"...for the union of Christians can only be promoted by promoting the return to the one true Church of Christ of those who are separated from it, for in the past they have unhappily left it."

-Pope Pius XI, Encyclical "Mortalium Animos"

Friday, May 1, 2009

Fr. Chrysostom Frank, Russian Orthodox priest in Communion with Rome.

Excerpted from the "Denver Catholic Register"

Married Byzantine priest to serve as administrator of downtown parish

Father Frank to offer both Latin and Eastern-rite liturgies at St. Elizabeth Church

Roxanne King

For the last four years, a married priest has taught at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, and now, he will also serve as a parish administrator.

And it's all in keeping with the teaching of the Church.

Byzantine Catholic Father Chrysostom Frank, 48, a professor of Church history at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, is assigned to serve as administrator of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish located on the Auraria campus downtown, beginning July 1. His wife, Marica, a native of South Africa, teaches Greek and Latin at the seminary. The couple has three children.

In addition to his seminary duties, Father Frank also has served as administrator of Holy Protection of the Mother of God Byzantine Catholic Church. His new assignment means a farewell there.

Raised Protestant, and with an English accent acquired during the many years he lived in Great Britain and South Africa, the Pennsylvania native likes to say he "slowly progressed towards Catholicism."

"When I was doing my doctorate at the University of St. Andrew in Scotland I became a Byzantine Christian and ... in 1985 I was ordained to the priesthood in the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa. A few years later, I canonically transferred to the Orthodox Church in America."

His unique situation in the Denver Archdiocese — he is likely the first married priest to oversee a Roman Catholic parish here — is not his first trailblazing experience.

For 10 years he served a parish in Johannesburg, South Africa, that was a cooperative venture between the Greek Orthodox and the American Orthodox churches. The parish, St. Nicholas of Japan (named after a contemporary Russian Orthodox saint) was "the first one of that kind in South Africa."

Father Frank became a Catholic in 1998.

"I saw no reason for the schism of 1054 to continue," Father Frank said referring to the split between the Eastern and Western churches over several issues, including papal authority. "It seemed to me that it was possible for Eastern and Western Christians to live together in communion despite the fact that we have different liturgical, spiritual and theological traditions. But our roots are basically what unite us.

"The only way for that to be done is to be in communion with the bishop of Rome, the chair of Peter," he continued. "It really was a desire on my part to find a fuller expression of the Church's universality and catholicity. In other words, there are differences that remain but those differences don't seem to me to be sufficient for perpetuating the schism. So really what I saw myself as doing is being an Orthodox Christian in communion with Rome."

Msgr. Tom Fryar, vicar for clergy and seminarians for the archdiocese, sees Father Frank's marital status as revealing "the diversity present in the Church."

"It's going to be an opportunity for people to fully understand that the richness of the Catholic Church is far wider and more diverse than what many knew from their experience," he said.

While the Roman Catholic Church is by far the largest of the Catholic churches, 21 Eastern Catholic churches share the same essential Christian faith and are in communion with the pope. Many of them use the Divine Liturgy (Mass) of St. John Chrysostom, which dates back 1,700 years.

The tradition of the Eastern churches, Orthodox and Catholic, is to have both married and celibate clergy. The Western Church recognizes all the sacraments of the Eastern churches, including the ordinations of married men, Father Frank said.

"So for an Orthodox priest to become a Catholic takes about two minutes," he said with a chuckle.

Married former Protestant clergy also have been accepted into the Catholic priesthood since 1980, when the Vatican approved special U.S. provisions under which former Episcopal priests could apply for ordination in the Catholic priesthood, according to a Catholic News Service report.

While a married priest might be a novelty now, they may be on the increase. CNS reported May 23 that the Vatican has stopped suspending ordinations of married men for Eastern Catholic churches in North America and Australia. Since 1929 Church rules generally allowed such priests to minister only in the traditional homeland of their church. Eastern-rite bishops have said the Second Vatican Council's call to respect the traditions and disciplines of the Eastern churches and similar affirmations in the 1990 Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches have nullified the ban.

But all this doesn't mean the Western Church is ready to toss out its tradition of a celibate priesthood.

"Both disciplines are ancient and the two parts of the Church are equally committed to their own disciplines," Father Frank said. "Having Eastern Catholic married priests doesn't mean that the Latin Church needs to embrace that as its discipline because clerical celibacy has a rationale all of its own."

The discipline of clerical celibacy in the Western Church stands on its own merits and it can stand alongside the discipline of the Eastern churches, Father Frank said.

"The married pastoral model, which is normative within Eastern Christianity — not exclusive but normative — would give priority to human intimacy as being the normal means towards intimacy with God. That is, through the sacrament of marriage, or the mystery of marriage, a pathway is opened up towards intimacy with God. That then becomes the means for the average pastor to carry out his ministry in relationship to other people," he explained.

Celibate priests in the Eastern tradition are often monks, Father Frank said.

"The Eastern tradition, by and large, doesn't like to have celibate men left on their own. It would prefer to see them live in a community of some sort simply because of the realization that it's in many ways difficult to live a celibate life by oneself — not impossible but difficult."

The Western tradition "would give priority to intimacy with God which is not mediated through that kind of intimacy that we find in marriage," Father Frank said. "It would hold forth the life of the angels, for example, to be the model that would be used in expressing how a pastor would relate to the Christian community."

Both traditions require ascetical discipline and both have eschatological value, he said.

"Both of them point towards the kingdom of God. Certainly within the Eastern tradition celibate monastics have always been regarded as being signs of the kingdom."

The two disciplines "reflect legitimate plurality," Father Frank said. "Oftentimes there's a fear of that but I think that we are now coming to the point where that fear is being dissipated."

If both traditions are to survive, each "must stand on its own merits," he said.

"And they both can," Father Frank said with conviction.

Although the Byzantine priest said he is saddened to leave the community of Holy Protection Church, he is also excited about the prospect of leading St. Elizabeth's, which offers a chance to reach out to the thousands of students who use the Auraria campus and to celebrate the Russian Byzantine rite.

"It's an opportunity for there to be a place right in the heart of the Archdiocese of Denver where Western Christians can encounter the Eastern tradition. In this case, the Russian Byzantine tradition. ... I really hope it's a genuine place of encounter for Christians — and this is what Pope John Paul II has repeatedly called for — an encounter between the East and the West so we can learn to breathe with two lungs again."

On Sundays, Father Frank will celebrate the Latin-rite Mass at 9 a.m. and the Russian Byzantine rite — in English — at 11 a.m.

The Byzantine tradition traces its roots to the Church of Constantinople. Roman Catholics may attend a Byzantine Divine Liturgy to fulfill their Sunday Mass obligation.

The Divine Liturgy is always sung and is more elaborate than a Latin-rite Mass. One significant difference Roman Catholics might notice in the Byzantine rite is that Communion is done by intinction, meaning the consecrated bread is soaked in the consecrated wine, and served on a spoon. Another difference is that all the baptized faithful, babies and children included, receive Communion. That's because all the sacraments of initiation, including confirmation and Communion, are received at the time of one's baptism in the Eastern churches.

"I'm quite excited about this possibility at St. Elizabeth's of actually serving both a Roman Catholic community as well as trying to form a Byzantine Russian Catholic community," Father Frank said.

Known as an "open" parish with a solid music program and a strong sense of community makes St. Elizabeth's an ideal place to offer the Byzantine rite, Father Frank said.

"And that's quite nice," he said.

And the St. Elizabeth community is in for a treat, too, Msgr. Fryar said.

"Father Frank brings an insight and wisdom of the faith to the local setting which currently benefits our seminarians to a large degree and will now benefit a parish community in a new and dynamic way," he said.

Other churches in Denver offering Eastern-rite liturgies include Holy Protection of the Mother of God (Ruthenian rite), Transfiguration of Our Lord Ukrainian Catholic (Ukrainian rite) and St. Rafka Maronite Mission at All Souls Parish (Maronite rite).