“Parish Life from Maintenance to Discipleship”

The Office of Religious Education welcomed 62 participants on Nov. 10 to the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Munhall, Pa. to reflect on parish life and the call to be Disciples of Jesus Christ. Deacon John Evancho, Eparchy of Parma, gave two informative and thought-provoking presentations. His first was entitled “The Immigrant Byzantine
Catholic Disciple.” With the help of a PowerPoint presentation, he gave a brief illustrated history of religious persecution in Eastern Europe from 1919- 1945.

Deacon John traced the journey taken by brave souls who fled religious persecution and economic deprivation. Those daring and brave souls journeyed to unfamiliar territory to practice their faith and live the Gospel as Byzantine Catholic Christians. Imbued with the humility and courage of Bishops Theodore Romza, Paul Gojdich and Basil Hopko, they carried with them fortitude and determination to remain faithful to their Byzantine Catholic faith and traditions.

The determination of our ancestors to succeed guided them to discern the necessary changes needed to survive in a new and challenging environment. Deacon John shared personal examples from his own family and mentors. His first presentation laid a foundation for his second presentation, “Byzantine Catholic Disciples Today.” The words, “We are deeply connected to God” set the tone for a reflection on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Quoting several Scriptural passages and writings from the Early Church Fathers, Deacon John explained what it means to be created in the Image and Likeness of God. Because humans are special creatures of God we are able to reflect all God is by our love, compassion and generosity for others. These qualities equip us to be “counter-culture” in a secular and materialistic world. Our call as disciples is to help others realize their dignity, not merely as someone who believes in God but as someone who professes their faith, giving witness to the way God intended the
world to be.

Deacon John’s presentation on “Byzantine Catholic Discipleship Today” can be summed up with the quote from his initial slide: “I deeply believe that the Byzantine way is still the most suitable way for modern man to come to a realization of the sheer poetry and grace in the Gospels. I believe that Western man, and especially Americans,
can easily live it, and that it can add to his enrichment without intellectual capitulation… Christianity is not an abstract doctrine divorced from reality and history. Nor is it some momentary, flickering light which shines for a brief while and then is gone. Christianity is a continual celebration of life and love between God and man lived out in concrete history… it is a mystery of life in an embrace of Love” (The Face of God, Archbishop Joseph M.

The third presentation at the conference was given by Christopher Russo, Eparchy of Passaic. He spoke about “The Challenge of Discipleship for the Future.” Having represented the Byzantine Catholic Metropolia in the United States at the Pre Synod for Youth in Rome, March 2018, Christopher shared his experiences of “Church” at home and abroad. He shared a powerful photo of his home parish in Connecticut destroyed by fire in 2013. The Sunday following the fire the parish community gathered outside on the property to celebrate the Divine Liturgy.

Christopher spoke about how important it is for people to understand the parish is the people, not just a building or district. It is in the parish that we become engaged with the wider Church community, are nourished by the Scripture and the Sacraments. He quoted Pope Francis: “The thing the Church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful. It needs nearness and proximity. I see the Church as a field

One of the most exciting pieces of information Christopher shared was to announce an upcoming conference for young Byzantine Catholic adults that will take place in New York on August 1 to 4, 2019. This conference is being planned by a group called “Theosis in Action: The Young Adult Ministry of the Eparchy of Passaic” and will include representation from all four Eparchies. The mission of this organization is to create Disciples of Jesus Christ through social media and in person events. Using modern methods of communication they will provide resources, fellowship and collaboration to help young Byzantine Catholics as they navigate through adulthood.

In addition to the two gifted speakers, Helen Kennedy, a member of the Renewal & Revitalization Commission, gave an update on parish action items. Seminarians attending were introduced in a “Creative Jeopardy” activity which provided a lot of chuckles. However, no cash prizes were given! Thank you to Very Rev. Andrew Deskevich for use of the Cathedral facilities, Amanda Singel and Lori Downey who helped with the organization of the conference and Nick
Havrilla for taking photos