Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Roman Catholic's Journey to Eastern Catholicism: Part 1: Shadows and Rumors from the East

It all started while I was attending college at Franciscan University of Steubenville. A couple of young men I knew were somehow different in their expression of Catholicism than I. One spoke of being Ukrainian Catholic, the other Ruthenian. At the time it didn't really register to me that this meant they not only celebrated a different form of the Mass, but that they even had their own theology, their own spirituality, their own traditions, and even their own history different from what I'd experienced growing up. Somewhere in the back of my mind I heard "Catholic" and presumed "Roman Catholic."

I grew up in an area where Eastern Catholic was more or less non-existent. Oh, there were the Maronites, but they were all the way out in Cincinnati and I had no experience of them. The most I knew of them was that a family friend had married a Maronite man and had become Maronite herself. Apart from the all I knew of Eastern Christianity was that there were some Churches called the "Orthodox Churches," they were not Catholic, and I couldn't fulfill my Sunday obligation at one of their parishes. Growing up in a rural German-Irish community we tended to be suspicious of anything that wasn't explicitly (and borderline triumphalistically) Roman Catholic.

So when these friends of mine at college began speaking of Eastern Catholics, somehow it didn't even register in my mind that Eastern Catholics are not Roman Catholic. I'd even watched brief videos of parts of the Byzantine Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and it still didn't enter my thoughts that, hey, this is different from what I know. The language was different (Ukrainian). The music was different. The setting itself was different. And yet I was too thick-headed to see this.

I had occasion to encounter the Byzantine tradition on a more personal experiential level while I was studying on our campus in Gaming, Austria. There we shared a campus with the "International Theological Institute." It was here that I met my first married priest... and married to a Franciscan graduate nonetheless. Fr. Yuri was quite an amazing man. Very quiet and gentle mannered, but very good at leading and guiding young people. Despite the fact that he was married, it still didn't occur to me that he came from a different tradition within the Catholic Church.

I don't really remember being encouraged to attend the Liturgies in the Byzantine chapel on campus in Gaming. I had friends who went quite frequently, but I could never bring myself to do so. In my mind they were Orthodox. I wouldn't be permitted to receive Communion and I'd still have to go to Mass later that Sunday. So I just avoided the Byzantine Liturgies. Needless to say I've greatly regretted that decision ever since.

One thing I did do, however, was spend a great deal of time in prayer in the Byzantine chapel. There was something about it that kept drawing me in. It wasn't so much the icons, the mystique, or the exotic feel of the place. To me their chapel felt familiar, homey and warm. I felt as if I'd always been there; like I'd grown up there and was simply coming back to my childhood parish. There was nothing unfamiliar or exotic about the place to me. It simply was what it was and in being so it brought me closer to God. I spent more time in there than I did in our Perpetual Adoration chapel.

After I returned home I didn't really think about this experience in the chapel again for a number of years. It wasn't until after graduation and my move up to Ann Arbor, Michigan, that these rumors and shadows from the East began to take form. But you'll have to stick around for the next installment to hear about that.

10 comments:

  1. Definitely sticking around. Do you think there should be an awareness of the East sparked early on during catechesis? or if not, how should we bring about awareness; and in what setting(s)?

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    1. I think there definitely ought to be an awareness of the East sparked early on in catechesis. The problem is, catechesis in both the East and the West isn't where it should be. Unfortunately it's worse in the West since they've abandoned their traditional hymnology as found in the Graduale, Kyriale, and other Gregorian hymnals for the "music" in the Glory and Praise book and other such monstrosities. At least the East still has a solid catechesis available through simple participation in the Liturgy and attention to the hymnology.

      But catechesis overall is pretty poor right now, save for a few small pockets that still hold to Tradition. I think that's why the Popes and Patriarchs have been calling for a New Evangelization - an evangelization of the faithful. I've been trying to think up ways to promote evangelization as an Eastern Catholic. Sadly my time is rather limited and I need to be able to support my family. :)

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  2. To answer the question about the importance of Latin Rite Catholics being aware of the Christian East, I would say that one ought to look no further than Blessed Pope John Paul II. In Orientale Lumen he wrote:

    "Since, in fact, we believe that the venerable and ancient tradition of the Eastern Churches is an integral part of the heritage of Christ's Church, the first need for Catholics is to be familiar with that tradition, so as to be nourished by it and to encourage the process of unity in the best way possible for each.

    Our Eastern Catholic brothers and sisters are very conscious of being the living bearers of this tradition, together with our Orthodox brothers and sisters. The members of the Catholic Church of the Latin tradition must also be fully acquainted with this treasure and thus feel, with the Pope, a passionate longing that the full manifestation of the Church's catholicity be restored to the Church and to the world, expressed not by a single tradition, and still less by one community in opposition to the other; and that we too may be granted a full taste of the divinely revealed and undivided heritage of the universal Church(2) which is preserved and grows in the life of the Churches of the East as in those of the West."

    That the members of the Catholic Church of the Latin tradition are called on to be "fully acquainted" with the treasure of the Christian East means we have a lot of work to do!

    In XC,
    J. Andrew

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  3. I'm looking forward to the next installment

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    1. The next installment is up. I'm hoping to write part 3 on Sunday or Monday. :)

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  4. I know for me, two reasons why I kept going to the local Melkite parish was that as you mentioned earlier in the comments that the Divine Liturgy catechizes in a way abandoned by most Latin parishes and also it is wonderful to go to the Divine Liturgy where the celebration is both traditional AND in English.

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    1. I certainly appreciate the Liturgy being both traditional and in English. That being said, I think that the Roman Mass would itself be a lot more traditional if they would translate the corpus of Latin/Gregorian hymns into English.

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  5. Although you can take Holy Communion, I believe that since the Catholic Church recognizes the validity of Orthodox Sacraments that attending an Orthodox Divine Liturgy does fulfill your obligation to attend the Mass.

    Archpriest John W. Morris

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    1. Reverend Father, bless!

      I believe you are correct, although I have heard it hotly debated. But I believe Pope John Paul II made it possible for Catholics to fulfill their Sunday obligation at an Orthodox parish. I might have to take this into consideration when my family moves back home to the Cincinnati area.

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    2. Something to keep in mind, as I've been mulling over the Holy Day of obligation, and how to fulfill it, given how I want to attend a hiearchical divine liturgy at a nearby Orthodox parish. It'll probably be something I'll talk over with my parish priest.

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