I’ve seen or heard of various Byzantine Churches which do have public recitation of the rosary, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Stations of the Cross, and devotions to the Sacred Heart. How do you explain that?
The 1900s in America brought a unique set of socio-political circumstances with them, the effects of which are still being felt by our church. Among them was the American heresy where uniformity was the ideal, the poverty of Eastern European immigrants, the lack of a hierarchal structure for Eastern Catholics in geographically western lands, and the misunderstandings over the theological and disciplinary differences between the churches which had previously not lived in such close proximity to each other. Because of these various circumstances, there was a push for the Eastern Catholics to have a unified theological and spiritual expression with the west. Sadly, the misunderstandings led to a number of theological, spiritual, and disciplinary guidelines which were outside of the eastern tradition being introduced to, and in some cases forced on, the Byzantine Church. One highly contentious point was an all-celibate clergy, which was mandated in 1929 with Cum data fuerit. These issues led to formal separations among the Byzantine people where parishes and families divided between the Catholic and Orthodox communions first around 1890 (led by Fr. Alexis Toth of Wilkes-Barre) and again around 1938 (led by Fr. Orestes Chornock). An entire Orthodox jurisdiction was created, the American Carpatho-Rusyn Orthodox Diocese, in order to care for the Eastern Catholics who re-joined the Orthodox communion over these deviations from their traditions and faith.
Through the years, the remaining Byzantines held onto and cherished their communion with Rome, which they had suffered greatly for. Some of them mistook communion for uniformity and introduced Latin theological constructs and devotions to the Byzantine Church. Some of this was to fill the void that was created by the removal of their Eastern practices, some out of a lack of ecclesiastical structure which meant they were brought up in the faith in Roman Catholic schools and churches, and some of it was out ignorance of their own traditions and what distinguished them from Roman Catholics. In some places, these changes were externally forced on Byzantine parishes, which were threatened with being shut-down otherwise.
Our church recently published a new official text of the Divine Liturgy which removes some of these liturgical deviations which were introduced during that time frame, such as the recitation of the filioque or kneeling during the anaphora on Sunday. Devotions not being official or necessary for one’s faith, the church has not and will not forbid their usage. There is a strong push to return to our own devotional practices which better reflect our theology and spirituality, such as the recitation of the liturgical hours, especially evening Vespers. Different parishes are at different stages of this renewal, so there is still a continuum of practices one might find between various Byzantine Catholic parishes. This in no way is a judgment about the popular piety found in some of our Byzantine parishes where parishioners find these devotions to be a nourishment to their spiritual lives.