In the presence of over 150 guests of Saint Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, twelve students of the Seminary Graduated with the Degrees: Master of Divinity, Master of Arts in Applied Orthodox Theology, Licentiate of Sacred Theology and Youth Ministry Certificate.
The 2019 Fall Semester Commencement Ceremony began with the formal procession of graduates and faculty of the Seminary into the main hall of the Ukrainian Cultural Center of the National Spiritual Headquarters of the UOC of the USA in South Bound Brook, NJ.
Very Rev. Fr. Stephen Hutnick, professor of Sacramental Theology served as Master of Ceremonies, who together with Dean of Students - Rev. Fr. Vasyl Pasakas introduced the graduates and invited Deacon Michael Abrahamson and Subdeacon Mykola Zomchak to deliver Valedictorian remarks on behalf of the Full and Part-time students.
Both graduates reflected on their life’s journey and the accomplishments of the graduating class. Expressing their gratitude to the clergy and faithful of the Church, Deacon Michael and Subdeacon Mykola stated that much has been done by the Church’s academic institution in the process of formal training of the future pastors of the Church in the US, Ukraine, Germany and other parts of the world, where the graduates of the Seminary shall serve in the near future.
With the sense of profound gratitude to Almighty God for the blessing received, Fr. Vasyl Pasakas called everyone’s attention to the formal ceremony of presentation of the academic degrees to the graduates of St. Sophia Seminary:
Your Eminence, Archbishop Daniel, Vice-Rector as well as the Academic Dean of St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA:
As Dean of Students of St. Sophia Seminary, with concurrence of the faculty and the Board of Trustees, respectively, I am recommending for graduation the following individuals who have satisfactorily completed all of the requirements of the Master of Divinity, Master of Arts in Applied Orthodox Studies, License in Sacred Theology and Youth Ministry Certification programs:
The Degree of Master of Divinity:
Deacon Yurii Bobko
Rev. Fr. Oleg Kravchenko
Subdeacon David Murphy
Subdeacon Ihor Protsak
Subdeacon Mykola Zomchak
The Degree of Master of Arts in Applied Orthodox Studies
Deacon Alexander Smoktunowicz
The Degree of License of Sacred Theology:
Deacon Michael Abrahamson
The Certificate in Youth Ministry:
To which, His Eminence Archbishop Daniel responded: "By the authority vested on me as Vice-Rector and Academic Dean of Saint Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and by the Secretary of the Higher Education of the State of New Jersey, I accept the recommendation of the faculty and the Board of Trustees of St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary and with the blessing of His Eminence Metropolitan Antony, the Rector of St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary approve the granting of the degrees of Master of Divinity, Master of Arts in Applied Orthodox Studies, License in Sacred Theology and Youth Ministry Certification upon the above mentioned individuals."
One by one, the graduates approach His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, the Vice-Rector and Academic Dean of St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary, in order to ask for the blessing and to receive their graduation certificates.
Very Rev. Fr. Stephen Hutnick bestowed upon the graduates Academic Hoods and Rev. Fr. Vasyl Shak, presented academic pins.
In his Charge to the Graduates remarks, Vladyka Daniel stated:
Reverend fathers, members of the Faculty, seminarians, brothers and sisters, dear Class of 2019:
What an honor it is for me to share this moment with all of you. 47 years ago, for the very first time our Saint Sophia Seminary opened its doors and welcome the very first class of students. What a witness for the past 47 years! We are truly a group of people – Orthodox people – that thrive on the gifts of peoples from Ukraine and every land.
Nineteen years ago, I had the privilege to cross the threshold of the Metropolia Center of our Church myself, through the doors of St. Sophia Seminary, Consistory and this Cultural Center. I had a chance to see with my own eyes the beauty of God’s creation through the efforts of our forefathers, our spiritual leaders – Metropolitan John (Theodorovich), Metropolitan Mstyslav (Skrypnyk), Metropolitan Andriy (Kuschak), Metropolitan Constantine (Buggan), present day Metropolitan Antony (who is not able to be with us due to his post-surgery recovery) and clergy of our Church. Here, on these sacred grounds – the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA established its sacred center. It is a historic place, where the history of Ukrainian people cross paths with the very early years of establishment of the United States of America. George Washington, Hendrik Fisher – only two names with whom the history of this surrounding area is connecting us to the history of American soil.
Our first priests and bishops probably never even fully understood the importance of this location. They were Ukrainian immigrants - missionaries who came from Ukraine to preach and build in this country. And they never left.
My dream is that one day, we will take that seriously in this country and our parish communities. Because I believe that when we do, we will begin to fully understand the spiritual story of Ukrainian-Americans; begin to understand this nation’s meaning and purpose.
Every people has a story they tell about where they came from and how they got here.
The story we Americans tell usually begins with figures like Washington and Jefferson, Madison and Hamilton. We talk about the founding fathers and their declaration that all of us are created equal.
But our Faith story started long before that. Back in 988… Our Ukrainian forefathers received the gift of Faith and began to share this most precious gift wherever they could imagine. The gift of knowing the living God. So, our Christian roots run deep. We don’t think about this much but it is worth remembering.
America’s founders dreamed of a nation where men and women from every race, religion and national background could live in equality. As brothers and sisters, children of the same God. Their vision helped make this a great nation, exceptional in human history — blessed with freedom and committed to sharing our blessings with the whole human race.
Our history has not been pure. It has been filled with tragedy and violent betrayals of our deepest values. But always this vision of the human person has guided us to repentance and to try to make things right and better.
We can see the finest fruits of Ukrainian-America mosaic founding vision here today — in the faces of this graduating class and the guest gathered here today. You are the promise of our community!
My dear graduates, you are entering the world, the society that is more anxious and more bitterly divided than I have ever seen in my lifetime. But the biggest challenges we face are not about globalization, technology or demographics. I believe our biggest challenge is a crisis of identity.
As people we are loosing our way because we have lost the threads of our human story. We no longer know who we are as a people or what our purpose is.
I say this is our biggest challenge because unless we know who we are and what we are here for, we will never be able to set the right priorities or find the right solutions to the many challenges we face.
My dear graduates, this is your calling in this hour in our history. To tell, to preach, to live the new story for a new generation of people.
The stories we are telling ourselves today are too small, too fearful. They are not generous enough to inspire us to meet the challenges we face in this century.
We need a refreshed approach to the narrative of holiness that will define us and hold us together as one people with a common purpose. A renewed spiritual approach that will help us to see beyond our narrow individualisms and the mentality of our “group.”
We need to talk about holiness and heroism.
Ukrainian-American community, our CHURCH is alive in her saints — and we have so many! Visionaries, dreamers and missionaries; martyrs and immigrants; refugees and exiles. They came from everywhere to share their gifts and make this country what she was meant to be, a light to the nations.
There are saintly people in our communities whom we have failed to recognize at times. The litany of Ukrainian-American saints of our communities goes on and on and it includes immigrants, servants of the poor, there are artists and activists, ladies making varenyky and men cleaning, building and maintaining our church temples. But there are present day saints in every family and every neighborhood.
You know them. They are the hidden saints, saints of the everyday — holy wives and holy husbands, working hard to do what is right, sacrificing for their children; being good friends and good neighbors; serving the poor and working to make their communities stronger.
We need to hold these people up as examples. Tell their stories. We need to try to be like them in our own lives.
My brothers and sisters, this is the meaning of our lives. This is the meaning of the land in which we found home, were born and live in.
America’s founders — the missionaries and the statesmen — they knew this truth. They knew that we belong to a story that began long before us, the story of our Creator. They knew that we are born with a dignity and a destiny that can never be denied. No matter who we are. Or where we came from. Or how we got here.
Dear graduates, now it is your turn to hold these truths and to tell them to a new generation.
There is a new story that we are writing with our lives. By the decisions we make, and by the way we treat other people.
My prayer for you is that you will write a story that is filled with goodness, love and service; with prayer and giving thanks for simple gifts. I pray that you will always seek to know what is right — and have the courage to do it.
People will tell you this vision is naïve; that it doesn’t pay; that we are too far gone for all that.
Don’t believe them!
The story of our Ukrainian founders and our American founders is not over yet. It continues in you and in me. We can still rely on the protection of Divine Providence. We can still open our door with confidence to people who are yearning to breathe free. We can still practice a politics with malice toward none and charity for all. We are made for greater things.
Congratulation, Class of 2019!
May God bless you and your families, our Church, our ancestral Ukraine and our great country – the United States of America.
The ceremony concluded with the formal reception at the Ukrainian Cultural Center of the UOC of the USA, honoring the graduating class of 2019, membership of which presented the Seminary with a liturgical Eucharistic set for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy in the Three Holy hierarchs Chapel of St. Sophia Seminary.
Photos by Subdeacon Yaroslav Bilohan