Have you ever met someone whose face lingers in your mind long after you’ve met them? I’ve been fortunate to meet such people recently, beginning with the lovely lady I bring communion to each week. She has the most beautiful scent of holiness about her. Each time we get together we share not only the Eucharist but stories, laughter and tears. I always walk away relishing the lingering scent of her holiness.
This past weekend, I had a similar experience. Rich and I attended the ordination of a classmate of his, Steve – he became a permanent deacon in the Melkite Church. His gentleness and sweet disposition, his joy at receiving this grace from God lingered with me long after we left.
At this same event, we connected with a deacon and his wife from Yonker’s NY, Saleem and Ayda. Saleem is deacon at Christ the Savior Melkite Catholic Church. We had met them the previous weekend at the deacon’s retreat. I had gotten to know Saleem a bit through a lovely conversation during that weekend. He was sweet and considerate yet strong and I sensed that he is a warrior for Christ. He was also the perfect gentleman and I liked being treated like a lady.
I didn’t have a chance to converse with Ayda until this past Sunday. We talked at length about the Christmas season and I marveled at how she was able to take control of that crazy time of year so she and her family could celebrate it authentically. The frantic pace of shopping and gift giving had been replaced by time spent in church and in prayer and through works of charity. I listened in awe as she spoke in her lovely soft voice.
And their scent of holiness lingered well after we parted for the day.
How I love meeting Christ through such beautiful vessels!
My husband, Rich, took his first step towards ordination as a deacon by being blessed as Reader and Sub-deacon. Rich is part of the Eastern Catholic Church, having joined the Melkite Church 5 years ago. The Eastern Church is not well known among Roman Catholics and it is a secret that needs to be told. Hence, I asked Rich some questions about his journey to the diaconate, and I’ve illustrated this post with pictures.
On October 12th, you took your first step towards ordination as a deacon by being blessed as a Reader and Sub Deacon. Can you please describe what this first step means?
Yes. There are two “minor orders” one goes through in the Eastern Catholic Church’s Diaconate journey. The order of Reader is the ministry that of course reads the Scriptures at liturgy but also is commissioned to read the Word of God itself in study and for others. The order of Sub-Deacon is the ministry involved in assisting the Deacon at liturgy as well as being commissioned to take care of the Holy Place or the altar area. These orders are always the steps towards becoming a Deacon.
From the photos, can you briefly describe the ceremony and some of the rituals, such as the trimming of your hair, washing the bishop’s hands, and carrying the towel on your shoulder?
The primary ministry of all of the clergy and minor orders is service – to God, his Church, and his people. The washing of hands (as shown in the picture) has always meant to cleanse in preparation, so the Bishop does this. The trimming of the candidate’s hair (also shown) is called tonsure which is a very ancient ritual and symbol. It represents the candidate offering a piece of himself to God in a special way. During the liturgy the candidate wears a towel on his shoulder and carries a pitcher and bowl meant to remind him that he is, above all else, a servant.
Often someone being ordained as a deacon takes on a new name. You chose the name Elias. Can you please describe why you chose this name?
Many candidates choose to take a name of a saint they honor and or are devoted to. They may choose to use the name only in liturgical functions, or perhaps take on the name at all times. I originally chose not to take a new name but changed my mind after a very profound spiritual experience last year involving the death of a child named Elias out of our parish. The experience taught me a lot of lessons about myself and my vocation, none which I will ever forget. I took his name in honor of him and his memory. Elias is also of course one of the Prophets.
You became a member of the Melkite Church, having been a practicing Roman Catholic all of your life. When did you decide to join the Melkite Church and what series of events influenced your decision?
The Melkite Church is one of the Catholic churches, just like the Roman one is. It was Pope John Paul II who asked that the church breathe with 2 lungs, the Eastern as well as the Western. It is sad that, particularly in this country, most Roman Catholics don’t know anything about this. I don’t know how many times a week I explain it, truth be told. Maybe that is one of the reasons I was brought here.
I found this church clearly by accident on a field trip in the year 2000 with some Confirmation students. After the pastor, Fr Paul Frechette, explained the origins of the Melkite Church, I was intrigued by it, so I decided to explore it and here I am. I wasn’t looking for anything and it hit me right between my eyes. Funny how God can work like that. I found that it spoke to me spiritually
When did you feel a call to your vocation as Deacon? Did you ever hear such a call before, earlier in your life?
I have been in active ministry most of my adult life and I always felt called to join formal ministry. When I learned of the diaconate I was interested in it and eventually found it to be my calling in life. Describe briefly the years of study, prayer and discernment you have gone through in pursuing your vocation. think the fact that it takes 4 years is important. There is a lot to learn and to take in. The added dimension of it being my faith makes it harder at times. One could study, let’s say, computer programming for 4 years and it probably wouldn’t have any impact on one spiritually. Not only am I reading and studying, but I am also learning profound lessons for my spiritual life. I can read a paragraph and spend weeks if not longer trying to understand it and live it. One also has to take this time and ask himself if it is really for them, which is the discernment. Our classes take place once a year for two weeks about 10 hours a day. During the rest of the year I study around 2-3 hours a week, write papers, and work in my church activities. I have always had an active and deep prayer life which helps greatly.
Are there other people who have been influential in your journey? Who are they?
My life long partner and wife Susan of course, who has an active ministry of her own. She understands the spiritual life and is very supportive of this work. It is true what they say about the spouse being involved, they have to be. We have enjoyed hours and hours sharing all of the things I am learning and she helps me understand it at times. My pastor, Fr Paul, has been very influential in my journey as well as a close friend and mentor. It was he that taught me about this Church and led me in the right directions for learning and understanding it. I also look to Fathers Steven Labaire and George Lange as influential to my vocation and appreciation of liturgy.
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