St Cyril of Alexandria (376-444) explained it this way, “… It was their vocation to call sinners to repentance, to heal those who were sick, whether in body or spirit, to seek in all their dealing, never to do their own will but the will of Him who sent them and, as far as possible, to save the world by their teaching.”
Bishop Fulton Sheen back in the 1950s would often begin his half-hour award-winning TV show, Life Worth Living, that was the DuMont TV network, with a personal story. Today, in homage to this great man and because of this topic, I will do the exact same.
Earlier this week, a person emailed me and asked me two questions, “Why did you become a Deacon? What motivated you to serve like this?” I immediately replied back that I wanted to become a Deacon because I wanted to convert Anatolia back to Christianity. I also told him that I love to serve in our Divine Liturgy. Being a Deacon in an Eastern Catholic Church means that you play a very important role in every Liturgy. I thoroughly love standing in front of the parish and chanting my parts of the Liturgy.
Why would someone like to convert Anatolia to Christianity? The answer lies in my heritage and my love of history. Anatolia was a cradle of civilization. The Hittites and early Armenians were some of the first people in Anatolia. In fact, at one time Armenia under Tigran The Great actually controlled most of Anatolia and the Levant. Before the 11th century, the area of Anatolia was Christian. In late May of 1453, the city of Constantinople fell and with it the last vestiges of what was once the great Byzantine Empire (Roman Empire to the people living there at the time). The Republic of Turkey was not established until 1923 and the migration of the Turks to present-day Anatolia really began in earnest in the late 11'th century. So if you look at history, historically the land belonged to the Armenian people. It was stolen from them and now all you want to do is return the land back to who it once belonged to and also turn the Churches (Hagia Sophia and others) back to their original purpose- Christan Churches.
The second event that took place happened on the morning of the day I wrote this article. I was teaching students in a monthly video conference called Food For Thought. We had students from Taiwan and Sweden in the video conference. The topic soon turned to asking questions and a young man from Affiliated High School in Taiwan asked me, “What advice can you give me to help me choose a career?”
Never wanting to back down on the question, I quickly and without giving it much thought replied, “ Choose a job or career that you would do even if you are not paid for it. Choose a job you would love to do and that job you will do very well and will reportedly do even if you do not get paid.”
That is when I immediately thought of the answer I had given earlier to a young man in our parish. When asking about discerning a call for a vocation we should ask that same question. I love being a Deacon in the Church- not because of the pay- there is none. I love it because of three forms of the service:the service you can do for others, the service you do for your community, and the service you do for the Lord.
Service For Others
In the Eastern Churches, the role of a Deacon is much different than a role of a Deacon in the Western Church. In the Eastern Church, the Deacon plays an important role in the Divine Liturgy. He will give proclamations, incense, and read the Gospel. He will chant, prepare the gifts, and transfer the gifts to the altar. At the end of service, The Chalice and Patton are put back in the cabinet. In the end, the Deacon works closely with the Priests, Sub Deacons, Altar Servers, Greeters, Readers, and the Sacristan. The Deacon must be self-motivated, hard-working, and always thinking several steps ahead.
Service For The Community
In the Eastern Church, the role of the Deacon before the pandemic also included giving “Deacon Services” at nursing homes, community centers, and assisted living facilities. Serving the Lord by helping this community really impacts not only that generation but every generation that follows them. When the families see the importance and impact that you have on their life they will be touched and at that point, you are ending up servicing multiple generations at the same time. Deacons work in the community and as such are in touch with the public every day of the week. A person is not just a Deacon at the Church- he is a Deacon 24/7 365 days a year. People will approach you and ask you questions. You may be tired, but never let that be known, answer every question to the best of your ability, and help others come to the knowledge of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
Serving The Lord
Serving at the altar is serving the Lord. When the Holy Spirit comes and changes the wine and bread into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ you are right there. You can see it happen, you can feel it happen, and most of all you know that is happening. Service at the Altar allows you to overcome your personal fears and personal problems and get yourself spiritually in a much higher place. When I am serving near the Altar I feel the presence of the Holy Trinity, I know Jesus is my savior, and I realize what he did for us.
Notwithstanding several mystical experiences, accepting the calling to a vocation is really part of your job here on earth. Did God want you to be a benchwarmer here on earth? Did Jesus want you to set down and relax and save all the hard work for others? Did the Holy Spirit come down to this earth so that we just sit frozen in fear and not do anything in life? No, No, No.
There is a need for new Deacons and vocations in the Church today like never before. All one has to do is go look of the numbers and you will be shocked. According to Center For Applied Research in the Apostolate (2020) In 1970 there were 59,192 Priests in 18,224 Parishes and by 2020 (fifty years later) there were 35,513 Priests in 16,703 Parishes. In 1970 there 160,931 Religious Sisters and in 2020 there were only 41,357. In 2020 there are 298 Parishes that have a Deacon running that Church. Today more than ever, the data does not lie, we are in trouble. How can you have a Church without any vocations? You simply can not.
Do You Have These Qualities
- Natural inclination to service
- Capacity for dialogue, docility and openness
- Ability to share one’s faith, open to other points of view
- Capacity to listen carefully
- Respect of others, religion, race, gender, ethnicity, culture
- Good communication skills
- Self-directed and collaborative, displays accountability
- Displays balanced and prudent judgment
- Ability to lead, motivate, facilitate, animate others into action and service
- Have A Good Christian reputation
- Active involvement In Your Parish
- Regular participation in Church’s sacramental life
- Evidence of recognized, ongoing commitment to Church’s life and service
- Participation in faith enrichment opportunities
- Positive and stable marriage, if married
- Mature celibate state of life, if single
- Active membership in the Christian community
- Capacity for obedience and fraternal communion
- Deep spirituality and prayer life
- Demonstrates kindness and humility
- Commitments to family, career, employment, community and Church service
- Readiness and timeliness of response to a vocation
Then you too should join me in taking up and accept your vocation.
Brothers and Sisters, being a Deacon (having a vocation) has become the reason for my life. In fact, it always was-I just didn’t recognize it. I do not want this to happen to you. Accept your vocation, take that calling, and serve the Lord now and forever. We need not look at this life as a game and we are going to ride the bench for 70-80 years. A Christian should have an active faith, a faith that touches others, and faith that is strong. We are living in perilous times. Frankly, we can not afford to do anything else but serve Him. He needs leaders in each parish to step up and step up big time. Now is the time and now is the place. We need people who are ready, willing, and able to accept their vocational call and go out and administer to the public. I am telling you now, we do not need any backsliding, sneaky, backbench people. Go to your priest and tell him, “ Put Me In Coach, I’m ready.” You will be very glad you did. Amen
A quote from Pope Francis: — Audience with Plenary Assembly of the Congregation for the Clergy, Oct. 3, 2014
“The vocation is truly a treasure that God places in the hearts of some men, chosen by Him and called to follow Him in this special state of life. This treasure, that must be discovered and brought to light, is not made to ‘enrich’ someone alone. He who is called to the ministry is not the ‘master’ of his vocation, but rather the administrator of a gift that God has entrusted to him for the good of all the people, or rather for all humanity, even those who have drifted away from religious practice or do not profess faith in Christ.”