As the faithful arrived at the St. Andrew Memorial Church in South Bound Brook, New Jersey, at the Metropolia Center of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, the bells began to toll announcing the 10th hour, and the start of Divine Liturgy.
Walking up to venerate the icon located in the center of the church upon the Tetrapod, the faithful were reminded of the day, as the icon represented the Final Judgement. This day, the 6th of March 2021, was the Saturday before Meatfare Sunday, and a day when all Orthodox Christians worldwide commemorate and pray for the peaceful repose of those who have fallen asleep in the Lord. On one side of the icon stood a large round loaf of bread, representing the eternity of the Risen Lord; while on the other side stood a bowl of kolivo (a wheat porridge traditionally served at memorial services).
With His Eminence Metropolitan Antony, Ruling Hierarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA in attendance, His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, Ruling Hierarch of the Western Eparchy, celebrated the Divine Liturgy. Con-celebrating with him were a number of local priests – V. Rev. Yurij Siwko, pastor of the St. Andrew Memorial Church; V. Rev. Orest Poukhalksii, pastor of St.s Peter and Paul parishes in Millville, NJ and Glen Spey, NY; V. Rev. Vitaliy Pavlykivskiy of All Saints Parish, New York, NY; Rev. Vasyl Pasakas of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin parish in South Plainfield, NJ and the Three Holy Hierarchs and Deacon Myroslav Mykytyuk of St. Sophia Seminary, South Bound Brook, NJ.
As the Memorial Church choir, under the direction of Dr. Michael Andrec, sang the hymns and prayers, their voices descended upon the faithful below, surrounding them with a sense of peace and harmony. Among the parishioners of the parish, were also many out-of-town visitors who had traveled hundreds of miles to participate and in today’s celebration. For in addition to the day being a Memorial Saturday, today was a major celebration and a milestone in the growth of the Church, as during this Divine Liturgy, a much-loved student of the St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary, Subdeacon Mykola Zomchak, would be ordained into the Deaconate of the Church.
Apropos to this occasion, the day’s Reading was from the Gospel of Luke (21:8-9, 25-27, 33-36), with Christ instructing His Disciples to be wary and not trust or follow anyone other than Himself. He warned them of wars and difficulties and instructed them not to be afraid. The strong voice of recently ordained Deacon Myrolav Mykytyuk shared the warning of Christ with all those listening:
“But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21: 34-36)
In his sermon, His Eminence Archbishop Daniel expounded on the deep meaning of this day. He began by explaining about the Kolivo (wheat porridge) located in the middle of the nave. His Eminence explained that this traditional dish is highly symbolic. In addition to water, it is mainly composed of three elements – wheat, raisins (or other fruit), honey (or sugar).
The wheat is symbolic of Christ and Life Everlasting, for in the Gospel it states, that “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone. But, if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24) And so, a human must also die spiritually, and arise in Christ to bare much fruit.
The fruit symbolizes the Gifts of the Grace of the Holy Spirit which we received upon our Baptism.
The honey/sugar reminds of the eternal heavenly life to which we are all called to, and to which we prepare ourselves throughout our lives.
As we commemorate our departed loved ones, we remember not only their kindness to us, but, their determination and sacrifice to preserve Christ’s Church. Even through difficult times, wars, persecutions, etc. they remained faithful to their Baptismal vows, choosing to live a holy and righteous life.
His Eminence continued, that it is in this same vein that the deacon of the Church serves, through fidelity, devoting his entire life to Christ. The first deacons were martyrs, who lived the Gospel of Christ onto their earthly deaths. Clergy are called to devote themselves to Christ unconditionally, even if it means personal loss, continually defending the truth of Christ, and preaching the Holy Gospel.
Archbishop Daniel compared the deacon to a surgical nurse. While the surgeon has been trained to perform the operation, the nurse is right beside them in the operating room, working hard to provide them the tools, and the assistance they need to save the life before them. Just so, is the Deacon’s role, in assisting the clergy to save the lives and souls of the faithful who come to them for assistance.
His Eminence stated that today those present will be present at the ordination of Subdeacon Mykola Zomchak to the Holy Deaconate, and as we pray that the Lord guide the hands of the surgeon, we too must pray that the Lord guide the hands of the clergy. Vladyka asked that everyone join in praying for the hands, the head and the entire being of the young man who before them will be approaching God and dedicating himself to His service. With this final request for prayer, Archbishop Daniel returned to the Altar and the Divine Liturgy continued.
As the people bowed their heads and joined in praying not only for themselves and their loved ones, they also fervently prayed for the wellbeing, strength, wisdom, and dedication of the young man who had accepted the call, and chosen the path less traveled that leads to the narrow gate.
At the completion of the Anaphora, as the Hymn to the Theotokos was being sung, Subdeacon Mykola emerged from the alter, and flanked by two of his seminary brothers, Subdeacon Ihor Protsak (who would soon also be ordained into the Holy Deaconate), and Pavlo Vysotskyi, headed to the back of the church to stand in the narthex.
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 seminarians 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. Once again, rising, he was led forward to the Royal Gates, where “Command!” was heard for a third time, and the subdeacon once again fell to his knees and bowed to the ground, before the very Altar and presence of Christ Himself.
Rising to his feet, he stepped gingerly through the Royal Gates and kneeled before His Eminence Archbishop Daniel who was seated at the northwest corner of the Altar Table, to receive his blessing. Once again, he arose to his feet, this time two priests came to stand at his side, and taking him by his arms they led him around the Table, pausing at each corner to allow Subdeacon Mykola to kiss the table. Returning to His Eminence, he once again bowed before him kissing his hand and epigonation epigonation (palitsa). The palitsa, which is the diamond shaped article hanging below the bishop’s knee, holds a dual meaning. First, it denotes the celebrant as a "soldier" of Christ. Second, it symbolizes the Word of God, fighting the wiles of the enemy. A second set of priests stepped up and led the subdeacon once again around the Altar Table, and then a third set escorted him a third time, releasing him to stand before the Altar Table. His Eminence arose, as Subdeacon Mykola prostrated three times before Christ, and then settled on his knees at the southwest corner of the Table, placing his right hand over his left upon the corner, with his head humbly resting upon his hands.
Placing his own hands atop of the candidate’s head, Archbishop Daniel read the Prayer of Ordination:
“O God our Savior, who by Your incorruptible voice did appoint unto Your Apostles the law of the Diaconate, and did manifest the first Martyr, Stephen, to be of the same; and did proclaim him the first who should exercise the office of a Deacon, as it is written in Your Holy Gospel, “Whosoever desires to be first among you, let him be your servant”: Do Thou, O Master of all, fill also this Your servant, whom Thou hast graciously permitted to enter upon the ministry of a Deacon, with all faith, and love, and power, and holiness, through the inspiration of Your Holy and Life-Giving Spirit; for not through the laying-on of my hands, but through the visitation of Your rich bounties, is Grace bestowed upon Your worthy ones; that he, being devoid of all sin, may stand blameless before Thee in the awesome Day of Your Judgment, and receive the unfailing reward of Your promise. For Thou art our God, and unto Thee are due all glory, honor, and worship, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages, Amen.”
As the Archbishop was praying, and the Lord was acting, all the people present, clergy and laity, raised their voices and repeatedly sang “Lord have mercy! Господи помилуй!”
As the prayers were completed, newly ordained Deacon Mykola 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 upon the new 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 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 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 Table of God.
At last Archbishop Daniel, took Deacon Mykola by the hand and led him forward to present him to the people, as they exclaimed, Axios! Axios! Axios! His Eminence gestured for the new deacon to step down into the nave and share this special moment with his wife, Maria. Exchanging a warm hug with her, he quickly returned to the Altar, took up the ripida and held it over the Gifts as His Eminence fell to his knees before them and prayed the Lord’s Prayer.
After the Communion of the Clergy, the Royal Gates opened, and newly ordained Deacon Mykola stepped out onto the solea holding in his hands the Chalice containing the very Body and Blood of our Savior. One can only imagine the emotions of the young man as he held in his hands the most sacred thing upon the Earth. Having recited the Communion Prayer, His Eminence stepped up and took the Chalice from him and proceeded to distribute the Eucharist to the faithful.
After the Dismal prayers, His Eminence, along with all the clergy descended from the Altar to stand before the Tetrapod and on this Memorial Saturday pray a short Litiya for the peaceful repose of all the departed faithful, that the Lord in His mercy forgive all transgressions, and remember them all in His Kingdom.
“You Who with wisdom profound ordered all things with love for mankind and gives to all that which is for their benefit, O only Creator, give rest, O Lord, to the souls of Your servants, for they placed their hope in You, our Maker and Fashioner and God.”
With the final prayers, blessing the Kolivo and bread with Holy Water, His Eminence returned to the Altar as the choir sang Memory Eternal (Veechna Pamyat).
As the service concluded, His Eminence Metropolitan Antony stepped out onto the Ambon, and greeted the newly ordained Deacon Mykola, who stood humbly before him. His Eminence reflected upon how long this day has been awaited and how he is moved that this young seminarian has heeded the Call of the Lord.
He reminded the young deacon to remember that on this day, the Grace of the Holy Spirit has descended upon him through the laying on of Archbishop Daniel’s hands. He stated that it is precisely the Holy Spirit which has inspired him and led him along this path. The Grace which he already knew from the day of his baptism, from regularly participating in the Sacraments of the Church, this same Grace has now entered his heart, soul, and mind, and changed his life forever.
His Eminence prayed that Deacon Mykola and his wife, Maria, grow stronger in love each day, as they take on these new responsibilities, and that as their love for one another grows, so will grow the love of the Deacon for all the people around him, until it becomes selfless, sacrificing, and expects nothing in return.
His Eminence Archbishop Daniel stepped up and presenting a Certificate of Ordination, read the words upon it stating that it was by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, on this day, having been deemed worthy, and granted the authority to assist in celebration and administration of the Holy Mysteries, before the people now stands Deacon Mykola, the newest Deacon in Church.
“Axios! Axios! Axios!,” exclaimed the clergy from the Altar.
Before concluding, Archbishop Daniel took a moment to address those who were not physically present and yet were hugely responsible for today’s celebration – the parents of Deacon Mykola and his wife. The family members, who were in Ukraine, were avidly watching the proceedings which were being livestreamed via Facebook.
His Eminence addressed these people, who are the dearest in the lives of this young couple and thanked them for raising their children in the Church and placing them upon the path of righteousness. Archbishop thanked them for sharing their son with the Church, and now when they next saw their son, they would no longer refer to him as “son” or “Mykola”, but, as “Otche”, for he was now a member of the clergy, and a branch in the Vineyard of the Lord.
Blushing, Deacon Mykola stepped up and first thanked the Lord for permitting him this honor of ordination. He next thanked Metropolitan Antony, siting his wisdom and patience with him as he studied in the seminary. He appreciated the Metropolitan’s continuous prayers, blessings, and wisdom which he shared with the pupils. He next thanked Archbishop Daniel, who spent much time patiently training him, and teaching him the ways of Christ. He was grateful for His Eminence’s shared wisdom, and mercy, and for being the true example of Christ to them all.
He continued by thanking all the instructors of St. Sophia Seminary, and all the clergy present at his ordination. Then he turned to his wife, Maria, and thanked her for accepting to join him on this journey, and for being by his side, and shouldering the responsibility with him. He next turned to the camera and thanked his parents for raising him with the fear of God, for supporting him, loving him, and mostly for daily praying for him.
He turned to his brother seminarians and thanked them as well for all the camaraderie, mutual learning, and support they give one another. Looking up, he thanked the choir members for singing so beautifully, then looking back to the faithful he thanked them for coming and supporting him on this special occasion. Before finishing, Deacon Mykola, took a moment to thank his childhood parish, and priest who shared his wisdom with him. Finally, he looked at the camera and around him in the church, and thanked everyone who had joined in, and asked for their prayers and support as he grows in his new responsibilities.
Stepping up to the hierarchs, he gifted each a bouquet of roses, before turning to see the seminarians come up and congratulate him on his ordination. As they presented him with roses, they assured him of their support and prayed the Lord grant him with good health, love, and patience, for many blessed years.
As the seminarians sang Mnohaya Lita, His Eminence Metropolitan Antony blessed everyone. With smiles upon their faces, and spirits uplifted that a young man has joined the ranks of the Church, the faithful departed, with renewed hope and confidence that the Church will always remain strong and will continue to be the guiding light in their lives as they walk upon their own paths towards salvation.
That evening, standing in their prayer corners, hundreds joined in prayer, and following their hierarch’s request, they all as one, raised prayers for the wellbeing, growth, and wisdom of the newly ordained Deacon Mykola. May the Lord continue to bless him with good health and guide him on his journey. Axios! Axios! Axios!!!