I was raised steeped in the Byzantine Rite Catholic Church. It’s an in-between branch of the faith. Not quite Roman Catholic – none of that Vatican II nonsense, thank you very much! Not quite Orthodox; they still follow the Pope.
Mom taught me that I was Ukrainian, I was Rusin, my ancestors came from the Carpathians. I accepted that like I accepted everything else I was told as a child. I was baptized and confirmed, so I was a Byzantine Catholic for life.
Then, one day in Catechism class, I did something unexpected. I asked “why”.
Miss Marie, who taught the little ones, kept house for Father Onesko, and played the organ at church parties, looked at me like I had just vomited pea soup. I was told that there was no “why”. That is what we believed, no questions. I can’t even remember what I asked – it was about something that didn’t make any logical sense. I was told, basically, to be quiet and believe – or else. Or else what? Or else I’d make Jesus sad. I’d hurt God’s feelings.
Now, that made even less sense to me. Suddenly, I saw that there wasn’t just one road to walk down. There were all sorts of little side paths, ways to head off and see what was beyond the edge of the main road.
Some years later, it dawned on me that I had three grandparents whose cultures I was not learning about – my maternal grandfather was Rusin, but his wife wasn’t. She was likely Czech. And on my father’s side I was Lithuanian. Al parts of Eastern Europe, but not the SAME parts.
While doing a little bit of research on medieval Lithuania I discovered Romuva.
After the Roman Empire became Christianized, the religion was spread – usually at the end of a sword – across the known world. One by one, kingdoms conspired with the Church to stamp out the pagan beliefs of their people, eliminating much of the connection to the land and creating a connection to the hierarchy of the church and state that had never been there before. What didn’t get eliminated was absorbed, changed to make Christianity more palatable to the common man.
Until they hit Lithuania.
The Teutonic Knights received a stern smack-down from Lithuania. Grand Duke Gediminas, ruler of Lithuania from 1316 to 1341, was a staunch pagan – and is still revered for it. He founded Vilnius. He “converted” for the political benefits, but never followed the tenets of the faith. In fact, his funeral was pagan, including cremation – which had been forbidden by the Catholic Church. He allowed Christian clergy into the country, but punished those who spoke against the people’s native faith.
I love that guy.
(to be continued)