Saturday, May 22, 2021

(252) A Tribute to Mothers.......The Most Important Job in the World


Mother Dearest by Emily Munier 

        The most beautiful and eloquent tribute to motherhood is that of Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty (1892-1975), the primate of Hungary after World War II and jailed by the Communists in 1948 until 1956 when liberated during the Hungarian Revolution.

“The Most Important Person on earth is a mother. She cannot claim the honor of having built Notre Dame Cathedral. She need not. She has built something more magnificent than any cathedral -a dwelling for an immortal soul, the tiny perfection of her baby’s body. . . The angels have not been blessed with such a grace. They cannot share in God’s creative miracle to bring new saints to Heaven. Only a human mother can. Mothers are closer to God the Creator than any other creature; God joins forces with mothers in performing this act of creation. .. What on God’s good earth is more glorious than this: to be a mother?” (Venerable Jozsef Cardinal Mindszenty)

        For a bio of Venerable Jozsef Cardinal Mindszenty with an extensive bibliography go to The first book he wrote was 

              Joszef Cardinal Mindzenty Free From Prison on November 1, 1956

During the month of May we honor Mary, the mother of God, the mother of the Church, and the mother of all of us. Our Lord gave us Himself in the Eucharist on Holy Thursday as spiritual food and a source of strength throughout our lives. On Good Friday, He paid the price in reparation for the sins of the world, opening the gates of Heaven for us and thus our salvation, if we only accept Him and follow Him. Furthermore, on that memorable day He gave us His mother as the mother of you and me and every person on earth: “'Woman, behold your son'. Then He said to the disciple (St. John), 'Behold your mother'” (John 26:19). Thus Mary is our mother and that makes us all brothers. During the month of May we honor Mary as the mother of all of us and also as the mother of the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ.  She continues to pray for us, intercede for us, nurture our faith, and guide us.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, while pregnant with the Christ child, said to St. Juan Diego in 1531: "Am I not here, who am your Mother?  Are you not under my shadow and protection?".  She would say the same to any one of us.

At the same time, particularly on the second Sunday of May we honor the billions of women who gave birth to you and to me, friends and enemies, everybody in the world.......past, present, and future. Everyone of us pays special homage to the woman who bore us, to the mother of our children, grandmothers, godmothers, and aunts as well as nuns.......who devote their lives to serving the Church and the children of God through their work and prayer. In fact in Hispanic countries, every nun is addressed as “Madre”.

Really, every day is Mother's Day. Thank you, ladies for participating with God in creating beautiful human beings in His image. Thank you for the nurturing that you give our children even when they leave the house. Thank you for your prayers which never cease for your children even in eternity. May God bless you richly on your day and every day.

The woman is very special. It is Mom who carries us for nine months wherever she goes; she joyfully tolerates her baby's kicking; nurtures her baby in utero, sees her baby grow through the miracle of ultrasound; patiently waits for the baby's arrival with joy and some trepidation. Then she goes through the pains of labor for seemingly endless hours. Women have a remarkable tolerance for pain. My mother, who was a dentist, observed that men squirmed much more in her chair than women, even remarking: “I'd like to see a man give childbirth. He'd never be able to do it”. Then Mom forgets all about her pain and it's all a joyful welcome for a new and unique person in this world. Mom continues to nurture her baby with breast milk for months and for some babies years after of our four babies was not weaned until the age of five. Breast milk even benefits the baby's immune system (see

Then many a mother must deal with postpartum aches and pains and depression, doctors visits, inoculations, raising the kids, forming them in the faith, discipline, schools, taking the kids to practices and games, etc.  

One can always count on Mom for being faithful to us even in our worst moments as Mary accompanied her son to the cross and was with Him during His three hours of agony as he struggled for every breath. When we suffer, Mom suffers with us. She's our main cheerleader as we grow up, and give us consolation and encouragement when we fail.

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) wrote, “Beware of the female of the species” because she ferociously protects her young (see Our mothers will do whatever it takes to protect us as kids and even into adulthood. Mom is ready to protect us with her life.

William Ross Wallace (1819-1881) wrote a beautiful poem as a tribute to motherhood: “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle Rules the World”. It is often quoted by such persons as Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill. See After all, Mom has a tremendous influence be it positive or negative on the lives of her children......spiritually forming them and teaching them by word or example. She teaches us, she forms us and she molds us.

Mom has an uncanny knack, call it intuition with her well developed left brain, for anticipating our needs, sensing our fears and feelings. Her love for us is unfailing and faithful, fiercely loyal, and sacrificing herself, expecting nothing in return except our good. Her mission is to show us the way to Heaven under the leadership of her husband, utilizing his special God given gifts. Mom and Dad beautifully complement each other as ordained by God.

The Mihalich Family cerca 1918 in present day Slovakia, then part of Austria-Hungary.   From left to right are Ella & Disiderius (Dezső) Voloszinovich, Rev. Vladimir & Olga Mihalich.  Behind them are Irene, Martha, Stephanie, and Lilly on the extreme right.   

        Let us pay tribute to all the mothers of our extended family dating back to Olga Podhajeczky Mihalich (my grandmother 1881-1964), the five daughters she bore: Ella (1900-1982), Lilly (1902-1987) , Irene (1904-2005),  Martha (1907-1994), and Stephanie (1908-2006) she bore and extending to the expectant mothers in our family, and mothers to be someday........"que sera, sera......whatever will be will be. The future's not ours to see......que sera sera."  Want to hear the song sung by Doris Day?  Go to   

Three mothers,  two generations on Mother's Day 2021, two with child, all together with their husbands.  From left to right: John-Paul & Elizabeth Herrera Sebastian; Jaga Gajda Sebastian & Paul; and Stephanie Sebastian Spiotta & Daniel.  Paul is the son of Stephanie Mihalich Sebastian, the youngest of the five Mihalich girls.  Behind them is an image of the Holy Family, the model  that our family aspires to emulate.

        What a privilege!......By love two become one and the product of that love is God's most magnificent creation.......a real human being made to the image and likeness of God for eternity. On top of that the mother and father participate in creating that most beautiful person. S/he grows and develops beneath the mother 's beating heart, so soothing when not stressed and a bond is created that will last forever. 

            We prayed for grandchildren and the Lord answered our prayers........a double header. John-Paul and Elizabeth Herrera Sebastian's baby is due on May 22.......guess what?  It's May 22 and no baby yet.  After a long patient wait, Daniel and Stephanie Sebastian Spiotta expect their baby on June 5. So we're here in Dallas, Texas anticipating the birth of two babies and two subsequent baptisms. Both couples live within a ten minute car ride of each other. Stephanie and Daniel know that they will have a boy and decided to name him Anselm after the saintly 11th Century doctor of the Church who wrote the classic, “Why did God Become Human?”

Two generations of mothers:  Elizabeth Herrera Sebastian, Jadwiga Gajda Sebastian, and Stephanie Sebastian Spiotta.  A mother is never more beautiful than when she is with child.

 John-Paul and Elizabeth want to be surprised at birth as to whether they have a baby boy or girl. Since the first ultra sound picture of him/her was so small, they gave the baby the nickname, “Little Nugget”, a golden nugget. Mary (Jaga), learning that Elizabeth is with child, hastened to help her and dragged me along. Stephanie has a friend who is staying with her. Since Elizabeth's mother gave birth to her children a couple of weeks early, we are in suspense as to when Little Nugget will decide to make his/her grand, tomorrow, or the day after.......the day and the hour nobody knows. My mother gave birth to me six weeks early and I've been late for things ever since.  The doctor, fearful of waiting too long, has scheduled Elizabeth to be induced on Monday evening May 24. Today she had to take a Covid test so that she would not have to wear a mask while giving birth.

Daniel is a doctoral student in Literature at the Catholic University of Dallas and teaches there part time. Stefcia is an elementary school teacher at the Great Hearts Classical School; John-Paul, burnt out from teaching high school Math and tons of correcting, has been working as a loan examiner and has just passed all aspects of his actuarial science license exam. His wife, Elizabeth teaches high school theater after graduating from the Catholic University of Dallas with a major in Drama, having directed some great productions. Naomi continues as a new bride and Labor & Delivery Nurse, helping her husband John Faro through his third year of medical school. Joseph works as a software developer for Epic, whose specialty is medical records.

            Let us honor four generations of Loya mothers in our extended family.  On the extreme right is Martha Foley Loya, the daughter of Irene Mihalich Foley, the third of the five Mihalich girls.  She is flanked by her daughter-in-law, Kate and granddaughter, Maria.  Her baby is Charlotte, probably a future mother.  Martuka, as we call her, just celebrated her 90th birthday.  Interesting is the birthday video of her 90 years.  Click on the background is an icon of the Theotokos (Greek for Mother of God).     

Let us conclude with two beautiful songs, the first by the great Irish singer, Dana Rosemary Scallon: “Little Baby Unborn” at

The second is “Little Miracle of Mine” by Dana McKeon at

Monday, May 17, 2021

(251) The Diverse Rites of the Catholic Church and Our Byzantine Catholic Experience Deep in the Heart of Texas During the Eastertide


St. Basil Byzantine Catholic Church in Irving, Texas. a northern suburb of Dallas.  It's small, reminiscent of the rural 16th Century churches in the Carpatho Rusyn villages of old Austria-Hungary, present day Slovakia.  The yellow  flag is not the Vatican flag, but the Byzantine flag, the flag of old Byzantium, the capital of the Eastern  Roman Empire.  The flag was yellow in time of peace and red in a time of war.  Notice the two horizontal beams and one diagonal beam on the cross.  The top one is the place of Christ's head and the bottom one pointing to Heaven is for His feet.  
     In July 2020 we came down from southeastern Ohio to Dallas for the wedding of our son John-Paul and Elizabeth (see During that time, we stayed with our daughter Stephanie & Daniel. Since they decided to stay in Rome (the Western Church), we went to Mass at Mater Dei Latin Mass Parish on Sundays. Now staying with our son John-Paul and Elizabeth, who decided to go East, we're spending this year attending the Sunday liturgies in old Constantinople, also called Byzantium, the ancient capital of the Eastern part of the Roman Empire where the predominant language was Greek. That is St. Basil the Great Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Church in Irving, Texas, a western suburb of Dallas.

        On the vigil of the Ascension, we attended in the same church a Melkite liturgy which has an Arabic and Greek flavor, originating in Antioch. Most Palestinian Christians are Melkites. Arabic came in after the conquest by Islam. 

    There are in fact many eastern rites in the Catholic Church, all under the Pope, equal in dignity and validity. Although there is some disagreement as to what constitutes a rite, it represents an ecclesiastical tradition about how the liturgy and the sacraments are to be celebrated. 

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church lists seven rites: Latin, Byzantine (Greek Catholic), Alexandrian where St. Mark preached (Coptic – Egypt & Ethiopia), Syriac (Antioch – Syria that St. James founded and uses Aramaic, the language spoken by Christ), Armenian (Armenia), Maronite (Lebanon), and Chaldean (Iraq and Iran) (see The Rites of the Catholic Church (catholicnewsagency.comCatholic particular churches and liturgical rites – WikipediaChart of the rites (

        The Latin or Roman Rite is by far the largest rite and dominates Western Europe and the New World. Several minor rather obscure rites are lumped together with the Roman Rite.......the Mozarabic rite from Spain, the Ambrosian rite from Milan, Italy, named after St. Ambrose (340-397), the Bragan rite from Portugal, and the order liturgies of the Dominican, Carmelite, and Carthusian orders.

        The Byzantine Rite dominates the East and is an umbrella for many nationalities.....Ruthenian Carpatho-Rusyns), Hungarian, Slovak, Ukrainian, Romanian, Albanian, Belarussian, Bulgarian, Russian, Croatian, Greek, Italo-Albanian, and Melkite (Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, parts of Egypt and the Sudan).  Most have their own bishops.  

    In most of these countries the separated Orthodox Christians still predominate as a result of the 1054 Eastern Schism, but a significant number of Ruthenian Orthodox despite controversy returned to Rome as stipulated in the Union of Brest in 1596. The Hungarian Orthodox returned after the Union of Ushgorod (then Ungvar) in 1646 as the Byzantine Catholic Rite under the condition of being allowed to preserve their traditions and customs, including married clergy.  They are often called the Greek Catholic Church because of the Hellenistic (Greek) influence. Greek was the language spoken in Byzantium and much of the Eastern Roman Empire.   

The glory and crown jewel of Byzantium (the Eastern Roman Empire under Greek influence) is the magnificent Hagia Sophia, the patriarchal cathedral of Constantinople), built in 531 by Justinian I.  As part of the 1054 Eastern Schism (at least partly political) that separated the Church into two, the Hagia Sophia came under the control of the Orthodox.  In 1453 the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, changed the name of the city to the current Istanbul, and turned the Hagia Sophia into a mosque.   Notice the four minarets (towers) from which Muslims are called to pray during different times of the day.  The Bosporus Strait is in the background.

The splendid interior of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey.  It was the largest church in the world for centuries.


This mosaic icon mural portrays the Theotokos (Greek for the Mother of God).  Notice the Greek influence in the inscriptions.  Under Muslim control after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the conquerors covered the beautiful Byzantine mosaic icons with plaster.   In 1936 the secular government of Ataturk turned the Hagia Sophia into a museum and uncovered the exquisite mosaic murals (made of tiny colored stones) that were unwittingly preserved for posterity.  In 2020 the Erdogan government of Turkey, despite worldwide protests, again turned this gem of early Christian architecture into a mosque as can be seen above.

    Iraq and Iran (the Assyrians of the Old Testament) have the Chaldean Rite (Archbishop Bashar Matti Warda of Erbil, Kurdistan, Iraq was the main graduation speaker at Franciscan University and the Catholic University of Dallas in May 2021). The Maronite Rite is common in Lebanon and by law its president must be a Maronite. Southern India has two brother rites, Malankarese (Syriac) and Malabar (Chaldean), which date to the missionary journeys of St. Thomas.  

       On the First Pentecost the Holy Spirit set the apostles on fire and with their newly found zeal they went out to teach all nations.  At the same time the Holy  Spirit inspired them to tailor their teaching to the people they evangelized with no compromise of the truth.  Beautiful is the tremendous diversity in the Church that adapts to local cultures, languages, and traditions, while maintaining a strict uniformity in doctrine. That reflects the tremendous diversity in God's creation. Arun Nelli adds further clarity with a chart at

    In all rites of the Catholic Church the principal parts of the Mass or Divine Liturgy, as called in the East, are essentially the same.........Offertory, Consecration, and the Communion. By the Holy Spirit the bread and wine are transformed in a mysterious way into the Body and Blood of Christ under the appearances of bread and wine. Then the priest as another Christ offers it to God as an unbloody sacrifice for the reparation of the sins of the world. In a mysterious way that transcends time, the Last Supper and Calvary are brought to us and we participate with the priest in offering this sacrifice. Then as the Jews consumed the lamb, we consume the Lamb of God in Holy Communion.......body and blood, soul and divinity.  

    The Great Importance of the Eastern Rites.  Ever since the 1917 Russian Revolution, the Vatican saw a great need to preserve the Byzantine Catholic rite because when Russia is converted as Mary promised in Fatima, it will be through the Byzantine rite. If the Orthodox ever return to the Church after the schism of 1054, it will be through the eastern rites.  After all the Byzantine Rite is very similar to the Orthodox and the Vatican considers their sacraments to be valid.  In fact a religious revival has already begun in Russia.  

    As St. Pope John Paul II stated in his 1995 encyclical, Ut unum sint (That they may be one), “The Church must breathe with both of her lungs” the Eastern and the Western Rites, inviting greater unity among the rites and with the Orthodox, “a unity bestowed by the Holy Spirit”. See

     In the United States this was not always recognized. During the 20th Century, Byzantine Catholics, many if not most being immigrants and not educated, were considered by the dominant Latin Rite as second class Catholics. Old timers are still resentful for this treatment. Roman Catholic Bishops pushed for uniformity and a certain latinization while the immigrants did want to assimilate. Particularly galling to celibate Latin Rite priests was the Byzantine Catholic tradition of married clergy.......“they can marry and we can't” so to speak.

    In 1929 for the sake of uniformity and less confusion the Vatican declared that all newly ordained Catholic priests in the United States, Canada, and Australia must be permanently celibate. Married women could not imagine confessing to a bachelor priest. This caused a minor schism as thousands of Ruthenian Byzantine Catholics and even entire parishes became Orthodox. Pope John Paul II encouraged eastern rite traditions and recently, Pope Francis restored their tradition of marriage before ordination. Bishops, however, always had to be celibate and often belonged to a religious order. 

     Our Family Heritage. The pastor of St. Basil's is a very dedicated and energetic bi-ritual Benedictine priest from New Zealand, Fr. Christopher Andrews. He officiated at the wedding of our son John-Paul and Elizabeth in the Roman Rite. Although both were baptized in the Roman Rite, they go regularly to St. Basil's for Sunday liturgies.  I'm proud of them for maintaining our Byzantine Catholic heritage. 

    After all, John-Paul's great grandfather, Rev. Vladimir Mihalich was a Byzantine Rite Catholic priest and pastor (1928-1943) of St. Peter & Paul Byzantine Catholic Church in Duquesne, Pennsylvania, then a steel town and a suburb of Pittsburgh. Both he and his wife Olga come from a centuries long line of priests since seminarians gravitated toward daughters of priests (seminarians may marry, but before their ordination, the same as deacons).  The same might be said of Fr. Vladimir's successor in Duquesne for over 25 years, another great and faithful priest, Fr. Stephen Loya.  I played with his kids growing up.  

    Families of priests tended to mix socially with other families of priests in the same circle of friends.......get-togethers and picnics before television. Thus my mother told me stories of seminarians knocking on parish house doors, prospecting for daughters of priests with little time left before their ordinations.

    Married clergy seemed to work out well in the simple societies of the Carpathian mountains and through the 1950s as I observed in America. However, there is a lot of wisdom in having celibate clergy who are able to devote themselves completely to their large and complex parishes.......administering the buildings, school, and parish groups while caring for the spiritual needs of the faithful and keeping up with their prayer life without the distractions of family life. True, some of them did violate their vow of celibacy and fell into clerical sexual abuse.  The priest's family would live in a fish bowl subject to gossip under the scrutiny of the parishioners and the community.  If a son or daughter strayed, everybody knew about it.  And let us not forget the experience of our separated brethren......preachers' kids also get pregnant and have many of the same problems as American teens have today.  Their divorce rate is high. 

     In the old days priest families would get together for dinner, talk, and play cards while the kids would play games.  The big picnic of the year was at Kennywood Park near Pittsburgh, called "Ruskie Djen", also called Carpatho-Rusyn Day and Greek Catholic Day.  Thousands of priests and faithful would come for socializing, fun, and rides in one of the largest amusement parks in the world in the late 1940s.  Priests, mostly celibate by then, would buy up batches of tickets and give them to the kids.  

    The other big event of the year was the annual pilgrimage to Mt. St. Macrina Shrine in Uniontown, PA over the Labor Day Weekend. Buses would bring hundreds of pilgrims from  the surrounding states.  They would  stay in area hotels or simply camp out in a camper or tent.

     Fr. Thomas Loya married Jaga and me (baptized Roman Catholics from our fathers) in the Byzantine Rite in 1988. Our son John-Paul and Elizabeth love the dynamic Byzantine liturgy and he was in the St. Basil choir for a good while and is now a lector there. They are thinking of possibly switching rites and will baptize their baby on the way in the Byzantine Rite. 

      The Byzantine Rite seems to be more mystical and solemn than the Roman Rite (certainly when compared to some  of the so called guitar Masses) with a greater emphasis upon the majesty of Christ and the awesomeness of God. For centuries the Byzantines have had a much greater focus upon God's mercy. The Roman Rite has greatly deepened its emphasis upon the Lord's mercy because of the message of Christ to St. Faustina in His apparitions to her in the 1930s as well as St. Pope John-Paul's encyclical on Divine Mercy and his establishing the First Sunday after Easter as the world wide Feast of Divine Mercy.

      It seems that the West has a greater emphasis upon rationally knowing about God while the approach of the East is more know GodThe Church needs both lungs!  St. Thomas Aquinas knew all about God as shown in his Summa Theologica, but he complemented that by knowing God through his intense prayer life.  Deacon David Thomas did a great job of showing the development of spiritual thought, attitudes, and mentality between Eastern and Western Christians in Appendix II.  His reflection is based upon highlighting an article by Kyriacos C. Markides, "The Mountain of Silence (A Search For Orthodox Spirituality)".

        The traditional Roman Catholic Low Mass has a lot of silence for meditation while altar servers do the responses in Latin.  Its High Mass is accompanied by a beautiful uplifting choir, but the person in the pew is a spectator more than a participant although all are encouraged to follow along with their missals.  However, the Byzantines not only follow along, they actively participate in chanting responses to the celebrant.  The Vatican II Council (1962-65) mandated greater participation of the laity in the Mass.  The Byzantine laity have been actively participating in their liturgies for centuries before Vatican II.         

        Byzantine Catholics bless themselves with the index finger and the middle finger touching the thumb, symbolizing the Holy Trinity.  The two remaining fingers symbolize the divine and human nature of Christ.  In making the sign of the cross, the Byzantines touch the right shoulder first (not  the left shoulder first as in the Latin Rite.......mirror images of each other).  That's to symbolize that Christ sits at the right hand of the father and traditionally the left has a negative connotation (sinistro).

       Byzantine Catholics receive Holy Communion under both species.......leavened bread soaked in wine and dispensed with a small spoon as each communicant holds his/her head back with mouth wide open.  Byzantine Catholics receive Holy Communion under both species.......leavened bread soaked in wine and dispensed with a small spoon as each communicant holds his/her head back with mouth wide open. The Latin Rite consecrates unleavened bread (flour & water only as at the Jewish Passover meal and the Last Supper) as being more perfect. The Byzantines, on the other hand, use leavened bread that rises, symbolizing the risen Christ.

        Interesting is the revival of an old custom in the liturgy, the repedia that resembles a large fan of old.  The two repedias symbolize the angels of the cherubim and the seraphim.   

   I remember as a kid when all Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic liturgies were in Old Slav, also called Church Slavonic which is still used in liturgies in Slavic countries (i.e., Ruthenian or Rusyn which some consider to be a dead language). For more detail see and  Ruthenia was once a country south of Poland in the Carpathian Mountains in the middle age. There was usually only one cantor who had a deep resonant voice. That made the liturgy in Old Slav more powerful.......“Hospodi pomoli (Lord Have Mercy)”.  I found the same again when we visited the Ukraine. The separated Russian Orthodox are good at it. It seems that something is lost in the translation to English.  I would like to see at least on occasion if not every Sunday small portions of the liturgy in Old Slav as some Latin Rite parishes sing the Sanctus and Agnus Dei in Latin.  This reminds us of our roots.

       A common greeting in Old Slav at Easter, both in the church as well as among family and friends, was Hristos voskrese! (Christ is risen!) and the reply was “Voistinu voskrese! (Indeed He is risen!). Some churches still say the greeting at Easter in both English and Church Slavonic as they relive the first Easter morning.  This custom would be good for Roman Catholics to adopt. 

     The Byzantine Rite liturgy is generally longer than the Latin Rite.  They take their time.  Sometimes in the large Roman Catholic parishes, it seems the attitude is to get the Mass over with and the cars out of the parking lot in time for the next Mass.

     Often when work must be done in a large Roman Catholic parish, one can “let George do it”. In the small Byzantine Catholic parish guess what? You're George. People pitch in and the work gets done.......whether it's making pirohies and nut rolls or holding a fund raising church festival. That helps parish solidarity and everybody knows everybody.

      The Roman Catholics have their smells and bells. The Greek Catholics have less bells, but a lot more smells.......incense to the point of creating a cloud that permeates throughout the church that symbolically rises to Heaven with the prayers and hymns.

    The Byzantines love their blessings.  Traditionally, the priest visits every home in his parish around Epiphany.  That's great for bonding between the pastor and his parishioners.    For Easter the priest blesses baskets of bread, eggs, and other food.  After one liturgy Fr. Thomas Loya blessed all the cars in the parking by one.  My car, a battered 1976 Volkswagen Dasher on its last legs, really needed that blessing.

       For some reason the rosary never really caught on among Byzantine Rite Catholics, probably because it was considered to be western (St. Dominic).  Pani Olga, the widow of Fr. Vladimir, however, did get into the habit of saying the rosary every evening when she lived with our family and helped to raise us.  Natalie Loya spent her career leading Blue Army pilgrimages to Fatima and her father, Rev. John Loya was its chaplain for a number of years.  In addition there is a Byzantine Catholic chapel at Fatima.

        Because of the length of the liturgy, Byzantine priests do not say it every day as the Roman Catholic priests do with a special Mass intention each day.  However, the Byzantines have more holy days; at least it was that way in the old days.  

        The Atmosphere at St. Basil's. The church reminds me very much of the four small rustic churches that Fr. Vladimir Mihalich pastored in the vicinity of the Carpatho-Rusyn village of Rozadomb, Austria-Hungary (now Bodrujal, Slovakia).  He celebrated the Divine Liturgy at a different church every  Sunday, traveling by horse and buggy during the first two decades of the 20th Century (   See his main church below.  

        The Greek Catholic Union (GCU), ---a Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic non-profit fraternal association that sells life insurance---, built a replica (see  of one of these rural churches of the Carpathians south of Poland at its recreation center in Beaver, Pennsylvania.  My mother (Dr. Stephanie Mihalich Sebastian) gave them information from her childhood memories to help to make the replica as authentic as possible. 

The Texas sun shines through the roof window of St. Basil's Byzantine Catholic Church onto the tetrapod, the little people's altar with a beautiful small icon in front of the icon screen  (iconostasis), which lies between the altar and the congregation, symbolizing the gate to Heaven.  The sanctuary behind the screen symbolizes Heaven.  It is reminiscent  of the Jewish Holy of Holies in the temple of the Old Testament.

A closeup view of the tetrapod or People's Altar in front of the Icon Screen or Iconostasis, open during  the liturgy.  Notice that in the Byzantine Rite there are no statues, but rather icons.  At one time many eastern Christians believed that statues were graven images like in idol worship and used icons instead.  Both statues and icons serve to remind the faithful of Christ and saints, the same as we have pictures to remind us of our deceased loved ones and to honor them in our little domestic hall of fame.  Each icon tells a story and is full of symbols.  Images on stained glass windows have been used as catechetical tools (training aids) to teach the people.
        An anachronism to that 16th century flavor is Texas air conditioning. I thought I was entering a refrigerator (perhaps my age is showing) until I saw the beautiful icon screen that dominates the interior.  However, it is most welcome in the 95 plus Texas heat in summer. 

        To conserve space in the small church chairs are placed along the walls and most of the people stand while the small children crawl around and work on their coloring books. The enthusiastic singing drowns out the low level background noise of the kids. The chanting by the priest and/or the congregation is nearly constant.  Even the scripture readings are chanted.  My son John-Paul is a lector.  I noted a real vibrancy there; it seemed that everybody participated in the crowded little church and of course, Texans don't worry much about masks and social distancing.  To attend a liturgy on line go to the St. Basil the Great Byzantine Catholic Church, Irving, TX Facebook page at any time and live on Sundays at 10 am Central, 11 am Eastern.

       The Byzantine liturgy is hard for me to follow.  Each person receives a bound green book that contains the fixed parts of the liturgy with up to five versions of each hymn, the Our Father for example.  That is supplemented by xeroxed sheets and booklets for the changeable parts of the liturgy particular to each Sunday.  It seems to this greenhorn that we're jumping all through these sources.  So I have to constantly ask my son, "Where are we?".  All in all, it's a beautiful liturgy, more so when one understands it.  Somebody announcing the page number would be a big help.  

       I was surprised to see something that I never saw in Byzantine liturgies since I was a Pre-Vatican II little boy when the liturgy was in Old Slav while their Roman counterparts had their Masses in Latin. During the Easter tide, the people sing: “Christ is risen from the dead. By his death He trampled death”. At that moment everybody stamps their feet! When I asked Fr. Christopher about that, he replied: “It's a Texas thing.” (See the amusing short video at True, sometimes pastors improvise too much, but I love this for the vibrancy it gives. 

          We witnessed a Byzantine Catholic Baptism which begins outside before the liturgy starts with an exorcism of any possible evil spirit affecting the one to be baptized.  That makes sense when one considers that the devil has been very active throughout history.......persecutions from shortly after Pentecost until now still intense, heresies, schisms, the breakup of western Christianity in the Protestant Reformation, internal corruption, plagues, human sacrifice, abortion, wars, discord, sum, old fashioned sin while the Church miraculously survives crisis after crisis, century after century because Christ is always with us as He promised (Matthew 28:20). The battle between good and evil is constant. 

     That is followed inside with the Baptism by immersion to the forehead before the liturgy starts.  At the end of the liturgy, the priests raises the baby over his head and processes with him/her around the altar, consecrating the child to God as Mary and Joseph did with the Christ child.  The baby receives the three sacraments of initiation at the same time.......Baptism, Confirmation to deepen the first sacrament, and the Eucharist with only a morsel.  The child will make his/her first confession at about the age of seven or eight.  There was a period of latinization for uniformity as to Baptism and First Communion at the age of seven or eight. However in recent years the Vatican has allowed the eastern churches to return to their traditions in the United States.

    In the late 1990s we attended a Byzantine Catholic liturgy with Jaga holding our Baby Joseph.  The priest came through the standing room only congregation, dispensing Holy Communion.  We were taken by surprise when our Roman Catholic Joseph received his First Holy Communion at the age of one.

  After the liturgy there is some nice fellowship......sometimes not coffee and donuts, but coffee and animal crackers........something for the Guiness Book of Records. I love it and so do the kids........and a lot cheaper than donuts.......a lot less calories too.  Yup, that's a major & donuts in Rome, coffee & animal crackers in Byzantium.

          Only three or four families (the ones who started the parish in about 1986), comprising about 10% of the approximately 150 parishioners of St. Basil's, are of ethnic Ruthenian (Carpatho-Rusyn) heritage and the rest are converts or Roman Catholic migrants from many backgrounds who love the liturgy, including a lovely black family, one of its members an altar boy. 

A painting of St. Cyril & Methodius by Jan Mantejko

        A Little HistorySt. Cyril & Methodius, two brothers from Greece were sent from Byzantium to initiate the process of evangelizing the present day Slavic countries in 862 A.D.......Poland, Croatia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ruthenia, Serbia, Bulgaria, the Ukraine, Georgia, Russia, etc. The western Slavic countries (the first four) went to the Latin Rite and the remainder to the Byzantine Rite. They wrote the first Slavic civil code and established the first Cyrillic alphabet to transcribe the Gospel into the Slavic language. We still have my grandfather's breviary printed in Cyrilic from the late 19th Century.

      Due to theological factors intensified by political and economic considerations, the Eastern Church separated from the Western Church and Rome in the great Schism of 1054 that tore Christianity apart.  Predominant was the "Filioque" (with the son) controversy.  The Western Church asserted that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son together while the Eastern Church asserted that the Holy Spirit proceeds only from the Father.  Later in the 13th Century St. Thomas Aquinas supported the Filioque, explaining the Trinity as the intense love of the Father begot the Son, His own image.  Then the intense love between them is the Holy Spirit.

      After certain segments returned to Rome as the eastern rites in the centuries that followed, what remained is the Orthodox Church of today.

    In the 19th Century the Carpatho-Rusyns, both Orthodox and Catholic, were mostly poor peasant farmers in present day Slovakia south of Poland. Hearing of opportunity in the United States, waves of them immigrated towards the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th Century to work in the coal mines and the steel mills of the northeast under difficult working conditions and low wages.  However, that provided the steel magnates great profits, which were reinvested in industrial expansion.  That gave impetus to the self sustaining economic takeoff of the United States without the need to depend upon foreign investment. 

    Thus these uneducated immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe and their children contributed significantly toward making our country an economic power and also a world power by their participation in two world wars. They were part of the “Great Generation” that won World War II at home in the the coal mines, the steel mills, and the assembly line as well as on the front lines in Africa, Europe, and the Pacific, even giving their lives for our country. They worked hard, struggled and built churches, but their children prospered and found their way west and south.....Florida, Texas, California, etc. where they built more churches. 

                My uncle, Fr. Emil Gulyassy, pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Bridgeport, CT until his death in 1956 had to be ordained in Canada in about 1923 because the Ruthenian Byzantine Catholics did not yet have their own bishop, being subject to the local Roman Catholic prelate.  Finally the Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Pittsburgh was established under Bishop Basil Takach in 1924.  He died in 1948 at the age of 68 after my mother, a dentist discovered that he had cancer (see Today there are four Byzantine Catholic eparchies in the United States.......Pittsburgh, Passaic-NJ, Parma-Ohio near Cleveland, and Phoenix-Arizona (see  For more history on the Byzantine (Greek) Catholic Church see the well done article by Nicholas Bakaysa in Appendix I.

        The Byzantine Catholics had parish councils a half century before their Roman Catholic counterparts.  However before Vatican II, the meetings were sometimes contentious, not simply advisory, not always recognizing that the pastor must have the last word as in Roman Catholic parish councils.  Fr. Vladimir would fear these council meetings because some elements would insolently try to make him accountable to the council members more so than to the Bishop.

        The Greek Catholic Union (GCU), a non-profit fraternal organization founded in 1892, was a real innovation of lay Ruthenian Byzantine Catholics well before they were granted their own diocese and bishop in 1924.  A similar fraternal organization for Catholic men, the Knights of Columbus was founded a few years before.  The GCU has lodges all over the country, mostly in the east and midwest, serving local parishes and the community and holding social events.  

    As the Knights of Columbus, the GCU sells insurance to its members since commercial insurance companies at the time would not insure those who worked in dangerous jobs in the mines and the steel mills, giving generous dividends and using profits not for stockholders, but for charity.  For example, they have a program to help parishes with their capital projects called “Parish Expansion Matching Funds”. Both are solid financially with the GCU having $2.2 billion in assets, $182.7 million in equity, and $12.8 million in net income in 2020.  The GCU has its headquarters in Beaver, PA with a replica of a wooden Carpatho-Rusyn chapel dedicated to its patron, St. Nicholas. Nearby is its Seven Oaks Country Club with golf course (see and   

    There's another Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Church, St. John Chrysostom in Houston (also part of the archeparchy of Pittsburgh), St. Sophia Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic Church, a Maronite rite church, a Chaldean Rite church, and a Syro-Malobar Rite church (India) nearby, as well as a few eastern rite churches in the state.......namely, San Antonio and Austin. 

        The diversity in the Church really brings out the beauty in different peoples, cultures, and traditions with a unity of belief as brothers in Christ and thus members of God's human family. The recent encyclical by Pope Francis demonstrates this. It has many of the keys to interpersonal understanding, racial harmony, and world peace. In sum the Pontiff asks us to put Christian love into practice in our families, our jobs, our communities, and the world.  To read the complete document go to

        In sum, it all boils down to the Mystical Body of Christ.  Dana Rosemary Scallon, the great Irish singer, expresses this so beautifully in the theme song of the 1993 World Youth Day in Denver, Colorado........"We are One Body".  Listen to it by clicking on

Appendix I

A Brief History of the Greek Catholic Church

by Nicholas Bakaysa (January 26, 2020)

Nicholas Bakaysa is a retired architect who enjoys writing. Since his grandfather was a Byzantine Catholic priest, he has a special interest in the history of the Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Church.  After doing considerable research, he wrote the following article.   

The Terms Catholic and Orthodox

    In this brief and oversimplified history, when I use Catholic, I mean churches under the authority of the Pope. When I use Orthodox, I mean churches whose head is a Patriarch. I am using these terms based on their use in everyday vernacular although these definitions are not technically accurate.

    The Orthodox Church has multiple patriarchs such as the Patriarch of Moscow and the Patriarch of Kiev with no one patriarch having ultimate authority. The Catholic Church has one ultimate authority, the Pope in Rome.

The History of the Greek Catholic Church in a Nutshell

    The Greek Catholic Church was born in 1596 when Rusyns of the Greek Orthodox faith in Poland agreed to unite with the Roman Catholic Church.

    The Greek Catholic Church was established in Hungary 50 years later when Greek Orthodox Rusyns in Hungary agreed to do the same.

    For around two hundred years almost all Rusyns were Greek Catholic and almost all Greek Catholics were Rusyn. Rusyn and Greek Catholic were synonymous.

    This changed in 1868 when the Hungarian Greek Catholic church was established in Hungary for people who speak the Hungarian language.

The Rusyns

    Rusyns are a Slavic people who live in the Carpathian Mountains. They are similar to Russians but are a distinct ethnic group with their own language and culture. In English speaking countries they are called Ruthenian which is the English word for Rusyn. To reiterate, do not confuse Rusyns with Russians; they are different ethnic groups.

Figure 1: Borders in Central Europe as of 2019

Figure 2: Borders of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1914

    All Greek Catholics come from regions that were at one time in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Some come from the Austrian ruled areas and some from Hungarian ruled areas. However, the establishment of the Greek Catholic Church long predates the formation of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  In this part of the world, borders, empires, and rulers changed multiple times with dizzying complexity.

    The Austro-Hungarian Empire was established in 1867 and dissolved in 1918 at the end of World War I.  Prior to 1867, Hungary had been ruled for centuries by the Austrian Empire.  Under Austrian Hapsburg rule, Hungary had a fair amount of autonomy. But in the 1800’s Hungary demanded even greater control over their own affairs. The Austrian Hapsburg emperor finally acquiesced, and in 1867 the Austrian Empire was re-structured as the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The Roman Empire

The origins of the Greek Catholic Church trace back to events that occurred during the Roman Empire.

Figure 3: The Roman Empire around the year 300
    After centuries of expansion, the Roman Empire became difficult to rule due to its enormous size.  Therefore, it was divided into two administrative regions, with the western half governed from Rome and the eastern half governed from Constantinople.

    The general population spoke Latin in Rome and Greek in Constantinople. This division of the Roman Empire into two separate administrative areas and the language difference between the two halves would have important consequences for the development of Christianity.

    In the year 314, by decree of the Roman Emperor, Christianity was made the official religion of the Roman Empire in both the eastern and western halves. There was one universal Christian religion throughout the empire, although a great many people remained pagan, especially in outlying provinces.  Pagan is a term used for the ancient non-Christian religions of Europe such as belief in the gods of Greece, the gods of Rome as Zeus and Apollo, or the Norse gods of Scandinavia.

    In 476 The Roman Empire in the west came to an end when the emperor of Rome was deposed by invading barbarians and a new emperor was never declared. The Roman Empire in the east, ruled from Constantinople, remained intact until the year 1453.

The Eastern and Western Churches Go Their Separate Ways

    The Church in the west became the Roman Catholic Church with the liturgy in Latin. The Bishop of Rome became the head of the Church and was called the Pope. Europe fragmented into many small kingdoms. Much of the population was pagan having never converted to the Christian faith.  

    The Church in the east became the Greek Orthodox Church with the liturgy in Greek. The Bishop of Constantinople became the head of the Church and was called the Patriarch. Later there were to be other Patriarchs severing various ethnic groups. The Roman Empire in the east remained intact, powerful, and fully Christianized. People started calling the Roman Empire in the east the Byzantine Empire.

Slavs Convert to the Greek Orthodox Faith

    In the 800s and 900s Slavic pagans living in kingdoms adjacent to the Byzantine Empire were converted to Christianity by the monks Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius and other missionaries that followed after them.  

    Cyril and Methodius translated the liturgy and Bible of the Greek Orthodox Church into Slavonic. Cyril invented a new alphabet for this project, which is named after him, the Cyrillic alphabet. This alphabet is basically the Greek Alphabet, used by the Greek speaking people of the Byzantine Empire, augmented with extra letters needed for the Slavic language.

    Rusyns, Bulgarians, Russians, and Ukrainians are examples of Slavic peoples who adopted the Greek Orthodox religion with the use of Slavonic for the liturgy and the Cyrillic alphabet. This language came to be called Old Church Slavonic.

The Greek Catholic Church is Born

    In the late 1500’s areas to the north of the Carpathian Mountains came under the rule of the Poland-Lithuania Commonwealth.

    As mentioned, the Carpathian Mountains were populated by Slavic Rusyns. At the time they were almost exclusively of the Greek Orthodox faith. The Polish nobility, who were Roman Catholic and now in control, did not want their new subjects to be under the influence of the Patriarchs of Kiev and Moscow. There was a fierce desire to convert them, however, Rusyns had been Greek Orthodox for 700 years and this possibility was slim to none.

    A compromise was reached when a large segment of the Rusyn Greek Orthodox bishops and priests agreed to come under the authority of the Holy See in Rome if allowed to keep the Byzantine rites and traditions of the Greek Orthodox Church, be allowed to continue the use of Old Church Slavonic in the liturgy, as opposed to Latin, and continue the practice of allowing priests to marry. The average parishioner would not see any change to their beloved religious traditions. The agreement also gave the clergy social, cultural, and economic benefits.  This was nothing to sneeze at considering life was difficult and poverty pervasive, even among the clergy.

    And so in the year 1596 The Greek Catholic Church was born when Rusyn clergy on the north side of the Carpathian Mountains formally signed an agreement known as The Union of Brest, named after the city of Brest, Belarus, where it was signed and the word “Union” referring to the idea that the Rusyn Greek Orthodox clergy united with the Roman Catholic Church.

The Greek Catholic Church is established in Hungary

    Fifty years later the same deal was reached with Rusyn Greek Orthodox clergy living in Hungary on the southern slopes of the Carpathian Mountains. This area was ruled jointly by the Austrian Hapsburgs and Hungarian nobility, both of whom were Roman Catholic.

    And so, in 1646 the Greek Catholic Church was established in the Kingdom of Hungary when the clergy signed The Union of Uzhhorod on the grounds of the castle in Uzhhorod.

    At the time Uzhhorod was called Ungvar. After World War II this area was given to Ukraine and the Hungarian name of Ungvar was changed to the Ukrainian name of Uzhhorod.

    Also, at the time it was called the Uniate Church. In 1773, the church’s name was officially changed to Greek Catholic to compliment the name Roman Catholic.

    Rev Alexis Bakaysa was a Greek Catholic priest in Rusyn villages on the southern slopes of the Carpathian Mountains. Ancestors of the Ladomérszky family were Greek Catholic priests in these same villages since at least the 1700s.

The Hungarian Greek Catholic Church is established

    In 1868 the Hungarian Greek Catholic Church was established. The unique feature of the Hungarian Greek Catholic Church is that the liturgy is neither in Greek nor Old Church Slavonic but in Hungarian.  Rome did not initially sanction the formation of a Hungarian Greek Catholic Church because Hungarian was not an approved holy language. Eventually Rome gave its blessing.

    The need for a Hungarian wing of the Greek Catholic church came about due to a new national movement called Hungarianization that made its appearance in the 1800s.


    Hungarianization was a state sponsored policy to encouraged non-Hungarians within the Kingdom of Hungary to adopt the Hungarian language and to self-identify as Hungarian.

   For centuries the Austrian Empire, which included the Kingdom of Hungary, was multi-ethnic. In fact, the languages, religions, and traditions of the various ethnicities were protected by law. The first Hungarian census taken in the 1830’s showed that only 40% of the citizens of the Kingdom of Hungary identified as Magyar (Hungarian). Subsequently, a policy of national assimilation was initiated by the Hungarian government. (The Kingdom of Hungary above refers to all areas ruled by Hungary as shown in Figure 2.  This area was split, roughly along ethnic lines, into multiple separate nations in 1920 as dictated by the Treaty of Trianon after World War I)

    Hungarianization proved to be extremely popular with the small slice of the population that was well educated.  Hungarianization was especially popular among Rusyn Greek Catholic seminarians and priests who enthusiastically welcomed the chance to act and function as Hungarians.  (See Editor's Note at the end.)

  A typical Rusyn Greek Catholic church of the countryside

    The less educated, including Greek Catholic Rusyn peasant farmers, often retained their old ways and languages, not so much out of resistance, but because they were isolated from city life and therefore largely unaffected by the Hungarianization movement. Although the government desired universal education in Hungarian, no funds were provided for its implementation. But even among city dwellers, most non-Hungarians continued to speak the language of their ancestors at home and in shops.  For them Hungarian was a second language.

    Therefore, it came about that there were both Rusyn Greek Catholic and Hungarian Greek Catholic Churches in Hungary serving Rusyn and Hungarian speaking congregations. Most of the Rusyn congregations were made up of peasant farmers in the remote countryside and most Hungarian Greek Catholics congregations were made up of urban elite. The clergy for both types of congregations were almost certainly all Hungarians of Rusyn ancestry, but this is difficult to confirm.

    Note that I am intentionally simplifying things. I’ve made many broad generalizations throughout this document for which there are many exceptions. For example, a group of Rusyns migrated to the southern plains of Hungary and these peasant Rusyns quickly became Hungarianized. This document is not intended to be a comprehensive history.

    One should also note that most Hungarians are not Greek Catholic but are either Roman Catholic or Protestant. The Greek Catholic religion was and is to this day an important but minority religion in Hungary, Poland, and Ukraine.


        Figure 4: Distribution of Religions in 2011 Hungary

Greek Catholic Churches are established in the US

    Starting in the late 1800s and continuing into the early 1900s many Rusyn and Hungarian Greek Catholics immigrated to America due to poverty and lack of opportunity in the region. They came from both Austrian and Hungarian parts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  

    The Rusyn immigrants were mostly unskilled peasant farmers and came to work the factories, steel mills, and coal mines of Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Ohio. Hungarians were usually better educated and often entered middle class white-color professions. Immigrants formed organizations to build churches and bring Greek Catholic priests to their new homeland.

    Since they were under the authority of Rome, when the first Greek Catholic priests arrived, they were placed under the authority of local US Roman Catholic bishops. The American bishops were horrified and did not accept them as legitimate priests. For one, they had not even heard of the Greek Catholic Church and secondly, they were dumbfounded by a married priesthood. It took decades but eventually the tensions were resolved. Eventually the married priesthood was abolished in the United States. In Europe, Greek Catholic priests are still allowed to be married but follow the ancient tradition that they must marry prior to ordination.

    When they first immigrated to the United States, Rusyns from the eastern and western regions of the Carpathian Mountains came together and attended the same Greek Catholic Churches under the assumption that their language and culture were practically the same. It quickly became apparent that they were not as similar as they thought and ended up forming separate congregations.

    Immigrants from western regions of the Carpathian Mountains formed Ruthenian Greek Catholic congregations (they adopted the English word for Rusyn) and Rusyns from eastern regions of the mountains formed Ukrainian Greek Catholic congregations. Sometimes two Greek Catholic Churches were within a mile of each other. And of course, Hungarian Greek Catholics also had their separate churches. There was communication and cooperation, but also tension, between the congregations. I think it interesting that the cultural divide was between eastern and western regions of the Carpathian Mountains, not the northern and southern slopes.  

    Congregations in the United States began to call their churches Byzantine Rite rather than Greek Catholic because Americans had a hard time understanding that the Greek Catholic religion is not composed of Greeks. Churches in the United States officially now go by the name Byzantine Catholic while Greek Catholic is still used in Europe. 

The Greek Catholic Church in Post-Communist Europe

    Religion was suppressed during the years when the Eastern Bloc states were under the thumb of Moscow. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union there has been a resurgence of religion in the area including the Greek Catholic Church. Church buildings which had been shuttered or turned over to other uses were often returned to the Greek Catholic Church.

    There is even a small but fervent resurgence of Rusyn identity.


Jankowski, Tomek. Eastern Europe!: Everything You Need to Know About the History (and More) of a Region that Shaped Our World and Still Does. New Europe Books. 2013. Kindle Edition.

Magosci, Paul Robert. With Their Backs to the Mountains: A History of the Carpathian Rus’ and Carpatho-Rusyns. Central European University Press. 2017

Editor's Note: The section on Hungarianization beautifully shows why my grandfather Fr. Vladimir Mihalich and his wife Grandmother Olga Podhajeczky and their family were ethnic Ruthenians (Carpatho-Rusyns), but cultural Hungarians.  That is they spoke Slovak/Ruthenian with the people of the community, but only spoke Hungarian in the home while observing both Hungarian and Ruthenian customs.  They always considered their nationality to be Hungarian.  As with many priest families, they may have wanted to identify themselves with the educated Hungarian intelligencia.  Fr. Vladimir conducted his liturgies and administered the sacraments in Old Slav (Church Slavonic).  His cerca 1890 breviary, which we still have, is in Church Slavonic and written with the Cyrillic alphabet.

Appendix II   

A Reflection

Upon the Development


Eastern and Western Christianity

by Deacon David Thomas October 17th, 2003

The following excerpts were taken directly from and added to, or reformatted slightly from.

The MOUNTAIN of SILENCE (A Search for Orthodox Spirituality)”

by Kyriacos C. Markides, 2002

    Christianity developed within the historical parameters of the Roman Empire. Constantine, the fourth-century Roman emperor, made some crucial decisions that had a lasting impact on both Western civilization and Christianity. During the middle of the fourth century he elevated Christianity from a persecuted sect to the official religion of the Roman Empire.

    Since then, Christianity and Judaism, out of which it emerged, along with Greek philosophy and Roman law, became the third cultural pillar that sustained what we understand as Western civilization.

    Realizing that Rome had become vulnerable to barbarian tribes from the north, Constantine the Great shifted the capital of his empire from Rome to Constantinople. Changing the capital to “the New Rome” was a crucial strategic decision that affected the course of Western history. It allowed the empire to last another thousand years.

    There was, perhaps, an additional reason for relocating his capital to the east. The old Rome was too stained with its pagan past. Constantinople was a fresh start, a city without a history, founded exclusively on the new religion.

    Before Constantine’s move, the village of Byzantium had little significance. The bishop there was subordinate to the Metropolitan of Heraclea in Thrace. When Byzantium became Constantinople, the new center of the Empire in the East (324 A.D.), a great change occurred in many ways including the ecclesiastical sphere.

    Note that the First Ecumenical Council, the Council of Nicaea, convened in 325 as directed by Constantine. In a little over 50 years, from the time of the dedication of the new capital, Constantinople surpassed Rome in imperial importance. The local bishop vaulted to a very commanding position in the hierarchy: no longer was he under the authority of Heraclea. He came into prominence by virtue of being elevated to the rank of patriarch.

    Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece, was regarded as the second most important center of Eastern Christianity after Constantinople during the Byzantine era. The Thessalonians received a number of Paul’s epistles, and it was from Thessaloniki that the two scholarly monks, Cyril and his brother, Methodius, embarked on their ninth-century mission to spread Christianity to the Slavs.

     Whereas the Eastern part of the empire known as Byzantium thrived and prospered, the social and political infrastructure of the western part of the empire eventually collapsed under the weight of the Germanic invasions. This development left the Roman Church (in Constantinople) as the sole organized institution keeping a politically fragmented and barbarized Western European society together.

    Then the Dark Ages descended upon Europe, a development that did not take place in Byzantium, and this is an important point that Western historians have often overlooked. It is interesting to note that during the Dark Ages, Constantinople was a leading center of culture with over a million inhabitants, whereas Paris had only a few thousand. Here is how a medieval historian described the prevailing conditions in the West:

The leadership, which was so badly needed by the disorganized Western society of the sixth century, could come initially only from the Church, which had in its ranks almost all the literate men in Europe and the strongest institutions of the age. The Church, however, had also suffered severely from the Germanic invasions. The bishops identified their interests with those of the lay nobility and in fact were often relatives of kings and the more powerful aristocrats; the secular clergy in general was ignorant, corrupt, and unable to deal with the problem of Christianizing a society which remained intensely heathen in spite of formal conversion of masses of Germanic warriors to Christianity. The grossest heathen superstitions were grafted onto Latin Christianity…. By the beginning of the seventh century, Church discipline in Gaul was in a state of chaos, and the problem was the most basic one of preserving sufficient rudiments of literacy to perpetuate the liturgy at doctrines of Latin Christianity…. The Latin Church was preserved from extinction, and European civilization with it, by two ecclesiastical institutions which alone had the strength and efficiency to withstand the impress of the surrounding barbarism: the regular clergy (that is, the monks) and the Papacy.

    These historical developments signaled the beginning of the preoccupation of the Western Church with the management of this world, so much so that in some cases the Pope himself participated in military expeditions and used the sword with the same ease as the Gospel.

    It was a ghastly development for the Eastern monks and holy hermits, who objected to any form of violence. The reluctance of the Byzantine Church to accept that ends could justify means (even to the point of insisting that killing enemy solders in battle was sinful) led to a feeling that no one could engage in politics, war, or commerce without some moral taint. This put the Byzantines at a certain disadvantage against western merchants or Crusaders, or Muslim Holy Warriors.

     While the political and military institutions of the western part of the empire collapsed, the overall social and political infrastructure of the eastern part of the Roman Empire remained relatively intact. The various emperors still handled the affairs of this world, often committing atrocious crimes against their enemies, while the Church remained otherworldly both in its praxis and in theological orientation, fulfilling its role as the conscience of the empire and often serving as a countervailing power against the arbitrariness of imperial power.

    The mystical element in Eastern Christianity, which has survived to this day in some ancient monastic communities, may therefore be attributed to the fact that in Byzantium, the Church, unlike its Western counterpart did not exercise direct political power and authority over society. There were clear and definitive boundaries between the ecclesiastical, religious sphere on one hand and the imperial state on the other.

    The emperor as the “vicegerent of Christ” on earth perceived as his primary role the safeguarding and protection of Orthodox Christianity. With full economic and political support from the state, the monks were left in peace in their monasteries to focus all their energy and attention on the systematic exploration of inner spiritual life and otherworldly goals.

    While Western Christianity became more oriented toward this world, Eastern Christianity remained monastic and eremitic in character.

The essential function of both monks and nuns was seen as the pursuit of holiness. Byzantine monasteries may have devoted less time to study, scholarship and education than their western counterparts, but they took seriously the obligation of hospitality and sponsored works of charity, establishing hospitals, orphanages and houses for the poor.

    The different historical developments of the western and the eastern parts of the Roman Empire paralleled and perhaps were responsible for the rise of two distinct orientations in Christian theology. The type which developed in the West was based on the thought of Aristotle, the philosophical precursor to the scientific revolution and the philosopher whose primary focus was the study of this world. God as the “Unmoved Mover,” Aristotle taught, can be known and proven by studying nature and through philosophical, logical deductions.

    St. Thomas Aquinas, who introduced Aristotle to the West, was the catalyst for the Roman Catholic Church to embrace Aristotelian philosophy and establish it as the central orientation in Catholic theology. Western theology, by adhering to such orientation, did in fact plant the seeds for the scientific revolution and the rise of rationalism that paved the way for the modern secular world as we know it. This “scholastic” perspective, however, was at odds with that of Eastern Christianity, which believed that God can only be known through spiritual practice and direct mystical illumination.

    Christianity eventually split formally into the Roman and the Eastern Orthodox churches during the Great Schism of A.D. 1054. (Some Eastern Churches, however, did not split from the recognition of Papal authority.) Since then “two Christianities” followed their radically different and separate ways. It would be Saint Gregory Palamas, a fourteenth-century archbishop of Thessaloniki who would play the decisive role in blocking Western scholastic theology, founded on Aristotelian thought from becoming the dominant theological orientation of Eastern Christianity.

    Western Christianity however, underwent further radical convulsions that led to increasing secularization. In the middle of the sixteenth century Martin Luther nailed to the door of his church his “Ninety-five Theses” that launched the revolution against the Pope. With Protestantism, monasticism as an institution was abolished altogether as well as the practice of honoring saints, who traditionally had served as spiritual beacons. In other words, it was as if “the heart was taken out of Christianity.”

    In addition to a cultural repudiation of cloistered life, Protestantism redirected believers to express their faith through a “this-worldly asceticism,” an orientation of disciplined, rational action within this world. Western culture had, as an unintended consequence, moved toward the development of a “Protestant work ethic” that has played a major role in revolutionizing the world by opening the gates to modern capitalism and the Industrial Revolution.

    Indeed, it may well have been the aesthetic experience of the services and the liturgy of the Eastern Church that helped it survive over the centuries, for it was this very aesthetic aspect of the liturgy that, it is said, converted the Russians, Ukrainians, and other Eastern Europeans to Orthodox Christianity. “It takes time to bake bread,” implying that it takes time before a person may enter into the mystical frame of mind in order to become spiritually receptive. This is the function of the long and beautiful services that people of (Western) rational predilection find hard to understand or endure. It is no wonder that the West, where rationalism has become triumphant, the liturgy is considerably shorter and replaced by sermons.

    During the tenth century Prince Vladimir of Kiev, a fun-loving womanizer, wished to give his empire a common religion primarily for purposes of political unification. He dispatched a delegation to visit various countries and places of worship where different religions were practiced in order to find out which one would be the most suitable for his empire.

    The delegation included in its itinerary a visit to Constantinople, at the great church of Aghia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) built by Justinian a few centuries earlier. Upon their return they presented their findings to the prince in a memorable report. Among many others, they described their experiences when they visited Aghia Sophia: “Then we went to Greece, and the Greeks led us to the edifices where they worship their God, and we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth there is no such splendor or such beauty, and we are at a loss how to describe it. We know only that God dwells there among men, and their service is fairer than the ceremonies of other nations. For we cannot forget that beauty.”

    The report allegedly convinced Prince Vladimir to convert to Eastern Christianity, and along with him eventually all the millions of his subjects.

    According to archbishop Gregory Palamas of Thessaloniki, a theology that is based on intellectual constructs and not on the direct experience of God is philosophy and not theology. It is a human creation that offers neither real knowledge of God nor peace to the heart, and a purely philosophical approach to knowing God may prevent human beings from really knowing God.

    A leading transpersonal theorist, Ken Wilber, in his masterful critique of Western thought, claims that Western civilization lacks a “yoga,” or a method of acquiring knowledge beyond the senses and the intellect. Western thought remains therefore trapped within its intellectual and scientific constructs. Wilber, like most transpersonal theorists today, finds this “yoga” in Eastern philosophy and religion, particularly Zen.

    In fact, both the Eastern mystical approach to God on the one hand and the Western philosophical approach to God on the other may be two sides of the same Christian coin, one dominant in the East and the other dominant in the West.

    "Christianity", a Catholic bishop in Maine once said, "has two lungs. One is Western, meaning rational and philosophical, and the other Eastern, meaning mystical and otherworldly. Both, he claimed, are needed for proper breathing. Both the mystical and the rational approaches to God were actually part of the early Church. They were only set asunder by subsequent historical developments."