Ohio (9/22-9/24, 2017) By Father Deacon Trevor (Fernandes)
Slava Isusu Christu! Slava Naviky!
The theme of this year’s retreat was Deacons as Icons of Christ: Disciples, Missionaries, and Men of Prayer. This was a perfect focus in the Year of Diakonia for Deacons, Deacon Candidates and their wives. Retreatants traveled from Ohio, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. The retreat was held for the first time at the Jesuit Retreat House, a beautiful 58-acre facility with lovely new rooms and two chapels and only a block away from our Cathedral of Saint Josaphat in Parma, Ohio!
Our Retreat Master was Father Jason Charron of Holy Trinity UGCC in Carnegie, Pennsylvania and Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Wheeling, West Virginia. Father Jason took time out from his many duties and large family to lead us in prayer and reflection. As is typical with many retreats, there were spiritual conferences with Father Jason, the Hours sung communally from the Horologion, Divine Liturgy, and the opportunity for the Holy Mystery of Repentance. We were also blessed to have Vladyka Bohdan with us for part of Friday evening. Our Retreat participants were honored to serve with Vladyka in Divine Liturgy on Saturday and Sunday at the Cathedral as well as Vespers on Saturday evening. He also gave our final spiritual conference on Sunday morning.
Friday night (9/22) was the first spiritual conference on the Deacon as a Man of Prayer. Father Jason first led us in the proper use and breathing technique for the Jesus Prayer and we prayed it together for some time. Following this, Father broke down the Jesus Prayer into its rich theological parts: Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner! Like so many prayers we remember by rote, we often do not stop to deepen our faith through deep, inward prayer. Father talked about each part, making it clear that this prayer in a certain sense should, based on Scripture and the Church Fathers, be a bedrock for us to stand on, the foundation of our prayer life. This was followed by Compline in the main chapel, fellowship and bed.
After Orthros/Matins and breakfast, our second spiritual conference was on Diakonia in the Church today. Father Jason talked about the extraordinary growth of the UGCC as an answer from the Holy Spirit to what our world needs. He spoke about how Deacons are so necessary for this growth through the various aspects of our ministry, being icons of Christ in our service to others and to our priests and Bishops. Following this talk, the weather was so beautiful and mild that we (Deacons, Candidates, wives) walked to the Cathedral for Divine Liturgy. To our surprise, it was not just the Rector, Father Bohdan Barytskyy, who served, but Vladyka. What a joy it was to see brother Deacons who almost never get to the Cathedral to serve alongside our Bishop in our magnificent Temple, which Archdeacon Jeffrey informed us would have its iconography soon fully completed! Some of us served as the choir, but all were united in prayer from the heart, with sunlight streaming through the stained glass windows and the sweet fragrance of incense in the air.
Our 3rd spiritual conference was on Preaching with Conviction as a treat for the soul. Father Jason impressed upon us the necessity of taking our spiritual preparation seriously before preaching, as it is a “teachable moment” that may just save some souls, including our own! While this conference was specific to Deacons/Candidates, our wives were in a wonderful spiritual conference by themselves, O Belief in the Silence that Must Be! They had a special speaker, Mrs. Rita Basalla, Principal of Saint Mary’s Byzantine Catholic School in Cleveland.
Often we are so busy “doing” or trying to figure out what to do in our efforts to serve one another that we do not LISTEN. We need to be prayfully silent to listen to God, our own heart, our spouse, to others. The wives all came away spiritually refreshed.
Our next spiritual conference was on the Diaconal Couple as Partners in Ministry. As we all know, it is not good for man to be alone. Married clergy never act alone: not only are Deacons graced with the third and lowest degree of the major orders of Clergy in the Catholic Church. Married Deacons are graced with wives and families as spiritual support. Married Deacons could not do this job alone. Therefore, we must pray for one another in our ministry. Support does not mean actively engaged in the same work but means deep prayer for the furtherance of Diaconal ministry to others for the salvation of souls.
After dinner, we all headed back to the Cathedral for the Mystery of Repentance and Vespers. Father Bohdan and Vladyka graciously served this beautiful evening Vesper service, as Father Jason headed home, while Father Andrew Hanowsky and Father Michael Rewtiuk were available for Confessions. It was such a peaceful group that left Divine worship and headed next door to Tradesman Tavern, a sports bar and restaurant with an outdoor venue that has beautiful views of our Cathedral domes. It was a beautiful evening, and all were relaxed as we sat at the outdoor patio; there was much laughter as some watched college football, others sampled local craft brews and others ordered pub food. Prayer, friendship, and fellowship is the Christian life at its finest, and we were blessed to have it that night.
Sunday morning we arose (very early) and headed to the Chapel for Orthros/Matins, followed by breakfast. Vladyka, who made the time over the weekend to be with his Deacons again and again, delivered our final spiritual conference on Deacons and Becoming a Community of Missionary Disciples. Vladyka talked about the ever growing need to spread the True Faith and how the UGCC is doing this in Ukraine and here in America (and everywhere else!). We are the missionaries of the present age sent to reach the fallen away Catholics and to invite all others interested in worshipping with us to pray and study with us to be received into the Fold. This is from Scripture and the Fathers of the Church.
Now, for the last time, we went to the Cathedral for Hierarchical Divine Liturgy. All Deacons vested and all Candidates served. Some wives sang with the Cathedral Choir for this lovely worship. Afterwards, we had “photo ops” with Vladyka with wives and Cathedral parishioners taking pictures. “Our cheek muscles hurt from smiling!” Vladyka had lunch with us at the Jesuit Retreat House before giving us his blessing. Then all departed with heartfelt smiles and hugs all around.
All in all, this was the best Deacon retreat to date. Our Retreat Master Father Jason and Vladyka were wonderful, as were the facilities, but there was more: like those gathered on Pentecost, there was a harmony of minds and hearts for common purpose in Christ. It was like being in Rome for a retreat or in Ukraine: we did not need to stay in the retreat facility, but strolled to our Eparchial mother church, the Cathedral, to be spiritually enriched at home while all were served by our Apostolic Shepherd. As the Psalmist said millennia ago in Psalm 133:1, it was so true for us: How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony! Let’s make next year’s retreat even better and well attended, at home in Parma, Ohio!
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!