2012 December 29 • Alumni • By Deborah (Malacky) Belonick • Photos by Leanne Parrott
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On Saturday, December 29, 2012, The Very Rev. Paul Shafran (SVOTS ’1945) celebrated his 65th anniversary of ordination to the Holy Priesthood by presiding at the Divine Liturgy in Three Hierarchs Chapel at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary, his alma mater, surrounded by family, friends, and fellow clergy. Father Paul, who briefly served parishes in the Byesville, Ohio area during his days as a young pastor, most recently is Pastor Emeritus of St. Vladimir Church in Trenton, NJ. His actual date of ordination is December 28, 1947; he was elevated to the Holy Priesthood by the hand of Archbishop Nikon (de Greve of Brooklyn) at the Cathedral of the Holy Virgin Protection, New York City.
The Right Reverend Michael (Dahulich), bishop of New York, and the New York and New Jersey Diocese, Orthodox Church in America, prayed on the solea during the service, thus giving Fr. Paul the honor of being the main celebrant at the altar for the occasion. Concelebrating were fellow clergy The Very Rev. Joseph Lickwar, chancellor of the New York and New Jersey Diocese; The Very Rev. Daniel Skvir, rector of Holy Transfiguration Chapel, Princeton, NJ; The Very Rev. Sergius Kuharsky, currently attached to Annunciation Church, Brick, NJ; and The Very Rev. Steven J. Belonick, rector of Holy Ghost Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church, Bridgeport, CT.
At the end of Divine Liturgy, His Grace Michael praised Fr. Paul’s ministry and likened his service to the Church to that of the Apostles John and Paul, who labored with “energy, commitment, and faith.” “In the seventh decade of his priesthood,” noted Bishop Michael, “Father Paul continues to go from place to place to serve tirelessly, fearlessly, and selflessly as a priest of God. In him, we get a glimpse of an imitation of the holy apostles.”
Bishop Michael mentioned the many faceted ministries that Fr. Paul exercised over the years, including his faithfulness as a concerned pastor; his ability to “think out of the box” and especially his forward thinking in building up an endowment for his former parish in New Jersey; his commitment to theological education, both as an instructor at St. Vladimir’s Seminary and as a long-time member of its Board of Trustees; his dedication to the care of the elderly as a Board of Trustees member at Ss. Cosmos and Damian Adult Home on Staten Island; and his more humble and less known ministry as a confidant to many clergy and hierarchs.
Acknowledging Fr. Paul’s long and broad church service, Bishop Michael presented him with a new vestment, a palitza, with an icon of the Incarnation depicted on one side and an icon of the Resurrection depicted on the other. “The icons are in recognition of the beginning and height of our salvation in Christ Jesus,” noted Bishop Michael.
His Grace also observed that people attending the celebratory Liturgy represented nearly every aspect of Fr. Paul’s ministry. In conclusion, Bishop Michael praised Fr. Paul’s wife, Matushka Mary (née Obletiloff) as an example of “full support” of her husband’s priestly ministry, and wished them both “many more years of health, in order to show forth the love of God in Christ Jesus.”
Recognizing Fr. Paul’s loyalty and dedication to St. Vladimir’s Seminary were The Very Rev. Dr. John Behr, dean, and The Very Rev. Dr. Chad Hatfield, chancellor, who presented him with a gramata that paid homage to his accomplishments and exemplary service on behalf of the Seminary. During the deanship of The Very Rev. Dr. Georges Florovsky [1949–1955], Fr. Paul had served as Instructor of Liturgics at St. Vladimir’s, beginning in 1951. Now a Trustee Emeritus of the Seminary, Fr. Paul also accomplished much in his capacity as a Board of Trustees member over the decades. He was instrumental, for example in acquiring two important collections for the seminary library: part of Fr. Florovsky’s private collection and the personal library of Archimandrite Anthony Repella. Fellow seminary Trustees Thomas Zedlovich, Anthony Kasmer, and Tatiana Hoff were on hand to honor Fr. Paul on the occasion.
As an alumnus, Fr. Paul encouraged and energized his fellow graduates. In 1959, he organized and co-chaired the first “Liturgical Conference”—the precursor of the Seminary’s long-running annual “Liturgical Institute of Music and Pastoral Practice"—in order to provide ongoing education for seminary graduates. Father Paul’s charming correspondence to his fellow alumni about a similar subsequent conference that he organized—with his brother-in-law and fellow alumnus, The Rev. Alexander Warnecke—is captured in the Seminary’s archives, in a letter dated 1962:
The beautiful but complex Liturgical Tradition of the Orthodox Catholic Church requires the priest to have a thorough knowledge of not only the external rubrics of the divine offices, but also a full understanding of their history and theology as well. The theme of this year’s Liturgical Conference will be the Lenten Triodion and Lenten Worship, with four lectures: “Origin of Lenten and Paschal cycles”; “General structure of Lent”; “The Presanctified Liturgy”; and “Holy Week”. The Very Rev. Father Alexander Schmemann will be the lecturer. At the conference, expenses will be kept at a minimum—somewhere in the vicinity of $9. This will include all meals (good and plenty) and lodging (ditto). To cut travelling expenses, we suggest that priests organize car pools in their cities or localities, and travel together. We are also reminding every priest to bring his rasa, cuffs, epitrahilion, service book, and pectoral cross. Let’s have a large turnout. If you come, you won’t forget it; but, if you stay home, you’ll regret it.—The Very Rev. Paul Shafran, to all St. Vladimir’s Alumni
After the presentations, Fr. Paul thanked both Bishop Michael and Frs. John and Chad for their “eloquent and kind words.” He also expressed his gratitude to God for being able to serve, for the very first time, at the seminary chapel’s altar, which was a gift from the Shafran family, in honor of their parents, Stephan and Rosalia Shafran. In so doing, he quoted the Psalm: “Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for His mercy continues forever.”
Following the Divine Liturgy and presentations, the congregation and clergy enjoyed a brunch in the chapel undercroft, where Fr. Daniel Skvir acted as Master of Ceremonies. “Father Paul will serve as a model for generations of priests,” he said, noting Fr. Paul’s ready defense of the Orthodox Christian faith, pastoral care, knowledge of liturgics, and respect for concelebrants at the altar. “It is good for us to be here, in the words of the Apostles,” concluded Fr. Daniel, as he invited past parishioners and friends to fete Fr. Paul with further reminiscences and fond memories of his pastorate.