UOC of the USA Blessed with a New Priest
UOC of the USA Blessed with a New Priest

September 18th, 2021 found the Metropolia Center of the Ukrainian Church of the USA resplendent in God’s Glory.  The dew-covered grass sparkled like diamonds in the morning sunshine, as the heavy mist rose to reveal the tall domes of the St. Andrew Memorial Church, their gold crosses gleaming in the sunshine.

Today was another special day at the center.  After years of painstaking studies at the Saint Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary… after years of accompanying the hierarchs of the Church on parish visitations… after years of volunteering and serving the Church in various capacities, Deacon Ihor Protsak would be ordained into the Holy Priesthood.

As the faithful arrived, to join their prayers to this special occasion, they paused to admire the beautiful flower beds which were ablaze in color, the tall hydrangeas swaying softly under the weight of their blush-tinged flowers, the purple sage blossoms adding perfume to the humid air, the roses providing a riot of color and fragrance.  As the Church is a respite for the soul, and the faithful flocked to be spiritually edified, so the blossoms were a source of life for the countless monarch butterflies as they undertook their migration.  The delicate orange wings fluttered as the ethereal creatures floated from blossom to blossom, displacing the honeybees and the occasional hummingbirds who themselves were enjoying the sweet nectar.

Ascending the steps to the church one left behind the beauty and relative peace of the morning, to enter into a heavenly realm and bask in a peace far greater, and one only God could provide.  As the candles glowed softly in the prayer alcove to the left, people stopped and prayed, lit candles, and paused to hear God’s voice in the stillness of the moment. 

Entering the nave, one’s eyes were automatically drawn upward to gaze upon the mosaic of Christ which glowed softly, illumined by the rising sun.  The icons along the perimeter reflected the heavenly through God’s saints, who gazed serenely down upon the people who had gathered below them.

As the bells chimed, the curtains over the Royal Gates parted, the gates were opened revealing the heavenly Altar.  Standing before the Altar, resplendent in gold vestments, stood His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, who in the presence of His Eminence Metropolitan Antony, Prime Hierarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and Diaspora, would ordain Deacon Ihor on this day.

Reminiscent of Jacob’s dream of angels ascending and descending from heaven, Archbishop Daniel turned to the people and descended from the Altar to the Nave, followed by over a dozen priests, numerous deacons, subdeacons, and altar servers.  As His Eminence stood in the middle of the nave, the priests flanked him on either side, with the deacons and others taking their places accordingly.

From above, the glowing mosaic of Christ gazed tranquilly down upon the scene below - His soldiers, His saints, His chosen ones, through whom He would expand and grow His Church.  As if on cue, a ray of sun lit up the opposite wall, reflecting light upon the clergy, whose gold and white vestments seemed to glow ethereally, transforming to the otherworldly, and shifting the minds of all the faithful who gazed upon them to the heavenly.  As His Eminence Archbishop Daniel began to pray, the choir, led by Choir Director Dr. Michael Andrec, sang angelically, adding to the surreal atmosphere of the little church.

During the Little Entrance, as Deacon Serhij Khomitskyi presented the Holy Gospel, Archbishop Daniel, holding Dikiri and Trikiri, turned, pausing in all four directions, to bless the faithful.  The clergy, the choir, and the faithful all loudly proclaimed their faith, and sang, “Come, let us worship and bow down before Christ. Save us, O Son of God, Who are wondrous in Your saints, we sing to You, Alleluia.”

His blessing, the loud singing, the tall candles, the sparkling vestments, caught the eye of the youngest lamb in the church that morning.  Her eyes wide in bewilderment, and her mouth parted in wonder, little Taissa, the youngest daughter of Fr. Vasyl and Dobrodijka Oksana Pasakas, inched forward to stand just before the hierarch and gazed upwards in amazement.  His Eminence turned towards the nave and discovered the little lamb standing before him.  Smiling sweetly, having blessed the people, he leaned down and gently tapped the top of Taissa’s head with the candle stick, before turning to his right to continue blessing the others.  Little Taissa stood mesmerized, undaunted by the attention, until her older brother Jacob came and pulled her back.  Everyone smiled at her innocence and awe, remembering Christ’s words of “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14)

As the Divine Liturgy continued, His Eminence, followed by the clergy, reentered the Altar. Within minutes, Deacon Ihor Protsak, enacted one of his final duties as a Deacon, and censed the icons as the Epistle was read.  Commemorating the Feast Day of Holy Prophet Zacharias and Righteous Elizabeth, the parents of St. John the Forerunner, was from Matthew 23:29-39.  In the Gospel Christ admonishes the scribes and Pharisees, calling them hypocrites, for on the outside they seem pious, and yet they have killed the prophets sent to save them.  The Lord bemoans Jerusalem, and how He would have gathered her children, but she was not willing. 

His Eminence Archbishop stepped out on the ambo to deliver his moving sermon.  He began to speak softly, recollecting the time he had once visited Munich, Germany.  While taking an early morning stroll, he noted great numbers of people heading into the woods.  Out of curiosity he followed, and found himself facing the worst of humanity.  His Eminence found himself at the gates of the Dachau Concentration Camp, where over 32,000 people had lost their lives in a span of less than three years.  With a cold drizzle falling, he watched as silently people walked up to the remains of one of the buildings, and picked up a stone as a keepsake.  He too picked up one such stone, not as a reminder of the Concentration Camp, but, as a reminder of how low humanity can sink in its pride and greed. 

The stone also serves as a reminder that in the camp were numerous arrested Orthodox clergy who had refused to play along with the agenda set forth by the society around them.  Instead of betraying and turning in people of Jewish descent, they instead followed Christ’s teaching to save all life, even in losing one’s own in the process.  These priests were arrested and imprisoned, and even in such dire conditions, cold, hungry, with imminent torture and death looming before them, they still managed to serve Divine Liturgy from their hearts, using a single spoon, a few drops of juice, a couple of crumbs of bread.  Their faith remained strong, as it was in the prophets and martyrs of old.

His Eminence continued by stating that we live in a corrupt world, often led by evil, but, we, as Christians, need to fight against it.  We need to keep the Church pure and solid.  We need to proclaim our Faith, and not allow the world to morph it into something acceptable to today’s society.  The martyrs did not fear persecution, but, openly proclaimed Christ, defended His teachings, protected life.  Today’s society looks back upon the martyrs as being old fashioned and out of touch.  Today’s society proclaims itself to be more tolerant and compassionate, accepting everyone, loving everyone’s uniqueness, and yet, today’s society, in its great compassion destroys life willfully. 

It is distasteful for a mother to murder her baby, therefore, we call unborn children “embryo” or “fetus”, trying to convince ourselves that the unborn infant, is just a “thing” and not a human, and therefore, society not only allows, but, defends and even encourages the killing of these children for the comfort of the parents.  It is also compassionate to not make others suffer, therefore, society teaches us to be merciful and permit the killing of the elderly, who suffer with disability and disease, and are of little benefit to society.  We play God, as we focus on our own convenience and interest.

We need to not only be Christians secretly in our hearts, nor is it enough to wear a cross on a chain about our necks proclaiming our faith.  We need to live and enact our Faith.  We need to defend the helpless, preserve life from conception to natural death, we need to make our voices heard, call our politicians and voice our opinions, stand up to society, knowing full well that society will turn on us like a ravenous dog.

Being a true Christian requires sacrifice.  At this point of world history, we no longer sacrifice our lives, but, we need to sacrifice our comfort, the way we live.  Current generations are being raised with a sense of entitlement, as if the world owes them something, and they are permitted everything.  However, as St. Paul so clearly stated, “all things are lawful, but, not all things are beneficial to me.” 1 Corinthians 6:12  In other words, just because society tells us it is okay, it is not illegal, does not mean it is right for us to do.  We need to follow Christ in all things, sacrificing our security, our pride, our own comfort, to defend Christianity, to defend life, to stand up for what is right, to the very end.

Our faith is evident through our daily lives, not only by what we speak, but, how we speak, what we do, what political views we hold, how we treat others, and how we act.  Therefore, His Eminence declared, that we must remain vigilant over our own souls and hearts, protect them from being polluted by society, and be strong in faith to stand up for the truth.

Archbishop Daniel conclude his sermon by asking that everyone pray for Deacon Ihor as he enters the Holy Priesthood.  He then paused, and looked around at the people before him and stated that “we are all priests by virtue of our baptisms”.  He looked people in the eyes and stated that the Lord has placed you as a priest in whatever path of life you are on, and as such you need to enact your priesthood, reflecting Christ in your daily lives, at work, at leisure, in your family life, public life, work life, personal life.  Whatever you do throughout your day, remember you are a priest, and you are to evangelize the world, protect life, and defend the Faith through your words, and through your actions.

Be fearless the way you preach, the way you live, and the way you act.

With this His Eminence quietly turned and returned to stand before the Altar of God.  Silence followed him as the magnitude of his words worked their way into the hearts and souls of all who were present.  Even the choir seemed to have froze for a minute, while they too contemplated their assignments, before rousing themselves and returning to the moment and their musical notes.

At the start of the Great Entrance, as the cherubic hymn was sung, Deacon Ihor, holding the Aer over his head exited the Altar and stood in the narthex, praying.  The Great entrance is a solemn procession where the prepared gifts of bread and wine are taken from the Table of Oblation and placed on the Altar table. Later they are offered to God for consecration into the Blood and Body of Christ.

As Archbishop Daniel held the Gifts high and loudly prayed and proclaimed, “May the Lord our God remember us all in His Kingdom, always, now and forever, and from all Ages to all Ages” and returned to the Altar, Deacon Myroslav Mykytyuk and Deacon Serhij Khomitskyi exited, and proceeded to stand on either side of Deacon Ihor who had been waiting in the Nave.

Taking him by his arms, Deacon Myrosav loudly proclaimed, “Command!” as the candidate to the priesthood, Deacon Ihor, made a prostration.  The two deacons led him forward, and again proclaimed, “Command!” before the tetrapod as Deacon Ihor once again prostrated.  Standing back up, Deacon Ihor was led up to the Royal Gates and presented to Archbishop Daniel who was awaiting them, as Deacon Myroslav proclaimed “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 hierarch, Vladyka leaned down and gave him last words of advice and encouragement.  He removed the Aer from the deacon’s shoulders and placed it upon the Altar, as two priests came forward, and taking Deacon Ihor by the arms led him around the Altar table, stopping to kiss each corner.  Reaching the Northwest corner, Deacon Ihor kneeled before the sitting Archbishop and kissed his Epigonation/Palitza, which is the diamond shaped cloth that hangs from his right hip, denoting him as a "soldier" of Christ, and symbolizes the Word of God, fighting the wiles of the enemy.

Once again two priests take Deacon Ihor, and they lead him around the Altar table, repeating the process two more times, while the clergy sang:

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 Ihor 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!” in English, Ukrainian, and Greek.

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 Ihorto 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 Ihor to his feet and led him at the Royal Gates, where he removed the deacon’s stole off his shoulders and in turn presented him with the accoutrements of his priesthood.   His Eminence presented for all to see the priestly epitrachelion, proclaiming “Axios” before turning to Father Ihor and placing it over his head, as the people replied “Axios!”.  He then presented and tied the belt around his waist, followed by a beautiful new Phelonion, exclaiming “Axios”, which means “worthy”, as the people replied “Axios!”.  Archbishop Daniel then presented a cross which he hung around the new priest’s neck, followed by a service book, and finally taking him by the shoulders he presented to the faithful, newly ordained Father Ihor, who stood adorned in his lovely white vestments virtually aglow from his ordination.   As the church reverberated and the heavens echoed with “Axios”, the angels joining the people below in the heavenly proclamation of joy, Archbishop Daniel motioned to the right where Dobrodijka Neilla, Father Ihor’s wife stood, dressed in a lovely blue embroidered dress, a delicate lace scarf over her head, her eyes brimming with tears of joy and pride.

 With a bashful smile, and tears of humility and joy shining in his own eyes, Fr. Ihor stepped down from the ambo to share the moment with his lifemate, exchanging a teary smile and a quick hug before returning to the Altar.  As the Creed was recited, the new priest greeted the concelebrating priests with a holy kiss, then stood at the altar and concelebrated the Divine Liturgy with them. 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 Ihor 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.”

As the faithful lined up to partake of the Holy Eucharist, the Royal Gates opened and out came Father Ihor holding the Chalice.  Under his hierarch’s watchful gaze, the newly ordained priest carefully bestowed the Holy Sacrament.  His Eminence gave the faithful one last blessing, returning the Chalice to the table of Oblation.

With a sigh of joy and relief Father Ihor descended from the ambo to read the Prayer of Dismissal, thanking God for this day, for His Gifts, for His mercy, and asking for His guidance in the days to come.

Thus the Divine Liturgy concluded, however, before dismissing the faithful, His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, holding a prayer book, came and stood in the nave next to a seven branched candelabra that was purchased, along with a Litya tray, by the parishioners of the church.  His Eminence explained that the existing candelabra was first purchased in the 1960’s by the founders of this temple, who had little funds, and little access to Orthodox Church supplies.  Therefore, it would have taken much work to find a source, and have it shipped to the United States in order to adhere to the precepts of the Church and adhere to the rubrics concerning physical Church structure. 

Light has always been considered as the dawn of new beginnings. Light is the remover of darkness and the act of lighting candles in the church is synonymous as being one with Jesus Christ. Christ Himself is the Light that dispels all the darkness.  The precise design of the candelabrum used in the Orthodox Sanctuary has been passed down by Christ Himself and painstakingly followed throughout the times.

It has been laid down in the scriptures that gold will be beaten down to form the six elliptical branches of the seven branched candle stand and candlestick holder. Three branches will come out from either side of the stand while one will be upright from the center of it. According to Scriptures, the branches will end with bowls like those of the almond flowers and the light their wicks illuminate will shine outward so followers may worship and offer prayers. With such precise and detailed instructions, this important part of the altar has since been afforded a great place in the traditional aspects. The candelabrum stands upon, or just behind the Holy Altar.

Having recited the appropriate prayers, and blessed the objects with holy water, His Eminence returned to stand on the Ambo.  Flanked once again by the columns of clergy, with the newest clergy at the far end including newly ordained Father Ihor, who stood across from his classfellow, Father Mykola, who was ordained the previous month, His Eminence addressed those who had joined via the LiveStream.  His Eminence expressed his gratitude to the parents who raised such a God loving son, and asked the faithful of the Church to support the young priest, to pray for him and his family, to ask God to give him the strength to stand up fearlessly, and be courageous in the face of a morally lacking society. 

As he concluded, His Eminence Metropolitan Antony stepped out of the Altar to address the newly ordained Father Ihor, bestowing upon him his blessing and advice.  His Eminence advised the young priest to always remember to start, end, and fill the day with the Holy Spirit.  Vladyka made a profound statement when he explained that the unforgiveable sin against the Holy Spirit, is that we remain ignorant of Him.  Ignorant not in not knowing about Him, but, ignorant in our ignoring of Him.  Therefore, Vladyka stated that Fr. Ihor must never ignore the Holy Spirit, but, allow Him to work in him, and through him.

As the Metropolitan blessed the young priest, Archbishop Daniel stepped out and presented the certificate of ordination to him, reading off that by his ordination he is now blessed to perform baptisms, crowning ceremonies marrying a man with a woman, hear confessions, and all other Holy Sacraments.  Handing the certificate to the new priest, and giving him his blessing, he then turned his attention to Dobrodijka Nellia and invited her to join her husband upon the solea.  The young couple stood together as she bowed her head.  The Archbishop laid his hand upon her head and prayed that God grant her strength and wisdom to help her husband in his ministry.

Father Ihor took the opportunity to thank the hierarchs for their compassion, support and encouragement over the years.  He asked that they keep him and his family in their prayers, before turning to the others and thanking the clergy who had traveled great distances to participate in this celebration.  He thanked the Seminary Instructors, his brother seminarians, and guests for joining him on this day and asked for their continued support and prayers.  He turned to his wife, and thanked her for always being there for him, and finally thanked his family for supporting him as he had studied and encouraging him as he followed his calling.  As he invited everyone to enjoy a luncheon at the seminary building, his brother seminarians stepped up and greeted him, presenting him with roses, and sang a joyous rendition of Mnohaya Lita!  Many Years!

With smiles upon their faces the faithful and clergy, began to leave the church.  Pausing to enjoy the many blooms, the buzzing bees, and myriad of colors at the foot of the church steps, the faithful began to make their way to the seminary, as the children ran up and down the steps chasing each other around the church.

Soon the church doors were locked, and the car park was empty, but the celebration continued, as joyful laughter and song emanated through the open windows and doors of seminary, and floated across the Metropolia Center grounds.  A new priest has been ordained to serve the faithful of Christ’s Church.  A new branch has sprouted on the Vine.  May the Lord bless newly ordained Father Ihor, along with his wife, Dobrodijka Nellia, with many happy, healthy and blessed years, as they work to grow the Church, defend the righteous, and safeguard all life.  Mnohaya Lita!

UOC of the USA Blessed with a New Priest

Photos by Subdeacon Yaroslav Bilohan and Elizabeth Symonenko

Text by Elizabeth Symonenko

(56 images)

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