On September 16th, as the Orthodox Church celebrates Deaconess Phoebe, the faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA gathered in the Three Holy Hierarchs Chapel of the Saint Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Seminary to celebrate the opening of the new seminary academic year, as well as to ordain one of their own into the Deaconate of the Church.
The tiny chapel began to fill as the seminarians gathered in the corner preparing to chant directed by Subdeacon Roman Marchyshak, and local clergy emerged from the altar in their golden vestments. As the seminarians chanted the Hours, the faithful crowded around the periphery of the chapel, having venerated the holy icons, lit candles, and raised prayers to the Lord. As 10 a.m. approached, Subdeacon Andriy Akulenko, holding a korovaj (round bread) and Seminarian Bohdan Bodnar, holding flowers, moved up towards the entrance of the chapel to greet their hierarch. Ukrainians offer bread and salt (хліб-сіль) to guests as a sign of deep respect, hospitality, unity, and goodwill.
His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, entered the narthex, crossed himself and with a warm smile approached the awaiting seminarians who greeted him, thanking him for celebrating this day with them, and for always keeping them in their prayers, as he is in theirs. Archbishop Daniel accepted the flowers, along with the bread with salt, thanking the young men for their warm welcome and assuring them of his ongoing prayers for them and all the students of the Seminary. As they stepped aside, Fr. Ivan Tchopko, Assistant Dean of Students, approached offering a blessing cross and expressing his own gratitude to His Eminence. Picking up the Cross, His Eminence blessed everyone and offered the Cross for the clergy to venerate, and then proceeded to center of the chapel as the Divine Liturgy began. Having venerated the icons on the tetrapod of St. Phoebe, the St. Sophia icon (Holy Wisdom) and the Three Holy Hierarchs (St. John Chrysostom, St. Gregory the Theologian, and St. Basil the Great, he momentarily entered the Sanctuary to bow before the Altar table before returning to stand among the faithful in the center of the nave.
As the Liturgy continued Subdeacon Andrii Vatrych served the Archbishop by holding the Archieratikon (Chinovnik), a bishop’s Liturgical book, for him to read. The clergy entered the altar leaving His Eminence standing in the nave, surrounded by the faithful, with the subdeacon at his side. A subdeacon's distinct responsibility is to serve the bishop during the liturgy for the washing of hands, holding the liturgy book, the staff, and dikiri and trikiri candles.
At the Little Entrance the clergy emerged from the altar, surrounding the Archbishop and with his blessing, as everyone raised their voices singing, “O Come, let us worship and bow down to Christ Himself, our King and God.” The service continued with the reading of the Epistle in Ukrainian by Seminarian Marian Meleshko and in English by subdeacon Andrii Vatrych. The Gospel from Matthew 24:1-13 was then read in Ukrainian by Deacon Pavlo Vysotskyi and in English by Deacon Adrian Mazur as Christ spoke to His Disciples about what to expect towards the “end of the age”. The Lord warned them not to be deceived for many will come supposedly in His Name, there will be wars, nations will rise up against each other, there will be famines, pestilence and earthquakes. These will signal the beginning of sorrows, and many will be hated and killed for His name’s sake. False prophets will arise, and many will be deceived, but he who endures to the end shall be saved.
Archbishop Daniel delivered a moving sermon, referencing the letter of St. Paul to Timothy where he discusses the Office of Deacons, explaining that deacons must be dignified, not two-faced. Also, their wives must be temperate and faithful in every respect. The deacon must be good managers of their households and a good guide to their children.
A few days before Pascha the Lord was walking towards Jerusalem. The roads were sandy and rocky. The road from Bethany to Jerusalem was difficult and as the hours went by, they were all getting tired. Their discussions revolved around who among them would be greater in the Kingdom of God. It was a heated discussion reviewing who would be first, who would be least, eventually arriving in Jerusalem to partake of the Mystical Supper, the First Eucharist. However, the Disciples were so preoccupied with their own greatness that they forgot the meaning of why they had gathered around Jesus.
In ancient Judaic tradition, a slave would be called forth as a guest entered, and the slaves would wash their feet. Having traveled along the dirty and dusty roads, the feet of the travelers were caked in mud, as the dust creeped in through their sandals.
Christ looks at His Disciples and before the dinner commences, He took a towel and basin of water, dropped to His knees, and washed their feet, one by one, and having washed them, carefully dried them, kissed them, and then moved on to the next. The Lord ensured that they were all refreshed, as he performed the duties of a slave.
As they humbly take their places around the table to enjoy their dinner, the Lord tells them that He wants them to love each other, as He loves them, and as He showed them by washing their feet. He wants them to follow His example and love each other.
So St. Paul later hears of the arguments taking place in the Church of Rome. There is discord and upheaval, so he writes a letter to the Romans to make peace amongst themselves and to cease the disputes. St. Paul needs someone to carry this most important letter to Rome. He asks St. Phoebe, a noble woman who was a benefactress and served the Apostles and directs her to take this letter and restore peace in Rome. St. Phoebe is made a deaconess, the first deaconess in the Church, and her first duty was to deliver this letter. St. Paul trusted her with this great responsibility to get this letter and restore peace.
Jesus spoke about love to His Disciples, St. Paul instructs St. Phoebe to deliver his instructions to Rome, telling them to love each other. Everything we do, we should do with love and out of love for one another. If we do not love, there is no point in saying we believe in God, in fasting, in praying, for if we have no love, all these are meaningless. The service of not only hierarchs, clergy, deacons, seminarians, but the service of every single person must begin with love – love of God, and love towards others.
Judas was full of love. He was faithful for Jesus for three years. He followed him, collected funds, helped the poor. He loved Jesus, but, over those three years his love shifted away from Jesus to the position which he held. What crucified Jesus was not the Jews or the Romans, but a confused sense of love. Every time we betray our Christian teachings, every time we behave against the teachings of Christ, we crucify Him, with our mistaken conception of love. When we get full of pride and anger, we crucify the Lord.
His Eminence continued by stating that in every school, be it a seminary or even an elementary school, we teach that we must love. We teach children to be kind, to share, and to give of themselves. As we grow older our concept of love shifts. Why do we allow our childlike concept of love to a distorted and misguided sense of love. Why have we taken the most holy aspect of humanity, love, into something dark and harmful?
In the Seminary, the young men are taught and prepared to enter the School of Life, as they will be assigned one day as clergy to parishes. They will need to be able to love. Love their parishioners, but also love the dirty homeless man on the street corner. They will love their families, but also they will need to love their parish family many of who will disagree with them, or behave badly. They will need to live their lives in pastoral love to all. The calling of a human being is to love.
The Lord called specific men, women, people, to teach love and preach love. The Elders of the Church were taught to preach and explain the teachings of God. The deacon was not to preach or teach, but to serve the Word of God. He is to teach it through practical application. St. John Chrysostom stated that the best sermon is not the one that is preached with words, but the one that is witnessed by the way we live our lives, by the Word of God, with directing our words, actions, and thoughts. That is the best sermon.
Turning to Subdeacon Andrii, His Eminence stated that in a few short minutes he will cease being a subdeacon of the Church, as he is ordained into the Holy Deaconate. The orarion will be untied and his wings will open to allow him to take flight, like the angels. He will be able to serve Liturgically around the Holy Table, in the Chapel, to the people, but then he will have to serve with unconditional love. If he is unable to live in love, to offer himself unconditionally to every single person in the life of the Church, then untying the omophorion will be pointless. Vladyka stated that he met this young man five years before in Ukraine who came to be interviewed for entrance to the Seminary. A few years later, he announced he was engaged and wished to marry. Today, he is joined by his wife, by his fellow students, by the professors of the Seminary, by the clergy of the Church, by his family who are watching the live broadcast, all being witnesses as he offers himself to the Church. The most important thing anyone can give him are their prayers. Therefore, His Eminence asked that everyone present pray for him and for his ministry. With this final request, Archbishop Daniel returned to the Altar and the service continued.
At the conclusion of the Anaphora, with Christ physically present upon the Altar Table, Subdeacon Andrii Vatrych received the blessing of from his hierarch and stepped out of the altar and went to stand at the back of the chapel. Standing beside him were Subdeacon Mykola Stefanyk and Subdeacon Yurii Izhyk.
Within moments, from the Altar was heard, “Command!” At the directive Subdeacon fell onto his knees and bowed towards the Altar. Rising to his feet, the two new subdeacons grasped him by his elbows and led him forward. Again, was heard, “Command!”, and the young man once again fell to his knees and bowed in the middle of the Nave. Rising up he was led forward to the Royal Gates, “Command, Holy Master, the one who presents himself before you!” echoed through the chapel, and the subdeacon entered through the Holy Gates, escorted by two deacons and kneeled before Archbishop Daniel, who sitting at the Northwest corner of the Altar table took a moment to give him counsel and bless him.
Placing his own hands atop of the candidate’s head, Archbishop Daniel read the Prayer of Ordination.
Further, the archbishop prayed: “O God our Savior, by your immortal voice You established the office of the diaconate through Your Apostles and showed forth the First martyr Stephen whom You elected first to fulfill the work of a deacon. It is written in your holy Gospel, "whoever would be first among you, let him be your servant." Lord of all fill this, Your servant, whom you have consented to enter the ministry of a deacon with the totality of faith, love, power, and sanctification by the descent of Your Holy and Life-giving Spirit. For not through the laying on of my hands, but by the divine visitation of your rich mercies grace is bestowed upon your worthy ones; that he, liberated from every sin, may stand blameless by You in the awesome Day of Judgment and receive the true reward of Your promise. For You are our God, and to You we ascribe glory, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and always, and to the ages of ages.”
As the Archbishop was praying, and the Holy Spirit was acting, all the people present, clergy and laity, raised their voices and repeatedly sang “Lord have mercy! Господи помилуй!” adding their fervent prayers to those of His Eminence.
As the prayers were completed, newly ordained Deacon Andrii slowly rose to his feet and stepped to the side. Archbishop Daniel took each piece of the new deacon’s vestments, blessed them, and presented them to the people, before placing them on the newly ordained Deacon.
First was the orarion, which is the deacon’s stole that is draped over his left shoulder allowing him to raise the front portion with his right hand, like a raised angel’s wing, while reading the litanies, and performing other tasks. As His Eminence stepped forward and raised the orarion before the people, he exclaimed “Axios!” and the people replied, “Axios! Worthy! Гідний!”
Next Vladyka presented the cuffs, which remind the deacon that he serves by the power and Grace of God, not on his own merit, and are a symbol of the bonds that tied the Savior’s hands during His Passion. The cuffs were followed by a ripida/church fan. The ceremonial fan is used during processions, and always stands by the Holy Table. This fan depicts the six-winged Seraphim, and was presented to the Deacon because he now, like the Seraphim, serves as an angel at the Altar of God. Next, the Archbishop presented the censer, followed by the Service Book, from which the Deacon will read the prayers during the services. The final object His Eminence presented the people was the newly ordained Deacon of the Church.
Taking Deacon Andrii by the hand, Archbishop Daniel led him forward to present him to the people, as they exclaimed, Axios! Axios! Axios! The newly ordained deacon to exchange a hug with his wife before returning to the Altar. Deacon Andrii was handed the Ripida/Church Fan as he took up his position beside the Altar table and slowly waved the fan over the Body and Blood of Christ. Archbishop Daniel fell to his knees, along with all the clergy in the Altar as they prayed the Lord’s Prayer. The entire time Deacon Andrii slowly, humbly, and with respect waved the fan over the Altar table, just like an angel.
As the Royal Gates closed, one could hear, “Holy Things are for the Holy!” Having regularly partaken of the Eucharist, this was nonetheless the first time the young deacon would participate in the Communion of the Clergy. The faithful, who stood, eagerly anticipating their turn to partake, wondered how the young man must be feeling. Deacon Andrii must be going through a myriad of emotions at the honor of standing before God at the Altar Table.
As the Royal Gates swung open, Deacon Andrii emerged holding the Chalice containing the Body and Blood of Christ. At the conclusion of the Communion Prayer, Archbishop Daniel took the Chalice from the deacon, and proceeded to commune all the people who had been so patiently waiting.
With the conclusion of Divine Liturgy, the Dismissal Prayer having been read, Archbishop Daniel, with newly ordained Deacon Andrii standing beside him on the ambo, read the certificate, the Notice of Ordination. As everyone sang Axios! Axios! Axios, His Eminence turned to the young man and stated that it has been a blessing to see him grown up and enter the Deaconate of the Church.
Embracing his hierarch, Deacon Andrii turned to him and thanked him along with Metropolitan Antony for their mentorship and support. He explained how much he appreciated their prayers, their advice, and the efforts they each had made on his behalf, to teach him, shape him, and prepare him for the priesthood. There were no words to express his gratitude to them both. With these words he presented Archbishop Daniel with a bouquet of white roses. Having accepted the gift, His Eminence in turn greeted the new deacon, and his wife, explaining that they both are on the same journey, and will work together to spread the Word of God, after which the deacon himself greeted and thanked his family and loved ones for their continued prayers and support.
Fr. Ivan Tchopko stepped out and announced that on behalf of St. Andrew’s Orthodox Society and the Lewytskyi Scholarship Fund, and Luba Lewystska herself, he presented Archbishop Daniel with a check for $30,000 in support of the Seminary and future seminarians. Accepting the check His Eminence stated that the St. Andrew Orthodox Society, through the Lewytskyi Fund annually supports the seminary. Years ago they would send funds to Ukraine to support Seminary students studying there. However, now that the students are brought to the USA, and study at the St. Sophia Seminary, the funds are now deposited locally to support the education of future priests of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of USA. He thanked Mrs. Luba Lewytskyi and Protodeacon Ihor Mahlay, President of the St. Andrew’s Society, for their generosity and support of the Seminary.
The Seminarians of the St. Sophia Seminary approached the ambo where stood their newly ordained fellow student. They warmly greeted him, wishing him all the best on his journey, and asked that Lord strengthen him and guide him as he serves Christ. With warm hugs for all, the seminarians joined by the faithful began to sing Mnohaya Lita, Many Years!
Archbishop Daniel concluded the service by expressing the warmest greetings from His Eminence Metropolitan Antony who was not able to attend the ordination because he had to present at the consecration of a new bishop at for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. However, he had asked that his warmest greetings be shared with the newly ordained deacon, and everyone present in person and over the live broadcast, and that they all be assured of his continued prayers.
His Eminence took a moment to turn to the seminarians who had so beautifully chanted the responses during the day’s Divine Liturgy and wished them a successful academic year, and warmly welcomed the new students to the seminary. He then turned and greeted everyone and thanked them for joining today’s service. He asked that everyone remember to keep the newly ordained deacon in their prayers. As final photos were taken, everyone began to sing Monhaya Lita.
May the Lord bless newly ordained Deacon Andrii with many years of health and happiness as he serves in the Lord’s Vineyard. Axios! Worthy! Гідний!