Dear Fr. Lucas,
Like yourself and many others, we too are saddened and surprised at the news that for whatever reasons, Fr. Jan Cizmar will no longer be serving our Ruthenian Eparchy of Parma. Fr. Jan had served our Eparchy well and he and his family were beloved by many especially in the greater Cleveland area. In your message to us you expressed an outrage that we could have any other reaction to Fr. Jan’s decision other than to condemn him. Fr. Lucas, please know that while we share your sense of surprise and disappointment in Fr. Jan’s decision, our reaction is different than yours. Our sadness at the loss of this fine priest to our Ruthenian Church in America stops short of any type of name-calling or judgments about Fr. Jan as a priest or a person. None of us can presume to know and judge the true nature of a vocational discernment that is between Fr. Jan, his family and Almighty God. To help both of us to better understand each other’s reaction to the Fr. Jan situation we believe that it would be helpful to compare our respective historical circumstances.
Our clergy and faithful in America know that during the Communist oppression in Eastern Europe, the Greek Catholic and even Orthodox Churches were persecuted. We also know that the Orthodox Churches were infiltrated with Communist sympathizers while our Greek Catholic Churches suffered for their continued loyalty to union with Rome. It is understandable to us in America that for the faithful and clergy in Eastern Europe, the Orthodox Church would be associated with Communists. The history of the Orthodox Churches and the Greek Catholic Churches in America is different and consequently the way that Greek Catholics in Europe and Greek Catholics in America view and relate to the Orthodox Churches is also different.
During the late 1800’s when our Greek Catholic ancestors came to America, the Latin Rite and its bishops were already well established in America. Lacking our own schools and seminaries, the Latin Rite diocese were very generous in opening their schools and seminaries to our young people and seminarians. However, not all was well between the Latin Rite Church and Greek Catholic Churches.
Much of the Latin Rite hierarchy were not familiar with the Eastern Rites of the Church and in particular the fact that some Eastern Rite Churches had married clergy. Mistreatment and prejudice of our Greek Catholic clergy and faithful occurred even to the point of Rome issuing in 1929 the “Cum Data Fuerit” decree stating that all clergy serving the “New World” (North America) had to be celibate.
The mistreatment and the prohibition of married clergy for the Eastern Catholic Churches resulted in two separate schisms where members of our Greek Catholic parishes broke from unity with Rome and established their own Orthodox parishes. Many of these people believed they were standing up against what they perceived as a betrayal and injustice done to their Greek Catholic Churches by the Latin Rite hierarchy in concert with Rome. These two schisms occurred in the early 1900’s and again in the 1930’s. Thousands upon thousands of Greek Catholic Faithful and clergy left the Greek Catholic Churches to become Orthodox. These schisms were at times virulent and often split family and friends apart. Today, many parishes in the Orthodox Church of America and the Orthodox Eparchy in Johnstown, Pa., were originally formed from Greek Catholic faithful and clergy who split from Rome.
With the advent of the Second Vatican Council and subsequent post-Conciliar efforts by Popes a spirit of ecumenism began to take hold in North America. Urged by the Second Vatican Council, the Eastern Catholic Churches began to shed the Latinizations that were either chosen or imposed on them and they began to rediscover their authentic Eastern Christian spiritual and Liturgical traditions. Dialogue and cooperation between the Latin Rite Church, the Orthodox Churches and the Eastern Catholic Churches became an increasingly common reality. Over the decades since the Second Vatican Council much healing, fraternity and cooperation has occurred between the Orthodox and Greek Catholic Churches in North America. Dialogue between these Churches steered away from certain terms that were inflammatory. These were words like, “schismatics,” “Uniates,” “Break-aways.”
The Eparchy of Parma was conceived during the very first flushes of this spirit of ecumenism between the Orthodox Churches and the Latin Rite and Eastern Rite Churches in North America. The Eparchy of Parma has enjoyed the reputation of having a certain leadership role in such ecumenical efforts as well as the restoration of our authentic Eastern Christian spiritual and liturgical traditions. In fact some clergy from our Eparchy have even served on high level ecumenical commissions.
The great scandal before the eyes of the world is the fact that the Body of Christ is torn and divided. The call to unity, especially between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches is a most urgent one and we are very proud of the reputation that our Eparchy of Parma has earned in its efforts toward healing this division. We are therefore also concerned that any statements or opinions about Fr. Jan’s situation will be prudent and not threaten the ecumenical reputation of the Eparchy of Parma and the many years of progress in ecumenical efforts.
Again, Fr. Lucas we want to acknowledge our shared sense of loss and surprise over Fr. Jan’s decision. We thank you for your zeal and service to our Byzantine Catholic Church in America. It is our hope that we can together entrust Fr. Jan and his family to the Providence of God and do as Bishop Milan asked us all to do—pray for Fr. Jan and his family. For our part we will continue to pray and work toward healing the torn body of Christ just as the Ruthenian Eparchy of Parma has always done. We hope and pray that you will also join us in those intentions as well.
This response it written to you on the behalf of many people that have signed mandates to legal council who disagree with the current administration of the Eparchy of Parma. Unfortunately, our numbers are growing every day.
The Cleveland Area Ruthenian Byzantine Merger Alliance