UGCC = Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.
My initial draw to Eastern (Byzantine) Christianity was… You know, I don’t really know if I can put it into succinct words. I was spending a semester in Austria at Franciscan’s sister campus in Gaming. There was a Byzantine chapel there. It was very small, but very quiet. I spent more time in it than I did in the Perpetual Adoration chapel we Romans had. I never attended a Divine Liturgy while there because I wasn’t aware of any other Catholic traditions outside of Roman Catholicism. I thought the Byzantine chapel was for Orthodox Christians, and didn’t know that I was welcome to attend. But I enjoyed just sitting in the chapel, looking at all the icons painted on the walls, and soaking in the atmosphere. I felt very at home there.
Fast forward a few years later and I’m living in Ann Arbor, MI., preparing for my wedding. At the parish my wife belonged to there is a Perpetual Adoration chapel that has a HUGE icon of Christ the High Priest Enthroned right behind the monstrance. The icon is a copy of one of Rublev’s and is quite stunning. I used to go to that chapel to pray, and found myself just starring at the icon most of the time.
At that time I was working at the local Catholic bookstore, and a Byzantine priest would come in almost every Saturday, and without fail would always ask me when I was coming to visit his parish. I finally made it out and stood next to the deacon’s son, who was a friend of my wife and I. I loved the Liturgy and felt completely at home there. The deacon’s wife, upon visiting the bookstore a few weeks later, brought up my visit and started talking to me as though I were a Byzantine Catholic. I explained to her that that was my first time in a Byzantine parish. She was stunned and said that I looked so comfortable and so much like I knew what was going on that she just presumed I was Byzantine. It was during this time too that I started learning about the Jesus Prayer and I learned to make prayer ropes.
When my wife and I moved to Virginia I was determined to belong to a Byzantine parish. We started by attending the local Ruthenian parish, but later ended up attending the Melkite parish. We are now parishioners at Holy Transfiguration Melkite Greek Catholic Church in McLean, VA. and absolutely love it.
One of the things I like most about the Melkites is their strong determination to live as authentic Byzantine/Orthodox Christians while at the same time maintaining communion with Rome. I love the fact that despite years of Latinization, they have made such huge strides towards reclaiming their identity. The Melkites here in the U.S. have especially been courageous in the struggle the maintain the Eastern identity in the face of a majority Western Catholic population. I love the fact that Orthodox Christians can read books by Melkite authors and find little to nothing in them with which they would disagree. I love the fact that our Melkite liturgical books are frequently used by the Orthodox as well because of the quality of the translations.
As far as what draws me to Eastern Christianity itself, it’s tough to say. It’s not really one thing, but an entire atmosphere. I think I like the emphasis experiential knowledge of the Faith over intellectual knowledge. This is especially good for me since I am often prone to focus too much on intellectual knowledge and forget that the Faith is something to be lived, an encounter to be experienced, not just knowledge to be retained in the head.