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As a child growing up Byzantine Catholic in a small Ukrainian church in Ford City, PA, I was blessed with having a priest whose love, compassion, and kindness were noticeable even to me as a young child. After a particular Sunday mass, I walked up to Father Michael, pulled on his robe and said, “Father Michael, when I grow up, I want to be just like you.” I adored being around the goodness that he emanated. A few years later, he was transferred and another priest took his place. Most everyone there was saddened by his departure, and I have never forgotten him.
My experience with religious structure after that changed, and I slowly turned away from the institutionalized and organized church. After high school I enlisted in the Navy. Upon finishing boot camp, I went to a Naval Air Station in Georgia. From there, I was transferred to Danang, Viet Nam. I had the good fortune to be sent to work on the docks, where ships were unloaded. There were five GI’s and eighty Vietnamese who all worked together. Being there, working closely with the Vietnamese, and hearing all of the stories of tragedies and hardships that these people were experiencing, began to touch my heart and stir my soul. Even in the midst of all this turmoil, many of these people retained a sense of peace and tranquility, with very little animosity toward anyone. I then began to question my place in the world and how I was contributing to conflict in my own life and to the world in general. When I returned from Viet Nam, I was not the same person. Upon my discharge, I began an earnest search for meaning and relevancy. This was at the end of 1970. Much was going on at the time, and many people were looking for a better way to live.
I was introduced to meditation, yoga, vegetarianism (though I am no longer a vegetarian), Buddhism, Hinduism, Jesus, Islam, St. Francis, Judaism, Taoism, Baha’i, Rastafarianism, Confucius Philosophy, Native American traditions, and many other paths. After awhile, I began to notice a similar thread through all of these. The most pronounced unifying element was that those who took whatever path they were on to heart, showed little difference in their outlook on life, other than the terminology used to describe their spiritual path.
About that time, I began to sense a oneness about God, and affirming experience that we are all one: all made from the same One Source. That One Grand Creative Source has expressed itself through different religions, cultures, traditions and ceremonies. This One Source is called by many names: God, Goddess, All That Is, The Divine, The Oneness, and many others.
I then felt a calling to become an ordained minister, which I first did in August of 1971. Shortly thereafter, I conducted my first wedding ceremony (the couple is still together, living in Northern California.) At that time, I began to realize that what was most important to me was living my life in relationship to my beliefs. After all, ministering is a verb, an action – to give care, service and aid to any and all who need help. This attitude opened me to a variety of pursuits. I opened one of the first recycling collection centers in Pennsylvania, in Ford City in 1972. I traveled about the West working on drilling rigs, pipeline crews, cattle and sheep ranches, group homes for the mentally retarded/mentally handicapped, and an employee-owned natural foods warehouse.
In 1983, I moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to study massage therapy. After graduation, I stayed in New Mexico for another four years. In 1988, I moved to Pittsburgh. Shortly thereafter, I began to conduct wedding ceremonies for people who had been acquainted with me in the past. In 1994, I truly felt “called” to expand into conducting weddings on a broader scale. I began to advertise and my work has grown to a point that I now conduct between 90 and 110 weddings each year.
As for my spiritual beliefs, much guidance and revelation came from The Christ Jesus, St. Francis of Assisi, Thich Nhat Hanh, Ram Dass, Anthony DeMello and White Eagle. I first and foremost consider myself a follower of Christ. I believe that Christ is A Way, A Truth and A Light, but not the only Way, Truth or Light. I firmly believe that if all people of all religions and spiritual disciplines were to practice the deeper teachings of their beliefs, we would all be connected together from our essential core, the unifying force of love. If we lived out the tenets of our faith traditions, we would be living in a more peaceful, unified, kind and loving world. So each and every day, I try to live my life with respect, kindness, consideration and compassion to all those that I encounter, for I truly believe that the best way to worship God, is to be good to all of God’s creations, ALL. Therefore, my approach to conducting your wedding ceremony would be with the utmost respect and consideration of your beliefs and values, whether Christian, Jew, Buddhist, Ancient Ways, Mormon, Native American, Islamic or any other. It is often difficult for some to understand a position that is so open and accepting of other faiths, but I believe that in this way, we honor all of God’s people.
“Christ has no body now on Earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion looks out on the world, yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good and yours are the hands with which He is to bless us now.” – Mother Teresa
Thank you, Father Michael, for inspiring me to look at life in a more meaningful way.