Fresco of Basil the Great presiding at the Liturgy in the Church of ‘Agia Sophia in Ohrid
Christ is Risen!
Before being received into the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, I was in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. One of the most common questions I have received from my Orthodox friends is usually, innocently, ignorantly, unaware that the Byzantine Rite is an established rite, with some minor variation, why I chose “Catholic” rather than “Orthodox” worship.
I do not fault this question because it comes from an assumption that a great number of Orthodox Christians make, namely, that everything they do is Orthodox and there are no other people who do anything like it. No matter how many times I have explained that I attend a Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (or Basil, or Gregory the Dialogist) the verbal response is usually a polite affirmation, but the follow up questions suggest that this simply must not be possible.
Strangely, the fact that I was for a while the ecclesiarch (something akin to a chief alter server) at my Orthodox parish and then one of the regular chanters and now a chanter at the Melkite parish, and so presumably know something about how the Liturgy goes in both places, does not seem to help.
Oddly, even when I try to explain things using specifics like “the only difference you will notice is the names of the bishops we pray for” or “because we’re on the Gregorian calculation for Pascha the tone cycle is slightly different” the response inevitably is that our worship is “Roman” (offense often intended).
To shift my attention to my more likely audience, fellow Catholics and the Catholic curious, I should briefly acknowledge something that evokes passionate feelings on both sides: Latinization. It is true that in many parts of the Eastern Catholic world, certain Latin rite practices have crept in. Some churches/jurisdictions have more of this than others and while this is not the focus of this particular article, I did want to acknowledge the reality.
When I was discerning being received into the Melkite Eparchy one of the comments I received from a Greek Orthodox priest I am friends with was “doing this you will become a bridge, but remember that bridges are for being walked on.”
It was both an encouragement and a warning. I have Orthodox friends who now consider me an apostate and/or heretic. I have met Catholics who see my Catholicism as lacking as it does not conform to the Latin Rite standard (however they conceive of it).
Thankfully, the overwhelming majority of people I know don’t fit into either of these camps even if they are not sure what to do with those of us who occupy this strange position of being Eastern and Catholic. I hope none of this comes off as complaining or as a lament. It isn’t supposed to be either. I do hope that if there are any Orthodox who read this that they will visit a Melkite (or Ukrainian, Ruthenian, etc.) parish for a liturgy or at least watch a service online and see that we are fellow liturgical heirs of Constantinople. To my Roman Catholic brothers and sisters, I hope you will likewise visit an Eastern Catholic parish near you and see that our worship is different, but wholly Catholic.
Paschal Troparion. Composition: John Sakellarides | Score: Stefanos P. Apostolou
It is my fervent desire that anyone reading this will consider this an invitation. An invitation to learn more about the Eastern Catholic Churches (not all of which are Byzantine!). An invitation to experience the fullness of Catholic faith. An invitation to breathe with both lungs, as Pope St. John Paul II put it. To make this invitation more concrete, this Sunday on our calendar is the Sunday of the Man Born Blind (Fifth Sunday after Pascha). Not only is it a great Sunday where we put ourselves in the place of the blind man and recognize that apart from Christ we “stumble in darkness” as we will sing in the kontakion for Sunday, but it is the final Sunday before the leave-taking of Pascha. If possible, go to your local Byzantine parish and join in the final Sunday celebration of the Paschal season. Come sing with us “Christ is Risen from the dead, by death trampling down upon death, and to those in the tombs, He has granted life.”
In closing, I should also say that this is an invitation of sorts to join me in this new writing project of mine. I don’t have a plan or agenda beyond a vague awareness that most people just don’t understand the Byzantine rite or what it means to be a Byzantine Christian other than that we have icons, sing just about everything, and stand for long periods of time. It was perhaps cheeky of me to quote the Paschal troparion in English but post an image of it in Greek with Byzantine notation, but this is the sort of thing I think people may be interested in even if they don’t know where to start. So I thought I would post it as both trial balloon and amuse-bouche for what may come.