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Ranks in the Church and their Roles

Relatively recently, our parish was blessed to get a new deacon. Since his ordination, I have received many questions about the role of a deacon and in general about the different ranks in the Church. The goal of this short blog is to briefly explain what roles the different clergyman have.


  1. Bishop – the head of the diocese (a diocese consists of parishes, monasteries and other Church properties within a certain area). As the head of the diocese, the bishop is the one who ordains fitting individuals to different Church ranks. The bishop himself is ordained by the Patriarch and other bishops. At least one bishop in addition to the Patriarch is required to be at the ordination of another bishop. As the head of the diocese, the bishop appoints priests and deacons to different parishes and is the chief liturgical celebrant in the diocese.                                               
  2. Priest – the head of the parish; in charge of all things spiritual and material related to the parish. As the head of the parish, a parish priest is the chief celebrant of the divine liturgy within the parish (when the bishop is not present!) and is helped by the lower ranks of clergy (deacons, subdeacons and readers).                                           
  3. Deacon – the highest rank of the lower clergy. The role of a deacon is to be the helper of the priest in the matters of liturgy or anywhere else where the parish priest finds his help needed and fitting. A deacon cannot celebrate the divine liturgy on his own! By definition, the role of a deacon is concelebratory. Only the bishop and priests can serve the divine liturgy. A deacon does not advise people spiritually in the parish, nor can he hear confessions. If approached by others and asked about spiritual matters his role is to direct them to the priest.                                                       
  4.  Subdeacon – as the word itself says, he is right under the deacon (sub – deacon). The role of a subdeacon in the early Church was to wash the hands of the believers before they would take communion. (In the early Church, the body of Christ, the bread, was handed to the believers, and then they would drink the blood of Christ, the wine, directly from the chalice.) This role is now obsolete. Subdeacons can read the epistle but their main role is to assist deacon in the priest in liturgical matters and above all to keep the chalice and discos and other Church utensils clean and ready for the liturgy.                                                                                                                                              
  5. Reader – the one whose primary role is to help in the altar and read. Readings would include the Epistle reading, and Old Testament Readings. Reading of the Gospel is reserved only for the bishop, priest and deacon.

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