29 September 2021

Building a Domestic Church while Breathing with Two Lungs

(Our Roman Catholic Pastor with our Youngest Son's Godfather, a Byzantine Deacon) 

UPDATE 14 March 2024: We were accepted into the Melkite Greek Catholic Church Christmas 2023, with five of our children being Chrismated (Confirmed) and receiving Holy Communion for the first time!  So, in all transparency, while this was written in 2021 when we were Roman Catholic, and we are still very Catholic, read the following with that layer of influence... 

Pope St. John Paul II, in his Encyclical Ut unum sint (specifically paragraph 54), exclaimed: "The Church must breathe with her two lungs!"  The Pope was speaking of the Catholic Church embracing the full universality of the Church in both its Eastern and Western rites.  There are, in fact, seven rites within the Catholic Church, 1 in the West and 6 in the East: Alexandrian, Armenian, Byzantine, Chaldean, Latin, Maronite, and Syriac.  The "Ritual" Churches are then divided into 20+ Churches sui iuris or Churches with their own unique structure and hierarchy that are in union with each other and Rome.

A couple caveats:  

I am neither an Eastern nor Western theological scholar.  I am simply a broken man trying to guide my family to a deeper understanding, love, and union with God.  I am certainly not trying to proselytize for the East, nor am I pushing for the romanization of the East.  The beauty of each Church is their uniqueness.  The best part of all of this is that, unlike the trouble people get into with CULTURAL appropriation, all of these different theological expressions are already part of your Catholic heritage, they inform each other, they build on each other, and as a friend of mine recently explained, they are each part of a love letter from God, given to His disciples... US.

I come from a Roman Catholic background and am influenced strongly by the Byzantine tradition.  For the intention of this piece, I am focussing on how Roman Catholics can improve their own spiritual practices by learning about the East.  This is not to say that Eastern Catholics can't learn a lot from the West: Adoration, Daily Mass, seeing the sheer size of Roman Catholic gatherings, etc.  Many of these things exist in the East and the West, and again the Catholic Church is ONE Church, so I am not trying to compare and contrast so much as point out things that I find the Eastern Churches do exceptionally well.

Catholic Fusion Kitchen

I can not take credit for this section's heading, that honor goes to my friend Robert... but I am going to steal it.  

In hearing from many people who fell in love with the East, they were drawn first by the incredible hospitality of an Eastern Catholic, either being invited to attend Divine Liturgy or by going to one of the many food festivals that Eastern Churches tend to host.  As you can see in the list at the end of this post, many, if not most, of the Eastern Churches are defined by where they either started or where their patriarch is located.  This is certainly not to say that every member of that Church falls into that ethnicity.  That ethnicity is, however, part of that Church's identity and is something that members are usually more than happy to share.  Food is a universal love language.  The photos above are from our local Melkite Church's Middle Eastern Food Festival (those photos are certainly PRE-covid).  

I would encourage every family, Catholic or otherwise, to visit every food festival.  There are, of course, Roman Catholic parishes that host German, Czech, Italian, etc food festivals or parish dinners, go to ALL of those too.  Visit the Church, take a tour, talk to people; it really is in breaking bread together that we discover how much we all get along.  To that extent, I encourage people to visit our Orthodox brothers and sisters' festivals too.  We may not be able to really share a Eucharistic meal together yet, but we can still share a meal.  In our area, we have 3 major Orthodox groups: Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, and Orthodox Church of America (OCA). Note, these 3 Churches are NOT in communion with Rome, they are not considered Catholic. The Catholic Church does consider these like sister Churches.


Moving a little deeper, Icons are certainly found outside of Eastern theological traditions, but in those cases, they are most often used as liturgical art.  Let me explain.  Icons are windows to heaven.  They are, often, replicas of older icons and are, again usually, not signed or marked by the author.  Catholics have been accused of idolatry because of our statues, painting, icons, etc, BUT the reverence is never meant for the painting itself because, again, icons are windows.  Right now, in the midst of covid, with plexiglass between the cashier and the patron... no one thinks they are talking to a piece of plexiglass... they are talking to a person, and there happens to be a piece of plexiglass between the two of them, for convenience or safety.  We are such sensory beings, we need points of reference.  We can see this when you use sign language to speak to a deaf or hard-of-hearing person.  When you are talking about multiple people you establish, in space, a reference point for each person you are talking about, so during the conversation, you can motion towards your left, right, center, etc, and reference multiple people, even though they are not present.  When you kiss an icon of Christ upon entering a Byzantine Church, your lips fall upon a piece of wood, but that motion is clearly for Jesus Christ.  It seems children get this idea better than adults.  When they look at a photo of their parents, they know who they are, they know their picture is not them, but they also know that when they look at that photo and say "I love you, Mommy, I wish you were here" they are expressing that love to their actual parent.

We have the above icons in our chapel as well as icons of most of our Patron Saints, etc.

Ancient Liturgies

Fight, Fight, Fight, Fight...

No, but really, Catholics hold the claim to the oldest form of continual Christian worship... period.  No matter which of the many forms of worship Catholics have used, the general format has (for the most part) remained the same.  Even the most recent form of Western Liturgy uses the same formula of Introductory, Readings from the New (sometimes Old) Testament and Gospel, Sermon, Creed, Offertory, Eucharistic Prayer, Communion Rite, Dismissal.  Each part may be called different things, and there may be additions, etc.  I say for the most part because the Anaphora of Addai and Mari is a valid form of Consecration, but does not contain the words of institution and the order of some of the parts are slightly different in some Catholic Liturgical Traditions.  So East or West, you really are partaking in an ancient tradition, even if the actual format dates back to the mid-1960s.  That being said, the East has been more stable, by comparison, to the West.  In part, it is much harder to change something that is shared by 14 different autonomous groups, versus one hierarchical group.  Aside from a few changes, the Divine Liturgy has remained the same since about the end of the 4th, beginning of the 5th century.  The Roman Rite saw a fair bit of additions between the 5th century and 8th century when it was merged with the Gallican rites.  Multiple formats and nuances emerged until it was codified in 1570, and many of the regional rites that existed in the West were brought under one liturgy.  This lasted for about 400 years until Vatican II gave rise to the current format.

We are very lucky in the West to have general access to the older Liturgy that was in common use between 1570 and 1965, but it is unfortunate that most of the other liturgies used in the West were suppressed between  1474 and 1570.  That being said, I certainly understand that Church at large was trying to promote unity and limit abuse.

That all being said, the East has preserved a lot, and thanks to Pope St. John Paul II's letters, Orientale LumenSlavorum ApostoliUt Unum Sint, and other documents like Orientalium Ecclesiarum, I think that will continue.  The East really has been exhorted to keep their traditions alive.

Liturgy in the East is great and very different.  It is very much a community celebration with full and active participation.  It would take many more paragraphs, pages, and expertise to prepare anyone properly.  I recommend watching How to Attend a Byzantine Catholic Divine Liturgy and the youtube series Coffee with Sr. Vassa.

Ladder of Divine Ascent
(Image from Wikipedia Commons)


For the Son of God became man so that we might become unto god -St. Athanasius of Alexandria

Certainly, the concept of divinization is not unique to the East, it is central to our Catholic faith.  We call this concept to mind often in the West with the ideas of becoming Sons and Daughters of God, dying with Christ so that we can Rise with Him, etc.  The East takes this concept and embeds it into everything they do.  The idea that the physical church is meant to be a place where Heaven meets Earth is a common theme as well as the concept of the Liturgy after the Liturgy where we go out into the world.  These things certainly exist in the West, but they are annunciated particularly well in the East.

The Scream - Edvard Munch

Eastern and Western Treatment of Moral Certainty versus Metaphysical Certainty

You can certainly stop reading at this point, this final section is as much a cathartic act on my part, as it is an attempt to share.  I struggle, like so many, with scrupulosity. Scrupulosity is, simply put, a compulsion to become convinced of wrongdoing.  This is sometimes caused by OCD of some sort, poor formation, or even spiritual temptation.  I am the last one to speak on causes or solutions as I am still in the midst of it.  Because of my own struggles, I steered clear of the Byzantine Churches for a long time.  The reason for this was the lack of structure and clear rules, in my mind, as it came to moral theology.  

Over the last many years, through the love and attention of a handful of Roman Rite Priests both here in Birmingham and in Wichita, I am at a place that I can recognize my faults and accept that God really does love me and is not going to be vengeful towards my faults.  I am at a point where I have a set of rules, given to me, for what is ok to confess and how often to go to confession.  I also have priests in my life that will tell me when I am going too far, and, out of love, will not give me absolution if I cannot confess any actual sins... no matter how much the compulsion to go to confession is driving me.

We, as Christians, want to go to Heaven.  As humans, we like to be in control and know what is going on.  This is where the difference between Moral Certainty and Metaphysical Certainty comes into play.  Moral certainty is whether or not we have broken a law.  Metaphysical Certainty is whether or not something is true.  There are few things we can know with metaphysical certainty: something can not be and not be at the same time, God exists, there is love, etc.  Our eternal destination is not something we can know, with utter certainty, because only God knows.  In His goodness, Christ gave us the Church to bind and loose things on earth, to give us moral certainty of certain actions, so that we can have greater assurance of a Heavenly reward.  This is a vast oversimplification, but there you have it.

Certainly, the difference between the East and the West is not one of moral differences.  There is one Church, one theology, etc.  We are called to love God above all else, and not just follow a set of rules.  This is the same.  The overall attitude in the East of not clearly defining certain things, I feel, is meant to give greater focus to this idea.  This is not to say that the East does not have developed laws and rules, but that the promulgation is different.  For example, in the West, the pre-Eucharistic fast is one hour before reception unless infirmity, or care for the infirmed limits it.  In the East, if you ask what the Eucharistic fast is, you will be told that the traditional Monastic fast is from midnight till after Divine Liturgy.  However, if you cannot do that, then you do what you can.  If it is Saturday night, then, of course, that does not apply.  Hannah has described it as such: The West gives you a clear line and encourages you to go past it.  The East gives you a lofty goal, tells you that it is very hard and you might not make it, and that is ok, but try anyway.

Again, it's the same theology and my greater understanding of the Eastern theological tradition has certainly enhanced my practice of faith in the West.  Don't let anyone tell you that the Latin Church is just full of a set of things you can't do and that the East only focuses on loving God, this simply isn't true... it's all one Church, and the message has always been the same.  

I can say that, right now, for reasons unknown to me, I am less scrupulous when I have spent time at Divine Liturgy or immersed myself in the study of Byzantine theological expressions.  Much of this is the exhaustion from attending Divine Liturgy, some of this is that any study of God will make you feel closer to Him, and some of it is surely just the newness of it.  We are very lucky that we have two incredible parishes and that both welcome us with open arms and have taken such good care of us. 

In closing, I want to encourage everyone to take advantage of something which, by all rights, you are already a member of by virtue of our shared faith, our one Church, and our one God.

Churches sui iuris of the Catholic Church



  • From East to West - Excellent introduction and frequent questions answered by Fr. Deacon Anthony Dragani, Ph.D
  • God With Us Online - Catechetical resources for multiple churches.
  • God With Us Publications - Print material and Icon resources.  Incredibly affordable.
  • Ukrainian Catholic Catechism: Christ – Our Pascha - An excellent companion to the Catechism of the Catholic Church that delves more into the unique Byzantine theological expressions.
  • Melkite Music - Gives a nice taste of the unique eastern chant used by the Melkites.
  • Melkite Catholic Liturgikon - Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom as promulgated by the Melkites.
  • Byzantine Live Streamed - Streaming liturgies from Byzantine (Ruthenian Greek) Catholic, Italo-Greek Byzantine Catholic, Maronite Catholic, Melkite Greek Catholic, Romanian Greek Catholic, Russian Greek Catholic, Slovak Greek Catholic, Syro-Malabar Catholic, Syro-Malankara Catholic, and Ukrainian Greek Catholic churches in the United States and Canada.
  • Byzantine Order of Typica - The Service of Typika may be offered whenever there is no Divine Liturgy, or when one is unable to attend due to illness or incapacity.
  • Fr. Deacon Robert Klesko - Our friend, and youngest son's godfather, is a deacon for the Ruthenians; Fr. Deacon Robert writes and speaks in an approachable and grounded way that is easy to understand.
  • The Seraphim Shop - Melkite Religious Goods and Books store run by a local Parishioner, very responsive and has a great selection.
  • Eighth Day Books - One of our favorite bookstores, visit if you are in Wichita, or order online.  If you are looking for a rare or out-of-publishing book, give them a call.
  • The Byzantine Seminary Press - A service of the Metropolitan Archeparchy of Pittsburgh
  • St. Isaac Skete - Skete has a large selection of Historic Icons and often has specials.
  • Uncut Mountain Supply - Best prices, great selection, they will even sell just the print.
  • Legacy Icons - Some of the best quality in Production you will find.
  • Holy Transfiguration Monastery - They really are a one-stop-shop.  Great Selection, good prices, they have a glossier shine on their icons, if you enjoy that look.
  • Convent of St. Elizabeth the Grand Duchess of Russia - Beautiful work, excellent selection of Printed, Mounted, and Hand Painted Icons and other items.  Be prepared to wait.
  • The Printery House -  A part of Conception Abbey.  Lots of Western Saints, and icon-style paintings of newer Saints.

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