The First Deacons

Perhaps the best-known description of the development of the diaconate occurs in the Book of Acts. Tension arose between Greek and Jewish converts in Jerusalem. Acts tells us that the Apostles asked the community to "select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the world (Acts 6:3-4)."

The task to which the new deacons were appointed was to be agents of social justice expressed as serving at table. The issue was to ensure a just distribution of the food for the (minority) Greek widows and orphans. The community chose the Seven, apparently from the Hellenistic or Greek Christians, to serve the community. The apostles laid their hands upon them to set them apart for this ministry of service. Among these was Stephen, called the "protomartyr" or "first martyr" for the faith. Stephen did "great signs and wonders" (Acts 6:8) and, like Jesus, fell afoul of the ruling authorities in Jerusalem on account of his proclamation of the Good News. He was eventually stoned to death.

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