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Greece Prepares Me for the Western Rite

by Peter Kavanaugh

After a year and a half on Mt. Olympus I prepared for my return back to America. I did not know what would await me there, and was a little anxious about leaving behind the awesome Grace of God I had experienced in Greece.

It was in the spring of 2008 that I began my life at the Holy Monastery of St. Dionysius of Mt. Olympus. I had gone there because I wished to live in an environment where Orthodoxy was deeply embedded into everyday life. There I found a community of lay people and clergy with a Christianity that was not, in the popular sense of the word, just a “religion” (in the popular sense of the word), or merely a set of dogmas and rituals, nor was it just “what we do on Sundays.” Instead, their faith was to be found even in the way they drink their coffee, in their daily expressions and habits, in their hospitality and lack of anxiety, and especially in their love for one another.

I was especially impressed by how natural and uncontrived their religion was. For them Orthodoxy was not exotic or foreign. It was simply life. One day followed another as these monks engaged in ancient, beautiful traditions. But as time passed by, it was no longer the elaborate robes and rituals that impressed me. Behind everything they did there was a spirit. Their faith, expressed through their Byzantine traditions, consisted of something much deeper and transcendental. There was a quiet power in their hearts and behind their eyes. This gradually became much more apparent and alluring. I went to Greece seeking to find the height of Orthodox expression. When I left, I simply wanted to find God.

Soon after I returned to the United States, I experienced an unforgettable Saturday evening. I had walked into Vespers at St. Patrick’s Church. I did not hear the same sublime and exotic Byzantine chants I had grown used to. I did not see any long, silvery beards that so distinguish the monastics, nor any “yayas” clothed in black. There were no great and elaborately decorated chandeliers, no ancient icons, and very few candles. Instead, I heard a sweet and simple Gregorian chant – with its own distinctive sublimity. This was followed by a heartfelt western hymn. Behind a thin rood screen, wearing western vestments, the parish priest, Fr. Patrick, faced the altar and implored God’s mercy. There was nothing foreign in the room. Yet there by the altar, I found myself at the same place that I had left behind on Mt. Olympus.

At St. Patrick’s Church I found that same spirit that had so enraptured me at the Monastery of St. Dionysius. Here it was clothed in another color. No longer expressed in a Byzantine milieu, it was expressed within my own ancestors’ legacy. This had a profound impact on me. Greek monasteries are flooded with pilgrims from Russia, Romania, Georgia, and all the various Orthodox nations. Each group of people was so genuinely Orthodox. Yet each brought with it its own cultural flavor. Here, attending a Western Rite liturgy, I witnessed the faith I love expressed within my own cultural heritage. I prayed as my ancestors once prayed, just as my brothers in Greece prayed as their ancestors had. Here I witnessed a faith so authentic, and so natural, just as the one I left in Greece. In very little time I found myself at a real sense of home in the Western Rite.

It was during Lent of 2007 that several families had been chrismated together by his Grace Bishop THOMAS. Among these, Fr. Patrick Cardine was shortly thereafter ordained into the priesthood. The growing community began worshipping in his basement and he has since converted a commercial space into a beautiful sanctuaryCurrently they are raising money to finish building a church in the bucolic countryside of Bealeton, Virginia. The parish’s journey has been one of great efforts, and has borne many fruitful results. Ever growing and earning a name in the county, St. Patrick’s Mission has brought joy and meaning, and most of all the authentic Church, into the lives of many.

When the community came into the Church, they chose to live out their faith within the Western Rite tradition. They assumed a mission to serve God and to spread the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic faith within the American context.  Fr. Patrick Cardine says, “The Orthodox Church is not a foreign exotic faith for specialists, it is the Church for every man, woman, and child, for every culture and every time. Saint Patrick’s hopes to be a living and dynamic expression of the unchanging faith for our community here in Fauquier Co. and the surrounding area.”

In a short time I have found a deep love and appreciation for the Orthodox Western-Rite and this parish. This attitude in my heart did not come about for any sophisticated reasons. I am no theologian or liturgical expert. I am only an American, who loves the Church and also loves my country and my Western heritage. If there is one thing that I have learned on my journeys through Mt. Olympus and Warrenton, Virginia, it is that God and the means for sanctification can be found everywhere. I was raised in a county just east of St. Patrick’s Church. How ironic that I should find the same Grace that exists on Mt. Olympus, here in this small and historical Virginian town.