The first question the Rev. Jim Kubajak usually hears from Roman Catholics is, “What’s the difference?”
The pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Byzantine Catholic Church in Oregon, Ohio, Kubajak said he answers by emphasizing the similarities, and pointing out that the Byzantine Catholic Church is a branch of the Roman Catholic Church.
They both recognize the Bishop of Rome, or the pope, as the visible head of the church, he said. They both have seven sacraments. Both churches are in full communion with each other. They are all followers of Jesus Christ.
“We start by saying the faith is the same everywhere. It has to be. You can’t change that,” Kubajak said in a lecture at a “Theology with Toast” session on Sept. 11 at the Little Sisters of the Poor’s campus in Oregon.
The Byzantine Catholic Church maintains the core doctrines of the Roman Church but differs in some of the things it emphasizes and in some of its customs and traditions, the priest explained to about 40 people in attendance.
“The faith is very rich, and if you’re from different ethnic backgrounds, you know that different ethnic backgrounds emphasize different parts of the faith. It’s the same with the rites. We simply pick different things to emphasize,” Kubajak explained.
The Byzantine Church is one of the earliest in Christiandom, tracing its founding to the missionary journeys of the apostles to the Greek-speaking regions of the Eastern Mediterranean.
“The early church, as it grew, it grew city by city,” Kubajak said. “As time went on, certain cities became bigger and the area around them started to adopt their style. They became fashionable.”
One of the cities where the early church flourished was Byzantion, on the Bosphorus strait, which was named for a merchant named Byzas. When Roman Emperor Constantine decided to move the imperial capital from Rome to Byzantion in 325 AD, he renamed the city Constantinople (it’s now known as Istanbul).
“If you’re going to build a city, you name it after yourself, right?” Kubajak said. “What the heck, we’re lucky we’re not called Constantinopolitans! Can you imagine? People have enough trouble spelling and pronouncing Byzantine.”
The Byzantine Church grew as Christianity spread throughout the Mediterranean areas.
“A lot of churches ended up in the Byzantine Rite as Constantinople grew up and swallowed a lot of the smaller churches, again because it was stylish – they wanted to worship like they do in the big city,” Kubajak said.
The first Byzantine Catholic Church in this area was built in 1913 in East Toledo, where many Hungarian immigrants had settled. The church moved to its current site, an architecturally striking building with golden domes topped by crosses, in Oregon in 1983.
Kubajak, 65, grew up in the Roman Catholic Church in Chicago and decided to embrace the Byzantine Rite in 1976. He was ordained in 1977 and served at parishes in Parma and Fairview Park, Ohio, before being named pastor of St. Michael’s in 1985. He received a doctor of divinity degree from St. George University International in 1999.
Trying to explain the Byzantine Catholic liturgy to people who do not attend is like talking about a movie that nobody has seen, Kubajak said. “That’s the problem I’m running into, it’s really difficult to talk about a lot of this without seeing it.”
He put on some of the clerical garments for illustrative purposes and reviewed some of the differences between the Eastern and Latin rites of the Catholic Church.
“I refer to my Eucharistic service as the Divine Liturgy, because the word ‘Mass’ comes from ‘Missa,’ which is Latin, which we never used,” Kubajak said. “If you come to my liturgy, at 10:30 on Sunday mornings, you would see that everything is sung. The whole liturgy is sung from the beginning to the end, generally speaking.”
The only parts that are not sung are the Epistles and the Nicene Creed – which technically is called the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, he added.
The liturgy of St. John Chrystosom, a fourth-century patriarch of Constantinople, is followed most of the year at St. Michael’s, with the liturgy of St. Basil the Great, who died in 379, used during Lent and on a handful of Sundays.
“If you come to my church, you hear a lot of emphasis on the Trinity,” Kubajak said. “Almost all the prayers end with the invocation of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We’re real picky about that.”
He added that Mary, mother of Jesus, “is revered” in the Byzantine Catholic Church and that “there are all manner of prayers to Mary,” including one in the middle of the liturgy.
Children as young as 2 have received Holy Communion in the Divine Liturgy at St. Michael’s, Kubajak said, while in the Roman Catholic tradition a child must reach “the age of reason,” normally determined to be about age 7.
When a person is baptized in the Byzantine Catholic Church, they are baptized, Christmated (confirmed) and receive Holy Communion “all together in the same liturgy,” Kubajak said. “We never split up these things.”
The priest uses a spoon to administer the Eucharist, in the form of a cube of bread inside the chalice.
Attendance at St. Michael’s Divine Liturgy on Sunday mornings is usually around 30 people, Kubajak said. The church has had only one deacon in its history, James Sofalvi, who was ordained in 2003.
Until about 75 years ago, priests would preach for at least an hour, and people listened because “what else did they have to do? No radio, no television,” Kubajak said. The priests needed to be good public speakers, delivering sermons that were “both enlightening and entertaining” to keep the people’s interest for such a long time.
Audiences don’t have such lengthy attention spans or patience today.
“A hundred years ago I could talk for an hour and no one would have complained. I shoot for 10 minutes on Sunday,” Kubajak said.
St. Michael the Archangel Byzantine Catholic Church is at 4001 Navarre Ave., Oregon. Divine Liturgy is at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday. For more information, call 419-691-1291 or visit the church’s website.