“…shall not prevail against it.”

*Before reading my post, please know I agonized over posting this. It is a part of my personal growth and is written with no ugly intentions.  Please do not read it if you feel you will be angry. It is not my intent to anger or hurt anyone, it is just a discovery I made about my walk with God. It is about where I am and where I am going, which is the whole point of this blog.*

Hand prayer incense

Blog Post Begins:

There’s nothing new under the sun, as the Scriptures tell us. (Ecc 1:4-11).  And sometimes it feels like nothing can surprise you.  And then something does, and it can be a life-altering surprise, or it can be God, whispering to you.

Trust GodA life with no surprises can get to be pretty dull.  I’ve had some surprises lately and I kind of like it; sort of like it. I’m dealing with it! Ha-Ha!  This Lent has been a pretty topsy-turvy Lent.

Coming to a realization can be a surprise, in an of itself.  And that has occurred with me.  I realized that when I left the Roman Church and embraced the Eastern Church, I did so by jumping in with both feet.  I embraced the philosophy, theology, and practices of my Eastern Church wholeheartedly.  I found repose, sweet and quiet repose, in the teachings of my eastern faith.  We had a pastor who inculcated us fully in the philosophies and traditions (both types of traditions) of the eastern Church, and he also showed us the whys and wherefores.  We were blessed.  The theological tenets of eastern practices and traditions were fully explained and made perfect sense to us.  We completely embraced it all – culture, foods, traditions, practices.  All of it – hook, line, and sinker.  Our catechesis in the faith was truly remarkable.  Now that we are away from that community, we see it even more fully.  We miss it very much.

St. NikolaiI distinctly remember a huge turning point for me and it was during a Divine Liturgy.  The incense was pretty heavy and the light played just right through the windows…during the procession, the vestments just glowed and the sights, sounds, and smells just filled me.  And then our Proto-Deacon intoned, “Sophia, Orthoi”!  And I was transported to the times of the Apostles and the early gatherings of the nascent Church.  And it was a transformative moment for me.  I experienced my faith.  And I was hooked – for eternity.

As I have learned more and more about Eastern thought and philosophy, a part of myself that had been empty began to be filled.  And I did not even realize there was an empty space; a part of me unfilled.  I do not need much of the traditions of the western church any more because I’ve become consumed by my faith, my experiential faith in the eastern Church.  There are things called sacramentals in the west and two examples are scapulars and rosaries. You do not have to wear a scapular or recite the rosary to be fully Catholic. Those are things outside of dogma that enhance your faith experience, but they are not necessary to believe, to be in a state of grace.  They are externals. They are almost “trappings” of our faith.

Most Roman Catholics own at least one rosary, even if they do not use it.  In the mainstream church, very few people are even aware of what a scapular is, let alone wear one.  I had a scapular in pretty much every color, using them for many reasons.  They enhanced my spiritual life and I loved them.  I always wore a miraculous medal, for example.  Because I loved the story and loved the Mother of God.  My middle son and his wife were laughing a couple of weeks ago, because they recently moved into their own space and were unpacking (finally) all their wedding gifts and they realized they have a crucifix for every room in their home, plus some to spare!  It is part of our Catholic identity.  It is a demonstration of who we are.  People used to come into our home and ask where the altar was, because gradually all our artwork was religiously-oriented, with a crucifix in every room.

Byzantine CrossWhen I became an eastern Catholic, I left most of those western things behind me.  I embraced the Jesus Prayer and wear a prayer rope on my wrist most days.  I no longer wear a crucifix, but an eastern or Byzantine cross.  I love learning about all the food traditions in the east; how certain foods are served only once a year on a particular feast day.  I love that!  And there are so many flavors of eastern Catholicism.  Within the eastern grouping of Churches, there is such difference, but the same Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.  Some eastern Churches will only use certain types of candles and incense and it becomes a part of the experience of who they are.  Being so fully immersed in my eastern faith is, at times, hard to maintain.  And I will explain why…

I feel that being an eastern Catholic identifies me first as being a part of a free-standing, independent Church, that happens to agree with Rome on many issues. It does not mean, however, that I embrace Roman theology or practice.  I listen first to my Patriarch, and then check in on what the Pope has to say.  I listen to my local ordinary before I ever pay attention to what the local Roman church or diocese is up to.  Roman Catholicism does not affect my life.  It is not part of who I am.  I am also a Greek Catholic…that is another aspect that is different from the Roman Church.  Greek versus Roman in many areas; it is just an area of influence and I prefer the Greek influence.

All of that being said, I know many will be angry with me because I am somehow “dissing” their beliefs. Not at all. Please do not think that way. I have children and grand-children who are Roman Catholic. It is a matter of preference and taste.  I just discovered that I am really, and truly, eastern.  A woman I just met did not understand how I did not know the movers and shakers in the local Roman Catholic scene.  When I said to her, “But I am not Roman Catholic, I am Byzantine Catholic, why would I know them? I have no reason to attend a Roman church.”  Her response was, “Well, it doesn’t really matter because we are all Catholic.”  And therein lies the crux of my problem.  I was surprised because I realized I am really not Catholic, in the sense she inferred.  I am not. I used to be, but I no longer am.  I am a Melkite Greek Catholic, blessed to have been catechized in all things Greek and Byzantine.

There are little “t” things within eastern expression that I love and value. When I see the western expression coming in and being used in preference over the eastern ones, I get a little testy.  I apologize for that.  But once you immerse yourself in all things eastern, the western insistence on superiority or preference gets tiresome.  It is the classic tale of David and Goliath.  We easterners are David.  If you are eastern, embrace it. Learn of all the richness of being a Byzantine, Greek Catholic.  Learn about the physical history of how the eastern churches came to be.  Live as an eastern Catholic. I can find fulfillment and riches enough to keep me learning for the rest of my life, if I read and study and learn from just the eastern philosophical/theological side of the aisle.

This is a touchy post because so many of my friends are Roman Catholic, as are two of my sons, and grandchildren.  My Protestant family and friends will only be flummoxed by this post, but it is an issue and it is what I am dealing with. And I want people to know that different is not a better/worse sort of thing…it is just different.  What I expect is that when we seek the mysteries for our children, when we want the blessing of the Church on our lives, we should live totally as if it were the most important thing in our lives. We don’t drop in for Chrismation or Crowning, if we do not plan to live that life.  We could get Confirmation or Marriage instead.  Leading our children to God should be the supreme emphasis of our lives as parents.  A long and winding road, full of contradictions and contradictory practices can be awfully confusing for the faith development of our children, and not having a firm foundation can lead to a young person having no place to stand where they feel safe.

TipToe WalkingI remember feeling that I was tip-toeing around when we had a major upset in our lives. By tip-toeing I mean I had no safe, solid place to stand. It was a “the ground was moving under my feet” sort of feeling. We were no longer welcome in our home parish because of an incident with a son of ours.  People we thought were friends, were not.  We were spiritually floundering because of the actions of some priests and religious in our lives. Our children were floundering.  Our church had let us down in a profound way. And then we were led, by our son, to the east and to our pastor (who became a life-long friend and spiritual adviser).  I believe God brought us to the east to save us, and to enhance the faith we thought we were loosing.  The deepest wounds were being healed.  The deepest longings were being met.  That moment of “Sophia, Orthoi” became the life-line I was waiting for.  And from that moment, I dove into the font of love I found in the eastern Church. Perhaps I am so eastern because of the pain and hurt experienced in the western Church. I can see that.  But I also know that the theology of the East fills me.  And the more I learn, all these years later, the more I want to know.

Icon Corner.candlesAnd when I see latinization creeping in to my Byzantine practices, I want to shore up the Church and enhance even more our Byzantine traditions, both large and small T.  There are things Byzantine parishes do not do, purely because it is not, historically, who we are.  We flounder with our identity because we are so small, and in recent years, made up largely of converts from the west.  Converts, many of whom want to bring their familiar practices with them, and have not been fully catechized into the richness of the east.  We have vespers; we have orthros; we have Divine Liturgy.  We have so many amazing things.  We do not have to inculcate Roman traditions into our parishes.  However, there are just so many little ways westernization is creeping into our eastern practices and I really just do not want to see that.  Otherwise, why be Byzantine? Why have Byzantine rites or Churches? If we are nothing more than a “different mass” with lots of incense, why bother?

And so when my little sheltered, Byzantine world is shaken, I blog! Ha-Ha!  I feel that if I partake here and there of different traditions of the west and the east, I become a hodge-podge of nothing. “A cafeteria Catholic,” if you will.  A mixed bag of things that do not mesh well.  Because their historical roots are so very different.  My minor in college was Biblical Archeology and I love all things historical and all things physically historical.  And when I dove into the east, I found history pretty much left alone, with artifacts intact.  The liturgy is free of things I was leaving behind in the west.  Many of the issues of the western church do not affect us in the east.  It is because our view, our perspective, is just slightly different.  And I love that difference; it’s what drew me east. And it is what keeps me eastern.  So the surprise that happened is that I discovered who I really am. I am a Byzantine Catholic.  I am a Melkite Greek Catholic. That identity is mine and it is not going away.  It is leading me along my own, personal, theosis track, where I will embrace my eternity.  And it is doing so, holding the hand of my spouse, for eternity. The surprise is that I really know it; I really own it; and I will do whatever I can to protect it.

Church.Savior of Spilled Blood. RussiaMatthew 16,18

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18 thoughts on ““…shall not prevail against it.”

  1. I do not take offense at your post but I also make no apologies for my “hodge podge” of practices either. My husband’s grandparents converted from Russian Orthodox to Russian Greek Catholic, in a formal profession after being assisted to America by Jesuits. His father than married a Roman Catholic Italian woman and the home acquired its mix of traditions. My husband was ultimately raised in a largely Roman Catholic home that had many Russian traditions and attended the Divine Liturgy for Holy Mysteries such as marriage, funerals, etc. To feel ashamed of that as though it is not enough Byzantine (NOT that that’s what your post implies) would be unfortunate.

    When my husband and I married in the Church 5 years ago, we were Byzantine clueless. We just knew we were finally wiling and able, by the grace of God, to have a marriage with Christ at the center. For all of our intellectual and spiritual preparedness, we never once considered the Byzantine element of my husband’s heritage, as his family sadly did not mention it, and neither did the priests notice it when his baptismal certificate was turned in from the Russian Greek Catholic parish his grandparents helped build, and why would we know? We were just trying to come into communion, confessing our sins and preparing to receive Christ.

    So we have tried to embrace this heritage, with a lot of grace and several people along the way pointing out how our children must be confused because we still have Roman Catholic practices in our home.

    My answer to that is: this is our heritage…and furthermore, we have literally zero catechesis in our parish that furthers the initial formation we received through our former priest who took the time to meet with us frequently and teach us when we had questions and point us to books, etc.

    I’m tired of fighting so hard every step of the way to build and maintain a strictly Byzantine Catholic identity. I do not have images of God the Father in my home, even though my priest has one on his hand cross. Every year, our Lenten fasting becomes more and more like the traditional Orthodox fast, even though the very subject seems to be hands off in our parish. Holy icons are hanging in the rooms of our home, alongside the occasional Sacred Heart, etc. We dig as much as we can into my husband’s lineage so we can bring more fully into our home those rich traditions that fell by the wayside when America became home.

    It is hard. And hard things are worth doing. But we spent years praying the Rosary as a family and it is a very family friendly prayer. We pray the Akathist hymn on Sundays. Frankly, I LOVE the Presanctified Liturgies during Lent, but these 6 p.m. times are terribly hard for our family right now with the mix of children in our home. I think most people are doing their best, and there are limitations that come with being a small community in a small place. We’ve certainly done better in the past, trying to make it to every possible liturgy, etc. so that our children have a consistent liturgical experience. How I wish we had ALL the readings for the liturgies when we celebrate the bigger feasts! This should be so simple. Perhaps if we lived closer.

    I won’t say I’m not somewhat envious at the rich community you left behind. I have exactly no nostalgia for CA but I wish I could transplant a certain parish up here that we love so well and which is so much a part of our family’s spiritual heritage. But….I can’t. 🙂 And I could certainly grumble and complain for a long time about a great many things. That is something I’m praying not to do (anymore). God, I hope, is growing us in many other ways and perhaps He will grant us that gift of a deeply experienced, consistently Byzantine culture in our church. In the meantime, we don’t even know who our parish council is or how to appropriately bring up our concerns when they arise, in a way that doesn’t come across as inflammatory or hostile or reactionary or…

    • No; believe it or not, I think we’re on the same page. Trying to establish our identity. You are right – no catechesis and things are a little hodge-podge and it craates confusion. I need to be able to express my frustration, too. There are so many things we could do – I know our hearts are in the right place and maybe we can chat. We have some ideas. Blessings, Mindy.

  2. i’m not angry or took any offense but i’m also afraid that people who are NOT Catholic will end up confused.There’s where i think you may have wanted to clarify what you are saying.Blessed John Paul II(soon to be saint)said that the Church(meaning one,holy,Catholic and apostolic)must learn to breathe with both lungs. The blog nearly gives the impression that you’re cutting off one lung and tossing it in the garbage.. We’re all Catholic and we all accept the infallible teachings of our Holy Father. I very much love both lungs and grateful that God gave me the grace to return even to the Latin rite. We can certainly be thankful that we were given both and hopefully not sink into a pride of being one or the other. Does that make sense?

  3. we’re all in the family and trying to make it to the same place 🙂 I could NEVER been angry with you. Also,i did not mean to imply you were sinking into pride. Hopefully we are all proud that God brought us into His family,whichever rite He does so through. Felt i had to clarify myself and make sure it wasn’t taken the wrong way.

  4. I am not offended in the least. But since the Western Church has thrown out most of its tradition in the last fifty years, I wonder if you are able to make a proper comparison. I do not mean that Eastern Catholicism would have been less attractive if you had had access to the full treasury of the Latin Church, but the gulf between the two would have seemed considerably less.

    • Well we did the Tridentine thing; we did the Dominican thing and the Norbertine and Fransican thing. My kids learned Latin and served daily Mass…I’m pretty sure I delved deeply into the Roman Church. Regardless, I’m fulfilled and happy as a Melkite Greek Catholic. I just wish our Roman Church would let us easterners be. We need to hold to our own traditions.

  5. I am not walking away from my western lung. I acknowledge it is there, as fully as my eastern lung! However, I’ve done the western thing and not saying it’s less or anything disparaging, I’ve found I prefer the east. I’ve explored and experienced both and I feel best in the east. I just wish the west would be ok with being equal and “let us be.” Latinization is not the answer for us eastern Churches! We need to maintain our identity.

    • I am thrilled you have joined us, and I am happy that you are proud to be a Byzantine Catholic; we are fortunate to have you, but there is a peace that is missing from the words you write. When I read your words, I see someone who is not something, in this case Roman Catholic; rather than seeing you as being something, Byzantine Catholic. Finally, you speak of our Roman brothers and sisters in a way that makes me wonder if you have truly forgiven the pain you hve experienced; are you praying for the enemy who hurt you. I hope that as you continue to grow in your faith you will be able to define yourself less in contrast to your past and more in the truth of your Savior.

      Peace.
      Myshkin

      • Dear Myshkin:

        I think, respectfully, that you missed the point. And I am sorry if I did not communicate myself to you in a way that you understand who I am. Perhaps if you engage in reading more of my posts, you will come to see me a bit more clearly? Because, and again respectfully, you are a little off the mark in regards to me, the peace within me, and my identity (or defining myself as who I am not). The point of the post was that it is the latinization creeping into our eastern Churches – that is what I take issue with. Traditions and practices that are not Byzantine have no place there. I respect and love many of the traditions of my former RC life. I have my favorite statue of St. Rita, my confirmation saint, above my desk. I have our Papal Blessing on my wall. My favorite, hand-made Rosary is on my desk. We have crucifixes in our home. It is not that I eschew the totality of the RC experience. I just wish we could be completely Byzantine and eastern, with no influence of RC traditions in our parishes. It is an observation from having been a Melkite Greek Catholic for well over 10 years now, worshiping at various eastern parishes. Our Byzantine Churches struggle, as a whole, with their identity. And I love all the different cultural influences and traditions and want those highlighted, celebrated, and learned. Both liturgical ones and cultural ones. My God has got this, my friend. I am not concerned about my pain, forgiveness, or my definition of who I am. Blessings…hope you come back to this blog and perhaps select some previous posts to peruse.

  6. This is a beautiful piece and I agree with what you have written. I wish that our bishops would call us openly to the Eastern practices, not through force but through words that encourage and practices that model. I wish they would provide resources for temples to become Eastern. At this point in history our BC Church hasn’t the courage or energy to do it except in a few cases. Pray for us.

  7. ” I’ve found I prefer the east. I’ve explored and experienced both and I feel best in the east.” both have the Eucharist and the infallible authority of the Pope. 🙂 i was only very concerned how a non Catholic reading the blog might take it… not so much Catholics who would probably understand exactly what you’re saying. I had no idea the Eastern church was being “latinized” but sure you would know and take your word for it. My main concern is the call for the New Evangelization.We have too many Catholics wandering off as it is from not knowing enough about their faith. Others,Catholic and NON Catholic,being secularized. I see in our Holy Father Francis an attempt to bring those back(Catholic and NON Catholic)to the fold with a call for us to do the same.I suspect we’re short on time.Eastern or Latin(Western)it’s about one thing:saving souls.

  8. we’re not autonomous of course(that would be the Orthodox church),but i really do get what you’re saying. As i said in an earlier reply my only concern is non Catholics who have plenty of preconceived misconceptions about the Catholic Church anyway. They use these to attack and i worry about them getting more ammo so to speak.

  9. Pingback: WEDNESDAY BYZANTINE EDITION | BigPulpit.com

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