Seven Deacons, the seven men elected by the whole company of the original Christian community at Jerusalem and ordained by the Apostles, their office being chiefly to look after the poor and the common agape. The number of believers at Jerusalem had grown very rapidly, and complaints had been made that the poor widows of Hellenistic Jews were neglected. The Apostles, not desiring to be drawn away from preaching and the higher spiritual ministry to care for material things, proposed to the believers to transfer such duties to suitable men, and following this suggestion the “Seven” were appointed (Acts, vi, 1-6). This was the first separation of an ecclesiastical, hierarchical office from the Apostolate in which up to then the ecclesiastico-religious power had been concentrated. The “seven men” were “full of the Holy Ghost” and therefore able partially to represent the Apostles in more important matters referring to the spiritual life, as is seen in the case of St. Stephen (q.v.) at Jerusalem, of St. Philip in Samaria, and elsewhere. Nothing further is known of several of the seven deacons, namely Nicanor, Timon, and Parmenas. Philip, who is called the “Evangelist“, preached with much success in Sam-aria (Acts, viii, 5 sq.), so that the two Apostles Peter and John went there later to bestow the Holy Ghost on those whom he had baptized. He also baptized the eunuch of the Queen of the Ethiopians (Acts, viii, 26 sqq.). According to the further testimony of the Book of the Acts (xxi, 8 sqq.) he lived later with his prophetically gifted daughters at Caesarea. His feast is observed on June 6, by the Greek Church on October 11. In later narratives Prochorus is said to be one of the seventy disciples chosen by Christ; it is related that he went to Asia Minor as a missionary and became Bishop of Nicomedia. The apocryphal Acts of John were wrongly ascribed to him [cf. Lipsius, “Apokryphe Apostelgeschichten and Apostellegenden”, I (Brunswick, 1883), 355 sqq.]
In the second half of the second century a curious tradition appeared respecting Nicholas. Irenaeus and the anti-heretical writers of the early Church who follow him refer the name of the Nicolaitans—a dissolute, immoral sect that are opposed, as early as the Apocalypse of John, to that of Nicholas and trace the sect back to him (Irenaeus, “Adv. haer.”, I, xxvi, 3; III, xi, 1). Clement relates as a popular report (Stromat, II, xx) that Nicholas was reproved by the Apostles on account of his jealousy of his beautiful wife. On this he set her free and left it opens for any one to marry her, saying that the flesh should be maltreated. His followers took this to mean that it was necessary to yield to the lusts of the flesh (cf. the Philosophumena, VII, 36). This narrative points to a similar tradition, such as is found in Irenaeus respecting the Nicolaitans. How far the tradition is historical cannot now be determined; perhaps the Nicolaitans themselves falsely ascribed their origin to the Deacon Nicholas [cf. Wohlenberg, “Nikolas von Antiochen and die Nikolaiten” in the “Neue kirchl. Zeitschrift” (1895), 923 sqq.].
J. P. KIRSCH