Our Byzantine Catholic heritage traces its development to the apostolic foundations of the early Church established by Jesus Christ. Through the centuries, we have been enriched also by the traditions of our ancestors.
Grounded in Faith and Tradition
When St. Michael the Archangel Church in Pittston, Pennsylvania was founded by immigrants from the Carpatho-Rusyn region of Eastern Europe, it was only natural that ethnic customs of the region were retained in some form on arriving in America. The people who founded our church were people of great faith. In that fact there is no doubt. Sacrifice was a way of life. Faith, religious tradition, ethnic customs were integrated in every part of their existence.
Our church founder-immigrants and their ancestors led difficult lives in their native land – lives of hardship, poverty, and basic survival. Their faith and their churches were a source of hope and patient endurance. Their faith grounded them during times of instability, and gave meaning to the blessings and struggles of their day-to-day lives. Most came from tiny villages, an impoverished peasant lifestyle where the only hope in the future meant leaving all behind, including family. God’s creation and their dependence on God were visible in the simple agrarian lifestyle they had before coming to America.
- Our church founders’ faith in God was their real treasure.
In establishing communities as immigrants in their new homeland, once again, faith formed a basis for identity. It was also a way to connect with others who shared their same beliefs and customs. When you consider the times (early 1900s) and the historical events ¹ of the period when these immigrants came and founded our church, it leaves little to question why their need to form a faith community played such an important part. This is why it is sometimes difficult to distinguish or separate ethnic influences from the longer standing faith practices of Eastern rite churches. Both have evolved side by side over centuries, each enriching the other. But this does not mean to appreciate the distinct form of spirituality in a Byzantine Catholic Church, a person needs to be part of a certain ethnic group. Rather, it points to how enriching the role of diversity in the Catholic Church is. (See our Links page for exploring the vast amount of information on this topic).
As Byzantine Catholics, our spiritual focus is foremost on everything we believe as Catholics, how we live our faith in the fullness of Truth, in the sacraments of the Church, and in relationship with our living God through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ . Our heritage and our traditions are a part of our long history. Our heritage provides a sense of the antiquity and depth of our spiritual experiences, and in the ways we worship God in our personal lives and in our church services.
Unity in Diversity
Parishioners in our churches come from many different backgrounds, experiences, and family histories. They are inspired to grow in their faith in the beauty and theological richness of our Byzantine Catholic way of worship. A way of worship that is distinct in its Eastern spiritual focus and character but in unity with the Catholic Church. And this is what makes us one faith community — one family of believers — no matter who we are or where our grandparents came from.
- We all share in common as Byzantine Catholics — as Catholics — our apostolic roots, our adherence to the Gospel teachings of Jesus Christ and understanding of salvation history, the sacraments of the Catholic Church, and especially in our relationship with God in our belief in the Holy Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The expressed form of our liturgical services, what makes us unique, does have qualities derived from our Eastern European history. These qualities identify us as Byzantine Catholics and enhance our worship in ways to be treasured, as these are undeniably part of who we are.
An example is our liturgical chant, its form and acapella style, how we sing our Liturgy as active participants in praise and thanksgiving to God. Going even further back historically, our liturgical services trace their origins to the very foundation of the Catholic Church, to earliest Christian religious practice and theology. And these influences are found in the eloquent words of our hymns and verses, our prayers developed and written by the early Church Fathers ², our rituals based on Scripture and Tradition, and symbolism inherent in every small detail, including as an example, even the vestments worn by our clergy, deacons, and altar servers.
- One of the many things found in Byzantine Catholic churches is a love of God and understanding of theology often expressed through symbols. Symbols are a concrete way we imbue meaning (of what we believe) to everything we experience through our senses.
Byzantine Catholics express their beliefs through many symbolic forms — music, art (icons), architecture, liturgical disciplines, bodily gestures, prayers, sacraments, and much more. Symbols connect the realm of the earthly to the heavenly, and the heavenly to the earthly. Like the parables Jesus used to instruct, symbols reveal more than what is seemingly apparent.
Symbols are seen throughout biblical scripture, and point to revelations of Truth. The symbolic reference of Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb, the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy in the historical facts of the New Testament, is one clear illustration. But symbols aren’t limited to what is experienced only in a religious or church setting. When we bless food at Easter in the traditional manner inherited from our ancestors, we carry faith symbols into our homes, sharing our lived beliefs with our family and friends.
Built Upon The Church Established by Christ
Sometimes it is difficult to appreciate the idea of respecting long-standing tradition in a fast-paced world. We live in a culture that expects everyone to constantly keep up with trendiness and is quick to toss away as obsolete anything that isn’t. One of the features of the Byzantine Catholic church, and one that is admired by others, is the ability to preserve both faith and custom; tradition and heritage.
- The Byzantine Catholic Church, in its own unique way, serves as a present-day witness to the living, breathing life of diversity within the Universal Catholic Church.
This diversity was present from the very beginning of Church history, with the apostles spreading the gospel to different geographical areas. Each developed into the various churches of both East and West. Even with all the changes and conflicts through millennia, both Orthodox and Catholic churches share the common origins of this amazing history that begins with Christ establishing the church – of commanding his apostles to preach to all nations.
The Universal Church – the Catholic Church – is built upon all of this. Tradition (with a capital “T”) and the Word of God (Holy Scripture) form the structure of faith and worship. Tradition is by definition all of the teachings, the practices of the faith, that have been passed down through the ages from Jesus Christ and the Apostles and followers through the presbyters and disciples of the early church to our present time.
Likewise, all that has been passed down through generations from our humble Carpatho-Rusyn (Ruthenian) ancestors has also become an inheritance – traditions (with a lower case “t”) – woven together with our apostolic origins and Byzantine spirituality. And in combination, they preserve much of the ancient character and practices of the early Church.
These are our roots, our real family tree so to speak, established over time with care and discernment by those who valued all they held cherished and believed in.
For this, the Byzantine Catholic Church has much to offer all Catholics and all Christians, reflecting and adhering to all that has been established through Jesus Christ.
¹ For more information about the history of Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants in Europe and the history of what they faced in America, see our Links page. During the early 1900s to the period of WWII, many of our church founders worked in the anthracite mines in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Strikes, ethnic prejudices against them, and the dangers of being a miner, were just a few of the hardships they endured. Having come from Europe, even those immigrants who were older were still required to register for the draft for WWI. Yet amidst these hardships, many were able to earn enough to build a home to raise large families and contribute to the construction of St. Michael’s. Often, working in the mines and then in their free time helping physically build the parish is a recollection of what these founders did. Not long afterwards came the Great Depression and WWII in which the first-generation sons of the immigrants returned to Europe and other places around the world, often making the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. It is a testament to their faith and perseverance in all they faced, for which we have much to be thankful for.
² In Eastern Churches (Byzantine and Orthodox), Church Fathers include those whose influence helped shape theology and liturgy. Among those holding a special place of honor are St. Basil the Great (c. 329-379), St. John Chrysostom (347-407), St. Gregory of Nazianzus (329-389), and St. Athanasius (c. 296-373). St. Basil, St. Gregory of Nazianzus and St. John Chrysostom are known as the Three Holy Hierarchs. The Apostolic Church Fathers are those who lived and were taught during the time of the twelve apostles. Prominent Apostolic Fathers include Ignatius of Antioch, Clement of Rome, and Polycarp of Smyrna.