Shining A Light On Those Suffering…and their Brethern in Our World

I’ve had a lot of time to pray and think about the Christians currently in Syria and Iraq under the persecution of ISIS. A lot of time. 

I remember being a teenager and feeling very convicted whenever I would read about the Holocaust, I would swear, never again could something like this happen. And here I am, almost 35 years old feeling helpless except to pray as Christians are marked with the Arabic letter “N” which is as wrong as Jews being marked with Stars of David. And hearing children are being sawed in half and beheaded is as wrong as children being led into gas chambers. 

The Holocaust has come to the 21st century because of religious extremism and hatred. 

The Holocaust caused a lot of people to step back and re-examine their own prejudice of a group. A friend’s grandmother once told me that upon hearing of Hitler’s extermination camps, she realized she often made jokes about Jews and money and how that was hatred in her own heart. Similarly, I’ve been seeing lots of new “support groups” coming out now to educate on the Eastern Church now that it is under heavy persecution.

I’ve long been intrigued by Eastern Rite Catholicism. I know precious little about the various rites which are in union with Rome but look and feel a lot like Orthodoxy. I adore the use of icons for prayer. I have heard from some that the sense of community is stronger in various Eastern Rite churches because they are smaller and in some cases, all they have are each other. In fact, someone commented on a piece at National Catholic Register in response to a post about converts from Protestantism feeling a lack of community with a suggestion to seek out Eastern Rite churches vs Roman Rite. I have very mixed feelings about that suggestion because on the one hand, it exposes more people to this unique (in this part of the world) part of the faith but on the other hand…

I’ve never been to a Byzantine, Melkite, Chaldean or any other Eastern Rite church much less mass. I’ve never been to a TLM for that matter. TLM is only offered here one Sunday a month for Roman rites. To go to the closest Byzantine community would be a two hour drive. My own community has only two Catholic parishes, and we actually already travel to the neighboring county for the closest mass. That county has a grand total of five parishes. And there are only 2 Orthodox churches, one that is fiercely Greek and the other that started as identifying as Ukranian but couldn’t get much of a congregation until they opened themselves to all Eastern European and Middle Eastern nationalities (it’s quite the congregation, I’ve been told). So, what would an Eastern Rite Catholic who found herself plopped down in my community do? Travel four hours each Sunday? And how would you be part of the community? Not only is it a huge time commitment, but what about the cost of gas…even if just traveling one time per week? 

Those are the very real predicaments that Catholics of various Eastern Rites find themselves in in our country. And for a long time, most Roman Rite Catholics had no idea, or if they did know, responded with a, “meh, not my circus, not my monkeys.” Heck, Roman Rite Catholics in areas with several churches think that way about places like where I grew up and live where Catholics of all stripes are in the distinct minority and don’t “settle” for ugly liturgy, but take it because it’s all we can get our hands on. So, do you think we really ever considered, heavily and prayerfully considered, the plight of the Church in the Middle East or Eastern Europe?

The real tragedy with what is happening right now in Ukraine, Egypt, Syria and Iraq to Catholics (and various Protestants and Orthodox)…is the same tragedy that happened during World War II and it’s lead-up. It took outright war…it took the murder in cold-blood of children, whether in gas chamber or by beheading, for us to realize the very real crises the church in these areas face. In some places they have survived (barely) the Nazis followed swiftly by the Communists. They have survived Assad and Hussein. And they did it without the West because we didn’t have any concern about Christians in these lands. It took children being beheaded for us to care enough to demand action from our government and acknowledgment in most of our parishes.

And Catholics, wake up, some are as Catholic as you are although maybe without the same vestments or fasting requirements during Lent. In our country, they also suffer silently, although grateful that the only indignity is a two hour drive, not fearing for your child’s life because you make that drive. 

I can’t claim to suffer the fear of my children being killed for our faith. I can’t even claim to understand exactly the unique struggles of being a Catholic in one of the Eastern Rites here in the US. But I can understand being in the minority and wildly unpopular. And it’s a shame that I could not unite and offer up my limited suffering in this capacity with the people suffering so much more for their faith until a war was started. Until a child was beheaded.

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3 thoughts on “Shining A Light On Those Suffering…and their Brethern in Our World

  1. Interesting reflection.

    As a Melkite, I used to drive (with my children in tow) 2 1/2 hours to Vespers every Saturday evening and Divine Liturgy every Sunday morning, as well as any weekday services my husband’s work schedule would allow. We have since moved, and thankfully only drive about 30 minutes. To be honest, I would drive 5 hours, if it meant having the sacraments at a Melkite parish. Why? Because it is who we are, how we pray, how we view life. Even when driving 2 1/2 hours, we had community. Our time at the church was a day long affair, not just an in-and-out sort of event. We arrived for Orthros about 9:30, my husband and I would switch off going to confession, then Divine Liturgy would start about 10:30. After Liturgy, so sometime between 12 and 1pm, the whole parish would partake in a coffee hour/brunch (depending on the hosting family). People would stay till 3 or 4 in the afternoon just being with each other. Sometimes we would go out for a nice dinner with some of the parishioners. And even now, though we have more children, we take the time to be with the other members of the parish. We call on each other, we bring meals to the sick, we visit those in the hospital or bedridden.

    One thing about being Melkite — there is no shortage of love in the community and personal space doesn’t exist. Perhaps this is what keeps us together, even if we have to drive for hours to get there. For the things of God, there is no cost to great or drive to far for us.

    Before I became Melkite, I was born and raised Greek Orthodox (I married a Catholic — I am a sucker for those blue eyes! 😉 ). Even in the deep south, there were, there are beautiful Eastern Catholic/Orthodox communities. People who, because they know they are minorities, make an effort to band together and support each other in Christ. When I was in high school, the first Eastern Catholic parish popped up in my state (yes, the entire state!). I knew some people from the Antiochian Orthodox Church who were Melkite, but since there was no Melkite parish got permission from their Bishop to attend the AOC. Once the Melkite Mission was established, they began going there. Even still, the Orthodox were happy to have the families while they were there. I think it shows a beauty of solidarity among the Antiochian Christians (both Catholic and Orthodox) even in the US.

    Might I recommend beginning with a book or two about Eastern Orthodox/Catholic prayer. It is difficult to understand a people if you do not understand their soul. For example, as an Eastern Christian, I could never imagine Lent without the Liturgy of the Presanctified gifts. I cry almost every time the priest begins the sensing of the altar with “Let my prayer arise like incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands like an evening sacrifice” (it is the most beautiful part of the liturgy for me). Or any Nativity Fast (advent) without the Paraklesis to the Theotokos :

    Ode 3. The Heirmos (My favorite of the odes)

    The apse of the heavens,
    Are you O Lord, Fashioner,
    And the Holy Church’s great Founder,
    Likewise establish me,
    In constant love for You
    For You’re the height of our longing;
    Support of the faithful,
    The only Friend of all.

    Most Holy Theotokos save us.

    A protection and shelter,
    I have with you in my life,
    You, the Theotokos and the Virgin,
    Pilot me towards your port;
    For you are the cause,
    The cause of that which is good,
    Support of the faithful,
    The only all-praised One.

    Most Holy Theotokos save us.

    I entreat you, O Virgin,
    Disperse the storm of my grief,
    and the soul’s most inward confusion,
    Scatter it far from me;
    You are the Bride of God,
    For you have brought forth the Christ,
    the Prince of Peace;
    Only, all-blameless One.

    Glory to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

    Having brought forth unto us
    the cause and giver of good,
    From your great abundance of kindness,
    Pour forth upon us all;
    For all is possible,
    For you who carried the Christ,
    Who is mighty in power;
    You, who are blessed of God.

    Now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen

    With most serious ailments,
    And with the passions so dark,
    I am being tested, O Virgin,
    Come and bring help to me;
    For I have known of you,
    That you are without fail
    the endless treasure of cures,
    Only all-blameless One.

    Deliver us,
    All of your servants, from danger, O Theotokos;
    After God, we all flee to you,
    For shelter and covering,
    As an unshakable wall and our protection.

    Turn to me,
    In your good favor, all praise-worthy Theotokos;
    Look upon my grave illnesses,
    Which painfully sting my flesh
    and heal the cause of my soul’s pain and suffering.

    I invite you to come and see, come and pray with us. Then, perhaps, we won’t just be a statistic in a news story.

  2. PS: Byzantine = all those who are part of the Liturgical patrimony of Constantinople. So Melkites, Ruthenians, Ukrainians, Romanians, etc. are Byzantine; whereas Maronites, Chaldeans, etc. are not. I think when you said Byzantine you perhaps meant Ruthenian.

    Peace!

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