Ongoing Diaconal Formation Weekend

November 5-7, 2021


Christ has no body but yours,

No hands, no feet on Earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks

Compassion on this world,

Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,

Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.

Yours are the hands, yours are the feet

Yours are the eyes, you are his body.

Christ has no body now but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks

Compassion on this world.

Christ has no body now on Earth but yours. –St. Teresa of Avila


During the weekend of November 5 to November 7, deacons and deacon candidates of the Eparchy of St. Josaphat and their wives, Bishop Bohdan, and Fr. Daniel Dozier, 23 in all, gathered at the Jesuit Retreat Center in Parma, Ohio for the annual ongoing deacon formation retreat.  The Jesuit Retreat Center is across the street and a short walk from the cathedral of St. Josaphat.  Retreatants gathered from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Florida and North Carolina.  The theme of the weekend was Becoming the Prayer.  The deacons were honored to be led in the retreat by Fr. Daniel Dozier from Olympia, Washington.  Fr. Daniel is a Byzantine Catholic priest of the Eparchy of Phoenix and administrator for St. George Byzantine Catholic Church in Olympia, Washington.  Fr. Daniel was ordained a deacon of the Eparchy of St. Josaphat in 2008, followed shortly after by his father in 2009, and served as a deacon for 12 years before being ordained a priest in 2020.  Fr. Daniel has led retreats and conferences and is a published author.

The conference was entitled On Earth as it is in Heaven: The Three Pillars of Liturgical Piety for Byzantine Deacons, and was presented in four sessions.  The first session asked the deacons, candidates, and their wives to contemplate three questions: What is liturgical spirituality/piety?  What is the role of clergy in fostering liturgical spirituality?, and How is the deacon a gift to the spirituality of groups the deacon encounters?  The deacons and their wives discussed these three questions at length in groups and with Fr. Daniel.  Some important conclusions that were reached are: 1. The deacon’s body language, posture, and focus aid in the guiding of the faithful into a closer participation.  2. The way this is done is by being contagious in the way the deacon leads by practicing what he preaches.   3. The deacon is the man who represents Jesus in the liturgy, he is an advocate for the laity, and is the man who prays.  4. The deacon keeps order between the priest and the laity.  5.  Deacons are the Christian Levites, the ones responsible for assisting the priest and guarding the temple.  He is an advocate for the world.

The second and third sessions reflected on the first two pillars: To Pray What the Church Prays and To Do What the Church Does.  The guiding principles of these two pillars are that the deacon “orders the cosmos”.  This means that the words that he says during liturgy guide both the laity and the priest through the worship.  He aids in the raising of the mind and heart to participation in the liturgy.  The deacon is to reflect on the prayers being offered before the prayers are offered.  This helps to bring the deacon to another level of prayer.  Before the deacon acts in the liturgy, he vests himself into his vestments.  His first vesting is to put on the sticharion which represents the robe of gladness.  In Isaiah 61:1-10, this robe is the representation of baptism and the root of the deacon’s vocation.  Next, he vests into his orarion.  To bring the deacon closer to the Lord, Fr. Daniel suggested that he say, “Holy Holy Holy is the Lord Almighty”, which is a representation of the words that the angels said in Isaiah 6:1-8.  Fr. Daniel equated the deacons with the angels and the orarion is like the angels wings showing that the deacon is a messenger of God.  When the deacon puts on his cuffs, the right cuff is the cuff of deliverance and allows the deacon to develop the mindset that he is about to touch the holy things he will soon be touching.  This is referenced in Exodus 14:1-15:6.  The left cuff represents the love for the commandments of the Lord.  The left is the hand of righteousness which is referenced in the Christ the Teacher icon.  In it, Christ is blessing with His right hand and is holding the Gospel in His left.  The prayers for the left cuff are referenced in Psalm 118.

The final session was the theme of the entire conference: How do we become the prayer?  The deacon has a special relationship with the holy table.  When the deacon is ordained, he rests his head on the altar, which is his bridge to the priest.  When the prayers are repeated at every liturgy, they show the deacon’s acts of obedience and humility.  The prayers are more than just words and are powerful.  They are ‘the raising of the mind and heart to God’ (St. John of Damascus).  A deacon is part of the school of Jesus.  If a deacon is to become like Christ, he must become the fire.  According to St. Teresa of Avila, we are to become Christ’s hands, feet, body and eyes on Earth.  Becoming these allows the deacon to bring the faithful closer to worship of Christ.  “Christ will appear when the priest (deacon) disappears”.  This quote from St. John Chrysostom means that the liturgy is offered in such a way that the faithful are brought so close to Jesus that Christ is present and the priest or deacon disappears in the leading of the faithful.  The sessions concluded with three B’s:  1. Begin again, 2. Be diligent, 3, and Be not afraid.

A special treat was offered to the deacons and deacon candidates as they were blessed to participate in a live SingCon virtual conference through You Tube with Fr. Peter Galadza.  This mini-conference was separate from the wives who were in a mini-conference with Fr. Daniel Dozier on the life of St. Olympia, the deaconess.  The mini-conference was entitled “Mindful Praise: A Church Singer’s Philokalia”.  The conference focused on Theosis and Nepsis.  Theosis is divinization and deification, and Nepsis is vigilance or sobriety of the soul.  Through Theosis, staying focused on the Living God who is inviting us to overcome our every desire, thought or impulse that impedes us, we can become deified by participating fully in the divine services by singing.  We need to fix our “potholes” that keep us from this theosis by filling them.  We can do this through prayer and self-reflection.  In order to achieve nepsis, we need to spend time in solitude before we sing.  We need to find out if we are singing for the glorification of God, or is our prayer pure?  We need to check our assaultive thoughts that impede on our singing.  The best way to do this is to pray the Jesus prayer before liturgy.  Repetition of this prayer with Jesus as its center should aid in the corrosive thoughts that come.

During the weekend, the deacons, deacon candidates and their wives participated spiritually in matins and vespers as well as compline and two divine liturgies, one being a hierarchical divine liturgy.  On Saturday and Sunday, the retreatants started the day as Jesus did, in prayer.  The Matins, part of the divine office, were sung in the chapel at the Jesuit Retreat Center.  In the evening of Friday, the Great Compline was sung, and on Saturday evening, vespers were sung.  Saturday morning, Fr. Daniel concelebrated with Bishop Bohdan and led the retreatants in the Divine Liturgy at the cathedral of St. Josaphat.  On Sunday, the retreatants were blessed to be led by Bishop Bohdan at the hierarchical divine liturgy as their final activity.  Each deacon and deacon candidate was able to participate on the Holy Altar for each of these activities.  On Sunday, the deacons and deacon candidates participated in the Hierarchical divine liturgy at the Cathedral.  Cantors during the weekend were Fr. Deacon Paul Galadza, Fr. Deacon Steven Dozier (father of the conference leader), Michael Sudik, and Annie Oriti.

This retreat was a much-needed spiritual gift for all attendees who are like most people today – coping with the COVID-19 pandemic.  After last year’s virtual retreat, this  weekend’s event gave much needed face to face camaraderie, support and energy for the ongoing formation of the deacons  in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in the North American church and our St. Josaphat Eparchy.   All attendees are looking forward to next year’s ongoing Diaconal formation weekend on October 7, 8, 9, 2022.