On Defending Debt Collection Lawsuits – Part 2

Note: Please read On Defending Debt Collection Lawsuits – Part 1 first. Otherwise, some of this post won’t make no sense.

A lot has been written on the debt-collection/buying industry over the past decade. John Oliver even did a hilarious monologue on it which culminated in him buying tens of thousands of dollars for medical debt for pennies on the dollar before discharging it. To be clear, I want to make a few clarifications.

“Debt collector” generally refers to any entity that collects another party’s debt, whether it owns the debt or not. Often people refer to them as “collection agencies.” These are the folks who send out collection (“dunning”) letters, call your cell phone at all hours, and offer preposterous “one-time deals” to resolve a debt. Some, such as myself, also classify law firms which primarily collect debts, either through the usual tactics or via lawsuits, under this header as well. While many of the attorneys who work for these firms see themselves as genuine lawyers who do real legal work, the reality is that they are low-paid paper pushers with limited litigation experience. Many of the ones with talent look to get out of these firms ASAP.

“Debt buyer” generally refers to any entity that buys up pools of debt from an original creditor. Synchrony and Comenity, for example, are banks that provide retail credit cards for, say, Best Buy. When people hit hard times and decide that their priority is food rather than paying off their 4K TV, the accounts the creditors hold go into default. Rather than expend too much time and energy on these accounts, many of which are for relatively low dollar amounts, these creditors sell off pools of these debts to a debt buyer like Midland Funding. The information that Midland or other buyers receive about the accounts ranges from “adequate” to “piss poor.” In some instances, a buyer receives nothing but a spreadsheet with names, addresses, perhaps a partial social security or account number, and an amount. While this may not seem like enough information to meaningfully collect on allegedly default accounts, think again. The limited information supplied to debt buyers, much of it containing errors galore, serves as the basis for almost all debt-collection lawsuits.

No matter who holds the debt, be it an original creditor or buyer, at some point these entities have to decide whether to let an account go or turn to their brethren, the debt-collection law firm, for assistance. All states have a statute of limitations on when debt-collection actions can be brought, regardless of the legal theory employed. The most basic cause of action for these suits is breach of contract since, supposedly, the creditor and debtor formed a contractual relationship at some point in the past. In Michigan, the statute of limitations for such suits is six years from the last transaction. For a credit card, that means either the last time the card was used or when the last payment was made. Given the poor record keeping and incomplete information that is transmitted from creditors to debt buyers to debt-collection lawyers, it should surprise nobody that lawsuits are filed after the statue of limitations has expired. That is a no-no, for which some remedies exist (more on that later).

Other legal theories are typically employed as well, such as unjust enrichment and account stated. The “benefit” of these theories, at least in the mind of collection attorneys, is that they typically have lower evidentiary standards than a contract action. Although I believe this view is contestable, it is widely presumed in Michigan that a creditor or debt collector sending a “statement of account” (whatever that means) to an alleged debtor is sufficient for establishing a cause of action against them unless they specifically object to the statement. By pleading this cause, a collection attorney can do an end-run around any contractual agreement between the original creditor and debtor. This may not seem like much at first blush, but more than a few credit contracts contain provisions that can assist a defendant in court. Certain agreements contain so-called notice provisions that state that if either party intends to bring an action against the other, prior written notice must be given. Unsurprisingly, such notice is often not given or there is no record of it. In that instance, the lawsuit itself is premature and ought to be dismissed. If dismissal is not an option, then the defendant has a valid defense, and potential counterclaim, against the creditor for breaching the credit agreement. These and other provision, many of which are unknown to collection lawyers, go by the wayside when account stated is pursued.

As for unjust enrichment and other theories that fall under the umbrella of “implied” rather than “express” contract, longstanding Michigan case law holds that they cannot stand if an express contract, that is a written contract, exists between the parties. That does not stop attorneys from pleading such causes nor courts from granting collectors victory based upon them. Account stated, which I mentioned above, is recognized by the Michigan Supreme Court as a form of implied contract, yet courts routinely ignore that as well.

Without getting too far into the weeds, Michigan has rules of pleading that are often ignored in debt-collection suits. While these rules are rather low level (Michigan is a “notice pleading” state, meaning a party only must be put on general notice of what is being alleged), debt collectors find ways to violate them all the time. Without variance, debt-collection firms will use internally generated forms that are nothing but fill-in-the-blank complaints where the basic information from the spreadsheets mentioned above are punched into the document by assistants or paralegals. These documents are rarely reviewed by an actual attorney. When I have pointed out manifest, even ridiculous, errors on these pleadings, such as not identifying how many parties there are; using correct pronouns; and getting the name of the court and judge wrong, the collection attorney’s response is to shove off blame on their assistants. Rarely have I seen judges admonish them for this.

This is only the tip of the iceberg for how debt-collection lawsuits run. In the next part, I will get into the process of a debt-collection suit, including the manner in which many alleged debtors are served. That is often where the real trouble starts.

On Defending Debt Collection Lawsuits – Part 1

Note: This is Part 1 of a series of posts on the nature of debt collection in court, specifically Michigan courts. This installment contains basic background information on the Michigan court system, which is not substantially different than the systems of other states. As someone who routinely defends people in debt-collection suits, I make no pretense to neutrality. Usury, which is at the heart of almost all debt-collection suits, is a sin; I am no friend of it. And for reasons which should become clear over these posts, I am no friend of deep problems in the legal system that have turned too many courts in handmaidens of the debt-collection industry.

Defending debtors or, rather, alleged debtors in court is a largely thankless job. This conclusion, though reached largely from my experience as an attorney in Michigan, seems to be shared by other lawyers I have spoken with across the country. The ones with the brightest outlooks tend to be legal-aid lawyers who have a modest salary to fall back on along with a cloak of legitimacy in the eyes of the judiciary. After all, they are “pro bono attorneys” trying to help “the little guy” on their way to “more legitimate” legal work in other fields. Whether this perception is accurate or not is neither here nor there; it tends to be the way of things. For the rest of us, of which there are relatively few scattered across America’s legal landscape, the perception is that we are pariahs, troublemakers, legal obscurantists, etc. because we have the temerity to provide what all persons ought to be entitled to, namely a proper defense under the law. Part of that defense, indeed a large part of it, entails holding debt-collecting plaintiffs accountable under procedural and substantive rules intended, at the very least, to prevent precisely what goes on in courts across the country: the bulk filing of under-researched, cookie-cutter complaints that are often unsupported by credible evidence.

In the Michigan legal system, there are effectively two trial courts: district and circuit. The latter, created by the state’s constitution, handle high-level matters such as felonies and civil suits above $25,000.00. District courts, which were created 50 years ago by statute, are adjunct tribunals charged with handling misdemeanors, landlord/tenant proceedings, and sub-$25k civil suits. They are sometimes characterized as “neighborhood courts” intended to be closer to the people than their beefier circuit brethren. Every Michigan county, save for some rural ones, has one circuit court and any number of district courts. My county, for instance, has four (or five—depending on how you want to count) district courts. There is sufficient evidence to support the conclusion that at least some of these district courts are underfunded, understaffed, and undermotivated to serve as anything more than a clearinghouse for unimportant cases.

Of course, any person who has been on the business end of a district court proceeding is unlikely to find their legal matter “unimportant.” A low-level misdemeanor, pled to under prosecutorial pressure, can blight a person’s record for years, leaving them unable to find gainful employment or subject to probationary conditions which, without further assistance, they may very well fail. Landlord/tenant proceedings, too, can have a traumatic impact. An eviction record is a surefire guarantee that future housing will be difficult to find, particularly if one is looking to live in a safe, clean, and stable complex. As for general civil suits, outside of the rare low-stakes business dispute or a jilted lover seeking to get back that “interest free loan” she gave to her cheating boyfriend, the overwhelming majority which clog Michigan district courts are filed by debt collectors.

Now, before getting any further, let me note that not all debt-collection suits are created equal. An initial line can be drawn between those brought by original creditors (say, for example, Bank of America) or debt buyers like Midland Funding, LVNV, or, in the case of student loans, unholy artifices like National Collegiate Student Loan Trust. Almost all of the debts in question are consumer debts: medical debt, credit card debt, student loan debt, and so forth. What these suits share in common is that they are almost universally brought by a handful of debt-collection mills (law firms) that file cookie-cutter complaints en masse in district courts with little to no evidentiary support. While an attorney’s name will appear on these documents, few if any were ever prepared or even reviewed by an attorney. And even if an attorney’s eyes saw them before they moved out the door, the chances are high that the reviewing lawyer is an entry-level associate with limited litigation experience.

Why, you may ask, would any law firm, even a debt mill, behave so recklessly as to file legal documents that likely cannot withstand modest scrutiny? Because they can. Although precise statistics for Michigan are lacking, national estimates point to approximately 75% of all debt-collection suits ending in default. What that means is that after a person is served (or not—more on that later) with a debt-collection suit, they have 21-28 days to file an answer and affirmative defenses. (The time to respond depends on the manner of service.) Answers in and of themselves are not very remarkable: a person either admits, denies, or states they do not have sufficient information to respond to each allegation made against them in the complaint. Defenses, on the other hand, are trickier since certain ones have to be raised immediately or they are deemed waived. For example, if a court lacks personal jurisdiction over a defendant, Michigan law requires that to be raised at the outset or it is waived. The same is true for the statute of limitations. Since most debt-collection suits are rooted, albeit loosely, in contract law, a plaintiff has six years to bring it. And no, just because a plaintiff has blown the limitations period does not mean they won’t try to use the courts to collect.

Should a defendant not answer a suit within the requisite period of time, the debt-collecting plaintiff can file for a default judgment for the full amount it is seeking, plus costs, interest, and statutory attorney fees. It may come as no surprise that the math on these defaults can get a little fuzzy. With no meaningful opposition or oversight, it is not uncommon to find excessive interest tacked on to these judgments or costs inserted that have no basis in reality. Once that default judgment is acquired, the debt-collecting plaintiff is free to use a variety of mechanisms to collect, including garnishing a defendant’s wages, tax returns, and bank accounts or subpoenaing the defendant to appear in court and, under oath, provide all of their financial information to the collector’s attorney. Even if these default judgments are attained illicitly, inaccurately, or the individual subject to them has valid defenses at law, they are difficult to unwind.

If you have read this far, please note I will flesh a number of issues raised here in future installments. There is a lot to be said on how the debt-buying/collecting industry functions, particularly how pools of debt are sold (and resold) between entities for pennies on the dollar before winding up as the bases for most collection suits. When this business practice intersects with the legal realm, serious evidentiary issues are raised before they are, lamentably, ignored by far too many courts. All is not gloom and doom, however. I plan to highlight ways in which some judicial actors have pushed for reform and how a few judges have developed measured approaches to ensure that alleged debtors are not trampled over in their courtrooms.

Writings on Law

As many of you have surely notice, my writing on here has been sporadic over the past few months. In addition to my full-time job, I also handle legal cases on the side for The Maul Law Group, located in West Michigan. As part of my service to the firm, I am starting to contribute writings on legal topics that I come across during my practice. I have, from time to time, written on legal topics here, though that will be changing going forward.

If you are so inclined, please click over to the Maul Law “Legal News” section and don’t hesitate to share your thoughts, especially if you are in the legal profession. Remember: sharing and clicking material from Maul Law helps raise the firm’s search profile which in turn helps us attract new business.

For those of you who have been reading me for years, hopefully you agree that the time has come in my life to purchase a yacht. Your help is appreciated

Saturday Scribbling on Greek Catholicism

Because I am not particularly interesting, I avoid blogging about myself these days. I save all of my autobiographical reflections (a.k.a. things I overhear in West Michigan Christian coffee shops) for Twitter. As most of my blog readers know by now, I am Greco-Catholic and have spent the bulk of my religious life, from childhood to my late 37th year, in and around Eastern Christianity. The biggest “break” I took from this reality was roughly between 2011-13 when I found myself attending the traditional Latin Mass on a regular basis. My tiny parish, St. Michael Ukrainian Catholic Church, in Grand Rapids, MI has undergone serious trials in the last couple of years, not the least of which being the loss of its pastor due to serious health complications. With only visiting priests available, typically on Saturday evenings, it has been a challenge to get my family there and to keep them focused when all they want to do is wind down for the night. That’s on me. What is also on me is a lack of serious participation in the life of my parish and really local Catholic life as a whole. To say that life is “contradictory” and “confused” would be a bit of an understatement, though perhaps it is like that all over. With few exceptions, West Michigan Catholicism, when it is ostensibly “conservative” or even “traditional,” is largely reflective of peculiarly American religiosity. Think of John Paul II/Benedict XVI-style theological sensibilities blended with neoliberal economics, Calvinist iconoclasm, and a frightening dose of “Prosperity Gospel” thinking. Liberal West Michigan Catholicism, as far as I can tell, looks like liberal Catholicism plain and simple; there’s nothing terrifyingly special about it.

As I have written about before, the experience of being Greek Catholic, especially in my younger years, has never been easy. Not “Catholic enough” for Latins and “traitors” to the Orthodox, there’s an ever-present temptation to pick a side and cease being altogether. American Orthodoxy may be splintered and insular, but if feels like a more sensible home from time to time. The Roman Catholic Church, by virtue of its size, is a wonderful place to hide out; there’s no beating it for the ease in which one can find a parish, a Mass, a quiet “way of life” and be perfectly anonymous. The great exception to that route is traditional Latin Catholicism which, despite its expansion over the last decade, remains on the peripheries of the Church in most parts of the world (and most dioceses in the United States). It’s unfortunate, then, that traditional Latin Catholics typically don’t get along with their Eastern brethren for a variety of chauvinistic reasons. There is a part of me that really believes both sides have a lot more in common than they think.

I was to give a talk in Phoenix the other week at the local chapel of the Society of Saint Pius X entitled, “Eastern Catholicism: A Mansion with Many Rooms.” Hopefully I will be deliver that talk someday, either out west or closer to home. I had wished, given my audience, that I could find some ways to bridge the gap in understanding between the Eastern Catholic world and traditional Latin Catholicism, highlighting where the two convergence spiritually and liturgically, while not suppressing the legitimate diversity present among the various Catholic traditions out there. My secondary goal was to disentangle the meaning of Eastern Catholicism by laying out in as simple terms as I am capable of the array of particular churches, rites, and traditions that make up the Eastern Catholic fold. Too often it is assumed that Eastern Catholicism is a monolithic entity or that even Eastern churches sharing the same rite, like the Ukrainians and the Melkites, don’t have legitimate differences which reflect the historic flowering of Christianity throughout the Eastern world.

Though it has not been posted yet, an English-language news story is coming summarizing a recent interview given by the Ukrainian Catholic Patriarch Sviatoslav on Christian social ethics, particularly Leo XIII’s teaching on just wages from Rerum Novarum. It is a testament to what I believe is the exceptional status of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) that it has been able to both reintroduce its Byzantine patrimony and hold fast to right-oriented contributions of Latin theology and doctrine through the saintly leadership of Andrei Sheptytsky and Iosif Slipyj up to the present day. I say this not to put the UGCC on a pedestal or deny that as a church it faces its own struggles and contradictions, but to call attention to its ongoing commitment to authentic catholicity after decades of intense persecution. I pray there is something all Catholics can learn from that.

An Unpopular Remark on Alcohol

Over the past six years, I must say that one of the most annoying aspects of contemporary Catholic culture, at least as I see it in the United States among those 10 years north or south of my age (37), is this sense that in order to be a “true Catholic gentleman” or, worse, a “true Catholic (pseudo-)intellectual” one must posture with cigars, bourbon, and craft beers (preferably of the Quadruple Hops Belgian Style Cherry Blended Whiskey Barrel Aged IPA variety). In fact, it’s not just so much posturing as it is consuming all of these things in so gluttonous a manner as to make Chesterton blush. And truth in point, it is probably Chesterton and Belloc—or certain conceptions surrounding these two towering figures of British Catholicism—that leads unsuspecting young men down a false pathway of sophistication where the spirit to be consumed is more crucial than the point of theology to be discussed. Moreover, let’s be honest. Most of those who claim to have some professional-academic knowledge of theology or philosophy typically lie about what they’ve read and understood; the booze just makes it easier for them to fib while deadening the senses of their fellow man to call them out on it. The end result is not just a deadening of the senses, but a descent into parody—one which Catholics should be thankful that no one outside the fold notices or apparently cares.

This is not to say that there is anything wrong with indulging a bit here and there. As one priest in Chicago told me, the virtue of being Catholic is that you can drink, smoke, spit, swear, and chew—all in moderation. Moderation, unfortunately, seems to be in short supply these days judging by some of the spectacles I have witnessed and the innumerable others I have heard about. I think perhaps this is less a problem among previous generations who both understood the proper limits of consumption and did so because they properly understood the Catholic tradition which, in merry times, they come together to discuss. I consider it a privilege to have spent time among such men; it’s a sobering contrast to the obnoxious bantering of millennials and gen X’rs fueled by the latest concoction emanating from a microbrewery which, if successful, will soon become another subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch. (As an aside, it should be known that on the hierarchy of things in life one is allowed to be snobbish about (e.g. classical music, wine, and art), microbrew snobbery is 19 rungs down the ladder from pro-wrestling snobbery.)

Some may say it is unfair for me to make mention of this given my own restraints, but I disagree. Had I not, for a time, bought into the idea that alcohol—and lots of it—was part of contemporary Catholic culture (just as it is indeed very much part of contemporary Eastern Orthodox culture), I might have faced up to my problem a lot sooner, or at least not exacerbated it as the years went by. Granted, much of that was my fault; I am a grownup and I realize full well that many people drink regularly without being ensnared by fermented beverages. Another Chicago priest, this one a member of the Antiochican Archdiocese, remarked that if you can’t give up drinking during the fasting seasons of the Byzantine Rite (Advent, Great Lent, Apostle’s Fast, etc.), then you have a problem. I wonder: how many young Catholics, Latins and Easterners alike, could hold themselves to such a standard? Would they even want to try? And if they failed, would they admit defeat and seek help, both spiritually in the confessional and naturally through programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous or individual counseling?

Holy Saturday

There is a tradition among secular media outlets and certain Christians who wish to appear down “with the times” to question the historicity of the Gospels, particularly the Resurrection of Christ. This sad spectacle prompts more faithful followers of our Lord to set forth arguments and evidence of mixed weight in favor of the Biblical account. I won’t restate them here; a quick Google search will direct you to a plethora of books, articles, and websites dealing with the matter. Not surprisingly, few skeptics are ever convinced by these apologetics. There’s too much at stake ideologically for them to give any credence that Christianity is true. As for Christians themselves, including Catholics, there remains a sense—perhaps even a strong sense—that while Christ’s death on the Cross “did something,” whatever happened on Holy Saturday and Pascha is of peripheral importance. Maybe Christ rose from the dead; but if he did not, then we shouldn’t get too worked up about it. What is “crucial,” what is “central,” is that by at least arising in the hearts of his closest followers, Jesus and the message of peace he (allegedly) came to spread lives on to this very day among those who call themselves Christians.

On the other end of the spectrum are those who, following the questionable thinking of the Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, profess that something really happened after the Crucifixion, namely Christ enduring radical suffering in hell. And although those who challenged Balthasar on this point were for many years subjected to derision and false accusations on the grounds that Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI endorsed Balthasar, Lyra Pitstick’s Christ’s Descent into Hell (Eerdmans 2016) demonstrates that Balthasar’s heterodoxy never met with papal approval. Where the desire for the tormented Christ comes from is anybody’s guess. However, it is not entirely surprising that those whose views cut along Balthasarian lines tend to lean Universalist as well, perhaps believing that the profundity of Christ’s suffering at the hands of the devil could only give rise to such a powerful explosion of grace that even the hardened unbeliever, the unrepentant sinner, and the far larger mass of humanity which has always been lukewarm will be saved. (Exceptions to this “rule” include Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.)

For those orthodox souls who still hold to the traditional understanding of Holy Saturday, an opportunity is presented to meditate on not only Christ’s salvific work, but the present state of the Catholic Church. For more than 50 years, the faithful have been forced to watch the passion of the Church, how she has been made to suffer terribly and almost seem to die in those lands which for over a millennium accepted her. Although this suffering may no longer be over, orthodox Catholics find themselves in the darkness of Holy Saturday and the confusion that accompanies witnessing the Church—which is of divine origin—decline and crumble like a mere human institution. While faith tells these Catholics that the Church can never truly die (“the gates of hell shall not prevail”), that she will ultimately overcome the present trials God has given her, there remains an understandable distress among the faithful over when she will rise up again. It is not surprising that this distress gives rise to certain eschatological expectations that may or may not be warranted.

Distress often gives way to despair, something that Catholics have no right to do. It is not possible to remain faithful to the deposit of faith and hold that the Church is coming to an end. This is why it is imperative to cultivate the virtues of faith, hope and love; without them there is no conceivable way a man can endure the ongoing crisis. Even if one is not inclined toward embracing the moral depravity that contemporary society has worked so hard to normalize, the temptation to abandon the narrow path to Heaven out of a belief that Catholicism no longer has anything to offer (or, rather, nothing “exclusive” to offer) still pulls at the hearts and minds of many. It is very hard to take seriously what so many in the Church no longer seem to care about, namely Salvation—“the one thing needful.” If eternal bliss or, absent that, metaphysical surety and mundane comfort, are to be found primarily in one’s “authentic life choices,” then what use is the Church? Is it not merely a cultural expression, a barely living artifact destined to go the way of the cult of Apollo or the Norse religion?

Heaven forbid that thought should enter the mind of any Catholic, but it does every day. Perhaps then on this Holy Saturday and certainly tomorrow’s Paschal celebration we should rejoice in Christ’s conquest over death while directing that joy into fervent prayer for God to illumine those tempted by the darkness of despair. A season of great joy is upon us; let us not celebrate selfishly in the confidence that we are not lost, but rather hope that the Paschal Mystery will be felt by those tempted to abandon the Faith altogether. For who knows what scandal, what false teaching, or poor example from a priest or prelate will rattle our commitment to the Church. And on that day, won’t our souls long for the grace to remain resolute so that we, too, may join the choirs of angels and saints in Heaven, singing praises before the Throne of God?

Lazarus Saturday

For those following the Byzantine Rite, today is Lazarus Saturday, which recalls the narrative of Christ raising his friend Lazarus from the dead after four days in the tomb. It is a liturgical commemoration that rests between the sorrowful days of Great Lent and the joyful Resurrection of Our Lord while pointing beyond itself to the General Resurrection. This liturgical day, like the Gospel account which undergirds it, is unique insofar as it brings into sharp relief both the humanity (“Jesus wept”) and divinity (“Lazarus, come forth”) of Christ.

As with all things Byzantine, this day can be invested with all sorts of spiritual meaning, some less saccharine and more sober than others. Many Orthodox Christians in particular will likely recall the scene from Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment where Sonya reads Raskolnikov the Lazarus pericope, perhaps compelling them to connect the death due to their own sinfulness with the need for Christ’s love to overcome it. Lazarus, who by virtue of his friendship with Our Lord, most likely lived a far less sinful life than you and I, and yet he was condemned to death—that gross interruption in God’s plan for us brought into the world by our first parents and perpetuated to this very day. Lazarus, a holy man, still perished; he suffered a death that only the command of Christ could overcome. It is the same death we are all doomed to suffer, without prior knowledge of when, where, or how it will occur. All that we know, all that we can know, is that it will be Christ alone who calls us forth from the tomb to eternal life, one spent either with Him in bliss or with Satan in eternal torment.

If, like me, you have maintained the time honored tradition of having a bad Lent, one where the devil rides you hard and all of the spiritual commitments, sacrifices, and personal reforms you set out to accomplish go by the wayside before the Sunday of Orthodoxy, Lazarus Saturday holds out the hope of new life in the Lord. After being spiritually dead in the tomb of life’s distractions, petty trials, and fuss, Jesus still desires that we come forth to join him on Palm Sunday for his triumphant procession into Jerusalem and then to suffer by His side in Holy Week. We do not have to wait for the 11th hour; there is still time to labor for Christ, to pick up our cross and follow Him to Golgotha, to recollect ourselves in the anticipation of Holy Saturday, and rejoice with the Blessed Mother of God in the Resurrection of her Son on the third day. The only question that must be answered on this day is if we will respond to Jesus’ call and come forth, or opt instead to wallow in the darkness of our own sinfulness by refusing His love.

A Reflection Unrelated to St. Patrick’s Day

In an earlier post on this web-log, I remarked that a portion of American Orthodoxy comes down to LARPing, especially among converts. What I did not get into were the possible reasons for this, the most likely being that putting on the appearance of a Russian peasant, Athonite monastic, etc. helps those living in a decidedly postmodern, geographically western environment to feel “connected” with an iteration of Christianity which, for many centuries, has survived as a particular ethnic-cultural expression with obvious, but fading, ties to the glory days of the Byzantine Empire. As amusing as this phenomenon is from the outside, I must confess that I can sympathize with the desire to feel rooted in something concrete, particularly in America where fluidity and superficiality reign supreme. Still, in the long run, such posturing won’t do much for American Orthodoxy except make it appear even more as a museum piece than it already is. The possibility of a living, breathing, and vibrant Orthodoxy—the hope and dream of some of American Orthodoxy’s brightest lights—appears to be on hold at the moment while the national mother churches of America’s overlapping jurisdictions battle it out over trivial slights and ecclesiological innovations.

Greek Catholics living in the geographic west, by and large, cannot escape their environment with fanciful appeals to the alleged ways and means of the “old country.” Nor, for that matter, can they deny that their Eastern patrimony has had to find a way to survive in a primarily Latin environment. Although some Greek Catholics may exercise the LARPing option or, worse, exempt themselves from Catholic teachings they don’t like under the banner of being “Orthodox in Communion with Rome,” most desire to retain their particular identity without denying that they live in a liturgical, theological, and spiritual tension between East and West. It is a tension that has existed since the days of the “Unia,” one that made Greek Catholics out to be the second-class citizens of the “Roman Church” before the slow, and often interrupted, process of self-assertion and reclamation began. And as often as Greek Catholics today may speak of being true to themselves and their Byzantine-based heritage, part of that truth includes the reality that for centuries their forebears connected with, adopted, and internalized aspects of Latin Christianity that helped draw them closer to Christ.

Having come of age during a time when the Greek Catholics of Eastern Europe were beginning to breathe freely again, I can recall praying and worshipping in a still heavily Latinized Greek Catholic environment; it would take some time before the higher level theories of “authenticity” being discussed in certain academic circles would begin to trickle down to the parish level. Even today my tiny, perhaps even unremarkable, parish retains several Western-style icons and an Infant of Prague statue all the while serving the Divine Liturgy in a manner indistinguishable from how one might find it served in the Orthodox Church in America or the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese. There are still pews, though most people today stand throughout the entire service except, perhaps, at the anaphora where a few still kneel. Some still cling to Rosaries, others to prayer ropes. Mnohaya lita is sung at the end of the liturgy in honor of birthdays and anniversaries, followed by reciting the Latin recensions of the Pater, Ave, and Gloria for the intentions of the parish. I don’t know what “purists” would think of all of this, but I don’t really care either. My parish, like so many others, does what it can to be true to itself, to what has been handed down and kept alive over the decades. If that doesn’t fit within a LARPing vision of what “pure Greek Catholicism” ought to be, then all the better.

Speaking only for myself, having been back in the Catholic fold now for some six years, I have found living ecclesiastically between East and West to be…refreshing. Having had little exposure to the Roman Rite growing up outside of banal, if not ridiculous, Novus Ordo liturgies that I was compelled to attend from time to time, I found great profit in immersing myself in the Tridentine Mass and setting aside my Horologion in favor of the Roman Breviary. I do not want to say that I was “on vacation” from the Byzantine Rite that I had known for many years, but in a way I was. The last thing I wanted to maintain was a ghetto mentality, and when I saw that I was developing a new one through an over-exuberant embrace of traditional Latin Catholicism, I did what I could to take a few steps back; survey the terrain; and recommit myself ecclesiastically to where I had come from. This choice, though by no means easy, has done more to sustain my faith through some extremely trying times than hiding out in a liturgical shack somewhere. It has also refreshed my sense that what is truly good, beautiful, and pure in Christianity transcends peculiar historical developments—and those developments must be judged by whether or not they continue to convey what is good, beautiful, and pure in Christianity.