Nearly 30 deacons and Diaconal Vocations Program students immersed themselves in worship, theological learning, spiritual reflection, and liturgical practice during the Sixth Annual Diaconal Liturgical Practicum, held on the campus of Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary here June 10–13, 2012. Archdeacon Kirill Sokolov, Director of Diaconal and Late Vocations for the Orthodox Church in America, coordinated the practicum. (Read an interview with Archdn. Kirill about the extensive growth of the Diaconal Vocations Program.)
Participants representing almost every diocese of the OCA gathered on the seminary campus and began the practicum with a communal supper and by worshipping together at a “Prayer Service for the Beginning of Instruction” in Three Hierarchs Chapel, led by Archpriest Alexander Rentel, Assistant Professor of Canon Law and Byzantine Studies at the seminary.
Archdeacon Kirill facilitated an opening reflection about the ways adults learn, during which he invited students to consider the ways children naturally absorb and imagine liturgy; he suggested to participants that if they were to “convert and become like children” [Matthew 18:2–4], they would particularly benefit from the liturgical practice that would ensue. Following introductions, Archdeacon Kirill and Priest Sergius Halvorsen, Assistant Professor of Homiletics and Rhetoric at Saint Vladimir’s, began instruction in patterns of liturgical movement and prepared participants for the next morning’s Divine Liturgy.
Each day of the practicum began early, with students gathering in the chapel for hands-on preparation for the Divine Liturgy. They assisted as appropriate in the entrance prayers and preparation rites and served at the Divine Liturgy as deacons, singers, readers, and servers. The Divine Liturgies initiated long days of experiential learning, with Father Alexander providing the theological context for liturgy. Daily Vespers commenced each evening’s work, and opportunities for fellowship and reflection punctuated the packed but effective days.
Father Sergius led extensive sessions on preaching and speaking about the Orthodox Christian faith; as well, he provided voice instruction and coaching that helped participants to better chant and read in church. Archdeacon Kirill guided the deacons and diaconal candidates through the precision of serving the divine services, with emphasis on the patterns of the deacon’s service within a theological and historical framework that increases understanding and proper serving, especially in unfamiliar liturgical situations.
The gathering was particularly blessed by the active presence of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah, who participated in two days of liturgical services and spoke extensively with participants. On the final day of the practicum, seminary and practicum faculty, clergy, and participants concelebrated the Divine Liturgy with Metropolitan Jonah. At the liturgy, Metropolitan Jonah presented the homily, and he also prayed for the participants’ safe travel back to their homes and parishes. He also addressed the proper attitude towards diaconal service in the Church, emphasizing the preeminence of Christ’s diaconate; he especially exhorted students to “peruse the scriptures daily” — as noted in the service of tonsuring for a reader — and “to enter into the flow” of each Divine Liturgy of the Church. Lastly, he urged participants to extend their diaconal ministry outside of liturgy, by feeding the poor, helping the destitute and lonely, and by acting as Christ in many other settings.
Additionally, several special presentations enhanced the practicum experience for participants.
- Archpriest John Jillions, Chancellor of the OCA, discussed issues facing the clergy, including the challenging issues of sexual abuse and misconduct. The Chancellor also spoke about the joys of serving in his new role and the growth he sees in Church life. (Read Fr. John’s reflections about the Practicum.)
- Archpriest John Behr, Dean of the seminary, through the liturgical poetry of Melito of Sardis, taught about knowing the crucified and risen Christ in the “breaking of bread”—thereby uplifting the hearts of practicum participants.
- Priest Martin Kraus, rector of Holy Trinity Church, East Meadow, NY, shared an example of charitable diakonia: he discussed his parish’s ministry to the hungry in mid-town Manhattan, and he explained how similar parish efforts could be set in motion.
- Dr. Albert Rossi introduced resources to help those addicted to Internet pornography.
- Hierodeacon Herman, who serves as Chapel Music Director, led the choir, composed of practicum participants.
A gallery of photos by Deacon Gregory Hatrak and Matushka Deborah Belonick may be viewed here.