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Since the book of the Acts tells us that seven deacons were appointed by the Apostles, and the synod of Neocæsarea in the canons which it put forth determined that there ought to be canonically only seven deacons, even if the city be very large, in accordance with the book of the Acts; we, having fitted the mind of the fathers to the Apostles’ words, find that they spoke not of those men who ministered at the Mysteries but in the administration which pertains to the serving of tables. For the book of the Acts reads as follows: “In those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring dissension of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministrations. And the Twelve called the multitude of the disciples with them and said, It is not meet for us to leave the word of God and serve tables. Look ye out therefore, brethren, from among you seven men of good report full of the Holy Ghost and of wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually unto prayer and unto the ministry of the word. And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch: whom they set before the Apostles.”
John Chrysostom, a Doctor of the Church, interpreting these words, proceeds thus: “It is a remarkable fact that the multitude was not divided in its choice of the men, and that the Apostles were not rejected by them. But we must learn what sort of rank they had, and what ordination they received. Was it that of deacons? But this office did not yet exist in the churches. But was it the dispensation of a presbyter? But there was not as yet any bishop, but only Apostles, whence I think it is clear and manifest that neither of deacons nor of presbyters was there then the name.”363363 I have not followed the Oxford translation, which seems to me to have reversed the point. In a foot-note to that translation (Chrysostom on Acts, Part I., p. 199) will be found a translation of this canon.
But on this account therefore we also announce that the aforesaid seven deacons are not to be understood as deacons who served at the Mysteries, according to the teaching before set forth, but that they were those to whom a dispensation was entrusted for the common benefit of those that were gathered together, who to us in this also were a type of philanthropy and zeal towards those who are in need.
Ancient Epitome of Canon XVI.
Whoever affirms that the number of deacons should be seven according to the saying of the Acts, should know that the reference in that passage is not to Deacons of the Mysteries but to such as serve tables.
Van Espen here reminds us that this is, as Zonaras calls attention to in his scholion on this place, a correction rather than an interpretation of the XVth Canon of Neocæsarea, and Balsamon also says the same. The only interest that the matter possesses is that a canon which had been received by the Fourth Ecumenical Council (Chalcedon) should receive such treatment from such an assembly as the Synod in Trullo.
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