Self Identity Seen in the Establishment of the Byzantine Ruthenian Metropolia

Know Thyself! This challenge echoes in our ears when we consider words of great philosophers who uttered these words. It is perhaps even more resounding in our ears when we reflect upon our religious identity, particularly for those of us who are Eastern Catholics. We understand that the flow of time has highlighted more mainstream religious groups in the United States, and yet we appreciate quite vividly that our identity is tied to our uniquenesses that are less well-known. Our history includes some painful moments of strife with fellow Catholics of the Latin Rite who did not quite understand those uniquenesses. Should Eastern Catholics imitate their Latin Rite brethren to lose the practices that are seen to be sources of confusion, or should their identity be grounded in faithfulness to their traditions? The establishment of a Metropolitan Church for the Byzantine Ruthenian Catholics was an important event in the history of Eastern Catholics answering the call to know who we are. By learning more about the historical context of the time when the Metropolitan Church in Munhall (or Pittsburgh, as it would later be designated), we can understand the vision and calling that Eastern Christians in communion with Rome have been called to, and as we will see this is the same viewpoint to which we have been called to, and it is the perspective that will continue to call us as we journey on the path to authentic Christian spirituality.
     In 1964, Orientalium Ecclesiarum was published as one of the key documents from the Second Vatican Council. It emphasized the dignity and uniqueness of Eastern Christian Churches, which was arguably a watershed moment. First, we read in this document that the rites of Roman Catholics and Eastern Catholics “are consequently of equal dignity, so that none of them is superior to the others as regards rite and they enjoy the same rights and are under the same obligations, also in respect of preaching the Gospel to the whole world (cf. Mark 16, 15) under the guidance of the Roman Pontiff.” (1) The idea that non-Roman Catholics would be on the same footing with regard to rite, and that the same rights and obligations would be theirs is an amazing concession, particularly when some older documents would argue that Eastern Catholics were inferior to the Latin Rite. For example, two centuries earlier Pope Benedict XIV wrote this in the encyclical Allatae Sunt: “Since the Latin rite is the rite of the holy Roman church and this church is mother and teacher of the other churches, the Latin rite should be preferred to all other rites.” (2) In the context of that document, Latin Rite Catholics were forbidden from changing rites to become Eastern Catholic, whereas there were certain provisos that would allow for Eastern Catholics to become Roman Catholics. The motivation behind that is a clear statement that there is an alleged superiority of the Latin Rite. As time passed, there was a clear statement that despite Papal primacy, there was a commonality among Apostolic Christians that would place all Apostolic Rites on a similar footing instead of having one rite above the other. Beyond such a profession of equality in the context of a council, how would one extend principles into the realm of action? In 1969, the formation of the Metropolitan See of Pittsburgh attests to the message of Orientalium Ecclesiarum in a way that formal proclamations never can.

To understand what it meant to have a new Metropolitan See in the United States, we will focus on the documents published in the Byzantine Catholic World Newspaper, the official newspaper for Byzantine Ruthenian Catholics in the United States. The original announcement from April 13, 1969 is reproduced in the first document found in the appendix of this essay, which largely focuses upon the ordering of the new Metropolitan Church (3). Instead of having two Eparchies with two Bishops in Pittsburgh and Passaic who were on relatively equal footing, the Eparchy of Parma was established as a third Ruthenian Eparchy, and Bishop Stephen Kocisko was elevated to the rank of Metropolitan Archbishop. This elevation gave him an oversight over his own Archeparchy and the Eparchies of Parma and Passaic. This is an important development in the history of Eastern Catholics in the United States, in the sense of being an argument from silence. It was possible that Rome (or other powers that be) could have placed all non-Roman Catholic parishes and Eparchies in a suffragan status, under the rule of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in the US. For example, Passaic could have been under the Roman Catholic Archbishop of New York. Instead, the establishment of the Metropolia with its own suffragan Eparchies provided autonomy in a unique way for Eastern Catholics in the United States in Pittsburgh and beyond. Canonically speaking, this church has been granted the status of being sui iuris, meaning that it has its own laws and governance so. A sense of ownership was there, and we see that a third suffragan Eparchy would eventually come into existence for the Western United States. This would be the Holy Protection of the Mother of God Eparchy of Phoenix, my own mother Church.
In addition to proclamations about the structural alterations with the institution of a Metropolitan Church, the homiletics surrounding the event are very important. Let us consider what the new Metropolitan had to say about his ministry when he was in Rome to receive the pallium. An important theme of this homily is the notion that the Ruthenian people were metaphorically akin to the people of Israel (4). Just as Moses led people from Egypt to the Promised Land, Metropolitan Kocisko said the following about Byzantine Catholics in America:
“We have arrived at our promised land and we have acquired our stabilized status. And as we look back to the time when our forefathers first left their homeland in Europe to arrive upon the shores of these United States, we must, indeed, say that the hand of God has been with our people…As they were told by their priests, they would remain faithful to God…and worship Him in their Catholic faith expressed in the garb of their Byzantine Rite. And this they did. Their first concern in the new land of promise, America, was to have their own churches…They may not have had much of this world’s goods, but they always had the richness of the love of God and the beautiful liturgical services of the Byzantine Rite. These they would never forget; these they would continue to practice in their new homeland; and this they did. Perhaps, many, at that time never dreamed that this day would ever come. Perhaps, many even had some doubts about the future of our existence. But God was with our people. God guided and protected them as He did the Israelites of old…As the people longed for the spiritual food only their priests could give, God sent them manna by giving them their own priests who came from Europe to serve them in this new land of opportunity. As they thirsted for their own leaders, God gave them to drink from the water flowing from the rock of His generosity by providing them with their bishops.” (4)
The narrative of Allatae Sunt and others which speak of Latin superiority are challenged greatly by this homily. For if we grant that the Ruthenian faithful came to the United States which had an existing Roman Catholic community (an undoubted historical reality), the entry of Ruthenians into the United States would be quite different from Israelites entering the Promised Land, which was inhabited by pagans. How would this passionate testimony of the faithful’s deep longing to celebrate the depth of Byzantine Liturgy make sense, if turning to the Latin Rite would be a “step up”? How would the manna and the water from the rock be so needed, if being Latin Rite were the ideal? The whole thread of comparing the emigration of Ruthenian faithful to that exodus experience of the people of Israel makes the bold claim that what we have as Byzantine Christians is irreplaceable. It is so important that we not only needed priests, but a hierarchy with layers of Bishops caring for American Byzantine Catholics who are truly American, Catholic and Byzantine all in one fell swoop that aimed to not deny any of those aforementioned adjectives. The identity of the immigrant Byzantine Catholics would maintain a sense of being not only American, but independently living out the truths of the Good News of Christ. Sharing the life of the undivided Trinity through the manna of the holy mysteries, there was a high calling that is not portrayed as contingent upon local Roman Catholic Clergy or Latin Rite practices.
As the homily proceeds, we see that Metropolitan Kocisko does not shy away from also discussing the realities of conflicts which occurred as his people came into contact with Latin Rite Catholics. He writes, “In their struggles in this new land of promise, our people had their difficulties. They were not only in a new land, but they themselves were new and different to the people of the United States. Many could not understand how these people who stood so firmly together, could be real Catholics and yet worship God so differently. But our people put their trust in God. They showed themselves to be Catholic-Byzantine and American! And now, they and we, as their offspring and descendants, have come to this great day. We are now in our promised land. We have kept the faith. We have stood constantly at the side of St. Peter’s successors, the Popes of Rome, we have retained our Byzantine Rite, and now we take full possession of our promised land…” (4)
Ruthenian Catholics were considered scandalous for having married priests, a practice which was to be outlawed in the United States for decades to come, but only after strife and schism that split the faithful Ruthenians into Orthodox and Byzantine Catholics. In 1969, this ban was a fait accompli. Additionally, the notion of initiating infants into the faith through baptism, chrismation and Eucharist was something that was suppressed until 1994. From a creedal perspective, the lack of the Filioque was another potential contentious point. In 1969, these differences were swept under the rug and Byzantine Catholics resembled Roman Catholics more than their authentic heritage in that regard, but many other unique expressions of faith could be found. From an overall view of things, Metropolitan Kocisko was echoing Orientalium Ecclesiarum by testifying to his fidelity to the Catholic Church, despite being Byzantine in the faith. By having a Metropolitan Church, there was a sense that the true entry into the Promised Land was now becoming a reality. His homily attested to that reality on many profound levels.
In keeping with Metropolitan Kocisko’s homily, a later issue of the Byzantine Catholic World included an article from Fr. Athanasius Pekar, who provided the readers with a very broad overview of what it means to have a Metropolitan. The article begins with a historic review of the development and practice of Metropolitan Churches in the context of patriarchates and the papacy, proceeding to a jurisdictional outline similar to the earlier article mentioned above. It then concludes with the take home implications of having this new ecclesiastical structure brought to Byzantine Catholics in the United States. Fr. Athanasius writes:
“The greatest responsibility of our Archbishop-Metropolitan will be the publication of our liturgical books, after having procured the proper approval of the official liturgical texts by the Apostolic See. Canon Law stipulates that ‘he must be responsible for the fidelity and integrity of the text and its agreement with the approved copy. Once the authenticity is established he is empowered to grant a permission for its publication.’… [We] can see how the erection of our own Metropolitan Province of Munhall, Pa., was intended to strengthen our Church in the United States, to increase the number of her representatives and to give our spiritual leaders grave responsibility in shaping, preserving and securing the progress of our venerable Rite and spiritual heritage. The preservation and observance of our Rite is now placed into the hands of our own bishops.” (5)
The principle of lex orandi, lex credendi (the law of praying is the law of believing) is at the forefront of this article. By meditating upon the call of a Metropolitan Archbishop to preserve and publish the liturgical texts of the Byzantine Rite for his own Church, we see a grave responsibility given in the establishment of this new ecclesiastical structure. Indeed, prior to Vatican II there were English Divine Liturgies said by Byzantine Catholic faithful, most notable would be those celebrated at Mount St. Macrina with Bishop Fulton Sheen concelebrating in 1955. But beyond praying in English, Byzantine Christians are blessed with a great diversity of services. Making sure that those services are prayed by the faithful is a high bar, and Fr. Athanasius’ article makes it clear that this is both an active task in that it is to be shaped by the Metropolitan, and at the same time it is a passive task of preservation as well that has been given to the Metropolitan. That our Church would be shepherded by the new Metropolitan was a call to drive our growth in liturgical and spiritual practices, which could be a wonderful progression towards growing in faithfulness to our traditions when the challenge was rightly heeded. It is a calling that does not come down from on high from Rome or a Vatican office. It is ultimately in the hand of the Metropolitan as the head of his sui iuris Church.
As we can see from the history of the Byzantine Ruthenians in the United States, the overall sense of autonomy was present from the beginning of the Archeparchy, both with regard to the challenge to make good liturgical texts as well as leading our Church in the United States overall in its deep sense of heritage. Therefore, while 1969 may not have been a year of profound progress towards living out the Byzantine faith in a deeply consistent sense, the sketch providing the backdrop for that consistent vision is wholly present even at the inception of the Archeparchy of Pittsburgh. The conceptual framework of Eastern and Western Catholics being on an equal footing as demonstrated by Orientalium Ecclesiarum was put into practice as the formation of a new Church governance was born. We do see a calling of the liturgical work to be reviewed by Rome, as mentioned in the article from Fr. Athanasius Pekar. While some would consider this to be a subjugation, I would argue that this seeks to ensure that the unique genius of East and West do not lead to bitter conflict or contradictions. Studying the history of Eastern Christians in communion with Rome would, in this framework, not pose a hindrance to authentic Eastern Spirituality. However, it would show that that union leads to a a dialogue whereby the “lungs” of the Church are enriched by one another, and this statement of seeking approval from the Apostolic See is merely a practical application of that mutual enrichment and harmony that can come about through interaction between Eastern and Western Catholics.
In reading these documents and looking at the photographs from the establishment of the Pittsburgh Metropolia, opportunities to grow in understanding the importance of Orientalium Ecclesiarum do emerge. First, if we are to say that each rite is equal in dignity, we could ask why it was that Metropolitan Kocisko received a Latin Rite pallium when he visited Rome (6). Why not receive a proper Byzantine omophorion? This exact question was to be asked later in history, and it is gratifying to have seen that at the elevation of Bishop William Skurla as 5th Metropolitan Archbishop of Pittsburgh, he was given a Byzantine omophorion in Rome as he visited Pope Benedict XVI in 2012 (7). While only superficial, there is something tangible about seeing a Latin Rite Pope give the Metropolitan of a Byzantine Church a non-Latin vestment. It shows that the “best” vestments are not Latin or Byzantine. Instead, they are the vestments that are most true to the spiritual and liturgical tradition which is lived out in the different Apostolic Churches that are in communion with one another.
Second, if we consider the response to forming the new Metropolia in 1969, there is a hint of the mentality from the days of Allatae Sunt. As mentioned above, one aspect of that encyclical was the statement that it was forbidden for Roman Catholics to become Eastern Catholics, whereas there were conditions that were acceptable for Eastern Catholics to switch to the Latin Rite. In keeping with this train of thought, note this section of the statement from Bishop Kocisko upon the announcement of his being made the first Metropolitan of Pittsburgh: “This Metropolitan See, established for our Byzantine Catholic faithful in the United States, marks a new and significant development in the history of our people in this country…Surely this reflects not only the continuing strength of our people and their abiding love for their Byzantine Rite but also the concern and love of the Holy See for our clergy, religious and laity. We call upon our clergy, religious and faithful…to join with their Bishops and with us in continuing the work for the spiritual and material progress of all of our Byzantine Catholic people in this country.”(8) While it is true that that sense of pastoral leadership and responsibility rings through his statement, there is another refrain which may limit the evangelistic call that is the Church’s lifeblood. As we read about the mission to care for Byzantine Catholic, the word “our” repeats itself again and again. If “our people” only refers to those who are ethnically Ruthenian, it is possible that the vision of being Church may be somewhat constrained. The ministry of the Church is to make disciples of all nations, not just to serve any group known as “our people”. Thinking practically about this ethnic issue, even in the 1960’s Catholics had intermarried between Latin Rite and Byzantine Rite faithful. While the majority of those marriages led to Latin rite families in practice, there were instances of families with one Latin Rite parent but the family lived as Byzantine Christians. This emphasized quite clearly that one need not have an ethnic tie to be under the purveyance of a Byzantine Bishop. If “our people” has that openness to all people who feel a vocation to live out the Gospel as Byzantine Christians, this statement is in keeping with the notion of the New Evangelization. But if it is focusing attention on only those of a particular ethnic background, there are limitations to whom the Church serves. Ultimately, statements like these became less and less common, and the idea that each particular Church can reach out to the world became more and more frequently heard. The Gospel would be preached in a unique Latin Rite way by Latin Rite Catholics, and it was no less true that the Gospel would be preached in a Byzantine manner by Byzantine Catholics. Fast forwarding to the 21st century, we see many Roman Catholics immersing themselves in Byzantine Catholic parishes, as well as converts from no religion at all or Protestantism. This may arguably be the clearest sign of the blossoming of that evangelistic call to preach the Gospel to all nations and all people. The further growth in the truth led the Church to grow from serving “our people” to serving “all people”.
Lastly, if we reflect upon the liturgical realities of the Byzantine Ruthenian Church, there were Latinizations and other practices that were not entirely true to the Byzantine Tradition when the Metropolitan Church was established in 1969. The high call given to the Metropolitan to nourish the liturgical and spiritual life of his people was diluted by these limitations. Some of these limitations were self-imposed, and some of this was an overall reaction to the opposition of those Catholics in the United States who did not understand the Byzantine Tradition. Moving beyond Orientalium Ecclesiarum in 1964, Orientale Lumen was the Apostolic letter written in 1995 by St. John Paul II that deepened the appreciation that the East is its own tradition which offers particular gifts to the Church. Instead of merely being equal to Western Christianity, this document underscores areas in which the East is actually superior at highlighting aspects of the faith. As he wrote, “I listen to the Churches of the East, which I know are living interpreters of the treasure of tradition they preserve. In contemplating it, before my eyes appear elements of great significance for fuller and more thorough understanding of the Christian experience. These elements are capable of giving a more complete Christian response to the expectations of the men and women of today.” (9) The tables turned from a blanket statement that the West was superior to the East, to a denial of this, to a nuanced understanding that the facets of faith can express themselves in such a unique manner where one can see some aspects of the faith more clearly in each perspective that comes from the authentic Apostolic traditions. Returning to 1969 however, it is very clear that the lack of Infant Communion and married priests, as well as the presence of some non-Byzantine Latin practices (e.g., Eucharistic benediction) were examples of stumbling blocks that impeded the high calling that a new Metropolitan Church could have had for its own health, and for the health of the world. As time passed, however, the seed of vigor and commitment to authentic Byzantine spirituality seen in the homily of Metropolitan Kocisko, blossomed into something that may never have been predicted by those living at the time of that homily. Where can it grow from there? Many possibilities emerge, including a deeper commitment to the non-Eucharistic Byzantine services like Vespers, Matins, the hours, Akathists, and the like. Regardless of the next steps of faith, if we follow in Metropolitan Kocisko’s steps, we will grow towards the truth just as Moses journeyed from Egypt to the promised land.
This study of one specific period of history brings a prayer to the heart of Byzantine Christians, asking that our knowledge of who we are and what we are called to be would grow more and more for all Christians of the Apostolic Churches. May we learn from our mistakes in history, and lean on our many successes from that same history. As we reviewed in this essay, establishing a Metropolitan Church for Byzantine Catholics showed that there was a deep sense of dignity in their rite, a calling of their Metropolitan Archbishop to shepherd his people in the unique way exemplified by the Byzantine tradition, and the responsibility to bring the liturgical traditions of the East into a fuller observance. All of this testifies to the most important thing of all, keeping the Tradition given to us from Christ to His Apostles which nourishes us today. There were many shortcomings at the time, but none of that dissuaded the faithful from journeying to a life of greater devotion and fervor to our God. So too, may we take each new day with faith and hope for a brighter future. May we see our life as a journey towards the promised land, and thank God for those who journeyed before us to bring us to where we are today. Glory to Jesus Christ!

Works Cited:
1. Orientalium Ecclesiarum:
2. Allatae Sunt:
3. Byzantine Catholic World. April 13, 1969
4. Byzantine Catholic World. June 11, 1969
5. Byzantine Catholic World. May 18, 1969
6. Byzantine Catholic World. May 11, 1969
7. Light of the West. July-August 2012
8. Byzantine Catholic World. April 13, 1969
9. Orientale Lumen:



  1. “Additionally, the notion of initiating infants into the faith through Baptism, Chrismation and Eucharist was something that was suppressed until 1994.” — source? where did this happen, and who did the suppressing?
    I know several babies that got all three, as infants, in the 1980s, within the Eparchy of Parma.

    1. Glory to Jesus Christ!
      Thank you for your comment.
      I’m pretty sure that the initial source of separating first communion from baptism and chrismation can go back to the “Old Country” with meetings such as the Synod of Zamosc in 1720. I think this topic is worthy of its own study for a more complete answer. As with other Latinizations, it’s not fair to say that Rome did it or that we did it to ourselves. I think the answer will lie in the middle.
      As to the restoration, I am trying to find the sources to be sure about when as a Metropolitan Church we made first communion part of one rite of initiation.
      There is this blog post which states that 1994 was the earliest date of this practice in my own Eparchy (then Van Nuys, now Phoenix):

      I will search to find a document which came from the Metropolitan Church on the return to infant communion as the norm, but I believe that when we had infant communion prior to the 90’s, this was the exception to a general rule of baptism and chrismation without first communion.

      Thanks again for your comment!

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