Ex-Protestant at home in Byzantine Catholic Church
Sees Byzantine church a “perfect marriage” of Eastern traditions and unity with pope
By PATRICIA COLL FREEMAN
A former Lutheran pastor from Northern Michigan now heads St. Nicholas of Myra Byzantine Catholic Church in Anchorage.
On Oct. 31, Father James Barrand, 52, succeeded just-retired pastor Father Mike Hornick at the little, dome-topped church, where an ancient Catholic liturgy is celebrated everyday. Father Barrand is quick to explain that he got to the icon and incense-filled church with the help of ancient guides — the Early Church Fathers — who chanted the same Divine Praises in the first centuries of the church as he does now.
FOLLOWING THE FATHERS
While a Protestant seminarian, Father Barrand had been fascinated by the Catholic Church.
“I had been exploring it all the way through seminary,” he told the Anchor.
His concentration was the study of the Fathers of the Church, the influential theologians and writers of the first centuries after Jesus Christ. They include St. Augustine, St. Ignatius of Antioch and St. John Chrysostom.
As with many Protestant denominations, Father Barrand explained, Lutherans think they must “restore” the church to “its pristine shape before the corruption – as they saw it – of the Middle Ages. So they very much encourage people to go back to the Fathers. So I did.”
But in examining the writings of those closest in time to Christ and his Apostles, Father Barrand discovered the church Christ founded was the Catholic Church, not the Protestant denominations.
During his inquiry, Father Barrand examined the Orthodox church, as well, but he had become “a firm believer that the pope was the God-appointed vicar (of Christ) on earth,” — a belief the Orthodox do not share with Catholics.
Eventually, Father Barrand was introduced to the Byzantine Catholic Church.
“It was just like a perfect marriage – because it was the spirituality and liturgical traditions of Orthodoxy, while yet being in full union with Rome.”
On his entrance into the Catholic Church, there were no guarantees of being ordained a priest. His bishop wanted faithfulness, Father Barrand recalled, not just a career switch for the Protestant minister.
“I just needed to decide if I wanted to be Catholic. And I did.”
After entering the church, Father Barrand was later permitted to study for the priesthood. And on April 26, 1989, he was ordained a Catholic priest for the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Van Nuys, California.
In the Byzantine tradition, most of the liturgy is chanted, without musical instrumentation and led by a cantor. Before the priest announces the Gospel, he leads a procession with the altar servers through the church, holding aloft a gilded, ornamented book of the Gospels, and at several points in the liturgy, the priest incenses the altar and people.
But it is “more than just smells and bells,” Father Barrand explained. “There is that,” he said, but also a powerful tradition.
The liturgy’s prayers are ancient. The modifications made by the fourth century Church Father St. John Chrysostom are still in use.
“It’s amazing how relevant they still are,” commented Father Barrand. “They’ve stood the test of time, Muslim invasions, Communism, all of this sort of stuff.”
“We’ve been praying the same prayers over and over again, maybe slightly different translations, slightly different context at times,” he noted, “but they’ve proven themselves, just like Scripture, to really convey God to us.”
BLESSING FOR ALL
Meanwhile, Father Barrand believes the Byzantine tradition can be a blessing for all who witness the ancient worship.
“The Holy Spirit will speak to them of the great reverence and awe that we have for our Creator, for the Almighty, for the Holy Theotokos (Mother of God),” Father Barrand said.
In the Byzantine tradition, he noted, titles are often used in place of the names of God and Mary. It might seem “a little too old-fashioned, a little too hierarchical” to some, he said.
“But for us, it’s kind of like when you know your place a little bit, it helps you to realize how great his love is for us. If he’s the Lord and Master, if he’s the one who formed the whole world and keeps it going, and, yet, still loves and is concerned about my every need and desire and need for affirmation, then boy, that really does affirm how much he loves us and his Holy Mother loves us.”
That sort of tradition can give “meaning and strength” in times like these, he said, where one is “not so sure what’s going to happen tomorrow.”
Source: The Catholic Anchor
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