Theist Gal's thoughts on her visit to a Byzantine Catholic Church

by Christine Lehman


When I was growing up in Sedalia, Missouri, and working in the cornfields (okay, I didnít work there all the time, just spent a couple of weeks detasseling corn in the summer, to finance my Tiger Beat obsession), I never dreamed that someday I would be an active participant in the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.

In fact, even though I enjoyed being a Roman Catholic in a city full of Protestants who thought we all worshipped Mary, and actually read a lot of the excellent, albeit moldy, old Catholic books which had not yet been thrown out of our churchís library for being too pre-Vatican II, I knew little to nothing about the Eastern Churches which even then were very much a part of the Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

Oh, Iíd heard of the Great Schism (sort of), and I knew that even the Catholic Encyclopedia grudgingly conceded that Eastern Orthodox Churches were not quite as far away from the True Catholic Church as the other Christian Churches (they were definitely closer than my suspicious Protestant neighbors). But my general impression of them was that they were all very mysterious, spoke funny languages (letís face it, in Sedalia, even Spanish was considered pretty exotic), had very un-Missouri-like beards, wore long robes and lived way, way on the other side of the world. So their status in the Church held zero interest for this devoted and completely ignorant cradle Catholic.

So what happened? How did this cornfed Missouri gal wind up regularly attending, and loving, the Divine Liturgy at a Byzantine Catholic Church in Sherman Oaks, California?

Well, the shortest (and least embarrassing) explanation would be, "God writes straight with crooked lines." The longer and more truthful explanation is that it was pure lust. Well, maybe "lust" isnít the right word. I mean, I wasnít downloading porn from the Internet or anything like that. However, during one of my frequent bouts with temptation (which seem to happen a lot when I spend too much time on the Internet), I signed up for one of those mega-dating services. What can I say? Iím single, Iím lonely, my biological clock is ticking, and the charms of celibacy were not sparkling very brightly that day.

But what do you think happened? Iíll tell you what happened. God, who is not only Wisdom, Love and Mercy personified, but also has a great sense of humor, matched me up with a gentleman who had listed his religion as "Catholic," but turned out to be an Eastern Catholic Ė a member of a Byzantine Rite church in Southern California.

Well, I knew so little about it (see above) that at first I pronounced it "buy-zan-tyne"! But my new friend kindly corrected me and pointed me towards some resources on the Internet, starting with EWTNís Ask the Experts section with Anthony Dragani, which led me to Mr. Draganiís East to West site, which led me to the Byzantine Catholic Church of Americaís site, etc., et al and ad infinitum. I was amazed and impressed by how much information is out there, if you only know where to look.

But nothing amazed or impressed me as much as actually attending the Divine Liturgy at what has now become my favorite church, the Cathedral of St. Mary in Sherman Oaks, California. From the first moment I went in, the beauty, majesty and reverence filled all of my senses and delighted my soul. The icons, the incense, the chanting, the singing, the Real Presence of Christ and His Mother and all His saints and angels, were all there and I was hooked! (The coffee and donuts afterwards didnít hurt either.)

Sadly, there are some bitter feelings towards Rome which still linger in the Eastern Rite Churches. A lot of that has to do with the fact that people like me, cradle Catholics who think they know everything there is to know about the Catholic Church, still donít even know that the Eastern Churches exist, unless they stumble across them by accident Ė which is almost exactly what happened to me.

Another problem is that many Roman Catholic who feel exiled from their own churches due to the necessary, yet often poorly implemented and explained changes to the Mass since Vatican II, and rightly angered by what they see as the efforts of liturgists to "dumb down" the Mass and the beautiful traditions of our Church, have escaped to the Eastern Churches. Which could be, and often is, a great thing. When these exiles are open to the beauty and the spirituality of the Eastern Churches and humbly try to learn from them, there is enrichment on both sides.

Unfortunately, some of these exiles have brought their anger with them, and have tried to "Latinize" the Eastern Rite parishes they join. They have replaced icons with statues, erected the Stations of the Cross, installed holy water fonts and kneelers, and insisted on other devotions and prayers, all of which are perfectly legitimate and right in the Latin Rite, but completely out of place in the Eastern Churches. Itís kind of ironic, when you remember that these are people who claim to be concerned about honoring the traditions of the past.

But itís a problem thatís being dealt with, slowly and tactfully, to be sure, but more and more Eastern churches are being restored. And they have the full backing of the Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II has specifically urged the Eastern Rite Churches to restore and preserve their own rich and unique heritage.

What else can I say? I could go on and on, but frankly, I am still not confident that I know enough about this beautiful and still-strange-to-me Church to give it full justice. But Iím learning, and you can too. Thank God for the Internet! There are all sorts of resources out there Ė here's an excellent article which will give you a complete overview.

ďBlessed is the kingdom of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and unto the ages of ages.">

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