Prayer, celebration, and song filled our little mission church with thanksgiving and joy on the Sunday after Nativity and leave-taking of the feast, as parishioner and seminarian Philip Gilbert, 23, received the orders of candlebearer, reader, cantor, and finally subdeacon. The reception of these four orders, like a succession of steps on a staircase, are part of the ascent toward priesthood. In the ordination to reader the candidate is vested in the “short phelonion,” which is a cut-down version of the outermost vestment of a priest, and the candidate is told, “son, the order of reader is the first step to the priesthood.” Wearing the short phelonion, Philip demonstrated his candidacy and competence by chanting a selection of troparia and other prayers.
Approximately 100 worshippers, including priests, monks, deacons, and subdeacons, gathered for the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy and ordination, celebrated by His Grace Bishop Benedict (Aleksiychuk) As part of the ritual Philip was tonsured: the bishop cut four locks of hair from Philip’s head in the shape of a cross as a symbol of detachment from the world and detachment from self. Laying his hands on Philip, the bishop invoked upon him the grace of the Holy Spirit, and those in the Church repeated the Greek acclamation Axios! (meaning he is worthy). As the highest ranking of the minor clergy, the subdeacon is responsible for assisting the bishop and other clergy, and leading the serving team. He also has practical responsibilities, such as caring for the altar, looking after and changing the cloths of the Holy Table, and training new servers. This role of service is shown in the ordination ritual when the newly-ordained subdeacon washes the bishop’s hands.
When combined with Matins and the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy (Divine Liturgy celebrated by a bishop) , the morning’s services lasted nearly four hours. The ordination was preceded by the solemn vesting of the bishop in which the subdeacons assisted the bishop to don his vestments while the two deacons swung smoking censers and chanted the prayers of vesting. During the Divine Liturgy, the bishop repeatedly blessed the congregation with two candelabra known as the dikerion and trikerion–one containing two candles (for the fully divine and fully human natures of Christ) and one containing three candles (for the persons of the Holy Trinity).
In his short, insightful homily during the Divine Liturgy, the bishop said, “We are always being told to ‘pray for vocations’ and ‘look for vocations.’ We forget the vocation is not from us. It is God who calls somebody when we are ready to say ‘yes’ like Mary.” As a precious gift to the Church, Philip has heard that call and responded. “God gave you grace and this will be difficult for you,” Bishop Benedict reminded him and all the faithful in attendance. “But you should remember that God loves you, God always holds you, God gives you peace, and He awaits prayer.” The entire service was recorded and can be accessed on the parish’s Facebook page here.
At the end of the Liturgy Bishop +Benedict was presented with an icon of Saint Peter, our patron. The icon was hand-painted by our parishioner Leslie Smyth.
Bishop Benedict’s visit to us marks his first pastoral visit to California as bishop of Saint Nicholas Eparchy (which covers 29 Western states, including Hawaii and Alaska), and our parish’s first-ever Hierarchical Divine Liturgy.
Photos courtesy of Jim King unless otherwise specified.