A Reflection on Diaconal Formation
How am I going to serve? The word “deacon” (diaconos) in Greek means “servant,” and so this question is well worth asking for a man discerning a call to the diaconate. This question of how we are going to serve vividly entered the minds of the 13 men in the Diaconal Formation Program at the Byzantine Catholic Seminary of SS. Cyril and Methodius in Pittsburgh, Pa. on one unforgettable night this year.
It was June 22. We had received hours and hours of training in liturgical practicum from Father Robert Pipta, rector of the Seminary. On that night it was our chance to execute, and we all knew that close attention would be placed on how we were going to serve.
We had drawn a number at random, and that number stood for our order in line to practice serving as a deacon in the Presanctified Liturgy. We went from start to finish through the Liturgy with no comments on whether we were standing facing the wrong direction, using the wrong melody, and the like. How am I going to serve? What am I going to intone? Where do I stand, exactly?
These questions multiplied as the 13 men in diaconal formation took the Liturgical Practicum exam on that Friday night. As each of us had our numbers called, that daunting question went from a murmur in our minds to a roar. How am I going to serve? We all had our fair try to play our role serving as deacons, and we all watched Father Robert take notes for a few minutes after each of us gave our best to serve. It was make or break time, and spoiler alert: We all passed!
In many ways, this practicum examination on how we are going to was the culmination of the last four years. We had studied in the three previous summers about the foundations of our faith: dogmatics, liturgy, scripture, moral theology, pastoral theology, canon law, history and the like.
This summer we really focused on that question in a new way: How am I going to serve? Our practicum not only put us in the place of serving the Church liturgically, we also thought about pastoral realities of serving, such as visiting the sick and home bound, and what that broader service may look like. Engaging with foundations in our first years was critical, but we also looked this year on the most recent council of the Catholic Church, Vatican II which is another foundation for our future service. We asked hard questions not only about our vision of who we are as Eastern Catholics in documents such as Orientalium Ecclesiarum and Unitatis Redintegratio, but we also asked fundamental questions about who we are as faithful and clergy in other texts such as Lumen Gentium and Gaudium et Spes. Our moral theology class focused towards the end of things on a personal level in that we considered dying and death.
Our last two scriptural courses completed our studies on the Bible’sending with studies on the book of Revelation, and our very poignant charge to be the salt of the earth at the completion of Dr. Sandra Collins’ lectures again pointed us towards the end possibility of being ordained as a Byzantine Catholic deacon. From a broad course perspective, all of our assignments, lectures and discussions pointed us to again ask: How am I going to serve?
Even in our chats with each other as brothers during meals or at night after our 14-hour day ended, our discussions of challenges and blessings seemed to show that we were all focused on answering that question of how we are going to serve. The realities of potential ordination in the future came to an acute focus for us with the announcement of plans for diaconal ordination of our elder brother from the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Stamford, who heard from his bishop that he was called to ordination to the diaconate on July 8, 2018.
Stepping back, asking the question of how we are going to serve is an even more basic one. With our unique gifts as 13 very diverse men, we must beseech the Lord: What will our focus be in terms of serving Christ and his Church? With our own weaknesses and areas to grow in Christ, we have also asked ourselves how we are going to serve when we have fallen short.
I believe that if God is to call any of us to be ordained to the diaconate, those words from the Bishop will echo in our hearts when he proclaims at ordination: “Divine Grace, which always heals what is infirm and supplies what is lacking.”
When I look back to these four years and indeed my whole life, I can answer the question of how it is that I will serve with those words from the ordination service and answer that it is through the grace of God that we all find our meaning and strength to live in Christ. I do not know if I will be ordained to the diaconate, nor the fates of the other 12 men in formation, but I know that spending this time in reflection has been a blessing for us because of the constant reminder that it is divine grace that will heal all of us in Christ.
On behalf of the 13 men who went for our fourth and final summer of diaconal formation, thank you to all of you in the Church who have supported us on this journey: our Bishops, the formation program staff, pastors, spiritual directors, wives, children, grandchildren, other family, especially our parish families. We look particularly to this last group and are asking: How are we going to serve? We will serve through the grace of God and by living our calling to love God and our neighbor in the specific calling that He has for us. We love our Byzantine Catholic tradition and more importantly want to be those who are servants (diakonoi) for all of you, if this is what God wills. Glory to Jesus Christ!