My “take away” from my day yesterday was my status on my FB page this morning:
“God, family, and friends are what make the world go ’round. So blessed to have them. The rest doesn’t really matter.”
I had quite a day. First of all, I was reluctant to post my feelings about being Eastern Catholic, for fear of offending anyone. Some of the comments, made publicly as well as privately, have engendered good conversations. Those I had hoped would not take offense, did not, and for that I am grateful. I also believe that by exposing some of my feelings about the process of becoming a Byzantine Catholic, it was helpful and reflective of the journey of many others. And that is one of the main reasons I started this blog in the first place.
Friends that I had prayed were friends, still are! So God is good. I also was concerned, as one of my fellow bloggers pointed out, that I would confuse non-Catholics or Catholics who had wandered away from the Church. Perhaps I did add to their confusion. For that, I do apologize. But it planted a seed for me, too. Why do Protestants and many Catholics (cradle or convert) not know the history of this amazing faith we all share? When I was in college, my brain was so excited at all the enormously new facts I was learning. It’s funny to think how cocky you are when you are a High School Senior, knowing everything! It’s not until you to start to truly learn, that you realize how little you know. Your world is so small while in high school, many times being bordered by the confines of where you live and where you can drive. I remember going to drive on a freeway that had not been completed or open to the public, yet. They allowed Driver’s Ed programs to practice on it. We practiced getting on and off the freeway, and changing lanes, slowing and speeding up. It was neat because there were no other cars on the road, except for us. But what took me by surprise were all the other neighborhoods and shopping areas and schools I had not realized were even there! The elevated roadway showed me areas I had not seen any of, before then. I did not know how small my world was. Interestingly enough, that freeway became a major thoroughfare and I used it constantly while attending college, and well into adulthood. And in college, my world view grew and expanded. My knowledge of history just exploded. And as I got into my minor of Biblical Archeology, I wondered why the entire world was NOT Catholic. It made perfect sense to me that the Catholic Church was the Church established by Christ through Peter…every Protestant sect could trace its origins to it. And then I discovered the eastern world. It is not something we are typically taught, as we are a western country, fully embracing western philosophy and thought. When I discovered that the Catholic Church was all over the world, I was mesmerized. But when I learned there were 22 other Churches aligned with the Roman Church, I was stunned. Why did we not know this growing up? Why were we not taught the glorious history of Constantinople? Why did we not know more about the Crusades and what really happened? Why were we, as a country, and as a culture, in the dark?
“But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28: 16-20
And as I delved deeper, I discovered this treasury of faith that just enveloped me. I did not throw off western ideology, per se. I just embraced eastern thoughts, philosophy, theology, and practices in place of it. I found that it suits me and my personality so much better. But I live and deal with western thought and philosophy all around me, all day long. I operate in a western culture and live a western life. I prefer to worship, however, in an eastern way.
There are some fun sayings that have become part of the lexicon of our speech. One of them is, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” And I think about this often as it applies to our expressions of faith. St. Peter stopped along his way towards Rome in the east. He stopped long enough to establish a Church there. We Melkites like to joke that we had Peter first! But the Church he left us in the middle east is a Church that reflects the life of the nascent Church and the environment in which it grew up. It is primarily Greek in orientation, and its Liturgy is that of St. John Chrysostom. It was where the term,”Christian” was first used. The tones used in the Divine Liturgy of the Melkites are so ancient that when they were first written down, no one knew where they originated, they had been used for so long. And when you hear someone who can sing the tones properly, intone the Divine Liturgy, it is as one commenter said, “Like being in Heaven.” It is Divine. It is hard to explain if you have not experienced it yourself, but it is very different from the tones used in Gregorian chant, for example. The tempo and sounds are vastly different. Not to mention the incredible infusion of beeswax candles and incense, adding to a total religious experience. And I just happen to love the eastern style more. It harkens back, for me, to the ancient Church. Not the early Church of Rome, but further back, into antiquity.
After Peter left the east, he journeyed to Rome. And, as he and each of the Apostles did, taught the people where they were, to bring them to an understanding of Christ and His words, to facilitate conversion. In Rome, society was structured, ordered, precise, militarily-oriented in ranks, so to speak. And the Church grew up around that. (Think of confessionals…boxes. Roman culture had people in specific places, or boxes. Their roles in culture were specific and immutable). The early Roman Catholics were renowned for how they loved each other, and shared all they had with each other. This was a foreign idea to a culture with castes (boxes) from which people did not leave. Born a slave, born a bread maker, born a soldier – die the same way. In the early Christian community, they changed that when they said (in Colossians 3: 11) “…a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.”
The cult of Christ grew up in an era of conflict and Christianity was a bastion of peace in amongst warring nations. Even now, Christianity finds itself among warring nations. And one of the cradles of the faith, Syria, finds itself being purged of its Christians. Just today a new article came out stating that something like 1.5 million have escaped but another 4 million are in refugee status! But that 150,000 have been killed in the past three years! (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/10737682/Syria-civil-war-kills-over-150000-people-in-three-years.html) Do we not see what is happening?
I love being Melkite. I love being Melkite Greek Catholic. Yes, it is one Church standing, with another 21 Churches, alongside and in union with, the Church of Rome. But I am not Roman Catholic. My blood still bleeds red, my friends. I love my fellow Christians, and my fellow Catholics. My expression is, however, decidedly Melkite Greek Catholic – it feeds my soul. I have been shunned by many I thought were friends, accusing me of leaving “the Church.” I realize their ignorance of this amazing Church is what caused them to behave the way they did. Catholic is a term that loosely means, “universal.” If people only realized how universal the Church as a whole really was, they would stand in awe, inside any “Catholic”, sui juris Church. Our separated brethren in the Orthodox world have not been subject as much to some of the westernization of our sui juris Churches. And I take great comfort in the spiritual treasures there, reading all I can from the Holy Fathers. One of my favorites is Elder Thaddeus and his work entitled, “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives” and others are St. John of Kronstadt and St. John of the Ladder (St. John Climacus, whose feast we celebrated this past Sunday). These Church Fathers and writers have enhanced my life immeasurably over the past few years and I treasure their wisdom and their words in my life. And they are decidedly not western in thought or approach, and I feel greatly blessed by their eastern insight and philosophy.
Like a person who commented about my embracing the Melkites said, “it is almost like when you walk into a Muslim (or Coptic – St. Mark’s in photo above) temple – you remove your shoes.” That is pretty much what describes my immersion in the faith of the east. I am immersed in it and I love it so, and I really appreciate how my faith has grown because of it. I am saddened that my total immersion has some questioning my choices and my sanity, but that is okay, too. It also does not mean there is no merit in other faith expressions. Frankly, if someone is attending Church at all in this culture, I am thrilled! Be fed where you can. My father and my siblings are NOT Catholic, and I don’t think they understand it, either. And that is okay, too. (Other than the fact that they think I am “married to the bride of satan” and going to hell part). That being said, I somehow know in my heart that if they could but step into the many eastern Churches I have experienced, the overwhelming presence of God would affect them, too. (Below is a fisheye – camera view of a Russian Church).
So the term, “my take away,” is a neo-pop-psychology term meaning, “what I got out of it.” Yesterday was a test, and a testimony, to the power of faith, of God working in my life. It also demonstrated that none of us are immune from the uncertainty in life. We pray, we try to live as best we can, and occasionally life will throw you a curve ball. Yesterday was a curve ball, in another area of my life. I was able to stand my ground and defend my family and those I care about. I was not in the least intimated, and I was praying, “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner” the entire time. It was good in that God presented me with a situation, I chose not to back down, and I felt the courage to speak truth in a room of lies and lying people. And I felt pretty beat up by the whole experience (I have for some time). But after dropping by some friends’ home, and then speaking with friends and family today, I am feeling how God is so good in my life. He has placed people in it who add to it and help build it up when it feels like the edges are folding in on me. I was able, and have been able, to express myself regarding my faith through this blog and through some wonderful conversations. It gives me strength to do what I need to do to ensure my family and friends are taken care of, taking comfort in their love and the love of God. And even with all the ugly going on around me, I know God has blessed me, truly blessed me. Because, as I opened with, “God, family, and friends are what make the world go ’round. So blessed to have them. The rest doesn’t really matter.”