A subdeacon (or sub-deacon) is the highest of the minor orders of clergy in the Church. This is a sub-clerical order which is higher than the reader and lower than the deacon. It is an order that is at it's fullest when serving with a bishop during hierarchical services.
The ordination to the subdiaconate is performed outside of the altar and in a context other than the Divine Liturgy, as it is a minor order. During the Sixth Hour, after Psalm 90, the reader who is to be ordained subdeacon is presented to the bishop by two other subdeacons, who first lead him to the nave. There he faces east and makes a prostration before turning to make three prostrations towards the bishop, moving further west after each one. He is then led to stand immediately before the bishop. The subdeacons present the orar to the bishop, who blesses it. The ordinand then kisses the orar and the bishop's hand, and the subdeacons vest the ordinand in the orar.
The bishop blesses the ordinand three times with the sign of the Cross upon his head, then lays his right hand upon the ordinand's head and prays the prayer of ordination. The new subdeacon kisses the bishop's right hand and makes a prostration before the bishop, after which the more senior subdeacons drape a towel over his shoulders and present him with a ewer and basin, with which he washes the bishop's hands after the usual manner. The bishop dries his hands and the three subdeacons receive the bishop's blessing and kiss his hands.
The senior subdeacons return to the altar while the new subdeacon, still holding the ewer and basin, stands on the solea, facing the icon of the Mother of God and saying particular prayers quietly. The Sixth Hour is completed and the Divine Liturgy continues as usual. The subdeacon remains on the solea until the Cherubikon, when he and two senior subdeacons wash the bishop's hands as usual.
At the Great Entrance, the new subdeacon joins on the very end of the procession, carrying the ewer and basin and, after the commemorations, takes the blessed water to the people so that they may bless themselves with it. He returns to his place on the solea until the end of the Anaphora, when he re-enters the altar, lays the ewer and basin aside, and joins the other subdeacons.
The ordained subdeacon has the following duties:
- Serving in the altar, generally as the head server
- Co-ordinating and leading the serving team
- Training new altar servers
- Care of the altar area, including
- Cleaning the altar area
- Looking after the vestments of clergy
- Looking after the cloths of the Holy Table, including cleaning, mending and changing them according to feasts, fasts and seasons
- To assist the bishop when he is presiding, by:
- Any of the duties of a Reader, if required
- Other duties that the priest may assign
As a member of minor clergy, a subdeacon - according to his abilities - might be entrusted with the duties of:
- Other leadership roles in the community.
Subdeacons, like readers, are permitted to wear a cassock, although many do so only when attending services; this is done as a sign of his suppression of his own tastes, will and desires, and his canonical obedience to God, his bishop and the liturgical and canonical norms of the Church. In jurisdictions that utilise clergy shirts, subdeacons may wear a clergy shirt without a collar.
During services, the subdeacon is vested in a sticharion with an orarion tied around his waist, up over his shoulders (forming an X-shaped cross in back), and with the ends hanging down in front, tucked under the section around the waist in an X-shaped cross. In jurisdictions where acolytes are able to wear orarions, they are distinct from subdeacons in that an acolytes orarion hangs straight down in front.
When there is no bishop present, a subdeacon will take the role of acolyte, assisting the priest during religious services in the altar. The only exception to this being that a subdeacon is able to touch the table of oblation and the altar when necessary, though he is not able to move between the Altar and the Holy Doors.
In some jurisdictions, a seminarian who has discerned that he does not have a calling to pastoral service can be ordained to the subdiaconate.
On the day that a subdeacon is ordained, he may be required to serve at the Liturgy (particularly if there is a shortage of altar servers). In this case, the taking of the blessed water to the people may be omitted, and he may be asked not to stay on the solea but rather to assist with serving duties in the altar and at the entrances. This will depend on jurisdictional preferences.
Subdeacons are mentioned in canons with age restrictions (of 20 years of age) and prohibitions on marriage after ordinations (like deacons and priests) - e.g., Apostolic canon 26. A variety of methods of 'getting around' the canons have been employed, from blessing acolytes or readers to vest and act as a subdeacon (for a particular service or permanently), or for reserving the formal ordination service to candidates for the diaconate, or for simply ignoring the canons and permitting subdeacons to marry.
It should be noted that a 'blessed' subdeacon may not touch the altar or assume other perogatives of ordained subdeacons outside services.
- Subdeacon Wikipedia article, revision on 4/March/2011.
- Who's Who? in Church Services
- orthodox subdeacon - Google Image Search
- Ordination text tweaked for the Byzantine tradition.
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