The Draw of the East
Finding my spiritual home
"Pray without ceasing" — 1 Thessalonians 5:17
The Most Reverend William C. Skurla, D.D.
Metropolitan Archbishop of Pittsburgh
My name is David Valerio. I am a Latin Rite Catholic whose home parish is St. Cecilia Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. I am writing to you to indicate my desire to change rites and become a member of the Byzantine Catholic Church.
I first became attracted to the spirituality of the East when I discovered the Jesus Prayer. I came across it while reading an article about different forms of the Act of Contrition. At the end of the list were the words, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” I was immediately struck by the power contained in this short prayer and decided to learn more about it.
I then discovered that the Jesus Prayer is central to the contemplative practice of Hesychasm. The prospect of learning to pray without ceasing by having the Jesus Prayer ever on my lips thrilled me. I acquired a 33 knot chotki bracelet and began to pray the prayer as much as I could every day. I felt myself drawing closer to God the more I dedicated myself to the practice which brought me great joy. I also read The Way of the Pilgrim during this time, which enchanted me with its beautiful portrayal of the higher joys to be reached by traveling this mystical path.
While my prayer life grew with my every repetition of the Jesus Prayer, I began to read into the theology that lay behind this spiritual practice which so attracted me. The Palamist essence-energies distinction matched my intuition for how our invisible God manifests himself in the visible world, while the Eastern emphasis on apophatic theology fit my tendency to philosophical skepticism perfectly. It was amazing to discover a school of Christian thought that I so thoroughly identified with.
As I continued to become more deeply entranced by Eastern spirituality and theology, I began to become concerned about how it affected my Catholic faith. I felt that I was being a strange, perhaps even misguided, Catholic by being so moved by what I thought was solely an Orthodox tradition. Would I be enticed to leave the Catholic Church and convert to Eastern Orthodoxy by continuing to explore with these practices and ideas?
After doing some research, I discovered that the Eastern Catholic Churches exist. The idea that there were Byzantine Rite churches in communion with the Pope had never occurred to me. I then decided to attend Divine Liturgy and experience the Eucharistic celebration that embodies the tradition which I had come to know through study and prayer.
I’ve been attending Divine Liturgy at St. John Chrysostom Byzantine Catholic Church in Houston, Texas for the past four months, and have fallen in love with it. The sense of mystery that pervades every moment of the Liturgy is breathtaking. I especially delight in the chanting and singing of prayers that constitute the service. They make me feel connected with God and my fellow Catholics in a way I’d never known before. Many of the prayers used during the celebration have become a part of my daily practice. Participating in the Divine Liturgy feels right.
Engaging the rich traditions of Eastern Christianity has set my faith aflame, and becoming a member of the St. John Chrysostom parish community has enriched my life in Christ tremendously. I hope to continue my journey to union with God by becoming a member of the Byzantine Catholic Church.
Respectfully yours in Christ,