Thursday, February 9, 2012

We weren't always Byzantine Catholic, part 4

Missed the earlier pieces of this story? Check out Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

While we were planning our wedding, C had said that he'd deal with changing his rite later. It was very important to him to make that part of what he thought was his identity, officially his. He understood where Fr. G was coming from, asking him to wait until after we were married.

In the meantime, however, Fr. G left the priesthood and soon after, married one of his parishioners. The parish was without a pastor, and was subject to pinch-hitters from other states and even other rites. I have to say, the Ukrainian guy we had was pretty good! Eventually one priest (Fr. H) was selected to be the temporary full-time priest, just to keep the parish (as a business) running. After a few weeks of him working at St. J's, C decided to discuss the matter with him. It did NOT go well.

Fr. H didn't understand what C was trying to say. He didn't want to listen to C and dismissed him pretty quickly. This happened even after C brought up Canon Law. We found out much later that he thought C was some new guy who was entranced with the "smells and bells" of the rite and wanted to just switch rites like changing shoes. He didn't realize that C had been attending St. J's his entire life, that his family had been there for 3 generations, and that there was an error made long ago that needed correcting. His bad.

At this time, C was in the midst of his first lay off and had a lot of time on his hands. He did some research and ended up calling the office of the bishop of our Eparchy (diocese). Now, if he'd called the Roman archbishop, he'd NEVER have gotten through. It's probably similar to trying to call the Pope. But he did, because Byzantine Eparchies are small. He explained his situation to the woman who answered the phone, and she said someone would call him back.

He later heard from Bishop H (not the MAIN bishop, Bishop S) who is an expert in Canon Law. In fact, he might be a lawyer, I can't remember. C was shocked to hear from A bishop. Anyway, he understood C's situation, since he had heard stories like this before, and told C what to do. C needed to write a letter to Bishop S, petitioning to change his rite. Bishop H also said that he would have a little chat with Fr. H, since he needed to assist C in this endeavor as his parish priest and write his own letter.

After liturgy the next weekend, Fr. H caught us and wanted to speak with C. He said he had heard from Bishop H, who apparently gave him a talking to about the law, and wanted to apologize for his dismissal of C's needs. He said that he would write a letter to Bishop S on C's behalf, to support his petition. We ended up having to meet with Fr. H, I think just as a formality and also so he could fully understand the situation for the purpose of writing his letter. When C had written his letter, they would put them together and mail them off to Bishop S in New Jersey.

This is the body of the letter that C wrote:
Your Excellency:

I am petitioning to transfer canonical enrollment from the Latin Church sui iuris to the Byzantine Metropolitan Church sui iuris of Pittsburgh, USA (Constantinopolitan Ruthenian Rite) and become a subject of the Eparchy of Passaic.

Although baptized and chrismated according to the rites and ceremonies of the Constantinopolitan Ruthenian Rite, my father was then and remains today a canonical member of the Latin Church sui iuris (although he does not attend a Roman Catholic church, in fact, he attends a Byzantine Catholic church). My mother has since passed on, but remained a devout Byzantine Catholic until her death. Regardless of the place of baptism, I was canonically enrolled in the Rite of my father according to the law in force at the time. My correct canonical enrollment was brought to my attention prior to the celebration of my wedding.

It came as a shock to me, my father, and even my grandmother, that around the time of my wedding, I was found to be officially Roman Catholic according to canon law. My grandmother still can’t understand it, and I’ve given up trying to explain.  

The only contact I  had with the Roman Catholic church was in school, from grades 1-4. My mother then transferred me to the public school system and enrolled me in catechism at St. J Byzantine Catholic Church (where I was baptized and chrismated, and where my mother attended for many years since emigrating from Czechoslovakia). I have been a ‘regular’ in the pews of that church for approximately thirty years. I was told by my priest to go ahead with a Roman Catholic wedding (my wife is Roman Catholic) and to later petition for a change of Rite. In my case, this petition is about preserving my current spiritual and liturgical life by lawfully letting me become a part of the Byzantine Catholic Church that has become a part of me, and I, a part of it. 

Furthermore, I have the support of my wife. After I was discovered to be Roman Catholic, we discussed this possibility and agreed that my change in Rite would be in both our best interests. In the case of children coming along, we would also like to avoid any confusion as to what Rite they would be since I attend a Byzantine Catholic church and do not see this changing. My wife also agrees that if we should be blessed with children, they should be exposed to the Eastern Church, and this transfer would foster that exposure. 
I respectfully present this petition for your consideration and the opinion of the Latin Rite bishop of the place of my residence. My church information is St. J Byzantine Catholic Church, 100 Church Street, Town, ST 00000, (999) 555-0000. The current pastor’s name is H U. A letter from Father U accompanies my petition, attesting to my sincerity and the merit of my request.

We submitted the information in October 2008, then waited. The church is no different from any other agency, it was just like getting a passport. We had to wait for C's information to be validated, for the Bishops in each rite to discuss his "case." Also around this time, Fr. F, a priest fresh out of seminary, had been assigned to C's parish to be the permanent pastor. Fr. H was going to return to his home parish. The official word had not yet come, and C was a little nervous that something would happen because of the shift in leadership. Poor Fr. F! It was his first Liturgy at St. J, and afterward, there was C, pulling both men aside so that they could discuss his situation. I thought maybe he should have let the guy catch his breath, and not be one of "those people," but it was a good thing that he spoke up. A few weeks later, the transferal was granted to C, and needed to be signed by C, two witnesses, and the parish priest. The Eparchy had typed in Fr. H's name below where he would sign; with Fr. F knowing this, he just signed his own name and wrote it next to Fr. H's. I was one witness and C's dad was the other. The document was copied, one for us and one for the parish records, and the original was mailed back to New Jersey. That was it. No big ceremony, no "smells and bells" as Fr. H called them.

As Fr. G had said, it was really all about numbers and who was where. While technically I am still Roman rite, the tradition is that women go with their husbands to their rites, but upon C's death, I am free to go "back to Rome" which is quite silly, in my opinion. Someone telling me where I can and cannot worship! It has to do with protection of the minority rite from the "big bad" Romans (sarcasm). On the other hand, I see why they tend to be defensive: so many people move away from the Eastern rites (geographically) and have to go Roman. Or they marry someone in Roman rite and attend those services. It's not easy to be a Byzantine Catholic, I've learned in my eight years of knowing C. Stay tuned, I plan on writing more about that in the future.


  1. what a roller coaster! Thanks for sharing your journey

    in the past- one way to get people from the east to the west was to force them to change rite or at least attend church at the Roman-rite church if they wanted their kids to go to the parish school. We lost many thousands that way- luckily, now most parishes don't do this, but we have lost two generations to this

  2. You're welcome! Thanks for reading it all and commenting.

    I was surprised to find out that there USED to be Byz Cath schools--Chris' mom attended the parish school for K-8, but I believe she went to a public HS. By the time C came around, it had closed, so that's why he went to RC school but his mom took him to BC for Liturgy.

    At the church we used to attend until C's job changed, there was a substitute cantor who'd come once a month with his family. He is BC, she is RC. Guess where they go during the rest of the month? Chris wanted to ask Father about that, but I was like, stop, it's not our business. I know she is a nurse at a hospital--she might have to work Sundays so they go on Saturday nights as a family to RC since this BC church doesn't have Saturday DL. We are in that boat now; C works Sundays so we go to DL on Saturday nights. Luckily, C's "home parish" is equidistant to the other church and has a vigil DL. If not, we'd have to go Roman (which we've been doing more than we'd like, lately).


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