UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH OF THE USA
CONSISTORY OFFICE OF PUBLIC RELATIONS
Chicago Deanery Hosts Altar Servers Retreat!
Almost every time we go to our parish churches for Divine services we see altar servers in the Holy Space (sanctuary), but do we really understand their purpose there? Can we say we really appreciate the importance of their ministry? This brings up the question of whether or not the altar servers themselves understand their role in the Church.
This year, the altar servers of Chicago Deanery and guests started the summer season of this 2012 year of our Lord with an awesome retreat (18-21 June, 2012) at Saints Peter and Paul Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Palos Park, IL. The purpose of the conference was mainly to discuss issues related to servers and their ministry. It was a relaxing and reflective experience as 20 altar servers of the Deanery prayed, attended talks and spent time together at Great America Six Flags Amusement Park in the suburbs of Chicago, IL.
Prayer was interwoven throughout the retreat. During the morning and evening, the participants chanted prayers, which combine scriptural quotations, reflections and prayers and the references to them were made throughout the days of the Retreat.
The altar servers and their chaperones, totaling over 30 participants, arrived on the premises of Sts Peter and Paul Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Palos Park, IL on Monday evening from as far away as Oklahoma City, OK; Pittsburgh, PA; Goshen, IN; Chicago, IL, for a few days of classes and workshops. The retreat was designed to give the altar servers of the Deanery a better understanding of the Orthodox liturgy and worship services of which they are such a vital part.
The program began on Tuesday morning with a series of classes and workshops led by Fr. Vasyl Sendeha, pastor of Sts Peter and Paul UOC community, Fr. John Haluschak, pastor of St. Vladimir UOC parish community in Pittsburgh, PA; Subdeacon Vasyl Pasakas of St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary in South bound Brook, NJ, followed by a variety of sessions throughout the weekend conducted by clergy. His Grace Bishop Daniel, who bestowed his Archpastoral blessing upon the convocation of the Deanery Retreat, participated in all activities of the three-day gathering. The first full day of the Retreat was officially opened by the eparchial bishop, who reflected upon the necessity of the sacred ministry of the Altar servers in the life of the parish communities of the Church and touched on the relevance and the role of altar servers within the entire process of edification of the faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA
Fr. Vasyl Sendeha, who served as a coordinator of the Retreat stated that "...such events, as this year’s second Annual Altar Servers’ Retreat was an amazing opportunity for our young altar servers to come together as one unified body on the grounds of one of our beloved Chicago Metropolitan parishes, learning about their Faith and important service in the Altar. Plans are underway for next year's retreat, which will hopefully once again take place at Sts Peter and Paul parish ."
Fr. John Haluschak from the St. Vladimir Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Pittsburgh, PA, whose three altar servers took part in the retreat added with enthusiasm, "It was both a spiritually uplifting experience and an opportunity for theological learning. All of these elements are important in a world where our children are bombarded constantly by a variety of messages, all of which are foreign and many times contrary to our Faith and Tradition."
Fr. Vasyl Sendeha and Fr. John Haluschak, as well as Subdeacon Vasyl Pasaks provided a practical workshop for the altar boys, instructing them in their sacred responsibilities around the Holy Altar. It was an interactive workshop that allowed the participants to ask practical questions and to practice for a Divine Liturgy which was to be served with His Grace Bishop Daniel on the last day of the Retreat. Fr. Vasyl spoke to the participants of the retreat of the dangers of loosing their understanding of their responsibilities and becoming bored with their unique ministry. Fr. Vasyl challenged the young men to open themselves to the presence of Christ in their lives and to assist and learn from each other about their responsibilities. The young men shared with each other the ways in which they can perfect themselves in their service.
The highlight of Wednesday morning was the presentation to all participants of a special t-shirt, which was designed for the retreat. The altar servers could not wait to begin a journey by a car to a long promised destination – Six Flags – Great America Amusement Park in Gurnee, IL.
All of the participants, including His Grace Bishop Daniel, traveled to this “fun” destination – dressed in their new t-shirts – thoroughly enjoyed all the rides and food at the park and got to pick a ride – rides - on which the bishop promised to go on with the servers and he did.
Thursday morning was a day to bid farewell and begin the journey back home. However, before the hugs and phone numbers and e-mails were exchanged, the altar servers and a number of parishioners from Sts Peter and Paul parish participated in a Divine Liturgy celebrated by His Grace Bishop Daniel and all the clergy attending the retreat. The altar servers, as well as the children of Sts Peter and Paul parish that gathered for a two day Vacation Church School Camp escorted the bishop to the church in a procession with the Processional Cross and parish banners, where he was greeted by the pastor and the concelebrating clergy. Addressing the participants of the Retreat, the bishop stated: “…As an altar server, you are involved in some of the holiest and most sacred events of the prayer services of the Holy Orthodox Church, particularly our Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA... It is important to be sure that you, as an altar server, be attentive and sensitive to the presence of God during the Liturgy, and afterwards. God calls us to respond to his great love and mercy with a sense of reverence, wonderment and gratefulness. We must all help each other remember to show reverence to God at all times, but most especially when you’re serving…” At the end of Divine Liturgy, Bishop Daniel presented each young man with a holy icon and thanked the altar servers for their service.
The day concluded with the delicious brunch for all the participants in the retreat. Each and every meal during the retreat was sponsored either by a Sts. Peter and Paul parish organization or an individual member.
The participants of the retreat offered their most sincere gratitude to all of these generous people and to Rev. Fr. Vasyl and Panimatka Olenka Sendeha, who served as their hosts.