New deacon ordained at Ss. Peter & Paul

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Had Steven White’s mail route not taken him to Sutton Street, he may not have discovered a spiritual path that led to his recent ordination as a deacon in the Byzantine Catholic Church.

“I was a mailman, and I parked out front (of the church),” White, of Juneau, said. “He saw me and said, ‘Do you want to see our restoration?’” 

“He” was Ss. Peter & Paul Byzantine Catholic Church’s former pastor, the Rev. Robert Yetsko, T.O.R., who undertook the restoration of the church — which included its icons and icon screen — in accordance with Vatican II’s instruction that the Eastern rite Catholic Churches should remain faithful to their roots.

White, a State College native who relocated to Punxsy in 1978, said his duties as a deacon in the Byzantine Catholic church are largely up to the priest, who is now Fr. Simeon Sibenik at Ss. Peter & Paul. 

Almost the entire Liturgy in an Eastern Church is chanted, with the exception of the homily and the prayer before communion. Also, there are specific parts of the Divine Liturgy that the deacon — also known as the “minister of incense” — leads. Deacons’ other duties also include education, visitation of the sick and taking Communion to shut-ins.

Deacons must be ordained by their bishop after completing four years of classes and formation, which the 12 candidates in White’s class finished last May. The six men from the Pittsburgh archeparchy (diocese) were ordained in October.

Scripture courses included pastoral leadership; theological foundations; Byzantine spirituality;  church history; theology of the human person; and more.

The candidates spent two weeks every summer at the seminary, and then wrote six papers — one every six to eight weeks — throughout the rest of the year for each of the classes. 

White earned a master’s degree in theology from Drew University in Madison, N.J., and retired this year from the U.S. Postal Service after 30 years.

A few years after viewing the restoration at Ss. Peter & Paul, White was invited to join the church, about which he said, “I could tell there was something special going on.” 

He also credits Yetsko for helping him decide to study for the diaconate. 

“It came to be something that I found God calling me to, and I came to feel I very much wanted to do it,” White said.

Now having served as the church deacon for a few months, White said. “It’s been a real joy. I always knew I would look forward to chanting the gospel lesson, but what I did not anticipate is how fulfilling it would be serving at the altar. It’s been very satisfying. The Byzantine Liturgy strives for beauty in its worship, and it is a privilege to contribute to that goal.”

White and his wife, Janice, have three sons and six grandchildren.

The church will hold a Vigil Divine Liturgy at 8 p.m. Christmas Eve, as well as the Christmas Liturgy at 9 a.m. Sunday morning.

The church is also planning a reception for White Jan. 8, at the hall on Sutton Street.