(Roman?) Catholic — Part Seven


Besides the three surviving Western Rites of the Catholic Church (Roman, Ambrosian, Mozarabic), there are more than 20 Eastern Rites, or as many prefer to be called, Particular Churches, each with its own hierarchy, history, Liturgy, traditions and laws. The greater number of the particular churches belong to the Byzantine tradition (Albanian, Belorussian, Bulgarian, Greek, Hungarian, Italo-Albanian, Macedonian, Melkite, Romanian, Russian, Ruthenian, Slovakian, and Ukrainian). 

All of these Byzantine churches share a common aspect of history. By the time of the ninth century, tensions between the Eastern and Western halves of what had been the Roman Empire were so tenuous that a schism occurred in 867 with the Patriarch of Constantinople, Photius, as the principle architect. This schism lasted only four years, but it set a precedent. By the time of the 11th century, the East and the West were separated by distance, language, politics, and an understanding of theology. 

The year 1054 saw a rift between East and West with another Greek, Patriarch Michael Cerularius, as the man of decision. While the mutual excommunications of nearly 1,000 years have been lifted, full reconciliation has not yet been achieved such that Catholic and Orthodox should be one church.

The Catholic Church recognizes the Apostolic Succession of these Orthodox Churches and respects their clergy, laws, Sacraments and worship as legitimate. Under certain defined unusual or extreme circumstances, it is possible to receive Sacraments from each other’s clergy.

Each of the particular Byzantine Churches had a minority that remained Catholic, or returned to Catholic union in the course of time. Of these, the largest is the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. It is the second largest particular church in the Catholic Church after the Roman Rite.

The history of the Ukrainian people is fraught with a series of interventions by other states and this continues even today with the efforts of Russia to dominate them. For political reasons, Stalin distrusted them and tried to eliminate the threat by exporting food and seed to Russia: millions died of starvation. By this artificial famine, the Great Leap Forward in China and the extermination camps of Nazi Germany, three men —Hitler, Mao, and Stalin — killed nearly 100,000,000 people. The adage is true: power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. 

After the Second World War, Russia again became wary of Ukrainian Catholics and exported their priests to Siberia, or imprisoned them and tried to force the lay people to become members of the Russian Orthodox Church. This caused another wave of emigration from the Ukraine, and many came to the United States. It was an earlier wave of immigrants who came to the Fall River area in the first years of the 20th century. They settled in the area near the Polish settlers, just south of South Park and worked in the local mills and factories.

These Fall River Ukrainians came from the area around Lvov. By 1914, the new arrivals had formed a community and built their church on Center Street. The first resident pastor was Rev. John Zaharko. This little church recently celebrated 100 years of service to the community.

In the early years, there was no Ukrainian hierarchy in the United States, so these Eastern Rite Catholics were under the jurisdiction of the local Roman Rite bishop. Thus it was that the Roman Rite Bishop of Fall River was praising the virtues of his Ukrainian priest’s wife at his funeral.

Now, St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church is a member of the Ukrainian Eparchy of Stamford, Conn., established in 1956. There is no current resident pastor, so the needs of the parish are served from St. Michael the Archangel Ukrainian Church in Woonsocket, R.I. 

My first assignment after ordination in 1960 was to a parish in Taunton. One of the families living in the territory of the parish was the Dran family, Ukrainians. I had to explain to the other children that Mary Dran would not be receiving Confirmation with them because as an Eastern Catholic, she had received Confirmation at the time of her Baptism. The Dran family later moved to St. John Parish in Fall River.

Always a small community, in 1916 St. John only had 199 members. Yet, in spite of the small size, this community supplied 110 men for our armed forces during World War II; two did not return home. Over the years this small parish has been able to remain financially solvent due, in large part, to the interest from a generous endowment from a parishioner, Olga Hoffman.

The physical arrangement of the church, as well as the conduct of the Liturgy, is quite different from the experience of the ordinary Roman Rite Catholic. Much of the Liturgy is conducted behind a screen known as the iconostasis, and the language may be English, Ukrainian, or Old Slavonic. Because of these differences, it is advisable to have a parishioner as a guide for your first visit to St. John Parish. Call and identify yourself as a Roman Rite Catholic who would like to visit and learn more. The Maronite pastor in Fall River tells me that he has many Romans coming to Mass at St. Anthony of the Dessert on a regular basis. They are even learning some of the hymns in Syriac.

Worldwide, the Ukrainian Catholic Church has about 4.5 million members. Outside of the Ukraine, there are three other jurisdictions in Western Europe and two in Poland. In the western hemisphere, there are five eparchies in Canada, four in the United States and three in South America.

Father Martin L. Buote is a retired priest of the Fall River Diocese and a frequent contributor to The Anchor.

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