On the bright morning of September 10, 2022, the Saint Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary building came to life. The sleepy geese who had been grazing lazily on the institute’s front lawn squawked loudly in protest as vehicles began to pull up and people emerged, pausing to smile up at the warm sunshine before ascending the steps and knocking upon the seminary door to participate in the ordination of the Subdeacon Pavlo Vysotskyi to the Holy Deaconate.
The faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church joined the local clergy in the Seminary foyer as they awaited the arrival of His Eminence Metropolitan Antony, Prime Hierarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and the Diaspora, and His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, Ruling Hierarch of the Western Eparchy. Greeting the hierarchs were Readers Maksym Zhuravchyk and Andrii Vatrych, who on this day would be tonsured as Subdeacons. Having presented the traditional bread and salt the young men stepped aside as Very Rev.Fr. Vasyl Pasakas stepped up to greet them and present them Holy Water and the cross. Fr. Vasyl greeted both hierarchs thanking them on behalf of the Seminary Board for allowing them to begin the new Seminary Academic year with their blessing. He explained that the following months will be filled with much studying, questions, research, and self-introspection by the seminarians, who will have to decide if they are the correct path and following a true calling.
Metropolitan Antony venerated the cross and sprinkled himself and others with Holy Water, as Archbishop Daniel kissed the cross and presented it to others for veneration. Thus began the spiritual day, with Archbishop Daniel praying as the clergy led him, the Metropolitan, and all the faithful through the seminary building to the Seminary Chapel of the Four Holy Hierarchs, where Archbishop Daniel having vested in the Nave began by tonsuring the two Readers to the Subdeaconate.
The Epistle was read by the two new subdeacons. Subdeacon Maksym read in Ukrainian, while Subdeacon Andrii read in English. Both young men stood proud as their voices resonated throughout the chapel. Stepping out on the ambo Archbishop Daniel read the day’s Gospel from Matthew 22:15-22, where the Pharisees try to entrap the Lord by asking if it is right to pay taxes to Caesar, to which the Lord replied “Render therefore to Caesar that things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
He then read from the Gospel of Matthew 23:1-12, where Christ taught His Disciples and the crowd to do whatever the Pharisees say because they sit upon the seat of Moses, however, do not take example of their works, for while they preach one thing, they do another. The Lord continued by advising people to be humble, not seek earthly greatness, and to remember that the greatest among them will be their servant, and whomever exalts themselves will be humbled, and who humbles themselves will be exalted. Returning the Gospel Book to the Altar Table, His Eminence stepped out and gave his blessing to those gathered, as Rev. Vasyl Pasakas stepped out to deliver a moving sermon.
Father Vasyl stated that we commune twice during every Divine Liturgy – the first time through listening to the Gospel Reading, and the second time during Holy Communion. He continued that it is not enough to simply listen to the readings, but we need to understand the deeper message hidden in each one. Nothing the Lord taught is shallow or superficial, but requires us to think, contemplate, and with the assistance of the Church Fathers, understand what deeper meaning is being revealed to us. For example, in today’s Gospel the Pharisees tried to entrap the Lord, but He replied to them simply but with deep meaning, that we should give onto Caesar that which is his. This goes beyond paying taxes, as it refers to being obedient to authority, which is often a difficult task. We are made in the image of God, and we are made to serve Him, by obeying the authority of our parents, our clergy, our bosses, our political leaders. If they are not following the teachings of God, then they are the ones who will answer before Him for their errors, however, we will answer if we do not humbly obey – pay our taxes, follow the local laws, honor our parents, do the work prescribed to us by our bosses. Father Vasyl concluded by reminding everyone to read the daily Scriptures, and then to listen to the message they bestow upon us.
The Divine Liturgy continued with the Seminarians singing the responses.
At the conclusion of the Anaphora, with Christ physically present upon the Altar Table, Subdeacon Pavlo Vysotskyi, having received an embrace of Archbishop Daniel and a the blessing from Metropolitan Antony, stepped out of the altar and went to stand at the back of the chapel.
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 new subdeacons 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 chapel, and the subdeacon entered through the Holy Gates and kneeled before Archbishop Daniel, who sitting at the Northwest corner of the Altar table took a moment to give him counsel and bless him.
The subdeacon rose and was escorted by two priests, who held him by his arms, around the Altar table, who paused as Subdeacon Pavlo 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 second 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 two additional priests who finally released him to stand before the Altar Table. His Eminence arose, as Subdeacon Pavlo prostrated three times before Christ, and then got 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 Pavlo 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 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! The newly ordained deacon humbly hugged His Eminence asking for his blessing. Receiving it he then entered through the Royal Gates to make his way to Metropolitan Antony to receive his blessing as well. As he returned to the Royal Gates, Archbishop Daniel sent him out into the Nave to exchange a hug with his wife Valetina and family who were wiping away tears of joy at the great honor of the young man being ordained into the ranks of clergy in the Holy Church of Christ.
Returning to the Altar, Deacon Pavlo was once again handed the Ripida/Church Fan as he took up his position beside the Altar table and slowly waved the fan over the Body and Blood of Christ. Archbishop Daniel fell to his knees, along with all the clergy in the Altar as they prayed the Lord’s Prayer. The entire time Deacon Pavlo slowly, humbly, and with respect waved the fan over the Altar table, just like an angel.
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 Pavlo 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, Archbishop Daniel gestured for the two young subdeacons to approach. He read the certificates of the setting aside of both subdeacons per tradition and took a moment to give a final few words of advice to the new subdeacons, explaining the honor which has been bestowed upon them and the new responsibilities they would now face.
Next His Eminence called out the newly ordained Deacon Pavlo and read his notice of ordination. He then turned to him and stated that it is a blessing to see him grown up and entering the deaconate of the Church. He gestured to the people gathered, but then turned to the camera and greeted the faithful and family members of Deacon Pavlo who were joining this celebration from Ukraine and from around the United States. Archbishop Daniel commended the young man for following in the footsteps of his grandfather who himself had been a priest. Vladyka explained that he had once heard of his grandfather when he as a young boy, not yet Orthodox, sang in the choir during a prayer service held near the grounds of the church where Deacon Pavlo’s grandfather served. He smiled stating what a small world it is. For from the time when he had first heard of Father Vysotskyi, he converted to Orthodoxy, was himself ordained a deacon and a priest, and now here he stands as the hierarch through whose hands the Grace of the Lord came upon that man’s grandson, Deacon Pavlo.
On the Church calendar this day we commemorate St. Job of Pochaiv, who was a man of zeal and desire, who followed the example of the Old Testament Job, who underwent much suffering. Archbishop Daniel asked that Deacon Pavlo be like St. Job, filled with zeal and dedication to serve the Lord.
Archbishop Daniel explained that he often tells the seminary students that the altar is like a hospital emergency room. Inside serve hierarchs, clergy, deacons, subdeacons, and each has a vital role to play. Just as in the ER, you need the surgeons and doctors, you also need nurses, anesthesiologists, and scribes to take down all the information. Each person holds a vast responsibility, and the ER would fail if anyone of them failed, leaving the patient to suffer. Therefore, just as they need to be prepared, so do the all the members inside the Altar. As the doctors must disinfect their hands before working on the patient, so the clergy must cleanse themselves through Confession. While they have studied medical guides, we are to have studied the Holy Scriptures. We must do our part when we enter the Altar, and we must always be prepared and ready to serve for the Glory of God.
Embracing his hierarch, Deacon Pavlo turned to him and thanked him along with Metropolitan Antony for their mentorship and support. He explained how much he appreciated their prayers, their advice, and the efforts they each made on his behalf, to hone him, shape him, and prepare him for the priesthood. There were no words to express his gratitude to them both. With tears in his eyes he turned towards the nave and thanked his wife, Dobrodiyka Valentina, for not only being his wife, but, for being his best friend with whom he will walk this journey. He looked into the camera and with a trembling voice thanked his parents for teaching him about Christ, and taught him to love the Lord, and be grateful to Him for every little thing. The people gathered in the chapel began to cry witnessing the humility of this young man. He concluded by thanking his brother seminarians from whom he had learned much, thanking them for their constant support and asking for their continued prayers. At this point the two subdeacons stepped up and presented their brother seminarian with flowers, congratulating him and assuring him of their continued prayers.
With final words of thanks Deacon Pavlo received a blessing from Metropolitan Antony, and then presented Archbishop Daniel with a bouquet of white roses, as he turned and invited all those present to share in his joy by attending a small luncheon prepared for them in the seminary dining hall.
Everyone enjoyed the afternoon, in good company, sharing stories, giving advice, and simply basking in the joy of the newly ordained deacon to the Church.
May the Lord bless newly ordained Deacon Pavlo with many years of health and happiness as he serves in the Lord’s Vineyard. Axios! Worthy! Гідний!
Photos by Seminarian Mykola Stefanyk and Valentyna Dovban