Sunday, September 5, 2010


Last night I went to Vespers at a very nearby Melkite church. I had been meaning to go to this church for years and years now. And last night I finally made it. I feel like I fell in love. I am now filled with longing to be in THAT church, that liturgy, that community. I'm trying to sort out my feelings:

  • The first time I ever heard about the Melkites, I was attending a retreat given by Father Emmanuel Charles McCarthy at a Pax Christi retreat. I could only stay for a day. He was a very powerful speaker. The thing that impressed me the most was his story about how his youngest daughter, Benedicta, named after Edith Stein or Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross was miraculously saved by Tylenol poisoning by prayers to Edith Stein. This is the miracle that allowed St. Teresa Benedicta to be named a saint. I have a special tenderness for St. Edith Stein, since she was Jewish and converted to Catholicism by reading a book by St. Theresa of Avila. My husband is Jewish. I've struggled with atheism (as did Edith Stein) and my mother's favorite saint was St. Teresa of Avila. So all this resonated in my heart. Hannah even took the name St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross for her confirmation name. Since that retreat (and this retreat happened when Hannah was a baby, so probably about 18 years ago) I 've been wanting to visit a Melkite Church. Well, there is one about 5 minutes from my house. It only took me 18 years to get there!
  • I love the rich ritual, the ikons, the chanting, the ancient and profound reverence found in the church and its liturgy. So different from the dry, stripped down version of my parish church. Not that my parish doesn't try and isn't full of faithful people and a wonderful pastor, but it is not poetic, lyrical, moving, replete with so many symbols that raise one's spirit to God. I know I am not supposed to be entertained at Mass, that it depends on me and what I bring to the Mass, but in other liturgies the sheer beauty of the liturgy definitely helps one's soul long for union with God! Why do these other liturgies get to have this beauty, while I in my weakness must struggle against such spiritual dryness?
  • I have long been attracted to Orthodox Christianity but feel like I am being a traitor to the Roman Catholic faith. This is probably an unreasonable feeling. In the Melkite church both Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christian can partake of the Eucharist there.
  • I was very attracted to the Byzantine Catholic faith, however, they are all of a Slavic ethnicity. The liturgy was beautiful but the history and language are not my history and language. The Melkite however trace their origin to Antioch and to the first apostles. They are descended from the very first Christian tradition! They use both Greek and Arabic. The Arabic came later. But the Greek spoken by that first Christian community is the Koine Greek that the New Testament is written in. This makes me feel a connection even though Greek is not my native language. Also the Arabic is a Semitic language, similar to Hebrew.
  • I love that the Melkites really emphasize the Old Testament and the Prophets. These prophets are placed on the same plain with the saints of the New Testament. The connection to Judaism is much more palatable. The sound of the chants has a very Jewish sound. This speaks to me because of Rick's Judaism, our family celebrating Jewish holidays and also I love that that connection, that foundation of Judaism has been preserved for two thousand years in such a tangible way.
The problems I see in moving into the Melkite rite are many:

1. My family. Becky and Sean are not confirmed. Would they be able to receive the Eucharist there? I wonder if the priest confirms children coming from the Roman rite?
2. Do they follow the same liturgical year? I think so. But that would be really confusing if they didn't.
3. I think the Melkites are much stricter in fasting and other things like that. It would probably be good for us as a change. It is so easy to be lazy in the Roman rite.
4. Sunday school - this may not be a problem. But the Sunday school classes look much, much better than the one's offered at our parish which are of the most watered down variety. The kids really learn deeply about the faith. I've been looking at lesson plans and the expectations are much higher at Holy Transfiguration then at St. Mark. You expected to really read the Bible. Parents are held accountable. I was amazed at what was expected of a 4th grader to know and do.
5. Josh and CLC. We do love the Catholic Life Community at St. Mark and the Youth Group activites, like Workcamp. I don't know if we'd have to give those up though.
6. I'd feel like I was betraying our parish. I do have a sense of loyalty to it. I love that it works so hard to help the poor. I love Father Pat; for all his faults, he is a wonderful, godly man who tries his best.

While I sort through all this I thought I'd incorporate some Melkite lessons plans into our daily living. Here's a resource for that


The Bookworm said...

I am in very much the same place as you, except that my parish Church has nothing to compensate for the dry liturgy. If I had that option, I would certainly feel I had to give it a try. Can you explore it a bit more before you make a decision?

Rittmeister said...

First, my congratulations on your journey of discovery. Remember always it is the process, the trip, the journey that is important. I am/was in something of the same journey. I was a faithful Roman Catholic who fell in love with the Melkite style of worship. Years later I went through the formal process to become a Melkite – and now I am something of an expert. (Lord, forgive my impudence at this large assumption.)

I think I can answer your questions. First you and your children are of the Roman Rite and as such should plan to follow all of the major conventions of that rite. Depending on the ages of your children, you and they should probably plan on confirmation in that right. BUT, note that it is “confirmation IN that rite” not “OF that rite.” We are all confirmed in the Catholic Church, where the ceremony takes place really does not matter. We are all Catholics. If your children have had first communion then they are entitled to partake of communion in any Catholic Church.

My children had the “rites of initiation” as Melkites (baptism, communion and confirmation) as infants. As such at the age of 6 months they were entitled to go into any Catholic Church (including Roman) and go up to receive communion. Some Roman priests did not understand and all of them needed to be warned in advance that my infant son John was entitled to receive communion – but by the law of the Church they could not be denied. Your children (again assuming they have already received first communion) can walk right up and receive the Body and Blood. If they have not yet had their “first communion” that ceremony will need to take place. Probably best/easiest to have it done in the parish they are familiar with. If they have not received and if you really want them to receive their “first communion” in a Melkite church – when share that need with the pastor and see what can be done. That will be more complicated.

The canon law is that we are the rite of our father (in your children's case, mother) until they are 12 years old - - - at which point they are their own right. So if – and I am not suggesting you should or need to do this – but if you change rite and your children are under 12 they would also canonically change rites. (It is little more than a legalism and the signing of a few papers). Once they are passed 12 they would have a voice in their changing of rites.

Rittmeister said...

BUT – and this is the real biggie – there is NO reason for you to change rites. If you want to badly enough and with enough time you may do so – but you don't have to. You are Catholic. The church is Catholic, you have a full right to come to the church, participate in all aspects of the church and consider yourself a member of the church. Now technically if you do not formally change rites, you are supposed to follow the rules or your own rite (fasts, Holy Days, etc) – and there are some who would argue that you must still attend a Roman church to fullfill your Sunday obligation. But these folks are the most radical and legalistic souls. Most, priests and bishops included (especially the Eastern ones), would say we are all Catholic and if in your heart you feel drawn to the East – then you should follow the fasts, Holy Days, etc of the East. In my own Melkite parish less than half of the members are canonically Melkites. Perhaps 3/4s of the Parish Advisory Council are Roman Catholics, but they are all people so drawn to the Eastern-style of worship that they never attend an other Catholic Church. I know four of our most active parishioners are Orthodox, one is a Lutheran and one is Jewish (Obviously the Lutheran and the Jewish girl do not partake of the sacraments – but they are stalwarts of the church. We couldn't do a fund raiser or a hall cleaning without them.)

One learning that I had – concerning “being easy to be lazy in the Roman” - is the huge laxity of the East. This is a long issue and I am probably already going to too long. But in brief – Rome has rules, follow the rules and you are covered. The East has many more traditions – but almost no rules. Instead the East has self-examination, which ultimately leads to much more self-imposed control (i.e. rules) So Rome would say for penance say three Hail Mary's. The East would say no amount of prayer can ever fully repay the debt of sin, so if you think three Hail Mary's cover it – okay – but understand good and holy souls have prayed for a lifetime and still not felt they have done enough.

Sunday school varies a lot by parish. Not sure what your children would get or miss out on. Personally I felt my kids benefited most from being in the divine liturgy and only learned a few facts from the Bible/Sunday school.

If there is a community life at your existing parish that is good and beneficial – why not use and enjoy it. We are all Catholics – attend one week at one parish and another at the Melkite. Time is eternal – reach for HIM as your heart desires and is fulfilled. I am a hard-core Melkite. I no longer am spiritually fulfilled when I visit a Roman service – but as hard-core as I am, I realize that some Catholics, most Catholics (98%) do find what they need in their own Roman parish. As John Paul indicated the Church needs to breathe with two lungs – one Eastern and one Western. Surely that might be true of some individuals, they need the community/spirituality of both.

Which ever way you go one day (a year from now Melkite, six years from now deeply Roman, a decade from now still enjoying the blesses of both) never feel you have been disloyal or abandoning of a parish or community. You will never be “dumping” something – but rather growing toward the light that is feeding you.

I am particularly glad to hear that you have found some worth in the Melkite.Org site. There is never enough feedback to know if the pages are reaching anyone.

Paul Stamm
Webmaster for the
Eparchy of Newton

Faith said...

Mr. Stamm! Thanks so much for taking the time to share your advice with me. The internet can be a truly wonderful thing! You are blessing me with your words of experience and advice! Your words are very comforting. I have been praying so much over this and came to the conclusion that I should be patient and try to partake of as much the Melkite rite as I could without disrupting my family. I plan to try to attend Vespers as often as I can and invite my children and husband to join me when they feel so moved. When I can I will attend the Divine Liturgy. I told my husband about your idea of alternating our Sunday worship and he warmed to the idea.

Thanks again for taking the time to counsel a stranger. May God bless you and your work.

Xristoforos McAvoy said...

If you become part of a traditional liturgically beautiful catholic/orthodox church, there is a stronger chance your children will develop the gift of faith in God and the Church for the rest of their lives through the rich theology they encounter in the homilies, chanting, after church coffee and carinval/food festivals and beauty of the actual building.

If you stay part of a very dry, simplified, protestant style "1970s vatican II/subjective feelings, smiley face/doesnt really matter what you do" modern parish that feels like an abandoned paint factory warehouse, your children will probably not have much inspiration and may more easily fall away from the faith.

Iconodule or Iconoclastic. You decide.

Those are my words of advice.

I would either the Melkite Church, or at least a Western Catholic Church that uses more gregorian chant is representative of future trends for the survival of our Church. Everything old is new again.

Holy Transfig is a one of the best parishes in the USA.

I never liked St Mark's in Vienna very much. Even when I was 5 years old I found their guitar strumming hippy style annoying. My cremated grandfather is buried in an urn there and I don't like that they encourage cremation. Not being biased is hard. The two churches are total opposites in many ways.