Returning to our Authenitc Ruthenian Orthodox Traditions

I am a layman in the Ruthenian Greek Catholic Church in America (we commonly go by Byzantine Catholics and our Metropolia goes by the Byzantine Catholic Church). We are the only Sui Juris Church in the United States. Still that being said we are still a Church trying to find our way back home to our authentic Orthodox practice and ethos. So naturally, I often wonder about what I would like to see happen in my Church as we live out the call of Vatican II. These are just my own ramblings.

If our Church is truly called to return to being fully Eastern some things need to happen and I pray that the do for a true Spiritual Renewal in our Byzantine Church.

1.) That our Metropolitan Church’s bishops form our own Synod and elect own Metropolitan without the approval of Rome.

Currently our Bishops and Metropolitan Archbishop are directly  appointed by the Pope of Rome. This is not the tradition of the Eastern Churches (or for that fact the Latin Church until recently). A fully autonomous Church (or in current Catholic canonical practice known as a sui juiris Church) should have the right to choose her own Bishops and Metropolitan. These Bishops should gather and form a Synod of Bishops that govern the life of the Metropolia. This is the Tradition of the Byzantine Church. In fact the appointment of our Bishops by Rome is in direct violation, IMHO, of the Union of Uzhorod which states:

Second: To have a bishop elected by ourselves and confirmed by the Apostolic See

Our Church should return to electing our Bishops and sending letters of Communion to the Church of Rome and other Eastern Catholic Churches. (and to Orthodox Churches for that matter-even if they are ignored) This is the ancient way of electing the head of local Churches and our Church is a local particular Church.  This ancient Orthodox practice is much more beneficial to our Church for a number of reasons. First, it allows us to fully live out our Byzantine Tradition. Second, it allows us to be faithful to the Union of Uzhorod. Third, it shows our Orthodox brothers and sisters that the rights of the Eastern Churches to elect Bishops without Roman involvement is intact.  To illustrate my point of why having our Bishops appointed by Rome is negative to our Metropolia is that we haven’t had a Metropolitan for over a year now. Our Church has been leaderless for that year while we wait for Rome to appoint us one. (Yet the Ukrainian Catholic Church elected a new Patriarch within a few months of the retirement of the old one)

2.) Restore our authentic Tradition of Married Presbyters.

The prohibition of married Presbyters imposed on us by Rome in the infamous Papal Letter Ea Semper in 1907 and reinforced with  Cum Data Fuerit in 1929 are a violation of our authentic Byzantine Tradition. There were even some married seminarians at the time in America waiting for ordination were given the choice of giving up their vocation or moving to Eastern Europe. (see Eightieth Anniversary of Cum data fuerit) This caused a schism in our Church. The American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese is a result of this lasting schism. It was hoped that the recent particular law of the Byzantine Catholic Church in America would allow for married Presbyters but Rome changed the law (from the draft sent by our Church to Rome). Our Law now states:

 Concerning the admission of married men to the order of the presbyterate, the special norms issued by the Apostolic See are to be observed, unless dispensations are granted by the same See in individual cases.

So in theory with permission married men could be ordained but the other three Byzantine jurisdictions in America (the Ukrainian, Romanian, and Melkite Greek Catholics) ordain married men to the priesthood without permission and Rome says nothing. I pray our Byzantine-Ruthenian Church follows suit since it is our Tradition to allow married men to be ordained to serve as priests.

3.) Liturgical Renewal

The Bishops of our Church approved a new translation of the Divine Liturgies of Sts. John Chrysostom and Basil the Great in 2007. This new translation has caused a large division in our Church. While I am neutral in this disagreement over the translation it is a major issue that needs to be addressed by our Bishops.

Also, many of our parish still has pews, which are antithetical to authentic Byzantine worship. Removing pews (an innovation from Protestantism) slowly and explaining that the proper liturgical position of the Byzantine Church is to stand the whole time. We should have benches in the back for the elderly or infirmed who can’t stand for long periods of time or who need a rest. But before people get up in arms I have been to Russian Orthodox Churches with no pews and elderly Russians standing for the whole three-hour vigil service that I had to sit down in. For an example of a pewless Byzantine Catholic Church see St. Elias in Ontario, Canada.

4.) Continue to De-Latinize our Churches

Our Church still has a long way to overcome Latinizations. Many still have Saturday night Vigil Liturgies (copying the modern Latin practice of Vigil Mass). This should be replaced with Vespers. There are even some parishes that have two Liturgies on Sunday, which again is not in keeping with authentic Byzantine Practices.

There are still many who have a Latin mindset and attitude and see us as “Roman Catholics of the Byzantine-rite.” We will never live out the vocation of the Second Vatican Council if we don’t get rid of this attitude that affects our spirituality, praxis, liturgy, theology, devotionals, and monastic life.

We need to encourage Traditional practices such as the Jesus Prayer, Akathist Hymns to the Theotokos, Fasting, and teach and read Orthodox theologians both ancient and modern.

5.) Restoration of authentic Eastern Monastic Life

It has been said that the health of a local Church can be seen in the number of monasteries. Thank God for Bishops like Bishop John of Parma who is establishing monasteries for men and woman following the authentic Byzantine monastic life in the Eparchy of Parma. We should encourage our Bishops for more monasteries to be founded and work with established communities like Holy Resurrection and Holy Theophany Monasteries of the Romanian Greek Catholic Church.

These are just my rambling on my Church that I love and that many Martyrs suffered for to preserve their Orthodox faith and union with the Pope of Rome. I pray for our shepherds as they lead our Church into a bright future.

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6 thoughts on “Returning to our Authenitc Ruthenian Orthodox Traditions

  1. I whole heartedly agree with you on all accounts. II would add that we need to promote the true vocation of iconography and get away from the mass printed pictures we buy by the dozens (Latinization).

    As one who is stuck in a Roman Catholic Church because the closest Eastern Church is 370 miles away I want our Church to remember who it is and move forward in the Traditions that make her great.

  2. As a Latin Rite Catholic, I completely agree with your comments. In fact, I propose that some of the Eastern Rite practices be introduced in the Latin Church e.g. restoring the way in which bishops are chosen

  3. hi,
    I humbly would encourage everyone to remember that the Church is living and breathing. Sometimes returning to old is nostalgia, not the Holy Spirit. I would also encourage people to think about the role of ethnicity in the American churches, which can often cloud the real purpose of our worship, and exclude others. I know I have gone to other eastern churches because of geography and was received as an ethnic outcast. We have to consider that we are in America. American’s speak English. Of those who “pray” in Slavonic, MOST “pronounce” it phonetically…but have no idea of the grammar or really the words. (as such, those praying in Latin would probably benefit from studying Latin, as used to be the case). Vigil Liturgies are very helpful, especially for Holy days. It is most important to get people into the church for Divine Liturgy, which is more important than Vespers. Certainly Vespers could proceed. And certainly more evening Liturgies would be really great, with Vespers.
    But my most important comment is that we should remember that we are Catholic. We should not get bogged down in rejecting spiritual practices. Many people have personal devotions which derive from “east and west.” No church has a monopoly on prayer, nor should they insist that one style of private prayer is SUPERIOR or more authentic. The only thing authentic is the Lord’s one true and apostolic Catholic Church.

    When I stopped trying so hard to be only “pure eastern” and started just being a really authentic Catholic Christian, and a child of God, I think I got closer to the Lord. The other stuff is externals, and important surely, but not paramount to loving God, and participating in the Liturgy.

    I pray for everyone to embrace our Only One True Catholic Church and be moved ever closer to the Lord. I have been in many RC parishes due to geography, I do not feel abandoned. I am grateful to have the Divine Liturgy, even that more than Vespers. The Lord’s presence is in all churches.

    1. Hi Lee,

      I must disagree with you, humbly of course. The Church wants us to return to our authentic Traditions. The Church wants this, not just particular individuals. The Church wants the Eastern Churches to be Eastern and not some sort of hybrid. This is the mandate of the Second Vatican Council.

      There is no need for Vigil Divine Liturgies (on Saturday nights) or two Liturgies on Sundays. This is not our practice (nor the Orthodox practice either) it is a copy of the Latin church pure and simple. If a Eastern Catholic finds it inconvenient to be in church on Sunday- the Lord’s day- then that person needs to really examine their own spiritual life. It is not about our comfort or desire to sleep in on Sunday’s. Plus our parishes are two small to justify having multiple liturgies on Sunday’s and it undermines our authentically Eastern Catholic Tradition- one bread, one cup, one Eucharist, one parish family. Having two Liturgies divides our parishes into two families, two breads, two cups, two Eucharists.

      Vespers is part of preparing for Liturgy on Sunday and is a venerable spirit filled Tradition of the Church as is matins. The Church is about transformation or Divinization it is not a numbers game. Either people want to come to Divine Liturgy or they don’t. Adding more to appease people is not the answer.

      Yes we are Catholic but that does not justify latinizations or hybidism. In fact the Vatican wants us to be Eastern, period. They want us to use OUR PRAYERS, OUR DEVOTIONS, OUR LITURGY (which includes Vespers, Matins, and the hours), OUR THEOLOGY, OUR SAINTS, and OUR TYPICA, We are to promote unity with the Orthodox by showing them that to be Catholic does not mean you have to stop being who you are. So to reject this idea is to reject what the Popes have said since Vatican II.

      Liturgy is just one way of us being a Child of God. What good is going to Liturgy if the rest of the time we do nothing else?

      Going just to Liturgy is not enough to be truly transformed. This requires a complete change in life or a mentonia. IT REQUIRES prayers, fasting, alms giving, ascetical struggle, reading the Fathers, prostrations and the list could go on forever. The Divine Liturgy is just one part of our Life in Christ (the most important part) but to stop there is not enough. To be Byzantine Catholics means so much more it means to adopt a lifestyle, a turning away from this world and embracing the Gospel life. IT IS DIFFERENT than being a Roman Catholic (not better mind you but it is different).

      I agree completely with you on the language issues- Byzantine parishes both Catholic and Orthodox in America should be using English as the vernacular in liturgy is a hallmark of our Tradition.

      Have a peaceful and holy Lent.

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