Wednesday, August 31, 2022

...and where we're at now in our Byzantine adventure

Icons and beeswax...but I still pray the Latin rite Liturgy of the Hours

"So Sweetie, I've noticed that the icons about the house seem to be multiplying." 🤔😉

"Really? Are you sure?" 🤷 😳


Hello friends, and welcome back! We're nearly to the start of the Eastern liturgical year, and I'm here to finish up our family story of how we're embarking on a journey to explore the Byzantine rite for the next year. Settle in with the comforting beverage of your choice!


Once Anne and I had attended the Divine Liturgy a few times, she told me that she loved it there, and was interested in pursuing the Byzantine rite much more permanently. Anne isn't yet at the age that our diocese confers the Sacrament of Confirmation, and her growing into her faith and making it her own is something I take very seriously. I told her we could start attending sometimes, but that we were not yet in a position to fully leave our Latin rite parish. For one thing, we needed to do much more discernment, but also, our beloved pastor Fr. Joe was set to retire within the next few months, and I didn't want to miss out on the time we had remaining with him. The kids both adore him, and thus they agreed on that front. And so through Memorial Day weekend, which was Father's last before retiring, we were attending the 11 am Mass at our home parish. I was very sad as we left the church after that Mass, thinking that I felt, while very excited about the new energy in my faith life, a bit adrift spiritually. 

We started off the next week by taking Henry with us to Divine Liturgy for the first time, and I thought he would balk at the 9 am start time. Hard sell right there for a sleepy 16 year old. 😬 Well, promise of a caffeinated beverage at Dunkin' Donuts after liturgy fixed that little problem, and he willingly got up and came with us. I was anxious for his reaction afterwards, and he was pretty enthusiastic. You must understand, my son is extremely reserved and laid back, a real man of few words. His:

"Yeah, I liked it. I'm good with us coming here on Sundays." pretty much a ringing endorsement of volcanic proportions. 🤣

And so followed a summer of Divine Liturgy. We attended Mass back at our Latin rite parish only twice, once when the priest was out of town and there was no English language Divine Liturgy, and once when Fr. Joe was back in our home parish to sub. On the first of those two times, it had been close to two months since we had last attended Mass, and I have to admit I was quite shocked to find that I felt...

Weird. The tide had turned. Instead of feeling out of sorts at the completely new-to-me Divine Liturgy, I now felt out of place at Mass and longed for the Byzantine rite style of worship. That definitely took me by surprise!

Since those initial weeks, the congregation at the English Divine Liturgy got curious about us, and suddenly we noticed signs in the entryway for an upcoming "koffee klutch" after liturgy. I had noticed people starting to greet us when we came and went at liturgy each week, and the congregation is so small that we were definitely noticable as newcomers! Attending the coffee hour brought everyone out of the woodwork, asking us how we liked the church and just about ourselves generally. I found out that just about all of them fell into one of two groups: (1) were raised in the Byzantine rite since childhood, or (2) were Latin rite, and rather fell into attending the Divine Liturgy and took a liking to it (these are my fellow left to right shoulder crossers). A few of them were from a Byzantine rite parish in a town about 20 miles north that had closed during the pandemic, and made the drive for a new Byzantine rite home. We were enthusiastically embraced and welcomed to the parish. 

So where am I at now? Well, I love the Divine Liturgy. I LOVE IT. I also love the Eastern style traditions and devotions that I am learning about, though I know that I still have so much to learn! I'm very much looking forward to this year of Byzantine rite exploration. I feel strange attending Mass. At the same time, I still pray the Liturgy of the Hours and the rosary, these are 2 Western devotions that I cannot see myself letting go of. There are liturgical Hours in the Byzantine tradition as well, but...I cannot for the life of me figure out how to pray them. 😂 I have countless Eastern prayer books and have watched many a YouTube video, but I'm still like a fish out of water, flopping around with ribbons and hardbound prayer books all akimbo. Maybe this will fall into place for me at some point? I don't know. I get the feeling this isn't as designed for personal devotion the way the Western style LotH is, but I'm truly coming at this from a place of ignorance, I know so little about it. For the time being, I don't think there's anything wrong with me being multi-rite and figuring out where God is leading me.

The kids are also quite content at the Byzantine rite parish, and it's so lovely to actually have them willingly talk to me about liturgical and other churchy matters. My cute husband Mike has also been quite intrigued by our adventures ("You're becoming Orthodox?" "Nope, still Catholic, just Eastern!" "Really? I've never heard of this. Tell me more!"). It feels like a real family affair with all of us growing in our respective spiritual places. 🥰

So that's where we're at. The kids and I will be at Divine Liturgy on this coming Sunday, the first of the new liturgical year,🥳 and it'll be... *consults bulletin* ...the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost. That was a bit anti-climactic, wasn't it? 🤣 I believe the Extraordinary Form in the Latin rite is similar with all of this counting down from Pentecost. Your Catholic Librarian will be researching and reporting in!!! 👀 And I CAN'T.WAIT!!!!

Thursday, August 25, 2022

How our Byzantine rite adventure began...

             Budding icon wall in our kitchen <3                 
 So, I have to's really good to be back!! I'm feeling  so excited about this project and about journaling it with all of you. I've gotten a very warm response about the topic and about my coming back, at least temporarily, to blogging. Thank you so much!

Since we have just over a week before the September 1st start to our new liturgical year, I thought I would dedicate this week's post to my introduction to the Byzantine rite and how I got started on this spiritual journey. The spark didn't happen all that long ago, which is why I'm looking forward to settling in for lots of good Catholic Nerd learning and prayer this upcoming year, but I thought it would be fun to share how this all got started.

A year or so ago, my good friend Allison and her family became members of a Catholic church that celebrates the liturgy in the Byzantine rite. They had been attending Divine Liturgy at this Ukrainian Catholic Church near their home for some time prior, and their journey caused me to become interested in learning about Eastern liturgies and traditions. After a solid 9 months of innocently collecting icons, beeswax candles, and Eastern prayer books, I figured there was something more to all of this than a passing curiosity. I was clearly drawn to this type of spirituality, so I figured it would be interesting to actually attend a Byzantine rite Divine Liturgy.

I did a little research, and found 3 Byzantine rite parishes in our area, one of which was a 5 minute drive from our home. A peek at their website revealed that it was several years out of date, so one day Anne and I did a quick drive by: the big sign outside let us know that liturgy celebrated in English was at 9 am on Sunday mornings, Ukrainian at 10:30 am. I knew that the start time would be a hard sell for my love-to-sleep-in preteen and teenaged children 😬, but after our little field trip, Anne was curious and game to try it out. Henry was feeling under the weather the next Sunday, so Anne and I set off as a twosome for the first installment in our Byzantine adventure.

I have to admit, while I was feeling excited, I was also quite nervous! As a lifelong Catholic, I wasn't used to feeling so utterly out of my element in attending church on Sunday. But I truly knew very little on what to expect; as in, we couldn't find the sanctuary right away after we entered the building, this is the level of cluelessness we're dealing wtih here. 😂 We entered from the back parking lot, and there was a nice entry area with a few hallways leading off in different directions, and no obvious door to the worship space. After exiting back outside, thinking that perhaps we needed to enter from the front, we saw an actual person slip into the back door. I not-so-discreetly jogged over to follow and spy on them. 🤣

And thus we found the door. And once we entered, well. I was transported. The icon screen (iconostasis), the flicker and scent of candles and incense, the absolute silence prior to the start of the liturgy, the additional imagery portrayed on beautiful icons scattered around the all lifts the mind and heart to the Father using all of our senses.  

I could see the priest moving around behind the iconostasis and so we quickly hurried to find a seat. This church does have pews, though this is not always the case in Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches. We genuflected and crossed ourselves in our usual Latin rite style (left shoulder to right shoulder) likely making us stick out with big WESTERN signs above our heads, but it couldn't be helped. We were clearly visitors, and just eager to observe and learn. We grabbed the books that were provided in the pew (these look like missals to me, but almost certainly are not actually called missals) and prepared to fumble along. The priest opened the center doors of the iconostasis (called the Royal Doors, I later learned) and the liturgy began.

The first thing I noticed besides the beautiful prayers and language of the liturgy, was that in the Byzantine rite, one crosses oneself A LOT. Anytime the Trinity is invoked, the congregation crosses themselves, and even sometimes when it is not, there are Signs of the Cross then, too. The Sign of the Cross in the Eastern tradition is made from right shoulder to left shoulder, and one holds their thumb and first two fingers in a little triangle as they do it, in a manner that harkens the Trinity. So beautiful! But out of familiarity I kept to my usual way of doing it as I observed my surroundings, and I noticed that we were not the only ones in the small congregation who used the Western style of crossing. I was just trying to keep up with the frequency, and anytime I missed one, Anne elbowed me to scold me. 😂 Everything felt unfamiliar yet familiar at the same time, and just utterly, off-the-charts stunning. 

It was very early April, and the priest dedicated his homily to talking about St. Mary of Egypt, since her feast is celebrated in the Byzantine rite on April 1st. I had never heard of St. Mary of Egypt, and I was practically taking notes while he spoke, wild-eyed with excited interest. We now have her icon hanging in our little icon wall in the kitchen, it's the one in farthest left in the photo up at the top of this post. We then progressed through the beautiful liturgy until we got the part I was most nervous about: Communion. 

In the East, the Eucharist is prepared with leavened bread, and it is administered, soaked in the Precious Blood, via being spooned into your mouth by the priest. I wanted to sit and observe that first week, until we felt more comfortable, but I will say that my daughter is brave and fearless. She was goin' in, and so I was, too. We did wait until we watched most of the rest of the congregation receive (they opened their mouths wide and tipped their heads back a bit) before proceeding into the line. And it was GREAT. I love receiving in the mouth, which I haven't been able to do since the pandemic started. 

After the liturgy concluded, Father had a few announcements about upcoming fundraisers and other small events, and I could feel the warmth from the small congregation. They are a small but mighty crew. 

We went back again sometime within that month (and on a week when Henry had a track event and still wasn't with us, but I'll circle back to him next week, because he comes into play shortly!) and this time, Father came up to us after the liturgy to introduce himself and welcome us. Anne immediately informed him that she would like to switch rites and become Byzantine. 😳😂 She isn't shy, that child. I was enjoying our sessions at Divine Liturgy, for sure, but I still felt solidly attached to our Latin rite parish and to my Western devotions and traditions. 

OK, this story will be continued next week! We have Henry coming down the pike further into the spring, along with our beloved pastor Fr. Joe (in our Latin rite parish) retiring over Memorial Day weekend, and a gradual shift towards our becoming summer regulars and more comfortable at Divine Liturgy, including enthusiastic invitations to something called 'Koffee Klutch.' Talk to you then!

Friday, August 19, 2022

A journey East as I explore the Byzantine rite this upcoming liturgical year...

         Morning Prayer with your multi-rite-loving Catholic Librarian            
All! 😀 It's been a little while, hasn't it?! I have indeed missed you, but I have to say that the break from blogging served me well. Being back to teaching in person again at my job, as well as performing in person again in my dance side gig, combined with the busy ages that my kids are at right now (so much chauffering after school, SO MUCH) meant that I not only had less time, but less mental bandwidth with which to focus on this blog. I was also unsure of the place of blogs in our modern social media culture, and thought that the time was right to pause, discern and re-evaluate. I was content to just leave it be until (or even if) I ever felt strongly compelled to pick it back up again. All things have their season, and this past Lent I felt that maybe my blogging season had come to it's natural end. 

But then something interesting happened. This spring, my kids and I decided to check out an Eastern rite Divine Liturgy as something different to explore in our family faith life. I was hoping to spark some semblance of interest within my utterly lukewarm preteen and teenaged children for their faith ("MOOOOOOOOMMMMMM, why do we have to go to church AGAIN?! Didn't we just go last week?!") For myself, a tried and true Cradle Catholic Nerd, I just wanted to experience a liturgy that I had never witnessed before. My good friend Allison and her family had recently become members of the Byzantine rite, so I figured we'd look there. Lo and behold, our area held two local Ukranian Catholic Churches that are part of the Byzantine rite, one of which was five minutes from our home.

(☝ this is an important point. We're attending an Eastern Catholic church, not an Eastern Orthodox one. I very much love and admire our Orthodox kin, but I'm staying Catholic, I promise!)

And, well. It's a long story, but God is moving in my heart, and both me (AND THE CHILDREN 🙌) are falling completely head over heals in love with the Byzantine rite and the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostym. I cannot even fully articulate how much it has captivated me and brightened my entire journey of faith. It's like I feel an actual burning in my heart as I discover and learn more about it. I'm not entirely sure if this is something that will come and go in my spiritual life, or if I'm being led more permanently towards the Eastern lung of our faith, but refreshingly, I'm not worried about it one way or another. I figure, God will fill me in, right? Regardless of which one it is, something good is happening in our family's faith life. Having my kids curious and interested in attending church, and talking to me in the car about the Eastern traditions and liturgy we are experiencing, rather than grumpily getting pulled along with me, has been such a blessing to me.

Thus, while I was at liturgy a few weeks ago, the thought came to me:

"Maybe I would enjoy journaling this experience on my blog."

Whoa. I hadn't even really thought about this blog in five months, aside from the ongoing prayer threads over in our private Facebook group. In the Eastern tradition, the new liturgical year doesn't start with Advent, like it does in our Latin rite. It starts on September 1st. And it's... mid-August. That just seems like providentially good timing, does it not?

And so for the next liturgical year, I will be blogging weekly (or at least, trying my best to do so weekly!) with my journey as a Roman Catholic falling in love with the Byzantine rite. I don't know where this is headed, but I can never resist a good Year Doing The Thing story. For a full liturgical year, I will be exploring the Byzantine rite, and we'll see where it takes me. And my precious children, whose souls have been entrusted to me by the Father. As their only practicing Catholic parent (my adorable husband Mike is very, very supportive of all of this, but as you all know, he's not personally religious) it's been an uphill battle getting the children interested in their faith, especially beyond the glory years of saint stories and rosaries before bed. Anne is 11 now, and Henry is 16. They are evolving, slowly but surely, into young adults, and my job as their mother doing her best to raise them Catholic must evolve too. Importantly, I have realized that I must pay attention. Both to God's leading, and to their signals. With both of them so enthused about attending Divine Liturgy, I knew that this was a sign.

What I'd like to do each week is reflect upon our experience at Divine Liturgy that previous Sunday, and work our way through the entire Byzantine liturgical calendar, September to September. I'll sprinkle in what we're learning about Eastern traditions as I go. Before we get to that, next week I'll post a bit more about our initial experiences with attending Divine Liturgy for the very first time as Roman Catholics (like fish out of water, I tell you, making all manner of Western gestures 😂) and our falling in love with the traditions we have encountered so far. That isn't all that much, since we've only been attending Divine Liturgy weekly since the pastor at our home parish retired over Memorial Day weekend. There is SO MUCH GOOD STUFF TO COME. Our first Christmas (see, I'm already doing this wrong, they call it the Nativity of Our Lord in the Eastern tradition, I think!), experiencing all of the 12 Great Feasts, our first Great Lent and Pascha! 


All. I literally cannot wait! We're settling into our new Byzantine rite church with weekly liturgy and enthusiastic invitations to the monthly parish coffee hour, and we're learning and feeling more at home each week. I am so excited to share it all with you. 🤗

Importantly, one of the reasons I'm coming back to blogging (at least for the next year) is that I'm not putting pressure on myself. This is a self-journey of exploration, and though I'm so grateful to share this with whoever wishes to accompany me along the way, I'm really doing it for myself, and for my kids. I almost certainly won't post on a consistent day of the week from week-to-week, and there may even be weeks where I can't post at all for unforeseeable reasons. But all I can say is that I feel excited and motivated to write again, and that this budding flame in my heart is giving my spirit life right now. I don't know how many people regularly read blogs anymore, but I figure it really doesn't matter. Everything happens for a reason. In the end, I'll have a chronicle of this part of my love affair with my faith to reflect back on, and for my children to reflect back on, perhaps at a future point in their lives during which they really need a life buoy back home to Christ and His Church. 

I'll see you all next week. We'll talk a bit about our experiences being new to the Divine Liturgy ("does that thing he's swingin' around have incense in it?!"), about lighting real beeswax candles (*whispers* "where do I put it? is that what the sand is for?!") and about crossing ourselves ("MOM. You missed 3 Signs of the Cross, keep up!!"). See you then!