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Anastasios D. Salapatas

The Diaconate in Ignatious' Epistles

From: A. Salapatas, "A short essay on Early Church History", Theologia, vol. 70, issue 2-3, Athens 1999 (pp. 513-520).

ΙΙ. Episkopos - Diakonos relationship according to Ignatius

There are many interesting passages in Ignatius’ Epistles, where references may be found to the spiritual and even pastoral and liturgical relationship between episkopos and diakonos. Some of them are symbolic, others are realistic.

The bishop Ignatius calls the deacons his “fellow slaves”(17) and this is obviously a very important symbolic expression, which shows how highly the bishop regarded his deacons. The word “συνδουλος” means that they are both (bishop and deacon) following the same spiritual path; they believe and follow the same Christ and to Him they are both spiritually answerable.

The deacon is “subject to the bishop”(18). A big discussion could open here. Ιn our case we prefer only to point out some of the questions. Which are the areas in which the deacon is subject to the bishop? Is it on the administrative level? Is it connected to the pastoral work and responsibility that the deacon might have had? Or is it related to the diaconal liturgical function?

The actual fact is that the deacon in all these Ignatian writings seems to have been an “assistant to the bishop”(19). He does the will of the bishop as Jesus did the will of the Father(20). At the same time he is regarded by Ignatius as “most dear to him”(21), who has been “entrusted with the seruice of Jesus Christ”(22).

According to W.R. Schoedel, “There is an especially close bond between bishop and deacon in Ignatius”(23). He interprets this relationship by suggesting that «this may reflect an earlier stage in the development of the ministry when these two offices had not yet merged with the presbyterate. But other factors probably suffice to explain the special attention given to deacons by Ignatius: their active role in practical matters; in particular, their service to Ignatius personally; and a special concern on Ignatius’ part to support those whose position sometimes put them in “difficult situations”(24).

As far as the relationship between the deacon and the presbyters is concerned there is only one reference(25) in Ignatius’ writings, where the diakonos appears to be responsible “to the presbytery”(26). This relationship has not been defined very well “presumably because this is not the essential mark of the office”(27).


17. «σύνδουλος», in Ephes. 2,1; Magn.2; Philad. 4; Smyrn 12,2. Βιβλιοθήκη Ελλήνων Πατέρων και Εκκλησιαστικών Συγγραφέων, «Ιγνάτιος ο Αντιοχείας», vol. 2, Athens 1955, p. 261ff.

18. Μagn.2.

19. James Μ. Βarnett, The Diaconate -A Full and Equal Order, New York 1981, p. 50.

20. Μagn. 6,1; Trall. 3,1.

21. «των εμοί γλυκυτάτων», in Magn. 6,1.

22. Magn. 6,1.

23. W.R. Schoedel, op.cit., p.46.

24. Ibid.

25. Magn 2.

26. The particular term used here by Ignatius is “presbytery” not “presbyters”, although this does not seem to have any great significance.

27. J.V. Collins, Diakonia: Re-interpreting the Ancient Sources, New York-Oxford 1990, p. 240.

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