November 4, 2001
ORDINATION HOMILY OF DEACON IGNATIUS VALENTINE
Your Grace; Fr. Bill; Deacon John; the faithful of this congregation, family and friends,
A little over three years ago, I began a program of study called the St. Stephen’s Course. This course is designed by our Archdiocese to, among other things, prepare men for the Holy Diaconate. The many pages of reading theology and history, and the seemingly endless exams were at the same time both rewarding and demanding. And now, by the grace of God, and with the blessing of Metropolitan PHILIP, and the laying on of hands by Saiedna DEMETRI, I stand before you as your deacon.
If there is one word that summarizes the role of the deacon, it is service. Our Lord Jesus Christ embodies the perfect servant. He demonstrated the need for service toward others when He washed His disciple’s feet. He did this knowing full well that he was about to be betrayed by one of them. Jesus came into this world, in order to serve. How can I do anything less? Our Lord says, “The servant is not greater than his Master”. I stand before you today, desiring to serve God. Also, as a deacon, I serve my bishop and my priest. And just as important, I serve all of you, the faithful of St. Nicholas Church.
The role of the deacon has changed somewhat since those first seven deacons were ordained in Jerusalem nearly two thousand years ago, but the fundamental, underlying duty of service is still present. Reading from Acts chapter 6, we learn that deacons were ordained in order to free up the Apostles to go about their proper work. And the deacons’ first task was to wait on tables and serve food to the needy widows. May I never think myself too important that I can’t wait on tables.
It is a great honor to wear the vestments of a deacon, yet also very humbling. I take my call to service seriously, and I ask everyone in this room to please pray for me. Pray that I would be God’s faithful deacon. I look forward to finding ways to serve this congregation of faithful believers. Whatever gifts God has given me, I desire to use them to serve you. I am not worthy, yet somehow God makes me worthy. I echo St. Paul’s words from Galatians 6, which were read during today’s epistle reading. My only boast is in the cross of our Lord. How strange and yet how wonderful it is, that the cross, a symbol of shame, an instrument of death reserved for the most wretched of criminals, is the glory and pride of the Christian faith. This cross, which St. Paul notes elsewhere is foolishness to the Greeks (meaning the Gentile pagans) and a stumbling block to the Jews, represents our very salvation. That is why we adorn our buildings with it, why we venerate and kiss it, and why we make the sign of the cross over our bodies. Again, it is St Paul who writes, “I have been crucified with Christ, yet it is no longer I that live, but Christ who lives in me.”
One of the things that made an impression on me when I was first reading through the service of the Divine Liturgy several years ago, was a statement that the deacon utters quietly to the priest, right before the Liturgy is about to begin. And for those of you who were present for Bishop KALLISTOS’ talk about ten days ago, this may sound familiar. He talked about this a little bit also. At the start of the Liturgy, the deacon says, “It is time for the Lord to act.” Let me say it again, “It is time for the Lord to act.” This statement, which is a quotation from Psalm 119, has always been a favorite of mine. It is so profound, and yet so simple as well. This statement gives perspective to what will transpire during the service for the next hour and a half. It is the lens through which we should perceive the entire Liturgy. The Lord is the one Who initiates. All of this is His doing. He has acted this morning.
As a great writer once noted, God, as the Author of the play of Life, was able to accomplish what the great playwrights of this earth like Shakespeare for example, could only dream of. And that is, through the Incarnation of Christ, God successfully wrote Himself into His own play, and became the lead actor. He not only created everything from nothing and set all of existence into motion, but by sending His Son, God bowed down the heavens and entered time and space. He entered into the realm of men and walked among us. He is therefore, both playwright and actor. The Second Person of the Trinity accomplished our salvation first, by taking on human flesh and becoming one of us, then by His Death on the Cross, and finally by his destruction of the curse of Death through His Resurrection.
Let us not forget what occurs here each time we assemble to partake of the Holy Sacrament. By crossing the threshold of the front door this morning, we all entered into His Holy House. Now He is acting in our midst. What we experience in this building every Sunday morning is something truly beyond this world. It does not conform to the physical laws of time and space. It is cosmic in scope. This is not a show, put on by the priest and deacon, for the entertainment of you, the audience. Rather, this is the Lord’s doing, it is His action and because of His lovingkindness toward us, He invites all of us to participate with Him in this joyous celebration.
Every Sunday morning, at about 9:30, this 110 year old building of brick and stone, located in Cedarburg WI, is transformed into heavenly glory as God acts, and brings us up into heaven, surrounded by all of His saints and holy angels. He bids us to come and participate in His glory, to partake of Him and commune with Him, through the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus. This is what the Liturgy is, the transforming of the mundane and physical into the divine and supernatural. The Lord has truly acted.
Finally, I cannot properly conclude my remarks without thanking various people for helping me along this journey. First of all, I want to thank all of you, the members of St. Nicholas, for without you, I would not be standing here before you today. By your generosity, you made it possible for me to afford the necessary schooling these last three years. Thank you for paying for my tuition. This is greatly appreciated. Thank you also for your prayers. Thank you Saidna DEMETRI for visiting with us today, and for your kind and caring pastoral concern for us at St. Nicholas. Thank you to Fr. Bill and Deacon John, for being such great examples for me, and for teaching me many of the things I need to know about being a deacon. St. Nicholas Church is truly blessed to have both of you here. Thank you to my wife Maria and my three wonderful daughters Hannah, Elizabeth and Katerina, who were patient with me, and had me around a little less these last three years while I applied myself to the books. Thank you to Wilfred de Junco, my partner in the St. Stephen’s course. What a blessing it was to take this course simultaneously with someone else. His encouragement and advice are appreciated, and I count him as a true friend. And finally, thank you to my parents, Jim and Kathy Valentine, who raised me in the Christian faith, and provided me with a solid, stable, nurturing home, always encouraging me to be faithful to our Lord.
So again, I ask of you, please pray for me. Pray that I would be God’s worthy servant. Not only me, but pray also for His Grace Bishop DEMETRI, for Fr. Bill and for Deacon John. And We will all lift each other and all of you up in prayer as members of the one Body of Christ.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.