly that, particularly in the spiritual breathing space of the eucharistic fe1lo.rs11ip, the sense of festival in the setting of so many feast says (saints' days) and liturgical ceremonies has filled human life a wealth of joy and happiness. In the atmosphere of liturgical festival, personal

relations are deepened, tensions resolved, conflicts settled, peace established, forgiveness practiced. Here, above all, people experience that distinctive tranquility and inner happiness which is poles apart from the inebriation procured by the modern pleasure industry. Particularly in face of the human quest for happiness and joy (silent families glued to the TV screen, leasure occupations and tourism, drugs, sexism, materialism and consumerism) we are all the more sharply aware of the need for a diaconia of joy in the context of real Eucharistic koinonia.

In the atmosphere created by this coenobitic (koino-biotic) spirit of Orthodoxy we also become acquainted with a wide and varied range of impulses which permeate, cement and fructify the whole of life, both private and public. Think, for example, of the sanctification and deepening of the 'natural' orders such as kinship by means of the sacraments of marriage and baptism (including spiritual kinship in the shape of marriage witnesses, baptismal sponsors) leading to an extension of personal communication and solidarity which is also of importance from a sociological standpoint. Think also of how the ancient Church, and even monasticism, promoted a rich variety of forms and patterns of solidarity and even created them, whereby social as well as purely economic concerns could be satisfied in brotherly mutuality, often in surprisingly modern ways. In the Byzantine and post-Byzantine period (Turkish occupation), our people developed this coenoitic (koino-biotic)tradition further with remarkable success. Think finally of how even the modern cooperatives, so important for economic and social development generally, in many places originated and found their inspiration and creative power in precisely this coenobitic spirit and can still find it today as a number of contemporary examples here in Crete can demonstrate [16].

All these affirmations add up to this: Christian diaconia can never be limited exclusively to institutionalized welfare work, the distribution of charity and the care of the individual. In this merciless world of selfishness, hostility and universal strife, the task of Christian diaconia - in the sense of macrodimensional diaconia - is rather to bear witness to the mercy of God (eleos), to develop structures of fellowship in solidarity and to seek to illuminate the darkness of human attitudes and social cultures (of justice, economy, labour, etc.) with the glimmer of Christian love and hope. Not with any idea of transforming this earth into a paradise but in order to prevent it from turning into a human from turning into a human hell.

Mission with a Diaconal Dimension

To be consistent, those who affirm that the Gospel is only concerned with the salvation of the soul ought to condemn the entire Christian mission as a mistake. For Christian evangelism has always gone hand in hand with Christian diaconia in the sense I have described. Although we repudiate today the frequent misuse of diaconia as a means of proselytizing, it is impossible to detect any divorce between witness and service in the history of the church. On the contrary, the Church has always understood mission as the proclamation of the Good News of the liberation and redemption of the whole human being. This is why the Church has in the past and still for the most part today also carried out its missionary diaconia as a contribution to the transformation of society as a whole. It is unnecessary to give examples of this understanding of missionary activity from the history of our Orthodox church. I merely point out that it was actually monasticism, with its denial of and withdrawal from the world, which provided the most powerful impulses to diaconal missionary activity and provided an outstanding example of concern for the preservation and creative development of society and culture (agriculture, crafts, manuscripts - to which we owe almost all we know of the ancient - pagan! - world; large-scale charitable undertakings in the monasteries and in their neighborhood, educational work, arts and sciences). Above all the monks were aware - none more so - that cultura agri, cultura amini, and cultura Dei belong inseparably together.

Commitment to Social Justice and Liberation

What macrodimensional diaconia means can best be illustrated by the leading church fathers who themselves developed a wide range of microdimensional diaconia. Their great concern for the whole human being and for mankind as a whole is well-known.

Evil in its myriad forms and with its far-reaching consequences grieved them deeply. Certainly they lived at a time which was not yet ready for radical changes. But this does not mean that we are free, today especially, to mistake, minimize, misinterpret ideologically, or even ignore altogether the deeper springs of their concern for a more just, free and peaceful world. Especially now that modern social research has more or less uncovered the structures of evil and humankind is beginning to engage resolutely in a life and death struggle for its liberation and for a worthier human world.

The first lesson we must learn from the church fathers is that it is high time we gave up rebuking evil cautiously and non-committally in abstract rhetorical language! The church fathers stigmatized the concrete forms and consequences of sin and named those responsible by name. They did so with prophetic zeal and spiritual power. They sided uncompromisingly with the hungry, the persecuted, the debtors, the oppressed, the deprived. They were not preoccupied with the Church privileges, its stability, its 'good' relations with the economic and political powers, not even with their own lives, which most of them also exposed to persecution, martyrdom and death. But not even the loss of the Church's great representatives, not even the conflicts which they provoked in the course of this struggle, ever in the long run damaged the Church. On the contrary, the Church was built up by the blood and suffering of its children and renewed by every struggle for truth and justice, emerging from these struggles all the stronger. Even in this present century, Orthodoxy has had very painful reminders of this experience. A Church which is no longer willing to risk anything has perhaps already lost everything!

A second lesson we must learn from the church fathers is how to guard ourselves from the above-mentioned quarrel about the dimensions. The church fathers were supremely aware of the eschatological dimension of the salvation, the eschatological dimension of the world and of the historical Church itself. They knew that the supreme criterion both for the contemporary world and the contemporary Church lies in the eschaton. Unlike the chiliasta and the messianic enthusiasts, they were not in a hurry to build the kingdom of God in this earth. And they, more than others, recognized sin for what it really is.

But the church fathers also knew why the masses in their days were tormented with poverty, why injustice was so rampant, why nations groaned under tyrants. They were not therefore confronted with the false alternatives of the sort we hear today: Is sin something within man or something all around him? Should the Christian heal himself first or society? At this point I want you to listen to what the church fathers have to say.

They did not glorify poverty as such, nor did they condemn riches as such. Nor did they cherish any illusions.

'…The Lord speaks through the mouth of slaves...: let not us who are rational creatures be more cruel than the irrational animals. The animals make use of everything which grows naturally on the earth as something they have in common … whereas we clutch to ourselves alone what belongs to all … 1et us emulate the pattern of life of the first Christians who had all things in common: property, spiritual life, harmony, the common board, indivisible brotherhood, unfeigned love, making them, the many bodies, into the one Body, uniting the many souls into a single harmony' [17].

'Tell me, what is yours, where did you get it? Where did you obtain these goods and bring them into your life? … If you say, they came to you automatically, you are wicked because you refuse to acknowledge your Creator and show Him no gratitude, who is the Giver. But if you acknowledge that you have it from God, explain why you keep it to yourself. Is God unjust - distributing to us inequitably the necessities of life? Why do you become richer while others are forced to beg? Surely not because you reap the reward of your honesty and thrift and another is honoured for his great struggles?' [18]

'The religious person is not the person who distributes alms to many but one who treats no one unjustly' [19].

'I tell you, wealth is an offence, since no one ever grew rich walking the straight way of Christ. He has either wronged some individual or else all his fellow human beings together… Do not therefore follow criminal and lawless ways so as to be able to eat and drink and satiate yourself more than your neighbour or to clothe yourself more lavishly than him… If Christ himself had only these two things (i.e. bread and water) and a garment to clothe himself against the cold, anything more than this is a fork of the devil. Rejoice therefore in your poverty and complain not. For only those who have lost sight of the vision of heaven have a blaspheming mouth and a burdened heart thirsting for the goods of this world' [20].

'To say "this is mine" and "this is thine" is to utter empty (meaningless) words. Money belongs to God wherever we get it from… Even your soul belongs to God, how then can the money be yours?' [21]

'Have you observed how gold prevents people from being human, transforming them rather into beasts and demons?' [22]

'The bread you have belongs to the hungry, the clothing you have stored away in your cupboard belongs to the naked, the shoes you no longer need belong to the barefooted, the silver you have buried away belongs to the person who needs it. You wrong so many people to whom you could have given these things' [23].

(The Greek word tokos means 'confinement', 'delivery', 'birth' but also 'rent' or 'interest').

'It seems to me that tokos (= interest, in the sense of the product of growth) was so called because of the fertility of evil. Or perhaps because of the griefs and troubles caused by interest in the souls of those who borrow money. Interest for interest; evil offspring from evil parents. Otters, it is said, are born by devouring the mother otter's belly. Interest, too, is bred by devouring the debtor's home. Seeds produce their shoots in due season whereas interest is born today and starts proliferating immediately' [24].

'Hades has never said: that's enough! Neither have the avaricious ever said: that's enough!' [25]

It must also be remembered that the Orthodox Church has always supported and promoted the struggle of its peoples to preserve or to recover their freedom. It counts among the most glorious pages of its history those which tell how it comforted and encouraged its members in the great decisive moments of their history; as for example when in times of enslavement the monasteries were transformed into centres of resistance, or when the Orthodox played their part in clandestine liberation organizations, kept underground schools going in order to preserve the faith and national identity, organized rebellions and even used force in conducting them sometimes taking over the national leadership (ethnarch) when the political leadership failed or broke down altogether. Will anyone who thinks that salvation means only the salvation of the soul disapprove of this concrete activity of the Church?

Finally, it should be pointed out that the Orthodox Church has consistently opposed all forms of racism. Typical of this opposition is an encyclical of the Ecumenical Patriarch Metrophanes III to the Orthodox Christians of Crete in the year 1568. Crete was then still under Venetian rule. A quarrel between the Cretan Jews and Venice over the payment of certain debts provoked the Venetians to adopt antisemitic measures. The wave of antisemitism seems to have been initiated by the Latin Patriarch of Venice, Laurentius Justinian. The Jews had appealed to the Ecumenical Patriarchate complaining that even Orthodox Christians had taken part in hostilities towards the Jews. Whereupon the Patriarch wrote that those who unjustly treat the Jews in any way are excommunicated and condemned, since injustice and defamation were wrong whoever the victim was, and no one who committed such wrong could possibly regard himself as innocent on the pretext that he had only wronged someone of another faith and not one of the faithful. For even our Lord Jesus Christ tells us in the Gospel not to bully or blackmail anyone (Lk. 3:14) … 'making no distinction and not permitting Christians to deal unjustly with people of other faiths.' At the very time when Gobineau and Chamberlin were stirring up Europe with racist heresies, the Synod of Constantinople (1872) officially condemned contemporary racism with its nationalistic overtones (ethnopyletismos) - if not the first, certainly one of the first official pronouncements of the Christian Church on this subject!

Dilemma or False Dilemma?

In view of what has been said about the biblical, theological and historical aspects of our theme, the question arises as to why this conflict about the dimensions ever broke out at all and inevitably led to the present polarization.

We find ourselves presented with a dilemma: contemplation or commitment? The almost automatic alienation of the contemporary men and women, our congregations, our Church under the pressure of 'secular' anxieties, the endemic crisis and inflation of our economies, the absolute claims made on us by political and ideological conflicts, our captivity to the mass media, our 'wealth' or possessions and tasks turns out to be appalling emptiness! The popularity of the promises of oriental religions is an alarm signal which no one can ignore! This situation prompts many among us to point to the 'one thing needful' (Lk.10:42). In this context it is not difficult for us to understand the stringent demands of Christian asceticism:

'But you, if your wish to remain serene, must become like the cherubim who pay no attention at all to everyday things. Always remember that no one exists on earth except you and God… for unless one hardens one's heart and resolutely avoids charitable works (eleemosyne) and all other worldly anxieties and persists in prayer only… it is impossible to be free from unrest and fretfulness and to devote oneself to tranquility. If it then occurs to you to care for someone for virtue's sake, which will destroy your calm and peace of mind, say to yourself: Certainly the way of love and charity for God's sake is good; but also for God's sake I do not choose this way. Once a monk was running after a hermit and called to him: "Wait, Father! It is for God's sake that I'm running after you!" to which the hermit replied: "And it is for God's sake that I am running away from you!" Abbas Arsenios - for God's sake - would receive no one … He chose for himself silence and calm. He was consequently able to commune with the Holy Spirit in the very midst of the sea of this life… for complete silence is absolutely essential for tranquility' [26].

We know, of course, that such severity is appropriate for the monastic life and ascetism. But many of us make the mistake of turning such recommendations into general principles for the life of the Church as a whole. All the same, it cannot be said that this spirit is completely irrelevant to our problems.

But on the other hand, the cry of the hungry, the sick, the enslaved, the political refugees, the disillusioned, the desperate of this earth gets louder and louder. Can the Christian Church ignore this cry? Can it ignore this cry 'for God's sake'? Certainly this cry cannot be allowed to mislead us into making overhasty decisions, but when we think in terms of a macrodimensional liturgical diaconia the question cannot be avoided: Is this a real dilemma or only a false one? Do we really have to choose between these two alternatives? When we Orthodox employ trinitarian terminology and when we speak of the eucharistic fellowship, the doxological ethos, the mysteries of prayer and so on, we often give the impression that we are turning our backs irresponsibly on the world and history, shutting our eyes and our ears to them. The actual history of our Church, of course, gives the lie to this impression. But many of us when confronted with concrete tasks too easily take refuge in the twilight areas of mysticism and seek support for this in the monastic ideas just mentioned, ignoring the testimonies in the opposite sense, also drawn from the ascetic life. This, for example:

'A monk once met Abbas Silvanus on Mount Sinai. When he saw the monks working there, he said to the old man: "Labour not for the meat that parishes! For Mary chose the better part!" The old man then said to his disciple Zachariah: "Give this brother a book and conduct him to an empty cell!" When it was the ninth hour, the monk went to the door of the cell, expecting someone to call him to supper. When no one came to invite him to supper, he went to the old man and said to him: "Abbas, have the brothers not eaten today, by chance?" The old man replied: "Of course they have!" "Then they have not invited me as well?" The old man replied: "Because you are a spiritual man and don't need such food, whereas we are fleshly and need to eat, which is why we work. But you have chosen the better part, devoting the whole day to reading and refusing to avail yourself of any fleshly nourishment!" Hearing these words, the monk prostrated himself and said: "Forgive me, Abbas!" "Of course", the old man said. "Even Mary needs Martha, for even Martha contributes to Mary's glorification!" [27]


To sum up, let me stress the following points, which are to be regarded as no more than a contribution to further discussion:


4. In developing and articulating this common purpose in respect of diaconia as service to humankind, the Church has no other signpost than God's own purpose, revealed in the Holy Scripture, fulfilled in Jesus Christ and, by the 'dynamis' of the Holy Spirit (the Paraclete) experienced in the life of the Church as obedience or, because of the weakness of the flesh misunderstood and ignored in the form of indifference and apostasy. Measured by this purpose of God, Christian diaconia is understood as:

a) proclamation of mercy (eleos), God's great mercy and compassion for humankind and for the creation;

b) service of the neighbor, especially the 'least', after the manner of Christ, in unconditional sacrifice for the amelioration of personal and collective distress and need, as well as for victory over socially structured sin and death and all its accomplices (servitude, injustice, inequality, exploitation, etc.);

c) service of the creation, with the general human responsibility for the creation (ecological questions, protection of the environment, basic material resources, etc.);

d) service of the whole human being, in the unity of eucharistia, martyria and diaconia (overcoming the divorce, the dichotomy, between verticalism and horizontalism);

e) the service of the whole community (spiritual unity and complementary activation of offices and charisms, conscentizasion and commitment of all members of the community);

f) liturgical diaconia, therefore, in accordance with the catholicity of God's economy of salvation, a diaconia which equips us with the required 'spirituality for combat' (M. M. Thomas, at the Nairobi Assembly), (Liturgy as basis and focal point for every diaconal activity and as liturgical awareness of self and of the world, as 'liturgy after the liturgy') and finally,

g) eschatological diaconia (protecting diaconal aims from chiliastic-messianic expectations, and from the loss of the christological understanding of personal and collective suffering and its replacement by an immanent eudaemonism); diaconia as 'sign' and foretaste of the kingdom of God and as criterion for acceptance into fellowship with God.

5. Christian diaconia is to be performed simultaneously and in mutual interrelationship as microdimensional and macrodimensional diaconia, i.e., as therapeutic and prophylactic philanthropy, in accord with the aspects listed in point 4.

6. Microdimensional diaconia is to be understood as the extension of the Holy altar to the concrete sufferings of human beings, adapted flexibly to the given circumstances, performed in solidarity and cooperation with non-church efforts (by State and society) and not in opposition to them and with an effort to identify and make people aware not only of therapeutic but also of prophylactic concerns.

7. While not neglecting microdimensional diaconia, the Church today, in face of the present world situation with its unmistakable 'litany of the victims of the structures of injustice' (M. Manley at Nairobi) and its 'threat of suffering to come' (C. Birch at Nairobi) must give macrodimensional diaconia absolute priority in its theology of diaconia and in its social commitment.

8. In the history of the Church, Christian diaconia has been understood as a contribution of the creation of a fellowship of solidarity, in the sense of a metamorphosis of 'natural' orders and the outlook of a society composed of individuals into a koinonia of persons. This remains a constant task of the Church but one which is supremely urgent today when modern conceptions and conditions of life are forcing appalling paramorphoses (disfigurements) on human society.

9. Christian mission has always had a diaconal dimension (cf. 4 d). Evangelization of humankind and the liberation of human beings from inward and outward sufferings constitute one single task for the Church. The very fact that man has been created in the image of God lays upon us an inescapable obligation to defend the human dignity of the person in all its aspects. Cultura agri (living conditions), cultura animi (sanctification, 'theosis') and cultura Dei (eucharist, doxology) are, therefore, inseparably connected.

10. Being the service of the whole human being and of the whole humankind and of creation, diaconia involves a definite commitment to social justice and liberation yet at the same time respect for the divine commission to Christians to be messengers of reconciliation and sober insistence on the eschatological dimension of salvation. Love of the neighbour must also take the form of diaconia to 'tempted tempters'! When in exceptional situations Christians consider themselves obliged to endorse violence, the whole Christian family should feel itself exposed to temptation; here solidarity should help Christians to bear conscious guilt together.

11. On these assumptions and in face of the complexity of the world situation, Christians must pray fervently today that God may richly endow them with the charisma of 'discerning the spirits' (1. Cor. 12:10) so that they may discern between real dilemmas and false in the performance of their diaconia (Martha-Mary conflict, verticalism and horizontalism).

12. ... churches must persevere trustingly in their appointed role as 'bondservants of God', for only by so doing can they maintain their freedom over against ideologies and political systems which the Church cannot under any circumstances or for any considerations of expediency enter into coalition or even identify itself with, but of which it must always remain the prophetic 'crisis'.

13. As an act of love, diaconia is a life in love and therefore in God. Diaconia, therefore, is never merely a giving but always at the same time and above all a receiving and therefore a growth in love and fellowship, in mercy and hope. Diaconia in this sense can contribute to the renewal of the Christian life just as, conversely, the renewal of Christian life leads to the intensification and purification of diaconia. In view of the present situation in the Church and in the world, it is essential:

a) that diaconia be performed as the task of the whole community (4e) (i.e., including: renewal of the local congregation, activation of the laity, reintroduction of the office of deaconess and a reexamination of the task and role of the woman in every aspect of the Church's life, involvement of young people in diaconal ministries and projects);

b) that priorities should be established in the light of the world-wide situation of the Church and of humankind by the parallel practice of micro and macro-dimensional diaconia; and

c) that there should be cooperation in this with men of goodwill in order to disabuse them of prejudices about the Church's objectives and to show support for their own efforts to overcome and dismantle unjust structures and man-made tyrannies.


15. An authentic liturgical diaconia conducted in the light of the whole Gospel and with the whole human being and the whole Church in view is never to be sought outside the Church. We must all remember the trinitarian character not only of the Church but also of its diaconia. If the Church appears to be a threat to diaconia or diaconia to the Church, it means that one or the other, or both, has lost its trinitarian landmark. The unity of the Church, as expression of the triune nature of God, and diaconia as expression of the love of God and love to God are rooted in the Trinitarian 'as': the disciples are to be one as the Father and the Son are one (Jn. 17): and they are sent forth by the Son to bear witness and to serve as the Father sent Him (Jn. 20:21).


a) the idea of a 'Church outside the churches' is neither ecclesiologically legitimate nor sociologically and strategically viable;

b) this idea of a 'Church outside the churches' is nevertheless still an alternative which is actually practiced, and represents an increasing challenge not only to the unity of the Church but also above all to its apathy and indifference; it constitutes something new at the level of the total Christian family (although it is a phenomenon which has frequently occurred in the history of the Church) and must be heeded by the churches with all urgency and care;

c) at this juncture, with all its tensions and the decisions requiring to be taken, we need at least a minimum of reciprocity and trust in order to conduct 'our confrontation in love' (Prof. V. Borovoy at Nairobi), so that fresh division may not destroy the foundations of an effective diaconia and in order that we may on the contrary, fulfil our common mission in love and concord 'that the world may believe'.


  1. Justin Dial. 93.3 Migne PG 6, 704B.
  2. Justin I Apol. 57,1 PG 6 431C.
  3. Cf. Alexandros Papaderos, The Synod and its relation to the Pleroma of the Church and to the world, (in Greek), Chania, Crete 1978, p. 12 ff.
  4. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 2, ed. G. Kittel & Bromiley, p. 85.
  5. Ibid. p. 86, cf. Iren. Haer. 3.12, 7.
  6. Alexandros Papaderos, 'Das liturgishe Selbst- und Weltbewusstsein des byzantinischen Menschen', in KYRIOS IV (1964), pp. 206-218.
  7. N. Louvaris, 'Die Kirche Griechenlands und die Wirklichkeit der Welt', in UNIVERSITAS, Ser. 16 (March 1961), No. 3, p. 235.
  8. Ep. ad Smyrn. 8, 2.
  9. Metropolitan Ignatios Hazim of Lattakia, The Uppsala Report (ed. Goodall), WCC Geneva 1968, pp. 293 ff. Here p. 297.
  10. A. Papaderos, METAKENOSIS. Griechenlands kulturelle Herausforderung durch die Aufklarung in der Sicht des Korais und des Oikonomos, Meisenheim am Glam 1970, p. 14 ff.
  11. St. Kosmas of Aetolia, 1714-1797, 1 Didache, in M. Giolia, Ho Kosmas Aetolos kai he epoche tou, Athens 1972, p. 332 (in Greek).
  12. St. Cyril of Alexandria, comm. on Jn. 1:14, PG 73, 161.
  13. St. John Chrysostomos, Hom. 3.2 on Ps. 50.
  14. St. John Chrysostomos, Hom. 17.3 on Mt.
  15. Homil. Clement. 3.68.
  16. A. Papaderos, 'Orthodoxy and Economy: A Dialog with Alfred Muller-Armack', in SOCIAL COMPASS, XXII, 1975/1, pp. 33-66. The same article appears in a Greek translation as Orthodoxia kai Oikonomia: Dialogos me ton Alfred Muller-Armack, Thessalonica 1975.
  17. St. Basil the Great, PG 31, 324.
  18. St. Basil the Great, PG 31, 276.
  19. Hosios Neilos, PG 79, 1249.
  20. K. Bastias, Ho Papoulakos, New York 1952, p. 233 (in Greek). Cf. A. Papaderos, METAKENOSIS, p. 96 f.
  21. St. John Chrysostomos, PG 61, 84.
  22. St. John Chrysostomos, PG 61, 343.
  23. St. Basil the Great, PG 35, 892.
  24. St. Basil the Great, PG 29, 1177.
  25. St. Basil the Great, PG 31, 293.
  26. Isaac the Syrian, Serm. 79, ed. Papademetriou, Athens 1961, p. 267. (in Greek).
  27. Apophthegmata Pateron, in Threskeutike kai Ethike Enkyklopaideia, Vol. 2, Athens 1963, col. 1240 (in Greek).

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