Monday, January 22, 2018

meet Joe: polyglot, physicist, cantor

Joe is "just another sinner along the way here."
How long have you been a practicing Catholic?

Well, I was baptized into the faith a day after I was born. So I guess that’d make me quite literally a Catholic from just after birth. I have been going to church since I was little, and while some days were easier than others.

Care to share your conversion/reversion story? (More like how a born Westerner found his inner Eastern which he always had)

I suppose the story begins something like this, I was baptized a Roman Christian the day after I was born. And I grew up going to Mass every Sunday, sometimes me willing, sometimes me, not so much….One of my favorite memories was midnight Mass…but more on this later.

Fast forwarding to my teenage years where I experienced the hardest thing that any person will have to go through, the loss of a parent. (My mom) it probably didn’t help that things were already in a funk, when I lost both my grandmother and my aunt in recent years before that. During that time, I felt that the world around me was falling apart, and things changed to where I don’t want to say I didn’t believe, but I had very heavy doubts.

After mum died there was some time that I didn’t go to church or have anything to do with church at all. It was during college when a 7th day Adventist challenged me, that I started researching the Faith. I really fell in love with the Eastern Fathers, St John Chrysostom , St Basil, St Simeon the new Theologian, I did nothing about this of course being I just wanted to get back on my feet and being able to answer the questions that the girl brought up. Around the beginning of Pope Benedict’s Pontificate I started heading back to Mass….However that spark for the East didn’t reappear for a while until a few years into college.

I finally had the change to go experience and visit different places. Now having a car, I searched for various churches to go to, I wondered what in the world was this Byzantine Catholic Church that I read about. I went on a Sunday for a Liturgy in 2007 and the rest was history. I wondered where in the world was this, the reverence the movement, the other-worldliness of the Liturgy that I never experienced as a child, and even as an adult with the Traditional Latin Mass. I’m a physicist and mathematician by training, so my approaches to things are quite linear and very much cerebral. At the Divine Liturgy, there was motion, and I could let go of the normal routine of things to see things in a very different light….

A few years later, I found myself in Roman Seminary, and I make no secret about the fact that I wished to serve both the West and the East at the time. But also during this time, there was an opportunity to experience the Divine Liturgy according to the Armenians, but there was some similarity to the Latin praxis and still wasn’t there. I’ll spare you the details of how my time in Roman Seminary was, I’ll just say it was “interesting”. Finally, I moved to Idaho, and found what I’ve been searching for. The Divine Liturgy, with all of the motion, and it was from that point I took this Eastern praxis as my own, and something I started incorporating into my thoughts and praxis. It was the interaction with a few of the parishioners at the parish that really helped bring out my Eastern thought. I’ve always been all right with diversity in opinion and thought, and never thought that we’re trying to train robots, or everything must be a carbon copy. Seeing this lived out in Eastern Christianity made me want more of this, and so I made this happen.

Also during this time I experienced the Faith at a Russian Orthodox Church during Lent. I had the chance to attend the Good Friday Liturgy and saw a very old man about 95 making full prostrations during the Liturgy. (Which for me is difficult at times), but that day I tried much more….I had been a rusophile for a long time, since high school, and to experience the Faith from the Russian perspetrivu brought a completion to what I try to live.

I guess you can say this is the summarised form of what could be written as a much more detailed version. I’m thankful for the opportunity to share this part of my story with you.

How does your faith inform your day-to-day life?

Everyday starts and ends the same, with the Jesus prayer in Russian (my preferred language to pray in these days)….Though I’m known to still occasionally throw out some words in a few other languages from time to time.

The Faith influences everything that I do, I don’t claim to be any good at this though I’m still trying to get this right, 32 years and I’m still not quite getting it :p….I try to keep things simple, Love God, love neighbour, don’t be a jerk…I try to live all these things out, but of course this is still a work in progress.

There’s a lot of play when it comes to the issues of the day; I’m glad that the Faith doesn’t make us approach things from the same way. We can look at different issues from different perspectives. I’m constantly making the sign of the cross, and invoking Our Lord’s mercy, because do we all need it collectively and individually or what? .

As far as me going further and getting ordained…only if God smacks me upside the head with a 2 x 4. My fianceĆ© probably wouldn’t want such a life :p.

What is your greatest challenge in practicing your faith?

I think the greatest challenge in living the Eastern Faith is being surrounded by those that don’t. Its kind of hard to do all of the practices and praxis that comes with Eastern Christianity when one is surrounded by those that don’t. I always like to say that I do what I can within the means that I have.

Also quite a big challenge from time to time is of course all of the past that I’ve been through, it’s sometimes tempting to give up, but thou shall persevere until the end right :p…So we keep going.

Favorite Bible verse?

“Let God arise, and let his enemies be scattered, and let those who hate Him, flee from before His Face” (Ps 68, 2)

This is the opening verse from the 3rd antiphon at Easter, my favorite Liturgical celebration of the year, it really summaries my thoughts on pretty much almost everything and summarizes what we believe.

Favorite Spiritual writing (besides Bible) quotation?

“To have faith in Christ means more than simply despising the delights of this life. It means we should bear all our daily trials that may bring us sorrow, distress, or unhappiness, and bear them patiently for as long as God wishes and until He comes to visit us. For it is said, ‘I waited on the Lord and He came to me.'” --- St Simenon the new Theologian, (of course this is all easier said than done ;)

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Old-fashioned, traditional marriage advice from a 4th century celibate

Pick Virtue Rather than Riches When Selecting a Good Husband
First, look for a husband who will really be a husband and a protector; remember that you are placing a head on a body. When your daughter is to be married, don’t look for how much money a man has. Don’t worry about his nationality or his family’s social position […] When you are satisfied that the man is virtuous and decide what day they will be married, beseech Christ to be present at the wedding. He is not ashamed to come for marriage is an image of His presence in the Church. Even better than this: pray that your children will each find such a virtuous spouse; entrust this concern of yours into His hands. If you honor Him in this way, He will return honor for honor.
Advice on How to Pick a Wife
Since we know all this, let us seek just one thing in a wife, virtue of soul and nobility of character, so that we may enjoy tranquility, so that we may luxuriate in harmony and lasting love. The man who takes a rich wife takes a boss rather than a wife. If even without wealth women are with pride and prone to the love of fame, if they have wealth in addition, how will their husbands be able to stand them? The man, however, who takes a wife of equal position or poorer than himself takes a helper and ally and brings every blessing into his house. Her own poverty forces her to care for her husband with great concern, to yield to him and obey him in everything. It removes every occasion of strife, battle, presumption, and pride. It binds the couple in peace, harmony, love, and concord. Let us not, therefore, seek to have money, but to have peace, in order to enjoy happiness. Marriage does not exist to fill our houses with war and battles, to give us strife and contention, to pit us against each other and make our life unlivable. It exists in order that we may enjoy another’s help, that we may have a harbor, a refuge, and a consolation in troubles which hang over us, and that we may converse happily with our wife. How many wealthy men who have taken rich wives and increased their substance have yet destroyed their happiness and harmony, as they contend in daily battles at table? How many poor men who have taken poorer wives now enjoy peace and look upon each day’s  sun with joy? 
(Chrysostom, St. John. On Marriage and Family Life. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1986)
Does this advice still hold true or do we moderns know better? 

Monday, January 15, 2018

be pro-life- smile at a mom & her screaming toddler

Pro-lifers are readying themselves for the annual March for Life  Different groups are doing different things, but prayer and demonstrations seem to be the popular manifestations for this time.  
If we say that we are pro-life- let's mean it and show this with our actions! Prayer is a beautiful thing, but maybe that mom needs your help with opening that door- she has 2 kids in her arms.  Please don't joke that that family needs a television; it's insulting and anti-life. Bring a meal to welcome the newest addition and have your teenager mow their lawn- with permission, of course. Hand-me-down clothes are very welcome, but check the clothing for rips and stains. If Goodwill wouldn't sell it, the local big family down the street probably wouldn't wear it to Mass. And perhaps above all, have mercy with little children that are squirmy at church. I guarantee you- the parents are doing their best to wrangle those kids.  They woke up, got the kids ready and out the door when the majority of Americans were still abed. They are in church, trying to instill in their children all the values of Christianity. Give that harried mom a smile as she takes a screaming  three-year old out of Mass. Invite them to your table at coffee and doughnuts. Make that super-sized family (in most parts of the US, any family with over 2 or 3 kids- not applicable to Franciscan U and TAC areas) welcome.

How in the world can inviting a big family to your coffee and doughnut table be pro-life, you ask? We need to build a culture of life where children are welcome. We need to make it easier for a family to have that next kid (perhaps through lower taxation?). Did you know that 60% of abortions are performed on women who are already mothers? (source- the blog "And Sometimes Tea") Prayer is essential, but action is too. If all pro-lifers were active in doing pro-life prayer and work (making meals, knitting booties, working at a soup kitchen, calling a new mom, mowing lawns, painting fences, fixing vans, babysitting for nothing or nominal fees, whatever is appropriate to the stage in life and ability or talent), we would make it less scary for these moms to welcome life even in difficult moments.

meet Anthony: computer geek, theology professor, Greek Catholic

How did you become interested in Eastern Catholicism?  Were you raised Eastern Catholic?
I was raised in the Roman Catholic faith.  I attended a Catholic school, and served as an altar boy.  While I was in elementary school, though, I had a transformative experience. My parents took me to a wedding at a Greek Catholic parish, and I was struck by the beauty and sense of sacredness.  Like the envoys sent to Constantinople by St. Vladimir, I didn’t know whether I was in heaven or on earth.  This moment changed the entire trajectory of my life.
As it happened, my next-door neighbor – a boy my age – was Greek Catholic.  I would sometimes attend Divine Liturgy with his family.  The liturgy had such a profound effect on me that I would literally dream about it at night.
When I graduated from college, I joined a Greek Catholic parish and officially transferred to the Byzantine Rite.
How did your family react to your change of rite?
They were very supportive.  They knew that I wasn’t rejecting the Catholic faith that they instilled in me, but was embracing it in a different form.
I absolutely love Roman Catholicism.  I have so much appreciation for everything that the Latin tradition offers.  I never rejected it.  Rather, I was called to serve God by building up and promoting the “Eastern Lung” of the Catholic Church.  I believe that a strong, vibrant Eastern Christian presence within the Catholic Church will lead to a stronger, healthier Roman Catholicism.
How did you become a theologian?
In college I studied Philosophy and Religion.  I realized that I love teaching people about the Catholic faith, and wanted to pursue a career as a theology professor.   I went on to graduate studies in Theology at Franciscan University.  
Upon finishing my master’s degree, I was accepted into the doctorate program in theology at Duquesne University.  While in this program, I had the opportunity to focus my studies on my true passion: Eastern Christianity.  My dissertation director was Father Michael Slusser, a patristics scholar with a profound understanding of the Greek Fathers and the Eastern Christian theological tradition.  I learned so much from working with him on my dissertation, which was a study entitled Adrian Fortescue and the Eastern Christian Churches.  It was later published as a book by Gorgias Press.
I also had the pleasure of taking classes at SS. Cyril and Methodius Byzantine Catholic Seminary.  One of the professors, Father David Petras, had a tremendous impact on me.  Father David served on my dissertation committee, and taught me a great deal about liturgy and ecumenism.  I also became friends with a Ukrainian Catholic priest who served in Ireland, Archimandrite Serge Kelleher of blessed memory.  Father Serge was very wise, and taught me what it really means to be an Eastern Christian in communion with Rome – with the challenges that it entails.
After completing my doctorate, I was blessed with my dream job.  I teach theology at a small Catholic college in central Pennsylvania, Mount Aloysius.  I go to work and teach people about God, and I love every minute of it.  
Do you have any hobbies?  What do you do when you’re not teaching theology?
I spend a lot of time with my family, raising two wonderful children.  My wife, Vanessa is a life-long Greek Catholic, and she has a deep love for the faith.  Vanessa’s grandmother was a cantor who spent her life serving the church, and Vanessa seeks to follow her example.
For fun, I enjoy working with computers.  I have several websites that I design and manage.  One of the websites, From East to West, is dedicated to teaching Western Christians about Eastern Catholicism.  
My other primary website, Mythic Scribes, is a community of fantasy writers.  I love reading and writing fantasy fiction, and Mythic Scribes is a wonderful place to explore that interest.

Many thanks to Dr. Anthony Dragani for sharing! 
do you want to share your spiritual journey? Email me at! 

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