We are a small community of men dedicated to the life of traditional Byzantine monasticism within the Eastern Catholic Churches.
We came together early in 1995 and were initially received by His Grace, Bishop George (Kuzma), Eparch of the Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Van Nuys, CA. In 2005, at our request and with the approval of the Holy See, we were received under the holy omoforion (jurisdiction) of His Grace, Bishop John Michael (Botean), Eparch of the Romanian Catholic Eparchy of St. George in Canton, OH. Bishop John Michael’s diocese covers the entire territorial United States, and was recently extended to include some Romanian Catholic communities in Canada. See: www.romaniancatholic.org
The monastery is a self-governing monastery sui juris under Catholic Canon Law. We are currently four full monks, together with one novice. Our abbot is Rt. Rev. Archimandrite Nicholas (Zachariadis). In 2011 we moved from California to a monastery in the village of Saint Nazianz, Wisconsin (the town is named after one of the greatest Eastern saints, St. Gregory the Theologian, known in the West as St. Gregory Nazianzen). In this place we strive to live our monastic life of prayer, work and hospitality while contributing to the spiritual lives of our friends and neighbors (whether Eastern or Western Christians), especially through our dedication to practical ecumenism.
(We formerly lived (from 1995 until 2009) in our own monastery in the Mojave Desert in a place called Newberry Springs. We sold this property in 2008 to our friends, the Coptic Orthodox monks of St. Antony’s Monastery. From 2009 until we acquired the house in St. Nazianz, our community lived with the Benedictine monks of St. Andrew’s Abbey, Valyermo, CA)
Aren’t All Catholics the Same?
NO! The Catholic Church is actually a communion of 22 particular churches. Each has its own distinctive way of worship and its special spirituality. What unites us all is our common faith in the doctrines of the Catholic Church and our acceptance of the Pope of Rome as head of the whole Church.
Of the 1 billion Catholics in the world the vast majority belong to the Roman Church. About 20 million Catholics belong to the 21 Eastern Catholic Churches. The largest of group of these are those Churches of the Byzantine tradition.
More information can be found in this Wikipedia article. Statistical information can be found on the website of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), here. Some good books introducing Eastern Catholics include Fr. Fred J. Saato’s American Eastern Catholics, and Deacon Ed Faulk’s 101 Questions and Answers on Eastern Catholics. An extremely useful booklet has been produced by the Eastern Catholic Pastoral Association of Southern California, titled The One Church and the Communion of Churches; you can contact the monastery for information on obtaining this booklet.
The first Christian Emperor of Rome, Constantine the Great (273-337 A.D.) divided the Roman Empire in two halves. He established the capital of the Eastern half in a new city built on the site of the small town of Byzantium. This city he named Constantinople. It is today known as Istanbul, in present day Turkey.
The adjective “Byzantine” thus refers to the Christian tradition of worship and spirituality that developed in the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. The common language of this part of the world was Greek; the language in which the New Testament was written.
Almost all the major teachings of the Catholic Church were set down in writing by the Churches centered on Constantinople. This includes the basic Creed of Christianity first proclaimed by the Councils of Nicea and Constantinople in the Fourth Century. Throughout the first thousand years of Christian history the Byzantine Church and the Popes in Rome were almost always in agreement about the faith, and were in full communion with each other.
The Romanian Greek-Catholic Church emerged in 1700 when a large section of the Orthodox population of Transylvania entered into communion with the Holy See, led by their bishop, Metropolitan Atanasie Anghel. At the time Transylvania was under the political control of the Kingdom of Hungary and of its Roman Catholic Hapsburg rulers. The Metropolitan’s residence was moved from Alba Iulia to Fagaras in 1721 and then, in 1737 to Blaj, which became a centre of learning and national awakening for all Romania, most of which remained under Ottoman rule. It was the Greek-Catholic Church in Transylvania, for example, that championed the use of vernacular liturgical texts. When, in the 19th century, Hungary followed a Magyarization policy, the Greek-Catholic Church played a prominent part in resisting ethnic assimilation, with (the Transylvanian School) Scoala Ardeleana and the Transylvanian Memorandum.
Beginning in 1948, Romanian Catholics found themselves among the most severely persecuted Christians in the Soviet world. Although the Church in Transylvania numbered about one million at the time, the communist regime declared the Greek-Catholic Church illegal and its property confiscated. All the bishops were arrested and tortured. Most were martyred, as were innumerable priests, monks, nuns and lay faithful. The Church re-emerged from the catacombs after the fall of the Ceausescu communist regime in 1989 and has begun, with the help of God, to rebuild itself. In 2006 Pope Benedict XVI recognized the self-governing status of the Romanian Greek-Catholic Church, raising its traditional Head, the Metropolitan of Alba-Iulia and Fagaras to the rank of Major Archbishop.
Large-scale Romanian immigration to the United States began in the late nineteenth century. Most migrants were attracted to the large industrial centers of the Midwest. Following the typical pattern of Eastern-Europeans in America, migrant communities formed their own parishes and invited clergy from the “old country” to serve them. In 1982 Pope John Paul II sought to provide for the pastoral needs of American Romanian Catholics and appointed them their first Exarch. In 1987 the exarchate was raised to the status of a full diocese (eparchy) with its cathedral in Canton, Ohio. The territory of the eparchy is the entire United States, and comprises today 14 parishes, 4 missions and two monasteries. It is, therefore, the smallest in population terms of the four Catholic jurisdictions in the United States of the Byzantine Rite (the other three being the Ukrainian, Ruthenian and Melkite Catholic Churches).
Are you Orthodox?
We are an Eastern Catholic monastery. We understand this to mean that we are orthodox in our liturgy, spirituality and theological outlook, while faithful to our communion, through membership in our local Church, with the Pope.
“Orthodox” is a Greek word that means “right believing.” It is in that sense that we believe we can apply it to ourselves. It was this word that the Byzantine Church used to describe itself and those Churches in which it shared Communion including for many centuries the Church of Rome.
However, we also acknowledge that the word has come to hold a technical meaning, namely to describe ancient, apostolic Churches that are not in communion with the Catholic Church. Hence, we speak today of the Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Romanian Orthodox, etc.
The word, used in this narrower, confessional sense, points to the shameful state of disunity within which we Catholics and Orthodox find ourselves today. The main source of this disunity is a disagreement over the the authority of the Pope and, thus, broader questions of the nature of authority in the Church.
Various attempts have been made to repair this breach. None have yet been successful. One such attempt was made by our own Orthodox, Romanian Church which entered into Communion with Rome in around 1700.
Of course, in entering into communion with Rome our Church had to sever communion with our mother Church, the Great Church of Constantinople. Today the Orthodox and’ Catholic Churches are pursuing better, more positive ways of restoring communion between them. Proselytism by either Church of the other’s faithful is regarded as contrary to the Gospel of unity, and to the reality that each is truly part of the one Body of Christ as “sister Churches”. For our part, we seek to recover full communion by all means possible, so that, as Christ prayed to His Father, “all may be one” (John, 17:22).
What is the Byzantine Rite?
A “rite” is a way of worship, and a whole spiritual insight into the Gospel of Jesus Christ. AU the Byzantine Churches, Catholic and Orthodox, Greek, Slavic, American and so on, all share the same liturgical and spiritual heritage.
Byzantine worship relies heavily on icons. These are sacred images, paintings of Jesus Christ, His Blessed Mother and the saints. We do not worship these images as idols, but rather we see them as “Windows into heaven.” They are points of contact between us and the holy people and events they depict. They are proof that God in Christ Jesus became a man, that Heaven became one with earth, and that here in our own lives we can touch all that is holy and good.
The Byzantine tradition also insists on the essential unity of human beings: body, soul (mind) and spirit. All aspects of the person are involved in worship. The body is taken up in sights (icons), scents (incense and candles), touch and taste (blessed foods and flowers). The mind and the emotions delight in the sacred mysteries of the faith sung in sublime religious poetry across the whole musical spectrum (the eight “tones” of ancient chant). The spirit is called to unite to God in sacramental prayer in the long services in Church, and in observance of unstinting private prayer.
Outside of the Church, Byzantine Christians are expected to live lives of great holiness, again touching every aspect of their lives. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are the three pillars of Byzantine Christian “praxis” (i.e. the practical application of the Gospel). In turn this leads one to direct Communion with the Holy Trinity, a process called “theosis”, which means to enter into God’s own life of eternal love. Monks and nuns are essential witnesses to this vision of Byzantine spirituality.
Catholic Teaching on the Eastern Churches
“The Catholic Church holds in high esteem the…Eastern Churches, their liturgical rites, ecclesiastical traditions, and Christian way of life” (Vatican II, Decree on the Eastern Churches, no.1)
“Our Eastern Catholic brothers and sisters are very conscious of being the living bearers of this tradition, together with our Orthodox brothers and sisters. The members of the Catholic Church of the Latin tradition must also be fully acquainted with this treasure.” (Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Letter, Orientale Lumen, no. 1)
“In the East are to be found the riches of spiritual traditions which are given expression in monastic life especially … ” (Pope John Paul II, Orientale Lumen, no. 6)
“The Eastern Churches have a duty [in America] to maintain their own…doctrinal, liturgical and monastic witness.” (Pope John Paul II, Exhortation to the Catholic Church in the Americas, 1998).