The Byzantine Life
All the cool Catholics are joining the Byzantine Rite of the Catholic Church. Well, Matt Fradd made the leap. (And my husband! Though his family is already Ukrainian and his spiritual formation was at our local Ukrainian Catholic elementary school). Anyway, at one point or another, you’ve probably heard about someone transferring rites, or perhaps know such a person personally. This week I want to reflect on why people are drawn to the Church of the East. And, why people switch rites when we are all already Catholic anyway!
Focus on Beauty
God is the good, the true, and the beautiful. The Byzantine Rite of the Catholic puts the beauty of God at the centre of our daily lives and worship.
Iconography in Byzantine Churches and homes draw us deeper into the mystery of God. The icons inspire awe and love. One of my favourite icons, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, depicts Jesus as a child thinking about his future: death and crucifixion. Mary holds both his hands in her own to comfort him. That image reflects the wonder of the incarnation: God became man, entering the world as a vulnerable infant, knowing that his death would save us and reunite us to him. The image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help leads us to reflect on this mystery and get to know Jesus and his mother better.
Witnessing the beauty of God through icons is only the beginning of what makes the Byzantine Life so attractive.
Divine Liturgy: Heaven on Earth
Perhaps you’ve heard the story of how Russia and Ukraine become a Christian Kingdom. It is said that Prince Volodymyr the Great sent ambassadors to different countries. He asked them to find the religion that he could use to unite his kingdom. Two of the ambassadors entered an Eastern Catholic Church, and witnessed a liturgy with hymns and incense. They returned to the prince, saying that they had found heaven on earth. That is how beautiful the Divine Liturgy is.
In the Byzantine Churches, the priest still faces the alter during the liturgy. Unlike we Roman Catholics have been told, this does not disconnect us from the priest and his work. Instead, it shows us that we are working with the priest, rather than him “performing a ceremony” for us.
Byzantine Catholic laity are also very active in the worship of the Divine Liturgy. We intone the Lord Have Mercys, and sing many prayers throughout the entire liturgy. A Divine Liturgy just wouldn’t make sense without the laity around!
Beauty of Mystery
Byzantine theology is actually quite different from Roman Catholic Theology. We are all still Catholic, but Byzantines have a different approach. Roman Catholic thought centres around reason and understanding God by finding answers to questions. Byzantine thought is about growing closer to God by appreciating that God is the greatest mystery and impossible to know fully here on earth.
One example of this difference is the theology surrounding consecration. Roman Catholics believe that it is at the words of consecration “This is my body… this is my blood,” that the Eucharist becomes the Real Presence. Byzantine theology is not as definitive. Byzantines believe that “it’s a mystery” as to exactly when the bread and wine become Jesus. Practically speaking, they say it happens sometime during the Offering, Blessing of the Gifts, and Eucharistic Prayers, and definitely before the end of the Epiklesis (the invocation of the Holy Spirit).
Catholic Christian Culture
Another reason many are drawn to the East is the cultural practices of the Byzantine Churches. There is such a wealth of tradition in the East: from Easter Baskets to presanctified Liturgy. Of course, most Ukrainian Catholics are Ukrainian, most Melkite Catholics are from Palestine/Lebanon/Syria, and Chaldean Catholics are from Iraq. However, these rites attract others as well. The unique beauty of preserved liturgies and traditions draws in our hearts, designed for beauty.
In the East, people still wear their Sunday best to church. Feast Days really are Feasts. The community comes together to celebrate God in traditional and beautiful ways. This isn’t just an old school way to be. It is centred. Grounded in a focus on God. Tried and true… and absolutely beautiful.
God is Calling
The main reason people are drawn to the Byzantine Church is that they are hearing the voice of God. Each individual is unique, and the way in which that person is being lead to God is equally so. Roman Catholics have many spiritual practices, such as adoration, by which they are drawn closer to God. Byzantine Catholics practice meditative prayer before icons, or pray an Akathist. The Jesus prayer is another great Byzantine spiritual practice.
God calls all of us to a personal relationship with our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. How we are called into this relationship, and the ways we bond with our God, reflects our spirituality. The Byzantine life is a beautiful way to grow your personal relationship with God. And if God is drawing someone to Byzantine practices, that person may be called to switch to the Byzantine rite of the Church.