- The Program
As the church experienced dramatic growth following the end of persecution and the conversion of Constantine (313), the diaconate began to be overshadowed. As the church grew, the bishop could no longer serve as the primary pastor of the community, and sacramental authority and pastoral oversight eventually fell to presbyters (priests). Concurrently, the church adapted itself to the overwhelmingly hierarchical structures of Roman society, and the role of bishop increasingly became prestigious in an Imperial Church. Likewise, leadership in the church became a progression of grades through which one passed- an increasingly accepted practice. Other orders developed "below" the diaconate (eg, doorkeeper, exorcist, lector, and subdeacon), and clerics-in-training passed successively through each of these orders, then to the diaconate, and then to the priesthood. Eventually, the other orders disappeared, except for the order of deacon, which became "transitional." The diaconate had become a stepping-stone on the way to the priesthood, and the vocational deacon faded from existence.