At that time, as the number of disciples continued to grow, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.
So the Twelve called together the community of the disciples and said, “It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table. Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
The proposal was acceptable to the whole community, so they chose Stephen, a man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit, also Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas of Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles who prayed and laid hands on them. (Acts 6:1-5)
And with that, the diaconate began. Derived from the Greek word diaconia (service), the diaconate is the first grade of Holy Orders in the Catholic Church.
There are two types of deacons. Transitional deacons are ordained in this order on their way to becoming priests, whereas permanent deacons are ordained to the service of word, sacrament, and charity. Married men are allowed to be ordained to the permanent diaconate, which I did in 2008.
Click here for more information about this vocation.