Christ the Saviour Seminary Hosts Well Attended Readers & Deacons Retreat

December 27, 2002

JOHNSTOWN, PA - The weekend of December 13-15, 2002 was an especially memorable one for a large number of our diocesan deacons, sub-deacons and readers. This year, 23 men gathered for the annual deacons, sub-deacons and readers retreat which was hosted by Christ the Saviour Seminary. Recognizing the continual need for vocations to holy orders, several years ago His Eminence, Metropolitan Nicholas, initiated this annual retreat in conjunction with the Diocesan Readers and Deacons Formation Program. Over the years, many vocations to the deaconate and the Holy Priesthood have been fostered through the paternal care and interest of His Eminence. As always, the retreat participants were humbled by the genuine concern and interest of Metropolitan Nicholas who made the spiritually uplifting weekend possible.

The retreat opened with the 4:00 pm celebration of Daily Vespers in the seminary chapel on Friday afternoon by Father Peter Paproski of St. John the Baptist Church , Stratford, CT (Broadbridge Avenue) who served as Retreat Master for the weekend encounter. The responses were beautifully rendered in the traditional Plain Chant by the seminarians and retreat participants. Following Vespers, the retreatants had the opportunity to avail themselves of the Holy Mystery of Confession from Father David Moriak of St. Michael's Church, St. Clair, PA, who served as Retreat Confessor. Following Vespers and welcoming remarks on behalf of Metropolitan Nicholas by Father Robert Prepelka, seminary prefect, a light buffet dinner was served. The next few hours saw the arrival of the remaining participants who traveled great distances through a developing winter storm.

Later in the evening , prior to the chanting of evening prayers, the retreat participants gathered in the seminary conference room to hear the first of three presentations by the retreat master on the theme The Sanctification of Time - An Essential Diakonia. Greeting the retreat participants, Father Peter reminded them that they had been summoned by His Eminence, Metropolitan Nicholas to Mount Christ the Saviour. The purpose of the weekend encounter was to retreat from the world and heed the heed the words of the Psalmist David, Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10). By encountering the Lord in the quietness of ones heart and stepping outside of time, they were reminded, true spiritual peace and rest would be achieved.

Relating personal anecdotes and insight from his priestly ministry, Father Peter explained that one of the greatest struggles the ordained clergyman and the faithful parishioner faces is a crisis of time. This crisis, he stressed, is not the lack of time, but rather the failure to properly use the time God gives us. This is the root cause of stress and the lamentable lack of participation by many in the liturgical life and educational and social programs of our parishes. The true vocation of the reader, sub-deacon and deacon, is to teach the faithful by one's example how to reclaim time and use it in a godly manner.

Awakening early Saturday morning to a blanket of snow, the retreatants proceeded to Christ the Saviour Cathedral for the 8:00 am Hierarchical Liturgy. Despite the cold wintry darkness outside, the newly renovated cathedral church, beautifully adorned with gold altar linens, set the tone for a truly radiant Liturgy. Concelebrating the Divine Liturgy with His Eminence were the Very Rev. Protopresbyter Frank Miloro, Diocesan Chancellor, the Very Rev. David Moriak; The Rev. Fathers Robert Prepelka, Mark Tyson and Peter Paproski, and Arch-deacon Robert Buczak. Responses to the Liturgy were sung in the traditional Plain Chant by the cathedral cantors and the retreat participants.

During the Little Entrance, Reader Matthew Moriak of Christ The Saviour Cathedral and Reader Edward Brisbine of St. Nicholas Church, Warren, Ohio, were ordained to the sub-deaconate. Upon their ordination, the faithful in attendance enthusiastically joined in the singing of AXIOS! They are Worthy!

The high point of the Liturgy was the ordination to the Diaconate of Sub-deacon Robert Hubiak of Holy Trinity Church, Danbury, Connecticut. Sub-deacon Robert, a 2002 graduate of the New England Deanery Deaconate Program, was led to the altar for ordination by Arch- Deacon Robert following the singing of the Hymn to the Virgin. Circling the altar three times during the singing of the familiar hymns O Holy Martyrs and Rejoice O Isaiah, the teary-eyed sub-deacon knelt before the altar table where through the Laying-On-Of- Hands by His Eminence, Metropolitan Nicholas, he joined the growing ranks of diocesan deacons.

Deacon Robert, one of six vocations fostered by the small but spiritually dynamic Holy Trinity Parish, was then led before the faithful by His Eminence for the proclaimation of AXIOS! He Is Worthy! In attendance were more than thirty members of Deacon Robert's family and parishioners of Holy Trinity who made the long trip from Danbury to be present at the ordination.

Following Liturgy, a continental breakfast in honor of the newly-ordained was held in the basement fellowship hall of the Christ the Saviour Cathedral. After breaking the fast together and congratulating the newly-ordained, the retreat participants returned to the Seminary for two additional talks about the Sanctification of Time.

The first talk related to the nature and origin of chronological and liturgical time. In commenting on the origin and nature of time, Father Peter stated that God created time to bring order out of chaos and help his creatures order their lives. Time properly used leads to peace, tranquility and godliness. Conversely, its misuse leads to stress, tension and evil. The first misuse of time recorded in sacred scripture is that of the Fall of Adam and Eve. Upon his Saving Death and Resurrection and His Ascension into Heaven, Our Lord established His Church to be an agent of renewal and re-creation through the operation of the Holy Spirit. The cycle of services of the Orthodox Church, which encompass both the solar and lunar calendars and mirrors the movement of the cosmos, helps bring us back into harmony with God. By stepping aside from the world and entering into liturgical time, we transcend time and place and truly enter into the Kingdom of God. By stepping outside of time into the Kingdom of God we become sanctified. When we then re-enter time we help to sanctify the world and those we come into contact with by our peacefulness. Therefore, it is essential that deacons, sub-deacons and readers be proficient in serving, chanting and reading in a pious manner, so that they can move beyond the mechanics of worship to worshiping in spirit and truth. It is only in experiencing and participating in true worship, that the ordained cleric and the faithful will be able to redeem time.

The final session, which was held prior to the Saturday Evening Vespers, offered the participants the opportunity to reflect upon their personal struggles in time management.

Discussing the Orthopraxis of the Sanctification of Time, the participants, many of whom have families and secular jobs, spoke about the challenges of balancing parish, family and work responsibilities. The participants were reminded of the Lord's admonition to Seek first the Kingdom of God and all else will be added. Fr. Peter concluded by saying:

As ordained clerics, one of our responsibilities, with the blessing of the Bishop is to preach sermons. However, the most effective sermon is the unspoken sermon of ones' conduct. If we wish for our faithful to put God first in their lives, we must model this conviction in the context of our own lives. Simply put, we together with all of the members of our families, need to faithfully participate in the spiritual life of the Church. We need to demonstrate how we choose Church over soccer, vespers over movies and pilgrimages over trips to casinos. Therefore, as readers, deacons, sub-deacons and priests we are called to sacrifice our very lives for the Church, yet in so doing, we find the greatest joys known to man on earth.

Great Vespers with Litya in preparation for Sunday's Liturgy and in anticipation of the Feast of St. Nicholas were celebrated in Christ the Saviour Cathedral at 4:00 pm. A highlight of the Vespers Service was the Tonsure as Reader and Ordination to the Sub-deaconate of Richard Howrilka of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church, Seaford, NY and Seminarian Michael Ellis of Christ the Saviour Seminary. The melodic voices of the cathedral cantors and assembled retreatants added to the festal joy of the vespers service. Following Vespers, the retreat participants were hosted for dinner in the Diocesan Chancery by His Eminence, Metropolitan Nicholas. During the dinner, His Eminence offered words of encouragement to the readers, sub-deacons and deacons. He challenged them to consider preparing for ordination to a higher office through enrollment in seminary courses. He also expressed his gratitude to those gathered for their unselfish service to the Church. Those who were in attendance were humbled by the kindness, concern and generosity of His Eminence , which truly mirrors that of his heavenly patron, St. Nicholas.

Saturday ended with clearing skies and the chanting of the prescribed pre-communion prayers in the seminary chapel. The day's events concluded with a very well received spiritual talk about repentance. In his talk, Fr. David Moriak reminded those present of the continual need for repentance and the importance of frequent confession.

Sunday morning, with the rays of sunshine gleaming through the stained glass windows of the beautiful Christ Saviour Cathedral, a most joyful Hierarchical Liturgy was celebrated by His Eminence, Metropolitan Nicholas. His Eminence was assisted at the altar by the Very Rev. Protopresbyter Frank Miloro, Very Rev. David Smoley, and the Reverend Fathers, William Conjelko, Robert Prepelka and Peter Paproski. Also assisting at the Liturgy were the newly ordained Deacon Robert Alexander Hubiak and other deacons present under the direction of Archdeacon Robert Buczak and Deacon David Zuder, and newly-ordained sub-deacons, Matthew Moriak, Edward Brisbine, Michael Ellis and Richard Howrilka. The choir of St. John's Church, Perth Amboy, NJ, under the direction of Mr. George Hanas, very beautifully and prayerfully sang the choral responses to the Liturgy. A highlight of the Liturgy was the elevation to Protopresbyter of the Very Rev. David Smoley, of Sts Peter and Paul Church, Windber, PA and the Very Rev. William Conjelko.

Putting into words the feelings of those who gathered at the very moving and joyful Liturgy in honor of St. Nicholas, during his homily Metropolitan Nicholas reminded the faithful of the reason why the Church celebrates the feast of our beloved St. Nicholas with such great joy in saying:

We lift our voices this day in praise of that wondrous Wonder-worker, that height of humility, and treasury of poverty, Nicholas - the victory and Triumph of the People of God: father of fathers of the Church of Christ, Chief Shepherd of the shepherds of the Flock of Christ, Model of the Faith of Christ - the very essence of what it means to be a faithful Orthodox Christian. As we sing in the Kondak of the Saint: 'You were truly a priestly worker in Myra, O Holy Nicholas, for zealously living the Gospel of Christ you dedicated your life to your people.'

What more can sum up the essence of an Orthodox Christian life? To zealously - and that means eagerly, enthusiastically - not fanatically or with a narrow mind, which St. Paul warns about in this Epistle to the Romans - to zealously live the Gospel of Christ each and every day with every fiber of our being. This is the beauty and simplicity of the example of St. Nicholas - because the essence of his Christian walk - the conduct of his life - was his dedication, his love, his devotion to his people and to all people. Absent from St. Nicholas was fear of what anyone might do or say about him, hate, gossip, or envy. In his life as we know it, he was a near-as-possible perfect example of what it means - not just to be a Bishop or a priest, but to be a Christian, a Christian of true worship- an Orthodox Christian. He is as we chant in his tropar, a Model of Faith.

As we continue our celebrations through the day and throughout our lives, may we always find in St. Nicholas a model, a guide, a rule and measure, who will lift us up and inspire us to offer our best to God and to His Church.

In emulating the model of St. Nicholas, nearly all of the more than 400 in attendance came forward in the fear of God and with Faith and Love to receive the Body and Blood of Our Lord.

At the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, His Eminence, Metropolitan Nicholas bestowed medallions of St. Nicholas upon Rusyn carpenters Josef and Tibor Bilek of the Village of Tichy Potok, Slovakia, who were instrumental in creating the wooden shingles for the New Sts. Cyril & Methodius Church.

The spiritually uplifting weekend concluded with the Cathedral's Annual St. Nicholas Banquet, held for the benefit of Christ The Saviour Seminary at the Christ The Saviour Educational Center. All enjoyed the opportunity to break bread together and enjoy Christian fellowship. A highlight of the banquet was a delightful skit by the cathedral church school children about the life of St. Nicholas. In response to His Eminence's bestowal of the St. Nicholas award, Josef and Tibor Bilek presented Metropolitan Nicholas with a hand carved wall hanging of a scene from the Village of Tichy Potok.

The diocesan readers, sub-deacons and deacons in attendance at this year's retreat enjoyed a spiritually uplifting and refreshing weekend in the company of His Eminence and one-another. Appreciative of the gracious hospitality and kindness of His Eminence, these men of God left Johnstown strengthened in their vocations, recommitted, in the words of St. Paul to

make the most of the time...being filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all (their) hearts. (Ephesians 5: 16-20)