The trees glowed a bright red and yellow under the Autumn sunshine, as on Sunday, September 26, 2021, the parishioners of St. Nicholas Parish, in Troy, NY, along with parish pastor, Rev. Vasyl Dovgan, eagerly awaited the arrival of His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, Ruling Hierarch of the Western Eparchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and the Diaspora.
Gathering in the Narthex of the church the children stood holding flowers, awaiting their much beloved Archbishop. The children fidgeted and giggled as they spotted His Eminence, along with several seminarians of the St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary ascend the steps. The children ran up and happily handed Archbishop Daniel lilies, which he gratefully accepted, and then in turn gave each child a flower to hold. The members of the parish administration and sisterhood expressed their gratitude to their hierarch for his visit on this auspicious occasion. After a brief exchange of words, His Eminence stepped into the Nave where he was greeted by Fr. Vasyl. Kissing the offered Cross, His Eminence bestowed his blessings upon the parishioners and guests who had gathered on this warm Sunday morning.
The center aisle of the nave was decorated with lovely tulle bows and white flowers, which hung from the ends of the benches. Walking past the bows, Archbishop Daniel entered the church and under the peaceful gaze of the saints looking down through the beautiful icons His Eminence walked up to a small stand before the iconostas upon which rested an icon of Christ, and a small gem-encrusted Gospel Book. With a gentle smile he turned and looked back to see a young girl dressed in white, timidly approach. This was Fr. Vasyl and Dobrodiyka Ilona’s daughter Solomia, who was about to give her first Confession in the presence of her hierarch. Young Solomia came up, nervously placed her hand upon the Gospel, bowed her head and listened as Archbishop Daniel gently addressed her. Laying his epitrachelion upon her head, His Eminence recited the prayer of absolution, asking the Lord to forgive any shortcomings, and to strengthen her to be resolute in living a good Christian life. As he lifted his stole from her head, the little girl smiled and sighed, having successfully completed an important milestone in the life of every Orthodox Christian. As the girl returned to stand with her mother, His Eminence took his spot in the middle of the Nave, giving permission for Fr. Vasyl to begin the Divine Liturgy.
His beautiful vestments of rich gold and red glowing warmly, Archbishop Daniel stood flanked by visiting clergy from nearby parishes, as well as a number of deacons, subdeacons, seminarians, and altar servers. The choir sang beautifully, as the service proceeded, and the Epistle was read. The day’s Gospel was from Matthew 22:1-14 about a parable Christ told comparing the Kingdom of Heaven to a marriage feast prepared by a king for his son.
In his sermon, Archbishop Daniel explained that the invitation still stands, and we are all invited to participate in the feast. However, we must not be like the guest who was not properly attired. In those days the host of the celebration would hand out garments for his guests to wear upon joining the celebration, therefore, there was no excuse for this man, even though he was called in off the street, to not be properly attired. This man intentionally had refused to don the new garments provided to him. His Eminence stated that we are given new garments during our baptism, and it is up to us to wear them proudly, keep them clean, and join the banquet to which we are invited by the Lord Himself.
At the conclusion of the Great Entrance, two seminarians, Subdeacon Pavlo Vysotskyy and Reader Maksym Zhuravchyk, exited the Altar and headed to the Narthex to retrieve Subdeacon Volodymyr Pichkurov who has been standing in prayer awaiting them. Today, Subdeacon Volodymyr, in the presence of his wife, Valentyna Pichkurova, his children, and grandchildren, would be ordained into the Holy Deaconate of the Church.
As Deacon Adrian Mazur called out “Command!” Subdeacon Volodymyr 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 subdeacon 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 was seated at the corner of the Altar table. His Eminence gave the subdeacon his blessing, and a few words of encouragement before he rose to his feet and was escorted by the two deacons, who held him by his arms, around the Altar table, pausing as Subdeacon Volodymyr 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 led around. His Eminence arose, as Subdeacon Volodymyr prostrated three times before Christ, and then kneeled 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 the subdeacon’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 Volodymyr 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 Volodymyr 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, Valentyna. 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 new deacon would participate in the Communion of the Clergy. The faithful, who stood, eagerly anticipating their turn to partake, contemplated how Deacon Volodymyr 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 Volodymyr 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, starting with the child Solomia, whose confession he had heard earlier that morning.
As the dismissal was read, the faithful all made their way to the parish hall to continue the celebration. Three scrumptious cakes were displayed – one for His Eminence, one for Deacon Volodymyr, and one for young Solomia. It was a triple celebration.
In the ancient tradition of breaking bread, Agape, bread was divided and shared among all those who were present. Agape is the term first used by the early Christians to refer to the meal or “love feast” that Jesus would have for fellowship with His disciples. At His final love feast, the Last Supper, Jesus took the bread, broke it and shared it with His disciples. In the New Testament, the fatherly love of God for humans, as well as the human reciprocal love for God can be understood as Agape. The term necessarily extends to the love of one's fellow humans, as the reciprocal love between God and humans is made manifest in one's unselfish love of others.
Thus having shared of the broken bread, of the love of each other, and the love of God, they people joyfully wiled away the afternoon basking in the warmth of friendship, enjoying a tasty meal, sharing stories, catching up on news, and making plans for the future.
His Eminence sat back and gazed at his flock. He smiled as he realized that today one of the youngest took a big step in her young life through the Holy Sacrament of Confession; while an older and wiser member underwent the Holy Sacrament of Ordination, while many others partook of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. He sat back and smiled as a group of children ran up to him, each vying for attention, as they laughed and shoved each other. His Eminence grabbed them all, enclosing them in a large bear hug as they giggled and squealed.
As the sun hung low in the western sky, the people began to depart for their homes. With final farewells, they hugged each other, and walked out into the chill autumn air. Their hearts were warmed by the message imparted to them by their hierarch, their bodies were satiated, and their souls were re-energized.
May God bless Deacon Volodymyr and little Solomia as they both celebrated Holy Sacraments, and grant them many healthy, and blessed years. Mnohaya Lita!
Photos by Seminarian Andrii Akulenko
Text by Elizabeth Symonenko