UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH OF THE USA
CONSISTORY OFFICE OF PUBLIC RELATIONS
St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary Inaugurates New Academic Year!
By Very Rev. Fr. John Udics
On Tuesday, September 21, 2010, on the Feast of the Nativity of the Most Holy Mother of God and the festal celebration of the icon of Saint Sophia, the Wisdom of God, Saint Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary hosted the liturgical services inaugurating the new academic year.
The resident seminarians, Subdeacon Vasyl Pasakas, Subdeacon Andrij Matlak, Subdeacon Vasyl Dovgan, Subdeacon Philip Harendza and Seminarian Ioan Mazur together with the Seminary Provost, Very Rev. Fr. Vasyl Zawierucha and the Seminary Dean of Students, Very Rev. Fr. John Udics, the faculty and staff were very pleased to host all Seminary friends and guests.
His Grace, Bishop Daniel celebrated the Divine Liturgy, together with eight priests: Very Rev. Fr. Bazyl Zawierucha and Very Rev. Fr. John Udics, Very Rev. Fr. Yuri Siwko, a pastor of St. Andrew the First-Called Apostle Ukrainian Orthodox Memorial Church in South Bound Brook, NJ; Very Rev. Fr. Stephen Hutnik, a pastor of Sts Peter and Paul Ukrainian Orthodox parish in Wilmington, DE; Very Rev. Fr. Constantine Christofis of Greek Orthodox Metropolis of New Jersey and a faculty member; Rev. Fr. Volodymyr Zinczyshyn of St. Panteleimon Ukrainian orthodox Mission in New York, NY; Rev. Fr. Anthony Perkins, a pastor of Holy Archangel Michael Ukrainian Orthodox parish in Woonsocket, RI; Rev. Fr. Ivan Synevskyy, a pastor of the Nativity of the Mother of God Ukrainian Orthodox parish in South Plainfield, NJ and Protodeacon Oleh Maletych of St. Andrew the First-Called Apostle Ukrainian Orthodox Memorial Church in South Bound Brook, NJ .
Numerous other important guests were present: Protopresbyter Taras Chubenko, a pastor of St. Demetrious Ukrainian Orthodox cathedral in Carteret, NJ; Very Rev. Fr. Todor Mazur, a pastor of Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in New York, NY; Very Rev. Fr. Taras Naumenko, a pastor of St. Vladimir Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Philadelphia, PA; Rev. Fr. Myroslav Shirta, a pastor of Holy Wisdom Ukrainian Orthodox parish in Bayonne, NJ and faculty member Dr. Michael Andrec, who directed the choir of Saint Andrew’s Memorial Church in beautiful sweet and melodious responses to the Liturgy.
A great number of parishioners of Saint Andrew’s Memorial Church came for the feast day and the celebration. It was a joy to see the seminary’s Three Hierarchs’ Chapel so filled with the faithful. The homily about the importance of the Mother of God in our lives was given by Father Constantine Christofis, who is on the Seminary faculty. Father relied extensively on the poetry of the Fathers and of the Liturgy to show how precious and wonderful is the Virgin. In his sermon, Fr. Constantine stated: “We have key lessons to learn from the All Holy Virgin. We should strive for and attain the virtues of the love of Christ, righteousness, peace, modesty, humility, unity, and sobriety. We ought to become and remain faithful servants of the Lord until the end of our earthly life, so we may also be included in the all-encompassing embrace of the Platitera (Expanse) of the Heavens, together with Jesus Christ our God.
There is no intellect or words to express the greatness of her who was born in the sinful human race but became “more honorable than the cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim.” “Seeing the grace of the secret mysteries of God made manifest and clearly fulfilled in the Virgin, I rejoice; and I know not how to understand the strange and secret manner whereby the undefiled has been revealed as alone chosen above all creation, visible and spiritual. Therefore, wishing to praise her, I am struck dumb with amazement in both mind and speech. Yet still I dare to proclaim and magnify her: She is indeed the heavenly tabernacle.”
“Every tongue is at a loss to praise Thee as is due; even a spirit from the world above is filled with dizziness, when it seeks to sing Thy praises, O Theotokos. But since Thou art good, accept our faith. Thou knowest well our love inspired by God, for Thou art the Protector of Christians and we magnify Thee.”
The key to today’s Mariological Feast is the human will in total and perfect cooperation with the divine will. Mary voluntarily subjected herself to the Lord’s will from the beginning of her life’s dedication to God. God’s Spirit, later on, began working in her the Mystery of Mysteries, the Sacraments of Sacraments, the Church’s concrete entrance into time and space, the birth in the flesh of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity – Jesus Christ our Lord…
To truly love God, is to truly love the Virgin Mary, who gave birth according to the flesh of the Only-Begotten Son of God. As St. Gregory Nazianzus stated: “Anyone who does not admit that holy Mary is the Mother of God is out of touch with the Godhead.”
…St. Ephrem of Syria in 373 A.D. once noted, “The handmaid work of His Wisdom became the Mother of God.” This statement ties in perfectly with today’s double feast day celebration: the Nativity of the Theotokos and of God’s Holy Wisdom, the latter of which is the namesake of this venerable seminary. “On the Icon [of God’s Holy Wisdom] is depicted the Theotokos, and the Hypostatic Wisdom, the Son of God incarnate of her. In Wisdom or Sophia, ponders the Son of God, about whom in the Proverbs of Solomon it says: ‘Wisdom has built a house for herself, and has set up seven pillars’ (9:1). These words refer to Christ, the Son of God, who in the Epistles of St. Paul is called ‘Wisdom of God’ (1 Corinthians 1:30), and the word ‘house’ refers to the Most Holy Virgin Mary, of Whom the Son of God is incarnate.” The house also represents the Church since St. Mary is the icon of the Church.
The Virgin’s immaculate and virtuous womb represents the site of union between heaven and earth; where God became Man so men may become gods. Therefore, the Virgin is never seen apart from her Son Jesus Christ. The titles applied to the All-Holy Virgin also apply to the Church because she is the very image of the Church and the Church’s relationship to Christ.
The Church is a holy, tranquil, and secure Harbor into which Christians enter for the purpose of worshipping and glorifying the Triune God, repenting of their sins, seeking benefits, peace, and safety for their souls, as well as for their surrounding environment. The Church is the Harbor where people enter to become real human beings – that is to say, to have their dispositions altered from those of irrational creatures to those of rational creatures – and receive justification and liberation from the cares of this life in exchange for spiritual things and concerns for the future life. The extreme importance of this splendid Harbor causes St. John Chrysostom to continuously exhort his audience to conduct themselves quietly, orderly and with humility when they enter her embrace seeking the multitude of benefits from God, who resides there. It is interesting that this teaching is depicted on the Icon of God’s Holy Wisdom where we see “under a cloud with the crescent moon, serving as a footrest for the Mother of God, a staircase with seven steps (depicting the Church of God on earth). Those standing on the seven steps are the Old Testament witnesses of the manifestation of Wisdom, the Forefathers and the Prophets. And, on each of the seven steps are inscribed: faith, hope, love, purity, humility, grace, glory.” For these are means of access to the heavenly Church and through her to the Triune Community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which are depicted on the icon over the entrance of the house.
In our particular case, St. Sophia Seminary is the concrete manifestation in time and space of the sacred and heavenly Harbor where God supervises and dwells enlightening, inspiring, and transfiguring elect human beings into the image of his Christ through the lofty and sacred degree of the priesthood, thereby recreating the world around them through the body and blood of his Christ, which he has entrusted to them. “Listen my brothers: if the blessed Virgin is so honored, as it is right, since she carried him in her most holy womb; if the blessed Baptist trembled and did not dare to touch the holy head of God; if the tomb in which he lay for some time is so venerated, how holy, just, and worthy must be the person who touches him with his hands, receives him in his heart and mouth, and offers him to others to be received!” For during the Eucharistic mystery, it “falls to the priest to become Christ, to take the place in the Church and in all creation that belongs only and personally to Christ and which he has transferred and delegated to no one” other than the priest. Christ himself will function through the priest’s hands, voice, and whole being.
“Since Christ is the power and wisdom of God the Father (1 Corinthians 1:24, 30) – the brightness of the Father’s glory (Hebrews 1:3), the substantial and perfect image of the invisible God – where He is, there is the uncreated and saving grace of God. His cross restores man to immortality and stirs up desire for the things of heaven.”
May we all be worthy to attain the summit of virtue and habitation in the House of God, through the grace and love toward man of our Lord, Great God, and Savior Jesus Christ, to whom belongs all the praise, honor, glory, might, dominion, majesty, and adoration, together with his Father and his All-Holy, Good, and Life-giving Spirit, both now and always, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.”
His Grace Bishop Daniel gave a few words at the end of the Liturgy to the assembled faithful, especially appropriate to the feast day – that without the Virgin’s birth, there would never have been the birth of Our Lord. Without His death on the Cross, there would never have been the Resurrection. And without the Resurrection of Our Lord, the possibility of our Resurrection would not exist. The Bishop reminded us that the Mother of God gave her assent to the angel of the Lord. By virtue of her cooperation with the Will of God, of her 'Yes' to the angel, the Wisdom of God came to her and made salvation possible for us. We all should seek to know the Will of God for ourselves, so that like the Mother of God, cooperating with it we can be granted life in the very Wisdom and Word of God, Jesus our Lord.
These plain words give the facts and figures, but cannot convey the grace-filled atmosphere – inspired Liturgy and preaching, beautiful weather, sun-shining day, gorgeous singing, pious atmosphere, tasty meal, good company, pleasant conversation. What a wonderful way to start a new academic year! With such a beginning, we can only expect good things from here until next June.
Better than merely reading about us, come and pay us a visit! Pray with us, sit in on a class, see how our seminarians live every day and that, though they work hard, they enjoy their life in the Seminary, training for service to Our Lord. Give a thought about whether God might be calling you to the Holy Priesthood or another position in His holy Church!
God bless our hierarchs, students, faculty, staff, guests and honored visitors with many blessed years!