As the Feast of the Dormition wraps up, I feel like I have some explaining to do about why I as an Eastern Catholic Person have been silent all day. For one, my colleagues at Patheos Catholic have had some excellent posts: Eating Peaches on the Theotokos’s bodily resurrection, Matthew Tan on Anglican-Catholic agreement about the Dormition, and Steel Magnificat on the angel dubbed ‘Holy Angel None-of-Your Business’ in the Dormition icon. Our friend Morphodoxing also has a brilliantly bodily reflection on the Dormition. And yet, I have been silent so far.
It’s because I have too much to think about when it comes to the Dormition.
Once upon a time, the Eastern Catholic temple in which I encountered the Lord in a powerfully merciful way – so much so that I had to become Eastern Catholic – was called the Assumption of the Holy Mother of God Ukrainian Catholic Church. The story that I heard was that a few pastors ago, the name was changed to the Dormition of the Holy Mother of God Ukrainian Catholic Church to better reflect its Byzantine heritage, which means that the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of New Westminster now has not one, but two such temples (the one where I was received in Richmond, and the other in Kelowna in the Okanagan Valley).
Of course, as all such reforms go, this did not lead to the removal of the giant reredos screen depicting the Assumption from an earlier period of proud latinization. Knowing just enough about the politics of this to be dangerous, I decided when I first set foot into this temple to show that I was a very knowledgeable Anglican (because, as we all know, Anglicans delight in being knowledgeable about everything) and joked with the Chinese Canadian priest, ‘I see that you do not need to have Assumptions about the Dormition.’ He pointed at me and laughed in a geeky mocking way.
It’s perhaps a point of irony to reflect on this moment and to realize how much of a pivotal moment the Dormition was to my journey into an Eastern Catholic Church. In fact, it’s not too much to say that my assumptions about both the Dormition and the temple named for the Dormition were shattered on my first Dormition Feast. On hindsight, these were moments that significantly altered my trajectory into the Catholic Church.
The Dormition Feast at this temple was in fact the first time I had ever attended a Divine Liturgy. Because our temple is a bit of a ‘church plant’ among Eastern Catholics in Metro Vancouver, we used a simpler service during the Sunday morning service called Typika, typically a reader’s service that streamlines the parts for Divine Liturgy. Typika was what I had experienced at the two times that I had attended service at this temple before, and I had thought that Divine Liturgy would be something similar.
As usual, I arrived late. Because our temple is named for the Dormition, the bishop was there to celebrate our parish feast day with us, and because our priest is in fact on the high church side of things, he wanted to at least approximate a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy with folks who didn’t really even know how to even do a normal Divine Liturgy. I got there just as the bishop was going to enter for his vesting, which meant that my first meeting with him was an awkward stare at the door.
I was so confused by how this bishop was not the Latin bishop. I had, after all, been told that this Eastern Catholic temple was Catholic, and it followed (of course) that all Catholic churches were (of course) under the jurisdiction of the Latin Ordinary. It turns out, of course, that the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church, like most normal sui juris Eastern Catholic Churches, has its own hierarchy.
The Hierarchical Divine Liturgy was fascinatingly confusing. After vesting the bishop, he blessed the temple with candlesticks – which I found out later are called the trikeri (three candles for the Holy Trinity) and the dikeri (two candles for the Two Natures of Christ – and then we proceeded to Divine Liturgy. I wasn’t used to how many ‘Lord have mercy’ responses they had during the litanies (they’re not in Typika).
But Bishop Ken Nowakowski is a very pastoral preacher. His homily focused on the Gospel reading, which was on Mary and Martha. This turned out to be an appropriate message because the temple was packed with visitors who had been enlisted by our small temple to help with preparing an elaborate lunch with varieties of salads, hams, sausages, cabbage rolls, and a huge salmon. ‘Isn’t the story of Martha and Mary just like today’s lunch?’ Bishop Ken asked. ‘The bishop is coming! The bishop is coming! Oh, we have to prepare! Mary, why aren’t you helping?‘
I can’t remember what connection Bishop Ken made to the Dormition during this homily, but the impression that it left on me was that this bishop is a person. Coming as I did from the evangelical church where bishops are non-existent and then the Anglican Church where bishops are sovereign, this was a revelation. Everyone was in a hurry, but the bishop wanted to be our spiritual father – to press us like Mary to slow down and pray.
It turned out at the lunch that I got to meet not only more persons from the temple, but around various churches, including (but not limited to) the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church. I sat with one person that I later learned was a major personality within the Archdiocese; I, of course, only knew him as the guy who reads Scripture during Typika – he eventually sponsored me when I was chrismated. I met another guy who turned out to have come from one of the megachurches in Vancouver associated with the evangelical left, but had strangely wound up drawn to Eastern Catholicism. I also met Brian Butcher, a young and dynamic faculty member at the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute for Eastern Christian Studies at St Paul’s University in Ottawa, who left a lasting impression on me that folks in the Kyivan Church were smart, got Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada research grants to do their research, and could make the services that we were just barely croaking out actually sound like music.
Less than a year later, I was chrismated at this temple, and Bishop Ken Nowakowski officially became my bishop, which means that I have a lot to think about when it comes to the Dormition.