February 21, 2019


This Year - 21 February to be exact - the Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma, Ohio, USA is celebrating 50 years of Pastoral activity as an "eparchy". There are a number of events planned throughout this 2019 year. What follows are the words of the first Bishop of the Ruthenian Eparchy of Parma - Most Reverend Emil J. Mihalik. These are words that were spoken only a month and a half after it was officially established. What is significant is the vision and hope that the Bishop proposes to the clergy and all the faithful as he encourages them to take up the challenge as they all stand at the crossroads of a new journey together....

Parma Eparchial Convocation, April 6, 1970
Opening Address of Bishop Emil J. Mihalik, D.D.

My Brothers in Christ:

When I greet you as "my brothers," I do not use that term lightly, for although providence has decreed that I serve you as Bishop, I can remember well that day prior to my episcopal ordination less than a year ago when I stood before the altar just as you, an ordinary priest of the diocese. I know what it is to bend before the authority of a bishop and to follow the directives of the Chancery Office. I have experienced the anxieties that a priest must bear as he struggles through the building of a new parish complex. I have shared in the countless hours of labor that a priest must perform in fund raising activities, and the sleepless nights worrying whether there would be enough money to meet next month's payment. My priesthood, as yours, has been filled with joys and sorrows, doubts and fear, but above all, filled with love for God and confidence in His Divine power. I have been His priest longer than I have been His bishop. With these thoughts in mind, I have greeted you as my brothers.

I bid you welcome to our First Eparchial Convocation, and in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, I ask you to join with me in the awesome responsibility of governing our Eparchy. In the decree concerning the pastoral office of bishops, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council have declared: "A diocese is a portion of the people of God which is entrusted to a bishop to be shepherded by him with the cooperation of the presbytery... Bishops should always embrace priests with a special love since the latter, to the best of their ability, assume the bishop's anxieties and carry them on day by day so zealously. They should regard the priests as sons and friends and be ready to listen to them. Through their trusting familiarity with their priests they should strive to promote the whole pastoral work of the entire diocese."

One of the primary goals of this convocation will be to establish a certain sense of cooperation between the bishop and the priests of the Eparchy of Parma.

I have no fear in sharing the responsibility for the governing of the Eparchy with my brother priests. In fact, I welcome the idea. For, I sincerely believe that the Church will grow and the Eparchy will be strengthened by this sharing of responsibility.

I propose that we establish an Eparchial Personnel Board which will be composed of three priests elected by you, who will serve together with the bishop and the chancellor of the Eparchy. This board will make an intensive study to get a better knowledge of the personal qualifications of the individual priests, and the individual needs of the parishes of the Eparchy. When transfers of priests, or appointments to official positions are necessary, the opinion of the personnel board will be given prime consideration. We realize that it is impossible to make everyone happy, but we feel that appointments made under these conditions will be fair and just. The general good of the Eparchy must always supercede the particular good of an individual, but the rights of the individual must also be protected. This will be the work of the Personnel Board. In addition, this Board will help screen applicants for the Seminary, and will work closely with the Seminary faculty in recommending advancement to Holy Orders.

I propose also to establish a priests' Conciliation Board composed of members you elect. This Board will serve as an arbitration board between the priest and his bishop and laity. A priest may appeal to his bishop through the full strength of the board, and likewise the bishop may appeal to a particular priest through the intervention of his fellow-priests who make up the arbitration board. The laity also with just cause may appeal to the Board regards the action of the Pastor.

The question of the Episcopal Succession is also of deep concern. Sudden death or other calamity could leave the Episcopal See vacant at an unexpected time. We should always be prepared for the unexpected. For this reason, I will ask the Reverend Fathers of the Eparchy to submit the names of three priests whom they feel are qualitied to be ordained as Bishops. We ask you to prayerfully meditate before you submit these names. Do not let your decision be swayed by personal friendships, but scrutinize the qualifications of the individual. We will be guided by your request in submitting our recommendations to the Holy See.

Another goal of the convocation which is no less important is to establish our identity as Eastern Christians. To recognize our place in the church and to safeguard our future in the Church. In the short time since the establishment of our Eparchy, we have already begun to establish our identity. Our Holy Father, Pope Paul VI, through Cardinal Villot, the Vatican Secretary of State, has sent his blessings upon this convocation.

In another letter from the Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Cardinal de Furstenberg writes: "The news of the forthcoming Convocation has not failed to rouse satisfaction in this Sacred Congregation. It is our earnest hope," the Cardinal says, "that the proceedings be happily conducted and lead to solid and encouraging results, capable of favoring the progress - already, thank God, so much in evidence - of the new Eparchy of Parma."

The Apostolic Delegate to the United States, Archbishop Raimondi, has expressed his prayer that this convocation will be "truly beneficial to the life of our entire flock."

We are not intent on emulating the Eastern Orthodox to prove that we are Eastern, nor are we intent on emulating the Latin Rite Catholics to prove our Catholicity. In the true Church of Jesus Christ, neither Catholicity nor Orthodoxy need to be emphasized or minimized, for one can be completely Eastern and still be truly Catholic. These sentiments have been re-iterated by Pontiff after Pontiff. If anyone has minimized our Eastern spirituality, it has not been the Roman Pontiff, but rather we ourselves - and often in great disappointment to our Holy Father.

In attempting to prove our Catholicity, we have developed somewhat of an inferiority complex. There are some among us who have set aside the honored traditions of our Rite and have substituted practices of the Western Church - so called "Latinizations." We have no reason to feel inferior. Twenty-five hundred bishops speaking under the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the Decree on the Eastern Churches stated: "They are of equal dignity, so that none of them is superior to others as regards rite."

Thus you can see that it was a mistake for us to abandon the traditions of our Rite and to adopt practices of the Western Church in a futile attempt to prove our Catholicity. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, again speaking under the direction of the Holy Spirit, have decreed that "All members of the Eastern Rite should know and be convinced that they can and should always preserve their legitimate liturgical rite and their established way of life, and that these may not be altered except to obtain for themselves an organic improvement. All these, then, must be observed by the members of the Eastern Rites themselves. Besides, they should attain to an ever greater knowledge and a more exact use of them, and, if in their regard they have fallen short owing to contingencies of times and persons, they should take steps to return to their ancestral traditions."

We are at the crossroads of the '70's. We have several roads to choose from:

We can keep the "status quo" - that is, be nothing, do nothing, and go nowhere. Or...

We can take the easy road - we can follow the vast seal of humanity in the Church who are becoming confused in experimentation, often losing themselves on the road and sometimes even straying away from the faith altogether. Or...

We can face our true destiny! This destiny given us by God when he chose to ordain us priests of the Eastern Church.

Which of the three roads do we want to follow? Where do we want to go? Are we willing to make the personal sacrifices to reach the destination appointed for us by our Creator who, through no accident, endowed each one of us as custodians of the ancient treasures of Byzantium?

Let each one of us look deeply into our own souls! As your Bishop, I will confess my own shortcomings. My early years in the priesthood do not distinguish me as a model for pure Eastern liturgical practice. In preparing for the Holy Priesthood, I did not have the opportunity to receive an honest appraisal of Eastern spirituality. There was no seminary of the Byzantine Rite in the United States. As a seminarian the books on Eastern ecclesiology were not readily available as they are today.

Now, after almost twenty-five years in the priesthood, I too must be willing to study and learn the heritage of the East if I hope to please God and fulfill the mission which has been entrusted to me as a successor of the Apostles in the person of the first Eparch of Parma.

The change is not easy for me, and I am sure it will not be easy for you. But change we must! It is not enough for me to undergo a personal metanoia, but "To Serve As Shepherd" I am committed to lead the flock entrusted to me according to the intention of the Divine Shepherd.

I appeal to you my brother priests to walk the road with me in the same openness of mind and heart and soul and to place the will of God above our own will: His desire above our own desires, for the good of His Church.

I do not want to go to judgment trying to justify why I allowed the treasures of the East which have been entrusted to me to slip through my hands.

I would propose that to establish our identity as Byzantine Catholics, we must become more involved in Ecumenism - both with the Orthodox and with the Protestant Churches. To them our hands are extended in friendship as they are raised for them in prayer. We cannot regard them as strangers, as being outside the area of our concern. May we never be drawn into fruitless controversy with them. Yet may we equally keep in mind that the fulfillment of the Father's will and of Christ's prayer "That all may be one" will not come about in any fashion through us if we have an attitude of mere passivity.

We can accomplish this ONLY if we are willing to embark on a program of continued education. Here we are not talking about the religious formation of the laity alone, but also the continued education of the clergy. I sincerely recommend a monthly theological day be established in every deanery. Qualified speakers should be invited. Perhaps the three deaneries of Ohio could combine as one for these theological days to bring in well known guest lecturers. Likewise the Detroit and Chicago deaneries could combine for such occasions.

As Bishop, oftentimes problems are made known to the Chancery Office and therefore we are in a good position to recommend theological topics to be discussed in this program of continued education for the clergy.

But all of our plans will be in vain if there are not sufficient priests to carry them out. We must also initiate a definite plan to foster vocations to the religious life and to the priesthood. For all the years we can remember, there has been the lack of a set plan to encourage vocations. We would hope that from this Convocation some definite plan may evolve. For this reason we have set aside one evening of the Convocation to discuss the problem of vocations. We consider this one of the most important topics of the Convocation.

It is in this mind and this heart that I have called this Convocation. It is with this purpose that we officially declare it open. Join hands with me and let us walk the road together.

[First published in Byzantine Catholic World, April 19, 1970. All spelling, grammar and emphasis are as in the original.] (source: Horizons)

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