Annales Ecclesiae Ucrainae

I am painfully behind on updating the Links section to Opus Publicum. However, I wanted to bring to your attention the remarkable work of Fr. Athanasius McVay on his blog Annales Ecclesiae Ucrainae. Here is the blog’s description:

Annales Ecclesiae Ucrainae is a collection of articles pertaining to the history of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church. It is inspired by great works of ecclesiastical history, such as Baronius’ Annales Ecclesiastici, Harasevych’s Annales Ecclesiae Ruthenae and Athanasius Welykyj’s Analecta OSBM.

Though Fr. Athanasius’s priestly and formal academic work makes finding time to update the site challenging, the posts already available contain a wealth of historical information on the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC), her clergy, and the experiences of her faithful. If you need a place to start, consider Father’s latest entry on the life of Fr. Petro Kametsky, a missionary to Canada’s Ukrainian immigrant population who was also interned as a prisoner of war. The account is fascinating and reveals some of the unique challenges facing the UGCC in the early 20th Century as an increasingly number of her faithful took up residence in the West.

Go East?

There has been a fair amount of chatter on social media concerning John Burger’s Aleteia piece, “Go East, Young Man.” In it, Burger discusses his reasons for switching from the Latin Church to Greek Catholicism, mooring his decision in primarily aesthetic and sentimental terms. That’s fine. Ask most people why they choose Eastern Orthodoxy and they will largely say the same thing, even if they feel compelled to dress-up their decision with some vague references to “the Fathers,” “Holy Tradition,” and “the Ancient Faith.” Burger, being Catholic already, didn’t need to undergo some half-baked quest for the “one true Church,” nor does it sound like he is trying to flee any troubling ecclesiastical developments in his former wing of the Catholic Church. He just really likes Byzantine Christianity generally and the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom specifically. Good for him.

While I wish Burger all the best, I do sympathize with those who are uncomfortable with some of the factual errors contained in his article. For instance, the author seems unaware of how much the Divine Liturgy has changed since the days of Ss. John Chrysostom and Basil the Great; the idea that this liturgical form has remained static for over a millennium is patently ridiculous. Moreover, even a cursory glance at the various Eastern churches which use the Byzantine Rite reveals local variations and practices which cut against the notion that the Divine Liturgy is celebrated in the same manner at all times and places. Like any liturgical rite, the Byzantine has developed considerably over the course of many centuries and has even undergone several top-down reforms which were anything but minor. To ignore this reality is to present a picture of the Byzantine Rite which happens to be overly-romantic and ultimately false.

With respect to Burger’s comments comparing the Byzantine and Roman rites, he also appears to be unaware of how the Novus Ordo Missae’s radical expansion of the lectionary represents a break with the once-shared tradition of both rites using a set lectionary for the liturgical year. Surely Burger should know how, particularly during Great Lent, the readings for each Sunday dovetail with the hymnography of Vespers and Matins. With respect to the traditional Roman Rite, the lectionary is intimately connected with each Sunday’s Propers; the readings, prayers, and chants make up an integral whole which guide the faithful through the liturgical year. And as for the idea of giving the faithful “more Scripture,” let’s be honest. Very few Catholics today attend Mass outside of Sundays and perhaps Holy Days of Obligation.

Now, some have expressed dismay that Burger left the Latins for the Greeks in the first place. For what it’s worth, I don’t begrudge a single soul who, through frequent attendance at an Eastern church and careful reflection, applies for a canonical transfer. This is not an innovation; it has been going on for centuries. (For example, the Servant of God Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church was born a Latin Catholic and transferred to the Greek Church when pursuing his religious vocation.) My concern with Burger’s piece is that it turns the venerable Byzantine Rite into an aesthetic preference while failing to account for the larger theological and spiritual heritage of Greek Catholicism (be it Ukrainian, Ruthenian, Melkite, and so forth). Burger’s instincts may have been in the right place when he wrote the article, but his execution is noticeably off.

Ephemera III

“Crony capitalism” comes up a lot whenever the economic liberals start spouting off about the economy, as if this alleged variant of capitalism is not the natural outgrowth of the “pure” free-market capitalism they claim to defend. It is no small irony, however, that when pressed into arguments with others, the same economic liberals who decry “crony capitalism” will point to the empirical effects of this capitalism as “proof” that their free-market ideology is superior to any other option being put on the table. But if “crony capitalism,” that is the capitalism we all know and love, is “bad,” how can it possibly vindicate the free-market position? To this question, certain liberals will say, “Well, imagine how much better it would be if cronyism was removed!” Maybe—or maybe the positive results achieved under capitalism were always due to the fact that regulators and lawmakers had some involvement in the economy. Nobody knows because contrary to what the economic liberals say, their “pure” economic order has never existed; there is no way to know empirically what the results would be. Perhaps that is why those tied to the heterodox “Austrian School” of economics are always eschewing empiricism; it provides no support for their more outlandish, quasi-theoretical claims.

I will be back on Magnificat Media’s Friday show, Church and State, tomorrow discussing the alt-right, voting, and Donald Trump. (More information on the show, including airtimes, is available here.) For those who haven’t seen it, I encourage you to pop over the official website of the Society of St. Pius X to reflect on two pieces from The Angelus archives which discuss a Catholic’s duty regarding voting and, just as importantly, when abstention can be morally licit (perhaps even necessary). For what it’s worth, I still have not made up my mind if I will participate in this election cycle, though I think there is a strong argument to be made that certain local elections may be necessary for a Catholic to participate in, particularly if the outcome will avert evil.

In a couple of earlier posts I made mention of my home church, St. Michael’s Ukrainian Catholic Church, in Grand Rapids, MI. The future of this tiny parish remains uncertain, particularly since funds are in short supply and our pastor is well into his 60s. It is, as I have mentioned, the last outpost of Byzantine Catholicism in West Michigan. Decades of assimilation, coupled with the fact that almost all of the Ukrainian and Polish immigrants who first established the parish have passed on to their Heavenly reward, make St. Michael’s survival unlikely. Still, with God all things are possible. Please, if you think about it, say a prayer or two for this church and its small community of Greek Catholics. It would be much appreciated.

Rod Dreher is praising Russia again over at his web-log at The American Conservative. While I have no interest in seeing the United States embroiled in a major global conflict with Russia, I refuse to stick my head in the sand when it comes to the fact that Russia has been a multi-time aggressor in Eastern Europe in recent years. Also, despite all of the lip service given to the resurgence of “Holy Russia” under Vladimir Putin’s watch, let us not forget that Russia invaded a fellow Orthodox country—Georgia—in 2008 and is currently carrying out incursions against fellow Orthodox and Greek Catholics in Ukraine. I can understand Dreher, a member of a hyper-minority confession with no substantial roots or future in the United States, longing for an ecclesiastical mothership to look to, but no Catholic should be siding with him in this. Russia, and the Russian Orthodox Church, remains officially at odds with the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) and has refused to apologize for the imprisonment, torture, and murder of her clergy and faithful from the 1940s onward. Remember: Until 1989 the UGCC was the largest oppressed religious body in the world. Russia is not a friend to the Catholic Faith. Never forget that.

Review: Old Orthodox Prayer Book (3rd ed.)

Several months ago I made mention of the third edition of the Church Slavonic/English Old Orthodox Prayer Book published by the Old-Rite Church of the Nativity in Erie, PA. Having used the second edition of this excellent prayer book for the last decade, I was eager to see what, if anything, would be done differently with a new edition. Truth be told, with the exception of some minor corrections, nothing has changed regarding the text. The book still contains a full set of Morning and Evening prayers; all of the texts for the minor hours plus substantial portions of Vespers and Matins; a large sampling of troparia and kontakia; the usual run of canons and an akathist; and the longest pre-Communion prayer rule you will ever see. What has changed is the actual construction of the book. Gone is the thin, newsprint-like paper with small type; here to stay is much sturdier white paper with a noticeably enhanced font size and style for both the Slavonic and English text. The black cover of the last edition is out; a firmer red cover, with more substantial binding, is in. Like the second edition, this version only boasts a single marker ribbon, though that probably won’t be a bother to people unless they are using the book to recite a service with several moving parts, such as Vespers.

Now, there are some drawbacks to this edition. First, the third edition is noticeably thicker and heavier than the second edition, which makes it a bit less comfortable to hold and carry around. Second, while the larger font will no doubt be welcomed by more elderly users of the book, it comes at the cost of having less content on single page, which my annoy some people. Finally, an opportunity was missed to make some minor additions to the texts, such as including the rubrics and prayers for praying the small hours during Great Lent or including the daily prokeimena at Vespers (strangely the only “fixed” text from this service that is missing).

These are minor quibbles, however. Improving the quality of the paper and binding is a definite improvement, particularly since I have burned through three copies of this prayerbook over the past 10 years due to wear-and-tear. That shouldn’t be a problem with this edition.

I remain firm in my conviction that this is hands-down the best Orthodox prayerbook available in English, one that can be used profitably by Greek Catholics as well. Most of the translations are less clunky than those found in, say, the Jordanville Prayer Book and the structure of the morning and evening prayer rules is more sensible as well. Those disinclined to adopt some of the particular aspects of the Russian Old Rite, such as the double (rather than triple) Alleluia or minor variants in the Creed, can easily bypass them. While used copies of the second edition are still fairly easy to come by, those looking for a prayerbook that will hold up over the long haul would do well to invest in this new third edition.

Raskol

Just over 450 years ago, in the faraway land of Russia, a synod was held which, inter alia, upheld a series of far-reaching liturgical reforms which noticeably altered the articulation and practice of liturgical piety in the Russian Orthodox Church. More than a few marginal adjustments, the liturgical reforms instituted by Patriarch Nikon (who, ironically enough, was deposed at the 1666 synod in question) was immediately noticeable to clerics and laity alike, particularly during the penitential season of Great Lent which, arguably, the reforms hit the hardest. The synod also took the disconcerting step of flagrantly nullifying the decrees of an earlier gathering—the 1551 Stoglavy Synod—which had upheld the integrity and orthodoxy of Russia’s liturgical rite—a rite which differed in noticeable ways from Greek usage as it had solidified by the 17th Century. The rest, as they say, is history.

Within a decade or two, the Russian Orthodox Church was fractured into officially approved believers under the Moscow Patriarchate and so-called Old Believers (or Old Ritualists) who refused to acquiesce to the Patriarchate’s liturgical reforms, even though it meant losing the priesthood. The heavy hand of the Russian secular authorities ensured that no bishops joined the “Raskol” or schism, and many of the priests who held to the Russian Old Rite were imprisoned, tortured, and executed. While relations between Old Believers and the mainline Russian Church have improved over the past century to the point where both the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia count Old Believers among their membership, the dark legacy of the Russian Church schism still hangs in the air, centuries later.

At the time of the schism, many Old Believers held to an apocalyptic view of the liturgical reform, arguing without irony that altering Slavonic grammar and the number of prostrations performed during the Prayer of St. Ephraim at Lent amounted to losing the Orthodox Faith. Even today, there are Old Believers who maintain that we are still living in the time of antichrist where God has deprived his followers of all of the sacraments save Baptism. Of course, the end of history has yet to come; Christ has not returned in glory; and life continues on. But still, the Old Believer air is thick with eschatological expectation or, at the very least, a powerful sense that God is not done exacting revenge on those who have apparently betrayed Him.

Maybe there is no perfect parallel in the Roman Catholic Church to this phenomenon, though that could change in a hurry. Next year marks the 100th anniversary of the Apparitions at Fatima and it is not an exaggeration to say that there are more than a few Catholics who believe that a moment of great reckoning is coming. Some, in fact, are longing for it, fed up as they have become with the authorities in Rome and the laxity rampant throughout the Universal Church. Others are holding to a more positive outlook. Instead of expecting impending destruction they hope that the Blessed Virgin’s promise, namely that her Immaculate Heart will triumph, shall be fulfilled. At that point a period of renewal will occur in the Church, with the troubling developments of the past 50 years being swept away so that the Church can once again fulfill her divine mission in the world.

It is easy to draw superficial comparisons between the upsetting developments which occurred in the Russian Orthodox Church during the 17th century and what the Catholic Church has had to endure during the 20th (and well on into the 21st). In fact, that’s what I just did above, albeit with a wee bit of discretion. What is more fascinating to consider is how different “these days” are from “those days.” Traditional Catholics, understandably upset by the post-Vatican II liturgical reforms and doctrinal confusion, have opted to stand up against the prevailing chaos, though only to limited degrees. Getting some shade thrown at you for Tweeting against Mother Theresa’s canonization is a far cry from getting torched at the stake for refusing to change how you make the Sign of the Cross. While traditional Catholics are eager to speak of “persecution,” “injustice,” and “struggle,” very little of that is found during the present situation because even those who wish to eradicate tradition do so not with an axe, but a limp wrist. And for that, traditionalists should probably be grateful.

Ephemera II

Within the dominant Latin Rite of the Catholic Church are two venerable devotions which typically occur back-to-back at the opening of each month: The First Friday devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the First Saturday devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Today, very few Catholics outside of traditionalist circles honor either devotion, likely out of apathy, ignorance, or a quiet belief that such practices are not only “old hat,” but “superstitious.” With the exception of a handful of Eastern Catholics who imported these devotions, most Eastern Christians stick to the formal liturgical cycle to express their piety. This can be seen, for instance, during the Great Blessing of Water at Theophany or at the memorial services for the dead conducted throughout Great Lent. While various local churches maintain some unique “old world” devotions here and there, for the most part the Eastern tradition is bereft of practices where individuals are asked to perform certain acts on certain days in order to attain a particular divine reward. That’s not necessarily a good thing nor a bad thing, mind you. And maybe the absence of such devotional practices among the East would be less noteworthy if—in the geographic West—Eastern Christians had the ecclesiastical infrastructure to be, on average, more than what Fr. Alexander Schmemann called “Sunday churches.” Of course, just because the Latins are better at keeping their doors open during the week doesn’t mean many of the faithful pass through them.

I have not yet finished Bishop Marcarie Dragoi’s fascinating monograph, Orthodox and Greek Catholics in Transylvania (1867-1916): Convergences and Divergences (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press 2015), but I can already tell that it will soon be part of my ever-morphing list of “Recommended Reading” for those interested about both Eastern Christianity generally and Greek Catholicism specifically. The experience of the Romanian Orthodox and Greek Catholic churches during this period parallels in some ways the experience of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Galicia after the 18th Century, particularly with respect to ecclesiastical involvement in education, culture, nation-building, and civic institutions. What is striking, however, is how much more fraternal the ties were between Orthodox and Greek Catholics in Transylvania than what was exhibited in Galicia. This is no doubt due in large part to the political machinations of the Russian Empire at this time and its reliance on the Orthodox Church as a vehicle for cultural and political dominance in Ukraine. While Orthodox/Greek Catholic relations in Transylvania were not always perfectly harmonious, they do provide a good example of how these two confessions ought to behave toward one another moving forward, not just in Romania, but across the globe.

Some changes are coming to the Divine Liturgy as it is served in Greek Orthodox parishes in the United States, though they’re nothing to get too worked up about. The strangest (in my estimation) directive concerns the absolute prohibition on translating Κύριε Ελέησον (Kyrie Eleison), Θεοτόκος (Theotokos), and Λόγος (Logos) into English. Why? No ecclesiastical authority ever declared that those words couldn’t be rendered into Church Slavonic way back in the day. So it goes. Maybe there is an argument to be made that the English language is so intrinsically corrupt that it is incapable of capturing the proper meaning of these words with such gross substitutes as “Lord have mercy,” “Mother/Bearer of God,” and “Word.” Still, let these new directives be a lesson to those Orthodox who still cling to the myth that not a jot nor tittle of the Divine Liturgy has ever passed since the text came off the pen of Ss. John Chrysostom or Basil the Great 1,600 years ago.

Much to my chagrin, I discovered recently that the website Catholics 4 Trump (C4T) is not a gag. Established by a traditionalist Catholic who contributes regularly for The Remnant newspaper, C4T is “dedicated to exposing the lies that the left and establishment Republicans have spread about Trump to further their own self-interest that have turned many pro-life and conservative Catholics away from voting for him.” Fine. However, let me be clear that this conservative Catholic (and by “conservative” I mean “integralist”) has been persuaded to not vote for Trump by nothing more and nothing less than the Catholic Church’s social magisterium. Fear concerning the potential fallout of a Clinton presidency is no excuse for crying after a faux “strong man” to save us.

No Triumphalism, Only Persecution

I refrained from commenting on Msgr. Charles Pope’s much-discussed article from the National Catholic Register, “Comfort Catholicism Has To Go; It Is Time to Prepare for Persecution,” mainly because I didn’t think there was much I could constructively add to it. As most of you who have read me for some time know by now, I am fully convinced that, barring a miracle, my children will be compelled to choose between apostasy or persecution—up to and including martyrdom—in their respective lifetimes. I don’t say that flippantly; the very thought fills me with horror. It is one thing to expect and prepare for that great choice in one’s own life. It is something else altogether to contemplate those we love the most having to experience it. Should I be “off” in my timeline and the harsh persecution Msgr. Pope and many others see on the horizon arrives during my days on this earth, I pray that my fellow faithful and myself will have the fortitude to choose Christ above all of the temptations of this world, but that is not something anybody can predict. If the last 2,000 years provides any basis for predicting the future, the chances are painfully high that a great many Christians—Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant—will depart from their Father’s house at the cost of their very souls.

Disappointing, then, that I should come across a statement on the Ad Orientem web-log where a commenter, an Orthodox Christian named Gregory Manning, could write the following:

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