St. Sophia Seminary Holds Commencement for the Class of 2023
St. Sophia Seminary Holds Commencement for the Class of 2023

Completing one’s studies and graduating from a seminary holds significant importance for the individuals who have completed their theological education and training. The culmination of years of study and dedication in a seminary is marked by the graduation ceremony, symbolizing the achievement of a significant milestone in one's spiritual and academic journey.

On the 20th of January 2024, ten such individuals achieved the honor of graduating from the Saint Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary, located at the Metropolia Center of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, in South Bound Brook, New Jersey.  The ceremony took place in the St. Andrew Memorial Church as the hierarchs, clergy, graduates, their families, and the faithful of the area gathered on the cold day to recognize the achievements of this year’s graduates.

As the bells chimed, the Royal Gates of the altar opened, and the hierarchs of the Church stepped out.  His Eminence Metropolitan Antony, Prime Hierarch of the UOC of the USA and Diaspora, and Rector of the St. Sophia Seminary addressed those gathered informing them that before the commencement a short Moleben would be served thanking the Lord, and asking for His continued blessings upon the graduates, strengthening them, granting them wisdom as they follow their vocations, and that they always remain humble in His service.

The Metropolitan, joined by His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, Ruling Hierarch of the Western Eparchy of the UOC of the USA, Consistory President, and Academic Dean of the St. Sophia Seminary, descended from the Altar and came to stand in the center of the nave, before two visiting miraculous icons - Kardiotissa, “The Tender Heart” and the Iveron Icon of the Mother of God. The icons are under the care of Very Rev. Fr. Mark Leisure, the pastor of St. George Orthodox Church in Taylor, PA, who brought them with him as he joined in the day’s celebration.

With the St. Sophia Seminarians chanting the replies, the hierarchs beseeched the Lord’s mercy upon those gathered in person, or via the livestream, praying for guidance, good health, and strength.

“Look down, O Master, Lover of mankind, with Your merciful eye, upon Your servants and hearken unto our supplication which is offered with faith, for You Yourself have said: "All things whatsoever you shall ask in prayer, believe that you shall receive, and it shall be done unto you; and again: "Ask, and it shall be given you." Therefore we, though we be unworthy, yet hoping in Your mercy, ask: Bestow your kindness upon Your servants, and fulfill their good desires, preserve them all their days peacefully and calmly in health and length of days.”

As the service of supplication concluded, the hierarchs retreated to the altar to prepare for the commencement service.  In the interim, Fr. Mark picked up the Kardiotissa icon, which depicts the Blessed Mother holding the Christ Child close to her heart, which represents mercy, compassion, and tenderness.  The icon glistened as he carried her over to one side of the church where the faithful cupped their hands to catch the dripping myrrh.  It was moving to witness the miraculous streaming of myrrh, and how the faithful reverently reached out to capture a bit of the miracle.  Young mothers with sleeping babes in arms anointed their children before themselves, the elderly reached out their trembling hands and were rewarded with a glistening drop that they also spread upon their wrinkled faces.  The youngsters watched what their elders did, and also reached out their hands to capture the golden drops sent from heaven, as the seminarians sang a soulful hymn to the Mother of God.

With everyone anointed, the hierarchs emerged dressed in their academic regalia and the Commencement Ceremony began with Archbishop Daniel’s address. 

“What an honor it is for me to share this moment with all of you. 48 years ago, for the very first time our Saint Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary opened its doors and welcomed the very first class of students.”

He continued by explaining that this graduation day marks not only the culmination of academic achievements but, more significantly, the commencement of a sacred journey - a journey that is as spiritual as it is intellectual.

The graduates pondered his words and realized the gravity and responsibility with which they have been blessed.  His Eminence made it clear that they were not just graduates; but torchbearers of a timeless heritage, entrusted with the sacred responsibility of shepherding God's flock.  They have now been assigned a mission to carry the Gospel, to illuminate the path of those who seek the light, and to offer the comforting embrace of faith to a world that often yearns for solace.

He instructed them to be compassionate shepherds, wise counselors, and steadfast ambassadors of Christ's love; to uphold the sacred Traditions of our Orthodox Faith with reverence and let the teachings of the Church guide their journeys through life.  Before concluding, Archbishop Daniel assured the graduates of his continued prayers for them.

“As you embark on this noble calling, be assured that the prayers of our Seminary community go with you. May the Holy Spirit continue to inspire, guide, and empower you in your ministry.   May the Grace of the Lord be your constant companion, and may your journey be marked by the unwavering assurance that, through your service, you are participating in the divine work of salvation.”

With His Eminence Metropolitan Antony, Rector of St. Sophia handing out the diplomas, and His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, Academic Dean bestowing them with their graduate stoles, the ceremony continued with the formal presentation of the following degrees:


  • Deacon Roman Marchyshak (2023)
  • Deacon Andrii Vatrych (2023)
  • Deacon Pavlo Vysotskyi (2022)
  • Subdeacon Nicholas Worobey (2023)
  • Subdeacon Maksym Zhuravchyk (2023)


  • Deacon Brian Delp (2023)
  • Fr. Photios Parks (2022)


  • Karen Gavrilovic (2022)
  • Natalia Mahlay (2022)
  • Dobrodiyka Marta Shmehelska (2022)

The Commencement of Degrees concluded with Metropolitan Antony’s acceptance of graduates.

“By the authority vested on me as Rector of Saint Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and by the Secretary of the Higher Education of the State of New Jersey, I accept the recommendation of the faculty and the Board of Trustees of St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary and approve the granting of the degrees of Master of Divinity, Master of Arts in Applied Orthodox Studies and Youth Ministry Certification upon the above mentioned individuals.”

The graduates listened intently as Metropolitan Antony welcomed all the guests who joined this momentous occasion and addressed the graduates as they begin the new chapters of their lives.  His Eminence reiterated the tumultuous times in which we live in both our ancestral homeland of Ukraine, and our nation of the United States of America.  Ukraine is suffering difficulties resultant from a physical invasion and genocidal attack upon her people.  The USA finds her people under spiritual and moral attack as society presents ever changing demands and chisels away at the moral standards of communities and individuals by turning away from God and relying on their own abilities.  It is in  to this world of great need, physical and spiritual, that they now embark, and in which they will be required to beacons of hope and agents of change, in a world that desperately needs the transformative power of love and compassion.

His Eminence continued by focusing on the words spoken by St. John Chrysostom to those completing theological studies, stating that they must prioritize humility and virtuous living, in practical application of their knowledge in the service to God and to others, rather than pursuing as simple intellectual achievements.

The Metropolitan informed the graduates that their journeys while crucial will not be easy.  There will be times that they will be tempted to put God aside in interest of personal family matters.  They will be tempted to not prioritize the lives of those sent to them, over their personal needs and plans.  They must understand the responsibility they bear as missionaries of the Church.  They must consider their journeys in relation to the people entrusted to their spiritual care and their relationship with God Himself before seriously considering future ordinations.  They must realize that at times they will be required to put aside all personal interest, plans, schedules, in order to open their hearts, listen to the needs of others, and with compassion minister to those whom God sends to them.

Assuring them of his continued hopes and prayers for them, as they enter the next chapter of their lives and carry on the mission given to the Apostles by Christ, His Eminence reiterated the importance of them being beacons of hope in a world desperate for hope.

As the service concluded, Archbishop Daniel thanked everyone for their participation and invited those gathered to join the graduates for a celebratory luncheon to be held across the parking lot at the Pokrova Sisterhood hall, where the valedictorians of the Seminary Subdeacon Nicholas Worobey and Deacon Roman Marchyshak addressed everyone in attendance.

May the Lord grant wisdom, strength of spirit, and guidance to the newest graduates of the Saint Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary.  God grant them many years!  Mnohaya Lita!  Многая Літа!

St. Sophia Seminary Holds Commencement for the Class of 2023

Photos by Subdeacon Maksym Zhuravchyk and Subdeacon Mykola Stefanyk

(60 images)

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