2012 Eastern Catholic Encounter West Coast-Final Talk

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After meeting at a conference center in El Segundo on Friday night and Saturday, the Sunday portion of the Eastern Catholic Encounter West Coast was held at St. Andrew’s Russian Catholic Church in El Segundo. There, Bishop Nicholas Samra of the Melkite Eparchy of Newton gave the final talk. I was blessed to participate in the liturgy presided over by my own Bishop, His Grace Bishop Gerald of the Holy Protection of Mary Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Phoenix, and you can see one photo from the liturgy above.

We had a wonderful liturgy and agape meal together, and we then reconvened for Sayedna Nicholas’ talk.

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As was the case with the other speakers, I’d like to focus on three key messages in Sayedna Nicholas’ talk. The message began by asking this question:
Who are we as church leaders?

This question is not answered by producing a spiritual “org chart”-instead, we believe that holy orders serve to serve all people. Without the people, ministry has no meaning. Who is being ministered to, otherwise? Ministry is a servanthood, and we have to have someone to serve as ordained and lay leaders. We are part of the priesthood as other Christs, even as lay people who are leaders in the Church. Instead of seeing lay people versus the ordained as those in contrast, the ministerial priesthood that is unique to Holy Orders and Royal Priesthood which is from our common Baptism work together, hand in hand. To truly be Together in Christ, we must embrace this synergy between all Christians.

The second point I’d like to focus on is Sayedna Nicholas’ reflections on 1 Corinthians 3:9-10, which states,

“For we are God’s co-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it. But each one must be careful how he builds upon it, for no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there, namely, Jesus Christ.”

From this reflection on us as co-workers in God’s building, Sayedna Nicholas reflected that there are three types of builders:
Architects, contractors and carpenters.

Paul is sometimes an architect, planting churches.
Paul is sometimes a contractor, passing ministry on for others to exercise leadership in those Churches.
Paul was also a carpenter, doing the actual baptisms and preaching.
Leadership is connected to being in the image and likeness of God, and we all play our part as different members in the Body of Christ. Not all of us will be as St. Paul, who built up the Church in such diverse ways. But if we are living in accordance to our calling to serve the Body of Christ, we will build up the one building that is the Church.

The last point that I wanted to emphasize in Bishop Nicholas’ talk was his reflections on the future of Eastern Catholic Churches in America. We came together, he said, but if it ended on that day, it would lead to little fruit. Long range planning is discerning strengths for the future. We have to ask what our strengths are so that we can expand and build on strengths.
For example, if our parish has good liturgy/cantoring, we must be faithful to sharing videos, recording music, and the like.
In essence, we must use our strengths to build up God’s vision.
On a practical note, Sayedna encouraged us all to take our excitement home and continue to consider how we can do things together.
The weekend can’t end, we need to follow up.
One text which was recommended to think about the importance of this was Fr. Anthony Coniaris’ book-The Eye Cannot Say to the Hand. I can testify from having read it that this is a wonderful work which shows the need that we have for each other, which runs so contrary to the individualism of our day.
He also recommended that we consult supplementary readings on the Eastern Catholic Encounter Website. If I’m following the website correctly, the link is here.

He then encouraged those of us who live near Eastern Catholics of other jurisdictions to get our communities together, planning to move forward, trying to get resources to build each other up.

In closing, I think this last point makes for a good reflection on ways Bishop Nicholas’ talk could be improved. Mostly, the improvement for which I hope can be found through all of us who have yet to live out this vision laid out in the talk. I do not feel that this follow up is actually happening on a large scale-perhaps this is only a matter of impatience or blindness on my part, but I sincerely hope that this vision can be truly lived out by all of us, so that the Body of Christ may be built up more and more.

Grant This, O Lord!

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2012 Eastern Catholic Encounter West Coast-IV

Fr. Edward Cimbala is the administrator for the Byzantine Catholic (Ruthenian) Eparchy of Passaic, NJ. As a parish priest and one involved on a higher level of the Church, his reflections on our vocation to serve God and love one another were beautiful, timely, and quite relevant.

Fr. Edward delivered the fourth main talk at the West Coast Eastern Catholic Encounter. He spoke first and foremost, of a blueprint for church growth. Each person was handed a gift/blueprint to define what this gift was, is, and always has been.

To my great pleasure, this blueprint was the words of our Symbol of Faith, the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (sans Filioque, naturally, given our Eastern Catholic audience 🙂 ).

Fr. Edward stressed that if one were to go online and do a search on Amazon for Church Growth, there would be many hits in the search threads. These hits would reflect a variety of theories represented by many books. We may want to blame turnover and the new pastors we are “stuck with” when old charismatic pastors move on. But if we go to the Holy Scriptures, the life of the Church wasn’t based on principles, but personality. There was only One book needed, the Bible. Paul in Thessaloniki in acts could not be silenced. His message was so life-giving that they persecuted Jason, but the Church moved on. This message of a recipe/blueprint for Church growth was a wonderful story.

In his second main point, Fr. Edward moved to speak of  ways in which we can be side tracked or distracted on the road. In doing so, he pointed out that as new servants in the harvest, we begin enthused and jump in wanting to do everything, but then we get tired. The danger, however, is that we can easily end up feeling like nothing is worth it. When we have too much motion without movement, we are not understanding our own vocation, not matching our gifts with our vocation. The right fit will energize us to lead others the right way, and as such we will enjoy it. This message on finding our proper home to fill out the life of Faith is so important, because so many times we are expending efforts in arenas where our efforts are not to our own benefit, let alone those with whom we come into contact.

The third point from Fr. Edward’s talk that I would like to highlight is the imagery of the Church as a Body, which was illustrated through two great stories. First, Fr. Edward shared his own musical interests as they relate to the life of the Church. In the performing arts, one can see the harmony of instruments in an orchestra. In an orchestra, there is a melodic power that is beyond one individual instrument. This is a true picture of the church. Each instrument is there but all instruments are needed to create the beauty of the symphony. God chooses who will play what. He is also the composer, the music is suited to each member of the orchestra. We all know about the diversities of gift from one giver. The spirit is given to each one, for the common good. The Spirit is not for making one person look or feel good. No one can say that they don’t have gifts. These gifts give us great joy. So we must discover them, but how?

1. Prayer with discipline.
2. By trial and error. Nothing wrong with failing, important is to learn.
3. Ask someone what gifts they think that you have. Your friends will most often tell you the truth.
4. Take a test-sometimes asking the right questions leads us to find the answers we need to know how we can help.

 

The Body of Christ is many, not comprised of one member.
Our role blends with who we are and what the church needs.

Fr. Edward gave the second example beyond the symphony by moving to sports. In Baseball, Dizzy Dean was able to play well 30 games in a row.  He was even a key pitcher in the 1934 World Series.
However, in 1937 he hurt his big toe, which affected everything. Each member is important, just like Dizzy Dean’s toe.
This important lesson on the way that we all play a critical role, despite our differing roles, was a key message to the laity. Instead of seeing our diverse roles and gifts as ways to stratify who is “important” who is “irrelevant”, we see our spiritual roles as all being important to the life of the Church. We as big toes (or other anatomical parts) must see our importance and embrace our roles in the Church.

If I were to offer a point of criticism of this talk, it would be a point on asking how we could be equipped with more examples of how we are doing things wrong as both laypeople and clergy. Fr. Edward’s talk was so positive that the negative elements of our life in Christ were harder to clearly pinpoint as I listened to him. Expressing those problems more clearly might be more insightful for those who want to live that life of repentance, where we change from our flawed ways.

Come O Jesus, Our Savior, Redeem and Save Us!

2012 Eastern Catholic Encounter West Coast-III

The third main talk that was given at the 2012 Eastern Catholic Encounter West Coast was by Father Deacon Sabatino Carnazzo.

Father Sabatino is quite a dedicated and dynamic speaker, as evidenced by his additional ministry through the Institute of Catholic Culture, which he founded to help support lay catechesis and spiritual education.

His talk at the Eastern Catholic Encounter wove similar threads on the role and vision for lay leadership in our Eastern Catholic Churches as the previous speakers whose talks have been posts on this site. Like those other speakers I would like to highlight three key messages that spoke to me most from that weekend.

The first key point by Deacon Sabatino is that it is important for us as lay people (or clergy) to always define our vocation as something that is positive, not negative. We are ideally defined not by what they can’t do, but what they can do. To explain that our Tradition does not take lay people and relegate them to some fundamentally different Christian existence from the clergy, he called us to consider the liturgical practices of our Churches. At his ordination, a man being ordained to the diaconate is clothed with deacon’s vestment. To do this, he does not strip away his baptismal garments.

Think of the imagery here! The ordained is at his core a baptized Christian. To wear diaconal, presbyteral, episcopal, or even papal vestments in the absence of one’s baptism is nonsensical. As such, we are all most fundamentally Christians who are baptized into Christ. This leads me to my second point of reflection in Father Sabatino’s talk…

 

In describing salvation history, Father Sabatino turned our attention to the Holy Gospel of the Evangelist John the Theologian.
In John 1:14, we read that Christ the Logos came into the world, but his own people did not receive Him. To those who did receive Him, however, He gave them the power to be His sons. Father Sabatino emphasized that we cannot understand this gift of being sons and daughters of God until we see it through the prism of our baptism into Christ. To do this, we need to consider a key passage on baptism. In Romans 5 we read that we were baptized into Christ-yes, even into His Death. This means that our Baptism is not meant to merely be a model of the Theophany, where the glory of the Baptism and the peace of the Baptizer beholding the scene prevailed. Instead, we must see our union with Christ to be a model of all of His life and yes, His death.

That we all have our own union with Christ’s life, death, and resurrection may make more sense of our own travails on this earth, if we have the eyes of faith to unite ourselves with this vision.


The third point from Deacon Sabatino’s talk that I’d like to reflect upon is his exhortations to the laity. He pointed out that many lay people suffer from what he called the “my real estate” syndrome. Many times we feel that something is “my job”. We want to say to a new or zealous soul, “You can’t do it that way.”

In contrast, from his Pastoral Epistles, we can see that Paul rejoiced in Timothy growing up in the faith. Timothy took on his own vocation and there was no appeal to how Paul did things. Timothy would eventually grow up and be in charge based on his own unique vocation, and this is something we must see in our own vocations. What can stop us from doing so?

Father Sabatino pointed to our quintessentially American flaw of what he called the “Me first!” syndrome-we must take leadership in the parish but not be imposing upon the unique gifts of others. So often this (and other factors) lead people to leave our parishes.

If someone were to leave our parish, we must also ask ourselves: what do we do about this, if anything?
As His hands and feet in the one body, we must live in prayer and love one another, seeking reunion and reconciliation. After all, best friends spend time together, and when we do not mirror that in our mystical reality as the Body of Christ, we can only suffer as a result.

In closing my one point where I would like to call for correction/emendation in Father Deacon Sabatino’s talk was towards the beginning. In discussing the centrality of the Holy Scriptures, Father Sabatino asked how many participants in the Encounter had brought their own Bibles. Few people (if any) raised their hands at this point.

He used this to point out that in our American society, so many Evangelical Protestants carry their Bibles wherever they go. He warned them of the reality that many Eastern Catholics have left our Apostolic Churches for these ecclesial communities because so many Protestants read their Bibles and have the habit of carrying their Bibles wherever they go. They bring with themselves arguments meant to deride Tradition and promote their own viewpoints, which have led some of our Faithful to depart from our Churches. Father Sabatino suggested that if we do not carry our Bibles with us, we are asking for further defeat against these Evangelicals.

As a former Evangelical, I would counter that this point needs some further refinement before it is accepted carte blanch. If we would only carry the truth of our faith and understand our liturgical traditions with their deep Scriptural treasures, we would not need to carry a physical Bible with us. Instead, our hearts would overflow with the truths of those Scriptures that we know and love, as we seek to see God in our spiritual hymns and liturgical services.

Nevertheless, I echo his sentiments that the Scriptures should be closer to us. I just think that we can feel their truth even more closely than having a physical Bible with us, if our Church prayers are deeply incorporated into our hearts, minds and souls.

Come O Jesus, Our Savior, Redeem and Save Us!

2012 Eastern Catholic Encounter West Coast-II

(Continued thoughts and reflections from the 2012 Eastern Catholic Encounter held in the LA area)

The second main session speaker at the 2012 Encounter was Abouna (Father, for the non-Arabic speaking folks among us) Justin Rose. Abouna Justin is the pastor of St. Philip Melkite Mission in San Bernardino, California. I have heard him give talks in the past, and was excited to see how he would address a larger audience.

Like my previous post, I would like to focus on three points with which I find great agreement, and then offer some thoughts about an area which could be improved or clarified.

A key point that Abouna Justin made throughout his presentation was the relationship between the New Evangelization and the Year of Faith, which we are celebrating now at the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council.

In reflecting on technology, Abouna Justin noted that the Roman Roads were constructed to enable the Roman Empire to flourish, and yet at the same time it was this technology which facilitated the good news of the Gospel to be spread by the Apostles. Without the Roman Roads, the Apostles would not have reached as many people. Later in the talk, he noted that water itself can be deadly if it drowns someone, and yet this same physical matter is life-giving when used for Holy Baptism. Technology is dangerous but offers a powerful opportunity for good. In that sense, we should reach out to the world with the truth of our Faith and incorporate technology in our efforts.

But these efforts must not be mechanical or done out of mere obligation. Instead of feeling that our life in the Church is like stamping a time card, we should be people of constant conversion and repentance. Abouna Justin cited the closing statement from the Synod on the New Evangelization, which states:

The encounter with the Lord, which reveals God as love, can only come about in the Church, as the form of receptive community and experience of communion; from this, then, Christians become its witnesses also in other places. However, the Church reasserts that to evangelize one must be evangelized first of all… (Emphasis added)

This message of embracing the new evangelization was then contrasted with many thoughts on ways which this has been abandoned. He noted that this lack of calling can come from things like a ghetto mentality, a lack of cooperation among Eastern Catholics (his side note on us needing to appreciate each other’s music was wonderful), and other deficiencies in our mindset, which leads to the second point-how can we live and share the new evangelization?

Abouna Justin argued that one chief way evangelization can be lived out is to realize that we all share in a priestly vocation, particularly in our life in the domestic church, which is the family. He spoke of the fact that the miracle of love in the home is a mystical construction of a family altar. He recounted wonderful stories of one mother who always made the sign of the cross on the foreheads of her family members each night. Rather than thinking that “blessing is for Priests only”, this mother saw her baptismal vocation and her calling as a mother to be a source of blessing to her family. Likewise, he shared that another mother made it a point to collect large amounts of holy water at the Feast of the Theophany so that each meal which she prepared would have holy water added to it. Again, her “mundane” task of cooking could be seen as only an earthly or natural duty, but this mother saw and appreciated her vocation to be a blessing to the world. With all of these points, Abouna urged us to move beyond a clergy/laity distinction which would somehow denigrate that call to be a blessing.

A third chief area of focus in Abouna Justin’s talk that I want to highlight here deals with his studies on ministry which center around comparing a modernist mindset with a postmodern mindset. After comparing the standard modernist views on morality, Abouna Justin emphasized the ways in which postmodernism has influenced our American culture, with its emphasis on being relational vs. being right (or wrong). Despite the fact that Christians hold truths to be permanent, which appears to harmonize more with modernism than postmodernism, Abouna Justin made the fascinating comparison of the 4th chapter of the Gospel of John to this postmodern relational emphasis.

First, there is Christ’s priestly compassion for the anxiety and angst of the woman at the well. Despite her sins, he showed this compassion, and spoke the truth in love. He challenged us to ask whether want we do this with our postmodern non-Christian interlocutors, or not. Next, there is the fact that Christ did not only offer the Samaritan woman forgiveness, He also asked her to share what He had done for her. With a modernist mindset where degrees, eloquence, and “qualifications” are all-important, we must also ask whether we would choose the Samaritan woman to be an evangelist. That would be quite unlikely, if all we thought about were her studies and winsomeness as a speaker. Nevertheless, Jesus used her to spread the truth more with her experience, which speaks to the lacking qualities of modernism, and may speak well to the facet of the postmodernist mindset which would value her relationship to Jesus.

Abouna Justin then argued that St. Photini (the Traditional name for the Samaritan woman at the well) could be rightly considered the Patron of  Postmodernism and the New Evangelism. Her authentic encounter with Christ, and her authentic life experience, makes her qualified in the sense that matters most to so many people in our society today.

To close, I would like to offer a thought on an element of Abouna Justin’s talk which could be stated more clearly and/or improved. At several points in the talk, he argued that some of the flaws with our Churches rest in a lack of proper emphasis. One way it was put forth was that we need fewer social events and more diakonia (service). Another way it was expressed was through saying that we do not need programs, but prayer, almsgiving, and fasting. Both of these calls for good things (diakonia, prayer, almsgiving and fasting) seem to devalue other good things (social events and programs) too much. It could be that this is a false dichotomy; after all, the Encounter Program where Abouna was speaking was itself a “program”.

All in all, this was a great talk and it reminds me of the importance of this Year of Faith. May we live it out and grow in Faith and Evangelism of our heritage as Eastern Catholics!

2012 Eastern Catholic Encounter West Coast-I

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!