Called to the priesthood

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Deacon Sabatino Carnazzo knelt at the corner of the altar, surrounded by lit candles, a wall of icons and several members of the clergy. Bishop Nicholas Samra of the Eparchy of Newton, Mass., placed a hand on Deacon Carnazzo's head.

The congregation peered through the entrance of the holy doors, left open for the Easter season. In that space at Holy Transfiguration Church in McLean May 1, Sabatino Carnazzo was ordained a priest.

Many around the diocese know Father Carnazzo through the Institute of Catholic Culture , an adult catechetical program which he helped to found in 2006. Though raised in the Catholic Church, he fell away from the faith during his high school years. In his early 20s, he found his faith, sold his business and moved to Front Royal to study theology at Christendom College. In 2011, he was ordained to the diaconate.

All priests and deacons feel a call to the religious life, but for Melkite Catholic clergy, the call is a literal one. "We do not apply to be accepted into seminary or diaconal formation, but are called to a vocation by the bishop," said Father Carnazzo. After many years of serving on the parish council and at special events and festivals, his pastor recommended him for ordination.

"The more I served, the more I loved it," he said. "God was working on my heart to call me into a life of service to the church."

Unlike in the Roman Catholic tradition, Melkite parishes serve as the primary schools of formation for new priests, said Father Carnazzo. Canon law requires that all priests have a master's in theology, he said, but otherwise their bishop determines the necessary level of higher education.

"The seminary system as we know it today was a Latin response to the Protestant Reformation, to ensure better formation for their priests," he said. "(Protestantism) didn't impact the Byzantine churches as dramatically, so we retained the apostolic practice of seminary being the formation at home and at one's parish. That is the seedbed."

Melkites also preserved the tradition of married priests who serve at the parish level, while bishops traditionally have been chosen from among the monks. "The celibate priesthood is an ascetical gift which the Roman Catholic Church has committed itself to, but the East has retained the apostolic practice of (both) a married and celibate clergy," he said.

Father Carnazzo's five children -Marianna, Luciano, Carlino, Vincenzo and Alonzo - watched their father's ordination from the front pew, along with his wife, Linda. "As a married man, my wife and I are one flesh, so she also assented to my ordination," said Father Carnazzo. "This very much affects her, not just in terms of the demands on her time but ontologically."

Father Carnazzo's older brother, Sebastian, had an even closer view of the ordination as one of the many priests on the altar. He was ordained a few months ago, and now ministers at a church in California. Deacon Carnazzo served as deacon during that ceremony.

His brother was at his elbow as Deacon Carnazzo was walked around the altar three times, symbolizing God walking in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. The ritual also reminds the new priest of where he will minister, primarily from the altar.

After the bishop recited the prayer of ordination over him, Father Carnazzo was dressed in bright, white vestments. Bishop Samra held up every piece of clothing, asking the congregation, "Axios - is he worthy?" The people signified their approval by chanting "Axios" back each time.

After consecration of the holy Eucharist, the bishop entrusted Father Carnazzo with a piece of Communion, telling him to guard it until the coming of Our Lord. Father Carnazzo stood behind the altar for the rest of the liturgy, holding the literal body of Christ and the metaphorical body of Christ - the people of God he is called to serve.

Di Mauro can be reached at zdimauro@catholicherald.com or on Twitter @zoeydimauro.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016