Who Are These People Called Byzantine Catholics?
The Ruthenians were one of the Slavic Tribes living in the area of the Carpathian Mountains of Eastern Europe called Subcarpathian Rus. They were converted to Christianity in the second half of the 9th century by the great Apostles to the Slavs, Cyril and Methodius, sent from Constantinople by the Byzantine Emperor Michael III at the request of the Moravian Prince Ratislav, "to explain to us the Christian truths in our own language." Having arrived in the land of Rus, the missionary brothers, of Greek and Slavic parentage, were unable to continue their journey to Moravia because of a Germanic invasion. So they settled in Rus for several years and developed an alphabet based on the language of the local people, called Rusin or Ruthenian, and translated the Christian faith and the liturgical practices of the great Church in Constantinople into written form and taught the people this written language. Since this was before the Great Schism between Orthodox and Catholic, these isolated people expressed the one universal (catholic) faith using the liturgical traditions of the Christian east (orthodox). Little affected by that schism because of their isolation, their ties to the See of Peter was reaffirmed in 1646 at the Union of Uzhorod. These Catholics with a strange liturgical tradition were embraced by the Austro-Hungarian Empress Maria Theresa and given the name "Greek Catholics" in deference to the origin of their liturgical practices, the great Church at Constantinople.
The beginning of the 19th century saw a vast immigration to
the United States where, once they arrived and were asked
their nationality, they simply replied "Greek Catholic". In
time they and their beloved church prospered and they were
given their own bishops. But the term "Greek Catholic"
confused many outsiders, as they were not Greek, nor were they
Russian. So in the early 1950's, then-Bishop Daniel Evancho
decided to call ourselves Byzantine Catholic in deference to
the home of our liturgical tradition, the Byzantine Empire.
This had the added benefit of removing a strictly ethnic
symbolism to our people so that the wonderful richness and
mystery of our faith can be open to all peoples of all ethnic
backgrounds. In 1978, a small group of these Byzantine
Catholics settled in the Pocono Mountains but missed the
celebration of the Catholic faith in their beloved Byzantine
tradition. So they gathered together and met in a small
community center at Pocono Manor, being served by a variety of
priests who had other parishes in northeastern Pennsylvania.
After years of dedication and hard work, they purchased the
small community center and had the building moved about a mile
and a half to their new location on Rt. 940 in Pocono Summit.
Saint Nicholas of Myra parish continued to grow and witnessed
a major renovation and expansion project in 2000, shortly
after their very own priest was assigned to the parish. Our
parish territory covers families in four counties in
Pennsylvania and one in New Jersey and welcomes a host of
visitors each year, introducing many of them to the Byzantine
expression of the Catholic faith, what Pope John Paul II
referred to as the other lung of the Catholic Church. On
behalf of all of us at Saint Nicholas of Myra Byzantine
Catholic Church I take this opportunity to offer special
thanks to our founders and benefactors, our parish family, and
our guests and visitors who have made these years of service
in the Pocono Mountains a lifetime of joy for both myself and
my predecessors. May God bless all of you most abundantly.
Fr. Michael Salnicky