On Saturday, May 20th, St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary held its commencement celebration at St. Andrew Memorial Church in South Bound Brook, N.J. The festivities began with the procession of His Eminence Metropolitan Antony, His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, members of the faculty, and seminarians. After the hierarchs had come in and venerated the altar, Rev. Fr. Vasyl Pasakas, the Assistant Dean of Men, and Rev. Fr. Vasyl Shak, Assistant Professor of Church History, led us in the Moleben prayers. This was a wonderful reminder that without God we can do nothing (St. John 15:5) and that it is God's desire to bless us and fill our needs (St. Matthew 7:7-9) and helped us better appreciate the gift the Lord has sent us in the form of committed seminarians who are willing to sacrifice themselves to serve God and neighbor.
After the Moleban, Very Rev. Fr. Anthony Perkins, Associate Academic Dean, gave a brief history of the seminary and its purpose; to train men and women to protect, train, and minister to people of God. He challenged all the members of Christ's royal priesthood to take their responsibility of living and sharing the joy of the Gospel seriously and encouraged everyone to take advantage of the many programs the seminary offers. The graduates were then called one by one so that Metropolitan Antony could give them their diplomas and Archbishop Daniel could vest them with the academic hood.
The graduates of our late vocations Master of Divinity were:
Dn. Paul Cherkas, St. Michael parish, Woonsocket RI
Dn. Paul feels fortunate to have married someone who needs to have a spiritual life not limited to Sundays only and who desires to be a part of his ministry to the Church. He and his wife Mary Ann have been married for forty years and without her encouragement he may never have started, much less finished, his studies. She encouraged him to fulfill his life long desire to serve God and neighbor. He was ordained a subdeacon in 2009 and a deacon in 2013. His primary ministry involves serving the elderly and shut-ins of his parish and he gets a great deal of satisfaction in "bringing the parish” to those who are no longer physically able to come to church. He says that each time he sees a shut-in smile when he enters their room, he still gets the same feeling he felt when he first started this ministry years ago.
Regarding his time at St. Sophia's, Deacon Paul writes:
St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary has been a source of inspiration for my desire to bring God and His church to my fellow person. My professors have inspired me as well with not only their knowledge of various subjects but also with their dedication to passing on their knowledge to others as well. It is a blessing to be in this kind of setting where it is possible to develop friendship not only with fellow seminarians but with the faculty as well and feel able to seek their advice for many years to come.
Deacon John Charest, St. Volodymyr Cathedral, Chicago IL
Dn. John grew up in the parish of St. Michael in Woonsocket, RI. After pleading with the priest and his parents he was finally given the blessing to serve in the altar at age 6 and he hasn't left since. He was tonsured as a subdeacon in 2000, married to his wife Laryssa in 2010, and ordained as a deacon in 2011. He currently serves as the second deacon at St. Volodymyr Cathedral in Chicago, IL. He and his wife have a two-year old son, Sebastion; they are excited about helping him participate in all the children's and youth ministries the UOC of the USA offers and from which, they themselves benefitted.
Regarding his time at St. Sophia's, Deacon John writes:
For the last three years, I’ve been commuting from Chicago to South Bound Brook once a month for classes as part of the Masters of Divinity program at St. Sophia Seminary. The program at St. Sophia appealed to me because of its once a month time commitment. I was able to work on assignments with a great deal more flexibility than if I had to rearrange work and family commitments to go to classes weekly. One of the things I will miss the most is the comradery between my fellow students and my professors. There were many lessons learned around the dinner table, while sharing late night snacks, and while devesting after services.
The graduates of our late vocations Master of Arts in Applied Studies program are:
Subdeacon Paul Neal, St. John the Baptist parish, Dixonville PA
Sdn. Paul was introduced to Orthodoxy by his girlfriend, Shirley. He was chrismated and married to Shirley at St. John the Baptist in Dixonville, PA by Fr. George Hnatko. A retired pharmacist, he attended St. Sophia's because he wants to serve St. John's and assist Fr. George as a deacon.
Of his time at St. Sophia's Subdeacon Paul remarks:
The seminary studies have been highly rewarding and the term rigorous comes to mind. The three years of study have provided a broad education in the theology, dogma and history of the Orthodox Church. It equips one to serve the Church and every individual by God’s word and Wisdom.
Subdeacon Cliff O'Neil, Sts. Peter and Paul parish, Carnegie PA
Sdn. Cliff was also brought to Orthodoxy by his wife; it was her faith that led us to a life in Christ and to his enrollment in the Distant Learning Program. He finds great peace and contentment doing simple tasks like replacing votive candles and icons or just running the vacuum. He is thankful to Fr. Steve and his entire parish family for the love and support they have shown these past three years. As he moves towards secular retirement, he and Alice look forward to a more committed and involved life in Christ.
Of his time at St. Sophia, Subdeacon Evan (Cliff) writes:
My time in the Distant Learning Program has been richly rewarding. The bonds formed through joint experiences with my classmates are lifelong. I have grown and learned much, not the least of which is the love Our Lord has for all of us.
Subdeacon Victor Poletajev
Sdn. Victor Poletajev is a first generation American with his family coming from the Ukraine and Estonia. His grandparents instilled in him his strong faith. He has been a sub deacon for 28 years, serving in the church. Whether as a physician or subdeacon, serving the church and people is simply his way of life. He and his wife Robin have been married for 30 years, serving in the church together. Victor enjoys helping people and has become an expert at cleaning censors and whatever else he was allowed to polish at the holy altar. He is grateful for all the clergy who have mentored him.
Regarding his time at St. Sophia's, Subdeacon Victor writes:
St. Sophia has been a strong and intense theological education. The instructors are well qualified and between work, church, and classes; it made for a lot of late nights. Travel to the seminary was the highlight of each semester thanks to the services, fellowship, newly acquired family, and of course Pani Maria's cooking.
The Valedictorian, Deacon Paul Cherkas, noted the many challenges that our parishes face and the lessons seminary have provided so that the graduates could help address those issues. He thanked the seminary faculty, the families of the seminarians, and especially the hierarchs for their support and prayers.
His Eminence Metropolitan Antony then gave his charge to the graduates. His main point was that everyone - and especially priests - need to ground their lives in prayer. He noted that there is no excuse to be lazy in the performance of services and other priestly duties. As examples of prayers that help to keep him vigilant and humble, he gave his favorite prayers: that of St. Ephraim and the evening prayer "Lord do not allow Your good things to be taken away from me..." (Fourth Prayer by St. John Chrysostom), both of which he recommended to be recited daily as part of the prayer rule. He encouraged the seminarians to face the struggles of the priesthood together (priests need priests!) and told them that both he and Vladyka Daniel were always ready to help and minister to them.
After the "Many years" and pictures, everyone was invited to the seminary for a reception with food prepared by Pani Maria Morozovska.
In attendance were His Eminence, Metropolitan Antony, His Eminence, Archbishop Daniel; Faculty members Fr. Constantine (Gus) Christo, Fr. Taras Naumenko, Fr. Anthony Perkins, Fr. Vasyl Pasakas, Fr. Vasyl Shak, Dn. Ivan Tchopko, Dr. Michael Andrec; the full-time seminarians (who also served wonderfully as the choir) Sbdeacons Volodymyr Yavorskyi, Mykola Zomchak and Mykhaylo Bokalo, Seminarians Yuri Bobko, Ihor Protsak, Hryhoriy Matviiv, and Tadei Surak; late vocations seminarians Deacon Michael Abrahamson, Constantine Dancu, and Elizabeth Symonenko (an incoming first year who also designed the invitations and bulletins); and enough additional clergy, family members and supporters to fill the church.
By Very Rev. Fr. Anthony Perkins
Photos by Elizabeth Symonenko and Seminarian Hryhorii Matviiv