Sunday, June 26, 2016

Orthodoxy without the attitude: I'll be back

As there was a car show this Sunday, I went to the Saturday-evening spoken Divine Liturgy (Low Mass) in English at Holy Myrrh-Bearers Ukrainian Catholic Church, Swarthmore, Pa., a recent merger of two parishes. Almost exactly like the first traditional Catholic Mass I went to in person 31 years ago. Here, that evening, no altar boys; small, older Saturday congregation. Orthodoxy without the attitude. I'll be back.

An enjoyable Saturday-afternoon drive though the little WASP college town of Swarthmore brought me (past a decent-sized Roman Rite church nearby ) to this romantic Gothic church complete with cemetery and lych-gate, the former Leiper Presbyterian Church. Several members of the Leiper family are buried here.
She looks good by the lych-gate.
She got a lot of love from the congregation; met a few of them that way.

The lych-gate. I think in medieval England the funeral procession with the coffin would stop under one of these for part of the service.

Copies of icons by renowned painter Christina Dochwat. This parish has third-generation Americans but many such parishes have families who fled from the Soviets right after World War II; all are grateful, patriotic Americans as well as enthusiastically nationalistic about the Ukraine. In the opposite corner is the Ukrainian flag. (Ukrainian Catholics are actually a minority from the country's far west.) The Litany of Peace in the Byzantine Rite, in the tradition of praying on a Christian empire's behalf, prays for the government and the armed forces specifically.

A detail I remember from my first traditional Catholic Mass in person in 1985. The embroidered towel (рушник, rushnik, towel) placed on some holy images is a surviving pagan Ukrainian custom.

"In peace let us pray to the Lord." "Lord, have mercy." Fr. John Ciurpita, pastor. The fine iconostasis is from the former Holy Ghost Church, Chester.
The servant of God John partakes of the Precious and All-Holy Body and Blood of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ unto the remission of sins and everlasting life.
Orthodoxy without the attitude, from me: being at a Byzantine Rite service for the right reasons, not to look cool or make some anti-Catholic statement, left or right, is great. At home I broke out the Orthodox prayer books for the pre- and post-Communion offices.
It's nice to know that a building once used for schismatic purposes is finally being used to celebrate the one true Church.
Worse than in schism; in heresy, but their heart was in the right place as born Presbyterians. We should pray privately for them, commending them to God's infinite mercy as I'm sure Fr. Ciurpita does.
A spoken Divine Liturgy? The Ruthenian Byzantine church I occasionally attend has one on Saturday evening. An anticipatory Sunday liturgy. (Oh, the awful and horrid latinisation.) I have not yet been to one.
My instinct is to try to be a purist too, and unlatinized Byzantine Catholicism is a desire of the church deserving of much-needed support. That said, the people want the latinized forms and deserve respect, and this spoken Liturgy doesn't offend me. The only thing I didn't like was a Novus Ordo-ism, having a lady lector facing the congregation from a lectern off to the side, rather than a man facing the altar, but you can't always have your way and her heart's in the right place. I'll take it over schism.

By the way, in this country the Ukrainian Catholic Church normally uses the Western date for Easter and the Gregorian calendar, unlike in the Ukraine. No problem; it's not doctrine. The only reason the Orthodox date for Easter is different is to spite Rome by retaining the inaccurate Julian calendar to calculate the date. Again, not de fide, so the church is fine with having two observances of Easter and two fixed-date calendars to keep the peace. Everything that's not doctrine (and most things aren't) should be negotiable.
Not having ever been in a Byzantine jurisdiction, it's not my place to say. Still, sometimes I feel that some Byzantines online can be a bit over-zealous in campaigning for de-latinisation, to the point where they seem to side with the schismatics against the orthodoxy of the Latin Church.
You're right; that only adds to the difficulty of being an unlatinized Byzantine Catholic as the church wants and some are called to be. Some Byzantine Catholics online do side with the schismatics (or rather, in the case of born Orthodox, people born into schism but not personally guilty of it; estranged traditional Catholics), which is why I don't read their fora anymore and would never send inquirers there. They're almost always converts who in their understandable love for the rite make the mistake of putting it above the church. The sin of the Orthodox is they think their culture is the church. The church has many cultures: rites, schools of spirituality, and even theological opinions (not to be confused with doctrine) that don't always like each other.

Rome didn't intend to have latinized forms of Eastern rites; the Byzantine Catholics usually latinized themselves. An ecumenical problem because it makes the Orthodox think they can't trust us to preserve their customs. And sometimes we screwed up. The church can set and change disciplinary rules such as having married priests or not in a certain country, but banning the practice in America caused two waves of schism, circa 1900-1914 and in the 1930s, for no good reason. Something like 60% of American Russian Orthodox are descended from ex-Byzantine Catholics.

A detail about this place: Presbyterian pews without kneelers, a nice halfway practice for a moderate Byzantine Catholic parish. You may sit, and their custom has that in parts, but kneeling isn't traditionally part of the rite.


  1. There is a catholic Ukrainian church in Uman which I sometimes drop into. Very nice place. I think their priest was sent to the USA and they have a new one.

  2. Ukrainians in the USA I noticed are a lot more anti Russian than actual Ukrainians. Whether in that Catholic Church or just the general folk.

    1. You noticed right. Interesting story. Most of the Ukraine is Russian as commonly thought but the heart of Ukrainian nationalism, the Ukrainian language, and the Ukrainian Catholic Church is in the country's far west, Galicia, which unlike the rest of the country wasn't ruled by Russia until Stalin invaded during World War II. I understand most of the rest of the country isn't really in any church (but there's a good-sized Orthodox minority, some of whom practice), just like Russia proper (same about the Orthodox); they're Russian-speaking (the government gives only Ukrainian official status) but want to be their own thing, like German-speaking Austria isn't part of Germany. Maybe the far east wants to be part of Russia again as the Crimea has done. The people in the Crimea aren't Ukrainian at all; all Russian. The people from the Ukrainian far east I used to know were in a way the opposite of the Ukrainian Catholic exiles from the far west I met as a teenager: they identified as Russian, not wanting to be in a different country.

      The church union with Rome in 1596 wasn't just the far west; it was led by the metropolitan see of Kiev and even included Byelorussia to the north. Russian expansion and religious persecution (rival true-church claim, in this case centered on the Russian empire) whittled it down to where it was only left in the far west, much of which (such as its capital, Lvov) was owned by Catholic Poland, which likewise wasn't friendly to the Ukrainians and the Ukrainians' close relatives the Rusyns (Ruthenians; Lemkos in Poland, plus the people of Transcarpathia, which the Soviets stole from Slovakia in World War II), even though the far western Ukrainians and the Rusyns were and are Catholic too. Sorry to say, brother Catholics aren't necessarily nice. Well, it toughened the Ukrainian Catholic Church to survive 40 years of Soviet persecution including as an underground church. They went through hell on earth to remain Catholic.

      "Ukrainianism" including in church: Russianisms to show you're not Polish, and Polishisms to show you're not Russian. Some customs are unique. Having been to only two sung Ukrainian Divine Liturgies, I admit I don't know their church music, which is different from Russian church music, which I know, and Rusyn, which I recognize but don't know well (they congregationally sing, which is beautiful). I'm happily retired from church singing.

      The Russian empire in its various historical forms hates the Ukrainian Catholic Church because it can't own the church. (Failing to stamp out Orthodoxy, the Soviets co-opted it.) Because it overidentifies Christianity with the empire, it hates the Ukrainian Catholics because it thinks these close relatives belong in the empire but they don't want to be in it.

    2. Thank you for your detailed answer.

    3. You're welcome.

      Regular readers know the analogy I use for Ukrainian independence: what if China got California to secede from the Union, got them to replace standard American English with Valley Girl and surfer-dude slang written phonetically as the sole official language, and conducted military maneuvers there? That's what American meddling in the Ukraine is like. The Ukrainians have the right to be what they want to be (it's none of my business), and I like the idea of them as a more Catholic-friendly version of Russia, but we shouldn't be trying to attack Russia; we have no reason to now that Russia's not Communist anymore. Europe's basically still Russia vs. Germany as in World Wars I and II; none of America's business. Western liberals want to turn the Ukraine into another Western European liberal country. And as Catholic and thus anti-Communist as I am, the hawks can't use those things (Cold War nostalgia!) to get me on their side regarding the Ukraine vs. Russia. As a Catholic I try to look at the big picture: bring Russia (out of the church continuously since the 1400s) back into the church! Note: you don't have to latinize like the Ukrainian Catholics did in order to be Catholic; in fact, the church hopes you don't.

    4. Avraham5:00 pm

      Very eloquent answer. I also see the problem with meddling in the Ukraine's affairs. Certainly the people in the middle areas are not interested in war with Russia. If you ask people on the street how things were in the USSR the answer is always the same, "better than now." No one wants to go to war over Donetsk. You simply do not see this anti-Russia sentiment except very rarely. You have to go to the USA to find Ukrainians who hate Russia.

    5. You have to go to the USA to find Ukrainians who hate Russia.

      Because the self-identifying Ukrainians in the USA are usually Catholics whose families came from the far western Ukraine so they historically weren't part of Russia, and if they came right after World War II it was partly because the Soviets were persecuting them for being Catholic.

  3. "Rome didn't intend to have latinized forms of Eastern rites; the Byzantine Catholics usually latinized themselves."

    If only in Europe, there was a reason, namely to distinguish themselves from their Orthodox counterparts. This form of Latinization was generally of their own volition. On the other hand, that which occurred in the United States with imposed on them by (mostly Irish) Roman Rite bishops.

    1. Correct. Why the self-latinizations mean so much to Ukrainian Catholics; they were a way of sticking it to the Russians, including the Soviets, who were persecuting them. As I mentioned in the original post, in the U.S., the Roman Rite bishops got Rome to abrogate the Byzantine Rite's rule here, forbidding the ordination of the married here. Which the church can do but it was a mistake; it pushed out of the church perfectly good people, not heretics, who wanted to keep their decent custom from back home and at first didn't want to leave (they appealed to Rome and were turned down). Heartbreaking.


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