Interview with Archdeacon Kirill Sokolov about the Diaconal Vocations Program (June 2012)

Interview with Archdeacon Kirill Sokolov Director of Diaconal and Late Vocations Orthodox Church in America

Welcome!Archdeacon Kirill (standing) begins his instruction to participants of the Sixth Annual Diaconal Liturgical Practicum, held June 2012 at St. Vladimir's Seminary.Welcome!Archdeacon Kirill (standing) begins his instruction to participants of the Sixth Annual Diaconal Liturgical Practicum, held June 2012 at St. Vladimir's Seminary.Q: Archdeacon Kirill, the Sixth Annual Diaconal Liturgical Practicum at St. Vladimir’s Seminary just completed four days of intensive training, practice, and learning. The size of the Practicum was larger than in past years. What accounts for this growth?

A: The Diaconal Vocations Program of the Orthodox Church in America has maintained remarkably steady enrollment for many years. In the last five years, we have witnessed enrollment growth in every diocese.  We have been working to better track and support all participants in diaconal formation programs. In past decades, the Church heard from enrollees upon admission and then— years later—at coursework completion. Now, we are able to work with participants throughout the year and support their mentors at the parish and diocesan levels.

Q: What other changes have occurred in the diaconal program?

A: Several years ago, the Holy Synod of Bishops renamed and refocused the former “Late Vocations Program” as the “Diaconal Vocations Program.” While the program had always been intended as a way to prepare men for diaconal service, the hierarchs of our Church have been increasingly focused on the unique nature of the diaconate within the three-fold ministry of the Church: bishops, priests, and deacons. Our hierarchs have also asked us to focus especially on the knowledge and skills that will prepare deacons for lives of faithful service in their church communities. The bishops instituted substantive requirements for liturgical training and practice in rigorous settings.

Q: How do you foresee the Diaconal Vocations Program developing in the near future?

A: His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah, and the members of the Holy Synod of Bishops, are clarifying and strengthening our program. When His Beatitude spoke to our participants at this year’s program, he stressed especially the need to read and truly know the Scriptures well and the need to know the divine services. To serve the Church as a deacon is a great honor and responsibility. I believe that we will continue to do a better job teaching, coaching, and training those who seek to serve the Lord as deacons.

I have been reflecting recently on classic models of training deacons in past times and in distant cultures. Relatively young men were apprenticed to experienced deacons in larger settings, such as cathedrals, where they were “drilled” in liturgical service through repeated practice. Our seminaries provide this context for seminarians. But how do we liturgically train an accomplished chemistry professor or a retired Navy commander who is preparing for the diaconate in a parish context? The men coming to the Diaconal Vocations Program have extensive life experience but do not have the opportunity to live at a seminary for a number of years. The Practicum serves as a small beginning for the larger future setting that will provide the practice required to absorb the liturgical life of the Church. But we can and will do more. We are working in ever-closer collaboration with established diocesan programs. Creative, faithful, and thoughtful approaches on the parish, diocesan, and church-wide levels are being piloted in exciting ways throughout our land.

Q: What surprises you the most at the Practicum?

A: Every year I am startled by how much I learn from the participants. I am able to impart a methodology for learning how to serve at the Lord’s altar in our received tradition.  However, I learn so much about the Lord’s patience, humility, love, and joy from the students who gather from all over to be a “cohort” for four days. The kinds of work and ministries that our candidates are engaged in are humbling. One accomplished professional, for example, spends many hours each week ministering in prison. Another spends every day of his working life serving those who lack the mental capacity to function on their own without aid. Another does hard, physical labor every day but possesses a gentleness and joy that is unpretentious and inspiring. I could give thirty examples like this from our time together this Practicum. Some of the deacons and candidates were accompanied by their wives—dedicated and faithful women, who, in even a few words, brought spiritual clarity to our conversations.

On the last night of the Practicum, I spent a little time talking with other faculty about how energizing it is to see nearly thirty men willing to sacrifice so much of themselves for Church service. The participants really gave us the gift of energy by their presence and efforts and it is exciting for the Church to see this cohort work.

Archdeacon Kirill Sokolov (M.Div. ’07, St. Vladimir’s Seminary) serves as Director of Diaconal and Late Vocations for the Orthodox Church in America. He assists His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah and the Holy Synod at church-wide celebrations and regularly serves at Holy Trinity Cathedral, San Francisco, and for His Eminence, Archbishop Benjamin.  A former employee and lecturer in liturgics at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, the Archdeacon now works as Director of Technology at San Domenico School and is completing a doctoral program in organizational leadership at Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology.