Shortly after my official introduction to the Byzantine tradition in Michigan my wife and I moved to Northern Virginia so that I could pursue graduate studies in psychology (for various reasons those studies were quickly abandoned). Before we moved, however, I made sure that there was at least one Byzantine parish in the area. In fact, there are several. The one that we began attending regularly is called "Holy Epiphany of Our Lord Byzantine (Ruthenian) Catholic Church." We attended Liturgy there for the first several months after our move, and I came to know the pastor and a number of parishioners, all of them wonderful people. It was here that my prayer rope-making business really got a good start. The pastor noticed my rope, and when it came out that I had made it he asked if I'd be willing to make one for him as well. He kept saying over and over that my ropes were "like the old ropes" where the knots were separated instead of being all squished together like the majority of today's prayer ropes. After I made a rope for him he excitedly showed it to a number of folks, and it wasn't long before the parish bookstore started carrying my ropes as well. I also made a rope for a visiting Jesuit priest who had been learning to celebrate the Divine Liturgy in order to gain bi-ritual faculties and help out some of the local Byzantine parishes.
During one of my conversations with the pastor in the sacristy a gentleman walked in and began chatting with us. The pastor quickly showed him his new prayer rope that I'd made, and the gentleman, being very impressed, asked if I'd make one for him as well. I was very happy to do so. While we were chatting it came out that I was looking for a job because my wife, who was seven months pregnant at the time, had just undergone surgery and I'd just dropped out of graduate school in order to find a job to support my family. It turns out that the gentleman was none other than Jack Figel, founder and owner of "Eastern Christian Publications" in Fairfax, VA. He had been looking for some help with the publishing company and I quickly accepted his offer. A couple of days later I embarked upon a journey that has all but solidified my identification as an Eastern Catholic.
Working at Eastern Christian Publications was life-changing for me. I had access to tons of books and articles on the Christian East (both Catholic and Orthodox), her theology, spirituality, tradition, etc. I also came to a deeper understanding of the problems and struggles of ecumenical relations between Catholics and Orthodox, as well as the struggles for identity among Eastern Catholics and what their role in the Catholic Church as a whole ought to be. What was truly amazing for me, however, was the hours and hours I got to spend shooting and editing video footage of guest lecturers such as the leading Byzantine liturgical scholar, Fr. Robert Taft, S.J., or professor of iconology at St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, Prof. Richard Schneider, and folks of similar dynamism. I was also privileged to edit hours and hours of video footage by Met. Kallistos Ware, Fr. David Anderson, Archpriest Lawrence Cross, Met. Jonah (former Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church in America), Fr. Maximos Davies, and others. Being able to listen to and absorb their wisdom and experience, as well as reading some of the works of folks like Archbishop Elias Zoghby and Fr. Cyril Korolevsky, really formed my love and understanding of the Byzantine tradition. For me, these experiences brought the tradition to life in a way that, I believe, would've taken decades of study otherwise. I'm very grateful for the time that I spent working at Eastern Christian Publications, and I whole-heartedly recommend any and all of their publications to both Catholics and Orthodox alike.
Shortly after I began working at Eastern Christian Publications I had occasion to attend the local Melkite Greek Catholic parish in McLean, VA. The parish is called "Holy Transfiguration Melkite Greek Catholic Church." I'd known about the parish prior to moving to Virginia because of the search I'd done for Byzantine parishes online. I'd always intended on checking the parish out once we got settled because of my curiosity about the Melkite tradition ignited by the lecture I'd listened to by Bishop Nicolas Samra on the Jesus Prayer. Unfortunately it took a number of months for us to get settled, and it wasn't until just a week or two before Christmas in 2008 that I was able to attend my first Divine Liturgy there. I was immediately blown away by both the celebration of the Liturgy itself, and the strength and warmth of the community there. It wasn't long before my wife and I officially became parishioners. We've been attending there ever since. Both of our children have been baptized, chirsmated, and communicated into that parish, and if I could I would have the same for all of our future children. What working at Eastern Christian Publications did for me on an intellectual level, Holy Transfiguration solidified and raised it up to a more spiritual level. What I'd learned from the metropolitans, bishops, priests, monks, and scholars through conversation became experiential through participation in Holy Transfiguration's rich liturgical life and the love with which the Liturgy is celebrated there.
Now that my wife and I are preparing to move from the Northern Virginia area back home to my beloved Greater Cincinnati area, I'm going to feel the loss of the community at Holy Transfiguration most keenly. There is no Melkite parish in the Cincinnati area, and the closest parish that celebrates the Byzantine tradition is a small mission out in Dayton, Ohio. Most likely we will not be able to make it out there. But I do look forward to broadening my perspective on the traditions of the East after our move. There is a Maronite Catholic parish in Cincinnati which we plan on checking out and, possibly, making our home parish. If I had my way, however, there would be a Melkite parish in Cincinnati some time in the next few years.
Perhaps as my pilgrimage to the East continues I may post some of my experiences in the Maronite tradition and the great insights that that tradition has to offer us. In the meantime I will remain a Byzantine at heart and will look forward to the day that some sort of Byzantine parish is firmly established in Cincinnati. May heaven consume us.