On October 9 to 10, an ongoing Diaconal formation retreat was held for Deacons and Deacon candidates and was guided by His Grace Bishop Bohdan (Danylo) and was planned by Fr Deacon Myron Spak. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic the retreat was carried out virtually via Zoom and led by Fr. Deacon Cyril Kennedy of the Edmonton Eparchy (in Canada). Fr. Deacon Cyril is a seminarian of the Edmonton Eparchy and holds a BA in History and World Religions from the University of Toronto and a Bachelor of Theology and Masters of Arts in Eastern Christian Studies from the Sheptytsky Institute and is currently working on a Doctorate in Liturgy at the Catholic University of America in Washington DC. He is now working on the third chapter of his dissertation, which examines the history and theology of vigils in the first millennium, so Deacon Cyril and his work should be remembered in our prayers.
Twelve Deacons and Deacon candidates participated from the states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Florida, North Carolina, California (St Nicholas Eparchy, Chicago), and Illinois (St George Romanian Eparchy, Canton).
The weekend’s presentations were dedicated to exploring some of the psalms of Vespers and the four Little Hours, Liturgy of the Hours, and how they reveal Christ to us in prayer. Also, several psalms that are recited during the Divine Liturgy were studied. The presentations began on Friday evening with the Psalms of Vespers working from Psalm 122, the last Psalm used during weekday Vespers, to Psalm 103, the first Psalm of Vespers.
In his presentation of Psalm 122, Deacon Cyril discussed repentance is the default mode of liturgical prayer, something we do not see if we only attend and pray the Divine Liturgy on Sundays and major Feast days. In Psalm 122, which is used on other days in the Aposticha of Vespers, we see that out true state is one of dependance on God. We also see that there is no sin so big that it can wipe out God’s love.
Psalm 140 is placed as the first of the lamp lighting Psalms at the very center of Vespers. Psalm 140 starts with praise of God and teaches us that the “wicked will fall into their own nets” (Psalm 140:10) and thus to persevere in the struggle against sin. The psalm also teaches us to accept correction and pray for our enemies.
Psalm 103 is the longest and first Psalm of Vespers. It focuses on the ordered praise of God, reminding us that God is in charge, and the superabundance of His grace. It mentions examples such as the Cedars of Lebanon (Psalm 103:16) and the sea “monster” God made to have fun (Psalm 103:26).
Deacon Cyril went on to discuss the Psalms in the little hours spread throughout the day touching on Psalm 5, 89 and 50. Psalm 50 is especially important as it is used at multiple daily services and is recited by the Deacon as he incenses the church. Psalm 50 shows how we should approach liturgy and prayer as sinners optimistic about God’s love and forgiveness. In Psalm 50 we not only identify with King David’s adultery and murder, but we also focus on God’s forgiveness and restoration. God’s love is superabundant. This, along with the other Psalms is the antidote to one of the challenges of Christian life, as Deacon Cyril put it, “The Devil wants me to hate myself and to forget God loves me.”
This retreat was a much-needed spiritual respite for all attendees who are like most people today – living in a socially distant world. Although, a virtual gathering is no replacement for face to face interactions, it was great for the retreatants with a geographic representation from California to Illinois, to Tennessee, to North Carolina to Ohio to Pennsylvania – to have an ability to interact at least virtually with each other, while, “Finding the Gospel in Psalms”. This weekend’s event gave hope that inspite of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ongoing formation of deacons in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in the North American church and our St. Josaphat Eparchy will continue to grow under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.