On a brilliantly sunny Saturday, the 13th of March, as the bells of the St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Memorial Church rang out loudly, calling the faithful to prayer, people were seen scurrying up the steps and entering through the doors into the golden light that emanated from within the holy space.
Being the final weekend before the start of Great Lent, it was also “Forgiveness” weekend, and the weekend when Orthodox Christians remembered the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise, as well as commemorated the “Venerable Fathers, lit up with Great Deeds.”
Apropos to the celebration, the faithful were rushing to the church, returning in a sense to Paradise on Earth, coming closer to God through their participation in the Divine Liturgy.
As they neared the heavenly, they were also rewarded by being present at one of the Holy Sacraments of the Church, one which is reserved for only a few whom God has Himself called – ordination. Being ordained into the Holy Diaconate through the laying on of hands of His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, Ruling Hierarch of the Western Eparchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, was Subdeacon Ihor Protsak, graduate of the Saint Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary. The young subdeacon would be joining his two seminary brothers, who had themselves been recently ordained – Deacon Myroslav Mykytyuk and Deacon Mykola Zomchak.
The Deacon is the third and lowest degree of the Holy Orders of clergy in the Orthodox Church, following the bishop and the presbyter. The deacons serve at the earthly Altar, as the angels serve around the heavenly Altar of God.
As the bells continued to toll, with His Eminence Metropolitan Antony, Prime Hierarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and Diaspora, in attendance, Archbishop Daniel, flanked by visiting clergy emerged from the Altar and came to stand in the middle of the Nave, among the people.
Standing in the nave, with the morning light pouring in through the windows, His Eminence’s golden vestments, embroidered with colorful cherubim and seraphim, warmly glowed adding to the angelic ambiance of the day. Entering into this warm golden light, Subdeacon Ihor’s snow white vestments seemed to glimmer and glow as he approached Archbishop Daniel to hold the service book from which His Eminence read.
Bordered by visiting clergy: V. Rev. Fr. Yurij Siwko, V. Rev. Fr. Peter Levko, V. Rev. Fr. Vitalii Pavlykivsky, V. Rev. Fr. Orest Poukhalsky, V. Rev. Fr. Milorad Orlic, Rev. Fr. Vasyl Pasakas, Rev. Fr. Vasyl Shak, Rev. Philip Harendza, Rev. Fr. Oleg Kravchenko, Rev. Fr. Richard Jendras, Deacon Myroslav Mykytyuk and Deacon Mykola Zomchak. His Eminence blessed the faithful, and then in pairs blessed the clergy who retreated to the Altar, leaving the Archbishop standing alone in the center of the Nave.
At the Small Entrance the clergy came and stood on either side of Archbishop Daniel, as Deacon Myroslav Mykytyuk presented the Holy Gospel. As the deacon bowed to His Eminence, he returned to the Altar, as Vladyka Daniel, blessing the faithful, led the clergy in singing “Come, let us worship and bow down before Christ. Save us, O Son of God”. The deep male voices echoed through the church, the meaningful words floating through the air, as the choir repeated them in an angelic polyphony, which left the faithful with goosebumps as the loudly song prayer thinned the line between the earthly and heavenly domains.
As the clergy, choir, and faithful sang, “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us,” Subdeacon Ihor emerged from the Altar to stand in the middle of the Nave, from where he loudly and clearly read the day’s Epistle Reading.
The Gospel (Matthew 6:1-13) was read in Ukrainian language by recently ordained Deacon Myroslav Mykytyuk, and in English language by Deacon Mykola Zomchak, who was himself ordained to the Holy Diaconate only the previous week.
At the conclusion of the Gospel Reading, Archbishop Daniel stepped out onto the ambon to speak to those gathered before him in the church, as well as to those watching via their mobile devices.
His Eminence recalled an incident from many years before, when he was yet a deacon of the Church. He had traveled to assist a nearby parish during Sunday Liturgy, and on the way home had stopped by a gas station to fill up the tank. As he approached the clerk at the window to pay, he felt someone staring at him. He glanced to the side and met the eyes of a woman who was intently looking at him. As she did not say anything, he turned his attention back to the clerk, but, could not focus because the woman continued to stare at him. Feeling uncomfortable under her gaze, he once again turned to her, and this time she spoke. “What kind of a preacher are you?” she asked him. He thought for a moment, and replied “a good one, I hope,” to which she replied, “I hope so.” With those words she turned and walked away. The clerk chuckled and the moment passed. Or had it? Driving home, her words kept coming back to him. Over the following days he pondered the question. “What kind of preacher are you?”
The question is valid for all of us, as we are all assigned the task of preaching to the world, bringing them knowledge of Christ. What kind of preachers are we? What makes a good preacher?
His Eminence continued by stating that in order to be a good preacher, one must first be a good listener.
We need to listen not only with our ears to the words spoken to us, but, with our eyes, to look into the eyes of the speaker and see the pain hidden there, and with our hearts, to see the anguish of the soul of the one who stands before us. Before we can preach to them, we need to truly feel their pain, for only then will we be able to relate to them, and share a message to which they will be receptive and that will give them peace, and lead them towards salvation.
Vladyka looked over to the Nelya, the wife of Subdeacon Ihor Protsak, and stated that he prays that she and her husband be truly good listeners – not only to jokes, or good news, but, to hear truly hear the people as they speak with pain in their eyes. Too often people look fine from the outside, but, on the inside their soul is being ripped apart.
His Eminence continued by stating that on this day we commemorate all the saints who were known for their good deeds throughout time. All the righteous men and women who had committed acts of charity throughout the ages. These saints did good, and taught others through their good actions.
As parents hug and calm their children, so the saints, the Mother-of-God, and God Himself embrace us and nurture us.
Following the example of all the saints, the deacon must see, must hear, and must act in the lives of the people in the name of Christ.
His Eminence next turned to look at the camera and took a moment to greet the family members of the young subdeacon, and his wife, thanking them for raising such good and God loving children who have come this day to sacrifice and dedicate themselves to God. On behalf of Metropolitan Antony and himself, he expressed gratitude to the parents for nurturing and raising these two young people. Today, as they stand before the Altar of God, they begin the sacred service of seeing, hearing, and acting in the name of God.
With this final and sobering thought, His Eminence returned to the Altar and Liturgy continued, as everyone still pondered what kind of preacher they were. With the conclusion of the recitation of the Creed, His Eminence once again turned to the people saying, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.”
At the conclusion of the Anaphora, with Christ physically present upon the Altar Table, Subdeacon Ihor Protsak stepped out of the altar, along with two brother seminarians, and went to stand in the narthex of the church.
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. Rising up he was led forward to the Royal Gates, “Command, Holy Master, the one who presents himself before you!” echoed through the church, and the subdeacon entered through the Holy Gates and kneeled before Archbishop Daniel, who took a moment to give him counsel and bless him.
The subdeacon rose and was escorted by the two deacons, who held him by his arms, around the Altar table, pausing as Subdeacon Ihor humbly kissed each corner of 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 set of priests stepped up and led the subdeacon once again around the Altar Table, and then a third time he was once again escorted by the two deacons who finally released him to stand before the Altar Table. His Eminence arose, as Subdeacon Ihor prostrated three times before Christ, and then walked over to receive the blessing of Metropolitan Antony, before settling down 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, 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 Ihor 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 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 Ihor 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, Nelya. 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.
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, thought how the young man must be feeling. He 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 Ihor emerged holding the Chalice containing the Body and Blood of Christ. Archbishop Daniel recited the Communion Prayer, 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, His Eminence Metropolitan Antony emerged from the Altar to give his blessing to the people. Coming to stand before him was Deacon Ihor, who humbly awaited to receive his Metropolitan’s blessing and counsel.
His Eminence stated that yesterday evening he was moved to tears when he read the Gospel that was assigned for today. He could not imagine a better reading for an ordination. In the Gospel Christ speaks on how not to pray, and then instructs us how to pray by giving us the “Lord’s Prayer”. We are not to show off, we are not merely appear pious, but, we are to pray from our very hearts, fervently and humbly.
Metropolitan Antony continued by stating that Christ speaks to us about hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is the only time we see an angry reaction from our Lord in the Holy Gospel. It is when He is confronted by hypocrisy that He reacts with anger. Appropriately, the original meaning of “hypocrite” was “actor”, because these people are merely acting, putting on a show for others.
He continued by stating that the clergy must always remember that they are not actors, they are not performing before a group of people standing in church. Their true audience is God, Himself, and it is to Him only that they offer the physical and spiritual aspects of their worship.
In the end it does not matter how grandly you cross yourself, how deeply you bow, nor how smoothly you swing the kadylo. What matters is what comes from the depths of your heart and soul. It easy for our minds to lose focus and to wonder during prayer, however, in everything he does, a deacon must allow the Grace of God to work within him, and through him, and into the lives of others.
When Christ instructed to allow the children to come to Him, He gave us an example of how we too ought to be fully attentive to the Lord. Innocent children can see right through false facades, and do not tolerate hypocrisy. They shy away from people who seem less than honest or good. We as adults often lose this sense of understanding of hypocrisy in ourselves and others. We pass judgment on everyone else, but seldom look at ourselves in the mirror, and realize our own hypocrisy.
His Eminence instructed Deacon Ihor, that if he is uncomfortable in his service to the Lord, those entrusted to him will also be uncomfortable. Every word he speaks from this day forward, inspired by the Holy Spirit will be crucial to those around him. This does not mean that the deacon is any better than anyone else, however, it does mean that the Holy Spirit, through his ordination, will work to inspire him.
Gesturing towards Archbishop Daniel, Metropolitan Antony told Deacon Ihor that from this day forward into eternity, he has now entered into a relationship with the man who ordained him. He is to come to Archbishop Daniel for advice and counsel. In moments of weakness, His Eminence will lift him up; in moments of confusion, His Eminence will clear things up; and in moments of sadness, His Eminence will cheer him. He instructed the deacon to remember that even when he becomes a priest, he is not to live on his own, trying to be independent, for even priests need priests.
Metropolitan Antony turned to the camera and thanked the parents who were watching from Ukraine, for the gift of their remarkable son, who years to serve Christ and His Church. He also thanked the parents of the deacon’s wife, Nelya, who also willingly has chosen to follow the Lord, and pull the yoke alongside her ordained husband.
His Eminence concluded with a blessing, “May the Grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Love of God the Father, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you always.”
At this moment, the Metropolitan was joined by Archbishop Daniel who read and presented the Certificate of Ordination to the Diaconate to Deacon Ihor. Accepting the certificate, Deacon Ihor addressed the hierarchs, first thanking the Lord, and then thanking them for their selfless dedication to him and the faithful of the Church. He explained how he valued their patience with him, the knowledge they have imparted to him, and the example they have provided for him to follow. With these words he presented each a lovely bouquet of roses.
He then continued to thank the St. Sophia Seminary instructors, and brother seminarians, with whom he had spent many years while training and preparing for this day.
Turning to the camera, he thanked his parents, who had sacrificed much, patiently raised him, and taught him to love God. Looking at his wife, Nelya, he thanked her for accepting to be his wife, knowing that they would be traveling down this path together.
The seminarians of the St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary, approached, and warmly greeted and congratulated their brother, wishing him all of God’s blessings, as they presented him with a colorful bouquet of roses.
Deacon Ihor gladly accepted the roses, and then turned to the people and invited them all for a light lunch to be held at the seminary.
With these words the faithful came forward to venerate the Cross and to congratulate the young newly ordained Deacon Ihor as the choir sang Mnohaya Lita.
Walking out into the cold brisk air, the faithful did not notice the chill, as their hearts glowed warmly from within. Three deacons ordained in the past month. The future of the Church was bright, and they felt a certain sense of stability and hope. As they descended the steps, the bells of the church began to chime, as if themselves echoing the declaration of those below, “Axios! Worthy! Гідний!”