I was blessed to be able to take the time and visit with other Eastern Catholics (and other souls sympathetic to us) at a national conference which was held at three sites across the country. The Eastern Catholic Encounter is an event which has been held mostly with clergy, but its 2012 incarnation was designed to also include lay people, as our role as lay people was the main focus. The subtitle was “Together in Christ”, and it was truly great to be together in Him.
Being a Californian, I headed to the West Coast site, which was held in El Segundo (a suburb of LA, for those not from SoCal). There is so much that I could say about this wonderful event, but for the purposes of this blog I would like to offer a series of posts analyzing three important messages from each main session, and then offering one point of criticism/desired clarification. I pray that these posts bless those who read them, at least a tiny bit as much as it was a blessing for me to attend them.
The first main speaker was from the only layperson who spoke at the Encounter, Pani Christine Hayda. Pani Christine is the widow of Father Pavlo Hayda, who fell asleep in the Lord in 2007. I could not find Christine’s picture easily online, and so below I’ve posted a picture of Father Pavlo from the wikipedia page which commemorates his memory (may it be eternal!).
Despite this priestly family background, Pani Christine’s talk (and the Encounter in general) was focused on our mission as lay people who are all members of the Royal Priesthood (cf. 1 Peter 2:9).
In discussing the reality that we are all called to know and embrace the truth, as opposed to not personally embracing it or mindlessly trusting experts, Pani Christine referred us to meditate upon the Kontakion of Pentecost.
This beautiful hymn states:
“When the Most High descended and confused tongues, he scattered nations. When he distributed the tongues of fire, he called all to unity. We also, with one voice, glorify the Most Holy Spirit.”
Note how this is a call not to the Apostles, but to all men, women, boys and girls. The unity figured at this miraculous event which calls us to glorify the Holy Spirit in unity, embracing unity in our faith.
Secondly, a great point made in Pani Christine’s talk was the reality of our Church life. Using powerpoint slides, we saw a series of images of the key sacramental moments in the life of the Church. From baptism, to communion, to crowning and marriage, and funerals themselves, we see that the Church’s attention is less on the priest, and more on the worshippers who are there in the spiritual hospital which is our Church. We stand or lie there in the middle of the nave. In that sense, the Church exists for us, and not for the hierarchy. The greatest among us must be the servants, as another once put it.
This spiritual reflection on the architecture of our Church life reinforced her general point, which is that the baptized exhibit what she termed a “radical equality”. This theme will repeat itself as I go over other speakers, but it was great to consider this from her angle of looking at our church life from the actual physical position that we find ourselves in as we are baptized, chrismated and the like.
Lastly, Pani Christine asked us to consider whether all Christians are given a fair opportunity. She prefaced her talk by stating that she wanted her talk to generate discussion, and I’m sure that many felt stirred by her words. But I would like to emphasize our common ground among Christians, and found her acknowledgment of God’s presence everywhere to be so affirming. Her talk stressed that a family on vacation seeing the majesty of God in His Creation is just as real of a religious experience as the life in the parish. This is something which we hear echoing from the beginning of salvation history. Indeed, even Genesis notes that God saw what He had made, and it was good. That we are all priests in the kingdom of God makes it such that our interaction with the natural world is a religious experience, as we offer our “Amen” to God’s assessment of the world and its beauty.
If I would offer a word of critique or a wish to have more clarification for this talk, it would be to a thread of argumentation offered by Pani Christine. She spoke of experts not being mindlessly followed, to the point where she called for a spirit of rebellion. Being concerned over clericalism, she argued that there was a lack of full appreciation of the majesty of our status as baptized citizens of the kingdom of God. I found this call to rebellion somewhat confusing when held in the light of our Eastern Tradition of spiritual fathers and spiritual mothers. The obedience that all people, monks and lay people alike, is one where our call to follow God is seen to live through our following our spiritual fathers and spiritual mothers. How this call to rebellion harmonizes with that venerable tradition was unclear from Pani Christine’s talk, and if there were time for public question and answers, I would have liked to raise that discussion. Perhaps another time!
Overall, I thank God for the lives of His People, who stand up and share their stories. We all come from different places. I have faced pain but nothing so acute as the loss of life of my spouse while I was raising children. But this is why our family is so all-inclusive, so Catholic. May God grant us eyes and ears to see and hear the truth in beautiful harmony with one another!