10th Annual Diaconal Liturgical Practicum leaders and participants with Bishop Paul [photo: Maria Rentel].
Over the past decade, the Orthodox Church in America’s Diaconal Liturgical Practicum has grown from a small project designed to quickly train a few sorely needed deacons for the OCA to an established annual effort that instructs altar servers, subdeacons, and deacons from several Orthodox Christian church jurisdictions. Initiated with the blessing of the Holy Synod of Bishops, the Practicum is held yearly on the campus of Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, as part of the OCA’s Diaconal Vocations Program, directed by Archdeacon Kirill Sokolov.
This year’s Practicum, held June 26–29, 2016, opened with a presentation by Archpriest Dr. Chad Hatfield, the seminary’s Chief Executive Officer, on the topic “Eucharistic Living and the Diaconate.” His engaging talk and question-and-answer session set a serious and evangelistic tone for the remainder of the program.
Each full day began with the celebration of the Divine Liturgy and concluded with Vespers. Archdeacon Kirill led liturgical practice sessions, while Archdeacon Joseph Matusiak and Deacon Gregory Hatrak added their expertise to the participants’ experience. Archpriest Dr. Sergius Halvorsen, Assistant Professor of Homiletics and Rhetoric at the seminary, offered sessions on liturgical chanting and the manner in which deacons use their voices in celebrating the divine services.
His Grace, Bishop Paul of Chicago and the Midwest prayed and visited with the participants throughout the practicum and led a moving session on the diaconate and the expectations of the hierarchy for clergy. He also presided at the concluding Divine Liturgy marking the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul in the seminary’s Three Hierarchs Chapel.
At the end of the Liturgy, Archdeacon Kirill reflected on the practicum’s history and future.
“The hierarchs of our Church, when they lay hands on a man and ask him to serve in one of their parishes and in one of their communities, expect a certain level of resiliency, a certain level of precision, and a certain level of faithfulness to the received tradition of our Church,” he remarked. “We’ve been really pleased to receive feedback from the hierarchs that their servers, subdeacons, and, especially, deacons, are coming into parish ministry a little more prepared, knowledgeable, and aware of where they can find resources if they need to learn more, as a result of attending these practica.”
Archdeacon Kirill noted that within one decade, the practicum has given him “the honor to work and pray with nearly 200 men from across the U.S. and Canada, the majority of whom hailed from parishes of the OCA, but who also came from parishes within the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, the Moscow Patriarchate, the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese, and Ukrainian Orthodox dioceses.”
Commenting further on the burgeoning of diaconal ministry in North America, Archdeacon Kirill added, “As our parishes encounter deacons as a more regular feature of church life — as something that’s not unusual, but as something that is consistent within the worship experience of the local church — we find that parishes that have deacons ‘grow’ more deacons.
“Parishes with two or more deacons begin to use them in a myriad of ways that we couldn’t have anticipated ten years ago,” he explained. “It’s very exciting to develop opportunities for deacons to see themselves as an order, a brotherhood, and to adjust our practicum to accommodate the experience of the Church.”