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Tuesday, May 17, 2016


Greetings, dear readers!

Owing to the diurnal schedule my husband has had to keep all week for work, we decided to go to Mass at an earlier time this past Sunday. I selected a Byzantine Catholic church here in town since it was a place I had been wanting to visit for a while.

Lady of Czestochowa

The first time I had ever heard of Eastern Rite Catholicism (which is what the Byzantine church in this post follows for its liturgical structure) was when I was in my early teens and my dad told me about an Eastern Rite church he'd visited in college. My father, who despite his hatred of Ukrainians for their obnoxious nationalism, had a few relatives who married into Ukrainian families and it was through this route that my dad had the opportunity to visit an Eastern Rite Catholic Church after a friend of his cousin invited him to go. Even though he had been raised Russian Orthodox and indoctrinated with all the cultural anti-Catholicism that comes with being Russian, my dad had visited Catholic churches on a few occasions. He had an idea of what to expect, but at the same time he wasn't sure what he'd see. He came away from the visit feeling ambivalent. He recognized the Eastern layout and was cool with that, but he wasn't crazy about praying for the Pope.

I first became aware of a Byzantine Catholic church here in southern Arizona around 2012, when my good friend with whom I sat and passed out pro-life literature on the main lawn of the University of Arizona campus, mentioned them to me. There were a few women in the Latin Mass church we attended who were former parishioners there, he informed me. Given my Serbian Orthodox background, the existence of a Catholic church structured in a way I was familiar with piqued my interest, but receded to the back burner of my mind as the concerns and dramas of life took over. The Byzantine church would continue to periodically pop up on my radar over the next few years, but it didn't really register until recently after a near-altercation between my husband and a rude parishioner at our Carmelite church. I figured now was as good a time as any to come and check the place out.

I did a side part, and then from there I did this crown braid. Obviously, Sunday morning's version of this hairdo was neater than this. Its been in for a few days

View from the back. This style is actually a little bit harder than it looks

In a sharp departure from my usual protocol, I actually dressed up nicely for church. Normally when I go to church, I wear my Lady Guadalupe tshirt with pants and topped off with my Lady Guadalupe bandanna. This outfit has been my default Sunday attire for the last three years. Today, however, because we were NOT going to our usual churches, I decided to put on a good first impression. I wore a nice dress and did my hair specially for the visit. I did not pack my bandanna, as I didn't think I needed it.

When we first arrived, I marveled at how small the church was. It was tiny compared to our usual churches, though realistically, it was about the size of a single-family home. We entered inside and took our seats in the back. The altar setup was very reminiscent of my childhood, though the icon wall hiding the altar was not nearly as large or elaborate as what I had grown up with. A reader and a deacon were standing at the altar doing some pre-Mass readings, but shortly after we sat down, the priest came up to greet us. Since we were new, he handed us a missalette to follow along with the Mass. I skimmed through the missalette while the baby blew raspberries at some old ladies sitting next to us. Were it not for the wording being a little different than I remembered, it could very easily have been something I recognized from my youth. As the people came in and took their seats, I recognized a number of people from the other churches we went to, including a fellow ex-Latin Mass goer! I was also pleased to see lots of children, from a newborn baby up to school-age.

With today being Pentecost, I was pleased to hear that the entrance song to kick off Mass was the same song my favorite Carmelite priest, Fr. Thomas Koller, used to sing for the entrance song whenever it was his turn to say Mass. The rest of the Mass that followed was different from what I remembered, but then again, it had been over six years since I had set foot in an Orthodox church and I had all but forgotten how a liturgy went. The music sounded different from what I had grown up with too, even though content-wise, it was the same. The priest delivered an excellent sermon, though I wound up having to leave halfway through it because the baby got cranky and needed her titty break. Thank goodness there was a kiddie ghetto, and there were quite a few toddlers of varying ages in there.  The baby got distracted by the other toddlers and wanted to play, but the one toddler she did play with kept pulling my daughter's hair, a move in which her mother and myself stepped in to separate the girls from each other. It wasn't out of malice that the other toddler was pulling my daughter's hair. The toddler herself didn't have much hair on her own head, so seeing a head full of hair on a person similar in size fascinated her. Guess my baby's luscious mop of wavy brown hair is irresistible to both biggers and littlers alike!

As for Communion, it was distributed by spoon, just like how I remembered; though I'd forgotten just how far I needed to tip my head back so that the priest could dump the wine-soaked piece of bread into my mouth. I also tried not to chew on the bread, as per what I'd learned in my Catechism class. As I passed the icon arrangement set up in the middle of the church (there's a name for it, but I can't remember what it is), I noticed a few bowls behind the icon which were covered in thin towels with geometric Slavic embroidery. It made my heart jump with joy. At the end of the Mass, we went up to the priest for the final blessing and we had our foreheads annointed with myrrh. It smelled nice, but it was different from what I remembered. The myrrh of my childhood had a far sweeter smell, as opposed to the soapy one offered here.

Russian embroidery motifs

Finally, after the long Mass was over, we went into the hall for some coffee and snacks. We socialized a bit with some of the other parishioners too, but we couldn't stay long because my hubby had to work that evening and the baby needed to go home for a nap. The ones we talked to seemed to have come to the Byzantine church as a last-ditch effort to find a reverent parish and save both their souls and sanity. I met a family who were also ex-Latin Mass churchgoers (though the church they had attended at the time was way up in the foothills of the mountains, just barely within the city limits) and the time just didn't work out with their schedules. We were also recognized by a young couple from the Carmelite church, who also shared our displeasure at the chaotic behavior of the Mass attendees there. We rounded out our visit by chatting a bit with a friend of ours from the Latin Mass church who we saw there, and talking to the priest. He seemed like a nice, intelligent man who had a strong connection with the Holy Spirit. After I mentioned my background in the Serbian Orthodox church, the priest told hubby and I that there were actually a few couples at this church who were like us: one Serbian spouse and one Catholic spouse, and the decision to attend Mass at this church was sort of a compromise in honor of each sides religious traditions. I didn't think to ask him, but I wonder if he celebrated Slava for these particular parishioners.

Overall, my experience at the Byzantine church was a positive one. There wasn't a magic "aha!" moment indicating we'd found a home parish when we were there, unlike the first time I'd set foot in the Latin Mass church; but it marked a turning point for me because I could now go to an Eastern church and the negative memories I associated with it from forced attendance in my youth didn't bother me anymore. Hubby and I resolved to return here again soon.

Not mine, but it says "Born in America, but my heart is in Serbia"

The Church isn't fond of it, but occasionally, my diehard Serbian nationalism leads me down some strange and wonderful paths. I love the Catholic Church dearly, but I want my children (and husband) to know their culture and celebrate it. I may have serious disagreements with my family, but one thing they were adamant about was not forgetting our culture and that is probably the one thing I can truly thank them for.

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