UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH OF THE USA
CONSISTORY OFFICE OF PUBLIC RELATIONS
2015 Annual Clergy Conference
By Fr. Vasyl Sendeha and Fr. Anthony Perkins
Our UOC of the USA is blessed in so many ways; one of those blessings is our committed and God-loving bishops, deacons, and priests. While it is hard to carve out the time and find the money for it, they enjoy getting together each year at the Clergy Conference to renew friendships, share joys and sorrows, worship, and learn from conference speakers. This year the conference took on greater depth as it included the funeral services for V. Rev. Anatoliy Dokhvat, the priest of Sts. Peter and Paul parish in Millville NJ.
As we arrived at our Metropolia Center in South Bound Brook NJ, the site of this year’s conference, our usual joyous greetings were replaced by the more solemn and formal, “Glory to Jesus Christ! How are you my brother?” followed by a comforting embrace. It had touched all of our hearts to learn that our young brother and concelebrant Anatoliy had stepped over the threshold of life and death after a short battle with cancer. Much more than our own loss, we felt the pain of his Pani Matka Eugenia and children. The precarious situation our health and ministry’s have put all our families in could not be ignored.
On the first evening of the conference, those who could participated in the “Otpevania” in Millville, where Fr. Anatoliy had served for eight years. Others arrived at the Seminary for Daily Vespers, served by Fr. Vasyl Pasakas, and a common meal at the Seminary.
The conference began in earnest Wednesday morning as all the brothers gathered in one place to bid farewell to the kindest, most generous, and most committed of them. The usual Hierarchal Divine Liturgy to start the Clergy conference was replaced by “Sacred Rite of the Funeral for a Priest” at St. Andrew’s Ukrainian Orthodox Memorial Church in South Bound Brook, NJ on Wednesday morning followed by procession to St. Andrew’s Cemetery, where the body of the late Fr. Anatoliy was put to rest. The service was beautiful, with our bishops presiding, deans and other priests, concelebrating, and our St. Sophia seminarians singing from the kliros.
This helped us as we tried to come to grips with the loss of our young brother. As Christian priests, we are called to seek God’s will in everything and to accept everything He sends our way with thankfulness and praise. It is usually easy to be thankful to God for everything with joy and gladness. However, the death of a young friend with a young family was hard to accept. Our hierarchs approached these issues and gave an excellent explanations in their sermons, with His Grace Bishop Daniel preaching on Tuesday evening and His Eminence Metropolitan Antony preaching on Wednesday morning.
Everyone loves to experience joy and that sorrow is painful, but when we sacralize our sorrow through services, scripture, and sacraments, and when we live in the truth of the Risen Christ, our sorrow becomes a vehicle that transforms us into bearers of eternal joy. This was the truth that our hierarchs, the beauty of the services, and the witness of one another, and especially of Pani Matka Eugenia, put into our hearts that Wednesday morning and at the funeral collation. May the memory of the Priest Anatoliy, our brother and concelebrant, be ETERNAL!
One Wednesday afternoon, the Clergy Conference continued. We had invited Fr. Andrew Damick, the priest of St. Paul’s Antiochian Orthodox Church in Emmaus, PA to talk to us about how we can best understand and witness Christ to modern America. Fr. Andrew is a popular and gifted writer and speaker; his books, blogs, and podcasts for Ancient Faith Radio are excellent and he has brought life to a parish that had been struggling. He began by reminding us that, while “East” and “West” are different, we ourselves are not “eastern” strangers in a “western” world, but members of the west and affected by its culture. The bulk of his talk was spent reorienting us away from concerns about ethnicity by thinking about people as broken children of God worthy of our love rather than putting them into categories. He described his own transition from a convert with a bias against “ethnic Orthodoxy” to a priest that loves serving Christ and His children in every context. Articles based on his talk can be found here and here. One of his greatest points came during Q&A when he encouraged us to be firm and clear to our parishes and boards about who we are as priests; when parents do this their families thrive and the same happens when leaders of churches follow suit. This incredibly full and enriching day ended with Daily Vespers in the Seminary chapel, led by Fr. Boryslav Kroner and the newly ordained Deacon Vasyl Shak.
The first full day of the conference concluded with the presentation of prayerful greetings to His Eminence Metropolitan Antony, as he entered into the 31st year of Archpastoral ministry in the life of the Holy Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA. Very Rev. Fr. Stephen Hutnick and Very Rev. Fr. Timothy Tomson greeted His Eminence on behalf of the clergy of the Church, while the seminarians of St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary presented their spiritual father with flowers and greetings on behalf of the entite student body.
Thursday began with a Moleban to the Birth-Giver of God in the Seminary Chapel, served by Fr. Robert Holet and Protodeacon Ihor Mahlay. It was followed by a talk by iconographer and Metropolitan Council member, Michael Kapeluck entitled “Iconography – Seeing ourselves through the eyes of Christ.” Michael shared the story of how the Lord invited him, a man who had been trained in and devoted to secular art, to devote his talent to the glory and service of God; and the many blessings that followed once he accepted that call. He shared his thoughts on the development of iconography in the United States and warned us to of the need to vet the spirituality, Orthodoxy, and craft of iconographers as the market has led many into the field that do not belong there. He brought examples of his craft, to include the beautiful icons that will soon adorn the newly renovated iconostas at the parish of St. Michael’s in Woonsocket, RI.
After lunch, the brothers reconvened to hear the account of an eye-witness and participant in the Maidan, Deacon Ivan Sydor. He gave a presentation on “Ukrainian MAYDAN – the impact on Pastoral Life of the Church of Ukraine.” It was a moving presentation, augmented by pictures he took and stories of joy and suffering he experienced with his own heart. He told us of the great optimism, peace and hopefulness of the movement and of the heroism and sacrifice of all its participants.
The final bit of business before dinner was a discussion of the new “Sexual Misconduct Policy”. The hierarchs reminded us that the policy was required by insurance carriers and simply put down into writing the strict procedures the UOC-USA Council of Bishops and Council of Metropolia had already been following, using several case studies to make their point. They reassured us that frivolous accusations would not be allowed to ruin the reputations of their priests, but nor would they tolerate any sexual misconduct in the UOC-USA.
The day ended with dinner, a screening of “Winter on Fire”- a documentary about the loss of life of young men and women of Ukrainian nation fighting for their freedom on the frozen streets of Ukraine’s capital Kyiv.
His Grace Bishop Daniel and Deacon Ivan Sydor introduced the screening of the documentary. In the room filled with candlelight and images of “Heavenly Hundred” clergy and faithful of the Church lived through the painful moments of Maydan’s reality. The evening concluded with evening prayers in the Seminary Chapel.
On Friday, we began with a Memorial Service for the Victims of World Atrocities at the Three Holy Hierarchs Chapel of St. Sophia Seminary, served by Fr. Taras Chubenko and Deacon James Cairns. The final talk for the conference was “Our Past – Our Present – Our Future – The Story of our Church through the ministry of the Ukrainian Historical and Educational Center of NJ”, given by Metropolitan Antony, Mrs. Natalia Honcharenko & Dr. Michael Andrec. They shared the many ways the museum has already begun to invigorate our historical identity and self-knowledge, and how that process will develop as the mission, collections, cataloging, and infrastructure of the museum grows. The conference ended with assorted private meetings between priests and bishops.
From start to end, this was a Clergy Conference we will be slow to forget and which will enrich our ministry for many years to come.