“…spiritual experience…”

As you read this, please remember the emotions I present it with. I do not, nor have I, sit in judgement on anyone. Rather, I poke away at the differences. I look under the rocks strewn around this world we live in, rather than accept the standard landscape. In this post, I am exploring my own experiences and exposures to the differences in life, as I have been exposed to them. I offer this post in that vein, and with love.

St. Nikolai

This summer has provided me with opportunities to worship with family, friends, and fellow parishioners, in a variety of circumstances. Certainly the environment we find ourselves in colors our world. It colors how we view so much, including the Divine. The old adage about nature/nurture comes to mind. As an Anthropology major in college, I feel I was blessed to learn about a variety of cultures, cultural norms, and expectations. The USA is a unique blending (remember being taught how we were a “melting pot” back in the old days?) of cultures, languages, and traditions. Quite often we want everyone to be the same because it is so much easier that way. I am often teased by family members and have a rejoinder I use regularly and it is, “You’re right! I wish everyone was like me because life would be so much easier that way.” Of course, in my life, I live variety on a daily basis. We are a mixed race family. When young, my son asked me why he was “chocolate” and I was “peach.” My response to him was (and I still believe this) is that God loves variety. He loves colors. Look at birds, dogs, cats, people – there are very few exactly the same. (Even when you buy your dog from a reputable breeder, there is no guarantee they will be the breed standard. Trust me. I know this from experience and Chet is now over 11 years old and still not the standard for his breed! HaHa!). The rainbow is God’s promise to us that He will not destroy the earth – and He gave us that promise in a glorious array of colors.  God appreciates the different, the “off the beaten path,” the “oddball,” the “square peg” that doesn’t quite fit. And I love that about life.  I love that saying, “Viva la difference!” And I am different, as well.

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In life, we are given a set of circumstances and environments where we grow. We have a certain set of parents, we live in a certain house, in a certain town, etc. Every sibling is unique. Our life experiences are unique. I am saying all of this because I noticed so many unique qualities to the varying worship services I attended this summer.  I was blessed to be exposed to many faiths before I was married. I have attended some Reform Jewish ceremonies, as well as some Orthodox Jewish ceremonies. I even attended what I lovingly referred to as “Let’s Be Jewish” classes with a rabbi many years ago. I studied Mormonism in junior and high school.  I studied various sects of Protestantism growing up, being baptized seven (7) times. Yes, 7! I attended Greek Orthodox marriage prep courses with a college roommate. I’ve explored options within Catholicism, going from a more modern, post-Vatican II experience, to a Tridentine sort of environment, to evangelical Catholicism and even some of the very expressive masses with Liturgical Dancing. I gravitated to the more traditional experiences within the Church and eschewed many of the modern changes to mass and to the interior of Catholic churches, as well as devotional changes and architecture changes. Our eldest son introduced us to an amazing Melkite priest who invited us to “Come and See” and we have never looked back.  We were blessed to be involved with a very strict/orthodox (as in right thinking) liturgical/spiritual instructional period before formally becoming Melkite Greek Catholic. And all of that has colored how I view my faith, and the way in which I choose to worship.

AfricanMigrantsBoatEuropeAerial-500x333As the news of this past week or so hit my internet newsfeeds, I cringed at the photos of people escaping Syria and ISIS.  I cringed because, in so many respects, this should not be happening. When Our Lord instructed His Disciples to go into all the nations, He meant what he said. And they were obedient, even unto death. My son took the confirmation name of John. When I asked which John, he told me, “The Apostle.” When I asked him why he chose him, his response was, “Because he was the only one who died of old age.”  And we all need to remember that the Apostles died for their faith. They went into a world of paganism and evil, preaching the Word of God. And they died to do it; being obedient to Christ cost them their very lives. Today in our world, Christians are once again giving their lives to live within their faith. ISIS is trying to undo a millennia of Christianity. And they are doing it by the sword.

Some Muslims are also escaping, along with Christians, from the Holy Lands. In the news this week, there have been stories that many trying to get into Germany are converting to Christianity in order to be welcomed. I don’t think it is a conversion of the heart, but rather a conversion of the head. They don’t want to live under ISIS, be they Christian or Muslim. And the world is watching. Many do not want to get involved, nor do they want more Syrians in their country. As a Melkite Greek Catholic, I have been blessed to meet, befriend, and worship alongside some amazing Arab Christians. People who brought just the clothes on their backs, to escape Sadam Hussein, among others. But the reason for this post is that I have read where so many countries are turning these refugees away. They are different. They dress differently. They speak a different language, eat different foods, and their worship (even if Christian) seems foreign as well. Different is often scary. But God celebrates the different! He loves the different.  As His Apostles converted people and established Christianity around the world (in the form of Catholicism) they did so where the people were. They did not change their culture, but adapted the worship of the faith to the country/culture they were in. Roman Catholicism reflects Roman culture when Peter arrived. The Roman Catholic practices evolved around the stricture/structure of Roman culture. The Melkite Church grew up in the Middle East and the Liturgies, while Greek in nature, use lots of Arabic terminology (the whys and wherefores are for another post) and call God, “Allah.” It is the Arabic word for God – it is not a strictly Muslim term. Many Americans wig out when they hear “Allah” from a person like me, especially when used in context about our Christian God. It is a shame more people are not open to, nor even exposed to, the history and truth about how our faith came to be. Christianity is a big tent – there is room for all sorts of diversity.

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The above photo is of the tens of thousands of Syrian refugees in Jordan. This circulated on Facebook yesterday, but was featured in an article by the UK publication, the Telegraph, today. This is a refugee camp that has been there for YEARS; for GENERATIONS. One of the most precious things these refugees hold are keys they wear around their necks. The keys belong to the homes they were forced to leave. The keys are passed down to each generation – that is how long these refugees have been forced to live in these camps. This is not a new problem, but it is a growing one. Yes, they are different. Yes, it is something that is “across the ocean” from the USA. But this is in the Land of Christ. Thanks be to God for the magnanimity and generosity of the Jordanian Royal Family, who has extended refugee status all these years. There is less than 3% of Christians remaining in the Holy Land, the land of our faith.

I was blessed to worship at our Melkite parish on our vacation. It had been 5 1/2 years since we attended Divine Liturgy there. We missed it so much. We attended Mass at our son’s Roman Catholic parish, also while on vacation. It was nice to sit with my granddaughters and worship. So much has changed in the Roman liturgy, it was hard to know what to respond with, but the priest had a wonderful homily. We came home to our Ruthenian parish, where our priest is Ukrainian Greek Catholic, my husband (the deacon) is Melkite, and many of the parishioners are Eastern European (Polish, Russian, and Slavic in general). And I thought about my experiences and was in awe of how truly universal our church is. I mean, I prayed in Arabic, Latin, English, and listened to our priest speak Ukrainian, all within a 3 week period of time – and all within the Catholic Church. How awesome is that?

Different color skin, same souls.

I’ve posted about this issue of differences before. This recent sadness about the Syrian refugees brought it back into the forefront.  Why do we focus on how we are different? All this ugliness toward those who protect and serve our communities. The selling of baby parts by Planned Parenthood; the experimentation on not-dead-yet-babies. The atrocities around this country, and in our world are mounting.  Why? Because of the differences.  Because Margaret Sanger founded Planned Parenthood because she was a follower of Hitler and a white supremacist, who believed anyone not white was less in some way. There are Protestants who believe we Catholics do not even worship the same God, for heaven’s sake, when the Catholic Church is who brought the faith to the world. There are more than 30,000 Protestant denominations around the world, most of which began in the USA. Why? Every time someone had a disagreement (or “protested”) against the Church, they started their own Church. Why? Why do people think because you are black, you think/behave a certain way? Why do people think because you are white, or brown, or tan, or whatever color, you will behave/believe a certain way? And that those differences are inherently wrong? Different is sometimes just different; not wrong.

apple colors

Did you know there are more than 7,500 varieties of apples grown worldwide, each with its own colors? Green? A little tart for me to bite into; I prefer a nice, red, Washington apple. But I like green ones to cook with! They make incredible apple pies. The secret, I discovered, to making the best homemade apple sauce was to cook a variety of apples all at once. The mixture gave the applesauce a lovely, complex flavor that my kids preferred over store-bought. We have variety all around us. We need to put the differences into the context of a reason to learn, to explore, to grow and embrace, rather than something that is set apart, set aside, ignored, and avoided. The Syrians will keep fleeing ISIS. If we are lucky, all our police and firemen will keep protecting us. People will keep intermarrying and having mixed race families. Languages will come to us and we can learn those, as well as new traditions. I love that my heritage is British, but I have learned to cook Russian dishes via my husband’s family, Arabic foods via my Melkite faith, and now I am embracing Polish and Ukrainian foods from my fellow Ruthenian parishioners.  I grew up eating traditional British fare as a child. I was exposed to Greek food growing up and attended Greek festivals as a child. I love learning new traditions and foods.  Why can we not all enjoy these differences, especially the ones in worship, without judging it to be less than what we are familiar with? When we will extend our hands in welcome and embrace something we are unfamiliar with?

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Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

“…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

“Remember those who led you…”

f01d51451266a8a4dc5d8f3e9314a2c2One of the very best things about joining a large organization, is discovery. Who else is there, what their roles are, what the basic structures of the organization are, where things are done, how they are done – the local customs, so to speak.  When I was in college, I went through sorority rush.  This was quite a number of years ago, and so the things in the news about hazing were not really practiced, in the sense that when I was there, it was all about fun, afternoon teas, and belonging.  The sorority rush pattern was such that you were given a schedule of houses to visit, in what order, and at what time; also what attire was appropriate, etc.  After the first day, the sororities choose who to invite back a second time.  Each time you are invited back, you get a little bit more of a glimpse into other members, who they are and why they chose that particular house or chapter, what the sorority’s “theme” is (some have members who are all science majors, or PE majors, or teaching-oriented, which is the one I eventually chose) and the requirements and expectations of membership.  Eventually, you stop being asked back by some of the chapters, or it is narrowed down by natural selection to one or two houses.  Then there is the final night where you are invited to join a particular sorority and from those invites, you choose which house you want to belong to.  As long as it is mutual, you begin life as a pledge.  Once your pledging semester is over, you are initiated.  And once you are an initiated, full member, you are a member for life, and your daughters and granddaughters are called “legacies” and are given preference when they opt to go through sorority rush (or not!).  That was close to 40 years ago and I have friends I am still close to, who were in my sorority all those years ago.  We were in each other’s weddings, became godmothers to each other’s children, and now share (some of us anyway) grand-parenting tales and photos. That was a secular experience…however, we can use it to debate/discuss our religious experiences, too.

Icon wallI was raised, basically, a Protestant. My parents just attended churches where their friends or business associates attended.  It wasn’t really a matter of faith or conviction, but more of a community experience.  We went from Church to Church, never really putting down roots.  As a young woman on my own, I somehow found the Geneva Presbyterian Church. I would drive quite a long way to attend services there.  My grandparents lived nearby and it became a habit – church and then a visit with them.  It was my minor in college that really grabbed me – Biblical Archeology. I began to share what I had been taught and started to give lectures at women’s bible studies in the evenings, all over So Cal (it was word-of-mouth and I was usually invited to speak in the evenings).  I was sharing an archeology series at a local Presbyterian Church when I noted that across the parking lot were people my age (young adults) having a very good time. I took in my surroundings: the group was made up of wives and mothers, and grandmothers,  all quite a bit older than I was and I felt very alone.  After my presentation, I wandered over to see what the young adults next door were up to.  I knew it was a church, but I discovered it was a Catholic church and they were a young adult group! I attended my first mass, all by myself, sitting way in the back and boy,  was I hooked. It was almost like a “love at first site” sort of thing.  My historical and archeological knowledge was alive, right in front of me.  I soon thought to myself, “Why isn’t everyone Catholic?”  But it took me the better part of two years to formally join the Church.  During that time, I met and became engaged to my husband, and we married 8 months after I was welcomed into the Catholic Church on Easter Sunday, all those many years ago.  That particular Easter changed my life, and it is continuing to change it, even now.

170px-Richter_window_Cologne_CathedralIf you compare the concept of sorority rush with RCIA, they are almost the same. It was a time of mutual discovery; a time of questions and answers, much like the ones I asked going through Rush, except during RCIA I learned to pray, and I mean really pray. You can look at organized religion just like you look at any large organization, using the same parameters I outlined above.  The key difference is God.  He is acting in our lives to bring us home.  Now, some would argue that joining a club is nothing like joining a church.  Somewhat true, on a theological level.  But on a social level, it is exactly the same.  Who does what around here? What is the expected attire? What time do I show up (when are the “good” masses?)?  Where do I fit in?  All of these questions are the same when applied to organizations…religious, social, business, professional.  Joining something is allowing yourself to be sucked into a larger entity than just “self.” The key difference is that religion focuses on God at its core, its center, its reason for existence, and the chief work of the Church is prayer.  Whether you join or not, worship will still take place, but the call was strong and I became a Roman Catholic, and remained so for more than 20 years.

Priest cutting holy breadGod called both my husband and myself many years ago when we discovered the Eastern Churches, specifically the Melkite Greek Catholic Church.  The Melkites originated in the Middle East (basically Antioch) and are pretty Orthodox in their theology and outlook, although maintain a communion with the Roman Catholic Church.  Per Wikipedia:

The Melkite Greek Catholic Church (Arabic: كنيسة الروم الملكيين الكاثوليك‎, Kanīsat ar-Rūm al-Malakiyyīn al-Kāṯūlīk) is an Eastern Catholic Church in full communion with the Holy See as part of the worldwide Catholic Church. The Melkites,  Byzantine Rite Catholics of mixed Eastern Mediterranean and Greek origin, trace their history to the early Christians of Antioch, Turkey, of the 1st century AD, where Christianity was introduced by St. Peter.  The Melkite Church has a high degree of ethnic homogeneity and the church’s origins lie in the Near East, but Melkite Greek Catholics are present throughout the world due to migration. Outside of the Near East, the Melkite Church has also grown through inter-marriage with, and the conversion of, people of various ethnic heritages. At present there is a worldwide membership of approximately 1.6 million. The Melkite Catholic Church’s Byzantine roots and liturgical practices are rooted in those of Eastern Orthodoxy, while the Church has maintained communion with the Catholic Church in Rome since a split from the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch in 1729.

When we first became officially a part of the Melkite Church, many of our western friends thought we had “left the faith.”  It caused a lot of heartache and misunderstanding with many of our friends, and even family members.  We had been active for many years in our Catholic homeschooling community and also the greater Catholic intellectual community, and so many of our friends disregard us because of this change. It made us sad because we learned so very much by becoming part of an Eastern Church.  We learned how truly worldwide and universal the Church is – it is not just Roman Catholic, but oh, so much more.  The richness of our faith brings a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes.  God has provided.

“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: 19-20)

This is often called the “Great Commission” of Christ, when He asked that the faith be shared around the world, and He promised to be with us “always.”  And He is with His church, in all its many guises.  What is truly sad is many people just do not accept that.  Many people still believe we are outside the “true” or “real” Church Christ founded.  A little known fact is St. Peter founded the Church at Antioch before he got to Rome.  We like to tease the Roman Catholics that we Melkites had St. Peter first! Ha-Ha!

LastDL12(Deacon Joseph and Father Justin Rose)

My husband has felt called to ministry most of his life. He applied to the priestly seminary as a teen, but put it off.  He then applied to become a Deacon in the Roman church when our children were quite young.  They told him to come back when our kids were grown.  As we migrated to the Melkite Church, we both discussed the deaconate with our parish priest and we started, both of us, to meet with him and to learn more about the Melkite way, and expectations, and the requirements.  Much like I had in my sorority rush days!  We asked the parish to discern his worthiness, and when they all consented, he started on his 4-year seminary experience. We kept in touch with our Roman Catholic friends, and in fact, my middle son became re-acquainted with his now-wife about this time, and her family came to my husband’s ordination (We had met many years ago through a mutual, Catholic, homeschooling family). Many of our Catholic homeschooling friends joined us for my husband’s ordination.

There have been so many interesting things that came from his ordination.  A closer walk with God and His Church, a deeper religious life than we ever experienced (ask my kids about adopting the Melkite rules for Lent and Fasting and those first, few, rough Lents!) but at the same time, a loss of many close friends, due to a misconstrued knowledge of their own Church.  Several friends who attended my husband’s ordination (by Bishop Cyril Bustros) asked us where the nearest Catholic Church was so they could have “real” communion and meet their “Sunday” obligation.  Now mind you, he was ordained by a Bishop, there were numerous priests (an Archmandrite or two, which is the eastern equivalent to a Roman Catholic Monseigneur), monks from our local Monastery (http://hrmonline.org/ We miss you!!) and assorted deacons in attendance, so much so that the Holy Place could not hold them all.  There were so many varied and beautiful vestments there, I felt very under-dressed and far out-shined!  In spite of all of that, friends did not feel they had been to a “real mass” nor had they received “real communion” even after witnessing a Bishop laying his hands on my husband, with all the other priests, deacons, and monks surrounding him.  An Eastern Church, Melkite Greek Catholic Church, was not “real” enough.  I was stymied.

Looking back on that day makes me sort of sad.  I have learned so much and a big thing I learned is that God created His Church to be one, big tent!  We have lots of churches (rites) all united around the one faith, in communion with one another, with the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, as the First Among Equals. The sacraments are the same (we refer to them as mysteries, but they are THE SAME, although in the east the order in which they are received is a little different). We teach from the same Bible, celebrate the same sacrifice (although a tiny difference is that most of the east uses leavened bread)…still, we are all brethren.  Even today, many in the west do not accept the differences.  It is sort of like America insisting everyone around the world adopting their form of democratic/republic-styled government, with no regard for the history or culture of the people they are insisting “convert.”

Ukrainian Monks.war God is calling us to where we each need to be, but don’t sell God short.  He has expressions that may seem odd or “foreign” to us; those of us raised with a western mindset and education. But God cannot be contained in our box or our comfort zone.  He is out there, working in the lives of people in so many ways; God is working for the good of all people.  The outlook we have for those slightly different than we are can be helpful or hurtful.  We’ve all been praying for the people in Ukraine.  We’ve all seen the priests praying between the crowds of protestors and the police (as pictured above).  Those priests are Ukrainian Greek Catholic (or Orthodox) and most are married men.  They are Christian, but celebrate a little differently than we do.  They are not Roman Catholic priests and there was a lot of controversy online about the fact that they are priests and yes, they are married.  It is not common in the Roman tradition to have married priests, but in the 22 other traditions in communion with Rome, and in the Orthodox churches, it is the norm.  They are different than what we find here in the USA, but they are all a part of the family of God, and of His Church.

If I celebrate Lent a little differently, or wear a cross that looks a little different, it is not because I am not a Christian.  I just choose to express my faith and worship in a slightly different way.  But it is valid. It is licit.  It is the same Christ crucified. My prayer is that we can all be one, holy, catholic and apostolic – and mean it.

“Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 18: 8-9)

Byzantine CrossI was encouraged to pen this by someone who was interested in how I got here, why I got here, and some reflections on issues of my journey.  Thanks; it was good to look back and think on it.  I know I have grown immeasurably since first walking into a Catholic Church of my own volition about 30 years ago.  And I know God is still working on me. God has worked some miracles in relationships with people who don’t get where I am worshiping now, nor understand fully that the Eastern Catholic churches all belong and are all part of one, big, family of God.  I pray that with all the talk of ecumenism, that they will realize we are all brethren. I am just so blessed to have discovered that other lung Pope John Paul II spoke of.  I feel I am breathing more fully than I ever was.

Blessed Lent.