19 February 2004

Divine Liturgy with the Byzantines

On Sunday, my sweetheart and I went to Sts. Cyril and Methodius Byzantine Catholic Church in Spokane for Divine Liturgy. It was Meatfare Sunday, the Sunday when they traditionally begin their preparatory fast for Lent by giving up meat. Next Sunday is Cheesefare Sunday, when they give up all dairy products. (For more on Eastern fasting, see Summa Contra Mundum.) There was a potluck lunch in the hall after Divine Liturgy which we were invited to by some very friendly parishoners. Five or six people, including the priest, recognized us as visitors and introduced themselves. Not that it would be hard to recognize visitors--the congregation on Sunday consisted of, I don't know, maybe thirty people.

The church is tiny. It has pews (I wasn't sure whether it would or not), but they're not very comfortable pews. The icons on the walls are beautiful, and for me anyway, they served their purpose well. This was my first experience with the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. It was all in English, except for some song refrains. I was surprised at the amount of congregational participation required by this liturgy. There are no long periods when the congregation is silent, except for the homily. With the aid of booklets the parish had put together, the liturgy was pretty easy to follow--much easier than following along at the only other Catholic liturgy I've attended that was unfamiliar to me, a Tridentine Mass. Perhaps that's because it was in English, but somehow I don't think so.

I was grateful to see two of my Eastern Catholic schoolmates there. We sat next to them and followed what they were doing. It's a bit hard to get all the bowing and crossing oneself. I was not sure whether I ought to try and blend in by crossing myself Eastern fashion, or just do it the way I'm used to. I don't know whether it would have mattered much. Most of the time my hand went up-down-right-left-right again of its own volition, anyway.

Oddly, I felt very at home with the chant. They don't have a choir, only amature cantors, so the chants sung were not complex, but I felt more at home with it than I do even with the simple Gregorian chants that I have been singing for years. I don't know much about Eastern chant, but it seems to be much more closely related to the major and minor modes of Western secular music than Gregorian chant is.

The experience was wonderful. The community is obviously very strong, though many of them drive quite a distance every weekend to be there--or perhaps it is because of that. If you've driven a long way, maybe you're more inclined to stick around for lunch afterwards and socialize than if the trip home is only ten minutes. I hope to go there again soon, perhaps to bring Lizzy. I am Latin rite to my very bones, but coming to an appreciation of the beauty of Byzantine liturgy and theology is important. The Church must breathe with both her lungs, and I want to know more about the other lung.

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