Our Byzantine Parish 

Letter from Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone
Archdiocese of San Francisco, 2017
Fr. Kevin Kennedy Interview
Catholic San Francisco, 2016
Byzantine Catholicism ‘different’ but in communion with Rome

January 12th, 2016
By Christina Gray

During the first week of January when most Roman Catholics were enjoying the spiritual afterglow of the Christmas season, Russian Byzantine Catholics in the Archdiocese of San Francisco were preparing for the celebration of their Christmas Day on Jan. 7.

Byzantine Catholic churches follow the Julian calendar in which Christmas falls 13 days after that of the Gregorian calendar.

During an interview in the midst of Christmas week preparations, the pastor of Our Lady of Fatima Russian Byzantine Catholic Church in San Francisco told Catholic San Francisco that few Roman Catholics in the archdiocese are familiar with the lyrical Byzantine Divine Liturgy or know that it can fulfill their Sunday obligation as a Roman Catholic.

‘Fully and equally Catholic’
“The Roman Catholic Church and the Byzantine Catholic Church are fully and equally Catholic,” said Father Kevin Kennedy who became pastor three years ago after the small church – one of only 20 Russian Byzantine Catholic Churches in the world – found a home in the former convent at St. Monica’s Church where he also serves as parochial vicar. The Divine Liturgy is held in the former convent chapel.

“Our origins are Russian Christianity, but we are a multi-ethnic Catholic Church open to any Catholic,” he said. “It’s like, just because you go to Roman Catholic Church doesn’t have to mean you have to be Italian.” he said.

Christian unity is the Lord’s plan, patterned after the human body, said Father Kennedy. “We are the body of Christ, so we have these two hands, two eyes, two lungs. We have both sides of our brain functioning not just one.”

In a videotaped prayer released by the Vatican for the International Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Jan. 18-25, Pope Francis emphasized the same: “Many think differently, feel differently, they seek God or meet God in different ways,” he said. “There is only one certainty we have for all: We are all children of God.” The International Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is an annual eight-day Christian ecumenical observance focused on prayer for church unity.

Another surprise to the faithful of the Archdiocese of San Francisco may be that Our Lady of Fatima Russian Byzantine Catholic Church is an archdiocesan parish of the Archdiocese of San Francisco under the authority of Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone.

The Russian Byzantine Catholic Church was formed in the early 20th century when a group of dissenting members of the Russian Orthodoxy under the authority of Moscow wanted to return to the authority of Rome. St. Pius the IX agreed with a stipulation on his part that they retain their theological, liturgical and spiritual heritage.

Russian heritage alive in liturgy
Byzantine Catholicism was “smashed to smithereens,” according to Father Kennedy, by Communists in both Russia and again in Shanghai, China where members scattered to escape persecution. Those that kept the tradition alive retained everything of their Russian heritage, including all their liturgical books adding to them the commemoration of the intentions of the pope.

Many of the 100 or so regular parishioners of Our Lady of Fatima are Roman Catholic who have discovered and fallen and love with the Russian liturgy just as Father Kevin Kennedy did after he walked into Holy Virgin Eastern Orthodox Cathedral on Geary Boulevard as a theology student at the University of San Francisco.

The Byzantine liturgy is much more elaborate than the “simple and sober” Roman rite because it arises from a different culture, the Eastern half of the Roman Empire called the Byzantine Empire, which was focused on a more Hellenistic philosophy of art, drama and poetry, Father Kennedy said.

“I think what people find is a very rich liturgy that’s very focused on the mystical dimension of the Eucharist,” he said. “You have what ends up being almost like a two-hour movie, a whole drama wherein the Eucharistic itself is celebrated with ritual historical enactments and ceremonial processions, a great entrance with the bread and wine.”

Catholic convert and activist Dorothy Day and Catholic mystic Thomas Merton were among the Roman Catholics who loved the Russian Byzantine liturgy.

Our Lady of Fatima is a non-territorial church, which means it draws Catholics from Sacramento, San Jose and the East Bay. Roman Catholics come to fulfill their Sunday obligation because they have chosen to worship with the tradition. “They haven’t formally transferred rites and they don’t need to,” said Father Kennedy because Byzantine Catholicism is Catholic.

Father Kennedy describes his idea of Christian unity.

“The goal would be that we could all be celebrating the same Eucharist together and commemorating the pope in Rome and all of the Orthodox vanguards and Catholic bishops together and that we could be what we were for the first thousand years in the history of Christianity, an undivided faith. Different, but in communion with each other,” he said.

Monthly lecture on Eastern Catholicism
Father Kevin Kennedy, pastor of Our Lady of Fatima Russian Catholic Church offers a free catechetical lecture on Eastern Catholicism on the first Saturday of each month.

Divine Liturgy: 10 a.m.
Luncheon: 12 noon
Lecture: 1 p.m.

Visit byzantinecatholic.org

From January 14, 2016 issue of Catholic San Francisco.
– See more at: http://catholic-sf.org/news_select.php?newsid=22&id=64080#sthash.rsy3KENH.dpuf

Rev. Hieromonk Steven Armstrong, S.J.
Western Jesuit Magazine, 1993

For almost 40 years we have functioned as both an educational center and a parish community serving our Byzantine Catholics.A few years ago, I brought my class in Patristics from the University of San Francisco to our Sunday Liturgy at the Jesuit Byzantine Parish. After the services I talked with the students about their experience of a non-Roman but still quite Catholic liturgy.

One of them, a young strapping ItalianAmerican from Mann County, remarked, “Wow, Father, when you said that the Byzantine Liturgy was different from the Roman Mass. I thought you meant a few prayers would be different. But this was really different!” Out “in the Avenues”, in the middle of San Francisco’s Richmond District, sits the Byzantine Catholic Russian Center/Our Lady of Fatima Byzantine Catholic Parish, at the corner of 20th Avenue and Lake Street. Once an old mansion, it was converted for parish use in 1945, and we have been here ever since.

We are a parish of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, and an apostolate of the Society of Jesus. For almost 40 years, we have functioned as both an educational center and a parish community. In the words of St. Basil, we pray that the Lord will “preserve this holy house unto the end of the world.”

Who are Byzantine or Eastern Catholics, and what are we doing in San Francisco? These are some of the questions that we have been missioned to answer.

Historical Background
When the Apostles spread the Gospel throughout the ancient world, the communities they founded developed their Christian worship, theological approach and way of life in a way which matched the culture of the area. In the early Church, several centers became important. Because of Apostolic associations and political preeminence, five cities eventually became known as “Patriarchal Sees.” These were Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. Armenia and Persia (Iraq) constituted other important centers of Christianity along with these five.

In time, each of these Patriarchates sent out missionaries. For example, Rome evangelized Western and parts of Middle Europe, and later followed the colonial outreach of Western Europe. Constantinople sent missionaries to Middle and Eastern Europe. They, in turn, went throughout Northern and Central Asia. and finally to Japan. Alaska and America. Antiochian and Persian Christians went East to India, while Alexandria and Jerusalem went South to Ethiopia and Eritrea. Thus the world heard the one gospel of Jesus Christ robed in many forms.

For the first thousand years the Church both in the East and West lived in peace, developed different liturgies, theological vocabularies and different ways of expressing the Apostolic Faith, canon law, etc.

It is an unfortunate and inaccurate view of history, although quite widespread, to think that all Apostolic Christian communities find their origin in Rome. Each has its Apostolic mandate directly from Christ through its own founding Apostle. The confusion may result from the time of the Protestant Reformation, when communities which originated in the Partiarchate of Rome left their Mother Church. The situation of the Eastern Christian churches is something entirely different.

Sadly, in the years between AD 451 and 500, and later, AD 8001453, there were various strains and difficulties among the five Patriarchal Sees. For the first one thousand years it was generally recognized that the five Patriarchal Bishops were heads of their Churches, with the Pope, as Bishop of the old capital, having the first seat at Ecumenical Councils in order to safeguard the orthodoxy of the Faith and his brother Patriarchs’ rights. The Bishop of Constantinople, as Bishop of the new Capitol, held the second place of honor.

By 1453. however, tensions had become so great between Rome and the four Patriarchates in the East that unity was ruptured at the fall of Constantinople to the Turks. This also put a political end to the Roman Empire of which Constantinople was the capital.

Between that time and Vatican II, there were several attempts at partial reunions in hopes of starting a sort of “chain reaction”. This did not occur and further divisions were created. Still, these ‘reunions” formed most of the Eastern Catholic Churches whose spiritual descendents remain today.

The Eastern Catholic Churches include: the Armenian, Byzantine (GreekCatholic) which includes many particular churches, the Chaldean, Coptic, Gee: (Ethiopia and Eritrea). Malabar Ma/a nkar, Maronite and Svriac. There are more than a million Eastern Catholics in North America, and several million Orthodox Christians.

Note that the proper terminology is “Eastern Churches,” not “Rites”. The term “Rite” is not accurate or acceptable usage since the real structure of the Catholic Church is actually similar to a federation: twelve or so independent Churches in communion with one another.

Russian Byzantine Catholics
The Russian Byzantine Catholic Church was one of the latest to be formed. It had begun with a small group of Russian intellectuals and philosophers, somewhat similar to the Oxford Movement in Britain. They wished to heal the schism between Moscow and Rome, and so asked that a Russian Byzantine Catholic Church be founded. The Church received statues and a hierarchy in 1917 with the election of Exarch Leonid Feodorov. That year, of course, was not an auspicious year for Russia and thousands of Christians fled the Revolution. Many of the Russian Catholic and Orthodox faithful escaped to Harbin and Shanghai in China where there was already Russian émigré communities.

The founder of our parish, the Rev. Fr. Nicholas Bock, SJ, was the Czarist Russian diplomatic representative to the Vatican at the time and later joined the Jesuits. He and several other Jesuits. including Fr. Fyodor Wilcock, S.J. former pastor of St. Andrew’s in El Segundo, ministered to the Russian Catholic faithful in China.

When the Chinese Communists took over in 1949, the people were forced to flee again and many chose to seek refuge in San Francisco. Large numbers of Russian Orthodox refugees took up residence here as did the smaller Russian Catholic community. Fr. Nicholas came to serve them and began mission Liturgies for them in St. Ignatius Church in 1950. All became part of the millions of Eastern Christians on this continent whose histories stretch back to the Russian Alaskan Missions, to Greece, the Balkans and the Middle East, and to Eastern Europe.

The mission grew until in 1954 Fr. Nicholas and Fr. Andrei Russo, S.J. acquired the property on Lake Street and began the Parish. Most Eastern Catholics have their own Bishops, but because there are so few Russian Catholic parishes in North America we come under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of San Francisco. From the inception of the Mission, the California Province and especially the USF Community and their benefactors have supported our Apostolate, for which our people are eternally grateful.

Over the years, Frs. Karl Patel, S.J., John Geary, S.J., and Steven Armstrong. S.J. have carried on the work, assisted by several priests of the Province who have “faculties” for the Byzantine Church: Frs. Joe Geary, Dennis Smolensk, Mark Cyclone, Robert Hard, Greg Goethe’s and Fr. Ray Gawronski, S.J. from Maryland. The other readers and subdeacons would fill these pages. We have been richly blessed.

With the advent of Vatican 11, many things changed for Byzantine Catholics. They were called to return to their pristine Tradition, removing any accretions which had crept in since reunion with Rome. They were to demonstrate that it is possible to live an orthodox life in communion with Rome without having to be Roman to be Catholic.

Today, in the spirit of Vatican II, the parish has grown and adapted with the changing times, responding to the call of the Holy Spirit for the evangelization of all peoples. No Catholic or Orthodox Church can be restricted to one ethnic group; the Gospel is universal. Indeed, in the early part of this century, the Patriarch of Constantinople condemned diocesan organization along ethnic lines.

A Multi-Ethnic Parish
With changing demographics, our parish is now as multiethnic as any other in the city. We have persons of Russian. Carpatho-Rusyn. Ukrainian. Greek. Arabic, Irish, Hispanic, German, English etc. backgrounds, all worshiping together. Our liturgy is Russian Byzantinetine and is entirely sung a capella to traditional Russian melodies in English. The Byzantine Churches have always had their liturgies in the vernacular.

After our Sunday liturgy we have a parish “Agape Meal” for fellowship and to welcome guests and new members. We are attempting to reach out to the unchurched people of the Bay area as our primary goal of evangelization. Years ago the Vatican and the Patriarch of Constantinople signed a joint agreement that Catholic and Orthodox should not proselytize one another’s faithful. We should aim at bringing people to Christ, not switching them from one Apostolic Church to another.

Our educational work includes lectures at Bay area parishes and schools, hosting groups at the Parish and participating in the Eastern Catholic Pastoral Association of Northern California. The ECPA is an association of the 15 Eastern Catholic Parishes and Institutions of Northern California and other interested clergy. ECPA members engage in ecumenical work, hold lectures, sponsor Eastern liturgies and annually sponsor booths at regional Religious Education meetings etc.

Since the “Democratic Revolutions” in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, we have also been cooperating in efforts to send books, food and clothing to the East. One highly successful effort was the Russian Easter Airlift of 1992. An unprecedented ecumenical group worked together to send food to Moscow and Siberia. It will be repeated this Fall for Armenia and Russia.

In the Easter Airlift we participated both as an Eastern Catholic parish and as a Jesuit apostolate, along with Faculty and students of USF and St. Ignatius High School. As a parish our primary duty is to worship the Holy Trinity who has saved us. This worship is always apostolic, bringing men and women to Christ following the example of our Lady the Theotokos (“Godbearer”), under whose patronage we are. Our major educational goal flows from this as well: to bring Western Christians into contact with the vital, rich and heady world of Byzantine spirituality and life. When you are in the area, please do not hesitate to call and drop by. Our regular weekly schedule includes Divine Liturgy on Saturday and Sunday mornings at 10:00 am. Sunday Liturgy satisfies the Roman precept of Sunday obligation! If you would like more information, call or write us at 101 20th Ave., San Francisco, CA 94121 or call (415) 752-2052.