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Breathing with One Lung: TLM Refugees in the Byzantine Church

Where I live it’s pretty easy to forget that you do not live in a small town. Given the fact that most suburbs of regional capitals of our neighbour to the South nearly double our size, it can feel like living in Nowheresville, even in the largest urban centre for thousands of miles on the vast Canadian Prairie. That small town feeling can put you right next to the pain and sufferings of others, in a rather remarkable way. I remember the very evening when Traditiones Custodes (TC) dropped writing to a friend who is one of the steadfast lay organizers of our Traditional Latin Mass Society (a chapter of Una Voce Canada). She responded to my message with grateful thanks, and a rather astonishing remark. The only people to reach out to her with condolences were my family (Byzantine Catholics) and our local Byzantine Catholic priestmonk and a canonical hermit. Perhaps the “Eastern Lung” of our small piece of Christ’s Vineyard felt the surge of pain in the “Western Lung” and the Holy Ghost inspired us to commiserate, who knows. What I do know is that the next few weeks saw an intriguing turn for the good, at least as far as Latin/Byzantine relations were concerned.

I feel that a small bit of historical context would help set the stage. Where I live, not more than 100 years ago, the Byzantine Catholics (Ruthenians/Galicians/Ukrainians, depending on who you ask) were priest-less and struggling. We were torn between our cherished ancestral rites and unity with Rome, for which many of our ancestors died as martyrs of reunion (I mention here briefly the saintly memories of St. Josaphat Kuntsevych and the Martyrs at Pratulin). The few straggling Russian Orthodox missionaries in the territory were eager to snag reverts to the “old ways” and Presbyterian clergy were also eager to re-envision the Byzantine Catholic church into a Protestant Byzantine or “Independent Greek church.” Some of my own ancestors were swept up into the Protestant proselytizing, and it is by the Grace of Almighty God that I was born into a Catholic family. Then after the heroic vision and harrowing missionary work of a hand full of Belgian Redemptorists, the Yorkton Redemptorist Fathers of the Ukrainian Rite were born and the West was won for Christ and His Byzantine Catholic Church. My own city to this day has 3 different Byzantine Catholic parishes (including the Eparchial Cathedral), while the TLM Society has none. We (myself as a revert to my ancestral Byzantine Rite, my Latin rite wife and my Byzantine children) are very blessed to live in the place that we do.

Fast forward back to the present.

Not even a week after TC was promulgated, all of a sudden some unfamiliar faces began to appear at our Byzantine parish. Minivans, and passenger vans dotted the street. Families emerged, wearing veils, Latin mantillas to be exact, and suits. They have arrived. Like foreign refugees finding a place of sanctuary…the TLMers have come. Multi-ethnic families (an oddity in my Byzantine jurisdiction, which sadly, is largely still an ethnic ghetto of sorts) begin to attend reverently the Sacred and Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, which we celebrate in the vernacular and Ukrainian (at times with Old Church Slavonic and Greek thrown in for good measure). Their faces are sullen, their eyes wide with amazement at the icons that stretch over the expanse of walls and ceilings of our Cathedral. The smell of incense is likely familiar to them, but the vesture of the priest and deacon are likely new and striking with their gold brocade and intricate detail.  Our modest choir, sometimes lead by laity, sometimes by a young visiting deacon, leads the congregation in the solemn, repetitious and soul nourishing refrain: LORD HAVE MERCY.

I find myself often leaning over backwards (sometimes over one of my own children) to show them the page number for the pew missallete, or Sunday Propers booklet for the Troparion and Kontakion of the day or feast. They smile and try their best to follow along, they seem to be familiar with the pacing. Many have Father Lasance missals in tow.

When it comes time for receiving the Holy Mysteries in Holy Communion, many of our beloved guests bend their knees in humble reception of their Eucharistic Lord. When my turn comes, I cross my arms over my chest and standing receive the same, according to the custom of my ancestors. In these moments, our differences seem clear, but our unity even more so. This happy rhythm establishes itself for another few weeks, then more news comes. The mask mandates are back, and there will be an FSSP priest in town, only visiting, but offering the Most Holy Sacrifice in the Vetus Ordo the custom of their ancestors.

So we arrive once more at the Divine Liturgy, the streets seem bare. Only a few of our tried and true veterans remain, a few young couples, like my own, and our beloved clergy. We enter once again into the Blessed Kingdom, with our memory of our brethren still fresh in our minds.

Perhaps they will be back.

God willing they can find a home of their own, with the security and stability that we all long for from Holy Mother Church.

We will be waiting. Sitting, standing and continuously chanting: LORD HAVE MERCY.

Photo: public domain.


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