Byzantine Catholic Church in America: News of the East

Permanent Diaconate Program Inaugurated in the Archeparchy of Pittsburgh

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PITTSBURGH, PA -- (BCW 7/11/1999) --  The doorbell at the Byzantine Catholic Seminary started ringing at 3:30pm and continued intermittently for the next two and a half hours. It was Sun-day June 20, the day for the arrival of the deacon candidates for their two week intensive summer program of study and formation. Some of the men admitted this long-awaited day carried with it anxious and apprehensive feelings. Although the Diaconate Program was something they had desired for a long time, it was quite awesome to actually arrive to begin the steps towards their goal.

Row 1: Sister Margaret Ann Andrako, Father David Petras, Father Steven Hawkes-Teeples, Metropolitan JUDSON, Archpriest John Petro, Father James Spontak, Deacon Valerian Michlik; Row 2: Stephen Casmus, Joseph Hnat, Lance Weakland, Raymond Zadzilko, John Custaney, George Fatula, James Mihalko; Row 3: Timothy Tkach, Stan Cholewinski, Paul Simko, Jonathan Bastick, David Vensko, Paul Pipta; Row 4: John Montalvo, John Petrus, James Sofalvi, Paul Boboige, Dennis Prestash, Joseph Wargacki, John Hanchin, Stephen Suchan.

The restored Order of the Diaconate as a permanent order in the Church is being inaugurated in the Metropolitan Archeparchy of Pittsburgh. It is open to both married and single men. Deacons represent a great and visible sign of the working of the Holy Spirit through their life of service in the Church. The diaconate will be largely a par-ish-based ministry, but with the challenge to broaden its ministries. Deacons are important for the life of the Church and our Archeparchy. They will enhance our liturgical services and provide additional ministry, such as visiting the sick and elderly, assisting in sacramental preparation and helping in other parish ministries.

Twenty-one deacon candidates from four (arch)eparchies are enrolled in the program: 13 from the Archeparchy of Pittsburgh; 4 from the Eparchy of Parma; 3 from the Eparchy of Van Nuys; and 1 from the Romanlan Eparchy of Canton. The men come from varying backgrounds: there are engineers, health care professionals, computer programmers, contractors, professors, businessmen, doctors, judge. They travelled from as far away as Olympla, WA; Phoenix, AZ; Las Vegas, NV; and as close as Pittsburgh, PA; Canonsburg, PA; and Hawk Run, PA. All but one of the candidates are married, and their wives are supportive of their husbands' future ministry realizing that their family can be greatly enriched by his ordination and service.

This year is but the beginning of a four year academic and formation program which will consist of a two week intensive summer program at the Byzantine Catholic Seminary in the month of June. These summer courses will be followed by a program of guided reading and the writing of papers through the rest of the year.

Three classes were held each day Monday through Friday; on Saturday, there were only two sessions. The men remarked on how quickly the time passed by, and even though some of them have not attended college for a few years, they discovered that it wasn't too difficult to get back "in the swing of

things." When asked to give their experience of the classes, the candidates responded in varying ways: a lot of information; some lively debate; courses are taught from the viewpoint of faith; impressed with quality, knowledge and enthusiasm of instructors; opportunity to explore and learn a deeper appreciation of our tradition and theology.

Teaching is not only done in a classroom. All of life's experiences can teach something ff one but takes the time to reflect...and reflection happens best when accompanied by prayer. There were new experiences of prayer for the deacon candidates these two weeks. Compline, Vespers and Matins along with the Divine Liturgy gave a taste of the variety and richness of the liturgical services in our Church. The sentiments among the group about the liturgical services indicated an appreciation for prayer: it is beautiful to have a chapel filled with so many voices sending our praises to the Lord; are beautiful, meaningful and uplifting; it is inspiring and energizing to worship in an atmosphere of enthusiasm grounded in the love of God and the Byzantine Liturgy; the presence of Deacon Valerian at services has afforded the candidates an excellent role model for our duties.

Another experience that was distinctive for the candidates was that of being part of a group of like-minded individuals pursuing the same goal. Living together with twenty other men in dormitory style rooms, attending two and a half hour classes three times a day, eating together in a common dining room, praying together as a community and playing together in group sports, and yes, sharing two telephone lines - all these aspects were a new experience to the candidates who have raised or are raising a family. Their comments on being part of this group of deacon candidates were expressed: from the first day of the program I felt an immediate sense of bonding and fellowship; it is a pleasure to live with people who have the same goals and are dedicated to achieving them; the diversity in age and background has enhanced the good feelings within the group; they are intense about the program, but they are simultaneously a happy group of people; interaction between instructors and candidates in class and out of class is very good.

What began as a "very long Monday and Tuesday" the first week changed significantly by midweek into a time of spirited interaction among all the candidates whether they were in the classroom, enjoying a meal or taking a walk during free time (yes, there was some!) By the end of the second week, there were mixed feelings among the group. There was an anxiousness to return home to their families, but there also was a sense among the men that when they left the seminary they would miss everyone who had been a part of the program as well as all that had happened in the past two weeks.

As the deacon candidates walked out of the door two weeks after they arrived, more enriched by their studies and more convinced of their call to the diaconate, there were assurances to keep in touch with one another. The two weeks can best be summed up in the words of the director of the program, Fr. Steven Hawkes-Teeples, S.J., who restated what many of the men themselves expressed: "These two weeks were the richest and most intense experience I ever had of the Byzantine Church.'

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Last Modified on 08/12/1999.