December 25, 2018 – the glorious feast of the Nativity of our Lord (according to Gregorian Calendar) was truly celebrated by clergy and faithful of the Nativity of the Mother of God Ukrainian Orthodox Church in South Plainfield, NJ.
Several weeks, prior to the celebration, His Eminence Archbishop Daniel informed Rev. Fr. Vasyl Pasakas, pastor of the congregation that on Christmas Day a student of St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary (South Bound Brook, NJ) of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, Subdeacon Oleg Kravchenko will be ordained to the Holy Deaconate. Thus the preparations quickly began.
Early in the morning of the Christmas Day, Archbishop Daniel arrived to South Plainfield, NJ and surrounded by numerous clergy led the joyful celebration of the Divine Liturgy. With the blessing of His Eminence Metropolitan Antony, who was in attendance, concelebrating with the hierarch were Rev. Fr. Vasyl Pasakas (Nativity of the Mother of God church, South Plainfield, NJ), Very Rev. Fr. Tars Naumenko (St. Vladimir Cathedral, Philadelphia, PA), Very Rev. Fr. Oleksandr Yatskiv (Pokrova of the Mother of God parish, New Haven, CT), Very Rev. Fr. Vitaliy Pavlykivskyy (All Saints Ukrainian Orthodox parish, New York, NY), Rev. Fr. Vasyl Shak (St. Panteleimon parish, New York, NY), Rev. Fr. Vitalii Lutsiv (St. Michael parish, Hudson, NY) and Protodeacon Ihor Mahlay (St. Vladimir Cathedral, Parma, OH), Protodeacon Ihor Rusyn (Pokrova of the Mother of God parish, New Haven, CT) and Deacon Richard Jendras (St. Demetrius Cathedral, Carteret, NJ).
During the Small Entrance of the Archpastoral Divine Liturgy, His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, acting in the capacity of the Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarch to Ukraine, bestowed upon Rev. Fr. Vasyl Pasakas a Patriarchal blessing and presented him a gold Patriarchal cross in gratitude for the dedicated service to the mission and ministry of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. AXIOS!
In his Christmas Sermon, Vladyka Daniel stated: “… This Christmas, I kneel together with you before the manger of Bethlehem to worship the Word of God, “Who for us men and our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man”. This Christmas, we will relive the sublime mystery that, “though he was in the form of God…he emptied himself taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2, 6-7). Jesus comes this Christmas as a radiant light to shine upon “a people who walk in darkness, who dwell in the country of the shadow of death” (Isaiah 9, 1-2).
The light emanating from the manger is the Savior of the world. Christ the Incarnate Lord breaks through the gloom of despair to dispel the darkness, to enable us to understand the meaning and the value of human life. In the silence and the darkness of the night, the light emanating from the cradle is the source of hope, of renewal and of salvation.
Sadly, modern man, too preoccupied with his self-perceived importance, will not see that light. He will not have room in his life for Christ to be born, because he needs his space for his own interests. He has no time for God or for his neighbor….the poor, the suffering, the hungry, the homeless. This is especially true of those who are rich in material things. Their space is filled with their selves---there’s no room for others. Indeed, “He came to his own and his own did not receive him” (John 1, 11). The Word of God enters into the world, but He is not noticed. He is not received. He is ignored. Indeed, many of us live as if Christ the Savior was never born.
Let us ask ourselves this Christmas: Do we have room in our hearts for the Son of God or for our neighbor? Do we have room in our lives for those who suffer, or is all our space cramped with our narcissistic interests, our sinful thoughts and desires?
“To all who received him he gave the power to become children of God” (John 1, 12). I join you in praying that the Divine Infant finds space in our hearts and in those of brethren throughout the world, so that every human being may come to know the power of His saving Grace. He alone can transform evil into good and darkness into light.
May the light of Bethlehem radiate wherever the horizons are bleak with despair - in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea, Middle East. May it shine in America’s cities and neighborhoods. May the light of Christ shine wherever human rights and dignity are trampled upon. May it shine wherever suffering seems to be interminable. May it shine wherever the selfishness of individuals prevails over the common good. May it shine where the exploitation of man by his fellow man is taken for granted. May the light from the cradle shine wherever terrorism continues to strike, and the basic needs of day-to-day survival are insufficient. May it shine especially in the hearts of those who live only to satisfy their selfish interests.
This Christmas, let us be drawn to the light which dispels sadness and fear. Let us approach the manger in humility, that our hearts and souls may be filled with hope, peace and salvation. May the Incarnate Lord choose our hearts to be born this Christmas. May He embrace us in His cradle, and may His divine light radiate in our hearts every day of the New Year.”
Following the anaphora of the Divine Liturgy, Subdeacon Oleg was escorted by his classmates Subdeacon Ivan Venhryn and Seminarian Myroslav Mykytyuk to the Royal Doors of the Sanctuary, where the deacons presented Subdeacon Oleg for the ordination to Deaconate to His Eminence Archbishop Daniel. The ordination prayers were chanted and suddenly the entire temple of the Nativity of the Mother of God parish burst in joyful exclamation: AXIOS! AXIOS! AXIOS!
Numerous people approached the Sacred Chalice to receive the Most Holy Eucharist. The mixed choir, which consisted chanters from various local parishes, under the leadership of Dr. Michael Andrec and Natalia Honcharenko chanted the responses to the Divine Liturgy and sang traditional Christmas Carols.
At the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, Rev. Fr. Vasyl Paskas, pastor of the parish community, greeted everyone in attendance with the glorious feast of the Nativity of our Lord and expressed his gratitude to His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch, Metropolitan Antony and Archbishop Daniel for the great honor of receiving an award – the Patriarchal Cross. Fr. Vasyl also offered his gratitude to the entire parish congregation for their love and support; but especially to his wife and children who often experienced his absence from the daily routine of life as he was fulfilling his service in the life of the UOC of the USA and the Ecumenical throne of Constantinople.
Using the opportunity of having both hierarchs of the Church in attendance at the Nativity of the Mother of God parish, Metropolitan Antony presented several Centennial awards to the devout parishioners of the parish congregation: Anita Anderson, Dimitri Kopchak, Andrew Olear, Michael Ratai, Peggy Kopchak.
Following the presentation of the awards, the newly ordained Deacon Oleg received a blessing to address everyone in attendance. In his short remarks he offered gratitude to his ordaining hierarch – Archbishop Daniel, for the spiritual guidance and trust as he begins his service in the life of the UOC of the USA. In conclusion, Deacon Oleg presented a bouquet of flowers to His Eminence Archbishop Daniel.
While presenting a Certificate of Ordination, Vladyka Daniel addressed the newly ordained Deacon, making clear what the deacon must remember in his service - “not to be served, but to serve.”
“…I would ask you from this day forward, remember two important liturgical gestures: one, that you are entrusted with the Gospel. You don’t own this book; you are a trustee like all the rest of us, to share this great news about Jesus Christ. Every time you read the Gospel at Liturgical celebrations, think of this day and how this task is entrusted to you.
Second, you are now a particular servant of the Holy Eucharist, a role that belongs to the deacon, who stands by the priest and presents the chalice of the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ to the faithful with the sacred exclamation: “In the fear of God, faith, hope and love Draw near…,” Archbishop Daniel continued.
“By a virtue of your ordination, you are called to the ministry Your ministry the altar, ministry of the Word and ministry of Mercy or Charitable Works. Thus apart from serving with the priest the Divine Liturgy, you will be consoling and giving hope to people through preaching and serving those in need of help at all levels without discrimination…So, go in peace in to the world and remember to serve and not to be served…” Vladyka Daniel added.
Following the veneration of the Nativity of our Lord icon and the blessing from the hands of His Eminence Metropolitan Antonym, the entire congelation was treated to a Christmas luncheon in honor of Deacon Oleg and his wife Olha.
Photos by Seminarian Yaroslav Bilohan