Семінаристи Привітали Гостей на Святковому Дійстві
"РІЗДВО В СЕМІНАРІЇ"
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Annual Christmas in the Seminary Program Presented
by the Seminarians of St. Sophia Seminary
In its 47th academic year, the St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary is more than a institution of higher learning that prepares future clergy, it is a center of spiritual and intellectual life of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, here and abroad. In these unprecedented times, throughout the pandemic, the seminary has proven to be a beacon of light and joy to many. During the height of the pandemic the faithful could join via livestream, the daily morning Divine Liturgies and services. By seeing the service, hearing the Gospel, absorbing the sermons, the faithful were strengthened, the darkness that was creeping in was dispelled and the Light of Christ reached into homes far and wide through the hard work of the Seminarians and clergy. To this day, dozens gather each evening at 9 PM to join as a true family, and pray the Evening Prayers together, before going to sleep.
On this December 18th, 2021, the Seminary once again virtually knocked on people’s doors, as they went live during their annual “Christmas at the Seminary” fundraiser. Instituted many years ago to help offset the high cost of running the institution, this fundraiser allowed the faithful to come and visit the Seminary, get to know the students, personally join in services, and start off the Christmas Season with joy and laughter. This was the first time since the start of the pandemic that the event was once again not only televised but held in person.
As 1 PM approached, the cars began to pull up to the grand white Victorian structure, which was beautifully decorated for the Christmas Season. A lush green wreath, filled with berries, hung on the door, inviting the visitors to enter. As they entered the front room of the Seminary, the guests could already hear the quiet laughter emanating from the dining area. The seminarians took turns greeting their guests and showing them in. While some remained in the front area of the building, admiring the grand fireplace, and historic icons, others happily walked further through the main classroom into the magnificent dining room. The large crystal chandelier today was outshined by the gorgeous Christmas tree which had been painstakingly adorned with delicate multicolored baubles and glimmering lights. On the sideboard a veritable smorgasbord awaited the guests, enticing them with delicious aromas, as fancy Christmas Cookies, covered in colorful sprinkles tempted their tastebuds.
Having approached His Eminence Metropolitan Antony, Prime Hierarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and Diaspora, and receiving his blessing, first time guests followed Archbishop Daniel, who took them on a short tour of the facility. Starting in the foyer, His Eminence gave a short history of the establishment, bringing everyone’s attention to the icons upon the walls and explaining their origin and whom they represent. The study room, which is located between the front room and dining room, is filled with desks and computer monitors. It is in this room that many of the lessons take place, where the students learn about the Doctrines of the Church, cover dogmatics, and delve into the teachings of the Church Fathers. It is not only a room for studying, as it is often through these same computers which earlier in the day displayed detailed texts, that the students stay in touch with their families back in Ukraine, as they Skype with them in the evening. Gesturing to the side Vladyka Daniel pointed to the vast library contained within the main study room. He continued by explaining that while these books are often used, there are an additional few thousand tomes that are housed in the Seminary Library in the Consistory Building.
Taking a step down to the Dining Room and making a quick left turn Archbishop Daniel led the guests to the kitchen where he explained the seminarians not only learn to be self sufficient in their own lives, by preparing meals, here in this kitchen they learn how to bake prosphora, paska breads, and Artos, all of which they will be responsible for when they are ordained into the priesthood one day. Pointing to some of the appliances on the countertops like the heavy-duty KitchenAid mixer, His Eminence explained that it is thanks to former donations during previous “Christmas at the Seminary” celebrations that the students are able to hone their baking skills.
Next Vladyka Daniel led the small party through the back hallway to a closed white door. Opening the door and stepping inside, the guests were transformed. As the door closed behind them, the chatter from the dining room became a whisper. The sweet scent of incense still hung in the air from previous services, as His Eminence led them into the Seminary Chapel of the Three Holy Hierarchs. As the gilded iconostas glimmered in the flickering light of two lit candles, the saints quietly gazed down upon the visitors. Archbishop Daniel gave a short history of the chapel, and then brought everyone’s attention to the many relics housed within, including a fragment of the True Cross of Christ. As His Eminence crossed himself and quietly left to tend to other guests, these visitors settled down for a few minutes of quiet introspection and prayer.
In the dining hall, as 3 PM rolled around, the room filled as the guests anticipated the commencement of the short program. Archbishop Daniel, called for attention as he stood near the twinkling Christmas tree. The guests all smiled as the little girl in his arms, young Taissa, the youngest daughter of Fr. Vasyl and Dobrodijka Oksana Pasakas, rubber her sleepy eyes and smiled sweetly at everyone. The camera turned on and hundreds of virtual guests joined those in the room, just as Vladyka introduced the Seminarians and bid them come in.
The eight young men, all proudly wearing their vyshyvanky (Ukrainian embroidered shirts) filed into the room singing in Ukrainian “Dobrij Vechir Tobi” (Good Evening to you), as they took their positions before the window. Fr. Andrii Drapak, Deacon Serhij Khomitskyi, Subdeacon Yaroslav Bilohan, Subdeacon Pavlo Vysotskyi, Reader Maksym Zhuravchyk, Reader Andrii Vatrych, seminarian Andrii Akulenko, and seminarian Roman Marchyshak regaled all with wonderous renditions of new and old Christmas carols.
Having beautifully sung a number of Ukrainian carols, the young men switched to English for the Carol of the Bells. Everyone sat with smiles upon their lips, whisked away to a happy place through the joyous melodies. “Heaven and Earth” was sung bilingually, followed up by the traditional “Nova Radist Stala” (A New Joy). The program continued for 30 minutes, as the well-trained voices sang and praised the Lord. Thus the Seminary once again touched the hearts and souls of countless individuals, who either in the building physically, or joining virtually joined their voices in singing the ancient carols, sung by their ancestors for centuries.
As the program concluded, Archbishop Daniel stood and introduced each seminarian, and greeted their families back home. The student body hales from all over Ukraine – from Kyiv to Ternopil to Buchach. Moreover, Vladyka Daniel introduced a number of graduates of the seminary who were in attendance, but especially the part Time students who were in attendance of the programs during their annual Academic Retreat at the Seminary: Deacon John Cummings, Brian Delp, John Petterson, Illia Val and Kathleen Kopach.
His Eminence thanked all who had joined the celebration and acknowledged the good start to the Christmas festivities. He encouraged anyone who wished to purchase a CD of Seminary Carols to visit the uocofusa.org website and click on the bookstore link. Vladyka also thanked all who had donated, and encouraged anyone else who wished to donate virtually, to visit the seminary website and click the yellow donate button at the bottom of the page. All donations go towards housing and training the young men who will one day be the clergy of the Church. With a final blessing and applause, the livestream ended, and everyone in the room congratulated the seminarians for the wonderful program.
Even though the program had ended, the guests lingered, enjoying their hierarch’s and each other’s company. Christmas plans were shared, gift-giving ideas, recipes for kutia and uzvar, as well parish activities. Most parishes were holding their own fundraisers, were volunteering at soup kitchens, or adopting families in need this holiday season.
As the sun began to dip in the western sky, and the heavens turned a deep blue, the Christmas lights turned on, twinkling jollily, and making even the oldest guests return to their childhood. With wide eyes and broad smiles, everyone enjoyed the colored lights, the twinkling ornaments, the shining buttons, and bells. Wrapping a few St. Nicholas cookies to take home with them, the guests began to depart for their homes. Even though the day’s festivities were over, the joy was just beginning as the faithful anticipated the celebration of the Incarnation of our Lord. This joy was heard throughout the land, as the faithful loudly sang carols in their cars as they drove to their homes.
The seminarians began to clear off the tables, wash the dishes, put away extra chairs, and tidy the rooms, as they too hummed and continued to sing Christmas carols as they worked. The young men had entertained their guests, but, they had also learned from them. Everyone who visited brought with them a donation to the seminary. Some donated funds, while others donated cleaning supplies (there are many windows in the building), school supplies, kitchen utensils and appliances, etc. The seminarians were humbled to be the recipients of such generosity and were moved to realize that their vocations are not just their own, but, those of the faithful who are pinning their hopes on their future clergy.
As the windows of the seminary darkened, and the building became hushed, the deer returned to graze on the seminary lawn, pausing to gaze upon the twinkling Christmas lights which hung from the eaves of the grand white building. The clouds parted and the moon shown brightly on the building, as the deer pranced around the lawn – a living Christmas Card, spreading hopes of peace and joy to the world.
Wishing everyone a joyous upcoming Nativity Celebration!