It’s anniversary time for Catholics who worship in accord with the Ruthenian-Byzantine tradition in Alaska.
St. Nicholas of Myra Byzantine Catholic Church is celebrating its 60th anniversary on Dec. 10 and welcomes its Latin rite brothers and sisters from across the Anchorage Archdiocese to join in.
St. Nicholas priest Father Michael Sidon explained that Bishop John Pazak from the Ephary of Van Nuys — the Eastern Catholic equivalent of a diocese — will be joined by either Anchorage Archbishop Paul Etienne or Archbishop Emeritus Roger Schwietz in marking the historic event with a 10 a.m. celebration of the Divine Liturgy followed by a reception and celebration of Saint Nicholas — the parish’s patron saint.
The day will include an historical presentation of the 60-year-old parish, followed by the dramatic visit of Saint Nicholas with the children. The youth are asked to bring canned food items that Saint Nicholas can bring to the Clare House outreach for homeless women and children in Anchorage. Saint Nicholas will give presents to the children and will be available for photos.
For Catholics of the Latin rite — by far the majority in Alaska — the St. Nicholas is something of a well-kept secret. The rustic parish with a stunning lighted dome is tucked away on Arctic Boulevard near Valley of the Moon Park.
If a visitor were to visit St. Nicholas, he might imagine himself in an Orthodox church. The interior is filled with icons, and sparkling chandeliers hang from the ceiling. Yet, the Eastern Catholic parish is in full communion with the Bishop of Rome – the pope — and attendance there on any given Sunday fulfills the obligation to attend Mass. However, there are differences.
The liturgy itself is entirely sung – but there are no musical instruments used during worship, only the chanting human voice. Before the priest announces the Gospel, he leads a procession with the altar servers through the church, holding aloft a gilded, ornamented book of the Gospels, and at several points in the liturgy, the priest incenses the altar and people.
Another difference is that even Eastern Catholic infants receive the Eucharist in the form of a drop or two of the Precious Blood.
The rites used at a Ruthenian-Byzantine parish is one of several principal church traditions by which the Mass and the sacraments of the universal Catholic Church are celebrated in the context of a particular culture.
The Latin rite — with which most U.S. Catholics are familiar – blossomed in the West — in Rome, where the great Saints Peter and Paul were martyred.
In Constantinople, which is now Istanbul, Turkey — the church used a different liturgical form, sometimes called the Eastern rite.
After Emperor Constantine built a capital there in 325, the city became the center for Catholics in the eastern parts of Roman Empire.
Today, many people with an Eastern heritage — even those not in union with Rome, like the Russian Orthodox and Greek Orthodox — still follow the Byzantine liturgical forms.
St. Nicholas of Myra is part of the Byzantine Catholic Church in America, which is in union with Rome. The parish’s metropolitan or bishop is directly under the leadership of the pope.
To walk into an Eastern Catholic parish is to walk into a rich tradition, steeped in a sense of the sacred.
In the way that St. Gregory the Great influenced the Gregorian chant in the Western churches, the liturgy in the Eastern rites — including the Byzantine Catholic rite — is based primarily on the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.
St. Nicholas is the only Eastern Catholic parish in Alaska. The church maintains a mission in Wasilla — Blessed Theodore Romzha Mission.
It was in 1957 that Most Reverend Nicholas Elko, Exarch of Pittsburgh, sent two priests to Alaska, one to Juneau and one to Anchorage. During the first year, liturgies were held at what was then called Holy Family Church, but by 1958 the Arctic Boulevard property was purchased, where the church currently sits.
For more information about St. Nicholas Byzantine Catholic Church (located at 2200 Arctic Blvd, Anchorage), contact Father Sidun at 277-6731 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.