For Byzantine Catholics, October 6, 2009 has three different meanings.
First, it is the feast day of St Thomas, the Apostle. He was the last of the primary Apostles to believe in the resurrection of Christ; he was also the last to realize the significance of Mary’s Dormition. He shows us that it is fine to have doubts, as long as those doubts do not close one off from the truth. Doubt is a part of the Christian walk of life. It helps us grow in faith. Because of doubt, we go and search and try to find answers to those questions which hinder our faith. Because of our struggles with doubt, we prove ourselves to God, showing him that our love for him is so strong, even our doubt will not detour us.
Second, it is the celebration of the 35th anniversary of the Byzantine Catholic chapel in the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC. This chapel has a great symbolic meaning to American Byzantine Catholics; it represents our history, from the foundation of our tradition through the work of Sts Cyril and Methodius, to the humble beginnings of the Byzantine Catholic Church in America, when immigrants from Ruthenia came to America looking for work, taking some of the most dehumanizing jobs possible (such as mining) to survive. We remember with pride the hard work and struggle the Byzantines have had to keep to their traditions in a land which desired to melt them down and whittle them out without distinction from any other American. We struggled long and hard, not just with the Protestant culture at large, but with fellow Catholics, with Bishops who would have nothing to do with us, and who would rather have had us become Roman Catholics or Orthodox instead of remaining true to our Eastern Catholic way. It is a struggle which continues, a struggle which defines us who we are, even today, as we try to preserve our heritage, now in a highly secularized world which would like nothing to do with the high form of mysticism and liturgy which forms the basis of our spiritual life.
Byzantines have long held a struggle within the United States to preserve their spiritual heritage. Perhaps it is only fitting that the 35th anniversary of our chapel at the Basilica in DC would come on the feast of the Apostle Thomas. Not only were we late-comers to America (making us not unlike the Apostle himself), we have had years of doubt as to whether or not we will be able to survive. We have. This is not to say it has been easy. When Rome asked us not to have married priests in the United States, that gave us a terrible blow, one which led many into schism (with many Byzantines joining the Orthodox Church of America). The legacy of this decision still haunts us today – although the question of married priests is now open (indeed, we have a few, although it is only a few married priests serving in the United States). But whatever doubts Byzantines might have had about their place in the Catholic Church in America, the last several decades have put to rest many fears. Rome has called us to remain authentic to our traditions, even to return to ones which we might have lost in order to blend in to America. The future which lies before us is still one for struggle. But, if people remain faithful, we can get through this, and a new chapter in our history can be made.