Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Byzantine Catholic Missionaries

     There was an article that was recently circulating that claimed that the Pope wants US Catholics to lead a worldwide church revival. As a Byzantine Catholic I pondered about how we can contribute to the Pope's desire. As compared to Roman Catholics we find ourselves at somewhat of a disadvantage statistically . Not only are their churches more numerous but they also have the resources that many of our churches lack in order to carry out such a mission. Never the less, God often chooses the weak amongst us to do great things(1 Corinthians 1:27). When it comes to our size or resources we need to understand that God could use anyone of us ,if we are willing, to bring salvation to the world.
     When thinking about our size in compared to the Roman Catholics the story of Gideon in the Old testament comes to mind (Judges 6:33-7:15a). Gideon was about to embark into battle with a large army at his disposal against an oppressive enemy nation. However, before doing this God said to him "You have too many men". In the end Gideon's army was less than 1% of its original size and the proportion was 400 enemy soldiers to each one of his soldiers. Despite the odds it was a total victory for the people of God. So we need not think of ourselves as insignificant ethnic churches that have nothing to contribute to the salvation of the world. Each and every Byzantine Catholic no matter how small their parish might be has the power to change the whole world if they put their trust in the Lord like Gideon did.
     When thinking about this power that we can receive to change the world a lost concept comes to mind "mission work". In fact, one of my readers, who was a Byzantine Catholic lay person, shared with me that they felt called to go to Russia to serve the Lord there. Often this concept of being a missionary has been left for the clergy to worry about in our Byzantine churches. In contrast, being a missionary is intrinsic to our calling as Byzantine Catholics. To be a missionary means that you have received a calling from God to build up his kingdom in some way, which may be here or in a far off land. Everyone one of us are in some ways a missionary! If we are open to it we would see many more lay people engaged in the mission field if we encourage this mission mentality. Wouldn't it be an awesome thing to know that in some far off land a Byzantine Catholic lay person is the only source for salvation for a community.
     We need to think big for we serve a God who offers endless potential to all of us. I believe understanding this endless potential is a unique aspect that we find in our Byzantine tradition. As we know our tradition focuses on the concept of divinization or theosis in its proclamation of the gospel. This I believe gives us an advantage in addressing the needs that we find in our time where we see a great hunger and search for meaning among many. There is nothing greater then helping someone understand that in every moment they have the power to connect to everything that God is by following the teachings of Jesus Christ. The simplicity that we offer in our tradition gives endless hope to those who in other cases would find themselves in a meaningless life. For example, what could we offer to someone who is spending 20 years in prison? Believing the basic concepts of knowing your forgiven by God, which is a strength of the preaching of the Roman Catholic tradition, is not always enough to rescue a person from despair. However, showing these people that each day gives them a chance to become what God is by grace offers them limitless hope and possibilities.
     There is so much that we have to offer the world as Byzantine Catholics. When we hear things from the pope concerning a worldwide revival we shouldn't think that we don't have anything to offer. God holds nothing back from us and we need to realize that we are called to share what he gives us with the world. I wish to encourage all Byzantine Catholics to get involved in bringing the kingdom of God to others. It is entirely possible that we could have a Byzantine Catholic missions director at all our eparchies one day coordinating regular mission trips around the world. We need only be open to the message that we faithfully preach as Byzantine Catholics, a message of endless hope and potential.

17 comments:

  1. Great post as always. We are read your thoughts about the small numbers statistically immediately the thought of St. Seraphim of Sarov came to mind:"Acquire a peaceful spirit, and around you thousands will be saved."

    Christ's peace

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  2. Byzantine Catholics in the West are at a disadvantage not just because of their small numbers but also because the Latin church can be quite obstructive towards them. They are viewed as 'ethnic' churches that are there to serve a particular immigrant community, and once that community has died off the Eastern Church is considered to be redundant. Most Latin Catholics are ignorant of the riches contained in eastern Christianity, and this includes the hierarchy as well as the laity.
    My husband and I are considering doing mission work in Russia (preferably among Eastern rite Catholics) but the situation for Catholics in Russia is difficult. Pray for Russia and for an improvement in the way Catholics are treated.

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  3. anonymous- This is where we (IMO) need to cultivate an attitude of being Byzantine not 'just' a part of our ethnic, sui iuris church. So- if I can't attend my ethnicity, I will be at another Byzantine Catholic church- priests need to be open to this- especially in the West

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  4. I agree. Actually our parish, which is Russian, has very few Russians. So, in that respect, it isn't an 'ethnic' parish although Slavonic is still used in the services, along with English.
    I believe that there is a strong element of fear in the Latin church toward married priests and this creates problems for Eastern rite Catholics if they wish to further their mission.

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  5. I agree that the call to revival goes out to all and that Byzantine Catholics are an integral part of that revival, especially in light of the richness of your spiritual and liturgical traditions. However, the positive tone of this post conceals an underlying self questioning about the value and power of those very traditions - especially evident in the comments that have followed, i.e., "fear in the latin church toward married priests", "Latin Cathoilcs are ignorant of the riches contained in eastern Christianity", and the Latin Church being obstructive towards Byzantine Catholics because of their small numbers. While I realize their is a substantial history behind such sentiments, I also believe that they can be overstated and used as an excuse to free one from the charge of carrying out that renewal and in some case be an expression of a lack of faith. As a Latin Rite priest I have the deepest respect for Byzantine Catholics and for the rich spiritual traditions of which you speak, and have sought to educate Latin rite Catholics about them and to respect them.

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    1. Father, being an outsider you probably will never understand fully the pain of some of our people. You may not be doing this but on a grand scale we are still treated as second rate citizens of the Church. What comes to mind is the recent rejection of the Ukrainian and Romanian married priests in Italy. They can't even serve their own people because they were voted out by the Latin bishops. You would think that after 50 years since Vatican II our traditions would be recognized as catholic but as long as Latin Catholics can vote on our traditions the pain will continue. I do agree with you that statements that some of my people make when they generalize all Latin Catholics is wrong. I'm not sure where you see an agenda in my post. I'm just trying to address the state of how are people feel. These feelings need to be overcome. There was nothing stopping our fathers who lived in caves or the desert from bringing the kingdom in the world and neither should our state in the catholic church. We can change the world if were open to the power of the Holy Spirit.

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  6. Ric, I don't claim to understand fully and what I typically find refreshing about your posts is the lack of agenda and the very clear focus on the call to preserve the traditions. And as I said, I understand there is a long history to these sentiments. I'm not in disagreement with anything you have said and in fact share your desire for that revival and for the respect to be given where it is due. But please know that there are many Latin rite Catholics who pray for what you seek. Indeed there are many things 50 years after Vatican II that I hoped would have been realized in the ressourcement. I firmly believe that the revival you speak of will only take place when we truly return to the sources of our traditions and live them fully.

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    1. Forgive me for misunderstanding your statements.

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  7. As a university chaplain, I actually share your posts quite often online with students, the Cathedral parish which is at the heart of the campuses serving 50000 students just offered a series on Eastern rite churches, and we have regularly over the years sought to expose and encourage students to attend Byzantine liturgies and I have studied and led groups for the last 20 years on Eastern Christian spirituality and the writings of the Philokalia. I certainly sympathize with the concerns mentioned above, however, and no offense was intended in my remarks. Keep up the good work with your posts. God bless.

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    1. Thank you for your support Father. No offense was taken. One of the problems with talking this way is that you cant see the tone in what we say.Often we get it wrong as i did.

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  8. Dear Father

    You are to be commended on the work you are doing, enabling others to gain some understanding and appreciation of Byzantine Christianity. However, you have misquoted me. I said 'most' Latin Catholics are ignorant of the riches contained in Eastern Christianity, and I still stand by that. Western Christians, whether Catholic or Protestant, know very little about the Orthodox or Byzantine Catholic churches (and I am not blaming anyone by saying this). Also, I did not say that the Latin church was obstructive towards the Byzantine Catholic churches 'because' of their small size. The reality where I live is that the Roman Catholic hierarchy are taking active steps to prevent married Byzantine Catholic clergy from entering the country to assist their communities. If this is not obstructive, then what is it? The RC Church is not being obstructive because the Byzantine church is small. Rather the issue is that, in this country, the progressive elements within the RC Church have lumped the issue of married clergy in with the issue of women priests. Because these two types of priest - married and female - have become so intertwined in the female ordination debate, many Roman Catholics can't bear to hear of either, despite the fact that they know almost nothing of the reality of the Byzantine priesthood.
    I am close to one particular individual who is married and who feels a strong call to the priesthood. He doubts very much, based on the current climate, that he will be ordained here. Is there justice in that? Why can he not pursue his calling freely, as a man in the RC Church could?

    Lest you think I am making excuses for myself as a Byzantine Catholic, let me assure you that I am not, since I am Roman Catholic. I speak from a position where I can see the ugly reality of what is going on. Even though I am on the "other side of the fence", I will defend to the death the right of the eastern churches to hold onto their venerable traditions. To quote the decree Orientalium Ecclesiarum: “All members of the Eastern Rite should know and be convinced that they can and should always preserve their legitimate liturgical rite and their established way of life, and that these may not be altered except to obtain for themselves an organic improvement. All these, then, must be observed by the members of the Eastern rites themselves. Besides, they should attain to an ever greater knowledge and a more exact use of them, and, if in their regard they have fallen short owing to contingencies of times and persons, they should take steps to return to their ancestral traditions.”

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  9. I'm not saying nor did I say I disagree with the concerns mentioned above but believe that even while one works for that renewal one would do it in a spirit of humility and love for the Church - that we would bear our share of sufferings for her as Christ himself did. Many in the Latin rite have equal concerns about many different things about the liturgical "reforms" of the Council for example. Yet often there is a spirit of animosity and pride that often fill their discussion about these things. While that is understandable I think that any renewal in the Church and evangelization draws its life blood from the true sanctification of each member of the Church. It is clear that that sanctification must precede both evangelization and renewal, for it lays claim to and forms the necessary precondition for ever effective apostolic effort. All of Ric's recent posts about the saints and renewal have emphasized this clearly, but I have found in discussion among Latin rite Catholics and unwillingness to humbly acknowledge and embrace this truth. Any debate or discussion without it I have found to be fruitless. If I miss quoted you or misunderstood your post, I apologize; but I appreciated Ric's approach to these matters and find myself perhaps overly sensitive to strident attitudes. I too would defend the right of Eastern Churches to hold to their venerable traditions and also suffer and pray for those realities to come about as God will and in accord with His Providence.

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  10. Dear Father
    I am sorry if you found my comments too strident - I did not mean to cause you offence. I agree with what you say. I just get tired of watching these small churches get completely disregarded, or alternately, bullied. There seems to be very little support for Eastern Catholics in the West and they are in a very vulnerable position. Without support at the episcopal level, I fear they will vanish over time.

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    1. If you truly want to "take steps to return to their ancestral traditions" then please encourage your husband for me with this: A calling to the priesthood does not always mean to become a presbyter. If one is called to the priesthood they need to be open to the fact this could mean deacon or even bishop for in the Byzantine tradition these are all priesthood. Given the circumstances were in becoming a deacon is not out of reach for most married men and who knows what the future will hold because married deacons have been elevated to presbyter many times in North America in some of our churches. Being a deacon would also be a great advantage if you plan to go overseas to do mission work. Deacons are not sub priests or second rate ones they share in the same anointing as presbyters but express a different degree of ministry. In fact, the bishop is the fullest expression of priestly ministry. The presbyter and the deacon are only icons of his ministry. This understanding has been lost in our time and even by our own people, so I encourage you to consider your roots.

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  11. Dear Mr Ballard
    Thank you for your comment. The diaconate is definitely a consideration.

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  12. I think Byzantine Catholics should preach Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, faith, repentance, giving one's life completely over to Him. Divinization, theosis? There is nothing particularly Byzantine or Eastern about these ideas. Roman Catholics, and Protestants also teach that.

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    1. Can you give an example of what you mean. No offense bu this comment sounds like its from a Protestant. I have yet to meet one that knows what theosis is.

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