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Subdeacon is a title used in various branches of Christianity.
A subdeacon is the highest of the minor orders of clergy in the Eastern Orthodox Church. This order is higher than the anagnostis and lower than the deacon. The subdeacon's essential role is to assist the bishop during a hierarchical Divine Liturgy (a Divine Liturgy at which a bishop is present and presiding) by vesting him, holding his service book, carrying his staff, presenting him with the dikiri and trikiri, etc. There is a special service for the ordination of a subdeacon, although in contemporary practice an acolyte may receive the bishop's blessing to act as a subdeacon, either for a particular occasion or permanently. This latter practice has sometimes led to the reservation of the formal ordination service to candidates for the priesthood, although this is not universal.
The subdeacon is vested in a sticharion with an orarion tied around his waist, up over his shoulders (forming a cross in back), and with the ends hanging down in front, tucked under the section around the waist. [] Like readers, subdeacons are permitted to wear a cassock, although many only do so when attending services.
When there is no bishop present, a subdeacon will take the role of acolyte, assisting the priest during religious services in the sanctuary, the area around the altar in a church.
A subdeacon was one of the major orders of the Roman Catholic Church until it was for the most part abolished along with the minor orders and the tonsure in the aftermath of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. Today, subdeacons are permitted only in certain orders of priests operating with special Papal dispensation (such as the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter), though in certain national conferences of bishops, acolytes are called subdeacons.
The other major orders are deacon, priest, and bishop, and these are maintained because they are considered sacramental, or part of the sacrament of Holy Orders, whereas the subdiaconate and the minor orders were considered ecclesiastical or created by the Church. Thus, a subdeacon did not receive the imposition of hands at his ordination. Instead, the ceremony consisted of him receiving from the bishop an empty chalice and paten , his vestments, cruets of wine and water, and the Book of Epistles.
Subdeacons had a specific role in the liturgy of the Mass. This included (but was not limited to): carrying the cross or the Book of Epistles in the entrance procession, reading the epistle, carrying the Gospel Book during the Gospel procession, holding the Gospel Book while the deacon read it aloud, leading the intercessory prayers, and/or assisting the priest or deacon in the setting of the altar. These liturgical functions have been subsumed by the now lay ministries of lector and acolyte. The vestments particularly associated with the order of subdeacon were the tunicle and the maniple, though the subdeacon also wore the humeral veil during Mass when touching sacred vessels.
While the office of subdeacon was abolished in the Anglican Church at the time of the Reformation, certain churches and communities in the Anglican Communion assign a layperson to act as subdeacon in the celebration of the liturgy of the mass or Holy Eucharist; however, this is considered a liturgical function one fills, not an order to which one is ordained. In practice, an Anglican subdeacon performs similar roles to those performed in the Roman Catholic Church.
- Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter
- History of Subdeacons
- Ministeria quaedam, Apostolic Letter on First Tonsure, Minor Orders, and the Subdiaconate
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