by Susan Hornak
Is prayer spoken or is it felt? When the voice is absent how are prayers expressed? Voice loss presents itself for many different reasons. In this case voice loss was the quiet warning signal that announced a greater challenge was yet to come.
As a 26 year old young man Michael Mondik felt a calling that could not be ignored. That calling was to serve God as an ordained Byzantine Catholic priest. At an early age Michael was a devout Catholic as a result of being raised in a religious home. Going into the seminary was the only logical choice; it was his greatest desire throughout his life.
When asked what motivated him to join the priesthood, he was not sure what to say. He just knew it was meant to be. When his father dropped him off at the seminary he said, “Michael, it is okay to change your mind”. As they said their final good-bye’s young Michael simply said, “It’s where I belong, Dad”. His family was always supportive, encouraging of his choices every step of the way. Father Michael recalls never looking back towards the car for one last goodbye. Forty-two years later he still feels very strongly that he made the correct decision so long ago.
Father Michael Mondik was the Pastor of Saint Thomas the Apostle Byzantine Catholic Church in Rahway, New Jersey until July1, 2015 when he retired from active Ministry. He was the parochial leader of one-hundred and sixty five families or roughly three-hundred parishioners. Father Michael’s greatest joy was serving at the altar, conducting liturgical services with the perfection that Eastern Christianity strives to achieve. The Eastern Christian Divine Liturgy is for the Glory of God so every word is spoken with precision and every movement carried out with grace.
Being a pastor is more than conducting services. He also enjoyed counseling parishioners when they came forward in need of help. Seminary training prepared him by offering coursework in counseling and psychology but they also taught him when he was in over his head. He learned how to make referrals to other more qualified professionals. He lamented, “Things are different these days society has changed a great deal creating a very litigious environment”. Towards the end of his tenure all priests were not permitted to counsel people outside of their parish.
Using one’s voice is the one common factor in performing both of these duties. Without a voice these tasks would be nearly impossible to perform. In 2010 Father presented with vocal issues that caused him to seek medical advice. He felt tightness in his throat and hoarseness in his voice. After a great deal of exploration and medical testing Father Mondik was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and amyloid sarcoidosis. Voice loss was the first warning sign well before being diagnosed with cancer.
By 2009 Father Michael noticed he was unable to control the pitch of his voice. This was a critical aspect of his ministry as Byzantine Catholic services are chanted without musical accompaniment. His face, throat and neck sporadically swelled but with medication could be treated. Eventually his doctor was unable to remove the protein rich fluids that engorged his lymphatic system creating permanent swelling in the area. He is grateful because the swelling could have occurred in his lungs and or heart causing the inability to breathe or cardiac arrest. He considered himself lucky looking at the possibilities.
Father Mondik had to make several changes in his service and life. He learned not to force his voice and realized no matter how much he pushed or strained it would make no difference in the quality of his voice. He reports feeling no pain in his throat but does admit to getting tired by the end of the day. Singing and chanting is difficult so he tries to keep both to a minimum. At times he heavily relies on the parish Deacon and the use of a microphone. He will recite prayers instead of chanting when optional.
It is terrifying to lose one’s voice when your career depends on that voice to be effective. It is unimaginable to cope with a diagnosis of cancer with a poor prognosis. Even though parishioners knew and understood his situation it was still very hard, as living is always the hardest part. While talking about mortality Father admits that quality of life is more important than quantity. He questioned over and over how would he lead a parish without a voice?
When asked about faith and accepting the will of God and he responded “it is not a matter of faith it’s matter of knowing life is eternal in the kingdom of God.” This life is temporary.
Father Michael is at peace in knowing that he served God in this life and will be with God in the next life everlasting. His last days were spent at the Cathedral apartment complex at St Stephen Byzantine Catholic Cathedral in Phoenix, AZ so he could be surrounded by the comfort of friends.