Laughing, Weeping, Living

Life happens. You laugh about it or cry about it, sometimes both.

Our Journey to the East

on September 16, 2013
Someone just sent me an email asking what took Jeremy and me to the Eastern Catholic tradition, and as I was writing I thought, “gee, this would make a purdy good blog post.” I hope my emailing friend doesn’t mind!
Jeremy and I had been going to Roman Catholic church, but as you can imagine, every parish has its own “vibe” and the way they do things. So when we moved to Akron, we took some time to shop around to find a parish that had the things we liked, and lacked the things we were happy to do without. We wanted a parish that celebrated reverent liturgy, with a priest who was obviously spiritual and not “tired” of his ministry. We wanted good music, or at least music that didn’t make us want to plug our ears! We wanted a parish where the prevalent mood was one in support of the Pope and keeping with Church teachings. We love the Pope and we wanted to be surrounded by others who do, too. We wanted a parish with a strong devotion to Mary the Blessed Mother. We wanted a parish where the actual church building looked like a church inside and out, rather than like a gymnasium or auditorium with an altar at one end.
So, with all that in mind, we shopped around. We actually have a few friends who worship in the Eastern Catholic tradition so we had heard about it before. The way the Catholic churches shake down is, there are two major branches: the Western (Roman, Mozarabic, and Ambrosian) and the Eastern (everything else that is Catholic). The Eastern Catholics tended to branch off more specifically according to ethnic groups, geographical regions, and language spoken. The Bishop of Rome (the Pope) is still the universal pontiff for everyone, but all the different Eastern Catholic Rites also have their own Patriarchs. And each ethnic tradition has their own Archbishop. There are several major Eastern Rites: Alexandrian (Coptic and Ethiopian Catholics); West Syrian (Maronite, Syriac, and Syro-Malankara Catholics); East Syrian (Chaldean and Syro-Malabar Catholics); Armenian (Armenian Catholics), and Byzantine (Albanian, Greek, Melkite, Ruthenian, Ukrainian and others). All these Eastern Rites are in union with the Pope of Rome, so we say all these churches are “in communion” with Rome. That is why Jeremy and I could just up and decide to go to a Ukrainian Catholic Church! There are some differences in the organization of hierarchy and stuff between East and West that I don’t feel really comfortable discussing, so I’ll move on to the liturgy!
I’m not too familiar with all the Eastern Rites, but each Rite has a favorite liturgy they use for worship. The two big ones for Byzantine Catholics are the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom and the Liturgy of Saint Basil. Any Eastern Catholic Church that uses these liturgies for worship are going to be similar to each other. The main difference will be with whichever ethnic language is thrown in. Jeremy and I have learned how to do a couple of the responses in Ukrainian!
This is the biggest difference for me between a Roman Catholic Mass and a Byzantine Catholic Divine Liturgy. The feel of the two liturgies are totally different. The reforms of the liturgy that occurred in the 1970’s for Roman Catholics did a lot to streamline Mass, update the language, and open up some areas for a parish or diocese to do something individual. The liturgy of the Byzantine Rite didn’t go through this reform so there are lots of repetitive prayers and litanies, and the liturgy is almost entirely the same week to week. There are just a few things that change for each Sunday or feast day. I like the repetition. I like that the priest sings almost everything and the congregation sings all the responses. I like all the litanies. The Eastern Divine Liturgy feels mystical to me, with the cool chanted music, incense, bells, symbolic gestures, and icons. I love that we are hit with the fragrance of incense as soon as we walk through the door on Sunday. The fragrance of incense and pyrogies! I love gazing at the beautiful icons of Mary and Jesus and the saints.
I grew up Roman Catholic and Jeremy has been catholic for 15 years, so it’s hard for us to put aside the Roman thing! We still are more in tune with the Roman calendar of saints and feast days. We still pray the traditional Roman Catholic prayers at home. We still really like Latin! We celebrate liturgy at a Byzantine church and we try to incorporate some of the Eastern spirituality into our lives. We love icons and pray with icons at home. We try to remember to make the sign of the cross “backwards.” It’s a process, like any faith journey. And we’re enjoying it!
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2 responses to “Our Journey to the East

  1. Kay Becker says:

    I attended some of the litergies in The Billings orthadox church—and enjoyed them very much so I know what you mean———I don’t know too much about this church they use to use Little flower before they got their own church—Mass is an hour and a half. I do not know what will happen to the Cluster—it is in disaray right now but we do need a church on this side of town–so I am hanging in there. Kay Becker.

  2. judy says:

    Yes, the liturgy of Eastern Catholics is more similar to Orthodox liturgy than it is to Roman Catholic liturgy! Actually, many of the Eastern Catholic Churches were Orthodox at one time or another in their history, because in the East many governments forbade the practice of Catholicism so those churches had to declare themselves Orthodox. Then, over time, the Patriarchs and Archbishops issued statements saying they were in union with Rome and they went back to being “Catholic.” But the liturgy survived all these back-and-forth movements with very little changes.

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