Deacon student Stephen Melancon reflects on fourh year at SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary
by Stephen Melancon
Deacon student, Eparchy of Phoenix
Our Lady of Wisdom Italo-Greek Catholic Church, Las Vegas, Nev.
During the homily at the last liturgy of our last year of our diaconal studies program, the rector of the Byzantine Catholic Seminary of SS. Cyril and Methodius, Father Robert Pipta, told the 17 men sitting before him that we should continue to discern our vocation.
Father Robert encouraged each of us to pray to God to discern if it is, indeed, His will that we be ordained as deacons in the Byzantine Catholic Church. Our respective Bishops may be eager, he noted, but it is still important that we discern the call, even at this late stage.
I thought to myself, we had just completed the coursework of the fourth year of a four-year program of deacon formation. We had completed our practicums and demonstrated our ability to serve in the Divine Liturgy, Matins, Vespers and the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. We had practiced the incensations, intonations and even distribution of the Holy Mysteries (using unconsecrated bread and wine, of course). Yet, we were being instructed to continue to discern.
We were still being encouraged to listen for God’s still small voice. This was a rather profound moment and lead to some real reflection on my experience in this the fourth and final year of the program.
For the second and third years of the program we were prevented from attending the Seminary in person due to the pandemic. The program remained vigorous and was more convenient for some of us, allowing us to learn from home and on our own schedule. Of course, these two years of online classes, submitting sermons and practicum assignments via video, were challenging for students and professors alike.
Returning to the Seminary for our fourth and final year was, I believe, universally a joy for us deacon seminarians. We were able to really reconnect and share our struggles and triumphs. We helped each other to serve the liturgies well. We prayed together, including at a Sunday Divine Liturgy at a local parish where most of us attended and four of us served on the altar.
After 13 and 14-hour days, including three two-hour classes and one and sometimes two liturgies, we usually ended our nights in the basement, sharing a beverage and even playing a little music. We were all aware of just how special this was, our time together.
This year we were joined by three Deacons who were graduates of the last class. They volunteered to return to the Seminary to serve in the liturgies, preach homilies, and share their experiences of life in the real world. They answered questions and were in fellowship with us. This was a wonderful addition to our experience at the Seminary.
Academically, the fourth year of our studies included the final two scripture classes, one on the Old Testament and the other on Johannian literature. As it turned out, these classes were taught on the same day and so were able to build on and reflect each other in a way that was quite remarkable.
Each day also included a practicum class where the real nuts and bolts of the deacons work in the liturgy was presented and practiced. The weekends included classes in Pastoral Leadership that were two of the most practical and useful classes in the entire program. In the second week. we were immersed in the study of Catholic Social Doctrine as well as the Second Vatican Council.
After four years of study that covered Canon Law, Moral Theology, Dogmatics, Homiletics, Spirituality, Scripture, Holy Mysteries, Marriage, Sexuality, and Bioethics, Liturgy, Liturgical Reading, Pastoral Care and Counseling, Pastoral Leadership, Eastern Church History and more, we are still discerning.
I expect most, if not all, of the 17 men who will complete this program by submitting our final four papers sometime before next Spring, will discern that it is God’s will that we be ordained. Yet I so appreciate hearing that we should continue to prayerfully consider what we believe to be God’s will for our lives. That process of listening, of discerning, should be a lifelong process.
So, this, the fourth and final year of our diaconate studies, is not the end. It is the beginning of the rest of our lives in the service of Christ and his Holy Church.
The 17 deacon students at SS. the Byzantine Catholic Seminary of SS. Cyril and Methodius with Rev. Christiaan W. Kappes, PhD, SLD, Academic Dean and Director of Intellectual Formation (left) and Sandra A. Collins, Ph.D., Director of Information Services and Academic Advisor, and Very Rev. Robert M. Pipta, Rector (right).