Raindrops glistened, as they hung heavily from the tree branches, sparkling in the morning sunlight. After days of rainfall, the clouds parted, the gloom dissipated and the sun shown joyously, as it cast a warm glow over the Metropolia Center of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in South Bound Brook, New Jersey. The bells of the St. Andrew Memorial Church tolled, their chimes joining the glorious songs of the birds, both praising the Lord on this momentous morning.
This day, Saturday, the 17th of July, 2021, Deacon Mykola Zomchak, a graduate of the St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary would be ordained with the blessing of His Eminence Metropolitan Antony, Prime Hierarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, by His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, Ruling Hierarch of the Western Eparchy, into the Holy Priesthood of Christ’s Church.
Over 20 clergy had traveled from surrounding states to join the numerous laity gathered in the St. Andrew Memorial Church to support and pray for the young man who was to become a servant in the Lord’s Vineyard on this day. The faithful who had come to participate in this great event, filling the little church, were joined by hundreds of others who were joining virtually via the live broadcast, including friends and family from faraway states, and faraway lands. Deacon Mykola’s family and loved ones in Ukraine, who were not able to travel to the US to join the celebration, were nonetheless present, as they prayed from a distance, joining over their mobile devices.
As His Eminence Archbishop Daniel served the Divine Liturgy, one could not help but be spiritually moved by the service. After months of virtual isolation due to the pandemic, over a year of trepidation and uncertainty, today’s ordination was just another reminder of our hope in Christ, and the Lord’s constant love for His creation. Being present, hearing the prayers, listening to the choir, was not only transformative for the young deacon, but, for all those present, lifting the darkness, recharging their spiritual batteries, and renewing their hope in the future.
After the reading of the Epistle, Deacon Mykola Zomchak stood in the middle of the Nave and read the day’s Gospel Reading (Matthew 8:14-23) in Ukrainian. The Gospel was apropos to the day’s celebration of an ordination. As the young man stood gleaming in his white pure deacon’s vestments, he read how Christ has come to Peter’s house and found his disciple’s mother-in-law lying in bed suffering with a fever. He took pity upon her, and laid His hands upon her, praying over her, and immediately her fever lifted, and she was made well. Being healed the woman did not linger in bed, but immediately rose and served them. In a few short moments Archbishop Daniel would lay his hands upon the kneeling deacon, calling down the Holy Spirit upon him, and the deacon would arise a priest, and begin serving the Lord.
Deacon Ihor Protsak stepped up and read the Gospel in English, as people listed how after healing Peter’s mother-in-law, Christ proceeded to heal many who had come to Him for help, before finally departing. Wishing to follow Him, certain of His disciples had asked to first return to their homes, one in particular to bury his recently deceased father. However, Christ would not wait, but, directed the man to join him now, and leave others to bury him, reiterating that the time to follow Christ is now, and nothing is to detract us from the path.
Granting his blessing at the conclusion of the reading of the Gospel, His Eminence Archbishop Daniel stepped out on the Ambo to deliver a moving and heart-wrenching sermon. He began with a moving example of how our actions impact others. His Eminence retold a story of a troubled young man who one Sunday came to an Orthodox church along with his wife. They were inquirers and out of humility stood in the back and observed, quietly joining the prayers of the faithful around them. At one point of the service the man’s cellphone rang. Immediately the people around him all turned and threw dirty looks his way, shaking their heads in disgust. He sheepishly turned off his phone and tried to refocus on the service, but now he was even more self-conscious. At the conclusion of the Liturgy, he and his wife joined the others and approached to venerate the Cross presented by the parish priest. This would be a good opportunity to introduce themselves to him and perhaps set up a time to speak with him. Upon seeing the man the priest furrowed his brow and scolded him for having left his phone on in church. He told him that the phone needs to be silenced, and if he wishes to leave it on, he is to stand outside of the church building. The man turned red and guiltily mumbled a quiet and indiscernible apology before shuffling away. In his embarrassment he completely forgot that he had wished to speak with the priest and ask his guidance.
Returning to his home the man was not able to find peace, and his anxiety was building. He got up and told his wife he needed a drink and headed down the street to a local restaurant. Sitting at the bar he ordered a beer, wishing to drown his sorrows. The bartender slid the frothing cold drink his way before turning to serve the other patrons. The man picked up the glass, but, due to his state of mind his hand was shaking violently and he was not able to hold the cold, wet glass securely and it eventually dropped from his hand, shattered and spilled the beer across the bar. The bartender immediately ran to him, mopped up the spilled liquid and told him not to worry. He poured him another glass and served him, telling him this one was free, as he smiled and petted him on the shoulder. Having heard the commotion and manager of the restaurant came running up. She expressed her concern over the man’s wellbeing, making sure the broken glass had not cut him, and that he did not need a bandage. She reassured the man that this happens all the time, and he is not the first to break a glass. She squeezed his arm and gave him a reassuring smile, telling him to forget about it and to relax and enjoy himself.
Over the following weeks, the man’s wife went to church on Sundays, standing in the back alone. As she would head out to church, her husband would instead head out to the restaurant and spend his Sunday afternoons sitting at the bar. One particular Sunday a priest had joined his parishioners at that restaurant as they gathered for a celebratory luncheon. As the appetizers were being served, the priest noticed the drunk man sitting at the bar. The man looked dejected as he slowly swayed in his seat. Surely this man was suffering some internal battle, and would benefit from the priest’s ministering to him. The priest sat down in the seat next to the man, and laid his hand gently on the man’s arm, commiserating with him and stating that perhaps the man would be better off going to church on Sunday, as it would benefit him more than sitting and drinking at the bar. The man turned and looked at the priest. He told him that he was indeed in need of help and assistance, as he was suffering. He continued and told the priest that he had in fact tried going to church, but, he felt unwelcomed, judged, and instead of being helped, he was humiliated. He now goes where he feels comforted and where people treat him with compassion – the bar.
His Eminence stated that the way the people had treated the man over his cellphone ringing had a huge impact on this man’s future. Had they not judged him so harshly, especially the priest who should have been the first to minister to him, the man would have been a regular church goer, receiving the Word of Christ, and his soul would be healed. Instead the man was made uncomfortable in church, causing him to look for comfort elsewhere.
Turning to the young deacon, Archbishop Daniel stated that it is crucial that as a priest he not judge others harshly, but, act in humility, with patience, and in love sacrifice of himself to save all whom the Lord puts in his path. Being ordained into the priesthood is an honor, but, it is not an elevation to be filled with pride, or to rule over others, but, to be humble, and as one of Christ’s Apostles, to serve the Lord, and all the people of the world.
His Eminence gestured towards the altar, which gleamed brightly, the gold Cross and accoutrements sparkling in the light, and pointed at his own vestments, the golden threads of which gleamed and glowed, and stated that the fancy vestments, and gilded ornamentation are simply to remind us of the heavenly and of God, but, do not represent the man who is serving. We serve from the heart, in humility.
Archbishop Daniel brought the point home by sharing a recent experience. The other day he went to a local restaurant, which he frequents often, for lunch. The establishment is small and family owned, and the manager knows the hierarchs and local clergy by name. Seeing His Eminence the man came out and smiled broadly welcoming him, and expressing his happiness at seeing him. The man had been worried when the Archbishop had not visited for a while. Vladyka Daniel explained to him that he had been ill, and had spent some time in the hospital, and then more time recuperating. As he spoke of his illness and how difficult a time it had been for him, a woman at a nearby table nodded her head. Noting her reaction His Eminence included her in the conversation and opening the door for her to comment. She stated that she completed understood and commiserated as she herself was ill and was battling cancer. Sadly she felt she was not winning her battle, and at the spur of the moment stood up, approached the Archbishop and asked for him to pray over her. This woman, who may very well have been on her final moments of life, in need of comfort and support, looking for salvation and hope, was reaching out a desperate hand. His Eminence, not vested in gold, not wearing a sparkling mitre, not leaning on his jeweled bishop’s staff, but wearing his plain and humble black cassock, stood, placed his hand on the woman, bowed his head before the Lord and had prayed for God’s help.
Looking at Deacon Mykola he reiterated that we are called to humbly serve the Lord, by serving others. In these quietest unexpected moments, God works through us, to heal His creation – body and soul.
His Eminence concluded his sermon by opening the eyes of those present to the true state of the world. Having attended the Summit for International Religious Freedom the week before in Washington DC, he stated that he had learned a lot about the struggles of the world. A full 80% of humanity is currently being persecuted. This means that 80% of the people on earth are struggling. They struggle physically, mentally and spiritually. People are literally dying to go to church. Killed for their religious beliefs. Ostracized for their differing opinions. Being part of this world, this means that 80% of our faithful are also feeling anxious and trying to find hope. The struggle is real, and His Eminence indicated to Deacon Mykola, that as a priest, it is on him to act in humility, loving all the people God’s sends to him, and help them each to find their way to salvation. Archbishop Daniel reminded him that he is being ordained into the priesthood, not be served, but, to serve, as Christ served.
Turning to the people the hierarch stated that they are not here as spectators of an ordination, or to celebrate the event, but, they are here to participate. We are all the Body of Christ, and as such we are all to participate in this ordination, we are all to call upon the Lord when the Deacon kneels before the Holy Altar, in humility awaiting the Grace of the Holy Spirit. His Eminence asked that as he lays his hands upon the head of the deacon during the ordination, that everyone join in, cross themselves, and turn their minds to God, entreating Him to grace the deacon, to come down and touch the young man, accepting him to His priesthood, strengthening him, empowering him, and granting him wisdom and humility.
With these deep words, His Eminence concluded his sermon and the clergy who had joined the faithful in the nave, stood and returned to the altar as the Divine Liturgy continued. The faithful bowed their heads transported to the heavenly realms by His Eminence’s words, by the prayers that were echoing off the icons around them, by their own thoughts, and by the angelic voices of the choir under the direction of Dr. Michael Andrec.
At the conclusion of the Great Entrance, as the cherubic hymn faded away, Deacon Mykoka, holding the Aer over his head exited the Altar and stood in the narthex, praying. After a few moments, Deacon Ihor Protsak, joined him and taking Deacon Mykola by the arm, led him forward. Stopping midway, Deacon Ihor loudly proclaimed, “Command!” as the candidate to the priesthood, Deacon Mykola, made a prostration. Once again they moved up, stopping before the tetrapod and repeating the process a second time. Standing back up, Deacon Ihor led Deacon Mykola up to the Royal Gates and presented him to Archbishop Daniel who was awaiting them, proclaiming, “Command! Holy Master, bless him who is before thee.”
The archbishop, wearing his mitre, was seated in the bishop’s chair which had been placed in front of the altar, a little to the left side, so as not have the Archbishops’s back to the altar itself. As the candidate kneeled before His Eminence, the archbishop blessed him and gave him counsel. He removed the Aer from the deacon’s shoulders and placed it upon the Altar, as two priests came forward, and taking Deacon Mykola by the arms led him around the Altar table, stopping to kiss each corner. Reaching the Northwest corner, Deacon Mykola kneeled before the sitting Archbishop and kissed his Epigonation/Palitza, which is the diamond shaped cloth that hangs from his right hip, and denotes him as a "soldier" of Christ, and symbolizes the Word of God, fighting the wiles of the enemy.
Once again two priests take Deacon Mykola, and they lead him around the Altar table, repeating the process two more times, while the clergy sing:
Hear us, you martyred Saints who have fought the good fight and received crowns, entreat the Lord, to have mercy on our souls.
Glory to you, Christ our God, the Apostles' boast and pride, the Martyrs' fervent joy whose preaching is the consubstantial Trinity.
O Isaiah dance with joy, for the Virgin is indeed with child and brought forth a son, Emmanuel. Who came both as God and man, Day-at-the-Dawn is his name, and by magnifying him, we call the Virgin blessed.
With three rotations completed, Deacon Mykola kneeled at the Southwest corner of the Altar table leaning his head upon his hands which rested on the table. Vladyka Daniel covered his head with his Epitrachelion and his right hand, as he read the Prayers of Cheirotonia over him, while the clergy, the choir, those present at the Liturgy, and those attending over the live stream all prayed and sang “Lord, have mercy!”
As prayers from around the world were raised, His Eminence prayed,
The divine grace, which always heals that which is infirm and completes that which is lacking, ordains the most devout Deacon Mykola to the office of Priest. Let us, therefore, pray for him, that the grace of the All-Holy Spirit may come upon him.
O God, great in might and inscrutable in wisdom, marvelous in counsel above the sons of men: You the same Lord, fill with the gift of Your Holy Spirit this man whom it has pleased You to advance to the degree of Priest; that he may become worthy to stand in innocence before Your altar, to proclaim the Gospel of Your kingdom, to minister the word of Your truth, to offer to You spiritual gifts and sacrifices; to renew Your people through the font of regeneration, that when he shall go to meet You, at the second coming of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, Your only-begotten Son, he may receive the reward of good stewardship in the order given to him, through the plenitude of Your goodness.
For blessed and glorified is Your all-holy and majestic name, of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now, and ever and to the ages of ages.
Archbishop Daniel then raised newly ordained priest Mykola to his feet and presented him at the Royal Gates to the faithful, exclaiming “Axios”, which means “worthy”, as the people replied back “Axios!”. The hierarch then removed the deacon’s stole and presenting each item of the priestly vestments to the faithful proclaiming “Axios” and vested the new priest, each time proclaiming “Axios!”. As the church reverberated and the heavens echoed with “Axios”, the angels joining the people below in the heavenly proclamation of joy, Archbishop Daniel presented the new priest with a service book, and then brought him fully vested forward to present to the people and introduce them to newly ordained Father Mykola.
With a bashful smile, and tears of humility and joy shining in his eyes, Fr. Mykola stepped down from the ambo to rejoice with his biggest supporter, his wife Maria, and exchange a quick hug before returning to the Altar. The new priest greeted the concelebrating priests with a holy kiss, then stood at the altar and concelebrated the Divine Liturgy with them, holding the Aer that was just recently upon his shoulders, over the Holy Gifts during the proclamation of the Creed. Thus the Divine Liturgy continued with the new priest shining in his new white vestments leading the way, supported by the senior clergy.
After the consecration of the Holy Gifts, Father Mykola came and stood before the Altar as Archbishop Daniel handed him the consecrated Lamb saying: “Receive this Divine Trust, and preserve it whole and unharmed until your last breath, because you will be held to an accounting therefore in the Second and Awesome Coming of our Great Lord, God, and Savior, Jesus Christ, at which time He will demand It from you.”
After reciting the Lord’s Prayer, the clergy partook of the Holy Gifts, this being the first time that Rather Mykola communed as a priest. As the Royal Gates reopened, His Eminence handed the Chalice to Father Mykola who proceeded to offer Communion to the faithful, beginning with his own wife, who had lined up to receive the Gifts which the Lord had loving prepared and was offering to them. Archbishop Daniel stood closely behind, supporting the young priest in the process, as one can only imagine the emotions going through Fr. Mykola’s head as he held the very Body and Blood of Christ, and communed the faithful.
As the choir (under the leadership of Dr. Michael Andrec) sang Father Mykola came out to recite the prayer behind the ambo, as Archbishop Daniel gave the final blessing and dismissal.
His Eminence Metropolitan Antony came and stood upon the ambo and addressed the newly ordained priest, stating that he was present as the young man had been ordained a deacon, and now he has joined in the prayers as he has been ordained into the Holy Priesthood. His Eminence stated that as a priest, Fr. Mykola will experience a joy that he could not have imagined possible, as he reaches out into the lives of those whom the Lord has entrusted to his spiritual care. He explained that each moment throughout his priesthood he will be filled with joy, and he will feel the very presence of God in his life.
The Metropolitan stated that if he seeks him in his daily prayers, if he allows the Grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to guide his life on a daily basis he will be filled with joy. But, this should not just be on a daily basis, but, on a second by second basis, keeping the Lord ever before him.
His Eminence stated that it is easy to talk about the Grace of God, the Love of God, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but, we need to do more than talk, we need to accept it, and allow Him to guide our lives, otherwise we will miss out on all the goodness.
He counseled the young man stating that as a priest assigned to a parish, “as the priest goes, so goes the parish.” If his spiritual children see before them a man of prayer, who trusts in God, a man who positively expresses his love for God and his fellow man, then the people will follow him, emulating the same behavior. The priest must always be a good example.
It will not all be joy, His Eminence reminded Father Mykola. His life will be filled also with daily struggles. There will always be a struggle on how to balance what is due to God and what is due to mankind. The Metropolitan vehemently declared that there is only one resolution. Always, always, what is due to God must prevail over any earthly situation, event, or need.
His Eminence admitted that his entire life he has had difficulty concentrating, and he is often seen standing at the Altar with his eyes closed. This allows him to focus his mind on God without being distracted by what is happening around him. We must always keep our physical and spiritual eyes focused on God and give him our complete attention.
Metropolitan Antony references the day’s sermon given by Archbishop Antony, and reminded Fr. Mykola that a single angry word from him can literally throw someone out of church, while a single word of love can embrace a person and lead them to the Church.
His Eminence asked that the young man throw himself deeply into his calling, that he as the Holy Spirit for the words needed in every situation he faces, and remember that he has been called to serve, and not to rule. He reminded him that God has given him everything he needs to be successful in his ministry.
Turning to Fr. Mykola’s wife, Maria, he exclaimed that the Lord has chosen her to be her husbands helpmate in his ministry, and that she will be required to assist him. Pani Matka Maria, along with their newly born daughter Sophia, will serve as a solid foundation for Fr. Mykola’s priesthood.
Turning back to the young priest, the Metropolitan bestowed his blessing upon him and wished him peace.
With these words newly ordained Father Mykola took the opportunity to greet and thank the hierarchs on this momentous day in his life. He thanked them for not only for ordaining him, but, for their patience with him, their teachings, their love, and mostly for their prayers.
He then continued by thanking his parents for planting the seeds of faith and love in his heart from childhood. He thanked his teachers, family and friends, who over the years have supported and prayed for him.
Turning to the seminarians, he expressed that they had studied together for years, and were like brothers to him, and he was grateful for their companionship, assistance, and support.
Turning to his wife, Fr. Mykola stated how blessed he was by her, and that he could not imagine his life, nor his priesthood, without her by his side. As he addressed her, their infant daughter, cued softly, joining in on the celebration.
With these final words, Father Mykola presented the hierarchs with beautiful roses, thanking them, and asking for their continued prayers on his behalf, his family’s, and the people he will be serving in his priesthood.
Accepting his gift, Archbishop Daniel took a moment to address the family who were watching the proceeding via live stream from Ukraine. Looking into the camera he warmly greeted them and thanked them for raising such a wonderful you man, filling him with faith in the Lord, and preparing him to serve in the Lord’s Church.
Dobrodiyka Maria stepped up on the solea before the icon of the Mother of God, as His Eminence Archbishop Daniel laid his stole upon her head and prayed over her, blessing her ministry and the huge role she will play as the wife of a priest. He prayed that the Lord bless them both as they work side by side to proclaim the Word of God, to minister to the faithful, and to fulfill their calling.
Having bestowed his blessing upon her, His Eminence sprinkled her with Holy Water, strengthening her as she joins her husband in serving the Lord, by serving others.
As Mnohaya Lita was song by the choir, by the faithful present in the church, and by those who had joined from around the world, the people came up to venerate the Cross presented to them by the newly ordained Priest Mykola. With smiles and laughter the faithful congratulated the young man, wishing him all the best in his ministry, and assuring him their prayers.
As the bells chimed, the faithful exited the church, squinting in the unexpected sunshine. They paused upon the steps of the church, hugging and laughing, as the young children ran up and down chasing each other, and the ladybugs that were flittering about.
While the serious portion of the day had concluded, now the jovial part began as everyone headed across the parking lot to the Sisterhood Hall, where the ladies had prepared a wonderful meal to celebrate this momentous event. The lazy summer day was filled with joy, as the people spent the afternoon in good company, talking, laughing, sharing stories, and whiling away the day with their loved ones.
As the day concluded and the visitors departed the Metropolia Center grounds they all left a bit more enriched, renewed by the Sacrament of ordination they had just witnessed. With final waves, the cars departed, but, the faithful promised to “meet” each night in prayer, as the hieararchs had asked them to, praying for each other, and praying for the newly ordained priest, Mykola.
May the Lord bless Father Mykola and his family with many happy and healthy years! Axios! Worthy! Гідний!
Text by Elizabeth Symonenko
Photos by Subdeacon Mykola Zomchak