Eastern Catholics seek to keep the faith alive

Written by Peter Smith on .


One of the most striking things about my interviews with married clergy in the Eastern Catholic churches is that at least two of them didn't grow up Eastern Catholic.

One, the Rev. Jason Charron, a Ukrainian Catholic priest in Carnegie, didn't have any ethnic ties to Ukrainians. He grew up in the predominate Roman Catholic rite in Canada.

Similarly, Joseph Wargacki, a deacon studying for the priesthood at the SS. Cyril and Methodius Byzantine Catholic Seminary in Pittsburgh, has no ties to the Ruthenian ethnic roots of the church.

But both found decisive moments in their religious lives when exposed to the rich liturgical tradition of those rites -- part of the same Byzantine liturgical tradition and spirituality shared by Orthodox Christians, with its roots in the ancient Greek capital of the eastern Roman Empire.* The liturgy, complete with the sensory overload of robust choral anthems, clouds of incense and an eyeful of iconography, is anchored around dramatic re-enactments of the biblical accounts of the heavenly worship of God and the earthly life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

"We kept coming back," Deacon Wargacki recalled of his and his wife's first encounters with the liturgy years ago. It was the "whole ball of wax, the beauty of the liturgy, the preaching."

What they and others are hoping for is a revival of their traditions following the pope's decree last year enabling the tradition of married clergy to be the norm in the Eastern Catholic diaspora -- that is, outside the homelands of such faiths areas stretching from Eastern Europe to parts of Asia. That's after a century of the practiced being repressed.

News of the restoration of the married priesthood also cheers Donald Warhola of Cranberry Township

. Even as the American melting pot poses challenges for Eastern Catholics, he and his family are keeping the tradition alive. 

He’s an active layperson at his Byzantine parish in Gibsonia and is raising his son (shown receiving communion above) in the Byzantine tradition.

“It’s sad to go into our churches and see fewer and fewer young people,” he said. Eastern Catholic churches, he said, can learn from non-denominational churches’ hospitality and social outreach.

But along with such innovations, what the Eastern Catholics can offer is tradition. 

“I like that it hasn’t modernized, knowing this liturgy is the same as it was a thousand years ago,” said Mr. Warhola, who works at the Andy Warhol Museum, dedicated to the art of his late uncle, himself a committed Byzantine Catholic.

Allowing married priests, Mr. Warhola said, will help the “Byzantine Catholic faith do whatever is necessary to remain viable.”

For a longer profile on the extended Warhola family's faith traditions, see the story by my colleague Mark Roth here.

* Not all Eastern Catholics are in the Byzantine tradition, but the Byzantine (historically Ruthenian), Ukrainian, Romanian, Melkite and perhaps others are. Still other Eastern Catholics have their parallels in Arabic, Armenian, Indian and other rites. Then there's the more recent Anglican rite, a Western tradition, which is another story. There are lots of other stories here.

Photo by Julia Rendleman/Post-Gazette




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