O Joyful Light: The Faith of Russian Catholics

by Rev. Romanos V. Russo

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It is 7:30 on a Saturday evening in a tiny Russian Catholic chapel. The priest, wearing vestments dating from the time of the Czars, opens the royal doors of the iconostasis, or altar screen. He incenses crosswise the four corners of the “throne,” as the altar is called, and the icons of the Savior, the Mother of God, St. Michael the Archangel and St. John the Baptist. All the while the choir sings Psalm 103:

Blessed are you, O Lord, in wisdom you have created all things.

There follows a litany of petition for the spiritual needs of God’s creation, and then a collection of the first psalms that depict the life of man before the Fall:

Blessed is the man that walks not in the counsel of the ungodly.

Fragrant clouds of incense again fill the chapel as the choir mournfully recalls the sin of Adam and of Adam’s sons to this day:

To you have I called, O Lord, hasten to me. Let my prayer arise as incense before you.

As the choir intersperses hymns in honor of man’s ultimate restoration through Christ with psalms reflecting man’s desperate hope of salvation, the priest comes out of the altar area into the darkened nave of the church. With a cry for spiritual attentiveness, the lights are raised as the choir sings the ancient hymn of the evening, “O Joyful Light.” The promise of salvation is lovingly traced through the Old and New Testaments by prayer, hymn and gesture.

This celebration of the All-night Vigil is not taking place in some remote corner of Russia but in the building where the chancery office of the Archdiocese of New York was once located, next to Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Mulberry Street. For the past 45 years this building has housed St. Michael’s Chapel, the home of the Russian Rite Catholics of the New York metropolitan area. For most of those years their priest was the founder of the church, Protopresbyter Andrew Rogosh. During the week Father Andrew attended to his duties as Assistant Secretary of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, but on Saturday evening and again at 10:30 A.M. on Sunday morning he donned the magnificent robes of the Eastern Church to lead in prayer the hopeful remnant of the Russian Catholic Church in their struggle for deification: that process by which man becomes a sharer in the Divine Nature.

Over the years many non-Russians, the present writer included, were attracted by the spiritual vision of the Russian Church and its liturgy and chose them as the means for receiving the gift of salvation. Nor is there anything strange about the powerful attraction that the liturgy has on outsiders. When Christianity was first brought to the city of Kiev, in the region of Russia known as Rus’, its majestic liturgy followed the tradition of Constantinople. According to popular legend, when the emissaries of Grand Duke Vladimir reported to him what they had seen, they said:

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Tags: Christianity Prayers/Hymns/Saints Russian Catholic Church