Byzantine Catholics meet weekly in new worship space

By Danielle Madrid
Special Correspondent

Serving a diverse group of Catholics in the Austin area for more than a decade, the Byzantine Catholic Community of Austin recently gained new leadership and a new location.
On Feb. 26, the Byzantine Catholic Community of Austin (BCCA) celebrated its first Divine Liturgy at a new location, the chapel of St. Michael’s Catholic Academy on Barton Creek Boulevard in Austin. The community, from its founding, previously met at Our Lady’s Maronite Church in Austin.
The community is in full communion with our pope and follows the liturgical and theological traditions of the Christian East. The BCCA is now holding weekly Sunday services. Roman and other Catholics may visit and attend these services. 
“Meeting on a weekly basis and having regular services, especially Sunday, is crucial to our future as a community,” said Deacon Jeffrey Mierzejewski, a Byzantine Catholic deacon of the Archeparchy of Pittsburgh who recently relocated to Austin. “Without regular worship and fellowship opportunities, we would be unable to build up our mission community to become a real parish family.”
Deacon Mierzejewski explained that the BCCA is an outreach of St. John Chrysostom Byzantine Catholic Church in Houston. The pastor, Father Elias Rafaj, travels to Austin twice a month to serve the Divine Liturgy (Eucharist). On other Sundays, Deacon Mierzejewski leads the community in the celebration of Typika (Service of Holy Communion). Vespers, Compline and prayer services are occasionally held in the homes of community members on weekday evenings. 
“We’ve also taken our services on the road,” Deacon Mierzejewski noted. “We recently celebrated the Lenten Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts with the Holy Mystery of the Anointing of the Sick at Our Lady Queen of Peace Chapel at St. Edward’s University.”
He explained that the Byzantine tradition developed in the Christian churches of Constantinople. “This apostolic tradition is as ancient as the one developed in Rome and used in Roman Catholic parishes but has different emphases and mindset in spirituality, worship and prayer. For example, Byzantine churches use icons rather than statues and involve the entire body in worship, with bows, prostrations and frequent use of the Sign of the Cross. Byzantine Catholics also practice an intense devotion to the Mother of God –– the “Theotokos” –– and have a richly symbolic calendar of saints and feast days of their own.”
A Roman Catholic attending a Byzantine Catholic liturgy would notice several differences between the Divine Liturgy and the Mass: the entire liturgy (including the readings) is sung by the cantor, congregation, deacon and priest; the bread for the Eucharist is leavened; incense is always used; and Communion is distributed with a spoon. Byzantine Catholic churches have preserved the customs they retained from when they came into communion with the Roman Catholic Church from Eastern Orthodoxy in the 17th century.
“Visiting Roman Catholics may participate in the Divine Liturgy and receive Holy Communion,” Deacon Mierzejewski continued. Participating in the Byzantine Divine Liturgy fulfills one’s Sunday obligation.
He invited anyone interested in learning more about the Eastern Catholic tradition to attend one of the services with the Byzantine Catholic Community of Austin and to join the community for fellowship, which is held after each service. 
“We are an enthusiastic, welcoming community, excited to share our faith and traditions with other Christians,” he said.
The community gathers on Sundays at 5 p.m. in the chapel of St. Michael’s Catholic Academy in Austin. For more information, visit www.austinbyzantine.org, search for Austin Byzantine Catholic Community on Facebook or contact Deacon Mierzejewski at (412) 735-1676.