Wednesday, November 16, 2011

From the Other Side of the Collar

There are many things I never could have foreseen in my life's journey which, God willing, is far from over. For one thing, I never could have foreseen that I would see the end of the Space Shuttle program, or that things which have been consistently taught by the Christian Faith for 2000 years concerning God, and Right and Wrong would be called into question in my lifetime, even by those proclaiming themselves to be believing Christians.

Yet another thing I never could have foreseen, even a mere 20 years ago, as a devout Roman Catholic, and staunch believer in the SUPERIORITY of the Latin Rite, that 20 years later, I would be kneeling in the Altar of a Ukrainian Greek Catholic Parish receiving the Mystery of Holy Orders being ordained as a Deacon.

On multiple levels here, I have crossed boundaries more than once in the process of doing this. First from my attitudes concerning the Roman Rite's Superiority in all things, then the change of Canonical Ritual Churches, and at this point, the move from Laity to Clergy. In a sense, I have been on this journey for a long time, but in another sense, the Journey is far from complete, for I am still alive as of this writing, and so much can yet happen.

Things look different from over here. So much is the same, yet the way it looks is different. I find it difficult to articulate, but it seems that I believed the change that occurred wouldn't be all that different. Yet, things are different. I can't deny it. It isn't exactly in my spirituality, for the prayers I have been praying are the same as I have been doing for a number of years. It isn't the change from the Lay state to the clerical state, for I am still one of the Laos, the people of God, yet I am now also Kleros, one of the Clergy. There is, for me, an unspeakable aspect to this mystery. True, I participate at Divine Liturgy in a new capacity, but that can't be it, can it?

Perhaps it can be that after all. The ministry of Deacon is not, in its origin, a primarily Liturgical role in the sense of being a leader of Worship, yet Liturgy is what motivates it, as it should with the roles of the Laity as well. The role of Deacon is first and foremost a ministry of service to the People of God. One from among them is ordained to wait upon them. In the Acts of the Apostles, this role comes about so that the Apostles may focus upon the preaching of the Word. The Deacons are ordained primarily to "wait on tables." They are to be men of good character, yet their function is something that pretty much anyone can do. They make sure that those in need of food receive it. As such, the Deacon's role is that of minister of Charity. He serves the needs of those in need.

Yet the Role of the Deacon is also Liturgical. He is one of the Clergy, and in this sense has the duty to participate as Clergy in the Liturgy. His service within the Liturgy is noticeable, especially in the Eastern Churches, for there, he is out in front of all the people. All eyes are on him, which I will admit is unnerving at times. I realize from my own short experience as a Deacon that the deacon can interfere with people's experience of worship, or enhance it, depending on how prepared he is.

There is a sense in which the role of Deacon is also that of Father. This is highlighted within the Eastern Churches who address not only priests, but also deacons as Father. That takes a little getting used to, particularly since I remember in my youth having been addressed as Father by those who were sure I would pursue a vocation to the priesthood. I found it annoying then, because I knew that I was not a priest. Now, it gives me a sense of nervousness, for I know that on my own, I cannot be a good father to the people who have been entrusted to me. It is only through the grace of God that this can be accomplished.

One of the most amazing experiences that I have had at this point however involved the taking of communion to one of our parishioners. To the average Roman Catholic, this may not mean a whole lot, for any Roman Catholic may distribute communion if they have been commissioned to do so, but only a Bishop, priest, and deacon can do so in the Eastern Churches. I will not say much here except to say that this individual was in bad shape. The short service I led for the reception of communion was largely done by my family and me, for the parishioner could not respond in most cases. Yet, even as I led the service in Ukrainian and English, according to my ability, this individual began attempting to participate to the degree that this person was able to do so. It was awe inspiring and I knew that on the mystical level, we had entered heaven, and the role of deacon into which I have been placed through no worthiness of my own but by the Grace of God, had helped to bring us there. There was no cross in the room, and no icon but the living icon of God, the human person, but Jesus was present, truly present, in the mysteries of His Body and Blood, given under the form of bread and wine (communion is always given under both forms in the Eastern Churches). I found myself not wanting to leave, but to stay as long as I could. When we finally left, I knew that there was no other place I would have wanted to be. I also had a much greater appreciation for my family, who went with me not only willingly, but, it seemed, joyfully, and were so willing to help out with the service.

My writing of this experience is only three weeks out from my ordination, so I know that I have barely scratched the surface, but by the Grace of God, this journey will involve ever deeper discovery of what it means to be a Deacon. If you read this, please also remember to say a prayer for me, and for all the Clergy who serve our Churches throughout the world, for we depend on the prayers of the people we serve. It provides a strong defense against the Evil One who seeks to destroy all of us. Glory to Jesus Christ!

No comments:

Post a Comment