July 7, 2023

Eparchy of Saskatoon Clergy Retreat 2023 with Bishop Emeritus John Pazak

Our clergy retreat was held from June 19-22, 2023 at St. Peter's Abbey, Muenster, Saskatchewan. Over the years, the attendants appreciate the topics that provide the opportunity to reflect on ordained life, and as retreat master, Bishop John did just that. For example, his first question for reflection was, "When did you become aware of a calling to ordained ministry?" For me, it was listening to my dad, William, speak highly about the chaplains in the Canadian Army during the Second World War. He had volunteered for active service with the Winnipeg Rifles, and his stories of the courage and presence of the priests is part of my vocation story.

Bishop John was my teacher at St. Vladimir's College in Roblin, Manitoba. One year he assigned a novel on the American Revolution that that left an impression on me as a teenager, Red Badge of Courage. While he did not make reference to that work during our retreat, he did mention another text he assigned his students, the Merchant of Venice. In the context of his various themes on mercy and forgiveness, he quoted from Portia's "The quality of mercy" monologue: "It is twice blest; / It blesseth him that gives and him that takes..."

Recently for Father's Day, I read a line from a psalm, "As a father is merciful to his children, so does the Lord have mercy on those who fear Him". During the retreat, at one of our Matins services, I was encouraged to read a prayer continuing this same thought: "Seeing the repentance of the Ninevites. You revoked the punishment pronounced upon them. Your love, O Lord, overcame Your wrath." I always appreciate such theological or spiritual coincidences.

I found another such example of spiritual continuity in a prayer from the Akathist to the Mother of Perpetual Help, "At the fearful battle in the last moment of my life, meet me with a bright candle..." corresponding with a Moleben' to Christ the Lover of Mankind, "Heart of Jesus, my hope in death, have mercy and save those who praise you." In addition to personal reasons that these prayers resonate with me, they correspond to an annual theme of the retreat, praying for the repose of the souls of the bishops, priests, deacons, and deceased of male and female religious.

One metaphor Bishop John used easily stayed with me, as I'm sure with all of us. Just as Beethoven continued to write music even after he became deaf and could never hear the sounds for which audiences gave him standing ovations, likewise, for us as individuals and a Church to keep praying during times of a spiritual desert and a dark night of the soul. Another reference was to an anecdote about Sir Lawrence Olivier, who once was asked to recite Psalm 23, then turned the tables and asked the one who made the request to similarly recite it. Afterwards, the famous actor complimented him with the comment, "I know the psalm, but you know the Shepherd."

Our retreat master spoke about the root of the word mercy, eleison, as being based on the concept of outpouring. As priests, we are intimately involved with the consecration, that libation of sacrifice and the blood of Christ, "For you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins." Any and all blood sacrifice has now become obsolete after the voluntary sacrifice of Christ who "gave himself up for the life of the world" as we pray. It is quite a remarkable experience to participate in this sacrifice as a priest, as even the Moleben' ends with this reminder of the priest's relationship with Jesus: "May He who poured all his grace out of his heart... have mercy on us and save us, for His is good and loves mankind."

Finally, the morning after I returned home from the retreat, I found in the gospel of the day a perfect summary of the week of retreat: "I desire mercy, not sacrifice."

Fr. Jeffrey D. Stephaniuk

Wynyard Pastoral District

Eparchy of Saskatoon


The clergy are required to participate in a spiritual retreat at least once a year. Sometimes they make their own arrangements to participate in a personal or group retreat at some centre that specializes in this. However, many eparchies organize retreats at which the entire presbyterate of the eparchy can participate together. This not only encourages them by making the arrangements easy, but it also contributes to the strengthening of the bond between the clergy as they share the common experience. The retreat for the clergy of the Archeparchy of Winnipeg will take place in the early fall in the first week of October, under the direction of Bishop Andriy Rabiy.

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