He asked me my name

In the Eastern Catholic Church, the Eucharist is distributed with both species together. The priest or deacon places the Lord’s Body and Blood in the recipient’s mouth saying “The servant/handmaid of God, [Name], receives the Precious Body and Blood of our Lord God and Savior, Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins and unto life everlasting, Amen.”

I’ve grown up with this. At my home parish, I’ve always heard my own name. When I’m a guest, I usually just get “The handmaid of God receives…” because most priests that I’ve encountered don’t ask guests their names. My deacon dad always asks guests at our parish their names, and I always thought this a bit odd because no one else seems to do it. As someone who was used to being an anonymous guest, I didn’t see the point in asking the name. I had gotten used to anonymity.

Then I recently was a guest at a parish where there were many guests and several guest priests, and the priests were asking the name of each recipient. You went up to the priest, whispered your name, and he included that in the prayer of distribution. It didn’t take but an extra few seconds, and it touched me. I attended two liturgies at this parish, and two different priests each did this. I walked up, I whispered “Cecilia” softly, and they said “The handmaid of God, Cecilia, receives…” I was deeply touched by this.

Initially, I couldn’t figure out why I was so struck by this. Why did it mean so much to me that two priests I’d never known and I’ll probably never meet again in this life asked me my name? The answer is simple: It gave me a sense of belonging. I felt welcome and wanted. I wasn’t an anonymous guest. I was a wanted and welcomed guest. Those priests will probably never remember that they gave the Eucharist to a dark-haired young woman named Cecilia, but I will remember that they asked me my name. I will remember that they made me a named guest rather than an anonymous guest at the Lord’s Supper.

The Lord calls us to welcome the stranger. He asks us to receive all guests in His name. That’s what this gesture was. That was a simple gesture, but it was a welcoming one. It was a gentle voice saying, “You are wanted here.”

It is easy to find and stay in our comfort zones. It’s easy to overlook the guests or strangers in our churches. It’s easy to assume that someone else will welcome the guests. But that’s not what Christ asks of us. Christ asks us to step out of our safe boat and engage the world around us.

I’ve slid in and out of countless churches unnoticed over the years. I may not be planning to join a parish that I visit while on vacation, but it’s always nice to have someone come up to me and welcome me, to help me find pew books and such. When I studied in Spain, I attended the same church almost every Sunday for three months. No one from the parish ever spoke to me. I nodded and smiled at an older gentlemen who sat near where I always sat. But no one ever engaged me in conversation. No one ever even learned my name.

I’ve been struck by a desire to change that for people who visit my church. I’m only one person, but the world is made up of many people who are “only one person.” I think that we all need to work in our own way to stop letting people slide out of our churches unnoticed. Let’s learn names. Let’s offer hospitality. Let’s offer friendship. Let’s strive to offer a home and a welcome to all those who enter our churches. Let’s offer the loving hand of Christ to all those we meet.

Let’s welcome every person who walks into our churches in the same way that we’d welcome Jesus if he was a guest in our churches.

Heaven on Earth

There’s a famous story among Eastern Christians that says that Prince Vladimir/Volodimir of Kievan Rus sent emissaries to Constantinople who visited the Hagia Sophia. When they returned they told the Prince that during the Liturgy they knew not whether they were in Heaven or on earth. The story says that this helped to bring Christianity to Kievan Rus; it also in part explains why the Eastern Churches at times call our Liturgy “Heaven on Earth.”


I had a heaven on earth moment about a week ago. I had the opportunity to attend the consecration of the new temple of St. Elias the Prophet Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Brampton, Ontario. Twenty-one years ago, I attended the consecration of the first temple at the age of seven, and I don’t remember much of it. Sadly, that building burned down two and a half years ago. So when the opportunity arose to attend the consecration of the new temple, I leaped at it.

It wasn’t really convenient for me. I was tired, and I wouldn’t get much time to rest/sleep in during the weekend. I was stressed, and I wouldn’t get much introvert time during the trip. It was a several hour drive each way. I’d been out of town the weekend before, and I didn’t particularly fancy packing up my suitcase for another weekend trip. There were many reasons to not want to go. But I knew that in spite of all that I would regret it if I didn’t go. I knew that I needed to be there. As someone recently told me, we need to be where God is, and I knew that God was going to be there.

The weekend didn’t disappoint. The church is beautiful, and the Church is beautiful. I’ve heard it said before that the Church is not the buildings but the people. This weekend was a hope-filled reminder of that truth. The building is beautiful, and it will be made more beautiful as more icons are added to the space. (Icons are awesome; I love icons.) But the people of God are more beautiful because in us dwells the Holy Spirit. In his homily, Patriarch Sviatoslav said, “When the church was not yet consecrated, only YOU were living temples of the Holy Spirit. It was like I was facing God, one in the Holy Trinity, who lives in your hearts, in your souls. And because of you, because you are a living temple of the Holy Spirit, of our invisible and powerful God, this visible temple was today reconsecrated.”

It was so true. God was there. He was present in His people. His Holy Spirit was present. He was present through the Eucharist. He was there, and he acted. The church was packed to the gills. I couldn’t see much of what was happening. But it didn’t matter because I was able to hear and to experience it. I heard the beautiful singing. I heard the Rite of Consecration. I heard the Lord being praised by his people. (And I participated as best as I could.) And I did not know if I was in heaven or on earth.

Throughout the weekend, I heard reminders of God’s love for his people. I was reminded of the beautiful gift that the Lord gives us in the Ever Virgin Mary. He has given us His mother as our protector. I was reminded of the hope that our Lord offers us. The church building itself is a reminder of that. It is a reminder of how God provides for His people, how He hears their prayers and answers them. He does not abandon us. He mourns when we mourn, and he rejoices with us in our joy. He wants to draw us to Himself; he wants to bring us to a deeper experience of His love for us.

I was particularly struck by a comment that the parish priest made during Vespers on Saturday evening. He said that “God wants to celebrate with us. In moments like this, he dances with us.”  God wants to share in our joy. It was a reminder of the personal nature of God’s love. For me, that was the theme of the weekend. It was an experience of God’s embrace, of God’s love for us. God offers us hope and joy. He wants to know us and love us in deeper ways. We need to be open to His love. We need to allow Him to know us and to strive to know Him.

The weekend was an experience of heaven on earth. It was a reminder of how God loves His people, how He provides for us. I’m not a member of the parish, but I was still welcomed into their joy. I was able to partake of their joy, to share in it. I felt like I was able to take some of that joy and that hope with me when I came home. Now I want to bring that joy and that hope to my own life and to my own parish.

Book Review: For the Life of the World

The man above died five years before I was born, and until recently his primary influence on my life came in the form of books that my dad owned but I never touched and in the voice of his son-in-law, the soundtrack to any long car ride with my dad.

Fr. Alexander Schmemann was an Orthodox priest, a writer, and a professor. He is probably best known for serving as Dean of St. Vladimir Orthodox Theological Seminary-best known as St. Vlad’s. Additionally, he is known for his 1963 work, For the Life of the World. (SVS Link) It is that book that brings me to write this post.

This post isn’t a true book review. Rather, this is me telling commanding you to read this book. For the Life of the World discusses approaching living in the world through the Liturgy of the Eastern Church. He draws out the flaws that the Eastern viewpoint finds in both the Western Christian approach and the secular approach to the world. He then answers these flaws and offers the Eastern response to these flaws. The East views the world through the Sacraments. He explains in detail how the Eastern Churches approach life, living, and dying.

Reading this was an incredibly moving experience for me. As I read, I took extensive notes in my prayer journal and began attempting to better incorporate the philosophy presented into my daily life, into my prayer life, and especially into my liturgical experience. Time and again, I was struck by the relevance of a 53-year-old book to my life in 2016.

In an odd way, I find that the “Ancient Faith” speaks well to the 21st century. The Ancient Faith has not changed much in the past 2,000 years, but in that it has a great deal to offer to the 21st century. Fr. Schmemann may not be able to give me point-by-point directions for how to live in the modern epoch, but he does offer me a change in viewpoint. The Eastern viewpoint may be ancient. It may not have changed much in 2,000 years. But then, human nature hasn’t really changed much in that time either. Fr. Schmemann looks at that idea and reminds us that the Sacraments are given to us to transform us, to bring us into heaven, into the Presence of and the life of the Life of the World.

If I had to summarize the themes of this book in two words they would be transformation and joy.

As I said, it is completely worthwhile. So read it. Now.

“A Christian is the one who, wherever s/he looks, finds Christ and rejoices in Him. And this joy transforms all his/her human plans and programs, decisions and actions, making all his/her mission the sacrament of the world’s return to Him who is the Life of the world.”


St. Vlad’s Press

Ecumenism is Uncomfortable.

A few months ago, I wrote about ecumenism as a hard call. I talked about a few of the difficulties of living with the reality of Christ’s broken Body.

Recently, I’ve found myself confronting a very specific aspect of the lack of Christian unity. It might sound petty. It might sound odd. But for me it is something that I run up against on a near daily basis.

Ecumenism is uncomfortable. 

I really started confronting this in myself a few months ago. One of my dearest friends was getting married, and I was to stand up in her wedding. She and her now-husband are Roman Catholic; I’m Byzantine Catholic. They are devout Catholics who I know to have strong prayer lives, strong relationships with Jesus. I was happy that they were marrying.

But as the wedding drew closer, I had to confront something about the wedding liturgy and (more so) about myself. A few people had tried to condole with me about the difficulties of being a happy bridesmaid while feeling hopelessly single. But the reality was that I wasn’t jealous of my friend’s big day. Now, much of that is due to my love of her, but a bit of it also has to do with the fact that I do not want the wedding that she had. I want a traditional Byzantine wedding, and that isn’t what my friend had. Her wedding came and went; it was a beautiful celebration of the couple’s love for the Lord and for one another. But it was also a wedding that made me uncomfortable.

The wedding was very Western as is meet and just. They are Roman Catholics. It made sense that their wedding would reflect their faith tradition. And that meant that it didn’t look like my tradition. They took vows. They knelt. Guys, I had to kneel during the wedding liturgy. I was uncomfortable. As an Eastern Christian, I don’t kneel during liturgies. I love that my faith tradition allows me to make a profound bow during the consecration. Kneeling is a sign of humility, and I don’t object to it. But it is not my tradition.

I wasn’t in my tradition. I wasn’t in my “home space,” but rather I was a guest in my friends’ tradition. And we all know that the old saying says, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” So I chose love. I did something that made me uncomfortable. I don’t love kneeling during a liturgy, but that is Roman tradition. Our liturgies are different, and some of those differences can make me a little uncomfortable. I’m sure that my friends feel the same way in my church. It’s okay to be uncomfortable or to not understand a friend’s tradition.

Ecumenism calls us to love and respect our Christian brothers regardless of their traditions. This doesn’t meant that we live our shared lives boiled down to the common denominator(s). It means that we love one another actively. It means that we embrace what we share. We have a common Eucharist? Great, let’s celebrate that. We have a common Easter? Let’s find a way to celebrate together. We both really love St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians? Let’s talk about that.

Ecumenism also means that we need to learn about our differences and accept them. We can’t just shove them under the rug and pretend that they aren’t there. We need to work through them. Every now and again, I have very selfish moments in which I think that it would be better if I never married because none of my (maybe-possibly-someday) bridesmaids will be Eastern Christians and thereby will have no clue how to participate in my wedding liturgy. If I don’t marry, none of us will have to deal with awkward details like proper reception of the Eucharist or why there are no vows or whether to bow or genuflect. If I don’t get married, everyone will be spared a whole host of uncomfortable moments arising from ecumenical differences.

But at the same time, isn’t it important for us to see our differences? If we see them, then we can discuss them. We can talk about why there aren’t vows in the Byzantine wedding service and why they exist in the Roman service. We can talk about the differences between kneeling and standing during the consecration, the differences between bowing and genuflecting. These discussions can provide deeper understanding both of one’s own faith tradition and of those of friends. We can learn from one another and grow closer to unity through those moments.

The Lord calls us to unity. He does not call us to be a batch of perfect cookie-cutter Christians. On the eve of his Sacrifice, he did not pray that we would all be exactly the same. He prayed, rather, that we would be one as the Trinity is one. Each member of the Trinity is unique, and so we are called not to a unity of sameness but to a unity of diversity. This is hard. This requires being uncomfortable. But if we do this, then we can be a Church in whom the Father can rest well pleased.

So let’s embrace the uncomfortable, and let’s do it for love.

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brethren to dwell together in unity!

It is like the precious oil upon the head,
Running down on the beard,
The beard of Aaron,
Running down on the edge of his garments.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
Descending upon the mountains of Zion;
For there the Lord commanded the blessing—
Life forevermore.

-Psalm 133

Why Should I Pray for the Great and Holy Synod?

So you’re not Orthodox. That’s not your background or your profession. You’ve heard that the Orthodox Churches are having a big and important meeting coming up soon. (It starts tomorrow-Sunday, June 19.) Maybe you’ve had a friend suggest that you pray for it. But you’re sitting there thinking that doesn’t seem worth your while. Why should I as a non-Orthodox person pray for a meeting that won’t impact me?

There are many things that I could say, but I keep coming back to one word: love. Christ calls us to love one another as he loves us. (John 13:34) I may not be a member of the Orthodox Church, but I share a common belief with them in the Risen Lord Jesus. I have a special fondness for them as my brother (and sister) Eastern Christians. They are my brothers and sisters in the Lord. I am called to love them. We are all called to love them.

Prayer is, as the late Madeleine L’Engle once said, an act of love. When we pray for others, we are demonstrating our love towards them. I don’t know what the Synod holds for my Orthodox brothers, but I know that the Lord has called them to this moment. It’s a big moment; they haven’t done anything like this in over 1200 years. Think about that; they haven’t done anything like this since before the Great Schism. It’s massively important in terms of the work of God among His people.

Now it appears that four of the churches will not be attending. They are calling for the council to be postponed, but Patriarch Bartholomew says that’s not an option. The council will continue, and any and all decisions will be enforced regardless of who attends or doesn’t attend. With this in mind, our brothers need prayers even more. They are making decisions for their Churches in a difficult hour. They need wisdom and grace from the Holy Spirit. They need our love and our support. At this juncture, the best way that we can do that is through our prayers.

We are called to love our Orthodox brothers and sister as St. Peter and St. Andrew loved one another. Let’s support them in prayer. Let’s pray for each of the bishops who will be there. Pray for Patriarch Bartholomew who will be leading his brother bishops. Also pray for those Patriarchs who have chosen to not attend. Pray that God will bring peace and unity among the Orthodox Churches and among all Christians.

St. Andrew, St. George, St. Nicholas, St. Basil the Great, St. John Chrysostom, St. Francis of Assisi, and Sts. Vladimir and Olga, pray for the Great and Holy Synod. Pray for unity among all Christians!

What I Do Not Fear

I’ve just finished a revisit to C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy at the moment, and it resonated with me in an interesting way. I’m an American who has never been particularly thrilled with the current state of our political system. (I’m also frustrated with the fact that the human race is fallible and fallen and imperfect. I’m really looking forward to heaven; the government there is going to be awesome.)

However, as folks around me have been rushing to concern about the election, I’ve been trying to keep my eyes focused on the fact that while this does matter, it isn’t actually the Biggest Deal in the History of the World. The theoretical election of either Hillary Clinton or Drumpf will neither end the world nor will it save the world. Humanity has been in bad spots before. We’ll find ourselves in bad spots again. We’re definitely in a better place than the characters in That Hideous Strength find themselves.

And as I read that book, I’ve been reminded of something. The real struggle is not the political struggle between two (or more) parties. It isn’t between a few powerful individuals. Fairy Hardcastle is not nearly as dangerous as the power behind N.I.C.E. Lord Feverstone is made dangerous by the Power that controls him. The Director (aka Ransom) is good because of the Power that he has chosen to serve.

Similarly, in our world, the real struggle is between The Ruler of the Present Age and the Ruler of the World to Come. Our hope does not rest in Washington D.C. No American politician can save our souls. Only Jesus Christ can do that. As St. Paul puts it, our struggle “is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)

Yes, what happens in this life matters. We need to make good and wise choices. We want good leaders, but we can’t count on politicians to save us. We need to live lives that are focused not on this world but on the next. “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.” (C.S. Lewis) Our hope is not here on earth. Our goal is not here.

The goal, the hope is heaven. Yes, we will face difficulties in our earthly lives. So have all of those who have come before us in faith. Jesus told us that it wouldn’t be easy. “ I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33) We do need to pray for our political leaders. We do need to make wise choices politically. But we do not need to worry. The Master of the Universe has conquered the World. We may face hard times. We may have governments that we do not like. But in the end, the Good and Just Judge awaits us.

Why You Should Visit an Eastern Church

I’ve been trying to invite some of my Roman Catholic friends to attend a Byzantine Divine Liturgy during the Easter season. I think that it’s really important for Roman Catholics to experience the traditions of their Eastern brothers and sisters. I grew up hearing my dad say (quoting one of his seminary professors) that Roman Catholics should attend a Byzantine Divine Liturgy so that they would understand what was going on when they got to heaven. I wouldn’t go around saying that to my friends, but I do have a few reasons why it is important for Roman Catholics to experience a Byzantine Liturgy.

Annunciation Byzantine Catholic Church in Homer Glen, Illinois

The word “catholic” means universal. The Catholic Church is not meant to be a set of cookie-cutter people who always look and act the same. Rather, it is intended to be a sign of what St. John Paul II called “diversity in unity” to the world. We as Eastern Catholics are called to a very present part of that. All Catholics (really, all Christians) are called to be lights of a unity through faith and love. To do this, we must come to understand the different branches of the Catholic Church. It is not enough for a Roman Catholic to only attend the Roman Catholic Mass or for a Byzantine Catholic to only attend the Byzantine Liturgy. We must partake in each other’s services. We must interact lovingly and respectfully with Catholics who are not from our Church.

Our Churches are not only for our own people but are also for any of our fellow Americans who are attracted to our traditions which show forth the beauty of the universal Church and the variety of its riches.

-Archbishop Joseph Tawil in “The Courage to be Ourselves”

It has been over 950 years since the Great Schism. We need to work towards a loving unity between East and West. Now, the average layperson can’t influence great change, but we can work towards better understanding among ourselves. It is important to know and understand one another’s traditions. The best way to understand the Eastern traditions is to encounter them. To that end, I would recommend that any Roman Catholic who is able visit an Eastern Catholic parish for a Divine Liturgy. (See the bottom of this article for a list of links to some of the American Eastern Catholic Eparchies’ websites.) You can’t really start to understand or appreciate something until you encounter it.

No witness perhaps better brings to light the Catholicity of the Church of God in a more admirable manner than the unique homage which is rendered to it by the differing ceremonies and the noble ancient languages all made more venerable by their use by the Apostles and Fathers.

-Pope Leo XIII “Orientalium Dignitas”

If you encounter the traditions of the other Catholic Churches, you’re doing what Jesus wanted you to do and what people like St. John Paul II thought you should do. On the eve of his Passion, Jesus prayed the unity of his followers. He prayed not only for the twelve good Jewish boys who were about to turn the world on its ear, but he also prayed for all who would come after them. If we only focus on our own traditions, we are not fully embracing that unity. Jesus prayed that we would be one as the Trinity is one. (John 17:20-23) Jesus didn’t pray that we would ignore one another or exclude one another. He did not pray that we would criticize one another or force others to assimilate to our traditions. Rather, he prayed that we would be one as the Trinity is one so that the world will know that the Father had sent the Son into the world. We need to embrace one another.


His Beatitude Sviatoslav, the Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, and Pope Francis

If those two can hang out, so can we. Those two became friends when they were both in Buenos Aires. Now, they’re the heads of their respective Churches. They still get on with one another. Friendships between Christians of different traditions can be a sign of unity. We need to view each other as brothers and not as competition. We don’t have to agree on everything, but we do need to love one another. Just because you pray the Rosary and I don’t, that doesn’t make us enemies. You may say that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son; I do not say that. There are divisions between us, but we also have a great deal of common ground. What unites us is far greater than what divides us. We both believe that Jesus Christ is physically present in the Eucharist. We are able to receive the Eucharist in one another’s churches even if it doesn’t look or taste the same. We all believe that Jesus Christ is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Messiah who came into the world for the salvation of the world. We need to embrace that while celebrating our differences.

The Sacred Congregation has for its office and duty to uphold and foster as much as possible the venerable Oriental liturgies and to preserve them in their integrity and purity.

-Pope Benedict XV

So go to an Eastern Catholic Church. Heck, go to an Orthodox Church. Experience the liturgy. Ask questions. It will be different from what you’re used to, but that is okay. Going to a Roman Mass is different from what I’m used to, but I still go to Roman Masses when that is my best option or when it is an opportunity to support a friend in doing something beautiful.

St. Elias the Prophet in Brampton, Ontario

Here’s the bottom line. Jesus wants his Church to be one. He wants his Church to reflect the diverse unity of the Trinity. There is great beauty in our unity, and it pains the Father when we are divided from one another. I can honestly say that the disunity in our Churches causes me pain. John Paul II spoke of the need for the Church to breathe with her two lungs-East and West. Embrace these two lungs. Learn about your brothers and sisters. Come to an Eastern Liturgy. I can promise you that you will not regret it. You might even love it. St. Vladimir’s emissaries who visited the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople said that during the Divine Liturgy they knew not whether they were on heaven or on earth. Please come taste heaven on earth.


I found the text of Archbishop Tawil’s “The Courage to Be Ourselves” on the Eparchy of Newton’s website.

This is the website for Annunciation Byzantine Catholic Church in Homer Glen. It is a beautiful church and a wonderful parish.

I included an image of St. Elias the Prophet’s building and a video filmed in that building. However, this building burned down about two years ago, and the parish is in the process of building a new Temple. However, that parish has one of my favorite YouTube channels, which happens excellent for learning more about Eastern Catholicism.


Eparchy of Parma (Ruthenian)

Eparchy of Parma (Ukrainian)

Archeparchy of Pittsbugh (Ruthenian)

Eparchy of Passaic (Ruthenian)

Eparchy of Phoenix (Ruthenian)

Eparchy of Newton (Melkite)

Eparchy of Philadelphia (Ukrainian)