Light of the East—in South Florida

February 23, 2009

Light of the East-in South Florida

Miami’s Ukrainian Catholic Church of the Dormition

Part I in a Series

By Eric Giunta

The quintessential Catholic sense of the sacred is uniquely concretized in the worship the Church offers to the Supreme Deity. The Church’s splendid liturgical patrimony, alongside the Lives of her saints, is perhaps her principal non-rational apologetic: the invisible splendor of her truths finds visible expression in her solemn administration of her sacraments, her performance of which have inspired those great artistic monuments which are so treasured by all humanity, even the non-believer.

As readers of this blog aware, there is change abrewing in Floridian Catholicism. What was, until very recently, a liturgical desert has seen remarkable fruit blossom and ripen in the years following the accession of Pope Benedict XVI to the Chair of Peter.

But we should not forget those parishes which have been ever-faithful to their solemn liturgical patrimony, outstanding among which have been those of Florida’s Eastern Catholics.

These parishes have often provided a liturgical safe-houses for Latin-rite Catholics who, having been alienated by some implementations of the post-Conciliar liturgical reforms, found spiritual refuge among their Eastern brothers and sisters.

While the medieval mythos of a pristine “original Apostolic liturgical rite” does not exactly correspond to known history, it is a fact that all of the Church’s approved liturgical rites are rooted in Orthodox Judaism. In every one of the church’s liturgies, one may find elements of the Temple, the synagogue service, and the Passover Seder, along with the essential form and matter of the Sacraments, as they were instituted by Christ. And so there is naturally a ritual consistency which pervades all of the Church’s rites, Eastern and Western, when they are celebrated reverently and in accordance with the approved rubrics. And so no Catholic need feel estranged when he participates in a rite that is not his own, for in every one of the Church’s approved rites is, in a certain sense, the patrimony of each and every believer.

Understanding one’s liturgical brothers will enrich one’s own understanding and appreciation for his own liturgical tradition. This has certainly been my experience in my acquaintance with the various Eastern Catholic parishes within the confines of the Miami Archdiocese, outstanding among which is Miami ‘s Ukrainian Catholic Church of the Dormition.

We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth, for surely there is no such splendour or beauty anywhere upon earth. We cannot describe it to you: only this we know, that God dwells there among men, and that their service surpasses the worship of all other places. For we cannot forget that beauty.

Thus spake the emissaries of Saint Vladimir of Kiev , when they witnessed the Divine Liturgy at Constantinople’s Hagia Sophia in the 10th century. The experience is said to have been the deciding factor in the conversion of the people of Kieven Rus from paganism to Byzantine Catholic Christianity.

And Miami ‘s Church of the Dormition is very much emblematic of Byzantine-Slavic liturgy at its very best. The 10:15 Sunday service is celebrated in Old Church Slavonic, and its choir is of the highest musical caliber, exhibiting the entire range of Slavic melody and tonality, from bass to soprano. The musical repertoire is just the perfect balance between Byzantine chant and Slavic polyphony, of a kind most Catholics will go their entire lives never having heard, save perhaps on compact disc or the movies of Eisenstein or Tarkovsky.

The entire liturgy is in Slavonic, and the priest’s sermon in Ukrainian. However, there are translations of the “Ordinary” in the pew books, and the propers are translated in the weekly church bulletin. The new priest, Father Matthew D. Schroeder, even types out his sermons in English, placing them next to the local bulletins in the back of the church, so visitors can follow along. And Father Schroeder’s preaching is just as beautiful and orthodox as his church’s liturgy.

Rest assured if you visit: this church is Catholic. Although one would not know it, so authentically Ukrainian, so authentically Orthodox is this entire parish, from the art and architecture, to the liturgy itself, which frequently beseeches God’s blessing for “all orthodox Christians”. Church of the Dormition serves, I believe, a potentially important ecumenical function, demonstrating as it does that full communion with the Church of Rome takes nothing away from all that is good, true, and beautiful in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

There is a 9:00 Liturgy in English, but in this writer’s experience from past years (before the pastorship of Father Shroeder), this was often rather Latinized, no incense was burned, and much of it was said, rather than sung. The church’s principal liturgy is at 10:15, and Catholics genuinely interested in experiencing the Slavic liturgy on its own terms, and patronizing liturgical renewal, are encouraged to attend that service.

For more information:

Ukrainian Catholic Church of the Dormition

39 NW 57th Court

Miami, FL , 33126

(305) 262-4192

Eric Giunta is a Juris Doctor Candidate at Florida State University College of Law, and a volunteer intern at the Florida capitol. He graduated magna cum laude from Florida International University in 2008 with a BA in Humanities (having concentrated in the Greco-Roman Classics) and the Certificate in Law, Ethics, and Society. His interests include liturgy, history, philosophy, politics, and theology. He has written for