Monday, February 15, 2016

RIP Fr. Athanasy (Mastalski): A tortured but good soul I met along the way


Archimandrite Athanasy [Mastalski] of Saint Tikhon’s Monastery here fell asleep in the Lord on Friday, February 5, 2016. ...
Andrew Mastalski knew he wanted to be a priest when he was 4. So like lots of pious boys then, in American Catholicism's heyday in the 1950s right before Vatican II, for years every day there was the parish's Mass at which Andy learned to serve as an altar boy, in Latin, then after Catholic school in his room there was Andy's Mass, on a dresser turned into a decent folk copy of a baroque altar, statues and all. School was wonderful too; the black-and-white habited Sisters of St. Joseph teaching at St. Hugh's in Lower Northeast Philadelphia loved the devout Polish-Irish boy and he loved them. There was arguably a miracle in his life: he fell from an upper-story window at home, shattering an arm. His mother prayed at a popular shrine of St. Anne (for whom she was named) and the arm healed, against doctors' expectations. So unlike some Philly Catholic guys, Andy kept his love of God and the church as a teenager. His mother worked for the Pauline Fathers’ (from Poland, fleeing the Communists after World War II) shrine to Our Lady of Czestochowa in Doylestown; Andy was once well known in Philly's "Polonia" (Polish community). So because of all that, again in a boom time to be an American Catholic, 100% Catholic and 100% American like Jesus is all God and all man, after graduating from Northeast Catholic High School Andy tried his vocation, first with the Franciscans, and then the Marine Corps of the church, the Jesuits. Off to Fordham University and a long formation as is the order's way, staying to become a member of the order, Mr. Andrew Mastalski, S.J.

Back in Philly, this boy enthusiastic about anything to do with God had met some Russian exiles from World War II (fleeing the Communists), getting to know their parish priest, Fr. Eugene Lyzlov, and their wonderful, mystical Byzantine Rite. That memory stayed with him, and interestingly the Jesuits at Fordham had among their specialized ministries one to try to convert the Orthodox by taking their rite and spirituality to heart. There were a few Russian Catholic parishes in big American cities manned by Jesuits. Fordham had a school/working model for this, its Russian Center, led at the time by an English eccentric, Fr. Fyodor Wilcock, who ended up in L.A. as pastor of St. Andrew's Russian Catholic Church. These Russian Catholics took to heart St. Pius X's directive creating that particular church: don't latinize; do exactly what the Orthodox do, "no more, no less, nothing other." At the Russian Center chapel Fr. Fyodor took down an icon of his own order's founder, St. Ignatius Loyola, not because he didn't love the church or the order but because it went against the rite, which controls what is done in church. Among Mr. Mastalski's roommates was the saintly Fr. Walter Ciszek, another Polish-American, free after 20 years in Soviet prisons, and as Fr. Athanasy told me years later, a secret bishop sent behind enemy lines to make sure the Catholic Church survived there. (I've read With God in Russia and have an autographed copy; a relic?) So Mr. Mastalski was on his way to a fine career as a Catholic priest.

Then Vatican II happened. The church's culture and the order in the form that Mr. Mastalski had pledged his life to? "They took it away from me." Was he happy? "Renewed," on fire for the Lord? It gave him a breakdown, clinical depression, which put him in a mental hospital, in the late 1960s, getting electroshocked, and he told me he wasn't the only "religious" in the ward. The council and its aftermath tore him apart.

He left the order, dropped out of college, and, inconceivable only a few years before, left the church. Another casualty, another lost soul, from the era, but at heart he still believed, and "liturgically I was always straight," keeping the Russian Byzantine Rite he had been so meticulously taught. He became a vagante priest, liturgically Russian but "freelance," ordained by minor legend Walter Propheta, and out among the hippies and other burnouts the nice Catholic boy from Northeast Philly tried his best to minister, but pretty soon he realized that was a dead end, which took him to... another dead end where he ended up.

Understandably he next went to Fr. Eugene's church, the little Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, basically an attempt to continue the tsarist church free from Soviet compromise, serving World War II exiles in America and a few other places. He was ordained again and became a monk. I didn't know him in his early ROCOR years but I understand he was understandably mad at the church so he bought into this sect's born-again anti-Catholicism, a mix of old Russian chauvinism (comes with the territory in Orthodoxy) and more recent occult junk these folks took in, as they did fanatical Greeks and Arabs, anti-Catholic, reacting to the Sixties. ROCOR wasn't originally fanatical, just Russian. That's what Fr. Eugene's Philadelphia parish, Our Lady, Joy of All Who Sorrow, was like, and that's where, after serving New Jersey parishes (and teaching in Catholic schools in those areas), living in the Holy Land, and even working in Haiti to try to steal Catholics (he was still mad at the church), Fr. Athanasy stayed for about 15 years as pastor, which is how we met.

My church home was shot out from under me too and I tried to buy into Orthodoxy but my heart wasn't in it. Too proud to give the church another try and besides, locally they'd become Modernist. Fr. Athanasy understood. And by then he'd long mellowed, re-adopting much from his early years. He had Latin Catholic sacramentals in his home (a home he shared with many cats and a dog). I started praying the rosary again as he did. He was almost a Doppelgänger of this fellow. A formation and a fount of knowledge almost like Msgr. Murray, from about the same period. I reconnected with the church, in spirit, at St. Clement's (then Anglo-Papalists: would-be Catholics), with his blessing. So for about 15 years I was in suspended animation, living in a crypto-Catholic bubble with him. He tried to take care of me spiritually, and in a way protected me from the real Orthodox, but down side of course was that my connection with him delayed my return to the church; human respect, a sin. And he was still mad at the church so he'd go back and forth on my suggestion to go back. It wasn't fair to the Orthodox of course; they have the right to enforce their teachings. I was a hypocrite. But God is patient.

Like the English ritualist slum priests of yore, one of Fr. Athanasy's characteristics was charity in the form of generosity, giving money and other support to local bums, for example. They knew they would get a handout from "Fr. Andrew." Eventually that well-meant liberality soured his Russian parishioners on him so one day in late 2011 he suddenly quit and left town. Meanwhile, Joseph Ratzinger had become Pope Benedict XVI, freed the Tridentine Mass, and, huge, reformed the Novus Ordo in English as of the first Sunday in Advent 2011. Three weeks later I went to Christmas Mass and have been back in the Catholic Church ever since. Life is funny: Fr. A made that possible for me and held it back at the same time. He knew Orthodoxy isn't true.

I last saw Fr. A when he happened to be in my neighborhood. A car pulled up to a business and out he went, in civilian clothes. He didn't recognize me at first, then hugged me. "You look like a million bucks!" Told him where I go to church and all he said was, sincerely, "Are you happy?"

St. Tikhon's Seminary and Monastery is part of the Orthodox Church in America, despite its name actually not the Orthodox' biggest jurisdiction here as most American Orthodox are Greek. But it is their canonical church, which doesn't mean anything to us for now but anyway, because they were the first Orthodox here. About 100,000 people, Ruthenians descended from ex-Catholics 100 years ago who think they're Russian; it is the Russian church's official American spinoff. The only reason Fr. A was there was he thought he had nowhere else to go; he told me so. All his schismatic churchmanship over the years ("Russian shenanigans" as he put it) left him with nothing. He didn't even have Social Security. And he wasn't well; I'm surprised he made it to 69. Diabetes, gout, and prostate cancer. The last thing he said to me was he wanted out. "I want to come home" to Philadelphia to die, and maybe he meant coming home to the church too, but that feeling was always strong but ambivalent. The thing was, it being a monastery where he didn't have a phone, and he was one of the old school who didn't use the Internet, it was impossible for me to stay in contact with him. As recently as last week, coincidentally when he died, I was thinking of a way to bring him here to fulfill his wish and God's will.

You don't want to wait too long to try to set things right. "It's later than you think."

The miracle icon of St. Anne? ¿Quién sabe?

My 1953 copy of the Little Office, my office, is from him.

The tragedy in all this is that this good soul from before the council (a living link) died outside the church. I dare say the people in the church who pushed him out, the Modernists, the iconoclasts, have much more to answer to God for. Literally, God knows what is happening to him; all we can do is commend him to God's infinite mercy.

14 comments:

  1. I knew Fr. Athanasy well enough to know he believed Orthodoxy is true. He missed the way the Roman church was when he was a kid, which was completely understandable, but he believed in Orthodoxy. Don't speak for him, John, and you should keep your judgemental thoughts to yourself. The things you say are self contradictory. In some places, you say we are still part of the church, but just "estranged". Other parts, you say we are outside the church. Which one is it? You admitted to me earlier that you hate the Orthodox. How Christian of you... I think it's clear that it's your hatred of us that dictates all the nasty, condescending things you say about us.
    We don't need the Pope of Rome to be saved, like it says in Unam Sanctum. I've already expressed my opinion that it is heretical and blasphemous to believe such a thing. The papacy is an invention of the Middle Ages. It has nothing to do with the early church.
    Anyway, Archimamdrite Athsnasy was one of the holiest people I've ever met and I have no doubt that he is with the Lord praying for us. And praying for you too.

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    1. He believed Orthodoxy is true.

      Like I said, he was very hurt by our churchmen so sometimes he understandably said things like that. Noteworthy is that he never dwelled on these controversies preaching; he had more important things to say.

      And in a sense Orthodoxy's true if you stick to their defined doctrine and their liturgy, their defined doctrine being the church's first seven councils. Entirely Catholic.

      Don't speak for him, John, and you should keep your judgemental thoughts to yourself.

      Take it up with him; I'm just a scribe. I knew the Orthodox wouldn't tell his whole story so I wanted to write down this oral history before it was lost. He deserves that.

      The things you say are self contradictory. In some places, you say we are still part of the church, but just "estranged". Other parts, you say we are outside the church.

      That's just the contradiction inherent in schism, Eric. Born Orthodox are an estranged part of the church, not personally guilty of schism, but not having the fullness of grace from being in the church, all because they value their culture over the church. The difference with you is, as he and I were, you are personally guilty of schism.

      You admitted to me earlier that you hate the Orthodox. How Christian of you...

      Odium theologicum from me? You bet. Malice from me? No. They tell malicious lies about my mother, the church. I've heard such not only from the online peanut gallery but the late Msgr. Laurus trying to scare ROCOR kids into sticking with the tribe. By the way, that doesn't work.

      Other than that, Orthodox get the basic love all people get from God, plus they have the first seven councils, bishops, and the Mass, and on top of that they offer insights into how to be a traditional church that can benefit us all. The traditional liturgy supported at a grassroots level; the church as a collection of upstate Pennsylvania Sportsmen's Club community gatherings; sobornost'. The difference is I don't tie it down to a culture and include the Pope.

      We don't need the Pope of Rome to be saved, like it says in Unam Sanctum. I've already expressed my opinion that it is heretical and blasphemous to believe such a thing. The papacy is an invention of the Middle Ages. It has nothing to do with the early church.

      There is only one church and she has a chief bishop. Nothing heretical or blasphemous about it. Denying our baptisms and our having the Eucharist? Blasphemy.

      Our door is still open for you. If you are called to the Christian East you can do that with us too; Byzantine Catholics need and would greatly appreciate your support.

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  2. I think his non-canonical association was with "Metropolitan" Trevor Moore in Philadelphia, not with Propheta. He was pictured in one of Moore's anniversary/history books, but listed as having already by that time left Moore's group and gone to ROCOR.

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    1. Thanks for reminding me. I am fairly sure Propheta ordained him, in 1969 in New York, but he was in Moore's church here between that and ROCOR.

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  3. I just wanted to comment about ROCOR. I live not far from a ROCOR monastery. I used to go to DL at that monastery when they were under the Jerusalem Patriarchate. I stop going there regularly before they switched to ROCOR. I went rarely after that. The anti-Catholic vitriol and lies I heard at every coffee hour made me sick. It soured me against Orthodoxy and ROCOR in particular. I now go to a Ukrainian Catholic parish.

    I think ROCOR is basically a joke now. They recently received some defrocked PNCC priest and his vagante group. Of course they acted like it was some big coup, but only a few days later it blew up in their faces. This isn't the first time something like this happened to them. They seem to just want to inflate their membership before checking out the loons that knock on their door.

    Anthony

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    1. You have described the thing.

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  4. Fr. Walter a secret Bishop? Interesting. I never heard that before. Fr. Walter is a hero of mine.

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  5. Fr. A on Orthodoxy:

    Me: I am a Catholic, not a schismatic.
    Fr. A: They don't know they're schismatics.

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  6. Yikes. The papacy is an invention of the Middle Ages? Where did that come from? A Chick tract?

    Someone needs to read some actual scholarship. Where is Dr Tighe when we need him?

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  7. Dear Sir:
    I came upon your post through a link on the North Jersey Latin Mass Facebook page.

    De mortuis nihil nisi bonum is not an absolute, I know, but your post while professing fondness for this servant of God shows a lack of charity and snark. Also, sometimes some things are better left off the internet- particularly during the mourning period. Maybe you could have waited until after the year anniversary of the death of Fr. Athanasy- or at least his Month's Mind.

    I am no theologian- just a Catholic married to a devout Russian Orthodox woman. No doubt there is some truth in the scuttlebutts you give about RCOR and while I am always welcomed at their liturgies, I do, I admit, sometimes hear whoppers about the Church- even from highly educated congregants.

    However, I am always at home at RCOR and never (or very rarely) at a Novus Ordo Mass. I have never met a RCOR priest who was not priestly. Rarely, is a Novus Ordo priest priestly! More than at home, the mystery of the death and Resurrection of Our Lord and his Eucharistic presence until the Final Day is always brought home to me at the Orthodox church.

    I am a steadfast believer in the Petrine office but understood in its totality. To have reservations about some of the expressions of doctrine in Unam Sanctam, does not make one John Courtney Murray. Pope Benedict said something to the effect that unity would, of course, follow ecclesiology of the first millennium. I love the Liber Usualis and the entire patrimony of sacred music- yet the Russian tones move me also.

    Since March 2013, I have fallen under apocalypse fatigue. We now have a Pope who is a heretic and every modernist, aging or just coming of age, is seizing the moment. The College of Cardinals is being stacked. This may just be the beginning of the abominationis desolationis. I had always shirked away from La Salette, Fatima, Garabandal (the Creed has enough to occupy one!). But these messages have prepared us for what had been unthinkable. Our Orthodox brothers who have suffered so much yet know the importance of tradition may have a role as yet unknown us in the restoration of all things in Christ.

    Pax vobiscum!
    Dan

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    1. Part I

      Dear Dan:

      Welcome and thanks to the North Jersey Latin Mass Facebook page for linking to me.

      An old Philly guy from the Catholic neighborhoods, Fr. A was capable of a good deal of snark, and salty language, himself.

      I hear you; actually I pulled this punch, believe it or not.

      I am always welcomed at their liturgies.

      That's good, of course. Born Orthodox are often nice. Like I said, for the most part the Russians at Our Lady, Joy of All Who Sorrow weren't and aren't fanatical, just Russian. A lot of them are just homesick, as you and I would be in a very different country from ours. Visit, obey their rules (and a Catholic wouldn't want to commune there except in an emergency, and I understand why they'll say no), and if you speak at least a smidge of their language (as I've learned), better still. That said, unlike you I don't have a personal connection and it seems I just don't have the calling to be Byzantine, not a knock on Catholics who do. So the rite, including the local Orthodox communities, and I have little if anything to do with each other. I've set foot in one of their churches (St. Thomas Greek Orthodox, Cherry Hill) exactly once since returning to the church. If that ever changes I'd be happy to do what I've learned of the rite again, this time serving the church.

      The only real-life contact I have with the Orthodox now are Christos, from Greece, a pizzeria owner who makes the best spaghetti sauce in my town and has a Tuesday special, and I tip my hat or cross myself going past St. Demetrios Church in Upper Darby just like for a Catholic church. That's on principle, based on our teachings. They don't do that for us.

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    2. Part II

      However, I am always at home at RCOR and never (or very rarely) at a Novus Ordo Mass. I have never met a RCOR priest who was not priestly. Rarely, is a Novus Ordo priest priestly! More than at home, the mystery of the death and Resurrection of Our Lord and his Eucharistic presence until the Final Day is always brought home to me at the Orthodox church.

      I get it. Why this is one of the few kinds of ecumenism I care about. I keep saying the rite's better than the Novus Ordo and I mean it.

      But remember: they think our Eucharist remains a piece of bread and that you and I aren't truly baptized Christians. Pope Benedict XVI's English Novus has the truth, even when it's in a style you and I don't like. They don't! Of course you love your wife and see the good in her church but honestly, can you turn your back on the truth and grace of Western Catholicism just because of a few bad apples, even in the highest ranks of the clergy?

      Pope Benedict said something to the effect that unity would, of course, follow ecclesiology of the first millennium.

      The "Orthodox in communion with Rome," or as I call them, the National Catholic Reporter with a cooler liturgy, are dead wrong about trying to get the church to dump half its defined doctrine in order to join the outfit they really believe in. But there's a saying here at A Conservative Blog for Peace: everything that's not doctrine should be on the table, beyond what we're doing now for Eastern Catholics. That's how I choose to interpret Ratzinger/Benedict here (I think he wrote that as just an opinion long before he was Pope), because on the face of it, here Ratzinger was wrong.

      We now have a Pope who is a heretic...

      That may well be but as you say, "I am a steadfast believer in the Petrine office but understood in its totality." If something he says doesn't agree with the teachings of the church, tune it out. Thanks to Benedict the Great's work restoring the liturgy, I find Francis' reign a cakewalk compared to the American church's dark ages in the '70s and '80s. Even the liberals have to say the Mass right or else, so... it is still the Mass.

      Our Orthodox brothers who have suffered so much yet know the importance of tradition may have a role as yet unknown us in the restoration of all things in Christ.

      They're not what they claim they are but you may be right. If you read more from me you'll see that I'm still rather pro-Russian (only on my terms, not the Russians' or the Orthodox') and even pro-Putin.

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    3. I actually believe that Dan is correct, this present Pope is a heretic, and his heresy is more dangerous because he always presents himself as so lovable. He states banal stupidities, such as "Who am I to judge" then turns around and says absolutely horrible things about Catholic traditionalists.

      having said the above, the present Ecumenical Patriarch, and one cannot be a canonical Orthodox without sharing full Eucharist communion with the fellow is no better. And as I pointed out to our friend John, his understanding of the Church is not only Protestant, is is of the most theological liberal type that exists: http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/blog/2013/07/patriarch-bartholomew-and-abortion/

      Many Orthodox in the United States, but especially the Greeks and Arab Antiochians are liberal on all social issues, including abortion and hide it under pretty liturgies and up-front tough talk, which they do not really believe in. The Ecumenical Patriarch has given the title or Archon to Greek-American politicians who have 100% ratings from Planned Parenthood, given them these titles only because they are of Greek ethnicity and on paper are Orthodox.

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    4. Oh, I should also like to mention that in Orthodox countries such as Greece and Russia conservative Orthodox, in Greece the Old Calendarists and in Russia the Old Believers are bitterly persecuted by the state sanctioned Orthodox; and they happily use the strong arm of the government to do so.

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