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Protodeacon derives from the Greek proto- meaning 'first' and diakonos, which is a standard ancient Greek word meaning "servant", "waiting-man," "minister" or "messenger.". The word in English may refer to various clergymen, depending upon the usage of the particular church in question.

Eastern Orthodox Church

Portrait of an Orthodox protodeacon wearing the distinctive burgundy skufia, by Ilya Repin, 1877 (Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow).

Protodeacon is an honorific rank given to certain married deacons in Eastern Christian churches. In the Russian Orthodox Church it is an honorary title given to married deacons, as a mark of which, the clergyman is entitled to wear a burgundy-colored skufia. The equivalent rank for Hierodeacons—i.e., monastic deacons—is Archdeacon. The senior deacon of a cathedral or principal church may be awarded the title of protodeacon. In the Greek usage, the chief deacon who is attached to the person of a bishop is called an archdeacon. In the Slavic usage a protodeacon or archdeacon wears a distinctive orarion (deacon's stole).

The title of protodeacon is an award, not a distinctive order of ministry; so while a man may be ordained a deacon, he is said to be 'elevated' to the rank of protodeacon. This elevation may be awarded only by the deacon's own ruling bishop. The rite of elevation is identical for both a protodeacon and an archdeacon, and is normally done during the Little Entrance of the Divine Liturgy.

A protodeacon has precedence when serving with other deacons, regardless of the date of his own ordination to the deaconate. If several protodeacons serve at the same time, their order of precedence is determined by the date of their elevation.

In the Archieratikon (Slavonic: Chinovnik), the liturgical book containing the services as celebrated by a bishop, the term Protodeacon is used to refer to the senior-ranking deacon who is serving, regardless of whether or not he has actually had that rank bestowed upon him.

Roman Catholic Church

In the Holy Roman Church, the senior-ranking Cardinal Deacon (in order of appointment to the College of Cardinals) is the Cardinal Protodeacon. He has the privilege of announcing a new Pope's election in the famous Habemus Papam announcement given from the central loggia at the St. Peter's Basilica. The current Cardinal Protodeacon is Agostino Cacciavillan.

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